‘Ada Baker was a psychic. She was the seventh daughter of two parents who were both seventh children. And she had been gifted with some extraordinary powers.’
Ada Baker is a gifted psychic, who shares her home with three very bored ghosts. Spending their days roaming around Ada’s house offers little amusement, and so the three of them convince Ada to help them investigate the mysterious death of local beauty Mary Watts, who is found naked and strangled in her bathtub. This begins a series of exciting adventures for Ada, as she draws on her unique skills to help solve this heinous crime. Along the way, she must convince a sceptical detective of her aptitude for channelling the abilities of the dead, avoid the unwanted attentions of a sinister stalker, and try to enlist the help of a squadron of ghostly spitfire pilots to save her own life.
Can the dead really bring justice for Mary and help save the living too? Will Ada solve the mystery of her murder? Or will Ada’s curiosity lead to her own demise, causing her to end up as a ghost herself?
Mary let her red silk dress slip over her curvaceous body and drop to the bathroom floor. She turned off the tap and swirled her hand in the warm water, feeling its soft caresses as it kissed her fingers. Dappled light filtered through the windows and sparkled on the water’s surface, making it look like liquid gold. Steam filled the room and the gentle scent of roses enticed her to enter. A light breeze tickled her body and she felt her skin shiver in response. She dipped a beautifully manicured foot slowly and tentatively into the water, followed by the other, then gracefully eased herself down into the bath. The warmth radiated through her muscles, making them glow.
Mary felt a growing surge of excitement building within her as she thought about what she was about to do; her stomach turned as though she were an actor about to give the performance of her life upon the stage. Her friend, Marcus, would be here any minute to photograph her. He was going to use the images in his new photography exhibition. She was fond of him – he’d been a wonderful lover – and working as an artist’s model for him had been a fascinating experience. He valued her as an artiste, rather than viewing her as a harlot, as her sister Ellen and so many others had done. They didn’t understand the art within what she did. They thought posing in the nude for artists was just another way of prostituting yourself. Well screw them – if they didn’t understand it, that was their problem, not hers. It was the career path she’d chosen for herself in life. There was a creak behind her and she felt her heart race. Perhaps it was Marcus. She craned her head round to look, but nobody was there. She sighed, disappointed, and sank back into the bath. The house was old. For over a hundred years its beams and lintels had supported its Edwardian facade. It wasn’t a surprise that it creaked and groaned occasionally. Sometimes she heard it creaking in the middle of the night, which had freaked her out when she was a child, but she’d grown used to its noises. It must have just been the house settling.
She’d lived here as long as she could remember. The house had belonged to her mother before she’d died and bequeathed it to Mary. She’d loved her mother dearly. She was the only person who’d ever understood her. The warm water had a meditative effect and she felt her mind drifting away to the past as though it were a cloud on a breeze. A tune her mother used to sing when she was a child entered her mind. She hadn’t heard it for a long time and she started gently humming. “hmmm… hmmm… hmmm…” Mary saw a shadow suddenly loom over her then a flash of red in front of her eyes before something tightened hard around her throat. She clutched desperately at her neck, trying to loosen its grip, her legs thrashing wildly as she tried to get purchase to turn around and face her attacker. The attacker seemed to squeeze tighter still, like a constrictor squeezing its prey. She felt an intense pressure in her head. Her vision slowly faded until at last she felt a sort of serenity and slipped into unconsciousness.
Mary opened her eyes and groaned. The light was dim, as if dusk was approaching. She felt like she was sitting on a carousel after drinking ten double whiskies. She dragged herself out of the bath and dropped onto the floor. What had happened? Why did she feel like this, had she been drinking? Had she been drugged? Then, slowly, a recollection came to her mind and she put her hands up to her throat. She recalled the sensation of her neck being squeezed hard. She looked desperately around her but there was nobody to be seen. Had the attacker gone away? Had he been disturbed part-way through? She heard a bang downstairs. What should she do? It could be her attacker coming back to finish her off. The door of the bathroom cupboard was slightly ajar. She raced over to it and slipped inside. She could hear hurried footfalls coming up the stairs. Mary didn’t usually panic, but she felt a tremendous sense of dread of what she might see.
