It’s all Roy’s fault.
A lot of things in Agatha’s life have been Roy’s fault. Her dreadful milestone birthday - she’s absolutely not going to think about which one, because a lady never tells her age, and she’s not technically a lady but she still doesn’t want to think about it - the thing with the stripper, and then the terrible Carsley School Gala (which, in hindsight, was mostly her fault, but she’ll easily blame Roy anyway).
She loves him to pieces, always has, always will - despite whatever gorgeous but short-lived men he brings home - but a lot of things are his fault.
“Absolutely not.” James says, and is rather forceful about it.
Agatha likes his forceful voice. Usually she doesn’t take a lot of nonsense from men and their endless peacocking, but she knows James, and she knows that voice, and sometimes that voice makes her feel things wholeheartedly inappropriate for the current discussion.
Roy rolls his eyes. “Boring.”
“I think it could be quite fun.” Charles interjects, leaning gracefully on one side of her kitchen island, a smug smile on his face.
He’s always smug, that man.
“Well, you would.” James continues. “With all of your… finangling.”
“Finangling?” Charles replies, still looking far, far too amused. “You’re twisting the definition there, James, and I’d have thought-”
“Ladies.” Roy interrupts. “We’re doing this for a reason. A good reason. Aggie?”
“I mean,” Agatha shrugs, because she’s not really upset about the idea of having two gorgeous men fawning over her, no matter how fake it is. “It is for a good cause…”
“Ugh.” James throws up his hands and stalks out of the kitchen.
Charles just remains, staring at her, for a moment. “For the record, I never had a problem with it.” Smugly, he wanders out of the room, probably heading back off to his estate, or something.
Agatha huffs. “Did you really think that would convince them? Really, Roy?”
“No, Aggie, I didn’t think ‘why don’t you two join Aggie and form a polyamorous triad in order to infiltrate a poly commune that’s suffered a handful of mysterious deaths’ would do it, but what exactly would you have tried?” Roy asks, pointedly. “I did my best.”
“Yes, and I love you lots for it.” Agatha replies, only half seriously. “Convincing James is… not going to be easy. Why can’t you just do it?”
“One, because I have work.” Roy replies, “Two, because I absolutely do not want to pretend to be your lover, even though I do love you. No thanks. Yuck.”
“Should I be offended?” She replies, though she’s not.
“Absolutely not.” Roy says, “I’m just very, very gay. If I was straight you’d be the first woman I’d go for.”
Roy rolls his eyes. “No respect, honestly. Come on. Do you have any other ideas?”
“No.” And that’s the problem.
Sundown is a commune, somewhere in the rural depths of Ansborough. They’ve had a spate of deaths, unknown, mysterious deaths - but they won’t let the police in because of their strict adherence to a rule of ‘threes’ - every member of the commune must be in a polyamorous triad. It seems suspicious, though all the deaths are of natural causes, but...
“And then,” Roy had said, “I thought - who do I know who has two hot men fawning over her, a love for solving crimes, and a track record of doing ridiculous things?”
“Thanks.” Agatha had replied, but she’d been interested.
The only problem is convincing James.
He’s sulking outside the agency when she wanders outside, looking rather put-upon.
“I’m not happy with this.” He says, and refuses to meet her eyes.
That’s very him. She sighs, and takes his arm. “James, nothing untoward is going to happen.”
“You two have a history together.”
She laughs, gently. “James, Charles has ‘a history’ with almost every single woman in the area, and probably some of the men too. I’m living in sin with you, remember? You don’t need to worry.”
“Mhmm.” He hmms, but doesn’t look convinced.
“Don’t worry about it.”
James mightn’t be keen on the idea, but he’s got good principles, and as such, Sunday morning finds them all jammed into a shabby little car - Gem has good contacts, even when she’s not in town - and well on their way to Sundown.
They’ve all dressed down for the occasion. It’s utterly bizarre to see the boys in jeans and tees, and Agatha doesn’t think she’s worn anything so… frumpy since she was a student.
Roy had laughed. Repeatedly. And then he’d said, “You do look the part. Born again, middle-aged hippi-”
She’d threatened violence then, and fortunately for him, he’d shut up.
“This is all rather… common.” Charles plucks at his t-shirt, a raggedy yellow one that James had provided, from the back seat.
