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Mydworth Mysteries - Murder wore a Mask

Contents

  1. Cover
  2. Mydworth Mysteries
  3. About the Book
  4. The Authors
  5. Title
  6. Copyright
  7. 1. Party Time!
  8. 2. A Night to Remember
  9. 3. Dance the Night Away
  10. 4. Death in Venice
  11. 5. A Morning Visit from Aunt Lavinia
  12. 6. Footsteps on the Grass
  13. 7. The Singer and the Star
  14. 8. The Dangerous Secret of Wilfred Carmody
  15. 9. A Reason to Murder
  16. 10. Murder Indeed
  17. 11. Anyone for Tennis?
  18. 12. The Truth About Mr Carmody
  19. 13. A Quiet Moment
  20. 14. A Trip to the Sea
  21. 15. A Confession
  22. 16. The Mask Drops
  23. 17. A Gathering of Liars
  24. 18. Fun in the Ballroom
  25. 19. One Last Point
  26. 20. Tea for Three
  27. Mydworth Mysteries Episode 5

Mydworth Mysteries

Mydworth Mysteries is a series of self-contained novella-length mysteries, published in English and German. The stories are currently available as e-books and will soon be available as audiobooks in both languages.

About the Book

Lavinia's annual Masked Ball at Mydworth Manor is a highlight of the season, as locals mingle with the great and famous from London. But the lavish party comes to a full stop when one of the guests is found dead down by the lake. It seems it's a clear case of a heart attack. But Harry and Kat suspect that the dead man in a mask was in fact the victim of a clever case of murder. And the killer's work at the party is not yet done...Main Characters

Sir Harry Mortimer, 30 – Born into a wealthy English aristocratic family, Harry is smart, funny and adventurous. Ten years in secret government service around the world has given him the perfect training to solve crimes; and though his title allows him access to the highest levels of English society, he’s just as much at home sipping a warm beer in the garden of a Sussex pub with his girl from the wrong side of the tracks – Kat Reilly.

Kat Reilly – Lady Mortimer, 29 – Kat grew up in the Bronx, right on Broadway. Her mother passed away when she was only eleven and she then helped her father run his small local bar The Lucky Shamrock. But Kat felt the call to adventure and excitement, first as a nurse on the battlefields of France, then working a series of jobs back in New York. After finishing college, she was recruited by the State Department, where she learned skills that would more than make her a match for the dashing Harry. To some, theirs is an unlikely pairing, but to those who know them both well, it’s nothing short of perfect.

The Authors

Matthew Costello (US-based) is the author of many successful novels published around the globe, including Vacation (2011, in development for film), Home (2014) and Beneath Still Waters (1989), which was adapted by Lionsgate as a major motion picture. He has written for The Disney Channel, BBC, SyFy and has also designed dozens of bestselling games including the critically acclaimed The 7th Guest, Doom 3, Rage, Pirates of the Caribbean, and, with Neil Richards, Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier.

Neil Richards (based in the UK) has worked as a producer and writer in TV and film, creating scripts for BBC, Disney, and Channel 4, and earning numerous Bafta nominations along the way. He’s also written script and story for over 30 video games including The Da Vinci Code and Planet of the Apes, and consults around the world on digital storytelling.

MATTHWEW COSTELLO
NEIL RICHARDS

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Murder Wore A Mask

1. Party Time!
   
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Harry stood at the bay window of the Dower House’s compact sitting room, looking out at the garden in the early evening light.

The gardener, Mr Grayer, borrowed from his Aunt Lavinia, had done an artful job of trimming the hydrangea, and getting all the other bushes and shrubs into an orderly array.

While Harry himself enjoyed messing about in the garden, he and Kat had been so busy, to-ing and fro-ing from Mydworth to their flat in London, it was best to leave the gardening in the capable hands of a professional.

He was tempted – standing by the window, in full fancy dress – to pour himself a few fingers of scotch.

Tonight was going to be one long evening. A big party at Mydworth Manor – the type of party that he thought only his Aunt Lavinia could pull off.

A full-on Venetian masked ball, guests by the hundred, champagne probably on tap the whole night.

Pacing oneself was a good course of action.

He stood there, waiting for Kat to appear, curious what her chosen costume – hidden until tonight – would be.

He heard the sound of steps on the nearby staircase leading down from the upstairs rooms.

He turned to see Maggie, their housekeeper – and the person Harry had known longest in his life – as she came into the room, broad smile on her face.

“You all set, Sir Harry?”

“Now don’t scare me, Maggie. Will I be able to recognise my—”

Then, only steps behind, her black carnival mask already on, dark hair pulled back, he saw Kat.

That is my wife in that absolutely stupendous outfit.

“Well, well, well.” Without a word, Kat glided over to his side. “I do believe you have me speechless, Lady Mortimer.”

“Like it?”

“Love it.”

The long velvet dress – with a low-cut bodice, hugging her frame tight till it spread to a V that went to the floor – fit perfectly. No doubt helped by a stitch here and there by Maggie.

