“Can’t we sit down over there for a minute? My feet are bloody killing me.” April nodded towards a park bench; she didn’t have much patience today for June and her philosophising, after all, wasn’t it June’s fault they were in this mess? “It’s too bad we can’t even afford the bus fare,” she grumbled as she settled herself on the wooden seat.
“Not too much further,” said June plonking down next to her.
April bent down to take off her socks and sneakers and massaged her grateful feet in the damp grass. “Think I’ve got a blister. And I’d kill for a cuppa tea. I do hope Finnley has kept on top of things.”
June snorted. “Not bloody likely. Anyway, while we’ve been walking I’ve been thinking … what if we sue?”
“No, you idiot, not, who Sue. I mean what if we sue for money? Sue the president for wrongdoings which have been done to us.”
“Oh!” April perked up. “There’s certainly been plenty of wrongdoings!”
June smiled smugly. “Exactly.”
The Beige House was eerily calm. Most of the staff had left after the super spread of the epidemic.
“Ready for a change of crowd in the building, Fanny?” said Finnley in her unmistakable Kiwi accent, as a matter of breaking the silence in the grand hall. She was dusting the chandeliers, while Fanella was shampooing the carpets.
“I don’t know Miss Fin’, it iz such a mess now. And I have to take care of ze baby, no time to be political.”
“Oh, by the way, I received a message from the gang…”
“Aprrril’ and Joone?”
“Yep. Those two. The money has dried up, and they learnt the hard way that American are not loved much these days, big spreaders and all. So they decided to sail back to the good ol’ States. Looking for a job now, and hoping that autumn doesn’t mean everything will turn to orange disaster!”
Everyone seems happy about the rain, and I don’t blame them. I’m not daft, I know we need rain but it’s not so easy when you don’t have a home. But I am nothing if not stalwart and stoic, resourceful and adaptable, and I found a good way to keep warm and dry during the downpours. It’s amazing how much heat an animal gives off, so I camp down in stables or kennels when it’s cold and wet. It can get a bit smelly, but it’s warm and dry and when my clothes are damp and stinking I just throw them all away and get some new ones out of the recycling bins. Just to clarify, I find the new clothes first before throwing the ones I’m wearing away. I’m not daft, I know walking around naked would catch attention and I try to stay under the radar. Nobody really notices smelly old ladies wandering around these days anyway, but naked would be another matter.
There’s a stable I really like just outside of town, lots of nice deep clean straw. There’s a white horse in there that knows me now and the gentle whicker of recognition when she sees me warms my heart. I don’t stay there any two nights running though. One thing I’ve learned is don’t do anything too regular, keep it random and varied. I don’t want anyone plotting my movements and interfering with me in any way.
There’s not much to do in a stable when it rains for days and nights on end but remember things, so I may as well write them down. I’m never quite sure if the things I remember are my memories or someone elses, a past life of my own perhaps, or another person entirely. I used to worry a bit about that, but not anymore. Nobody cares and there’s nobody to flag my memories as false, and if there was, I wouldn’t care if they did.
Anyway, the other day while I was nestled in a pile of sweet hay listening to the thunder, I recalled that day when someone offered me a fortune for that old mirror I’d bought at the flea market. I know I hadn’t paid much for it, because I never did pay much for anything. Never have done. I bought it because it was unusual (hideous is what everyone said about it, but people have got very strangely ordinary taste, I’ve found) and because it was cheap enough that I could buy it without over thinking the whole thing. At the end of the day you can’t beat the magic of spontaneity, it out performs long winded assessment every time.
So this man was a friend of a friend who happened to visit and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse so of course I sold the mirror to him. He was so delighted about it that I’d have given him the mirror for nothing if I knew he wanted it that much, but I’m not daft, I took the money. I found out later that he’d won the lottery, so I never felt guilty about it.
