“Well, I wish you would stop interrupting me while I fill in the empty pages of my pink notebook with gripping stories, I keep losing my thread. Most annoying!” Liz sighed. She wrote Liz snapped at first and then erased it and changed it to Liz sighed. Then she added Liz sighed with the very mildest slight irritation and then became exasperated with the whole thing and told herself to just leave it and try to move on!
But really, Finnley’s timing, as usual! Just as Liz had worked out the direct line to the characters fathers mothers fathers fathers mothers fathers mothers fathers father and mother, Finnley wafts through the scene, making herself conspicuous, and scattering Liz’s tenuous concentration like feathers in the wind.
“And I don’t want to hear a word about apostrophes either,” she added, mentally noting the one in don’t.
“Good God, Gordon, you’re smoking a pipe!” It was an astonishing sight. “What an astonishing sight! Where are your nuts?”
“Well, it’s like this,” Gordon grinned, “I’ve been eating nuts in every scene for, how long? I just can’t face another nut.”
Liz barked out a loud cackle. “You think that’s bad, have you seen what they keep dressing me in? Anyway, ” she asked, “What do you mean clever and you see what I’m doing? What am I doing?”
“The code, of course! I spotted it right away,” Gordon replied smugly.
Finnley heaved herself out of the pool and walked over to Liz and Gordon. (is it Gordon or Godfrey? Liz felt the cold tendrils of dread that she had somehow gone off the track and would have to retrace her steps and get in a fearful muddle Oh no! )
A splat of blue algae across her face, as Finnley flicked the sodden strands of dyed debris off that clung to her hair and body, halted the train of thought that Liz had embarked on, and came to an abrupt collision with a harmless wet fish, you could say, as it’s shorter than saying an abrupt collision with a bit of dyed blue algae.
“What was in that blue dye?”JibParticipant
‘What are you doing?’ asked Liz, horrified.
‘Don’t you know the price of a session at the Blue Algae Therapy Health Center?’ Finnley asked, her voice muffled by the mask.
‘Why the full bathing suit then?’
‘It’s a permanent blue dye for leather.’JibParticipant
Today the planets are aligned, thought Liz as she looked at the blue sky out the French door. The frills of her glitter pink Charnel bathing suit wiggled with excitement.
It was one of those rare days of this summer where rain wasn’t pouring somewhere in the garden. Every single day: clouds, clouds, clouds. If they weren’t above the mansion, they were above the pool. If they weren’t above the pool, they were flooding the lawn in between the mansion and the pool.
But today, the sun had risen in a sky free of clouds and Liz was determined to have that dip in the newly repaired swimming pool with a watermelon mojito served by Roberto in his shiny leather speedo. The pool had been half frozen half boiling for so long that they had forgotten the swimming part. Once fixed, the summer had turned into a mid season rainy weather.
Liz looked at her pink notebook lying on the coffee table. Resisting the temptation to fill in the empty pages with gripping stories, she hopped on the patio, flounces bouncing and her goocci flip-flops clacking. With a sparkling foot, Liz tested the grass. It was dry enough, which meant she would not inadvertently walk on a slug or a snail. She particularly hated the cracking noise and the wetness afterward under her feet.
‘What happened?’ she asked in front of the disaster.
Roberto shrugged, obviously overwhelmed by the goo.
‘Green algae’, said Godfrey popping up out of nowhere with a handful of cashews. ‘The ice and fire had kept it at bay for some time. But once it was back to normal the pool was a perfect environment for their development. I already called the maintenance company. They come next week.’
‘What? Next week?’
‘Yes. That’s sad. It’s the season. We are not the only ones to have that problem.’
That said he threw a cashew in his mouth and popped back to nowhere he came from.
“No, listen,” Sophie whispered, “I’ve heard some things about this place. We have to escape.”
“What ‘ave you ‘eard?” asked Glor.
“SSSHH!! not so loud,” Sophie looked around nervously. “I can’t tell you now, you’ll have to trust me. We have to escape, and the sooner the better. Tonight.”
“I can’t come tonight, I’m ‘aving me nails done in the morning,” Glor said.
