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Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

Really, Really Dead.  

Dead. He was dead. No doubt about it. He was really, really dead.

I now sat at the desk of the intake officer, where his computer was taking forever to upload some forms. Vaguely glancing at the photos of him fishing in Scotland or somewhere equally cold and bleak, I was struggling to concentrate on the day. After years of asking my neighbors and friends about details of their own mysteries, here I was feeling foggy about events.

I did remember that I knew something had been wrong as soon as I’d reached the upstairs landing upstairs in my B&B. First of all, I could hear Wandering Jack yowling. He never yowls unless I’m there and he’s hungry. I had turned the key in the lock, but it was already unlocked. And Jack was yowling. My neck hairs stood on end.

I opened the door slowly, knowing you should never enter a room if your neck hairs are on end. I pushed the door so just my head was inside, another thing you shouldn’t do as I thought it over days later. I walked inside a few feet, which I should not have done. My left foot nudged a shoe, a Nike tennis shoe just like Robert . . . That’s when I knew it was him. That wanker! He was supposed to be gone! Had he drunk all my liquor and passed out? Or had a stroke like his mum? Or . . .

But then there was the smell. Like the time I’d found a bloated squirrel in the water trough at Grandpa’s farm. Grandpa had told me, “See, Feely, that will happen to you if you play around the horse trough!” He’d also once pointed out to me a flattened snake in the middle of their road.” “That will happen to you, Missy,” he’d said, “if you cross the street without looking.”

And now here was my ex-husband, sprawled not in a horse trough or in the middle of a street, but there on my red-rose patterned carpet. I’d been gone since before daylight to get into line to see the new Egyptian art exhibit at the Ashmolean. My ex was supposed to pick up the cat at 9 that same morning. He had a key. It was all arranged.

But here it was 6 in the evening, Jack was locked inside his carrier, which was sitting on the couch, and there was Robert in shorts, a T-shirt, and Nikes, dressed like he’d just come in from running or was just about to go running.

But he was not out running or about to go anywhere. He was dead. Drool out of his mouth dead. One eye half-open dead. One arm flung behind him dead. Hair a mess dead. Not sleeping, not just passed out drunk, but dead. He would have woken up at my screams if he hadn’t been dead. At least I think that was me screaming. Maybe it was Sarala screaming, I can’t remember.

This wasn’t like an episode of Law and Order, an enormously popular American TV series over here. I couldn’t call up the exact order of things like the TV actors. I couldn’t even exactly recall when I’d last seen Robert, things I knew this British cop would be asking me. I was in a numbing humid daze, like I was watching someone else open the door and enter the room. Maybe Law and Order scriptwriters had never seen anybody really, really dead.

But now Robert was dead. Like the squirrel and the snake. Really, really dead.

Christmas in Floy

It was Christmas in Floy

Exit 175 at yuletide

Visions of I-70 semis through the electric fog

A great icy pie crust rolled out over four and twenty black brush.


A Doctor Zhivago landscape

But no good-looking non-Russian actors like in the 1965 movie

Or good-looking non-Russian actors like in the 2002 TV miniseries

No Egyptian Omar Sharif or Scottish Hans Matheson as Yuri

Just an American wanderer in a giant stadium coat and a thick red, wool scarf;

My KEEN boots barely grip the ice around my car. (Continued)

A Bride for Death

Death was lonely
So he put an ad in the paper, saying about himself,
“Loves to travel and meet new people.”
And she arrived at the coffee shop for their first meeting
160 pounds of giggle stuffed into her 5 foot 1 inches
A headful of yellow curls and her mother’s recipe for deep-dish cherry pie:
Just what he needed. (Continued)

Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

A Murder, I Think.

It wasn’t what I was expecting. The police station looked more like an ordinary office, with houseplants, a pile of Hello magazines on the side tables, computer monitors, and IN and OUT boxes. It was a quiet Sunday morning. Apparently the chaos of the night before had been sorted, and the paperwork was now consuming the energies of Oxford’s municipal authorities.

I hadn’t wanted to call this in on my phone. I wasn’t sure I could have worked my cell phone, let alone put together some coherent sentences for the curious voice at the other end of the line. I knew exactly where the police station was, though. I walked by it when I went to the grocery. Looking back on it now, however, I don’t remember exactly how I got there that morning. My feet seemed to move independently of the rest of my body. But there I was at the station’s double door and taking the few steps up into the lobby. I needed to talk to someone face to face. (Continued)

Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

Could This Be My Diggory Venn?

I’m at The Beatnik as they open the next morning, but Dennis isn’t there. An older woman with a streak of blue in her hair is taking orders from a few young people at a table when I walk in. But there he is: the American is standing at one wall, flipping through a Kerouac book, cradling it on his arm with his beige trench coat. Maybe he’s in the Beatnik Reading Group. He sits down at a table by the window, folds his coat onto the back of the chair, sets his Kerouac on the table, and signals to the waitress. I sit at another table, listening carefully to his voice.

“Could I get something with my coffee? Toast, a teacake, or a croissant or something?”

“We have all of those, love, but we also specialize in cakes. My brother makes a very good lemon cake.”

“Well, then I’ll have coffee and some of the very good lemon cake, please.” Was that a Midwestern accent? I have a sudden, weird surge of homesickness. (Continued)

Show me the money

Elizabeth Gurney Fry, 1780-1845

Perhaps a country shows its true colors through its bank notes.

