I push my hair back and gather my things — pen, paper and notes — push back from my desk and stand. Then I notice that, as usual, I’ve forgotten to lock my PC just as the reminder for the meeting pops up:


10:30 am (2 hour)
Invitees: Mystery, Myth & Murder Research Team, Mystery, Myth & Murder Writers, Rick Ripley, Marcus Thompson

I drop everything so I can click the DISMISS button and then perform the three finger trick to lock the screen. Damn, I’m late now, which serves me right for leaving it until the last minute to leave I guess. I know why it is: I don’t really want to see Rick after… it, last Saturday. Nor Marcus for that matter.

I pick up my stuff once more and kick the chair under the desk. I’d always considered myself ambitious but the truth is that my career hasn’t exactly been meteoric and, at thirty-one, I’m still stuck as a researcher on, okay granted, a successful and popular BBC TV programme. Basically, my career has stalled and has been so for several years. Actually, the same can be said for my life as a whole really, with no boyfriend, let alone husband, disappointingly few friends that I can socialise with and a flat that is both small and dingy and at the same time, overpriced owing to its location. Still, however frustrating and disappointing my life is, I didn’t think that I was the sort of woman to do anything to get ahead but it rather seems I might be. Today I find out if it’s been worth it.

I head down the corridor to the lifts and press the call button to go up. I can still recall word-for-word Marcus’s words to me when he came to speak to me two weeks ago. “Do you enjoy working on ‘Mystery, Myth and Murder’ Bethany?” he asked, bending over me as I sat at my desk working through an analysis of viewing figures for the recent episodes. Dull, dull, dull work when what I really wanted to be doing was the writing and scripting.

“I… do. I mean, I like doing the research I guess, though…”

“Though you’d like not to just be just stuck in the office finding out and confirming a few facts in between admin tasks,” he said smiling. I suddenly worried that my thoughts were scrolling across my forehead in luminous green pixels as I nodded. “What’s your ambition, Bethany?” he asked as his finger rubbed the stubble on his tanned face with a soft rasping sound. His tan silently boasted of the three weeks holiday in the Seychelles that he and his partner Blake had recently returned from.

“I’d like to write, Marcus; I want to go out and find and research stories and then script episodes of the show. I think I deserve the chance to try.”

“Hmm. You know, Rick and I have always thought you rather… cold and standoffish.” Knowing what Rick’s language could be like I was a little surprised.

“Is that really what Rick said?” I asked and Marcus gave a little chuckle.

“No. He said that for an intelligent, pretty girl you can’t half be a snooty little bitch sometimes.” I bit my lip; where was this going? “So, you do have some ambition in you… which means you want to be a part of the next series?”

“Well, obviously. I mean, you did get that proposal for a story that I emailed, didn’t you? The Purdew Manor Hotel haunting?”

“Yes… though we’ll have to see if there’s any interest when we discuss it, probably at the next creative meeting for next year’s series, the week after next…” He left that hanging as he straightened up. “Just remember, it always pays to be a team player,” he added before leaving me to get back to the viewing figures.

So, as the lift doors open for me, I wonder whether paying attention to Marcus had been either wise, moral or worth it. To my shame, I find that I’m more concerned that what I did ends up being worth it for my career than whether it was wise or moral. What kind of slut does that make me?

I enter the meeting room doing my best not to catch either Rick’s or Marcus’s eyes without seeming to ignore them. I manage it but more because the two of them are leaning in close together having a sotto voce conversation. Of course, I immediately worry that it’s about me, that Rick is giving all the prurient details, and when Marcus nods and smiles I’m convinced of it. I bow my head trying to hide my embarrassment as I slip into my seat and shuffle my notes and papers.

Moments later Marcus calls the meeting to order and first on the agenda is the schedule for the next series. “Well, we’re doing well with work on the next series and this was going to be a chance to look over that and look at planning the series episodes… However, we have something rather special to announce.”

“What’s that?” Janice asks, the beads braided into her hair clicking softly as her head jerks up.