“She’s here, Mike,” a woman’s voice said. “I can’t feel a pulse. She’s not breathing. Call an ambulance.” Mary heard Mike talking to someone. “I think we should try CPR, Mike. Can you give me a hand lifting her?” It didn’t sound like someone who was going to hurt her. Tentatively, she peeked around the door. There was the woman and man crouched on the floor. They were police. Mary burst forth from the cupboard.
“Oh thank God you’re here. I was just attacked by someone. I think that they were trying to kill me. What are you both doing?” Mary looked down at the object in front of them. Staring blankly up at her from a soulless body was herself. Her mouth dropped open, gawping like a cod in the fishmonger’s window.
Mike did chest compressions on her poor naked body. “I don’t think there’s any life left in this one. Pity, she’s a stunner! I would, alive or dead!”
The woman tutted. “Mike, show some respect for the dead and keep trying.”
“What! She doesn’t know any different. Come on, Nikita, give a guy a break. The only pretty girls I get to meet in this job are dead or being questioned for a crime.”
“You’re sick!” said Nikita. Mike shrugged and carried on with the chest compressions.
Mary sank down to her knees beside her corpse. “No!” she screamed and tried slapping her face. Her hand passed clean through. She turned to look at Nikita. “I’m here! That’s not me! I’m not dead!” she screamed. “You’re wrong!”
Mike shivered. “Is it me or has it got really cold in here?” he asked Nikita.
“Bloody freezing. The heating must be off,” she responded. Mike carried on his chest compressions for a few minutes until the paramedics arrived.
“It’s no good, lads, I think she’s gone,” said Mike. The paramedics nodded but carried on trying to revive Mary for a few more minutes.
“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a murder – we’d better call it in. It’s going to be a late one tonight, Nikita.”
Mary screamed as loud as she could and ran downstairs to shut herself in the pantry, away from the hustle of the police investigation.
Ada Baker was a psychic. She was the seventh daughter of two parents who were both seventh children, and she had been gifted with some extraordinary powers. Ada had been named after her mother’s best spirit guide. Personally, she disliked the name; it was so old-fashioned. Ada couldn’t just hear and see the dead, she could channel the abilities they’d had in life too. It had proved extremely useful sometimes. She regularly channelled a lady called Rose Thorne when she needed to get her cleaning done. Rose had been an exceptional cleaning woman while alive, and in death she helped to keep Ada’s home looking spotless. Sadly, she had died at the age of fifty-two when she’d slipped on a bar of soap. She’d hit her head, knocked herself out and ended up drowning in the toilet bowl.
When it was time for the local country fair, Ada channelled the spirit of Mrs Dorothea Entwhistle. Mrs Entwhistle had been the head cook at a large country house in Yorkshire in the early twentieth century. Ada knew that it was really a sort of cheating but her thinking was that she was helping these souls by giving them an outlet for the talents they had accrued during a lifetime of experiences. The afterlife could be very dull at times and it gave the dears something to do.
She didn’t just channel women but men too. She’d never been terribly good with figures, and she regularly called upon a very suave and charming banker called Dennis. He’d died of a heart attack during the Black Monday stock market crash in 1987. His hedonistic lifestyle and the strain of it all had been too much. Dennis helped to keep her money worries in order and did her monthly accounting for her. He’d even advised her on which shares to buy and she’d done rather nicely out of him. Right this second, though, she was sitting in her garden, drinking a cup of tea, while reading the paper and enjoying the spring sunshine.
“Anything good happened recently?” asked Mrs Entwhistle, who was occupying the chair opposite her and peering closely at the back of the paper.
“There’s been a juicy local murder!” said Dennis with glee. He was standing behind her and reading over her shoulder.
“Please may I have another cup of tea?” asked Rose.
Ada looked up at Rose, over the top of her paper, and smiled.
