CHRISTMAS In TORQUAy AN EXCLUSIVE SHORT STORY _____________________________________________________ Published by Sweet Cherry Publishing Limited Unit 36, Vulcan House, Vulcan Road, Leicester, LE5 3EF United Kingdom © Pip Murphy Christie and Agatha's Detective Agency: Christmas in Torquay All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or utilised in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or using any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The right of Pip Murphy to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988. Illustrations by Roberta Tedeschi www.sweetcherrypublishing.com _____________________________________________________ This is a free short story and is not for sale, hire or loan. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org For all enquiries, please e-mail: Divia Kainth - email@example.com
Chapter ONE ‘Isn’t Auguste here for the carol singing yet?’ asked Christie, bounding down the final few stairs of their Devonshire house in one leap. ‘It’s starting to get dark.’ ‘It is,’ agreed her mother, Clara, poking her head out of the kitchen, ‘but we asked him to come round at seven, after he’d had his dinner. It’s only just gone six.’ 3
‘Golly,’ said Christie, looking at the kitchen clock in astonishment. So it was. It felt like hours since she’d last checked it at five forty. Just in case the kitchen clock was broken, she went to check the one in the drawing room, but that one agreed with the first. How strange time was! ‘Actually,’ said Clara, ‘our dinner is almost ready, so could you go and call your sister?’ Distracted from her impatience by the delicious smells wafting out of the kitchen, Christie nodded and pounded back up the stairs. 4
‘Aggie!’ she called, poking her head round the door of her twin’s bedroom. ‘Dinner’s ready! Smells like shepherd’s pie.’ Agatha looked up from where she’d been sitting at her desk. ‘Oh, thanks,’ she said. ‘I’m just coming. Er, what do you think?’ She shyly held up her notebook, open at the first page. On the inside front cover she had just finished pasting one of their business cards. The name ‘Christie and Agatha’s Detective Agency’ stood out clearly, even from across the room. 5
Christie grinned. ‘Perfect!’ she said. A package containing their business cards had arrived in the first post that very morning, wrapped in newspaper containing a printed advertisement for their agency’s services. Both the cards and the advert were courtesy of their family friend and sponsor, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Now the girls just needed a new case!
HA’S CHRISTIE & AGAT DETECTIVE AGENCY
lem, big or small Will solve any prob (preferably big). AND, THE WORLD TORQUAY, ENGL
‘You should put some of the cards in your bag for when we go carol singing,’ said Christie, as the two of them went downstairs. ‘That way we can give them out to our neighbours. Kill two birds with one stone. I’d put them in my skirt pocket but I need to wait for mother to fix it.’ Christie was very happy with the pocket that she had asked her mother to sew into her skirt, but unfortunately the pocket seemed to have grown a large hole. They had discovered this earlier today when Christie had accidentally 7
left a trail of business cards behind her wherever she walked. Christie optimistically decided it might be good advertising, but as their mother had pointed out, they should probably try to keep hold of at least some to hand out to potential clients.