“It’s only a bleedin’ Christmas Special,” Rick exclaims. “When the scandal of you know who broke, they cancelled ‘is shown at Christmas and offered the slot to us!” Rick’s distinctly London accent always startles people when they meet him in real life as it’s such a contrast to the rather more polished accent he adopts on-screen.

“However,” Marcus continues, “as it’s already October, we’ve only six or seven weeks to get ready for broadcast,” he glances to Rick, smiling.

“Yeah, we’re goin’ to ‘ave to get our arses in gear!”

“Will it be on Christmas Day?” I ask in surprise.

“Nah, the day after, on Boxing Day evening.” Wow, this was a big deal. The schedulers didn’t put anything on over the Christmas holidays they didn’t think was successful.

“So you could have a Christmas theme in all the stories!” chips in Gavin. He’s a junior assistant and is basically there to take the minutes so I flinch inwardly at his comment. I want to find a way to gently suggest that, in his position, he is much better not to speak unless he has a really good idea. Colin, however, ever keen to prove he should be given Janice’s job as Assistant Producer, rips into him.

“Yeah, fab idea Gavin and hardly trite at all; what did you have in mind? Some brutal Christmas Day murder? Perhaps some haunting by a woman looking for her baby who died on Christmas Day? Or, yes, of course, Rick could do a cutting exposé of how Father Christmas isn’t fucking real!” Gavin cowers before the tirade and I flinch, not least because I’d almost asked a similar question as to whether they were considering a Christmas theme. In my case though, it had been to check that they weren’t because, and I had to agree with Colin here, it was a naff idea. Janice, however, comes to Gavin’s defence.

“Okay, Colin, give the guy a break. Remember this is a creative meeting so we don’t go ripping each other’s ideas apart.” An evil grin appears on her dark lips, “We save that for the editorial reviews!”

It occurs to me that old David Attenborough needn’t be jetting off to Africa or South America, he could do an entire series here at the BBC: “Here we see the alpha female being challenged for her position by a junior male… but he is no match for her and he retreats, beaten for the time being.”

“Okay, boys and girls. No, Gavin, there won’t be a Christmas theme. What we need are really good stories or, even better, one story that can fill the episode.” Marcus pauses. “Right,” he says, “this seems like a good point to look at the feedback from the previous broadcasts. Bethany, you’ve been looking at that.” My name jerks me to full attention, triggering butterflies in my stomach and I quickly pull the copies of the summaries from my stack of papers and hand them around.

“Um, yes. Well, the basic figures are on the sheet you have, summarising how the focus groups responded to each episode. I, er, I then classified the stories in each episode as ‘Murder’, for the unsolved crimes and, well, murder stories; ‘Myth’ for those that covered legends and ‘Mystery’ which are, eighty percent of the time, basically ghost stories.” I look up and I’m startled to see polite interest in what I think is very dull stuff. “Anyway, the mysteries tend to be the most popular followed by the unsolved murders and finally the legends stuff, though the Loch Ness Monster piece was very well liked. However, what viewers really seem to like are when stories cover more than one area, like say, that story in the first series, of the stolen painting that was linked to the ghostly figure that seemed to appear over where they found the painting.”

“Hmm, interestin'” Rick comments. “So we want more stories like that, definitely.”

“Indeed and it’s certainly something to bear in mind for the Christmas special.” Marcus agrees, “So, with that in mind, let’s look at what stories and leads we have so far…”

This is the cue for Janice, Colin and Terri, as the people mainly involved in writing and researching, along with Marcus and Rick to begin listing possibilities, thoughts and Ideas. I will occasionally make comments or suggestions but these never seem to do much raise my status within the team, even though I know that some have been really good and turned a mediocre episode into a good one; it always seems to be one of the others that get the credit in the end. I sit listening for Marcus to present my Cornish ghost story, probably without even crediting me.

As the meeting drags on I’m starting to wonder if he’s not even going to mention my suggestion, meaning the work I did on it would be for nothing, when he suddenly says, “Actually, Bethany seems to have a rather interesting possibility. Perhaps you’d like to tell us about it, Bethany?”