“Of course!” she said, putting her paper down. She picked up the full teacup in front of Rose, threw its contents on her petunias and poured her a fresh one. She knew the dead couldn’t drink, but it made them feel more alive by being included. In a way, it was a little like having flatmates, with the strange addition that sometimes she allowed them to occupy her body. She was always still there when she allowed them in and remained in ultimate control, but she allowed them to take the driver’s seat for a while. Not all spirits were as nice as the three she currently lived with; sometimes spirits were so keen to have another chance at life that they would try to take over her body completely. She’d had one particularly nasty incident with a doctor who’d thought that his uncompleted life’s work was more important than Ada’s own. It had been very hard to remove him and had left her with the strange taste of pineapple in her mouth ever since. She couldn’t explain the pineapple. But these three she trusted. Occasionally, she would let in the spirit of Seth, who’d been the head gardener at the same house as Dorothea, but she rather enjoyed gardening herself.
“Mary Watts was found naked and dead in the bathtub of her home, with a silk scarf tied around her neck. She had been strangled. Curiously, no water was found in the tub and the house was locked. The murder remains unsolved,” read Dennis. “I bet we could solve it, Ada! Or rather, you could with your powers. All you’d need to do is nip down there and ask this Mary person who did it. Easy!”
Ada looked thoughtfully up at Dennis for a second. “I don’t know, Dennis, it seems a bit risky. Somewhere out there is a murderer who wouldn’t be very happy about me snooping around. I don’t want to end up murdered myself. Then where would you all be?”
“Oh go on, please!” begged Rose. “My life was so dull. I wish I’d spent every day of my life challenging myself and trying new things. It’s too late when you’re dead.”
Ada sniffed. “What do you think, Mrs Entwhistle?” She trusted Mrs Entwhistle above all of them – she was sensible and level-headed. Ada could hear the gentle click-clacking of the ghostly needles Mrs Entwhistle was using to do her knitting, which she kept in the small carpet bag she carried everywhere with her. She never seemed to begin or end a piece of knitting, but it was always there. Mrs Entwhistle’s bag seemed to be bottomless and all sorts of things appeared from it. All the things she’d loved and found most useful in life.
Finally, she spoke. “Well, dear, I think it’d be good for you to get out of this house and mix with some real living people. It’s not healthy for someone of your age to mix with old fogeys like us all the time.”
“Thank you, Mrs Entwhistle.”
Ada was, in fact, twenty-eight. She didn’t have many living friends. People tended to find her constant talking to herself rather freaky. She’d had quite a lonely childhood. She had been the odd child that hung around in the corners of the playground on her own, except she was never alone. When she was young, some of her ghostly friends had also been young, but as she’d grown up most of them had abandoned her to find younger playmates. She had met these three in recent years.
“Talking to your ghosts again are you, Ada?” said Mr Gardener, her neighbour, peering over the fence and smiling. He noticed the four teacups on the table full of tea and chuckled to himself. Mr Gardener didn’t believe in ghosts.
“Yes, Mr Gardener. They’ve seen a murder in the local paper and they want me to get involved in solving it. Did you know Mary Watts at all?”
His skin was weather-browned and wrinkled after spending so many years outside gardening. His name was very fitting. He had creases on the side of his eyes that, because of his tan, looked like tiger stripes. His trousers were held up by a piece of garden twine and his clothes were full of many holes. His garden was absolutely immaculate, very ordered, neat and well weeded, but his house was falling apart and one window had been repaired with a sheet of plastic over it. Paint peeled from every sill. Mr Gardener appeared to be thinking for a few seconds before he answered.
“I knew her mother at school. She was a pretty lass. Perhaps a bit too pretty, if you know what I mean. The local lads liked her and she liked them too. I often wondered if the daughter was the same. I’m not sure anyone could say for sure who Mary’s father was. So, Miss Marple, will you take on the case do you think?” he enquired jokingly, with a wry smile on his face.
“Hmm, maybe, I don’t know. I need to think about it. It’s one thing to try to solve a murder on a TV show but quite another to solve a real one.”
“Ooh, before I forget, I have some tasty forced rhubarb for you. It makes a cracking crumble.” He smiled, handing it over the fence.
“Thank you, Mr Gardener, we’ll enjoy that.”
He smiled again, shaking his head and looking at the empty chairs. “Poor lass,” he mumbled to himself as he turned back to his own garden.
Ada had a lot to think about if she was going to help with this case. What was the best way to go about it? Mrs Entwhistle was great at baking and cooking, but not, she suspected, brilliant at solving crimes. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to visit the scene of the crime and see if she could chat to the murder victim. The newly dead did tend to be very shy though. Ada cleared the tea things away.