CHAPTER TWO The girls had just finished their second helpings of shepherd’s pie – Christie’s nose had guessed correctly – when the doorbell rang. It was Auguste, who had managed to arrive at seven o’clock on the dot. He was dressed in a smartlooking thick coat, with an equally smart matching scarf and gloves. He stamped his boots very carefully 9
on the doormat before following the twins into the drawing room. Auguste looked at the Christmas tree that was sitting snugly next to the fireplace. It was a nice tall tree – but the decorations! They were arranged with no sense of order at all: big ones above small ones, wooden ones and metal
ones mixed together, and colours all over the place. Perhaps he should offer to tidy it for them later. They couldn’t be happy with it like that. But first things first. ‘Joyeux Noël,’ said Auguste. ‘I have brought some speculoos that was baked by my family.’ He held out a small, beautifully wrapped package to the girls. ‘Spec-to-cools?’ Christie repeated as she took it. ‘Speculoos,’ said Auguste. ‘They are a type of biscuit that we eat in Belgium in the Christmas season. They are best when eaten with hot drinks.’ 11
‘That sounds lovely,’ said Agatha. ‘Yes,’ agreed Christie, although personally she thought that spectacle-shaped biscuits sounded a little strange. ‘We can have them with hot cocoa when we get back. Hang on – I’ll just go and give them to mother then we can get going.’ She quickly raced back into the dining room, where Clara was tidying away the dishes. The girls had offered to help but Clara had let them off this once, so that they could leave for their carol singing in good time. 12
‘We’re off now, mother,’ said Christie. ‘Here are some spectacles that Auguste and his parents made for us. Are glasses a popular biscuit design in Belgium?’ ‘I don’t think so,’ said Clara. ‘Mrs Dupont told me they like to eat Yule logs for Christmas over there, instead of Christmas pudding. But she didn’t say anything about glasses. Still, I’m sure they’ll be delicious. Give me a moment and I’ll come and see you off.’
Chapter Three Bundled up against the cold in their warm scarves and coats, the girls and Auguste set off on their little expedition. Christie was bouncing along enthusiastically, but Agatha noticed that Auguste was being awfully quiet. Is it too cold for him? she wondered. Did he not want to come? But what Agatha didn’t know was that Auguste had a secret. 14
A secret that had almost made him cry off coming on this outing altogether. After all, in his mind it was something that might well bring shame on his entire family. It was this: he could not sing a note. Hoping to cheer the Belgian boy up, Agatha asked him, 'Um, what did you ask Father Christmas for, Auguste?' ‘Nothing,’ said Auguste. ‘We do not have the Father of Christmas in my home country.’ ‘You don’t get any presents?’ asked Christie, horrified. ‘Non, non, we get the presents but they are from our parents. 15
They leave them under the Christmas tree and we open them on Christmas Eve.’ ‘But Father Christmas doesn’t come to Belgium?’ asked Agatha in
surprise. It wasn’t that far out of his way, surely? ‘In Belgium we are visited by Saint Nicholas on the sixth of December,’ said Auguste. ‘We put out carrots for his horse and he leaves us sweets and small presents in return.’ ‘Rats!’ said Christie. ‘If we’d known about that, we’d have left carrots out then, too. Oh well, there’s always next year. And Christmas, of course. And you never know – now you’re living in England, maybe Father Christmas will visit you too, Auguste.’ ‘Maybe,’ said Auguste. 17
Chapter Four The children decided to start at the opposite end of the road and then work their way back towards their house. ‘That way we won’t have to carry things as far,’ Christie explained. ‘Carry things?’ repeated Auguste, confused. What would they be carrying? ‘Sometimes people give us presents after we’ve sung to them,’ 18
said Agatha. ‘Mince pies or cakes and things like that.’ Auguste’s footsteps slowed to a depressed trudge. He really shouldn’t have come! These girls had such angelic singing voices that those who heard them showered them with gifts. He doubted that any choir with him in it would get so much as a single thank you present. Would they still want to be friends with him when they returned home empty-handed? But it was too late to back out now. They were already approaching the first house. A cloud hanging over him, he 19
followed silently as Christie pushed open the gate and led them into the garden. ‘Ready?’ the girl whispered over her shoulder. ‘Let’s start with Good King Wenceslas.’ Agatha nodded. Auguste swallowed. There was nothing for it but to sing. He would just have to do it as quietly as possible, so that the girls’ angelic voices drowned out his own tuneless one. It was their only hope. ‘Good king–’ he began, as softly as he could. Then he stopped, his mouth hanging open in surprise. 20
