The wind howled and whistled down the chimney and under the doors of the dilapidated cottage.
Philomena Geraghty shivered in front of the coal fire she’d built, wishing she’d had gas-fires put in like her nephew was always urging her to do. But it was so expensive. At least it seemed so to her, the quotes he’d got for her and those, he’d said, were from a friend too.
He was so thoughtful, her Mark. Always thinking of her and the ways in which he could improve her comfort, although she didn’t know what she would do with a jacuzzi and had told him so. He’d said it would be good for her bad back and was a snip at £300.00.
Philomena sighed. He’d be around later to see her, she’d ask him then if his friend could still get those gas-fires cheap. She had to say, things were much dearer than when she was a girl.
She remembered this coal fire being put in when the old blacklead range was removed. To be honest, she had preferred the range. It was always warm and cosy and her mother kept it `banked up’, which she had tried to do innumerable times with this miserable coal-fire, without much success.
She got up and made herself a cup of tea in the kitchen. She had a new hob and oven, which Mark had insisted she bought for herself. He’d noticed a smell of gas escaping from her old oven and nagged her until she let his friend bring the new hob and oven. She’d also had to buy some new kitchen units to fit the oven and hob into. The extra matching units didn’t cost much more and Mark said it would be better to have a proper job done - much more hygienic.
She filled her new white jug kettle and settled it back on its base. She was thinking how different it was to her old kettle, which she’d boiled up on the old stove.
When Mark arrived, he was doubtful if his friend could still get the fires as cheap as they’d been, but used the mobile phone he’d convinced her he needed so she could always contact him in the event of an emergency, to ring his friend about them.
It turned out they would be £100 more than the originals but were a much better fire and would be installed that evening. What’s more, his friend would bring a couple of fire-surrounds too. Cheap, naturally.
That evening, when the fires and surrounds were installed, she sat in front of one enjoying the warmth. She’d spent a lot of money on the cottage recently, although she still had enough of a nest egg to live on for the rest of her life. And now she was warm too.
The bathroom and kitchen were both done, the new gas-fires installed in all the rooms, although she’d considered putting them in the bedrooms an extravagance, Mark had pointed out that she had to keep her bedroom aired otherwise she’d catch pneumonia and at her age “we don’t want that do we?”.
She thought how lucky she was that Mark looked after her. She thought perhaps she should change her will.
Leaving him this draughty old cottage and leaving the rest of her estate to the cat’s home was something she had decided on when he was a child because he’d seemed such a money-minded boy then. She’d made him aware of the fact that he’d get no cash from an early age and it had seemed to work. To a degree.
He still came to see her every day and was careful of and concerned for her health and wellbeing. Only last night he’d suggested new windows and doors to make the old cottage less draughty and she thought she would do them because, apparently, they were more secure too, having special locks on them and they were made of plastic, so she wouldn’t have to pay anyone to paint them anymore.
Yes, she would have them done. Mark’s friend said they’d be fitted in a day and the money saved in heating and maintenance would offset their considerable expense.
Two weeks later the windows arrived, but unfortunately too late for Philomena, who had fallen down the stairs one evening just after Mark had left the cottage, to lie unconscious o the lobby floor until the next day when he couldn’t raise a response on her phone.
She died on her way to hospital murmuring something about a will but whatever it was would have to remain undone forever.
Two months late, Mark rubbed his hands in glee as he walked down the path to his new home. The windows would be installed today.
Oh, but he was such a crafty fellow! He had always known the old girl would leave him the cottage, but no money with which to resurrect it from dereliction and so had embarked upon a programme of improvements whilst she was still alive. He didn’t really begrudge the kitties the remainder - he didn’t think there’d be much left! And good old Alfie, getting all the stuff dirt cheap and providing extortionately inflated billheads.
If he’d paid the gas board to install the fires it would have cost nearly as much as the receipt Alfie had provided for Auntie Phil!
The windows were in by teatime and the new upvc front door looked really good. Not only that, but it was instantly warmer, the howling gale from under the door having been stopped and the draughts from the elderly windows now having been eliminated.
He was very pleased with himself. The window fitters had done a very tidy job and he wouldn’t even have to re-decorate yet.
He ate his tea in the now warm kitchen and then settled down on his sofa in front of the new gas fire and new television with a large glass of Auntie Phil’s vintage brandy. Not that Auntie Phil liked brandy - she didn’t actually drink, but he had told her it was ‘medicinal’ and she should keep it in for emergencies. It would appear she’d never had one as the bottle was unopened.
He chuckled with self-satisfaction. It was warm and comfortable sitting in his cottage, on his sofa, drinking his brandy. He was feeling distinctly drowsy and thought he’d have a little nap, sleep off the good food and drink that Auntie had kindly provided. He could do whatever he wanted to do now. He could come and go as he pleased, not like the bedsit.
It was three days later they found him. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Due to his death following hard on the heels of his Aunt’s the authorities mounted a detailed investigation into the cause of death. In the course of the investigation, the cottage was checked over.
“Bloody stupid people. Fancy letting just anyone fit gas fires,” Detective Inspector Bob Walls said to his colleague, ”and the fires are faulty too. No doubt some villain sold them to the old duck, probably at an exorbitant price, and fitted them incorrectly too. Shame her nephew didn’t notice. I believe he was devoted to his Aunt and she left him this place. Poor bugger!”
D.I. Walls ran his finger over the seal of one of the new windows.
“It might not even have been fatal had the nephew not installed these new draughtproof windows. No ventilation see? The receipts we found were fakes, so we don’t even know who supplied and fitted the gas-fires.”
“So there’s no-one else in the frame then, Guv?” O’Rourke asked.
“A beneficiary you mean?” Walls sniggered, “ Not unless you count forty-odd moggies at the cat’s home. That’s where it reverts to on the nephew’s demise!”