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MYRTLE'S BEE

Myrtle, a ten-year-old girl living on a farm in a quiet backwater of Hampshire in Southern England , finds a very unusual Bumble Bee. Brian Moore, a retired banker and erstwhile beekeeper’s son, is somewhat alarmed when he is shown the bee. When his ex-girlfriend, Fiona, an eminent biologist, comes back into his life, he consults her.  

Suddenly people in the village of Over Milton start dying. Are these deaths connected to the bee? Brian and Fiona are convinced they are, as is Detective Inspector Browning of the Hampshire Constabulary. Officialdom and scientists consider the deaths are nothing more than a mass allergic reaction to a naturally occurring plant phenomenon.  

So what did happen in Over Milton to set off these deaths?

It is not until Fiona, following a hunch, travels to the other side of the world that the vital clue to the mystery is found in Wellington , New Zealand .

In Store Price: $AU32.95 
Online Price:   $AU31.95

ISBN: 978-1-921240-10-2
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 391
Genre:  Fiction

 

By the same author: Meanderings

 

Author: Sam Sterling 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2007
Language: English

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Who is Sam Sterling?  

Sam Sterling is the pen name, alter ego, of Derek Fountaine. He was born in the middle of an air raid on the north east coast of the Isle of Wight in 1942.  

Educationally, Sam was not a scholar. His first four years of schooling was at the hands of a totally dysfunctional ‘School M’arm’ who was interested in the bright sycophants only. Children with spirit or those that needed to apply a little more effort, were, to her, a complete waste of time. Sam was in the latter category.  

However, at the age of ten, Sam – at another school and with another teacher – discovered reading. This carried him through, five more schools till it was time to shake off the chattels of childhood and enter the working world. This he did as an apprentice Mechanic/Engineer.  

1966 saw him leave the land of his birth and resettle with his wife and two small children to the South Island of New Zealand. In the mid seventies he turned his back on his trade and became a telephonist, working shifts. In the long lonely shifts of midnight till six in the morning, he started to write; poems, short stories, the draft of a novel. After winning a prize on the local radio with a poem, Sam started writing in earnest. Even taking part in an eight-week Creative Writing course at his local polytech.

Story after story flowed from his imagination. Two small magazines picked some of them up, but publishers seemed reticent. Then in 2002 the BBC World Service selected one of his stories and placed it in the fifteen finalists of their Short Story Competition. The story was read on air in February 2003.  

Sam relocated to the island of Efate , in the Vanuata Group in 1994 and is now a permanent resident there.

Myrtle’s Bee     (Read a sample)

 

October: Some say it is late summer, others, early autumn. But with this balmy spell, Brian Moore mused as he looked into his empty coffee mug; it seemed totally superfluous as to what season it was.

He was sitting on his tiny veranda and the sobering thought came to him that within a few short weeks, it would be November; cold, dark, dank days of drizzle and rainstorms, often with the possible threat of snow.

His eyes lifted and surveyed the Hampshire Downs in the distance, apart from a few more houses in the way; it was the same view he remembered from his earliest memories of life in Over Milton.

He had been born in the cottage where he now lived. World War two had ended just a few months before his arrival and his father, a reservist at the Air Ministry in London , had returned in time for the birth. Katie Moore, his mother, was a good deal younger than her husband, also called Brian. Brian senior had been a career soldier whose first wife, Carol, took their two children with her when she absconded with a colour sergeant from the Black Watch and was last heard of in Durban , South Africa .

The young Brian often fantasized about his half siblings – a girl called Jessie and a boy named Peter he was told – but never did meet them. They were probably dead by now, he thought as he placed the mug on the veranda rail in front of him and ran his eyes over the front of the cottage that, apparently, his grandmother, like him, had been born in.

Would either she, or his mother, recognize it now, he had done so many renovations since his retirement? His father had died whilst he was still at Peter Simmonds School in Winchester . He left them well provided for and they were strongly urged by their solicitor not to try and find the whereabouts of family number one. Being as he was a wealthy man, lawsuits could spring up as to who was entitled to their share of the loot. Though Katie was uncomfortable with the situation of two children in the world not knowing their father was dead, she was persuaded by reason to go along with things.

Brian, top of his class in maths every year he was at school, went on to Leeds University where he obtained a Masters degree in Maths and Finance and was headhunted by the large banking houses.

Though she was upset at seeing him go, Katie persuaded him to further his career in a world-wide banking group and his travels had started.