Although he would never have been so ungentlemanly as to tell her, Agatha’s singing ability was roughly the same as his: weak and a little out of tune. But Christie’s … well, it was in a league of its own. Auguste didn’t think that he’d ever heard something so loud and appallingly raucous before in all his life. It was, in a word, incredible. Barely had they finished singing the first verse when the door of the house banged open and a middleaged man fell out of it. He looked pale, like someone who had just received a nasty shock. The rest of 21
his family were gathered behind him, wide-eyed and anxious. ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Pyne!’ cried Christie. ‘Merry Christmas, girls,’ said Mr Pyne, a sickly smile upon his face. ‘What wonderfully strong voices you have. But you’d better not stand around in the cold like that. You’ll catch your death.’ An elderly lady behind him thrust out a package with trembling hands. Mr Pyne took it and held it out to Christie. ‘Here’s some cake for your trouble,’ he said. He hesitated. 22
‘But you, er, you will run along now, won’t you? Only I wouldn’t like to think of you straining yourselves and losing your voices right before Christmas.’ His family nodded energetically behind him. ‘Thank you,’ said Agatha, putting the package into her bag. The other two joined in with her thanks and together they headed back to the gate. Auguste, glancing back, saw the family give a collective sigh of relief as they closed the door behind them. 23
Chapter Five More or less the same thing happened at the other houses that they visited. The three of them started to sing, then almost immediately the families would bribe them to stop again. Sometimes the occupants didn’t even open the door – the cakes would be pushed out of letterboxes or come flying out of windows with cries of, ‘Thank you, that’s enough now!’ or ‘Hurry 24
home and get warm!’. ‘I’m sure you’ll be glad you moved here,’ Agatha said shyly to Auguste. ‘You can see how friendly and generous all of our neighbours are.’ ‘Yes,’ said Auguste, who was still in a state of shock. ‘They are … most kind.’
The final house before the girls’ own was Mrs Trellis’s. To Auguste’s surprise, they were actually able to finish belting out most of Silent Night before there was any sign of life from inside. This was the furthest they’d managed to get so far. Then he remembered that the elderly lady was rather deaf. That explained it. After a few minutes, the front door opened and Mrs Trellis looked out. She seemed surprised to see the three children in her garden. Her gaze fell first on Christie and she frowned. After years of putting up with the girl’s tomboy antics, 26
she had developed a strong dislike for Christie. Then she noticed Agatha, whose quiet shyness she misinterpreted as excellent manners, and she brightened.
‘Agatha, dear,’ she said, ‘was that a car crash just now? Was anybody hurt?’ ‘Er, no, Mrs Trellis,’ said Agatha, astonished. ‘There was nothing like that.’ ‘But I heard the most dreadful squeal of brakes!’ She peered through the darkness at the girls’ mystified faces and sighed. ‘I suppose it must have been cats or something.’ Crikey, thought Christie. Usually she never hears anything but now she’s hearing things that nobody else did! Sir Conan Doyle better not find out about this, or 28
he’ll be down here talking about how there are some noisy magic pixies on the loose. ‘If there hasn’t been a car crash, whatever are you doing out here at this hour?’ asked Mrs Trellis. Agatha rummaged in her bag, searching among all the tasty treats to find the one package they had brought out with them. ‘We, um, got you a Christmas present,’ she told her. ‘Speak up dear!’ ‘We got you a Christmas present, Mrs Trellis,’ said Agatha, as loudly as she could. ‘It’s a new handkerchief.’ 29
‘It’s to replace the one that got the mould juice on it,’ Christie put in. Mrs Trellis shuddered at the memory. ‘Thank you, dears,’ she managed, taking the package. ‘And please thank your wonderful mother, too. Would you …’ She hesitated, frowning at Christie. ‘Would you like to come in?’ ‘That’s all right, Mrs Trellis,’ said Christie, who didn’t want spend any more time in the woman’s company either. ‘Thanks all the same but we’re going to go home and eat spectacles now.’ 30
Mrs Trellis watched them go in astonishment. For a moment there she could have sworn that Christie had said they were going to eat glasses. But she must have been mistaken.
