Simon Brett

The Witness at the Wedding

The Fethering Mysteries #6

2005, EN

Carole’s son is getting married to a wonderful girl-with rather odd parents. Not only do they have no interest in meddling with wedding preparations, but the mere thought of publicizing the affair frightens them beyond words.

And when the father of the bride is found brutally murdered, Carole enlists Jude’s help in finding an uninvited guest before the festivities become completely funereal.

? The Witness at the Wedding ?


“Oh, I didn’t tell you there’s a history of murder in my fiancee’s family, did I?”

The speaker was Stephen, Carole Seddon’s son, and as soon as he’d said the words, she wished he hadn’t. Everything had been going well up until that point. Carole was entertaining Stephen and Gaby on her own ground, over lunch in the Crown and Anchor pub in Fethering, and discussion of the wedding arrangements had been harmonious, even at times exciting.

But Gaby hadn’t liked the mention of murder. The bubbliness of her personality had been instantly punctured, and she looked pained as she turned to her fiance and said, “You’re exaggerating. I don’t think local gossip qualifies as a ‘history of murder’” To give him his due, he did back off very quickly, aware that he had crossed a threshold into forbidden territory. Carole was again surprised by her son’s sensitivity. In Gaby’s company Stephen displayed sides of his personality whose existence his mother had never suspected…or, Carole thought ruefully, had never taken the trouble to explore. She still didn’t ever feel quite at ease with her son, still a little guilty for her lack of instinctive maternal feelings, for her part in the break-up of the marriage to his father David.

And as she looked across at him, she was again struck by how like Stephen was to a distorted image from her own mirror. He had the same earnest and potentially cold pale blue eyes, which peered through similar rimless glasses. Though not yet as uniformly grey as her own, his hair had a patina of silver over it. His relationship with Gaby had considerably lightened his personality, but there had always been hanging about Stephen an aura of the middle-aged. Though only in his early thirties, he looked older.

“More drinks,” Carole announced, mainly to break the mood. Stephen demurred; he was driving and he’d had the half of bitter he’d rationed himself. This proper caution only served to reinforce his middle-aged image. But Gaby said she’d join Carole in another glass of Chilean Chardonnay.

The moment she moved to the bar, Carole was aware of the two heads in the alcove behind her drawing closer, of the whispered remonstrance from Gaby to Stephen. She must have been berating him further for mentioning the subject of murder. Carole felt intrigued, but knew that this was not the moment to probe further. An opportunity might arise to find out more, or it might not. Carole wouldn’t be that bothered either way. With Gaby Martin about to become a fixture in her life, there would be plenty of time to find out about her family background.

She ordered two glasses of wine from Ted Crisp, the Crown and Anchor’s landlord, scruffy of beard and matted of hair. He was an ex-stand-up comedian and – perhaps more unlikely – one of Carole’s very few ex-lovers. The mutual consent by which the relationship had ended seemed now to have developed into a mutual agreement that no mention should ever be made of the incident by either of its participants.

“Nice day, isn’t it?” Carole observed.

Ted did not take issue with this uncontroversial assertion. “Yes, really get the smell of the sea with the windows open.”

“Have you still never been on the beach, Ted?”

He shook his shaggy head in mock-fear. “Ooh, no. Not my element, the sea. I’m a city bloke, really.”

“Yes, but you have been living on the South Coast for some years now and the beach is less than a hundred yards away.”

“No, not for me. I find it easier to pretend the sea’s not there.” He leant forward conspiratorially over the bar. “That way I’m not at risk from mermaids.”


“They’re well known for luring men to their deaths.”

“I thought those were sirens.”

“Mermaids do it too. I should know. Had a girlfriend who was a mermaid once. Beautiful. Her vital statistics were thirty-eight – twenty-four – and a large cod.”

Carole winced. “What a loss you were to the standup circuit, Ted.”

He chuckled, then nodded across to the well-rounded, bubble-haired figure leaning in towards Stephen. “That’s the famous fiancee, is it?” He had not been behind the bar when they arrived, so no introductions had been made.

Carole confirmed that it was indeed the famous fiancee.

“Looks as if she’s a good thing for Stephen,” Ted observed.

“How do you mean?”

“I’ve seen you having lunch in here with him a few times over the years. Conversation seems to be flowing a bit more freely with the fiancee around.”

Carole neither confirmed nor denied this, but she knew it was true. The days when Stephen had come down to Fethering and picked up his mother from her house, High Tor, for dutiful lunches had never been particularly relaxing for either of them. He had always taken refuge in talking about his work, which made Carole feel guilty because she had so little understanding of what he did, and could feign so little interest in it. Gaby’s appearance on the scene had certainly freed up the conversational logjam. Even without the reliable stand-by of the wedding, there never seemed to be a lack of topics for discussion when Gaby was present.

Murmuring some all-purpose response to Ted Crisp, Carole crossed back to the table. The momentary dissension between the engaged couple had evidently been smoothed over, but the firmness with which Stephen embarked on a new topic of conversation showed that Gaby’s family history was not about to be probed further.

“We’ve absolutely decided that we’re going to get married down here.”

“Down here?”

“Yes, Mother. In Fethering.”

Carole still winced inwardly at the formality of that ‘Mother’ – particularly as she couldn’t forget that Stephen called his father ‘Dad’.

“But surely Gaby’s parents – I mean, it is traditional for the bride to be married where she grew up.”

Carole looked at Gaby, who shrugged.

“Well, I wasn’t brought up in Harlow, which is where they live now. And in fact I do have a West Sussex connection.”


“My mother went to school in Worthing. I wasn’t born down here, but I think she’d only just moved out of the area. I don’t know. Mum’s always a bit vague about that period of her life.”

“Fine. So it’ll be Worthing rather than Harlow.”

Carole hoped the relief didn’t show in her voice. Her middle-class sensibilities would have been troubled by the idea of her son being married in Essex. Hard to disguise that kind of thing. People viewing the wedding photographs would be bound to ask where the event had happened. And, of course, it’d be on the marriage

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