“If you don’t like it…” James starts, but Agatha swerves the car quite thoroughly to the edge of the median strip, and he shuts up.
This is going to be absolute hell, and honestly, Agatha’s fairly excited to see it.
Sundown is surrounded by a shabby wooden fence that has daffodils along the border. The gate itself has ‘Sundown’ painted on it, in peeling yellow paint. There may even be a sun painted on there too.
Agatha hates it immediately.
“Good morning, sister!” Forrest, who apparently is the de-facto leader of the commune, greets them with wide arms and welcoming eyes as she pulls the car into a spot next to several kombi vans. He kisses her on both cheeks and pats her thoroughly on the back.
His beard is itchy. She’s not a fan.
However, because she’s a professional private detective now, or something, she grins and bears it. “...Brother??” She replies. “It’s so… good to finally meet you.”
“Of course.” Forrest chimes, and proceeds to greet the men in the same way.
Charles goes along with it, of course. James looks a little like he wants to run away.
“Everyone is doing their daily activities right now, but you will be able to meet them later.” Forrest says, and leads them and their bags (Agatha had only packed one, for their cover’s sake) towards a set of small cabins.
There’s about eight, including one that is horrifically burnt out. Theirs is third from the left.
Forrest unlocks the door and gives Agatha the key, a thick metal sort she’s not seen the likes of in years. He pushes the door open.
The room itself gives Agatha pauses.
There is only one bed.
And not much else.
“Where’s the rest of it?” Someone voices her unanswered question, and it takes her a moment, brain reeling stupidly, that it’s James.
Forrest looks uncomfortable. “We’re only a small commune, Brother - I know you might have bigger facilities in the likes of London, but-”
“It’s lovely.” Charles says, beaming in a way that’s only mostly a dig, and pushes past them, throwing his bag on the floor and flopping down on the bed. “Come on, my loves.”
Agatha pulls a face at him as she strides past Forrest, and drags James along too. “Thank you, Forrest. We really appreciate this welcome to your little community.”
“Well, I’ll leave you to get settled in.” Forrest beams at the three of them, all sitting on the bed. “There’s a rough itinerary on the table, but you’re welcome to essentially do whatever you feel is calling you. Until next time, Sister, Brothers.”
He pulls the door shut behind him. At the very same moment, James leaps off the bed and lurches towards the wall. He props himself up against it.
Agatha takes the moment to take a proper look around the cabin. Aside from the overlarge bed, there’s a small kitchen, made of rustic furnishings, a table and three chairs, and a door that presumably leads to some kind of bathroom.
It could honestly be worse.
“Well, this is rather quaint, isn’t it?” Charles says, jovally, obviously just doing it to be irritating. “I’d like the right side of the bed, though I am rather partial to the middle.”
James clears his throat, looking uncomfortable. He appears, Agatha notes with some amusement, to be turning an odd shade of grey. “We have a case to solve. Can we discuss this… later?”
“My compatriot is right.” Charles says, and shifts away from where he’s leaning against her side. “Who had the case details?”
“Compatriot?” James mutters, but fossicks through his bag anyway.
Allen Keynes, his wife Samantha Keynes, and their partner Lily Redford were the first to die. All in a tragic accident - ingesting the wrong type of berry after a foraging expedition.
The others, the more recent case, were Jane Henries, Alexandra Jones and Kara St Lukes - who had died after a mishap with their kitchen’s stove.
It was all a bit fishy. Six deaths, at the same commune, within about three weeks? Far too far-fetched to be coincidence.
“Well, I’ll look into the stoves.” James says, just as the same time that Charles says, “I’ll take the stoves.”
They stare at each other for a moment, pensive. Agatha looks between them, expectant. She’s not going to make any of their choices for them, they’re grown men.
Charles waves a hand at the other man. “You’re handier, you do it.”
“Yes.” James says, slowly. “I am.”
“Great, then Charles can find out about the poisonous berries and I’ll… talk to people.” Agatha says, “Reconvene at… uh…”
“Dinner time.” James waves the brochure sitting on the table at them. “7pm, in the Barn.”
“Great!” Agatha says, cheerily, and hops off the bed. “And remember, if anyone asks, we’re all madly in love!”
James just grumbles as she walks past him and heads out into the commune proper.
About five minutes later, she really wishes she brought her wellies.