Again his eyes wandered over the Hampshire countryside as the sun sank almost to the horizon. In half an hour it would be gone, but the twilight he knew would linger for quite a while yet, not being fully dark till after nine-thirty. A thrush broke into song somewhere off to his right and he smiled to himself. An ordinary thrush in the evening, he thought, became a nightingale a few hours later. He thought of some of the evenings he had seen and the sounds he had heard in his past. New Zealand , so like the view he was seeing now, even most of the birds had been imported from The Old Country. Long twilights there also, a far cry from the Pacific Islands where the sun pulled the shades of night down with it as it as it sank into the sea. Daylight to full dark in twenty minutes!

Saudi Arabia , the faithful being summoned from the minarets that dotted the skyline. Zurich , a clinically clean city winding down to a quiet night time. Amsterdam ; just warming up to another raucous night. Melbourne

Damn! He did not want to think of Melbourne .

Rising he took his coffee mug through to his tiny kitchen and rinsed it out. He had eaten a cheese and onion toasted sandwich for his meal, but that had been an hour ago and he admonished himself that the crumb be-speckled plate was still on the small table behind the kitchen door. He grabbed that and almost angrily washed it. He looked around for something else to take his mind off Melbourne , but there was nothing needing to be done.

He contemplated doing another hour or so in the workshop, but he had spent almost all afternoon there. Instead he decided to take the Velo out for a spin, it was almost a week since he had last done so.

She was his pride and joy, a 1947 L.E. Velocette that he had found in a neighbour’s back shed four years earlier. Apart from flat tyres and an accumulation of dust, she was in reasonably good order. It took a good six months of love and devotion, whiling away long winter months, to restore it to pristine condition and on his first run out he had been stopped by two motorists who wanted to offer him the sort of money that would pay off the national debt. But of course he would never sell it, deciding once he became too old to ride, he’d donate it to a local car museum with the proviso that it must never be sold into private ownership.

He remembered P.C. Denholm, from Romsey Police, used to ride the same sort of machine round all the small villages in the area, when he was a primary schoolboy. The policeman called it his ‘Noddy Bike’. The silent sound of it, in contrast to the more popular bikes of that era, BSA Bantam, Francis Barnett, or James; smoky, noisy things – really gripped his imagination. And here he was a proud owner of one, quite possibly one of only half a dozen left in the British Isles !

He grabbed his helmet from the cupboard near the back door, and went out to the garage. He pushed the bike out into the driveway, where he put it on the stand before shutting the garage door. As usual, the Velo started first pull and he purred out into the village, riding past several locals, some of whom gave him a wave as he passed, others glared at him, almost hostilely. The fact he had been born in Over Milton meant little to them, he had lived most of his adult life overseas, only to return a little over a decade ago. This made him an ‘Outsider’ in some, luckily only a few, eyes.

He crossed the bridge over Mason’s Stream, just past the Post Office and gunned the one forty eight cc, horizontal water-cooled twin. Silently and effortlessly it responded and headed toward Stockbridge. At the edge of the town he turned sharp right and headed up the long drag of Winchester Hill. Two thirds of the way to the top he eased it down into second gear and heard with pride the engine making light work of the steepest rise. He crested the top of the hill and shifting back up into top gear, allowed the engine to cruise quietly all the way to the cross roads. Here he turned right and headed for home via the Sombournes.

Turning again at the bridge over Mason’s Stream, Brian found himself on the same side of the road as the ‘Straight Furrow’, the local pub. There had been two of them when Brian had been a boy, but the ‘Rook and Raven’ had gone the way of many small hostelries and was now a private house. On a whim he pulled into the car park, kicked out the side stand and switched off the engine.

Barry Donahue raised an eyebrow as the new customer walked in. Barry had lived in the village for twenty years, being the Landlord of  the ‘Straight Furrow’ for half that time, but, like Brian, was still regarded by a few locals as a ‘foreigner’. His clear accentless and perfect pronouncement of the English language completely belied his origins in Belfast . But then was it so surprising? He had made a career as a newsreader back in the days when radio abhorred any colloquial accent and had been a front man in the early days of local television.

“Hello Brian,” he said as the customer approached the bar. “We do not see you in here often.”

Brian acknowledged the greeting. “Just thought I was in the need of a good British Pint,” he said, then added quickly; “Better make it a half pint.”

Barry changed the big glass for one half the size and filled it from the pressurised faucet. “The Great British Pint is just about a thing of the past, eh?”

His customer grinned. “Not at all, I just don’t seem to be able to get used to beer at room temperature after all the years spent in foreign climes.”

“Arr, this ain’t real beer!”

They looked over to the corner where Alf Jenkins sat in his usual chair with Jess, his faithful black and tan dog, lying at his feet.

Brian nodded at Barry, who grinned. “This is Gastonberry’s prize winning ale. Alf.”