“If you don’t leave tonight, they’ll probably pull all your nails out with pliers in the morning, don’t you see?”
“Oh I say,” Glor shuddered, “Don’t say things like that, it makes me toes curl up just thinking about it.”
“Trust me,” insisted Sophie. “Tell your friends ~ quietly mind! ~ to pack a small bundle of things ~ small, mind! ~ just a change of clothes and a bit of food, and meet me in the lavatory by the back door at 3 am sharp.”
Sophie sighed with relief. It had been easier than she expected.
“SSHHHH” hissed Sophie, horrified. “Be discreet for god’s sake!”
Sometimes Bob spoke without his lips. Telepathy is what Jane liked to call it. It’s just thinking that other people can hear, apparently.
Bob could hear Jane thinking now and she didn’t sound too pleased. “What’s she doing here?” she hissed in his head.
Jane and Julienne never got on. Well, they used to years ago. Then something happened. Something to do with a fruit cake recipe … Bob could never understand the ins and outs of it. They hadn’t spoken much after that. Jane called Julienne the town gossip.
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” said Bob reaching out for the offshoots.Goodness knows what he was going to do with them. It was Jane who was the gardener.
Clara smirked. “I’ll go and see if Nora is up.”
“No, she’s alright,” said Bob sharply. “You stay here. She’ll just be resting up now. It’s all been quite a shock for her I think.”
“What’s all this?” asked Julienne. “Someone’s had a shock?”
Will didn’t like unexpected visitors. What kind of people turned up unannounced nowadays? He was tempted to ignore the knocking but then it is the not knowing that’s the killer. And what if someone gets it in their head to nose around the property?
“Yep?” he said opening the door. The pair of them were starting off down the front steps as though they meant to go exploring. He’d been right to answer.
“Oh, you are here!” said the girl, turning towards him with a bright smile. “Sorry to just turn up like this …”
Will gave her a curt nod and she faltered a little.
“Uh, my name is Clara and this is my grandfather, Bob, and we are hoping you can help us … “
The old fellow with her, Bob, was staring hard at Will. He looked familiar but Will couldn’t quite place him … he wasn’t local. And he certainly didn’t recognise the girl—very pretty; he would definitely have remembered her.
“Have we met somewhere, Bob?” Will asked.
Nora commented favourably on the view, relieved to have been given a clue about what she was supposed to have noticed. It was a splendid panorama, and Will seemed pleased with her response. She asked if it was possible to see the old smugglers path from their vantage point, and he pointed to a dirt road in the valley below that disappeared from view behind a stand of eucalyptus trees. Will indicated a tiny white speck of an old farm ruin, and said the smugglers path went over the hill behind it.
Shading her eyes from the sun, Nora peered into the distance beyond the hill, wondering how far it was to Clara’s grandfathers house. Of course she knew it was 25 kilometers or so, but wasn’t sure how many hills behind that one, or if the path veered off at some point in another direction.
Wondering where Clara was reminded Nora that her friend would be waiting for her, and quite possibly worrying that she hadn’t yet arrived. She sighed, making her mind up to leave first thing the next morning. She didn’t mention this to Will though, and wondered briefly why she hesitated. Something about the violent sweep of his arm when she asked about her phone had made her uneasy, such a contrast to his usual easy going grins.
Then she reminded herself that she had only just met him, and barely knew anything about him at all, despite all the stories they’d shared. When she thought about it, none of the stories had given her any information ~ they had mostly been anecdotes that had a similarity to her own, and although pleasant, were inconsequential. And she kept forgetting to ask him about all the statues at his place.
Wishing she could at least send a text message to Clara, Nora remembered the remote viewing practice they’d done together over the years, and realized she could at least attempt a telepathic communication. Then later, if Clara gave her a hard time about not staying in contact, she could always act surprised and say, Why, didn’t you get the message?
She found a flat stone to sit on, and focused on the smugglers path below. Then she closed her eyes and said clearly in her mind, “I’ll be there tomorrow evening, Clara. All is well. I am safe.”
She opened her eyes and saw that Will had started to head back down the path. “Come on!” he called, “Time for lunch!”