“Time to make some dinner, Mrs Entwhistle. Rhubarb crumble is on the menu for tonight it would seem.” Mrs Entwhistle followed her into the kitchen.
It was easy for Ada, letting the dead people in. She’d done it for so many years now. She just had to stay still and clear her mind to allow space for them to come in. Ada felt Mrs Entwhistle slip into her mind and take control of her body. Almost as if she was watching a movie, Ada watched Mrs Entwhistle’s calm, reassured manner as she manipulated her hands with a lifetime’s experience at the task.
Before long, the rhubarb was chopped and crumble-ready. It had taken Mrs Entwhistle a while to get used to using an electric oven, but she had mastered it now. When Mrs Entwhistle had been working, it was still coal or gas, and only near the end of her life did electric really take off.
Ada thought quietly to herself at the back of her mind. Perhaps they were right and this would be a good way to get out and about a bit more. Her daily life was very humdrum and consisted mainly of watching murder mysteries with the ghosts. Perhaps it was time she used her abilities to help solve a real murder and make a difference in the world. She made up her mind that she was going to do it. But how would she tell the police what she knew without incriminating herself in some way? Perhaps she’d have to tell them the truth. Trouble was, most people didn’t believe in ghosts. Somehow, she’d have to find a way to make them believe.
In a short while the kitchen was smelling wonderful. Mrs Entwhistle had made a chicken casserole and an amazing rhubarb crumble with egg custard to follow. Ada laid four spaces at the table and put the casserole dish and crumble in the middle. She didn’t serve it up to the ghosts, but they enjoyed the ceremony of it. Mrs Entwhistle insisted on saying grace.
“Let us be truly thankful, oh Lord, for this bounteous feast laid before us. Thank you, Lord. Amen.”
“Amen,” said everyone else collectively. Ada wasn’t actually religious, but she liked to please Mrs Entwhistle, and she truly was thankful for the food. She ate her meal thoughtfully, listening to the ghosts chattering away to each other. She’d never solved a real murder before, only on the telly. Tomorrow was going to be an interesting day.
Ada awoke the next day feeling bright and refreshed. She was excited about speaking to Mary and was keen to get going. She put on her best purple dress and fastened an amethyst pendant around her neck. She wasn’t sure why but she had found that the dead were always very drawn to the colour purple. It was generally considered a very spiritual colour and associated with death so perhaps that was why. Ada gazed in the mirror as she slowly stroked a brush through her long black hair. Her dark brown eyes twinkled like pools of water on a moonlit night. She used her finger to gently apply some blusher and emphasise her high cheek bones. Her skin was golden brown and glowed with health. Ada’s mother had been half black and her father had been half Thai, and she’d inherited features from both her parents. They had been very happy together but had sadly both passed on after a car accident. They had never appeared to her as ghosts, so she assumed they were happy wherever they were now. Their deaths were the reason she had been able to afford the house.
It was a lovely warm spring day, so she put on her sandals and a light cardigan.
“Do you want breakfast today?” asked Mrs Entwhistle.
“No, I want to speak to Mary and it’s always easier speaking to the newly dead on an empty stomach.” Ada wasn’t sure why but she suspected it made her seem that little bit closer to being dead. Mrs Entwhistle looked crestfallen.
“Can we come too?” asked Rose.
“I think not today, Rose. It’s the first time I’ve talked to a new ghost in ages and she might be a bit intimidated if we all turn up.”
Rose crossed her arms and slumped in the armchair, looking decidedly fed up.
“Have fun!” shouted Dennis, who was sitting watching the business news on the telly. Dennis was a poltergeist and was getting better and better at moving things with his mind. He had recently mastered using the remote to control the TV. This had annoyed Ada at first, until they’d made an agreement that he’d watch it with subtitles on or very quietly. If Ada wanted to watch her favourite programme, she had priority. He had discovered his abilities many years before. His very sudden death at work had been a shock and he had wandered around for days trying to speak without success to those around him. Eventually, he had been so frustrated and angry with the situation he had kicked an office chair and sent it flying into one of his colleagues who had run out of the office screaming. He had met Ada many years later when she had been employed in a temp job in the same office building. They had formed such a close friendship by the end of her contract that she’d invited him home and he’d been there ever since.