Well, after he’d gone I sat there looking at this pile of money in my hands and knew exactly what I was going to do. But first I had to find them. They’d moved again and we’d lost contact but I knew I’d find a way. And I did. They’d given up all hope of ever getting that money back that I’d borrowed, but they said the timing was perfect, couldn’t have been better, they said. It wouldn’t have meant all that much to them if I’d paid it back right away, they said, because they didn’t need it then as much as they did when they finally got it back.
They were strange times back then, and one thing after another was happening all over the world, what with the strange weather, and all the pandemics and refugees. Hard to keep food on the table, let alone make plans or pay debts back. But debt is a funny thing. I felt stung when I realized they didn’t think I intended to pay them back but the fact was, I couldn’t do it at the time. And I wanted it to be a magical perfect timing surprise when I did. I suppose in a way I wanted it to be like it was when they loaned me the money. I remember I wept at the kindness of it. Well I didn’t want them to weep necessarily, but I wanted it to mean something wonderful, somehow. And timing is everything and you can’t plan that kind of thing, not really.
It was a happy ending in the end though, I gave them the whole amount I got for that old mirror, which was considerably more than the loan.
The rain has stopped now and the sun is shining. My damp clothes are steaming and probably much smellier than I think. Time to find a recycling bin and a fresh new look.
“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.”
Aunt April blew her nose loudly into a tissue.
“The real Vince has a tattoo of a bell-bird on his right buttock.”
“I had my suspicions … so I had to see for myself. On pretext of being a nurse, I managed to inveigle myself into the institution where he is supposedly being kept to look at his derriere. There are other small differences too, but that clinched it for me.”
Star nodded. “I see, well done! So you and Vincent French were having an …?”
“A liaison of rather a passionate nature. Yes.”
“And the wardrobe? The notes?”
“I had the wardrobe sent up.”
Tara looked puzzled. “But … what on earth for?”
“Oh, the wardrobe is a red herring. I really just wanted to get rid of it and rather than send it to charity thought you girls might make use of it.”
April screwed up her face and giggled nervously. “Well, you are a struggling start-up business and there were no social media reviews to go by … so it was a test really. To see if you were good enough to take on the case.”
Tara glowered at her. “And?”
“You passed! Congratulations! As Rosamund may have told you, I am filthy rich and money is no object. We must get to the bottom of this mystery.”
“Bottom,” said Rosamund and sniggered.
Star paused in the lobby. “I need some more persuading,” she said. “What if she dies in that wardrobe? What will we do with the body? Or, worse, what if she doesn’t die and sues us?”
“I’m going back. I can’t leave Rosamund to face the consequences of our drunken stupidity.” Star headed defiantly towards the stairs; the lift was out of order, again. “We would have to be on the eight bloody floor,” she muttered. “You do what you like,” she flung over her shoulder to Tara.
Tara sighed. “Wait up,” she shouted.
Star was relieved that Tara decided to follow. The building was scary at night – the few tenants who did lease office space, were, much like themselves, dodgy start-ups that couldn’t afford anything better. Missing bulbs meant the lighting in the stairwell was dim, and, on some floors, non-existent.
As they approached the door to their office, they paused to listen. “Can you hear something … ?” whispered Star.
“Is it … singing?”
“That’s never Rosamund singing. She’s got a voice like … well let’s just say you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.”
“I’m going in,” hissed Tara and flung open the door.
“Don’t come any closer!” cried a woman in a mink coat; she did make a peculiar sight, surrounded by empty pizza boxes and brandishing a broom. “And you, shut up!” she said reaching out to bang the wardrobe with her broom. There were muffled cries from within, and then silence.
“Was that you singing?” asked Star in her most polite voice.
“Yes, what’s it to you?”
“It was rather… lovely.”
The woman smirked. “I was rehearsing.”
“We are awfully sorry about locking you in the wardrobe. We thought you were a masked intruder.”