“”Sorry, I’m only just telling you this about the note now, lovie. Your Grandma’s been on at me to tell you. Just in my thoughts I mean!” he added quickly.
Jane smirked and tapped her forehead. “Careful, Old Man. She’ll think you’ve completely lost it!”
Clara stared at him, a small frown creasing her brow. “So, the note said you were to call him?”
Bob nodded uneasily. Clara had that look on her face. The one that means she aren’t happy with the way things are proceeding.
“And then what?” asked Clara slowly.
“I dunno.” Bob shrugged. “Guess they’d bury it again? They was pretty clear they didn’t want it found. Now, how about I put the kettle on?” Bob stood quickly and began to busy himself filling the jug with water from the tap.
Clara shook her head firmly. “No.”
“No to a cup of tea?”
“No we can’t call this man.”
“I don’t know Clara. It’s getting odd it is. Strangers leaving maps in collars and whatnot. It’s not right.”
“Well, I agree it needs further investigation. But we can’t call him … not without knowing why and what’s in it.” She tapped her fingers on the table. “I’ll try and get hold of Nora again.”
Clara breathed a sigh of relief when she saw VanGogh running towards her; in the moonlight he looked like a pale ghost.
“Where’ve you been eh?” she asked as he nuzzled her excitedly. She crouched down to pat him. “And what’s this?” A piece of paper folded into quarters had been tucked into VanGogh’s collar. Clara stood upright and looked uneasily around the garden; a small wind made the leaves rustle and the deep shadows stirred. Clara shivered.
“Clara?” called Bob from the door.
“It’s okay Grandpa, I found him. We’re coming in now.”
In the warm light of the kitchen, Clara showed Bob the piece of paper. “It’s a map, but I don’t know those place names.”
“And it was stuffed into his collar you say?” Bob frowned. “That’s very strange indeed. Who’d of done that?”
Clara shook her head. “It wasn’t Mr Willets because I saw him drive off. But why didn’t VanGogh bark? He always barks when someone comes on the property.”
“You really should tell her about the note,” said Jane. She was perched on the kitchen bench. VanGogh pricked his ears up and wagged his tail as he looked towards her. Bob couldn’t figure out if the dog could see Jane or just somehow sensed her there. He nodded.
“What?” asked Clara.
“There’s something I should tell you, Clara. It’s about that box you found.”
“I think not!” declared Star, knocking the foul concoction out of Tara’s hands as she raised it to her lips. The bilious sludge hit the full length mirror with a thwack, and slid down the glass in a revoltingly lumpy fashion, momentarily mesmerizing them both.
“Well make your bloody mind up, are the carrots a good thing or a bad thing?” asked Tara with more than a hint of exasperation. “I can’t seem to keep things straight.”
Star sighed. “I think we’re supposed to keep an open mind until we know for sure.”
“Well, it isn’t easy. It would be nice to know what exactly it is that I’m trying to prove.”
“We won’t know until we find out, which is why you need to keep an open mind, and keep track of what you know for sure, which can be whittled down considerably to manageable proportions when you eliminate all the suppositions.”
“In a nutshell though, what does that mean with regard to the wardrobe?”
The wardrobe was sitting solidly in the middle of the office, exactly where they had left it.
Or was it?
“I was expecting a room full of middle-aged ladies,” said Star, her voice troubled. She frowned at the wardrobe. “Has it moved a little do you think? I’m sure it was closer to the window before. Or was it smaller. There’s something different about it …”
“Maybe they are inside,” whispered Tara.
“What! All of them?” Star sniggered nervously.
Rosamund was dressed in a silky yellow thing that floated to her ankles. Her feet were bare and her long hair, usually worn loose, was now neatly plaited. Encircling the top of her head was a daisy chain. She smiled gently at Star and Tara. “Peace, my friends.” Dozens of gold bracelets jangled as she extended her hands to them. “Come, my dear friends, let us partake of carrot juice together.”
“Grandpa,” Clara said, partly to distract him ~ poor dear was looking a little anxious ~ and partly because she was starting to get twangs of gilt about Nora, “Grandpa, do you remember that guy who used to make sculptures? I can’t recall his name and need his phone number. Do you remember, used to see him driving around with gargoyles in the back of his truck. You look awfully pale, are you alright?”
