A Perfect Little Town
The township of Little Bridges was pretty at any time of the year with century old oak trees lining the main street and shopfronts colourfully painted to give a sense of olde-worlde charm. On this spring afternoon people wandered about enjoying the warmth after a long, cold winter. In a small park, families shared fish and chips and locals stopped for a chat with each other. A peaceful, happy place.
Until a chilling screech filled the air.
Daphne Jones didn’t have time to admire the scenery as she pursued a hooded figure across one of the ‘little’ bridges which was actually quite long, arching high above a slow moving, wide river.
“Uh…ah,” She puffed and panted, and as she ran, attempted to remove her jacket, giving up when the gold buttons which had looked so smart in the dress shop refused to budge. Legs pumping at the ground and much as she wanted to believe she was breaking a sprinting record, she suspected it was for slowest not fastest runner. It was far too hot to be doing this in business clothes and shoes with heels. Even low ones.
Reaching the highest point of the bridge, she saw the hooded figure dash onto the path along the river, glancing over their shoulder.
Daph, you sound like a banshee.
If she didn’t hurry up, she’d lose any chance of catching the criminal. Why was nobody else around to help? John hadn’t answered her rushed phone call. She flew past a group of women, squeaking a plea to call the police but all she heard in return was a comment about how tight her clothes were. Followed by laughter. Well, at this rate she’d be as skinny as they were in minutes. She forced down the hurt feelings. No time for self-pity.
On the flatter surface of the path, Daphne sped up. Every step squeezed her toes and jarred her ankles but she wasn’t letting them get away. Not away from her and most certainly not away with murder!
As the path wound under the trees, the shade brought immediate relief from the heat. But the further she went, the denser the undergrowth.
“No, no, no!” She was going to lose the hooded figure.
Heart pounding, she rounded a curve and with a sickening thud ran straight into the person she’d pursued, knocking them both to the ground.
Daphne got to her knees and then to her feet just before the other person, who pulled the hood back.
Daphne’s mouth dropped open. “You.”
“Me. And now you know who I am.”
A few days earlier…
“I have the great pleasure of announcing our newlyweds—Mr and Mrs Tanning! Please put your hands together to congratulate them.” Daphne Jones frowned and crossed out the line she’d quoted in a notebook on her lap. “Needs more oomph. Not quite right, is it, love?”
When she got no response, Daphne glanced at her husband, John, who was driving. His focused expression was familiar as the car slowed. New town ahead. He needed to concentrate.
Daphne was terrible with navigation so didn’t offer to find the road to the caravan park. Instead, she closed the notebook and put that and her pen into a large floral patterned handbag on the floor near her feet. She’d fix up the speech in no time once she’d met with the bride and groom this afternoon.
John checked the side mirrors and flicked on the indicator as they approached a large sign pointing down a side street with the words ‘Little Bridges Caravan and Camping Ground’.
A tingle of excitement fluttered in Daphne’s stomach and she couldn’t help smiling as the car, towing their caravan, turned the corner. This was a dream come true. Travelling with their own caravan. Her new career helping people celebrate the happiest and saddest times in their lives. And watching John relax as he unwound from a lifetime of running a busy real estate agency.
John drove through a wide entry and soon was pulling the car over to one side of a long driveway. He turned off the motor and grinned.
“Made it, doll!”
“Of course we did! Another wonderful place to discover.”
“I’ll pop into the office over there and find out where our site is.”
Daphne gazed around after he left. It was a quiet time of the year for tourists, in between school holidays, which made booking their sites easier than during busy season. With her new line of work, she had a well-planned itinerary right through to next autumn, and even managed to factor in a couple of breaks when they’d go home to River’s End for a week or two.
Once John returned with hand drawn directions, they followed a dirt road past the office until they reached an open area not far from a long row of trees. He deftly backed the caravan into the allotted space.
Out of the car, Daphne stretched and breathed deeply of the country air. “Is that the river?” She didn’t wait for an answer. John was already unshackling the car and would be busy for a while setting things up the way he liked, so she headed in the direction where she’d caught a glimpse of water.
There were no other sites between theirs and a buffer of gum trees. Beyond the gums, a row of willows dipped their branches into a wide, slow moving river. The town peeked through trees and bushes on the other side and Daphne couldn’t wait to explore. She hurried back to John.
“Do you think we should drive to town? Or walk?”
John had backed their large sedan next to the caravan and was working on connecting the power. “Bit busy at the moment.”
“Yes, but when we’ve settled in. It looks so pretty!”
He got the plug in at last and finally gave his attention to Daphne. “You are so pretty, doll. Look at you. All excited about being here.” He kissed her forehead. “Let’s sort Bluebell out and then we’ll go for a drive.”
From the first moment Daphne set eyes on their caravan, Bluebell was its name. It might be older in style and not as flashy as some of the new ones they came across, but every inch of Bluebell had been lovingly restored and improved. The interior was as modern as one would wish for with every convenience that could be fitted into the small space. But it was the outside, with its vibrant blue colour and touches of white in contrast which drew attention wherever they went.
‘Sorting’ Bluebell out took an hour. John was particular about his routine after settling at a new ground. Inspect the exterior including the tyres for any sign of wear or damage. Ensure the caravan was secure and properly plugged to power and water. Unravel the matching awning so they had an outdoor area ready to use.
Meanwhile, Daphne checked inside for anything which might have come loose. From a drawer she took out a handful of special things she always put away when driving. One of these was a snow globe and she turned it upside down then placed it onto the windowsill in the kitchen. The globe was a gift from their dear friends, Christie and Martin, and depicted their own little town of River’s End.
She made up a shopping list. They’d used up the remainder of their food before leaving the last town and she needed to find a supermarket.
“Can’t have John hungry after such a big drive.” She added the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies as an afterthought. Nothing like them to go with a cuppa.
Daphne ran a loving hand over the door as she closed and locked it after climbing out. “We’ll be right back.”
Little Bridges was a delightful town. Daphne longed to take a leisurely stroll around the shops but John reminded her she had an appointment. She’d come back tomorrow, after the wedding. They located a supermarket and as they wandered, John added a few items to the list. Daphne made sure he didn’t notice her put the packet of biscuits back on the shelf. He loved her homemade ones much more and she’d bake them after meeting with the happy couple-to-be.
“I’ll unpack, love.” Daphne piled bags onto the small counter in the caravan. “Then I’ll make us a quick sandwich before getting changed.”
“No, you get changed and I’ll do this.” John opened the first bag. “I thought I might cook outside tonight on the grill. Maybe take a picnic blanket down near the river to eat.”
“You are so romantic.” Daphne kissed his cheek. “I might be a bit distracted though, depending on this meeting.” She squeezed past him to go to the bedroom. “You know I do like to practice a bit before the ceremony.”
“You can practice all you want. Have you seen the chocolate biscuits?”
He’d noticed. Of course he would.
“All that processed stuff isn’t good for you, John Jones. And not nearly as nice as the ones I make.” She peeked back to the kitchen. He was holding up the packet of chocolate chips in one hand and flour in the other with something which surely wasn’t a grimace on his face. He must be imagining how delicious they were. “Keep those out, love. I’ll make a batch once I’m back.”
“Um, no need, Daph. You have enough to do today.”
How sweet of him. “I always have time for you. You and homemade cookies.”