Loud banging emanated from the wardrobe followed by mostly unintelligible shouting but it went something like: “Bloody-let-me-out-or-I-will-friggin-kill-you-stupid-bloody-tarts!”
April nodded. “Go on then, little fool’s learnt her lesson. The cheek of her not letting me have pineapple on my pizza.”
“About bloody time,” sniffed Rosamund when the door was opened. She made a sorry sight, mascara streaked under her eyes and her red fingernails broken from where she had tried to force the door.
April crinkled her brow.”Well, as I may of mentioned on the phone, my husband, Albert — that’s your Uncle Albie,” she said to Rosamund, “is cheating on me. He denies it vehemently of course, but I found this note in his pocket.” She reached into her Louis Vuitton hand-bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. “That’s his handwriting and the paper is from the Royal Albert Hotel. He was there on a business trip last month.” Her face crumpled.
April sniffed. “It says, meet you at the usual place. Bring the money and the suitcase and I will make it worth your while.”
“Let me see that,” said Rosamund, snatching the note from April. She reached into the front of her tee-shirt and pulled out another crumpled note which had been stuffed into her bra. She smirked. “I found this in the wardrobe. I was keeping it secret to pay you back but … ” She brandished both notes triumphantly. “The handwriting is the same!”
“It says, If you find this note, please help me. All is not what it seems..”
“Wow, cool!” said Tara, her face lit up. This was more like it!JibParticipant
The words of the Great Leader Undisputed Gabe were still resonating in the back of Gavin’s mind. The promotion to Operating Tomathetan seemed a great honour on the surface, but it certainly brought its lot of responsibilities with it. And from what he had seen before, it would only add to his current ones.
Gavin descended the Pealgrim path to the Dark Room where all the sorting happened. Many trails from the many carrot fields combined into one and all led to that central building all painted in black, hence its name.
A zealous Seed level had recently been put in charge of the re-painting. As there was only black paint in the warehouse he had the genius idea to save the order some money by using only what they already had, and as there was enough paint he covered all the windows, certainly thinking light could damage the crops. Repainting everything was out of the question so they had kept it like that and just added some artificial light to help the workers. Great Leader Undisputed Gabe, had thought it was a nice initiative as now workers could work any hour of the day.
When Gavin entered the Dark Room, it reeked of carrot and sweat. Members of the cult of all ages were sorting the divine roots by shapes, sizes and thickness. Most of them didn’t know what was the final purpose, innocent minds. All they had was the Sorting Song written by Britta the one legged vestal to help her fellow cultshipers in their work.
If a carrot is short, not worth the effort
As a long stalactites, like ice on your tits
A bar thick as a fist, you’ve just been blissed
Each verse gave advices about what they were looking for, where to put them after sorting and each team had their own songs that they sang while doing their work with the enthusiasm of cultshipers. Even though the song had been crafted to answer most of the situations in terms of carrot shapes, sizes and thickness, it happened that some would not fit into any categories. And recently, those seem to happen more often than once and the pile of misshapen carrots threaten to exceed that of the others combined.
“Eugene, Have you found what is the problem?” asked Gavin to their agronomist. His surname was Carrot and he came from noble Irish descent, quite appropriate for his work, thought Gavin. Eugene was skinny with a long neck and he often seemed to abuse the ritual fasting ceremony ending with the consumption of sacred mushroom soup.
“It’s because of the microscopic snails that infest the crops,” Eugene said. Gavin couldn’t help but notice an accumulation of dried saliva at the corner of his mouth. “They’re carried by bird shit and they are too small to be eaten by our ducks and in the end they cause the carrots to grow random shapes unfit for Odin.”
Odin, short for Organic Dildo Industry, has been the main source of revenue for the cult. Since the start of the confinement the demand has skyrocketed. Especially appreciated by vegans and nature lovers, it also procured a nice orange tan on the skin after usage.
“Can’t you find smaller dwarf ducks?”