And the shimmering black material seemed to absorb all the light – and then some – in the room.

“You look,” he searched for the mot juste, “absolutely stunning. But who are you supposed to be? Not that I mind, because whoever it is, well… wow.”

Kat laughed. “Your aunt sent over some wonderful designs weeks ago. Picked this one. It’s called ‘courtesan’.”

“Is it? Remind me now, what exactly do courtesans do?”

Kat gave a little twirl, obviously enjoying the effect her outfit was having on him.

“Well who knows, Sir Harry. I imagine we will find out tonight.”

Harry turned to their housekeeper. “And I suppose you helped this along, eh, Maggie? I do believe you missed your calling.”

Maggie grinned broadly. “You better be ready for a lot of eyes taking the two of you in!”

“So, Harry,” Kat said, “any clue for me who you’re supposed to be?”

Harry’s outfit nearly matched Kat’s in sumptuous material, but the comparison ended there: a waist-length cape, open to show a ruffled white shirt, unbuttoned at the top; trousers that fit more like dancer’s leggings; and all of it topped with a cap that he could only describe as “rakish”, complete with an iridescent feather shooting out the back.

“I’d better just tell you. I… am a pirate.”

Harry grinned as he stuck one leg out, and did a half bow.

“I’ve met some pirates in my time, but that…”

“Not exactly what I expected either. But apparently, back in the days of Walter Raleigh, and other sea-faring rapscallions, the commanders of ships that did the looting also had a keen sartorial sense.”

“And that?” said Kat, nodding to the cutlass that swung from a belt around his waist.

Harry stepped back a safe distance, and, with a swish of steel, drew the long blade and adopted a duelling pose.

“Courtesy of great-great-uncle William, renowned swordsman of the 16th The Queen’s Lancers, and hero of the Battle of Aliwal back in ’46, don’t you know!”

He carved the historic sabre through the air a few times, as if parrying unseen attackers, then returned it to its scabbard.

“Normally lives in the ballroom up at the manor. Lavinia said I can hang onto it. Thought I might stick it on my study wall.”

“Well – I know who to come to if my honour needs defending,” said Kat.

“Don’t count on it,” said Harry. “Last time I had a sword fight I was at school.”

“You know, Harry, that’s not something you hear people say much back home in Brooklyn.”

“Fencing! Good God, woman! All part of an English gentleman’s education.”

She took a step closer to him. “You have not forgotten a mask, have you?”

Harry reached into a side pocket on the inside of the cape, pulled out a bright red mask, and slid it on.

And for a moment he stood there, looking at his suddenly serious wife while she gazed at him, the masks working their magic.

Thinking… maybe let’s just forget about the party.

“Time you two were going. I’ll do any clearing up. Things will be nice and tidy whatever hour you get back here.”

Harry turned to Maggie. “Sure you won’t come too? I’m sure we could whip up something quick that would suit you?”

Maggie laughed. “My days of fancy-dress parties ended long ago, Sir Harry. To be honest, I don’t think they ever started. Now, hurry along. Who knows what support your dear aunt may need!”

Harry took Kat’s hand, and, as if escorting some beautiful stranger, he walked her to the door.

A “night in Venice” was about to begin.

*

Feeling a million dollars in her amazing dress, Kat walked arm in arm with Harry, down the long drive towards Mydworth Manor, flaming torches every fifty yards or so, making the event seem more like a medieval pageant.

In the distance, across the gentle slope of the meadows, she could see the manor house, glowing in the golden light of the early evening. The sounds of a jazz band drifted towards them, mingled with distant laughter and conversation.

It seemed the party was in full swing!

Every now and then a vehicle rolled past filled with masked guests in ever more exotic outfits – cardinals, soldiers, dancers, jesters, French courtiers – all crammed into open-top cars, laughing gaily.

Something surreal about it all, she thought.

Other couples coming from the town had clearly also decided to walk, not drive. And Kat thought she recognised some faces behind the masks – and also new friends she had made since arriving here as Harry’s mysterious New York bride.

“Tell you one thing, Harry. Your aunt sure knows how to throw a party,” said Kat.

“Oh yes. When I was growing up here, they were a regular event,” said Harry. “And you never quite know who you’re going to meet.”

“The great and the good?”

“And the bad too, sometimes. Lavinia has quite, um, broad tastes. Long as you’re fun and interesting, that’s all you have to be to get an invite. Though, of course, there are always those who are invited because they have to be.”

“Can’t wait to meet them – good and bad, and in between,” said Kat, as they reached the house and joined a small throng of guests climbing the great steps towards the already packed entrance hall.

At the door she was greeted with a glass of champagne from a footman, and she stepped through, already thrilled by the party atmosphere.

At her side, she saw Harry shaking hands in every direction. He grabbed her hand – a great feeling amid this sea of people – and they forced a path through the crowd towards the living rooms.

“Let’s go find the music, shall we?” he said, and off they went. “The night is young. And, it turns out, so are we…”

2. A Night to Remember
   
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Kat had been to many grand parties in her time working for the American government, in various capital cities across Europe.