“Oh, er yes… well, my parents holidayed in Cornwall over the summer and they, er, they stayed at a small hotel on Bodmin Moor, the Purdew Manor Hotel which, they told me, fails to live up to the grandeur of its name and is rather run down and dilapidated. However, knowing my job, Mum recounted a tale she was told there of mystery and haunting linked to the hotel.” I pause, pleasantly surprised that they are all listening with quiet interest. I know I need to pitch this well and make it a good story but also be succinct.

“Before it was a hotel,” I begin, “it was Purdew Hall and, in in the mid-nineteenth century, home to Sir Lovell Blyth and his beautiful wife Lady Rosalind. Sir Blyth was, of course, a wealthy landowner but had a reputation as a violent, vicious man. He had been an officer in the Navy where even there, incredibly, his violent temper had been remarkable.

“In time, they eventually had a child, a son whom they called William. However, far from the strapping infant Sir Blyth wanted, the child was always sickly. Despite this, young William grew and Lady Blyth employed a governess to care for him, a young, educated woman who lived nearby. All was well until William was nearing his tenth birthday when Sir Blyth, feeling that his mother and the Governess were making the boy soft and weak, dismissed the Governess and declared that his son would soon go to boarding school to toughen him up and make a man of him.

“Shortly before the boy was due to leave for school, something happened and one morning he was found dead just inside the door of his bedroom. Some said it was a seizure or a fever, others that it was the fear of being sent away to school. There were a few that suggested his father had beaten him and caused it or even that it had been Lady Blyth, poisoning her son rather than have him suffer the pain of separation and bullying at the boarding school.

“Both mother and father were distraught, Lady Blyth crying and wailing in grief for the loss of her beloved, precious child. For Sir Lovell, it was the loss of his heir and the end of the family line that upset him.

“They buried the boy two days later but something happened that evening and Lady Blyth fled Purdew Hall in the middle of the night, across the moors. One of the maids saw her leave but feared to go to the master, with his uncertain temper, so she roused the Housekeeper who, in turn, decided it should be the Butler who must tell Sir Lovell. The maid had been right to be afraid for Sir Lovell was incandescent with rage at the news, striking the butler and cursing him for not securing the house against his wife’s escape. He immediately set off in pursuit thinking he could guess where she went.

“Neither Sir Lovell nor Lady Blyth were ever seen again. Some said that both drowned in one of the many bogs on the Moor, others that Sir Lovell murdered his wife when he found her and buried her body before fleeing or foundering in a bog himself. However, since then in Purdew Hall people have sometimes reported hearing a child crying, pleading for his mother, or encountering a pale lady roaming the house, lost and dejected. Meanwhile, on the Moor, night travellers claim to have seen a dark shape, some seeing a man searching or dragging something or in pursuit, while others meet a ghostly woman running and fleeing over the desolate Moor in terror.”

I look around, waiting for someone to say something.

Terri is the first to speak. “You are an unexpectedly engaging storyteller, Cooper,” she says grudgingly, though as usual her pronunciation and accent would put members of the Royal Family to shame. I give a nod of thanks but, while it’s nice to be complimented, I do slightly resent the note of condescending surprise in her voice, not to mention the use of my surname, as if I’m her inferior.

“Okay, so… first question, Bethany: are there locals down there who claim to have seen the ghosts?” Marcus asks.

“I’m not sure,” I reply. “The way Mum told me suggested that the woman who told her, one of the owners of the hotel, had seen something, but I don’t know for certain. She’d probably love the advertising so…” I left the implication that she’d probably say anything for publicity just hanging there. The nods confirmed they all understood.

“Bodmin Moor,” Janice says musingly. “It’s a very atmospheric place and there must be loads of ghost stories and mysteries from down there. There used to be all sorts of pirates and smuggling in Cornwall.”

“There were ship wreckers too, luring ships onto the rocks to kill the crews and steal the cargos,” Colin chips in, “and wasn’t there The Beast of Bodmin a few years back? Some big cat or the like going around killing sheep and scaring farmers?”

A quiet “Hmm,” from Rick pulls my gaze reluctantly to him. “There might be enough for a whole episode from Cornwall, maybe even two with some other stories. What do you think Marcus?”