“Your Gourdness, microscopic means very tiny, even dwarf ducks wouldn’t be able to eat them unless they eat the carrots.”
“And that would be a problem,” sighed Gavin. “What is your solution then?”
“I don’t have one.”
Gavin raised his hands to the black roof in despair. Did he have to do the jobs of everyone? He needed some fresh eyes and fresh ideas.JibParticipant
The journey to the Pistil itself would have been worth its own story, thought Charlton. They had to avoid road blocks, crowds of chanting christians that had certainly vowed to spread the virus as fast as possible, and howlers who you were never sure weren’t the real thing from Teen Wolf. They had to be, in such a landscape. Once arid, it had turned greener in just a few weeks. Rain was now weekly when drops of water used to only show up with the bottles of water from the tourists.
Despite Kady’s advice not to take anything, he’d still brought the book of drawings. Kady had said nothing about the book, nor the clothes, or the snacks. Charlton was sometimes literal about what people told him, but he also knew it. So he didn’t say anything when he saw Kady had her own backpack with clothes, some money and food. During the trip, he tried to reproduce the experience with the drawings and the dreams —but nothing happened. Charlton felt a little disappointed.
They saw the pistil long before they arrived at its foot. It was at the end of the day and the sunset was splashing its reds and purples all around it. Charlton had had time to get used to its tall presence in the landscape. Yet, seeing it at a close range from below was a strange experience. Taller than the tallest man-made tower. He wondered what he was supposed to feel in its presence. Awe? Electricity? Enlightenment? Bursts of inspiration? This should at least be a mystical moment, but all he could feel was annoyance at the crowd of people crawling around like aphids avid to suck its sap.
Kady looked more annoyed than surprised. She was walking past the flock as if she knew exactly where to go. Charlton followed, feeling dizzy by the sudden increase of activity and smells. He soon got nauseous at the mix of incense and fried sausages.
“There are so many of them,” he eventually said. “How come? It was so difficult just for the two of us to avoid police controls. Do we have to wait with them?”
“Nah! They’re just the usual bunch of weirdoes,” Kady said. “They’ve been here a long time. I bet some of them aren’t even aware there have been a virus. But stay close. I don’t want to lose you, it’s a maze before the maze. I just need to see someone before we go in.”
They walked for about another ten minutes before stopping in front of a big tent. There, a big man with a boxer’s face was repairing all kind of electronics on a table with the application of a surgeon. Phones, cameras, coffee machines… Charlton wondered how they got electricity to make it all work.
“Hey, Kady!” said the man. “You’re back. Did you give it to her?” His face looked anxious.
“Her favourite perfume,” he said with a broad smile.
“I told you she still loves you. I also brought you something else.” Kady dropped a box on the table among the electronics. Charlton didn’t think it could be possible to witness the expression of a ten year old child on such a hard face, but what was inside the box certainly did magic.
“You brought chocolate?”
“Did you find the chestnut one?”
“My favourite,” said Max to Charlton. “Is this your friend?”
“I told you, you’re always welcome. Did you know she saved my life in there?”
“Saved your life?” asked Charlton looking hesitantly at Kady. “No, I didn’t know.”
“This is the life, eh!” June said, stretching out on the sun lounger sipping a fruity cocktail. “Turquoise sea and a salty breeze, this is the life for me!” she said, kicking off her new deck shoes in nautical blue and white, and hitching her dress hem up to expose her thighs to the sun.
The skipper raised an eyebrow and smiled sardonically, while simultaneously averting his eyes from the unappetizing sight of the doughy flesh. He could imagine this one rolling around below decks looking green as soon as the weather changed.
“Sure beats that jail. That had me worried, I’ll admit it. I wasn’t sure we were ever gonna make it outta there,” replied April, smiling fondly at Ella Marie and giving her hand an affectionate squeeze. “You saved our bacon, honey.”
