Under Mary's Oak

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When a body is discovered in her school grounds, Laura Jessop turns detective. As the investigation proceeds, Laura uncovers many secrets and realises everyone has something to hide. Laura Jessop is less than impressed when Detective Inspector Dave Jenkins arrives to investigate the discovery of a dead body on her school’s sports’ field. Laura is Headmistress of a large girls' school in Newcastle and any hint of a scandal could ruin its reputation. DI Dave Jenkins reminds Laura of Columbo, the bumbling and untidy TV detective. She has little faith that the inspector will understand the need for discretion but when she decides to help him by carrying out her own investigations she doesn't appreciate how it will change her life. Always one to see the best in people, she is shocked by some of the secrets she uncovers. This is the first in a series of Laura Jessop novels.

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Chapter One

Laura Jessop was enjoying a lie-in. Her husband, Robert, was downstairs preparing her breakfast tray. It was to be a special treat for her birthday and Robert hoped he could surprise her before she got out of bed. He could hear no signs of activity upstairs, and he worked quickly and quietly. The large egg was just about ready to come out of the water. Laura liked a five-minute egg so the white was firmly cooked and the yolk was still runny. And a boiled egg is no good without soldiers to dip. The cafetiere was ready, butter and marmalade on the tray and a red rose was added as the final touch.

As he crept up the stairs he was confident he had been successful in his mission. But Laura had heard him. After nearly thirty years as a teacher, latterly as a headmistress, she had a good ear. The girls at school often expressed their amazement when she used information from their whispered conversation to challenge a version of events being put forward to confuse her. She also smelt the toast and smiled as she looked forward to ‘the surprise’.

She and Robert had been married for ten years this coming August, a second marriage for both of them. She counted herself very lucky to have found this thoughtful and caring man after such a disastrous first marriage. As headmistress of a large girls’ independent school, she led a hectic life during term time. She left the house before seven o’clock and rarely returned before seven in the evening, often much later. She tried to devote her weekends and holidays to her husband, but all too often something cropped up requiring her attention. But Robert was understanding, and the surprise breakfast was but one example of the little treats they regularly planned for each other. It was this that kept their marriage alive and they were very happy together. Laura snuggled down in the duvet, ready to be surprised.

“Happy Birthday, darling!” said Robert as he pushed open the bedroom door.

Laura stirred and looked towards him.

“You do spoil me,” she said. “What a lovely idea. I haven’t had breakfast in bed for a while.”

“No, you’re usually rushing off somewhere, but as it’s a Saturday it’s a perfect opportunity to celebrate in style. I have the whole day planned,” Robert added.

As Laura moved to sit up, he placed the tray over her legs and poured the coffee. Laura cut the top off her egg and dipped the toasted soldier.

“Perfect!” she exclaimed as the soldier pierced the yellow yolk.

Robert helped himself to a slice of toast adding butter and marmalade. Settling down beside her with his cup of coffee he said, “Your present will arrive later.”

“It all sounds very mysterious,” Laura said.

“Well, I hope you like it. You’re almost impossible to buy for.”

“You’re a fine one to talk! I suppose it’s not surprising really, that by the time we reach our age we’ve accumulated most of what we need, and more. I would be quite happy just to spend time with you. You don’t need to buy me presents, but I shall love it I’m sure.”

The letterbox clattered as the newspaper dropped onto the doormat. “You stay there and I’ll fetch the paper for you to read,” Robert said.

“No, I want to get up now and make the most of the day. Look, the sun is shining. It’s going to be a lovely day, and I’ve really enjoyed my lie-in.”

“You don’t know the meaning of the word,” he retorted playfully. “It’s not 9 o’clock yet.”

As Laura enjoyed a hot shower, the telephone rang. A minute later and Robert tapped on the shower screen.

“I’m sorry. I think you need to take this,” he said, holding the receiver towards her.

Laura wrapped herself in a towel and sat on the edge of the bath. “Hello. Laura speaking,” she said.

“Morning, Laura. It’s Bob.”

Laura groaned inwardly. Bob Hinchcliffe was the Bursar at the school. If he rang on a Saturday morning it was because there was a problem. She hoped it could be resolved quickly.

“Yes, Bob. What’s the problem?”

“I’m afraid it’s bad news. Richard has been found dead this morning.”

Laura gasped. Richard Hart was the Head Caretaker and he lived in a cottage in the school grounds.

“That’s awful. What was it? A heart attack?”

In his early fifties, Richard had a history of heart problems. As Head Caretaker, he could organise the work in such a way that he didn’t have to do too much of the manual work himself but he and Laura had talked about whether he should take early retirement.

“No, I’m afraid it’s worse than that. It looks like he’s been murdered. I’ve called the police. They’re on the way.”

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” promised Laura.

She handed the receiver back to Robert who was looking at her quizzically. She relayed the content of the phone call, the shock making it hard for her to catch her breath.

“How did it happen?” Robert asked.

“I don’t know any more than I’ve told you, but I shall have to go in. I’m sorry, I know you had plans for the day.”

“Nothing that won’t keep,” Robert replied. “Would you like me to come with you?”

“Yes, I rather think I would.”

Laura was very good at her job, and usually managed to remain calm in a crisis. But this morning she felt anything but calm. Her intestines were tying themselves in knots, she was shivering and the thoughts in her head were all shouting to make themselves heard.

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