First Monday Free Fiction: Kitchen Witch

Welcome to the May 2020 edition of First Monday Free Fiction. To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.

May is the season for fresh spring green and fresh herbs. It is also the season for wild garlic – or would normally be, because this year, the wild garlic was early and already arrived in late March.

Nonetheless, to celebrate the season I have a mystery for you this month, in which fresh spring herbs in general and wild garlic plays in particular an important part. Kitchen Witch is part of the Helen Shepherd Mysteries series. This time around, Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd and her team have to solve the mysterious death of Eudora Pembroke, a self-styled witch who died after ingesting a poisonous plant. But would an experienced herbalist like Eudora Pembroke really make such a beginner’s mistake? And was her death a tragic accident or foul play? You can find out in…

Kitchen Witch

Rosslyn Grove was exactly what it sounded like, a quiet leafy Hampstead sidestreet lined with Victorian semi-detached houses rendered in red brick.

Once upon a time, these houses would have been middle class homes, occupied by lawyers, doctors, professors, merchants and civil servants, not to mention artists, writers and intellectuals of every stripe. But those days were long gone and nowadays, like all of the nicer neighbourhoods of London and a few of the less nice ones, Rosslyn Grove was the province of millionaires only.

Cause in point, when parking at the curb, Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd of the Metropolitan Police had to squeeze her clunky dark green Rover between a silver gleaming S-class Mercedes and a cute little BMW convertible. Helen suspected the millionaire owners of those luxury cars wouldn’t be too happy about that, but then she didn’t give a damn. They should consider themselves lucky she didn’t have their cars towed for obstructing access to a crime scene.

Rosslyn Grove 22 was something of an exception to the rule of the street, since it was a freestanding single rather than a semi-detached house. It was equally Victorian, equally red brick and surrounded by the same type of wall as the other houses on the street, yet something was different.

For starters, there was no car in the driveway, only an old black bicycle leaning to the wall. And while the garden behind the brick wall was certainly beautiful, it was also a lot less manicured than those of the adjacent homes. All over the garden, chimes and crystal ornaments dangled from the branches of trees and shrubs. Fairy circles sprouted from the grass and in a corner, there was a small altar, covered with stones, sea shells, pieces of wood, candles and little figurines. It was all very enchanting, but certainly not the latest fashion in garden design. What was more, the current tenant of Rosslyn Grove 22 seemed to be fond of growing herbs and vegetables in the front garden, something that millionaires rarely felt the need or urge to do.

The front door was flanked by two mischievous looking stone gargoyles, which seemed to positively snuggle up to the two uniforms guarding the entrance. Dangling from the canopy above the door, there were yet more crystal chimes, a veritable riot of them.

“Good morning, ma’am,” Police Constable Martin Jackson, one of the uniforms guarding the door, greeted Helen, “Quite the fairytale glade, isn’t it?”

“It’s certainly lovely,” Helen agreed, “Though not quite the design sensibility I would expect in this neighbourhood. Camden Town, sure, but here? Too wealthy and too upper class for chimes and vegetable gardens.”

“Well, it is Hampstead,” PC Jackson replied, “And Hampstead always had its share of artsy folk.”

“Though nowadays, the only artsy folk who can afford to live in this neighbourhood are washed-up rockstars and actors with delusions of poshness.” Helen looked around the garden again. “I suspect our victim was neither.”

***

This story was available on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in Kitchen Witch. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.

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