“If it weren’t for that there Lord Wrick turning up, even the money might not have got you out.” Arthur chimed in. “Promising ole president Lump that land for the golf course if’n he pardoned you. Jacqui, you done wonders there.”
“Ah well, the young Lord Wrick owed me a favour, you might say. But that’s another story,” Jacqui replied. “The main thing was we had to get out of the country fast before Lump finds out about that land in Scotland.”
June sniggered. “Can’t imagine him in a kilt, can you? I wonder if he’s orange down there as well.”
“Oh, please! You really know how to lower the tone, dontcha? Gawd, what a thought!” April started to feel queasy. Changing the subject, she said, “Hey, did I tell you our Joanie’s going to meet us in Australia too?”
“How in tarnation did ya do that?” Arthur looked at his wife suspiciously.
“Do what, honey?” Ella Marie replied, feigning innocence.
“This here lottery win! How did you do that? You aint been doing them there voodoo tricks again, have you? You promised…”
“Oh heck Art, it’s pure chance, a million to one, you know that! We just got lucky, is all.” But she couldn’t meet his eye. “Well I had to do somethin’! It aint for us, it’s for those friends of Jacqui’s. When I heard they’d been locked up in jail on cooked up charges, after being so excited about visiting the family, well I couldn’t bear it.”
“You promised you wasn’t gonna do that hokey pokey stuff no more,” Arthur said.
“Yes but it aint for us. This is different, just a one time thing, helping out friends. We can pay the bail money for ’em now and get ’em outta that stinking hellpit. Aint no place for decent ladies, Art.”
“They’ll need some darned expensive lawyers to fight the Beige House, and fat chance of winning.” Art looked doubtful.
“Oh they won’t stick around to fight the case. I had this idea,” Ella Marie had that old twinkle in her eye that used to get Art all fired up, back in the day. “We’re gonna buy them a boat. I been talking to Jacqui ’bout it. An old flame of hers turned up who can sail the boat for them.”
“How big’s the boat?” asked Art, an idea brewing in his head. He’d always wanted to sail around the world.
“Well we aint bought the boat yet, Art, the lottery check only just arrived. How ’bout we go down to Orange Beach Marina and see what’s for sale? We could have a seafood lunch, make a day of it.”
A big smile spread across the old mans face. ” Well, hell, Ella Marie, I guess we can do whatever we darn well please now! Let’s do it! And,” he added, planting a loud smackeroo of a kiss on her forehead, “Let’s get a boat big enough for all of us. I’ve got an adventure in me, afore I pop my clogs, I sure do.”
“Why are you looking guilty?” It was impossible for Godfrey to hide anything from Liz. She noticed at once the nervous tic in his left eye, and the way he was shuffling his feet around. He was clearly rattled about something.
“I’ve g g g ot a confession to m m make,” he stuttered. Liz had never heard Godfrey stutter before, and it was unheard of for him to make confessions. Something was troubling her old friend greatly, and she was concerned.
“I put two of your characters in jail.”
Liz gasped and her hand flew to her mouth.
“And now,” Godfrey’s voice caught on a little sob, “And now, I have to pay the bail money to get them out.”
“Well it’s your book, so it’s your gap,” Godfrey retorted, reverting back to his old self.
“Then what were you doing in it, putting my characters in jail?” Liz snapped back. “Go and get that bail paid so they can go to Australia. Otherwise you’re going to muck up another book.”
“I thought you said we were going to Australia, April? This doesn’t look like Australia to me,” she said casting a despondent eye around the dismal cell. “Why do they always paint them grey?”
“To make you suffer. You’re not supposed to enjoy it.”
“Barbaric,” sniffed June. “And inefficient. I refuse to be rehabilitated unless they improve the accommodation.”
“Fat chance of that” April snorted. “We’ll be sewing mailbags or being a guinea pig for the latest bolonavirus vaccine.”
“What? No art classes and gym and choice of menu?” June was aghast. “You had better get us out of here! That latest scam was all your idea, anyway.”
