Ants and other issues
This was written after a visit to a derelict chateau followed by one to friends with a well and an ant problem. It turned into a humorous murder mystery story.
Ants and other issues
Sarah had never been much interested in pest control. That is until she moved to a rambling old chateau, complete with tower, swimming pool and well, in what felt like the middle of nowhere in the Dordogne. It came with resident ghost, a well, a tower and a dovecote. It also seemed to have what sounded like death watch beetle, several feral cats, mice and of course ants. Big fierce farmhouse type ants who would not take go away for an answer. They, she soon discovered, were not the real pests in her new life in France. The main problem was Charles, her former business partner and now husband.
He had seemed perfectly nice at home in England. A bit boorish sometimes perhaps, but she could always send him down to the local pub in the village, or suggest he went for a game of golf if he got too tiresome. In business, of course they had separate roles to play, she ran the office whilst he sold people their wretched expensive cars. He was always out there charming and schmoozing and she had the girls for gossip and company. They hardly met at all until the end of the working day. Now they were in each other’s company all the time.
It had suited him not to be married. Gave him more purchase with his women customers, he thought. He certainly did not hesitate to use a little flirtation to close a juicy sale. They had been living together for years of course, which actually did not bother her. She still had her own flat up North which she rented out, and they lived in his slightly grander pad round the corner from Barnstable Motors. This all changed though, when he came home one evening and said that he had had enough and why don’t they sell up and move to France.
It turned out that it was easier with the French authorities if they were married. Also, there was some goodwill and stock in the business, but the grand move would mean actually merging their money. So quietly and a bit reluctantly they had tied the knot in the local town hall. Having been so vocally anti marriage she only told her old mother, who was relieved but disappointed at such miserable affair. Charles seemed to have no family at all. It was so low key she did not even bother to change her name, something that was to become surprisingly useful later on.
They then sold up, almost too quickly, and decamped to the grandest, most charming establishment they could afford, and that was that. Funnily enough, it was all put in her name. Something about the taxman he muttered. She had been a little tired of working all the time and did not stop to wonder what the rush was. Something she was to regret later. It all sounded very nice though and she was ready for change.” There may be a potential business there,” Charles had said,” Gites and whatnot, although let us just settle in and see what happens.”
Once they actually got there though she realized that the estate agent, or immoblier as she should learn to say, had seen them coming. Chateau Villabella certainly looked the part. Turns out though, underneath the surface glamour, it was almost uninhabitable. They camped in a couple of the least worse rooms, their furniture from England looking totally inadequate in the huge dilapidated spaces. The well, once she found the key to unlock the cover, was dry and partly filled in. The tower was unsafe. Floor boards were dodgy. After a couple of weeks they gave in and moved in to one of the outbuildings that had been converted into a gite by the previous owner, desperate to make some money to cover running costs. This was a little better, but not what she had signed up for.
The once dynamic Charles had deflated like a burst balloon. Not only was he especially annoying to have hanging around all day, but he had let himself go. He had found some abandoned wine in a dusty cellar and was determinedly drinking his way through it. He sometimes started at breakfast time. Lack of his coterie of blokey friends, not to mention his beloved cars, had sent him into a mild but persistent depression. He obviously had no inner resources she thought, probably unfairly.
Worst of all though he had let himself go physically. Lack of his local gym and over consumption meant that a paunch was already showing. Most days he did not even bother to shave. His hair, normally his pride and joy, carefully blow dried to cover any thinning bits, was left lank and unwashed. He became, in fact a total bore. She found that actually she did not even like him.
Always a resourceful soul, Sarah, after a period of –what have I done- mild despair, fought the urge just to pick up and go. She had her pride, not to mention all her money was tied up in this project. She would just have to make the best of it. After all the house was probably basically structurally sound. The previous owner had spent money on it, although obviously not enough. The roof, often the weakest link, looked fine. If she could get the gites up and running she could perhaps generate enough income to do some of the remedial work necessary. There probably was a business in it, if she could be clever enough, or at least a resale at a profit.
The next step was to list all the issues that she would have to deal with to make life tolerable again. But where to start? She started with the smallest, but almost the most annoying problem, those pesky ants. Having scrubbed and polished the gites they were lettable, which would provide income and even some company. The problem was an infestation of ants. She tried all her usual half remembered remedies, boiling water, salt and even bleach but they just kept coming and coming. In the end she phoned her mum. “Heyes fluid dear” she said ”I think you can still get it, wonderful stuff. Deals with all sort of pests and germs. Cecil and Vera are practically passing your door next week on the way to see their grandchildren. I will get them to pop some in.”