Ada grabbed her keys and bag and stepped out into glorious sunshine. She opened the sunray gate on her 1920s semi. Mr Gardener was in his front garden today.
“Greetings, Mr Gardener. I’m off to solve a crime!”
He waved. “Good luck, Ada. Careful you don’t go around upsetting any murderers!” he joked teasingly.
Ada ignored his comment; she was used to sceptics. She smiled disarmingly at him. “The rhubarb crumble was delicious by the way. I’ve saved you some. I’ll bring it round later. Cheerio.”
The streets were lush and green and full of life at this time of year. It seemed odd to be heading off to help somebody with their death on such a beautiful day. She took her time strolling and eventually reached 31 Cherry Tree Lane. The road lived up to its name because in the early spring, the street was showered in a pink-cherry petal confetti. She stopped outside the gate. It wasn’t as cheery a house as her own. It was older, perhaps Victorian or Edwardian, but somebody had rendered the bricks with horrid pebbledash sometime in the 1970s, which was now sloughing off in little pieces. It wasn’t as unkempt as Mr Gardener’s house, but it felt unloved in a different way, joyless. Its dark windows seemed to stare back at her and sucked in the light as if they were black holes. The garden was rather wild but showed signs that it had once been loved, as rose bushes and camellias peeked out from among the brambles. She walked through the gate. Even though a couple of weeks had passed since the murder, remnants of police tape still littered the garden. She knocked on the door loudly but nobody answered. She hadn’t really expected anyone to. She opened the letterbox and looked inside. She couldn’t see anyone but she thought that she could hear sobbing somewhere nearby.
“Mary?” she called out. “Mary, my love, I know you don’t know me, but my name is Ada Baker and I’m a psychic. I help people that have passed on. I know this has all been a terrible shock to you being dead. It’s strange, isn’t it, when people ignore you. I know, I have several dead friends. I can hear the dead. I can see them too. I’d like to offer my services to you in helping to capture whoever did this to you and bring them to justice.” She didn’t feel like telling her yet that she could let her inhabit her body. She might want to take direct revenge on the person who murdered her and then Ada would be on a very sticky wicket. “I’ll put my card through the door so you can have a look at who I am.” Ada thought the crying had stopped. “I’m just going to have a look around the garden, I hope you don’t mind. Sometimes I can pick up vibes or even have visions if I walk around and touch things. I’ll come back again tomorrow to give you time to think.”
With these words, she walked down the side return of the house and into the back garden. It was in the same sort of condition as the front, with the exception of a small patio area near the house that had been kept quite neat. She walked closer to inspect it and found a white cast-iron table set with two chairs. An empty ashtray sat on the table, but in the bushes nearby she found traces of two different brands of cigarettes, one of which had lipstick on. She walked up to the patio doors and peered into the gloom within, seeing a red chaise longue on one side of the room. An octagonal occasional table sat beside it, and on it was a large vase of red roses, now rather dried and faded. The shelves around the room were lined with books on art and photography. Ada felt her spine tingle and she spun around to look behind her.
An older man in a grey pinstripe suit was staring at her. His eyes were so intensely blue it made Ada feel uncomfortable, as if she was standing in front of the headmaster at school. Finally, he spoke.
“Who might you be, madam, and what are you doing here at the scene of the crime?” he enquired suspiciously, while tapping a notebook in his hand with a pencil.
She decided that the honest answer was the best approach. “My name is Ada Baker. I’m a psychic and I’ve come to offer Mary my services.” She flashed her business card at him.
“I see,” he said, furiously scribbling down everything she’d just said. “And has she taken you up on the offer?”
Ada paused. She wasn’t used to anyone actually believing what she said.
“Not yet…” she said nervously. “I left a card.”
“And have you seen anything else of interest?” he enquired.
“Just two different brands of cigarette – one with lipstick, one without,” she said, holding out her hand to show him.
He briefly looked then carried on scribbling in his notebook. “I see… Anything else?”
