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The Château Murder (Molly Sutton Mysteries 5): Ebook

The Château Murder (Molly Sutton Mysteries 5): Ebook

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Cozy mystery

Immerse yourself in French village life


October 2006

“Don’t mess about with that.” Marcel waved his hand with an effort at nonchalance but his tone had a slightly wary edge.

Aimed directly at his head, the barrel of the shotgun did not budge.

“Come on now,” Marcel said, forcing a smile. “It’s a Holland & Holland twelve-gauge, you know. Out of London. My grandfather gave it to me when I turned fifteen. Hard to believe I was ever that young.”

The barrel advanced a few steps. And then, just like that, the trigger was squeezed and the gun went off, sending a spray of birdshot straight at baron Marcel de Fleuray. With that mysterious sense of premonition we sometimes have, in an infinitesimal fraction of a second, he felt the shot coming and turned to the side, trying to save his handsome face. 

The blast would likely have stung but not been fatal, had not one single pellet happened to nick his carotid artery, which was exposed as he turned away.

Marcel slumped to the floor of the salon, which was hard stone but covered with two layers of sumptuous carpets. For a moment, speechless, he looked imploringly at the shooter, who lay the shotgun on an antique console table and meticulously wiped it clean of prints. By the time that was done, the baron had expired, and his murderer calmly went out through the open door and into the chilly darkness of a brisk October night.

* * *

The two-person gendarmerie of Castillac was struggling to get its footing after a series of personnel changes. Gilles Maron was still acting chief, though unhappy in the job, partly because he strongly disliked the other officer. He found the snobby Paul-Henri to be insufferable, and organized their duties so as to spend as little time with him as possible. So on the morning of October 19th, Maron was making the rounds of the village alone, keeping his eye on the various businesses and chatting with residents, just as the former Chief Ben Dufort had taught him to do.

Maron was not naturally easygoing or sociable, but he wanted to do his job well, and every morning he walked the perimeter of the main village. By continuing in smaller circles, he eventually made it to the Place in the center of Castillac, greeting people as he went, and trying to see under the surface in case someone was in trouble but struggling to ask for help. Things had been quiet lately, and a yearning for a more urban posting kept swimming into his thoughts. He liked to imagine himself in a bulletproof vest, storming into a terrorist enclave on the outskirts of Paris, performing dangerous, important work—anything but monitoring this sleepy village where everyone knew everyone else’s business and the main topic of conversation was what you planned to eat at your next meal.

Though no one could really call Castillac sleepy, not anymore. The villagers joked that it had turned into the French version of Cabot Cove, with another murder every time you turned around. Like all the best jokes, it came lined with a streak of truth and discomfort, and some didn’t find it respectful—or prudent—to make light of such serious and unfortunate events.

It was a warm morning, with none of the chill of the past week. The terrace of the Café de la Place was filled with customers, most of whom Maron recognized. It was rather a loud group for mid-morning, he thought as he approached.

“Bonjour, Maron!” shouted Pascal, the young and very handsome server.

Maron walked quickly, understanding from his tone that Pascal was not simply greeting him. “What is it?”

“Have you heard? Babette just came by for a coffee with some news. You know Georgina Locatelli? She’s the housekeeper out at Château Marainte.”

Maron nodded though he had no idea who Pascal was talking about.

“Babette said Georgina told her that she found the baron dead in the salon! Shot to death!” Pascal could not contain his excitement at the news, but tried—and failed—to look appropriately sorrowful.

“Baron?” said Maron, lost.

“Yes, yes, the baron de Fleuray. I am not surprised if you’ve never met him. He didn’t spend much time in Castillac, I don’t think. And when he was here, he… well, I don’t know what he did with himself, but he wasn’t hanging around with the plebes here at the Café, I can tell you that!” Pascal laughed, tipping his head back and showing his straight white teeth.

“He hunted,” piped up a young man leaning back in his chair. “The château has that huge forest behind it--the family owned all the land stretching north for many kilometers—where the baron had hunting parties. I know because I work at the traiteur, and sometimes he would order from us. Everything had to be packed in wicker baskets for them to eat out in the woods. Fussy about the menu.”

Maron was nodding, his mind racing. With relief he thought: hunting accident! And then realized that was fairly unlikely to have occurred in his salon.

Possibly something had happened while he was cleaning his gun?

“Have you seen Georgina?” he asked.

“Oh no,” laughed Pascal. “I’m sure she’s making the rounds of the whole village with a story like that. It’s not every day you stumble upon a dead aristocrat, after all.”

“You think it’s funny?”

“No! I mean, well, the thing is, Maron, the baron was known to be sort of a jerk. Not that anybody actually knew him. Barely ever came into the village because he didn’t like to mix with the great unwashed, you know?”

Maron nodded. He was no great fan of the aristocracy himself, having come from a working class family in the north of France who talked reverently about the part their ancestors had played during the Revolution. “All right then, thank you for the information,” he said stiffly, and took off for the station. 

Not for the first time, he wished Ben Dufort was still the chief. He would know how to talk to the people out at the château. Maron jammed his hands into his pockets as he walked, brow furrowed, planning out the first steps in the new investigation.

“Bonjour, Paul-Henri,” he said, entering the station.

Paul-Henri returned the greeting, his expression animated. “I just took a call from baroness Antoinette de Fleuray out at Château Marainte. Her husband has been shot to death.”

“I know,” said Maron, thankful that Paul-Henri hadn’t surprised him with the news. “Let’s get going.”

“My parents might know them,” said Paul-Henri as he put on his coat. “I believe the baron spent most of his time in Paris, and you know my family has very many associations with the—”

“Let’s get to the château, shall we?” said Maron.

“But the—”

“Paul-Henri, just stick to the matter at hand, if you will. A man has been shot here in Castillac. It has nothing whatsoever to do with who your mother knows in Paris.”

Paul-Henri opened his mouth to answer, but changed his mind. It was difficult having a boss who understood so little about how the world worked, but he had learned that Maron did not listen when he tried to explain, so he pursed his lips while delivering a short lecture inside his head as they drove out to Château Marainte.

A dead Baron. A missing emerald. And way too many suspects.

Amateur sleuth Molly Sutton has her hands full this time! Shut out of Castillac’s latest murder case and running out of money, she’s praying for a brilliant scheme or at least some dumb luck to strike. Believing good food can be the solution to almost any problem, she comes up with a culinary idea designed to stave off financial disaster—and finds that even a perfect meal can end up a flop.

As for the poor late Baron, once Molly manages to get inside the Château, she quickly pokes her nose where it doesn’t belong. But looking for clues and uncovering secrets is a risky business, and this time Molly ends up with her own life in danger.

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