Halloween (Ch10)

Betty’s smile began to fade*. The shop’s overhead lights shone in the lenses of the man’s glasses, hiding his eyes. She couldn’t read his thoughts, but the alarm bell in her head was now a siren*. What he had said was not threatening, not the words at least. It was the tone*. It was the unblinking stare. It was the feeling he gave of being absolutely motionless and yet coiled*.


The credit card machine spat out its receipt. Betty tore it off. ‘Just sign that,’ she said, sliding the little piece of paper towards him with the tips of her fingers. He reached for the old Bic* and Betty had a brief view of the top of his bald, shining head and the dirty fingernails that gripped the pen. When he straightened and pushed the piece of paper back towards her, Betty glanced at the signatures on the credit card and on the receipt – and wiped an imaginary* hair away from her face. It was just a glance, but that was all it took.

They did not match*.

She looked up. A voice in her head was screaming, telling her not to show it, not to allow the fear that was swelling* up in her brain to seep* through her eyes: but she was already running helter-skelter* through options, she was already in flight from* this murderer. The kitchen? Yes, the kitchen…

‘I have a favour to ask.’

Betty was taken aback. His words seemed to come from another place – one from which she had already mentally escaped. She gawped*. There was no other word for it, and she knew she was doing it. Her mouth fell open and she gawped.




*fade – become less strong, less apparent

*a siren – a very loud danger signal

*the tone – the sound quality

*coiled – twisted (like a snake)

*an arc – part of a circle, a curve

*a Bic – a manufacturer of ballpoint pens

*imaginary – from one’s imagination, not real, illusionary

*match – look the same

*swelling – becoming bigger, heavier, thicker

*seep – escape, leak (like water through a small hole)

*helter-skelter – disorganised, unruly, confused

*in flight from – escaping, running away from

*gawp – (British English, informal) stare openly in a stupid way

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Halloween (Ch9)

‘Mr Nairn?’


‘Your name is Nairn.’

‘Yes? Is there a problem?’

Betty shook her head. For a moment, no one spoke and Betty felt embarrassed. She brushed a non-existent* hair from her face. It was a nervous habit* of hers.

‘You seem surprised.’

Betty gave a little grunt*. It was true. She couldn’t argue. She had been sure that the strange man in front of her was McGovern; that she was staring into the face of a murderer. ‘I just feel a little…silly. I’m a silly old woman. I really am.’

She smiled but the man did not return it. Instead, his face remained impassive*.

‘Silly? Why?’ he asked.

Betty laughed. ‘Too many Poirot books,’ replied Betty.

The man frowned*.

‘I mean,’ she continued, noticing his puzzlement, ‘I have an over-active imagination.’ She took a deep breath, preparing for the explanation. ‘Before you came in here, there was a report on the radio about someone called George McGovern. He escaped from police custody earlier. They say he murdered his wife – or at least, that’s what I think. She tapped* her temple*. ‘See what I mean? Over-active!’

‘And you thought I was this person?’

Betty nodded. ‘Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?’ She was laughing now. She put the credit card in the machine and made the transaction* request.

‘What made you think that?’

‘Think that you were McGovern?’

The man nodded.

Betty was still smiling. ‘Really, there was no good reason. None at all.’ She had her eyes on the credit card machine. Any second now the authorization* would come through. Any second now, the machine would spit out* the receipt and he would take the pen on the counter and sign it. Any second now.

‘There must have been a reason.’




*non-existent – not real, having no reality

*habit – an action performed regularly, sometimes without conscious control

*grunt – a form of phatic communication, a sound we can make to show agreement

*impassive – without any emotion (such as fear, anger…)

*frowned – move your eyebrows together to show anger or puzzlement

*tapped – hit gently

*temple – the side of our forehead

*transaction – an example of buying or selling

*authorization – permission

*spit out – eject from one’s mouth

Halloween (Ch8)

‘Do you take credit cards?’