“I think you might be right,” Marcus agrees, “thinking about it I’m surprised that we’ve never done a story from Cornwall in either of the first two series. Perhaps we should send someone down there for a week to dig around.”

Janice nods but with a slightly concerned look on her face. “Might be a problem for the next few weeks though, because I’ve got those two stories from Scotland to work on and I’ve tasked Colin with working on the first stories from Europe — the ones from Sweden and Denmark, trying to play off the success of the Scandinavian thrillers like ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. These are the obvious ones to use for Christmas as we’ve made a start on them. We could use, what was it, Purdey Hall in the next series to replace one of them. I guess we could have Terri make a start on it, doing some general research…”

My heart sinks. Fucking golden girl Terri, as usual, with her first class honours degree from Durham University, her perfect skin, flawless elocution and, above all, her cast iron boarding school confidence.

“How about Bethany?” Rick asks. “She found the story, after all, an’ she did a good job tellin’ it too.” Janice looks doubtful and is about to reply when Marcus speaks.

“Yes, why not? It’ll be more responsibility that she’s had before but let’s give Bethany a chance. She can keep us regularly posted on her progress,” he adds in answer to Janice’s suspicious look. “We can send Beth down there for a week or so and give her a chance to show what she can do.”

Yes! In your face, Terri!

“Yeah. And Beth: don’t mess up and don’t think that we might not use your story at Christmas, right?” Rick smiles at me and I try to hide my shock; was he serious?

“Yes, absolutely Rick: I can do this, I promise.” I feel so happy but one glance at Janice, Gavin and, especially, Terri tells me I’ve not made any friends here this morning.

There isn’t much left to discuss and Marcus distributes actions to each of us. Mine are to finish up or hand over the things I’ve been working on and to sort out going down to Cornwall “as soon as practicable and ideally next week.” No pressure then! As the meeting breaks up I hang back; I have to thank Marcus for giving me this chance. Rick hasn’t moved to go either so, when it’s just the three of us, I say my thanks.

“No problem, Bethany,” Marcus replies, “I meant it when I said you deserve this chance. I also mean it when I said not to fuck up.” My throat constricts at his words and all I can do is nod. “Right, I must get on,” he concludes and quickly gathers his things, leaving me with Rick.

“Thank you too, Rick,” I tell him. “It was good of you to be so positive about my idea.”

“Beth… I said what I did coz your idea sounds really promisin’ and not coz of last weekend or anything.” He hesitates and then adds. “Beth, I’d like to see you again sometime, if you’re alright with that?” I recalled some of what happened on Saturday and, more, of Sunday morning. It had been pretty good, hadn’t it?

“Yes, Rick, that sounds very nice,” I reply. “I’d like that.”


Any sane person would know that setting out to drive down to the West Country is not best done late on a Friday afternoon, even a Friday in late October, by which reckoning I am completely insane. In my defence, I had planned to go on Wednesday but Colin, currently out in Denmark, had some research and information he needed urgently. Given it was now over three weeks since I was told to visit the Purdew Manor Hotel “within a week,” I really felt I had to go before the weekend.

The traffic on the M25 motorway was its typical semi-gridlock, especially around the London Heathrow Airport exits, but didn’t get much better heading south to the M3. I had already abandoned the idea of using the M4 after hearing that there were long delays already, due to roadworks, and besides, the M3 route did appeal as I recalled that it would take me past Stonehenge.

Eventually, Gumdrop (okay, I name my cars; don’t hate me for it) and I made it onto the M3 where the traffic was still busy but at least moving. However, it is now half past five and, at a conservative estimate I have at least four hours of driving ahead of me so I should get to the hotel at… around nine thirty at night, which is late but not ridiculously so.

I settle into driving as the traffic calms down a bit and, as usual, my mind wanders. Inevitably it settles on Rick. Marcus’s little chat to me about friendliness and my career did leave me wondering what it was about but didn’t have to wait long. The next week Rick asked if I’d join him for dinner. I almost automatically said no before I remembered Marcus’s comments. “Um, okay, thank you,” I replied, not wanting to harm my career but thinking that Rick had asked Marcus to speak to me exactly for this reason. Still, I was committed now.