“I was just looking through the window to see what else I could find and I saw the dead roses on the table. A woman doesn’t usually buy roses for herself, so I guess someone bought them for her. I was also trying to make out what the books were on the shelves. Looking around someone’s home can give an insight into their character. They look like art and photography books, so presumably art was a passion.”
“I see, very good, Ms Baker,” he said, furiously scribbling down notes. She looked at him properly for the first time. He was still handsome for a man of his age, about early fifties. He was slim with greying hair and pink cheeks. He seemed to have a very organised, competent air about him. Every time he came to the end of a page in his notebook, he licked his finger to turn the page. Every so often he would tap his pencil against his mouth thoughtfully.
“I don’t think there’s anything else I can do today,” said Ada finally, breaking the silence. “I’m going to go, unless you need me?”
“No, no, I’m done here today,” he said, snapping his book shut smartly. “I’ll walk you out.”
They made their way through the overgrown garden back to the front gate. They stepped through and Ada clicked the gate shut behind them.
“I’m going this way,” she said.
“Oh, me too,” he replied.
They walked along silently, side by side.
“What’s your name, Inspector…?”
“Detective Inspector Jolly. That’s my name. Thirty years’ experience in the service.”
They wandered up to a house near the high street.
“This is me,” he said.
She looked up at the house. “What a very fitting house for a policeman to live in,” she said, and smiled. It was the town’s old Victorian red-brick police station. An old police gas lamp hung over the garden gate and ‘Police’ was carved in stone over the front door. It had been converted last year to a house, ever since a shiny new station had been built with all mod cons nearby.
He looked at her. “I shall be in touch, Ms Baker.” With this, he walked down the rose-lined garden path towards the closed front door and then went straight through it.
Ada’s jaw dropped. She was used to talking to the dead, but never one who’d seemed so alive before. He’d had such presence that she’d not even noticed. It could be hard to tell sometimes, but with the recently deceased it was hardest. That explained at least why he was so ready to believe she was a psychic. She smiled and carried on home. She’d have something to tell the crew anyway.
Mary looked tentatively down the staircase at the faded grandeur of the hall below. The little card sat on the door mat. The voices had gone and she thought it might be safe to come downstairs. She looked around nervously. It was the first time that someone had spoken directly to her since it had happened. At first, she was disorientated and confused, uncertain of what had happened. Then the police had arrived and the house had been full of people, so she’d gone to hide in the attic. Mary was used to taking her clothes off, but after what had happened, she felt vulnerable. She’d worked out that they couldn’t see her, but she hated the way that everyone was talking about her in a past tense. She felt very much present.
She bent down to look at the little card. Luckily it had landed the right way up.
Ada Baker – Gifted Psychic. Are you missing your grandma? Was there something you always wanted to tell your husband but never had the chance? I can aid you.
It also had a phone number, address and e-mail. Mary tried to pick up the card but couldn’t. Perhaps this woman could help. She’d have to wait for her to return tomorrow. She walked back upstairs to her room, her pleasantly curved naked body bouncing as it had when she was alive.
Ada was right – Mrs Entwhistle, Rose and Dennis were very keen to learn everything she’d heard. They poured over the news as if asking for the latest details of a TV soap. They were particularly interested to hear about Inspector Jolly. None of them had heard of him so Ada decided to ask Mr Gardener. She put some rhubarb crumble in a dish and took it round to his house. He was in the garden as normal and was delighted to receive the crumble. He went indoors to make them a mug of tea and Ada took a seat in the garden.
“Hello, Mrs Gardener,” she said. “Lovely afternoon.”
Mrs Gardener never said anything. She had been profoundly deaf in life and this affliction had somehow followed her into her afterlife. She just nodded and smiled. Ada found it strange that in spirit she was still limited. She wondered if this was psychological, having spent her whole life being deaf. Mrs Gardener was able to lip-read and could understand what people said, but only Mr Gardener could use sign language and he didn’t know she was there. Ada was determined that she should learn sign language so that she could have a conversation with Mrs Gardener. She thought that it must be very lonely for her being unable to speak to anyone.
A few minutes later, Mr Gardener came out with the tea. “Builder strength, just as you like it, my dear,” he said.
