BITTER ORANGES

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DEATH BY MISUNDERSTANDING

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Disclaimer : Characters and places portrayed in this story that appear in episodes of 'Midsomer Murders' and/or in novels by Caroline Graham are the property of their respective copyright holders. This story is written purely for enjoyment and not for profit.

Acknowledgements : This story started life as a 'round robin' on a forum which is now sadly defunct. It seemed a pity that nobody could read it any more ― so here it is, very largely rewritten (to make it more consistent, and shorter!) by me, I have to admit. But I must thank, first and foremost, Jill, who had some of the best ideas, but also Pieter, Sabine, Sandra and 'Shaun', without whose contributions this story would never have existed! Thanks also go to Bo Georgeson for his invaluable advice and support in the draft stage ΜΆ don't forget to read his Midsomer Murders fanfic masterpieces on this site as well!

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Chapter One

Flash Forward

"What did Bullard say? A beheading?" asked Detective Sergeant Ben Jones as he and Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby pulled up in their unmarked Volvo at the door of the little cottage just outside Midsomer Florey, shortly after nine o'clock the next morning.

"Apparently so," said Tom Barnaby grimly, heaving himself out of the car. He mechanically buttoned the middle button of his suit jacket.

"We haven't had that for a while!" said Ben Jones.

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The Present

Rosemary Bellinger could hear her daughter coming downstairs in her high heels. Clack, clack, clack, clack. "Belinda!" she called from the front room of their isolated little cottage.

"Yes, Mum." Belinda appeared at the door. She was wearing a flimsy blouse, mini-skirt and bright red lipstick.

"I hope you're not going out looking like that," said her mother. "In this weather!"

It was early December and the daylight was fading, though it was hardly gone four o'clock.

"Mum, it matters what I look like. In the pub, you know?"

Her mother, who was sitting in her usual armchair by the gas fire with a rug over her knees, clicked her tongue. "I wish you would get another job. You could do much better for yourself, you know you could."

"Don't start all that again, Mum." Belinda, who was nineteen and very good-looking, considered herself lucky to have got the job at The Cock and Trumpet, even though it was a mile's walk away. A lot of her time, when not serving behind the bar, was spent caring for her somewhat demanding mother, who considered herself to be an invalid, even if not all her ailments had received medical recognition. "Don't forget to take your pills before you go to bed."

"And I do hope that you aren't still seeing that unpleasant young man. You deserve much better."

Belinda sighed. "No, Mum, I'm not seeing him any more," she said with an air of resignation. The truth was that for some time Horatio Potts had not seen her, much to Belinda's disappointment. Perhaps, she thought to herself, perhaps he will be there tonight...

"Are the tea-things all ready in the kitchen?" demanded Rosemary Bellinger.

"Yes, Mum, I know you've got Jane Smith coming to tea. Every Sunday at half past four, isn't it?"

"I don't know what I'd do if Jane didn't come to visit me," said Rosemary. "Nobody else comes to see me. Nobody else cares if I'm alive or dead."

"Mum!"

"My oldest friend," continued the semi-invalid in a well-rehearsed monologue, "we were at school together. I don't know why she married that dreadful man."

"What's the matter with Andrew Smith?" asked Belinda as if in jest, knowing only too well how the story would go on.

"I didn't like the look of him twenty-five years ago, and thank goodness I don't have to see him at all nowadays. I refused to go to their wedding, you know. The trouble with them is that they live in the wrong part of Causton. A terrible neighbourhood, I believe. I've never been to their house, you know. I've seen pictures, but I would never go there myself. It's on the wrong side of the railway line. That's why Jane has to come here. And if she didn't come to see me I don't know what would become of me, really I don't. Because I would be completely alone." The old lady – in fact she was in her early forties – seemed to have worked herself into a frenzy of self-pity.

"Well, I must be off," said Belinda, who had turned the light outside the front door on in anticipation of Jane's imminent arrival. "Bye bye, Mum," and she bent down to kiss her mother on the cheek. "Give Jane my love."

"Goodbye, darling."

As she closed the door behind her she shivered. There would probably be a frost tonight, she thought.

It was past midnight when Belinda set out for the long walk home from the Cock and Trumpet where Phil, the landlord, who lived upstairs, was as ever locking up. Belinda had had two large brandies, bought her by James, the cute son of the local millionaire, but that was not enough to compensate for not having worn any sort of coat over her low-cut top and mini mini-skirt. The temperature had dropped to freezing and ice had started to form in the puddles on the narrow pavement-less road that led from the centre of Midsomer Florey towards her little cottage. Sometimes James gave her a lift, but he had left early. And Horatio... no, Horatio had not been there. She thought back to the few weeks when she and Horatio had been an item and smiled at the pleasant memories. Always his place in Causton, never the cottage where her mother kept a disapproving guard against unsuitable young men.

Belinda trod carefully to avoid the slippery ice. James, yes, James was very nice, but not exciting in the way Horatio was. He was rather too clean-cut and polite. Whenever he did give her a lift it always seemed to be out of courtesy and not interest. Belinda wondered what had happened to Horatio. He hardly ever came into the pub now and he had stopped returning her calls. She turned a corner and the light outside the door of her little cottage at last beamed out its usual welcome. She let herself in as quietly as she could so as not to disturb her mother and, having taken off her bright red high heels, tiptoed upstairs.