A Brush with Death: A Penny Brannigan Mystery - By Elizabeth J. Duncan


Penny Brannigan awoke disoriented and confused. What on earth was she doing in the old-fashioned spare bedroom of Emma Teasdale’s cottage? Why wasn’t she at home in her own bed in the small, tidy flat above her manicure salon?

And then, through the just-woke-up muzziness, it all came back to her. She had recently inherited Jonquil Cottage, today was Sunday, and she had just spent her first night in her new home.

She kicked back the rumpled duvet, sat up, and looked about. The subdued light of a cheerless, rainy late-summer morning revealed an outdated pattern of orange poppies on yellowed wallpaper that had started to peel away from the ceiling and a substantial layer of dust on shabby, mismatched furniture. The room gave off a musty feel of neglect and the air was so close and stale that she leaned over to turn the latch of the small, leaded window beside the bed and pushed it open. When the first breath of cool, damp air from the garden filled her lungs, she felt her spirits lift as a feeling of excitement and anticipation began to creep in. She hopped out of bed, found her slippers, and padded across the hall to the loo.

A few minutes later she was standing at the bottom of the stairs. In front of her was the door that led to the street; to her right, the sitting room and dining area; and adjacent to that, toward the back of the cottage, a small kitchen which gave access to a partially walled garden, now somewhat overgrown but well laid out with mature pear trees espaliered along the south-facing brick wall.

With her hand resting on the banister, she surveyed the sitting room. What little light managed to filter through the closed curtains on this grey morning bathed the room in a soft, desolate luminosity, giving it the abandoned look of a place someone had once loved but would never be coming home to.

Although Penny had realized that the charming Welsh cottage would require major renovations to shift it out of the 1960s, she had decided to live in it before undertaking any drastic changes so she could get a feel for it, get to know it, and discover what she liked and what she didn’t. She wanted to modernize it but in a way that would respect its history and the memory of its previous owner.

But there are too many memories crowded in here, she thought, memories that are not mine. Other people, from other times, living other lives.

Penny, a Canadian in her fifties, had met Emma when she arrived in the Welsh market town of Llanelen, decades ago. Over the years, their friendship had grown, and Penny had been deeply saddened when Emma passed away. To Penny’s astonishment, the retired schoolteacher who had never married and had no close relatives, had bequeathed the cottage and its contents to her, along with a substantial amount of money.

Although Penny had visited the cottage many times, it was different now. When you’re a guest in someone’s home, you don’t see the precious, secret things that have been carefully preserved and hidden away, to be held, savored, and reflected upon in quiet, private moments.

Emma, who had been ill for some time, had made a will and funeral plans but had not got round to dealing with her personal effects. Perhaps she thought she had more time to wrap up her affairs, Penny thought. And don’t we all?

Today, she would have to start clearing out Emma’s things, but first things first. Facing the centre of the sitting room window, she reached above her head and grabbed a curtain in each hand. With a smooth, sweeping motion, like tearing off a bandage, she ripped them apart and as they swooshed along their rail, a soft, moist light filled the room.

That’s a bit better, she thought. And now, she must find the kettle.

Her friends Victoria Hopkirk and Detective Inspector Gareth Davies had dropped her off at the cottage yesterday, and she was well provisioned with the basics. A few minutes later, carrying a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee and a bowl of cereal on a tray, she made her way back to the sitting room and sat down on the faded, sagging sofa.

Opening a new notebook, she crossed her legs, looked around, and began to make a list:

Internet (and computer)

LR—New curtains

New furniture

Paint—pale green/white trim?

No wallpaper!


She crossed that out and then wrote underneath it.

Hardwood floors

With pen poised above the page, she gazed critically about her,