“No idea,” Bob replied weakly.
Tell her! said Jane.
“No!” Bob exclaimed, feeling vexed. He wasn’t sure why, but he didn’t want to rush into anything. Why was Clara asking about the man whose phone number was on the note? What did she know about all this? What did he, Bob, know for that matter!
“I only asked!” replied Clara, then seeing his face, patted his arm gently and said “It’s ok, Grandpa.”
For the love of god will you just tell her!
“Tell who what?” asked Clara.
“What! What did you say?” Bob wondered where this was going and if it would ever end. It began to feel surreal.
They were both relieved when the door bell rang, shattering the unaccustomed tension between them.
“Who can that be?” they asked in unison, as Clara rose from the table.
Bob waited expectantly, pushing his plate away. It would take days to settle his digestive system down after all this upset at a meal time.
“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost, Clara! Who was it?” Bob said as Clara returned from the front door. “Not the water board again to cut us off I hope!”
“It’s the neighbour, Mr Willets, he says he’s ever so sorry but his dogs, they got loose and got into some kind of a box on your property. He said…”
“Knock, knock! Dinner’s ready!” Clara popped her head around the door to Bob’s room. “What are you doing?” she asked as Bob started and hurriedly put his hand over a small piece of paper.
“Er, nothing, just …” His words trailed off. He smiled brightly at her. “Dinner eh. Smells good. I’ll be right with you.”
Clara’s gaze travelled from Bob’s face to the cardboard box on the bed. “Are you okay? You look strange. What’s in that box?”
“Odds and ends. Just doing a bit of sorting.” He put the piece of paper in the box and placed the lid back on. “Nothing that won’t keep till after dinner.”
“If there are any old photos in the box I’d love to see them.”
“Tell her,” said Jane. There she was, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed near the box. “Go on, tell her about the number.”
Bob shook his head vigorously and Clara regarded him strangely. “Not to worry about photos then,” she said
“You were wishing I was here and now here I am and you aren’t even going to listen to me?” Now Jane was whispering into his ear and he imagined he could almost feel her breath like a feather tickling his cheek—it was all he could do not to laugh. “Tell her or I will.”
Damn these municipal restrictions! Frustrated, Nora looked again at the photo of the inscriptions on the mysterious pear shaped box that Clara had found. She picked up a pen and copied the symbols onto a piece of paper. Glancing back over the message her friend had sent, her face softened at Clara’s pet name for her, Alienor. Clara had started called her that years ago, when she found out about the ouija board incident and the aliens Nora had been talking to. Was it really an alien, or….? Clara had asked, and Nora had laughed and said Of course it was an alien or! and the name had stuck.
Nora’s mood had changed with the reminiscence, and she had an idea. She was working from home, but all that really meant was that she had to have internet access. Nobody would have to know which home she was working from, if she could just make it past the town barriers. But she didn’t have to go by road: the barriers were only on the roads. There was nothing stopping her walking cross country.
Putting aside the paper with the symbols on, she perused a map. She had to cross three town boundaries, and by road it was quite a distance. But as the crow flies, not that far. And if she took the old smugglers track, it was surprisingly direct. Nora calculated the distance: forty nine kilometers. Frowning, she wondered if she could walk that distance in a single day and thought it unlikely. Three days more like, but maybe she could do it in two, at a push. That would mean one overnight stay somewhere. What a pity it was so cold! It would mean carrying a warm sleeping bag, and she hated carrying things.
Nora looked at the map again, and found the halfway point: it was a tiny hamlet. A perfect place to spend the night. If only she knew someone who lived there, somebody who wouldn’t object to her breaking the restrictions.
Nora yawned. It was late. She would finalize the plan tomorrow, but first she sent a message to Clara, asking her if she knew anyone in the little village.
Clara wiggled her wooly fair isle toes in front of the log fire. She was glad she’d brought her thick socks ~ the temperature had dropped and snow was forecast. Good job we got that box out before the ground froze, she said to her grandfather. He made an indecipherable harumphing noise by way of reply and asked her if she’d found out anything yet about the inscriptions.