“Actually, no, it wasn’t. It was that guy, what was his name? Godfrey? The one that comes to see Mr August sometimes. I was in the elevator with him one day and right out of the blue, I mean, I don’t know him personally, but he planted all these crazy ideas in my head telling me about how fool proof this credit card trick was…”
“He can pay the bail money then.”
“Now there’s an idea.”
The loud voice got her all startled.
“Not so fast Ladies. Hands in the air!”
An officer in uniform was standing there, his service taser pointed at them like they were two dangerous criminals. He was flanked by a trenchcoat acolyte inspector whose tiny glasses were shining in the dark.
“Shhtt! Don’t say anything. They look daft enough, let me do the talking.”
“Mrs June, you’re under arrest for multiple accounts of credit fraud, as well as unlawful impersonation with the intent to commit fraud. You can remain silent. Anything you’ll say may be held against you…” The inspector was speaking like a robot.
“STOP RIGHT THERE!” the officer shouted, “hands up or I shoot! Last warning!”
June was undeterred; she had eluded the police forces for so long and in so many States, she felt invincible and started to voice confused explanations while moving her hands in a frantic fashion and trying to sweet talk the police force.
She never saw the taser come.
Between fuzzy moments of consciousness, she realised she was being cuffed, and her and April taken to the police station.
The house was dark when Vince got home, not like it used to be when Uncle Basil was there. He’d have had something simmering on the stove and the curtains closed, the lamps lit. “Gin and tonic?” he’d call out from the kitchen table, more often than not, sitting with a pile of books and a glass of sherry.
If only I hadn’t kept making fun of his books, Vince thought, not for the first time. If only I’d made him feel comfortable here in his own home with all that stuff instead of ridiculing him, he wouldn’t have gone.
“We’ll start as soon as we get our first client, Tara,” replied Star, “And don’t keep calling me a tart. You had better get out of the habit or you might do it accidentally when we’re working on a case.”
“What if we don’t get any clients? We’ve advertised everywhere we can think of. Once we get started, we’ll get recommendations, we’ll probably have to take on staff, we’ll be so busy.” A wistful look crept into Tara’s eye. She’d never been a boss, never been in the position of telling a subordinate what to do. It had a certain appeal. “Anyway, you are a tart.”
“Was, Tara, was. We are not tarts now, and nobody needs to know what we did for a living before. Nothing shameful in it of course, but people have such antiquated ideas; it might put them off. They don’t need to know that we might be able to use our skills to our advantage to solve cases.”
“I’d rather solve cases with our new skills,” said Tara. “Remote viewing, out of body travel, lucid dreaming, that sort of thing.”
“Never a bad thing to have an assorted tool box,” replied Star. “We have unique skills compared to most private investigators. Just thank your lucky stars that we escaped the eagle eye of Madame Limonella. She’ll never think to look for us in here in Melbourne, she’s probably thinking we’ll fetch up in some back street dive in Perth, desperate for our jobs back.”
“Well it might come to that if we don’t get any cases to solve,” Tara said glumly, “And on less money too, we’re not spring chickens any more.”
“Don’t be silly,” Star snapped. “We’re not even 40 yet. If we were too young we wouldn’t be taken seriously.”
Star was just about to call her a rude tart when the phone rang.
Barron was not really a baby, more a toddler already. He was playing alone in his play fence, like he was usually left doing when his odd caretakers had gone for an escapade. After a while, he got bored cooing like a baby looking at shiny stuff and suckling at noisy things. After all, as not many had realized, he was blessed with a genius IQ — there was no point at hiding his smarts when no one was around.
The house bulldog was sleeping nearby, snoozing like a roaring motorbike. Apart from that, this part of the House was quiet. Occasionally he could hear gurgling sounds coming from the badly soundproofed pipes of the old building. Somebody was having an industrious bowel movement. Hardly news material, his father would have say.