The question made Betty jump. A murderer was standing in front of her – less than a meter away with a heavy spade in his hand – and he was asking her if she took credit cards! Her mind flew to the little kitchen at the back of the shop. The shop’s phone was in there, sitting quietly next to a tin of digestive biscuits. It might as well be Alaska. And of course she didn’t have a mobile. She couldn’t see the point. ‘If someone wants to speak to me, a phone is good enough.’ How many times had she said that? She could hear herself saying it even now. Silly old woman! But there was no time for all of that. What was she going to do?

‘Yes! Credit cards? Of course, of course.’

She watched him reach inside his jacket pockets: first the right; then the left. He fished out* a wallet.

She was breathing hard but her brain was still working. The key! The key on the inside of the kitchen door. If she could get to the kitchen and close the door quickly, she could lock herself inside while she called the police. She glimpsed* behind her. The door was three meters away at most. The key was definitely in the lock, wasn’t it? She couldn’t see it but it was there, wasn’t it? She hadn’t moved it, had she?

‘Is there something wrong?’

She turned. He, McGovern, was looking at her intently*, his miniscule*, minimized* eyes holding her in their gaze*. He pushed the credit card towards her. She glanced* down at it. She glanced again. The third time, she reached forward and picked it up.



*fished out – pulled out (as one might do with a fish!)

*glimpsed – to see something partially, not completely

*intently – with a great deal of focus/attention

*miniscule – very small

*minimized – made small

*gaze – steady stare

*glanced – a brief or hurried look

Halloween (Ch7)

When he said the word, it made Betty shiver*. Silly, but it did.

‘A shovel.’

‘A shovel?’

‘A shovel.’

Some of the locals still cut peat* from the moor, but they used shovels that had narrow blades. The shovels in Betty’s shop had broad blades – the sort that people bought to clear snow from their paths or dig up their onions and potatoes. ‘You’ll find one there,’ said Betty, nodding* in the direction of a single shovel leaning against the wall, its shaft and blade partially* hidden by the corner of the counter. The man reached over, clamped a hand on the grip and weighed the shovel in his hands. He peered* at the sun-faded price tag. ‘How much?’

‘Forty pounds,’ replied Betty. It wasn’t – twenty was the usual price – but that wasn’t the point. She had increased the price without planning to and she was glad. She didn’t know exactly why, but she wanted him to go, to get out of her shop, to leave. Would the ridiculous* price have the desired* effect? She hoped so. She was waiting for him to put the shovel down when another blast of wind hit the shop front. She glanced outside. For the first time, she noticed a car’s bonnet protruding* past the edge of the shop’s window. A headlight was hanging loose.

‘That’s expensive,’ the man said. His voice was neutral*.

Betty turned and faced him. She wanted to say ‘take it or leave it,’ but that was going too far. Instead, holding his eyes, she settled for a shrug*.

‘It’s a good shovel,’ he said; and holding its neck, he ran a finger along its blade. ‘Must be tidy,’ he whispered. ‘Must be clean.’

What Betty thought next was not the result of a conscious process: he was simply a strange man acting strangely. But as she watched him, as she listened to his hushed, urgent* words, as she stared at his intense, preoccupied* face, the epiphany*, when it came, was sudden and wholly explanatory*. There was no doubt in Betty’s mind.

The man in front of her was George McGovern.



*peat – a kind of fuel

*nodding – moving one’s head up and down to show agreement

*partially – not completely, somewhat

*peered – looked at carefully (because of puzzlement?)