But this one? Something else entirely.

All the Manor’s ground-floor rooms had been thrown open – even the Grand Ballroom at the back of the house, which was rarely used: so far she’d only ever seen it covered in dusty white sheets with shutters closed.

Now she could see that the great room positively sparkled, mirrors dazzling, chandeliers bright, the intricate parquet floor spotless as a crowd of guests swayed to the music of a four-piece jazz band that played in the corner.

Not dancing yet, she thought, but, at the rate the champagne was flowing, it clearly wouldn’t take long.

Harry led her through other rooms, all just as packed. He gave her a running commentary as they slipped, hand-in-hand, through the crowds and past long lines of buffet tables at which masked guests queued for food.

“All right. See the lady by the fireplace in ostrich feathers? Caused rather a scandal with the prince, last year.”

“Don’t need to guess which prince,” said Kat.

“The Royals – always entertaining. And those chaps having a chinwag in the corner…” Kat looked across to where a group of elderly men in Arabian robes stood smoking cigars. “Some of our most illustrious generals, I do believe. Fella on the chaise longue in the cowboy outfit – American novelist, very popular. What’s his name, always forget. Oh look – out on the terrace there…”

Through the open French windows Kat caught a glimpse of a tight cluster of men and women in vivid colours, all shimmering Chinese silks and elaborate Indian headgear.

“Lavinia’s old Bloomsbury pals. Painters, writers, theatre directors, what have you. Hard to tell if they’re in fancy dress or not. Wonder who’ll be sleeping with whom by the end of the evening? We should run a lottery! Oh… and look.”

Kat followed his subtle nod to the door.

“Rare sighting of the Leader of the Opposition. Dressed as Robin Hood. Good lord, look at those tights. Too tight, to be sure.”

Kat laughed, then pointed to a pair of bishops in purple leaning against the door chatting earnestly.

“Those two?” she said.

“Actually,” said Harry, “they’re real bishops.”

“Gosh, I’ll have to mind my language.”

“Oh, don’t bother – off duty you wouldn’t believe the stories I’ve heard them tell.”

Kat heard some cheers from outside.

“Come on,” she said, taking his arm and heading for the French windows, “let’s go see what’s happening out there!”

If the interior of Mydworth Manor was extravagant, Kat could see from the terrace that the gardens and grounds were going to be even more amazing.

On the small lake behind the house, a pair of gondolas were ferrying couples to and from the little island with its white stone building. It was called a “folly”, she knew, though she didn’t have a clue why.

A classical string quartet played on the lawn, and an elegant soprano stood with them singing an aria.

“Puccini, if I’m not mistaken,” said Harry.

“One of my favourites,” said Kat. “First opera ever at The Met… Tosca. Oh – look there. That fire-eater—”

Harry stepped back as a young man, stripped to the waist, twirled into view, shooting flames into the evening sky. A small crowd gathered to watch him.

“Are there clowns and tight-rope walkers due soon? Going to be a long night, I think,” said Kat. “Maybe hit the buffet?”

“A very good idea,” said Harry.

As they turned to go back indoors, Kat caught a movement in a copse of trees beyond the terrace. A tall, hooded monk, in a long black robe, stood close by another man dressed – she guessed – as Henry VIII, his stomach bulging.

From the finger pointing, and head shakes, the two were clearly arguing, but their voices were low.

Something about the way they stood together made Kat pause for a second. Something… furtive… in their manner. Looking around. Checking.

Almost as if they were hiding.

“You all right?” said Harry.

“Sure,” said Kat, turning, and following. “Some of these costumes – crazy, aren’t they?”

*

“Your cook McLeod has outdone himself tonight, Aunt Lavinia,” said Harry, putting down his plate and wiping his hands on a napkin.

Kat looked across, to see Lavinia approaching the corner where she and Harry had perched together to eat.

She thought that amid the sea of cardinals, doges, and even more courtesans and pirates, Lavinia in her gown – a duchess perhaps? – took the cake. Waves of blue material shimmered in the glow of lamps and candles.

“I do hope so,” Lavinia said. “We’ve hired God knows how many extra kitchen staff to make sure things roll along. But–”

“Something wrong?” Kat said.

“Well. There are these absolutely darling little lobster things that should have arrived by now. I do want to keep my guests well fed.”

“Would you like me to go and check the kitchen?” Harry said. “I can be very discreet; they’ll never know I’m having a snoop!”

Kat was still getting used to seeing her husband as a pirate, his face hidden by a mask, which she had to admit rendered him even more attractive.

“Would you? I really must circulate among the throng.”

Lavinia reached out and touched Kat’s forearm. “Some of the people here? I don’t even know their names! But invite one from a certain set and you have to invite them all!”

Harry – about to make a run to the downstairs, where mayhem must be reigning in the kitchen – said, “You okay here, Kat? Just a minute or two. On your own?”

“Sure,” Kat said. “I’ll be fine. After all, I’m a courtesan.”

She saw both Harry and his aunt grin at this before ...

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