He checked the e-zapwatch that his nannies had put on his wrist. Bad news. His kidnappers were late. He wondered if something had changed in the near perfect plan. Yet, he’d managed to have the money wired to the offshore account, while his contacts, codenames Jesús & Araceli (he wasn’t sure they were codenames at all) said it was in order for the baby abduction.
He could hear suspicious sounds outside; the bulldog barely registered. What if some acolytes in the plan had bailed out? The sounds at his bedroom’s window could be his abductors, waiting for a way in.
As usual, he would have to take matters in his own tiny hands, and let others get the credit for it.
He peeled off one side of the net and tumbled outside of the playpen. Damn, these bodies were so difficult to manœuvre at times. Reaching the window would be difficult but not impossible. After dragging a chair, and a pile of cushions, he hoisted himself finally at reach of the latch, and flung it open. The brisk cold air from outside made his nose itch, and it was the last thing he remembered while he smelled the chloroform.
Tibu preferred selling second hand books to selling watches, for he could read them while waiting for customers instead of watching the minutes and hours tick by. Maybe that’s why they called them “watches”, he thought, because if you have one, you watch it. Too much, it would seem.
He was reading “The Perilous Treks of Lord Gustard Willoughby Ferguson” while sheltering from the pounding rain, huddled in the corner of an office building porch with a few dozen books piled onto an old blue blanket. He rarely sold any books, but passing strangers kindly brought him a coffee in a take away cup from time to time, or a sandwich or burger. The more thoughtful ones dropped some money into the upturned bowler hat that he’d found in the bin, so that he could choose tea, which he preferred, or some fruit, which he preferred to burgers. One of the regular office girls, a fresh faced young looking redhead, brought him a brand new lighter one day, after noticing him asking for a light the day before. She was a good listener, and often stood beside him silently listening to him read aloud from one of his books.
“Any news from our two insubordinate scouts?”
“I’m afraid not M’am. Phone coverage isn’t that good in the bush I hear.”
“Stop that nonsense! What tells you they’re aren’t just squandering my newspaper’s money over unearned mojitos doing precious nothing like gator’s watching on a beach, hmmm?”
“I think they’d call that gathering clues M’am.”
If Ricardo hadn’t be so earnest, she would have slapped him in the face for his attempt at humour, but he was blissfully unaware of the unwanted irony and impertinence of his retort.
You’re going soft… she mused to herself, while snapping electrical wires together making a splash of sparkles in the air. The makeshift interrogation room was ready.
The doctors assistant remembered a joke he’d heard about oysters.
“Save money on expensive oysters by drinking sea water out of an ashtray,” he said.
But the doctor was too busy hooting with laughter at his own jokes to hear him.
Distraction always worked best when one was trying hard not to try too hard, and luckily for Lucinda, it came easy. She was a natural. It wasn’t that she’d forgotten her mission to find out more about those mysterious dolls and the twelve addresses, but the Roman themed birthday party was today, and that gave her plenty to occupy herself.
The costume was easy, just a folded white sheet and a number of nappy pins. The birthday gift was another matter. She still hadn’t bought one, and had left herself no option but to buy something on the way to the party on the other side of the city. Counting the money left in her purse, she decided to travel by bus rather than taxi. She would have to change at the central bus station, which conveniently had a craft and antique market on in the nearby park. If she left home a couple of hours early, she could have a look around the market.
Not to look for dolls! she reminded herself, her mind already imagining unlikely scenes.
Checking the mirror one last time to make sure her toga was securely arranged, Lucinda left the flat and made her way to the bus stop on the other side of the park. She had debated whether to take her costume in a bag and change when she got there, and decided to just wear the toga. It was a diverse multicultural city, and there were often people dressed as if they were going to a fancy dress party, in biblical looking robes and scarves, or exotic coloured sari’s. If anyone wondered about her outfit, they’d probably just think she was from one of those foreign middle eastern places.
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