Cherringham - Episode 19 - 21
Cherringham - Episode 19 - 21
1. Introducing Freddy
Basil Whistlethwaite parked his ancient Volvo Estate in the staff car park of The Bell Hotel, and turned off the engine.
Slowly he released his seat belt: the drive from York had taken him longer than he'd expected and his back ached.
He leaned forward and tilted the driving mirror so he could check his beard and moustache. He looked at his reflection in the fading light.
I'm getting too old for this, he thought.
There were dark circles under his eyes, and his skin looked lined and grey.
But the show must go on, he thought, tweaking the ends of his handlebar moustache until they were just ... perfect.
Can't let the customers down.
In truth, he rather wished he'd been able to cancel tonight's little soirée . He felt tired and out of sorts. And these autumn nights were beginning to take their toll on his chest again: it took all of his willpower not to break out coughing.
And that wouldn't do, oh no!
Can't have the master of ceremonies breaking the spell with a sneeze and a cough!
He climbed out of the car, picked up his old leather suitcase from the back seat, straightened his tweed suit and headed across the gravel towards the main entrance of the hotel.
At the front door, he paused and took in the place. It was almost exactly a year since he'd last been here and nothing seemed to have changed.
Nothing ever changed at The Bell Hotel.
In the misty early evening light, the building looked almost romantic.
Or ... what was the word ...?
Gothic. Yes, that was it. Perfect for a haunting.
Surrounded by dense, old-fashioned gardens, the grand Victorian house - Cherringham's finest, they used to say - still spoke of the lost wealth of Empire.
But Basil knew that the dear old Bell was putting a brave face on things. Anyone could see that the paint on the windows was peeling, the gutters hung at unlikely angles and the roof tiles were crumbling.
The carpets and upholstery grew more frayed with each passing year.
Happens to us all in the end, thought Basil. But I bet The Bell will still be here long after I've gone.
He felt that tickle rising in his lungs and fought back the instinct to cough.
Then he headed on up the faded marble steps, pushed at the brown, varnished doors, and entered.
"Basil, Basil my dear old chap, how are you?"
Basil got up from the hard-backed sofa where he'd been waiting, and watched as Lawrence Myrtle, the owner of The Bell, shuffled towards him across the tiled reception area.
He held out his hand for Lawrence to shake, but instead the old man reached around him and gave him an unexpected - and shaky - embrace.
"I'm well," said Basil, slightly embarrassed. "Soldiering on, you know."
"Can't believe it's Halloween again," said Lawrence, still clinging to his arm. "Where does the time go, eh?"
"Where indeed?" said Basil, waiting for the man to move on. In the dimly lit reception area, Basil could see that Lawrence looked even frailer than the last time he saw him.
But that wasn't surprising: Lawrence must surely now be in his eighties. Basil could see that the old man's jacket was threadbare at the cuffs, and though his tie was smartly tucked into his collar ... was that a smidgen of egg as it widened? Ketchup too?
The Bell's owner was well beyond retirement age. How could he possibly still be running this place?
"How are the children?" said Basil. "Are they around?"
"Oh, Mandy's in London," said Lawrence. "Don't see much of her. Too busy, apparently."
"And your eldest ...?"
Basil struggled to remember the name.
"Crispin," said Lawrence. "Yes, he's off at some conference. Back tomorrow. That's why I'm in charge tonight! Tou