Alf sniffed in derision. “When I were a nipper, we wouldn’t’a slopped this concoction to bloody pigs. We ‘ad real beer in them days. Brewed proper loike. Three months in an oak barrel. It were pulled outa there wi’ a proper pump. Not these hally-miny-um barrels that squirts it out like sody water.”

Brian nodded a thank you to Barry as he put the right change on the bar, then walked over to Alf. “If the beer is as bad as you say,” he said with a grin, “why do you still come in and quaff so much?”

 “You bain’t be married, be you son?” Alf Jenkins was an old man; it seemed to Brian the man had been old ever since he had known him.

Brian shook his head. “I don’t see that has anything to do with beer.”

“Well now, ‘spose you ‘ad the choice, loik, of spendin’ an hevenin’ at ‘ome with my missus, or sippin’ lousy beer in this ‘ere pub wi’ Jess fer company, Oi reckons you would settle for the beer hevery toime.”

“You’re a cynical old sod, Alf,” Brian told him. “Ever since I’ve known you, you have been a portent of doom, gloom and despondency.”

“‘ere, don’ you go usin’ them long words on me young Moore , I’m still old enough to command respect you know,” he took a long pull at his half-pint glass, sighed appreciatively, realised what he had done and grimaced. “Oi still remembers you as a lad at village school you know.”

“Yes,” Brian said as he sipped his beer. “You used to deliver the milk in that old Fordson van. We used to hear it coming from a mile away, rattling and clattering up School Hill. It was always a surprise when you actually made it.”

“Good van that,” he said as he gazed off into a well-remembered past. “Never ever let me down; that old van.”

Brian laughed. “Come on, you were forever under the bonnet doing something to it.”

“Arr,” he said. “It were just tender lovin’ care Oi gave it, it were loike a woman, Oi ‘ad ter keep doin’ summat to it or it thought Oi didn’t care.”

Brian took a pull at his beer. “And is being at the pub, drinking substandard beer, letting the woman at home know you care for her?”

“But the missus ain’t a woman,” he answered in a cool serious voice. “She be a wife.”

“And there’s a difference?”

“‘Course there be!” he said with emphasis. “A woman’s someone you woos; gives ‘em flowers; tells ‘em things you don’t know yersel’. You cain’t do that wi’ a wife.”

“Why not?”

“Don’t be daft lad. You start treatin’ a wife loike a woman and she starts thinking you bin up ter summat you hain’t supposed to.”

 Brian finished his beer and went over to refill his glass. “Did you hear Alf’s philosophy on women and wives, Barry?”

“Heard it many times, Brian. That old reprobate has more philosophies than Plato. One of these days I reckon I should write them all down; make a book of them.”

“What a splendid idea,” Brian said as he paid for his second half pint. “It would probably be a best seller.”

“Yeah,” Barry said sarcastically. “And Britain will have a Liberal Democrat Government.”

The sound of a motor-cycle was heard outside, approaching slowly.

“That sounds loik Arthur Badesly’s bike.” Alf observed from his table in the corner. “Wonder where ‘es bin?’

“Well, you can ask him if he comes in,” Brian said.

“Oh, ‘e’ll never come in ‘ere.”

Brian knew Arthur Badesly from way back, the fellow had lived in the village all his life, whereas Brian had moved away as soon as he went into university; only to return to his parents’ small cottage when retirement loomed, fifteen years ago. It was doubtful he had spoken to the man more than three times in that period.

“Why does he not come in here?’ he asked the Landlord.

Barry grinned. “Because of that stupid wager my predecessor, Dave Bateman started.”

Brian nodded; he recalled the story.

“‘ere, that cain’t be roight,” Alf said, head on one side, listening. “Alf’s just done a U turn and is comin’ into the car park.”

The other two men listened as the farmer’s motor-cycle came quietly to a standstill and remained ticking over for a few moments before the engine died.

“I think he has parked beside my bike,” Brian said in a matter of fact tone

“Don’t tell me we’s be goin’ to ‘ave a Bikie Convention ‘ere,” Alf said and chuckled away at his own joke.

A full minute ticked past, before the main door of the bar opened, and almost apologetically Arthur Badesly popped his weather beaten face round the door. He was a short man, barely five-feet five and his wiry frame showed not an ounce of fat, but for all that, his arms and chest were powerful. Here was a man who was not afraid of hard labour, a man who had worked all his life in the outdoors. Arthur never wore a hat, or cap, his enormous head of black hair made any head adornment totally superfluous.

“Good evening Mr Badesly,” Barry greeted him warmly. “I doubt I have seen you here before. Do come in,” he smiled at the man, then said as an aside to Brian; “First you, now Arthur Badesly, what an exciting evening it is to be sure.” The last few words were spoken in a broad Irish brogue.