*ridiculous – not realistic, stupid

*desired – wanted

*protruding – sticking out, extending beyond

*neutral – without any particular emotion

*a shrug – a movement of the shoulders to show apathy/uncertainty

*urgent – agitated, emotional

*epiphany – a moment of sudden understanding

*explanatory – helps to explain

Halloween (Ch6)

Good afternoon, can I help you?’ Betty asked and waited. Her voice, she thought, sounded a little frail*. Perhaps she was about to get a cold. No response. Suddenly, it seemed to Betty that she hadn’t spoken, that the sounds – the vowels and consonants she had given birth to – had never existed*. The man was staring at her because she hadn’t spoken. No, that wasn’t right: she had spoken: she had asked a question and he hadn’t answered. What was he waiting for? Betty stared back. The silence endured*. His eyes – pale* and blue, and magnified* by thick lenses – didn’t move from her face; and an image of an insect, a beetle pinned to a specimen board, ran through Betty’s mind. He was still staring, not coldly, just dumbly, when Betty frowned*. She didn’t like it. She didn’t like the little alarm bell that was still ringing in her head; she didn’t like his lack of a return greeting; but most of all, she didn’t like his silent stare. She could feel her heart begin to quicken and it made her resentful*. Who did he think he was? This was her territory: she was the one who woke up at five; she was the one who greeted everyone with a cheery* smile; she was the one who kept the shelves well-stocked with everything that the local community needed. Nobody had the right to frighten her in her own shop. Nobody. She narrowed her eyes. ‘What do you want?’ she asked. That was better. That was a voice that didn’t make her sound like some poor old dear one step away from the grave*.



*frail – fragile, easily damaged

*existed – to have lived, been a part of this world

*endured – continued

*pale – not brightly coloured

*magnified – made larger

*frowned – made a facial expression that shows puzzlement or anger

*resentful – angry because of someone’s thoughtless behaviour

*cheery – cheerful

*a grave – a place of burial


Computer crashed…again.

Unfortunately, my computer crashed on Thursday (the second time in a year). I hope to get my MBP to a service centre today; but the centre will have to reload OSX, which means all my data will be lost. A corrupted download of OSX may be the culprit, but I am not sure. Anyway, normal service will be resumed as soon as possible….

Halloween (Ch5)

Because she was seated, Betty couldn’t actually see the front door: between her and it stood a row of shelving* that blocked* her view. She rose to her feet, pushed a hair from her face and watched. She could see the top of someone’s head – a man’s – moving down the other side of the shelves towards her. It bobbed* slightly, rising and falling with every silent step. Shiny and bald, it wasn’t one that she recognized. A moment later, the stranger appeared and stepped towards her. And that’s when the little alarm in Betty’s head began to ring. Something wasn’t right. Something didn’t add up*. It wasn’t his face. No, that wasn’t it. That was bland*, almost expressionless*. It wasn’t the clothes either – though she didn’t get many customers in a three-piece suit*, shirt and tie these days; there was even a handkerchief in his suit pocket, for goodness sake. No, it was something else, something she couldn’t put her finger on*. The little alarm bell was ringing away and she couldn’t think why.


*shelving – shop furniture on which goods are displayed

*blocked – stopped, got in the way, prevented

*bobbed – moved up and down (e.g. like a boat)

*add up – make sense, become understandable

*bland – ordinary, unexceptional, boring

*expressionless – without emotions

*three-piece suit – matching trousers, jacket and waistcoat

*put her finger on – specify, identify (as the cause)


Halloween (Ch4)

The words of the news report interrupted* Betty’s thoughts.

‘…escaped from police custody* earlier today when the police vehicle that was carrying him was involved in an accident on the B764. The man, John McGovern, is considered* dangerous and the public are warned not to approach* him.’

Betty leaned forward and turned up the radio.

‘McGovern, 47, was arrested last week in connection with the disappearance of Gillian McGovern, his estranged* wife.’

Betty leaned back as the topic of the news report changed. A murderer on the loose* – and so close! The B764 was only thirty miles away. Betty shivered* just as a sudden gust of wind struck the shop. The front door flew open, someone stepped inside and the door closed again.



*interrupted – broke into, brought to an end

*police custody – under arrest

*considered – thought to be

*approach – go near, go towards

*estranged – no longer together, separated from

*on the loose – free

*shivered – shook


Reading comprehension (Halloween, Ch3)

Look again at Halloween (Ch3) and decide if the following statements are probably true or false.

