It’s National Cream Tea Day here in the UK, so to celebrate, here’s a delicious scone-filled excerpt from my latest Tish Tarragon mystery, THE GARDEN CLUB MURDER. Enjoy!
‘I stopped by to see how you were getting on and whether you needed anything.’ Ainsley flashed a sly smile. ‘I was also wondering if there might a chance of sampling a sausage roll.’
Tish laughed and wandered over to the oven. ‘Sausage rolls won’t be ready until this afternoon, but the scones are done. I can fix you one with clotted cream and jam, if you’d like.’
‘That sounds like a mighty agreeable substitute.’
Tish grabbed an oven mitt and went about pulling the two baking sheets of scones from the oven and stacking them on a rolling rack with the others. ‘So, going back to your first question, everything is moving along well. However, I did have a bit of a run-in with Nathan and Mariette Knobloch yesterday afternoon.’
‘Really? What were they doing here?’
‘Simply put, they were here to stop the luncheon.’ Tish removed a cooled scone from one of the lower tiers of the rolling rack and placed it on a plate.
Tish split the scone in half and wandered to the refrigerator. ‘They claim the garden competition is responsible for Mr Shackleford’s death.’
‘That’s ludicrous. What did you tell them?’
‘I told them that I was hired by the garden club and, as such, they would need to talk to you if they wanted to stop the luncheon.’ Tish, having fetched a container of clotted cream and a jar of her homemade strawberry preserves from the refrigerator, placed a dollop of each on the plate, added a knife for spreading, and presented it to Ainsley.
‘Ooh,’ he moaned as he sniffed the still-warm scone. ‘Well, the Knoblochs didn’t say “boo” to me. I was in all evening. My phone never rang and no one came knocking at my door.’
‘Strange, because they seemed to be dead set on cancelling the competition and shutting down the garden club. I even thought they’d come back at night and tear down the decorations I put on the patio.’
‘Yeah, I called Sheriff Reade to have his officers keep an eye on the place,’ Schuyler corroborated.
Ainsley spread some cream and jam on a half of scone and sunk his teeth into it. ‘Mmm,’ he moaned once again. ‘Scrumptious. Simply scrumptious.’
‘Thank you. So, even though the Knoblochs didn’t contact you last night, you must have known about their disapproval of the garden club.’
Ainsley chomped on a large bite of scone, sending crumbs cascading down the front of his shirt. When he had swallowed the mouthful, he spoke. ‘I’d heard some rumblings indicating that Mariette and Nathan weren’t fans of the garden club or our annual competition, but they themselves never once spoke to me directly. Their communication with you is the first time they’ve openly tried to stop our event. Not that I’m too surprised by that either. The Knoblochs were never in favor of the residents having gardens in the first place.’
He popped another bit of scone into his mouth and licked his fingers.
Tish moved to the other end of the counter and prepared to roll out the pastry casing for the sausage mixture. ‘If the Knoblochs weren’t in favor of residents having their own gardens, then why is it permitted? This is their development. They set the rules, don’t they?’
‘To a point. Any regulations the Knoblochs propose are subject to the approval of the Coleton Creek Homeowners’ Association. The development actually started out with a non-garden clause in the bylaws – imposed, of course, by the Knoblochs – but as the community grew and developer-appointed board members were slowly phased out and replaced with members of the community, the mandate came into question. The board voted unanimously to reverse the non-garden clause. The Knoblochs immediately tried to overturn the ruling, but to no avail.’ Ainsley punctuated this statement by taking another bite of scone and cream.
‘What about the garden club and competition? Did the Knoblochs propose a regulation to outlaw them?’
Ainsley replied in the negative. ‘Like I said, all I’ve ever heard are rumblings and rumors. And even those didn’t start until a few months ago.’
Tish glanced at Jules, who raised a questioning eyebrow. The Knoblochs claimed that Shackleford’s murder had spurred them to take action against the garden club, but Ainsley’s words suggested they had been trying to undermine the club for several weeks. ‘Can you think of what might have provoked the Knoblochs’ disapproval?’
Having finished his scone, Ainsley wiped his mouth with a paper napkin and disposed of it on his empty plate. ‘I can only speculate, of course, but I think it was Biscuit.’
‘Biscuit?’ Tish retrieved her favorite rolling pin from her bag of tools. ‘The dog?’
‘Again, I’m guessing, but I’ve gotten the distinct impression that the Knoblochs had been fielding several complaints about Sloane Shackleford and how his dog was turning contestants’ lawns and gardens yellow.’
‘I thought contestants complained to you about Biscuit,’ Tish stated, recalling Orson Baggett’s account of Biscuit’s late-night travels.
‘They did. And I, due to their complaints, spoke to Shackleford on their behalf. But when Biscuit was still seen marauding, some folks went over my head.’
‘I know Orson was furious that you didn’t toss Shackleford out of the club,’ Tish remarked as she dusted the counter with flour.
‘I know he was. But how could I? There was no proof Shackleford set Biscuit loose with a command to destroy other gardeners’ properties. What folks don’t realize is that Shackleford’s garden was compromised just as much as anyone else’s – perhaps more so. Just back in July, Shackleford had some yellow patches dug up from his lawn and replaced with sod.’
Tish stopped in her tracks. ‘Shackleford’s garden had yellowing problems, too?’
Ainsley nodded. ‘Shackleford was convinced something other than Biscuit was at the root of the problem.’