“Ooh lovely!” Ada said, as she popped two lumps of sugar in it. It was a habit she’d never been able to drop.
“Now, what can I do for you?” he asked. “I assume you didn’t come here just to give me crumble?”
“Yes, I wanted to ask you whether you knew of an Inspector Jolly? I met him earlier today when I was trying to speak to Mary, the murder victim. He was so vivid and alive, I didn’t realise he was dead at first.”
Ada could see Mrs Gardener jumping up and down. It was the most animated Ada had seen her. She was miming dealing out cards.
“Let me see… Yes, the name sounds familiar.” Mrs Gardener seemed to grow more and more exasperated and carried on miming.
“Perhaps you met him playing cards?” Ada suggested.
“Why yes! However did you know that?”
Ada smiled and looked at Mrs Gardener standing over his left shoulder, who now looked much relieved. Mr Gardener followed her gaze.
Ada thought it wise not to tell Mr Gardener, an unbeliever, that his wife was constantly nearby. “Lucky guess,” she responded.
He looked back at her. “Well yes, Evie, my wife, and I used to belong to a bridge club. He was one of the players there. A nice man but very serious and competitive. I always had a feeling that Evie rather fancied him.”
Mrs Gardener seemed to blush.
“I believe he’d been in the service a long time. I stopped going to bridge after Evie died, but I think I read in the paper that he’d died last year. Suicide, I think. Something to do with a case of a girl that was kidnapped and murdered. I’d go to the local library if you want to read more about it.”
“Thanks, I might do that. I’ll pop in tomorrow. I have to go for my training now or I’ll be late.”
She drank up her tea and said goodbye. Then she nipped home and quickly got dressed in her exercise clothes and put on her trainers.
“Are you off to see the lovely Mr Lee?” asked Rose.
“Yes, I really think I’m coming along, but I don’t think I’ll ever be as good as him. See you later.”
Dennis and Mrs Entwhistle were watching the wrestling on TV. It might seem an unlikely hobby for an Edwardian cook, but it was a hobby that Mrs Entwhistle had got into after meeting Dennis. “Come on, Killer Kong!” shouted Mrs Entwhistle, rather overenthusiastically. Neither of them noticed Ada leaving.
It was a lovely day and it would be a good one for training. Ada made her way down to the local parade of shops, where Mr Chung Lee, master of kung fu, had once lived. The Chinese restaurant and takeaway seemed to have been there forever. Once a week her parents would take her to the restaurant for a meal. Over the years, they had become good friends with the Lees and she had often seen Mr Lee training his son Jian in the car park. He moved with such grace and agility. She had always wanted to train with him, ever since watching The Karate Kid on TV. Ada had always loved the movie and had secretly hoped she might convince him to be her teacher. This desire was sadly cut short when Mr Lee died after being run over by a drunk driver.
Ada had finally achieved her dream in recent years after telling the family where Mr Lee had hidden a secret stash of family valuables. She’d seen him one day at the restaurant watching his son in the kitchen. She was used to seeing ghosts everywhere and normally she ignored them. However, she could see that he was urgently trying to tell Jian something and she felt compelled to help. They had been so pleased to be able to communicate with each other again that Mr Lee had agreed to teach kung fu to Ada as well as his son Jian.
Ada entered through the door. It was quiet in here at this time of day. Behind the counter was a very handsome Chinese man of about the same age as Ada. A large and healthy money tree sat on the counter beside him.
“Hello, Jian, I’ve come for my training.”
He beamed a snow-white smile at her. “Ada, lovely to see you. Come through, please. We’ve been expecting you.” She followed him through a beaded curtain to a family area out the back. It had once been the car park for the restaurant, but in recent years it had been transformed into a Zen Garden. An elderly woman sat there on a two-seater swing.
“Ada has come for her weekly kung fu training with Dad,” said Jian to his mum.
“Nin hao, Mrs Lee,” Ada said, bowing to her.
“Nin hao,” she said in response.
Then Ada turned to face a beautiful maple tree. “Nin hao,” said Ada, seemingly to the tree.
“Is he here?” said Jian excitedly.
Mr Lee bowed back to Ada.
“Yes, he’s here. Is there anything you’d like to know before we start the lessons?”