1. Sometimes Betty didn’t sell all the newspapers in her shop.

2. Betty’s shop sold more things than the nearest supermarket.

3. For the people in Craiginver, Betty’s shop was closer than the nearest supermarket.

4. Betty didn’t sell bread.

5. More people came into Betty’s shop in the afternoons than in the mornings.

6. Mrs Murdoch always bought lots of things in Betty’s shop.

7. Mrs Murdoch probably lived locally.

8. Betty’s husband still helped her in the shop.

Halloween (Ch3)

The sound of Keith Dunlop’s familiar* voice on the radio told Betty that the news was starting. A thought crossed her mind: she hadn’t yet tied all of today’s unsold newspapers into a bundle*. She’d do it after the news. Although it was a small shop, there was always something more to do. Four o’clock already! Today had been a quiet day. The nearest big supermarket was forty miles away, so when people in Craiginver needed milk, bread, rolls, canned food, or newspapers – the basics – they first came to Betty’s shop. Mornings were the busiest time. By the late afternoon, hardly anyone came, though sometimes Mrs Murdoch would pop in* – not to buy anything, but just to have a chat. Betty was glad to have some company. Her husband, Bill, had passed away many years ago – a heart attack. One minute, he was fine and healthy; the next, he was as cold as stone. She missed him. The winter nights were long in northern Scotland…



*familiar – well-known, usual

*a bundle – a group of objects gathered together, often tied together

*pop in – visit someone unannounced, an unplanned visit

Halloween (Ch2) reading comprehension

Look again at Chapter 2 and decide if the following statements are probably true or not

1. The weather that day was unpleasant

2. Betty had no heating in the shop

3. Betty could have a snack if she wanted one

4. Betty lived far away from the shop

5. Betty was probably capable of using the latest technology

6. Betty had no relatives

7. Betty preferred not to eat a large meal at night

8. Betty thought that Agatha Christie was the best mystery writer

Halloween (Chapter 2)

The window rattled again. ‘A snell wind,’ thought Betty, enjoying the word. ‘Snell’: severe, grievous, bitter. The word certainly suited: today was not a day for being outside. Outside was cold and wet and miserable*; but inside the shop, the neon lights were shining and a gas heater that sat near Betty’s feet was doing its best to warm the air. She also had a comfy* chair and a supply of tea and biscuits in her little kitchen at the back of the shop. Later, after she had locked the shop’s front door and gone to her apartment upstairs, she would watch ‘Countdown’ on the VCR that her nephew – a lawyer in Inverness – had set up for her. Then, after something light – she didn’t like big meals in the evening – she would settle down and read Poirot again, starting with ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles.’ She liked that sort of thing – puzzles, detective fiction, mysteries – and Christie was the master*. No one could write a mystery like she could.



*miserable – sad, dreary, unpleasant, stormy

*comfy – comfortable

*the master – the expert, the genius



Halloween (Ch1) Reading comprehension

1. Look again at Chapter 1 and then give your opinion about these statements. Do you think they are true?

a. Betty Ramage is probably a young woman

b. The shop is probably quite small

c. Betty Ramage takes her job seriously

d. . Betty Ramage is probably the owner of the shop

e. The season is probably summer

f. The shop probably didn’t make a huge profit

g. The shop is probably a general store

Halloween (Ch1)

Betty Ramage turned up the volume on her radio. The four o’clock news was about to start and she wanted to hear it. She didn’t have hearing problems, though many people her age did. Instead, the reason for turning up the radio was the noise of the rain. The sky outside the shop’s window had turned dark and ominous* about fifteen minutes ago and now sheets of rain* were hammering against the glass. The sight made her feel cold. She shivered and pulled her cardigan* more tightly to her body. The window rattled*. She doubted that she would see another customer between now and five o’clock, but that didn’t matter. In this small community* in the north of Scotland, it wasn’t unusual for the shop to be empty for hours. All the same, she didn’t like to close early. Betty felt a duty to follow the advertised hours: the sign on the shop door said ‘9-5 Mon-Sat’, so the shop stayed open from 9 till 5, Monday to Saturday.