Chapter Six In the end, Christie felt a little disappointed to discover that the biscuits weren’t shaped like spectacles at all. They did have cute figures and tree designs stamped on top of them, though. ‘We have a special mould that we use to press the image down into the biscuit,’ Auguste told them proudly. ‘It makes the picture most precise.’ 32
‘They look wonderful!’ said Agatha. ‘I’ve never seen anything quite like them before.’ ‘Me neither,’ said Christie, dunking one into her cocoa. ‘And they taste good, too!’ The three children were back from their carol singing expedition and were sitting around the fire with cups of cocoa and a big plate of speculoos between them.
Auguste had made sure to choose a chair that faced away from the Christmas tree. ‘Actually,’ said Clara, ‘I’ve got another treat for you. It’s a present from Mr Fleming. He sent it as a thank you for solving his mystery for him. I already made one for Christmas Day, so we might as well have this one now.’ ‘What is it?’ asked Christie with interest. ‘Wait and see!’ said Clara, smiling. ‘But I might ask you to put out the lights.’ ‘Oh!’ said Christie and Agatha together. 34
They knew exactly what the treat was now. Auguste, though, looked confused, so they didn’t say anything. They didn’t want to spoil the surprise for him. The girls put out all of the lights apart from the roaring fire in the fireplace and then sat facing the door with excited, expectant looks upon their faces. Auguste copied them, wondering how they were going to see whatever it was properly in such poor light. Then, to his astonishment, flickering blue flames appeared in the doorway. He gripped the arms of his chair tightly. Had Sir Conan 35
Doyle been right about fairies and magical creatures living in the area after all? No, impossible! But was the fire somehow hovering in the air? How could that be? Then his eyes grew accustomed to the sudden light and he realised that the flames were actually coming from a cake that was being carried by the girls’ mother. As he stared, the flames grew weaker and finally flickered away into nothingness. Christie and Agatha both clapped enthusiastically. To be polite, Auguste joined in with the applause, but he didn’t think that setting fire 36
to a cake was anything to celebrate. Perhaps the twins were simply relieved that the flames had been extinguished without the whole house burning down? But that was one mystery that wouldn’t be solved until his mother explained the British tradition of Christmas puddings to him on their drive home. For now, though, there was dessert to be eaten. And despite the flames, it didn’t taste burnt at all. In fact, Auguste thought, it was just as spectacular as the speculoos – and far less shocking than Christie’s carol singing.
BOOK 1 IN THE SERIES AVAILABLE NOW
‘Whoever gave you that sandwich did it deliberately. They wanted to sabotage Fleming’s research.’ When Agatha accidentally eats a precious scientific discovery (hidden in a sandwich!), guilt stops her from owning up to physician Alexander Fleming. But she and her twin sister Christie soon realise that the misplaced sandwich was no accident. Suddenly, they’re racing against time to find out who’s trying to ruin Mr Fleming’s reputation.
LOOK OUT FOR BOOK 2 IN THE SERIES
‘His intent is more than clear: he’d rather see me and my car lost, than for us to reach the summit.’ Many are unhappy about Mr Alexander Jr’s daring drive to the summit of Ben Nevis, but who is trying to sabotage the record-setting expedition? Willing passengers, Christie and Agatha are keen to embark on a rip-roaring adventure. But soon they’re embroiled in a thicker plot than they bargained for.
Pip (Philippa) is a British author and spent her early life in England on The Wirral. She has loved reading her whole life, and some of the books that influenced and inspired her the most were ones she read when she was little. Pip studied Classics at Edinburgh University, before moving to Tokyo, Japan, to teach English.
Roberta was born in Milan, Italy. As a child she spent her time drawing, reading and watching a lot of animation on TV, which was her first inspiration. After attending an illustration school and finishing a comic book course, she began working as an illustrator. Roberta has worked with various publishers around the world.