Cecil turned out to be quite a knowledgeable old cove. “Find the nest dear, “ he said ”Then soak it in this stuff, that will sort it out. Then sprinkle it around the doors and other entry points and bobs your uncle, job done” To her surprise this actually worked. What is more she found that you can order it online and get it delivered from England. She immediately put in a bulk order, thinking there may be other pests she might need to eliminate.
Realising it was poisonous to cats gave her the next idea. There were several feral abandoned cats lurking about begging for food. Worried that they may annoy potential guests, they were the next issue she planned to deal with. An internet blog suggested that she spray their fur with diluted Heyes. They would poison themselves when they groomed. She did feel a little guilty when she picked up their bodies and threw them down the well, but the feeling soon passed. She was almost ready to start advertising the accommodation on the internet.
The dovecote was filled with not pretty doves but fat pigeons. These seemed to take pleasure in fouling the cars parked in the drive. It was relatively easy to put delicious looking nuts and seeds soaked in the magic fluid on their feeding platform. They were so stupid that they gobbled it all up with predictable results. The mice were a no brainer. Smelly cheese injected with the stuff worked a treat.
Surveying her now pretty and pest free gites she contacted several specialist agencies, as well as constructing her own web site. She thought of consulting Charles but in the end did not bother. It will cheer him up when money and people start arriving she thought. Indeed it did start very well. They could soon even afford a gardener. Handsome young thing he was, who it turned out had a thing for well preserved older women.
She was not unduly worried when, on quiet day at the end of the season, two very smart black cars pulled up to the chateau front door. They asked for a Mr Barnstable. She realised that they meant Charles. He had seen them coming and had made himself scarce. Recognising authority when she saw it, she gave them coffee and promised to find him. He was as white as a sheet. “You and your gites” he said “Did you use my name on the website?” Actually she had thought Villabella Gites sounded rather romantic, but the agencies needed your bank details to forward any payments. She had used their joint bank account ( something she now determined to change at once). This season they had been worth having. It had been bad enough having Charles lurking about and having to stop him annoying the guests, but he had taken no interest in running the business or he would have known that.
She had a flash of inspiration,” Go and hide in the well” she said. “There is a ledge near the top. I will lock it and let you out when they have gone.” The coast was clear, and he ran, or rather stumbled into the kitchen garden. He climbed gingerly into the well she locked the cover and put the key into her pocket. She half heard a yelp and a noise that could mean that someone had fallen, but felt she had to get back to, what she realised were the tax men, before they smelled a rat.
“Sorry, no I cannot find him. He was visiting here, staying in one of the gites but must have popped out.” she said on her return. They did not particularly believe her and asked to look round. With her blessing they did, and even admired the accommodation. Luckily she had recently banished Charles to one of the one bedroomed ones, and his toilet bag and clothes were there. Also she had introduced herself as Miss Baines, owner of the property, when asked. After waiting for several hours they gave up and said they would be back. Sarah heaved a sigh of relief and after making sure they had really gone, went back to the well.
She slowly open the top, wondering if the sounds she had heard earlier were her imagination or not. Would she find him crouching resentfully on the ledge? She would certainly like to know what exactly he had done to deserve this visit from not just one, but two tax men. As half expected, when she peered down, she saw his body twisted at the bottom of the shaft. Company for the dead cats and pigeons she had thrown in earlier. She was both horrified and relieved. Serve him right for being drunk all day, she thought. Now how do I deal with this issue?
There was only one thing to do. She fetched her remaining supply of Heyes fluid and poured it down to cover the body. That will mask any smell, she thought. There was a small pile of rubble which she also threw down to cover the body then followed with some of the massive mound of grass cuttings and topsoil that just happened to be stored nearby. The key she threw into the nearby river. I may get the gardener to demolish and fill in the well next year, she decided. It was dry and of no use.
No one would come looking for him anyway, she thought, almost sadly. He had done a runner, disappeared. I had thought it strange when none of his friends contacted us or came to visit, now I know why. Having dealt with all the issues, large or small, Sarah could now get on with her new life in France as a single woman with her own business. It would be best not to move, she realised, as new owners might try and excavate the well, which would leave her with some explaining to do. This was no real hardship though as the life suited her. She could now mix and integrate in the social life of the nearby pretty the village, without Charles letting her down. In practice free now, she could perhaps even find herself a handsome new husband or lover as nobody knew that she and Charles had even been married. She vowed though, whatever happened, never to be free of her magic Heyes fluid. You never know when you might have to deal with ants and other issues