“No,” Clara sighed, “Not a thing. I’ll probably find it when I stop looking.”
Bob raised an eyebrow and said nothing. She’d always had a funny way of looking at things. Years ago he’d come to the conclusion that he’d never really fathom how her mind worked, and he’d accepted it. Now, though, he felt a little uneasy.
“Oh look, Grandpa! How fitting! It’s the daily random quote from The Daily Wail. Listen to this: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift; that’s why it’s called The Present.” What a perfect sync!”
“Oh aye, it’s a grand sink, glad you like it! It was about time I had a new one. It was a wrench to part with the old one, after seeing your grandma standing over it for all those years, but it was half price in the sale, and I thought, why not Bob, be a devil. One last new sink before I kick the bucket. I was fed up with that bucket under the old sink, I can tell you!”
Clara blinked, and then smiled at the old man, leaning over to squeeze his arm. “It’s a great sink, Grandpa.”
“What about me?” asked Vince French. “Are you going to interrogate me or not?” He sounded peevish, even to his own ears. But he put his heart and soul into singing and to have the whole audience, bar that rude detective girl, run out during a performance was unconscionable.
“We don’t really need to now,” said Tara. She softened slightly seeing his dejected face. “Great tune by the way. If you like, you can come and help us find Uncle Basil.” She edged towards the exit. “After you’ve paid the bill!” she shouted as she took off through the door.
“But I can’t stand bloody opera singing,” Tara whispered back, “It’ll drive me mad. When they said he had a melodious voice I was expecting something more modern than this ancient caterwauling.”
“Do you want to solve this case or not?”
“Oh alright then,” Tara said grudgingly. “But your thinking better be good!” She clapped loudly and whistled. “More! More!” she shouted, stamping her feet. The assorted middle aged ladies joined in the applause.
“Yeah, you had to listen to opera with him, poor thing, but he did tip well.”
“Well, he told me a lot about opera. I thought it was a waste of time knowing all that useless old stuff, but listen: this song what he’s singing now, he’s singing this on purpose. It’s a clue, you see, to Uncle Basil and why Vince wants to find him.”
“Go on,” whispered Tara.
“Wasn’t that obvious from the start?”
“Well yes, but we got very cleverly sidetracked with all these middle aged ladies and that wardrobe! This is where the mule comes in.”
“Shh! Keep your voice down! It’s not the same kind of mule as in the opera, these middle aged ladies are trafficking mules!”
“Oh well that would make sense, they’d be perfect. Nobody suspects middle aged ladies. But what are they trafficking, and why are they all here?”
“They’re here to keep us from finding out the truth with all these silly sidetracks and distractions. And we’ve stupidly let ourselves be led astray from the real case.”
“What’s the real case, then?”
“How do you know that for sure?” asked Tara.
“I don’t know for sure, but this is the theory. Once we have a theory, we can prove it. Now, about that wardrobe. We mustn’t let them take it away. No matter what story they come up with, that wardrobe stays where it is, in our office.”
“But why? It’s taking up space and it doesn’t go with the clean modern style. And people keep getting locked inside it, it’s a death trap.”
“That’s what they want you to think! That it’s just another ghastly old wardrobe! But it’s how they smuggle the stuff!”
“What stuff are they smuggling? Drugs? That doesn’t explain what it’s doing in our office, though.”
“Well, I had an interesting intuition about that. You know that modified carrot story they tried to palm us off with? Well I reckon it’s vaccines. They had to come up with a way to vaccinate the anti vaxxers, so they made this batch of vaccines hidden in hallucinogenic carrots. They’re touting the carrots as a new age spiritual vibration enhancing wake up drug, and the anti vaxxers will flock to it in droves.”
“Surely if they’re so worried about the ingredients in vaccines, they won’t just take any old illegal drug off the street?”
Tara smiled ruefully. “Yeah, I guess that was a silly thing to say. But now I’m confused. Whose side are we on? Surely the carrot vaccine is a good idea? Are we trying to stop them or what? And what is Vince up to? Falsifying a will?” Tara frowned, puzzled. “Whose side are we on?” she repeated.