*ominous – threatening

*sheets of rain – heavy rain

*cardigan – a piece of clothing, like a sweater but with buttons

*rattled – shook noisily

*community – populace, group of people

Classic Murder (Final chapter)

When Brad arrived at the car park, everyone was standing outside the bus looking hot and bored.

‘Where were you?’ Ruby Ann asked. ‘And where did you get that hat?’

Brad took off the hat. He looked at it. ‘I found it,’ he said. ‘It was lying at bottom of the waterfall. You want it?’ Laughing, he reached over and put it on Ruby Ann’s head.

‘It’s wet,’ said Ruby Ann, pulling it off and throwing it back at him. ‘Where’s Dent?’ she asked. ‘The bus driver’s gonna burst a blood vessel if he doesn’t turn up soon.’

Brad shrugged. ‘Who cares?’ Once again, the image of the two men crashing into the water went through Brad’s head. It had taken him twenty minutes to get down to the bottom of the waterfall. All that he had found there was Lazarus’s black hat. Dent was dead – that was revenge for Hank and Bev. Lazarus was also dead – so he didn’t have to pay him anything. Brad had to admit it – he was feeling pretty good right now. He put the hat back on, gave Ruby Ann a wink as he went past her and put a foot on the first step of the the bus.

‘Where are you going kid?’ the driver asked.

‘I wanna get my bottle of cola from my bag.’

The driver nodded. ‘Where’s your teacher? We need to go.’

Brad just shrugged and went to his seat. He could hear the driver still muttering something about another trip. Brad collected the bottle and left.

Outside, he walked to the shade. He wondered how long it would be before someone decided to call the police. Unscrewing the bottle top, he put the bottle to his lips and drank deeply, eyes closed. After many mouthfuls, he lowered the bottle and noticed that Ruby Ann was watching him. He held out the bottle. ‘You want some?’ he asked just as a small piece of paper detached itself from the bottom of the bottom of the cola bottle and fell to the ground.

‘No, thanks,’ replied Ruby Ann, bending down to pick it up.

Brad finished the remainder of the cola. When he looked at Ruby Ann again, she was looking puzzled.

‘What is it?’ he asked.

‘A message, I think,’ said Ruby Ann, ‘…it’s kinda weird.’

Brad took the dirty little piece of paper from her and started to read:

Dear Mr Klonsky,

If you are reading this then I am dead. I am sure this will please you – and Lazarus. But don’t get too excited. Why? Because soon you will just be like me… dead. Last night my car broke down and I had to walk all through the night to get to school. I arrived before everyone else and stole rat poison from Mr Ryan’s store room. The rat poison contains thallium, which is colourless, odorless tasteless and – most importantly – deadly. Guess what? I put the thallium in your bottle of cola. Then I put this note on the bottom of the bottle, just to let you know. I believe the nearest hospital is over 70km away. Bon voyage! By the way, I thought you might enjoy this. It’s by someone called William Shakespeare…

“If you poison us, do we not die?

And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

The Merchant of Venice

 Cornelius Dent.


Tagged , , , , ,

Classic murder (Chapter 19)

When Dent reached the viewing platform, all the kids were gone – including Klonsky. That didn’t matter. The kids, Dent reflected, hadn’t even noticed that he wasn’t with them. He climbed onto the viewing platform. Its wooden floor was slippery. He held onto the railings and looked down. He wondered where Lazarus was. He didn’t know how Lazarus planned to murder him, so he had to be ready. Just then, he heard footsteps. He looked down. Lazarus was coming the steps. Dent could just see him through the watery mist. As usual, Lazarus was in black – black hat, black shoes, black shirt, black trousers. ‘He looks like a shadow,’ thought Dent. He continued watching. Lazarus brought something out of his pocket. Dent knew it was a knife.