“You fallen orf wagon then Arthur?” Alf Jenkins asked from the corner.

“Oi ain’t never bin on it,” Arthur muttered. “Just didn’t want ter end up like you, ‘tis all,” he slowly made his way to the bar accompanied by Alf chuckling in the background.

“And what is your pleasure Mr Badesly?” Barry asked.

“Oi ain’t much of a drinker, just an ‘alf of shandy please,” he then looked at Brian. “And give Mr Moore ‘ere another of whatever ‘e be a drinkin’.”

Brian placed his hand palm down across the top of his glass. “I’m on my last one, thank you Arthur. But what’s with this ‘Mr Moore’ business, we were at school together?”

Arthur nodded. “Oi came in ‘ere ‘cuz I seen your bike outside, Oi got some very himportant business Oi wants ter talk to you about,” he thanked Barry for the shandy and pointed to a small table as far from everyone else as it was possible to be. “Oi reckon we’d be better if’n we went over there.”

Barry and Alf regarded them with mild interest as they made their way to the table. It was a small table, and after Brian had seated himself, the farmer sat opposite and leant forward, almost conspiratorially.

“What can I do for you Arthur?” Brian spoke slowly and evenly. Were he to make a list of the top ten most unlikely people to seek him out, the man on the other side of the table would be likely to occupy the first nine places.

“Oi got a …” Arthur paused. “A problem wi’ bees.”

“Bees?”

“Arr,” he mumbled in the affirmative.

“But I haven’t had anything to do with bees for the best part of fifty years!” Brian’s father used to be an apiarist, and he often helped with the hives.

“Oh!” he said, his disappointment was apparent. “You’m be t’only one I knows of oo understands ‘em.”

“I have probably forgotten more than I ever knew.”

“Arr!” he said quickly. “But Oi reckons you knows more than anyone else Oi knows.” His logic could not be argued with.

Brian’s father once had three hives that swarmed simultaneously. He had been away on a school trip at the time. They set up home in the local telephone box and terrorised the village, so he had been told. It took his father and a couple of other beekeepers from neighbouring villages, all day to remove them. About ten people had been stung and it was made pretty clear after that that bees were not something the village wanted in the future.

“Okay, Arthur, you got a swarm or something.” His mind was racing He knew of a few apiarists in Hampshire, could he call one of them to help? There was no way he was going to tackle a swarm!

“No, it be nothing loik tha’.” Another pause. “Look, I knows people in the village don’t reckon much on me, an’ I also knows they thinks Oi’m daft. Maybe Oi am.” There was an undertone to his voice that told Brian here was a man under a lot of stress. “But if’n Oi don’t get someone to come an’ look at Myrtle’s bee, Oi’m goin’ to be more than daft. Oi tell ‘ee!”

Myrtle was Arthur’s ten-year-old daughter. He and his wife, Iris, were well set into a childless existence when out of the blue forty-four-year-old Iris was taken into hospital with suspected cancer. This was diagnosed as a seven-month pregnancy and the tongues in the village really went into overdrive. The local publican, Dave Bateman, took bets on who the probable father was, no one bet on Arthur. But when Myrtle put in an appearance and looked the image of her father, all bets were off. Arthur heard about the wagers and never set foot in the ‘Straight Furrow’ again, till that evening.

“You want me to come and look at one bee?” Brian tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice; he was not too successful.

There was a tangible silence for several seconds, then; “Where’m there be one bee there be more about.”

Brian nodded ruefully to himself; bees are not called a sociable insect for nothing. “Is there something special about this bee?” he asked. Into his mind came a fleeting thought about the, so-called ‘African Killer Bees’.

An almost inaudible sigh; did it contain a touch of amusement? “Oh, it be special o’right. I bin lived in these ‘ere parts more’n sixty year. An’ I tell ‘e, Mr Moore, I hain’t seen nothing loik it.

“Arthur,” Brian said to him. “We were at school together, remember, please drop the Mr Moore business.”

He ignored the rebuke. “Loik Oi sez, if’n you don’t come an’ look at this ‘ere bee, I dunno what Oi’m supposed to do.”

There was a note of desperation in the speaker; he was sweating slightly, though the heat had gone from the evening by then. His whole body language told Brian that his companion would rather not be having this conversation, would rather not be in this hotel, but he was here and with a purpose, a very singular purpose.

Though he would not admit to it, especially to himself, a touch of boredom had started to infiltrate Brian’s idyllic retirement. Having travelled round the world more times than he could recall, the thought of sitting through another British winter was not the highest point on his agenda. Something, a sixth sense perhaps, seemed to be telling him this was important. “Okay, Arthur. I’ll come over, is it convenient to follow you home now?”

“Arr.”

 

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