“But what if the client is morally bankrupt? What if it goes against our guidelines?”
“Guidelines don’t come into it when you’re financially bankrupt!” Star snapped. “Hey, where has everyone gone?”
“They said they had to pick up a wardrobe,” said the waitress. “Shall I bring you the bill? They all left without paying, they said you were treating them.”
The door crashed open and an imposing looking gentleman strode into the room. He looked rather dashing in his pinstripe suit; unfortunately the effect was spoilt by the fact that he was wearing a bright purple beanie complete with yellow pom poms on his head.
“Meandering! Unfocused!” shouted the newcomer. “Call yourselves private detectives? I’ve had enough of this rubbish. I demand you interrogate me.”
“Alright, keep your voice down,” said Tara. “For starters, who are you? And why are you wearing that ludicrous thing on your head?”
“I am Vince French. Yes, that got your attention!” He looked brazenly around the cafe with an unpleasant sneer.
“Oh, the headgear. My elderly Aunt knitted it for me and insisted I wear it. What could I do?”
“Well,” said Star mildly. “That’s extremely sweet of you. And, you are in luck because we’ve been looking for a Vince French. But first can you prove you are Vince French because we are getting rather a lot of false negatives lately. Or do I mean false positives. I really get so confused.”
“Yes, and tattoos as identification won’t do,” said Tara.
“Will Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi prove it to you?” he asked and broke into song.
“Wow,” whispered Star. “What a voice! It must be him.”
“Arrogant bastard,” said Tara.
“Let me see that,” said Tara, snatching the phone off Star. “Aha!” she exclaimed. “Just as I thought! You’ve been hacked. I’d spot those tell tale typo’s anywhere. That’s not the real Lemoon. Now the question is, what have they been advising you to do? That’s exactly what these cults and oracles do, they infiltrate and dish out bad advice.”
“But why?” asked Star, “It doesn’t make sense!”
“To cause chaos, apathy and inertia?” interjected one of the middle aged ladies, who got a swift dig in the ribs with the other ones elbow and a whispered “Shh! You’ll blow our cover!”
“Since everyone seems to be blowing their cover, maybe we should all come clean,” said the elderly man, who had sidled up behind them unnoticed. “May I join you?” he asked, pulling a chair out.
“It’s another trick!” hissed Rosamund, hoping to salvage the situation. “Don’t trust him! Look at the tattoo on his neck!”
“Ah, yes,” the elderly man said, rubbing his neck ruefully. “Let me explain. I was kidnapped and this tattoo was done against my wishes.”
“Why should we believe you?” asked Tara suspiciously.
“Will you believe me if I take you to the cult headquarters?”
“But I wanted a raspberry tart!” whined one of the middle aged ladies. “You promised!”
“Oh bugger off and buy your own tart,” snapped Star. “We’re on an important case and we don’t have time for starving middle aged ladies.”
“Clearly,what we do next, my friend, is free the middle-aged lady,” Tara smiled smugly.”First rule, notwithstanding that I hate rules, if you don’t know what to do, do what you do know what to do, even if you don’t want to do it because at least you’ve done something.”
“No, I made it up myself.”
“Oh, well … I’m too tired to do anything.You do it, Tara.”
“No, you do it! Lazy tart.”
“I’ll do it!” says Rosamund, appearing from nowhere and bounding over to the wardrobe. “I want to borrow her lippy again.” She tugged at the door. “It seems to be stuck.”
“It does seem to be rather stuck,” said Star said after a few minutes of fruitless tugging. She knocked on the door of the wardrobe. “Excuse me, are you there? Excuse me … dreadfully sorry about all this.” There was no reply.
“Dead,” said Tara. “Darn it.”
Undaunted, Star tried again. After a particularly spirited tug, the door flew open and Star fell backwards. “She’s gone! But she left a note. Thank you, Ladies for your hospitality. This is a clue. At 4pm Thursday, go to the cafe on Main street. Vince French will be there..”
Tara gasped. “Who was she? That seemingly innocuous middle-aged lady.”
“Perhaps we will never know,” said Star.
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