In 1928, the US Treasury Department reviewed the portraits on bank notes and concluded that “portraits of Presidents of the United States have a more permanent familiarity in the minds of the public than any others.” Exceptions were made for Alexander Hamilton, Salmon Chase, and Benjamin Franklin. No changes in the people depicted on US currency (intended for the general public) have been made since 1928.

In England, portraits on its bank notes change regularly and have honored scientists, writers, engineers, musicians, social reformers, and politicians. Right now their currency honors Matthew Boulton and James Watt (on the 50-pound note), Adam Smith (on the 20), Charles Darwin (the 10), and Elizabeth Fry (the 5). (England does not have a 1-pound note. That denomination is a coin.)

I had never heard of Elizabeth Fry, so, as I paid for my latte and pain au raisin at the Caffe Nero recently, I asked the man behind the counter who the woman was on the fiver. The barista shrugged and said, “I guess she’s somebody who’s dead.” Minutes later, as I sat upstairs with my breakfast, he came up to my table and said, “She lived 1780 to 1845 and was a prison reformer.” Had this tourist’s question just kick-started the brilliant career of an barista-turned-historian? Not sure. But Fry seemed a woman worth knowing, so I looked her up. (Continued)

Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

Why would I not order fish and chips here?

The Eagle and Child, when you hit it right and it’s not too crowded, is the best pub on the planet. A literary pedigree, low ceilings, a bright and helpful staff, and fabulous cooks. Even featured in the Inspector Morse TV series. I’m early, so I watch Dad as he enters ten minutes late. He seems to know the waitress, says something that makes her laugh, then orders fish and chips and a pint of lager at the bar.

“Hey, Pumpkin. You look nice.” Dad always notices clothes. Sometimes that drives me crazy. Especially when I dress in a hurry, and then he notices that.

“So, Dad, why are you ordering fish and chips? They make a lot of other – “

“Why would I not order fish and chips here? They’re great. And I get to sit where C.S. Lewis sat, and I like to think he would have ordered fish and chips as he was holding forth about whatever.”

“Tolkien maybe. I think Lewis would more likely be having a bowl of soup. More Presbyterian.”

“Well, whoever. I like their fish and chips. I come here whenever I’m in Oxford. Are you going to come to my talk tonight?”

“I’m still not sure. I’m working on a case.” (Continued)

Cheeky rascals at Holy Trinity


The friendlies selling tea, cakes, and scones.

It seemed to all be going on at Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Perhaps its most famous going-on is that it is where Anne and William Shakespeare are buried. I paid a “Concession” (old-age) price of one pound to get up to the front of the church with the tourist crowd to see the slabs under which the Bard and his wife are buried. The church also hosts concerts and plays.

In front of the church is a lovely shaded cemetery with benches and mostly unreadable moss- and lichen-covered tombstones, providing respite for travelers and the genealogist I met looking for Morris family names.

There is also a tearoom at the back of the church, complete with tables and chairs and the three lively women in the photo. The day I visited, they were selling cakes and “cheeky rascals” (four-inch-wide cookie-like scones decorated with almond-and-cherry faces, a take on the three-times-larger Fat Rascal, made famous at Bettys, a tearoom in York).

How much should go on at–or inside–a church? Just baptisms, weddings, and other official religious ceremonies? Or might famous pay-to-see tombs, concerts, plays, and cheeky rascals for sale help a church keep the common touch for everyone in the community . . . including a weary tourist getting handed a cup of tea by a friendly face?

To be or not to be Anne

Anne Hathaway’s cottage lies amid gardens and fields of roses, rushes, lavender, and delphiniums, in Shottery, about a mile outside Stratford-upon-Avon’s city center. Lovely willow trellises line the walks of the cottage (actually a rather substantial farmhouse), covered with all manner of winding tendrils of vine and vegetable. And a fine tearoom across the street serves sandwiches, cream teas, and ghost stories. I believe Anne’s family house is a more beautifully floral and satisfying tourist experience than her husband William Shakespeare’s birthplace in the town center of Stratford.

Anne (born in 1556, and aged 26) was three months pregnant when she married William Shakespeare (born 1564, and aged 18) in Temple Grafton, Warwickshire. Their daughter Susanna was born six months later in 1582, and twins Hamnet and Juliet were born in 1585. (though, sadly, Hamnet died at age 11). Those are the facts we know.

The docent at the cottage described Anne as a “multi-tasking farmer’s daughter who probably could have turned her hand at about anything.” Anne probably would not have received any formal education. She would, however, have had to learn how to govern a household, run a farm, and become skilled in housewifely duties in preparation for marriage. Women were expected to be married, and single women–or women otherwise not under the supervision of a male–were often looked down upon, sometimes as witches. It was legal for boys to marry at age 14; girls at 12.   (Continued)

A tale of seaside resorts


One of the Whippy flavors offered along Weymouth beach

Americans may be surprised to know that England has quite a few seaside resorts. “I thought they went to Spain for that,” an American might say. But England has its Dover, Brighton, Bournemouth, Weymouth, Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Cornish beaches. All with sun, salt spray, waves, sunrises and sunsets, piers and jetties, gulls, and seaside stuff for sale.

Weymouth is along the Jurassic Coast of south England and runs along the West Dorset and East Devon counties. Weymouth beach faces east, so that the sun rises on the water. Manhattan’s beach faces west, so we see the sun set over the water. (Continued)