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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

Jam Maker Inn

Inspector Tresillian of the Cornish Constabulary examined the wreckage of the fruit delivery van. The lack of skid marks and the extent of impact damage showed that the vehicle had hit the tree at full speed. He opened the rear door and noted that the produce was absent.

A lesser detective might have attributed the crash to another case of driver error in the fog and darkness before dawn. Tresillian’s acute mind, however, was making other connections. The flour tanker near Newquay; the sugar lorry at St Ives; the milk float just outside Padstow. Each had hit a tree in the early morning fog, and the contents of all had vanished.

Back at the station, Tresillian opened the Yellow Pages and began to systematically telephone farms along the coast of North Cornwall until he found what he was seeking.

Very early next morning in an unmarked car he was following a van from the Happy Hen Haven along the narrow country roads, straining to keep the tail lights in view through the fog.

They were nearing Tintagel when he heard the sound of the collision. He parked his car off the road and crept along behind a dry stone wall to where he could see a large oak embedded in the radiator of the egg van. He noted figures in dark clothing carrying boxes of eggs to a small lorry. He could also see that false direction signs and road markings had been set to misdirect the vehicle from the road to its destruction against a tree in a small copse. It was as he had suspected - wreckers!

He heard the snap of a twig behind him and then...darkness.

Tresillian awoke to the smell of baking cakes. He tried to move and realised that his arms and legs were tied to a chair. He looked around him. He was in a large kitchen where several middle aged women, in two piece outfits and wearing pearl necklaces, were making cakes or funnelling jam into jars. He glanced at the moorland view through the window and recognised, with horror, that he must be in the headquarters of the Bodmin Moor Women’s Institute - Jam Maker Inn.

‘So, Inspector Tresillian, we meet again.’

Tresillian recognised the upper middle-class tones of Margaret Henderson-Smythe. Most shops and bakeries in West Cornwall sold WI cakes and jams, sometimes to the exclusion of other brands. Stores that had refused to do so found that their owners experienced mysterious accidents, and two such premises had unaccountably been burnt to the ground. Tresillian had investigated, and Margaret Henderson-Smythe had been his prime suspect, though nothing could be proved.

‘You’ll never get away with this,’ he said defiantly.

‘Oh I will,’ she responded. ‘It’s you who won’t be getting away.’

‘What are you going to do with me?’

‘You will be joining us at Bodmin WI market on Thursday.’ Margaret Henderson-Smythe threw back her head and laughed demonically. ‘WI meat pies are very popular...’