Jian shook his head. “Just tell him I love him and miss him as usual.”
“He heard you. He is always here. He is very pleased with how the business is being run.”
Jian beamed and old Mrs Lee smiled to herself as she swung on the swing seat. The family had agreed that Ada could have kung fu lessons with Mr Lee and his son in exchange for them being able to speak with their loved one.
“Shall we begin?” said Ada. “What shall we practise today, Mr Lee?”
“Yoga warm-up as usual,” said Mr Lee. “Then we practise the jab punches, same as last week. Have you been practising at home?”
“Yes, although only with the punchbag in my spare room,” said Ada. She turned to Jian. “Your father wants us to do a yoga warm-up first, then practise jab punches again.” Jian nodded.
Mr Lee walked over to his son, who was warming up. “Good muscles, strong arm,” he said, admiring his son’s physique. Ada passed on the comment to Jian. His face beamed with pride at pleasing his father. He had spent hours training on this very spot with him when he was alive and he was pleased to be able to carry on after his death. A small ancestral shrine stood in one corner of the garden, where Jian and his family prayed to Mr Lee and their other male ancestors. Ancestor worship was very important to the Chinese.
After warming up, Ada practised her jabs with Jian. Mr Lee watched on, giving Ada advice on how to improve.
After they had finished, old Mrs Lee prepared oolong tea for them and went through the elaborate gongfu tea ceremony. Ada watched with awe and fascination. She never got tired of watching it. The closest she normally came to a tea ceremony was using her mother’s best china and pouring it for her flatmates. Drinking the delicious tea filled her with a great serenity and was most welcome after the tiring workout. Mr Lee wasn’t forgotten and a cup was placed at the shrine.
Finally, Jian spoke. “What are you up to these days, Ada? Any exciting news?”
“I’m trying to help a local woman bring her murderer to justice.”
“Really? How exciting! And she has agreed to this?”
“No, not yet. I only went there today. I’m going back tomorrow, but I’m hopeful. Rose thinks it’ll be good for me, but secretly I believe she thinks it’ll be good for her to get involved.”
“A murder though, isn’t that risky?” asked Jian.
“Yes.” She paused. “I suppose it might be.”
“Feel free to call on us for help if you need it,” said Jian.
Mr Lee nodded. “Indeed. Call Jian anytime you need me,” said Mr Lee.
“Would you like a takeout to go home with? We have a special offer on beef chow mein?” said Jian.
“No thanks, Jian. I’d better head home before Mrs Entwhistle gets tetchy about cooking dinner. Thanks for the lesson. See you next week.”
gave them another saccharin smile and closed the door. They wandered off down the lane.
“Well, that was…” began Ada.
“Saccharin sweet,” finished Neville.
“Yes, but also helpful. I think perhaps I’ll start by visiting Marcus Strang’s exhibition tomorrow to see what he says.” She paused for a few seconds, then hesitantly said, “Would you like to come with me? It’d look less suspicious if two of us visited.”
“I’d love to,” he said, beaming again. “Let me walk you home, you’ve had a nasty shock.”
“Sure, that’d be lovely,” she replied, smiling.
“Do you want to know what Bert, the lovely man next door, had to say about Ellen?” asked Rose.
Ada jumped. She’d forgotten for a moment that Rose was there.
“Yes, that would be great. Who was he?”
“His name’s Bert and he’s lived there, well died there, been dead there, since the early twentieth century. He used to work at the silk mill. He says Ellen is very much a homebody, frequently entertains her WI friends, and that Mr Strang has been to visit on more than one occasion. Mary never came to visit. He’s also taking me out for a stroll next Sunday after church,” she finished excitedly.
“Thanks, Rose, and good for you. I’m not the only one who needs to get out and meet new people.”
They carried on the rest of the way to Ada’s home in silence, each wrapped up in their own thoughts. Neville saw her to the gate, gave her a hug, and Ada and Rose went in. Neville walked off back down the road towards his home.
William Kent sat in an old blue Ford Anglia parked almost opposite Ada’s house. He watched their arrival and Neville’s departure. “Interesting,” he said to himself. He opened a new notebook from its plastic wrapper and started jotting down notes.
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