Dent ran to the nearest tree and hid behind it. He watched Lazarus climb up the remaining steps and go onto the viewing platform. Lazarus’s back was turned. It was now or never. Dent rushed at him, full speed, his arms out-stretched. One push and Lazarus was history. Lazarus turned around. Dent saw the surprise and fear on the other man’s face. But at the last moment, Dent slipped. He crashed into Lazarus and his momentum carried both men forward. For a second, the two men were perfectly balanced, one foot each on the ground; one in the air. Then, together, they toppled over the viewing platform’s railings and fell – Lazarus screaming, Dent smiling, their two bodies disappearing into the mist and raging water below.


Classic Murder (Ch18) activities

1. Match the word with the correct definition

railing go from one side to the other
amazing become heavier, denser, less easy to move through
woods part of a protective barrier
thicken incredible
cross forest

2. Complete the parts of speech


3. Look at #2. Choose the correct word to complete these sentences

a. Because the mist was so _____, Brad lost sight of Dent.

b. Brad felt _____ when he saw the waterfall.

Classic Murder (Ch18)

On a viewing platform beside the top of the falls, Brad Klonsky looked over the railings. A fine mist rose high into the air. The falls were amazing. He knew why Dent liked this place so much. From up here, when the mist cleared, he could see the trees of the National Park stretching away in all directions.

‘I could stay here all day,’ he thought, but he knew that the kids from his class were ready to move on.

‘Are you ready to go across?’ Ruby Ann asked him. She was pointing to the bridge that crossed over the head of the waterfalls. It was a few metres away from them. The path on the other side of the bridge led to the car park and the bus.

‘You go,’ said Brad, ‘I’ll follow in a minute.’

Brad watched as his class mates crossed the bridge and disappeared into the mist and woods on the other side. He heard footsteps on the steps that led up to the viewing platform. Dent was approaching. ‘Where was Lazarus?‘ Brad wondered, but there was no time to wait. He didn’t want to meet Dent here. He didn’t want to be around if Lazarus did show up. When he was on the other side of the bridge, Brad looked back and saw Dent. He was climbing onto the viewing platform; then the mist thickened again and Brad lost sight of him. Brad entered the woods. ‘Perhaps Lazarus has changed his mind,’ he thought as he followed the path down to the bus.


Classic Murder (Ch17) Vocabulary activity

1. Match the words with the correct meaning

slippery not fall behind, stay at the same level (on a difficult task)
hate a (high) place from which you can look at the scenery
keep up with dislike intensely
spray can cause you to fall (often because it is wet)
viewing platform water that rises into the air

2. Now complete the parts of speech

noun verb adjective adverb
    slippery X
spray   X X

3. Look at #2 above. Choose the correct word and complete the sentences

a. Although the steps were wet, Dent didn’t _____ when he was climbing up them.

b. Mary-Beth’s _____ of him was accepted by Dent: he didn’t question her feelings towards him.


Classic Murder (Ch17)

The path up to the Rickenback Falls was steep and narrow and guarded on both sides by trees. Sweat was rolling off Dent’s forehead. He had tried to keep up with the kids, but he had failed. He was weak from hunger and thirst. His body shook and his mouth was dry. He sat down.

The Rickenback Falls were nearly 200 feet high and the steps to the top of them were slippery with the spray that rose up from the fall’s crashing water. Dent had been to the falls many times but had never found climbing up so hard before. He had brought Mary Beth here once. ‘That day’, thought Dent, ‘was a long, long time ago.’ Now, Mary Beth hated him and Klonsky and Lazarus wanted him dead. Nobody liked him. He felt lonely and angry. He looked up. Through the mist, he saw Klonsky and some of the other students on a viewing platform at the top of the falls.

Klonsky! Perhaps this was his chance. Perhaps he wouldn’t need the little bottle after all. One hard push and…

The idea put new strength into Dent’s legs. He got up and began climbing the steps again. Did his class even know that they had left him behind? Did they care? He doubted it. He doubted it very much.



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