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.
“Will you look at these prices!” exclaimed one of the middle aged ladies.
Privately, Tara called them the miserable old bag and the crazy old witch, or Mob and Cow for ease of reference. Anyway, it was Mob who was banging on about the prices.
“Feel free to take yourself somewhere cheaper to eat,” she snarled.
“Oh, no, that’s okay, as long as you’re happy paying these outrageous prices.”
Cow cackled. “I’ve not eaten for a month so bugger the prices! Not that I need to eat, airs good enough for me seeing as I have special powers. Still, a raspberry bun wouldn’t go amiss. Thank you, Ladies!”
“Sorry, I were trying to help,” she said with a shrug.
Tara scanned the room. The only other people in the cafe were an elderly gentleman reading the newspaper and a bedraggled mother with two noisy snot-bags in tow. Tara shuddered and turned her attention to the elderly man. “Those deep wrinkles and wasted muscles look genuine,” she whispered to Star. “There’s nobody here who could possibly be Vince French. I’m going to go and keep watch by the door.”
“Good thinking,” said Star, after covertly checking her Lemoon quote of the day app on her phone; she realised uneasily she was increasingly relying on it for guidance. “There’s a sunny seat over there; I’ll grab a coffee and look inconspicuous by doing nothing. I don’t want to blow our cover.”
Tara glared at her. “I saw you checking your app! What did the oracle say?”
“Oh, just some crazy stuff.” She laughed nervously. “There is some kind of peace in not feelign like there’s anythign to do.”
“Well that’s not going to get us far, is it now?”EricKeymaster
No sooner had they reached for the drinks in the office cupboard, than the phone rang loudly.
“I thought you gave her the afternoon?” Tara mouthed while picking the annoying phone. “Cartwright and Wrexham Private Investigators, can I help you?”
Her face frowned. “Herself speaking.”
“Yes, we do private investigations. Very successfully I may say. Alright Ma’am, let me check my agenda.” She looked in the air, flipping an imaginary agenda. “Oh, you’re in luck, our 5pm just cancelled. Alright then, see you at our office. Au revoir.”
Tara hung up with a smile.
Star was busy slurping the mojito while struggling with the mint bits in her teeth. “What? Tell me this instant!”
“Our second case! Isn’t it exciting!”
“Sure thing, what it is this time? Evil possession?”
“Actually, it’s not that far off. Apparently, our ladyship needs a falgrante delicto of adultery. Her husband seems to be a cheating one, and with a twinge of double personality… Or at least that’s what she said.”
“Fantastic. Can’t wait for all the juicy details. I’ll go prepare my sequin red dress to set the honey trap darling.”
“Good lord, get a hold of yourself Star, it’s only been a day, and you’re ready to jump on the next passing horse as it were.”
“Who said you shouldn’t mix pleasure with business.”
“Right. Thought that was the reverse…”
“Tsk. Just to get the last word.”
Working at the gas station gave me the possibility to not only be confined at home but also at work. At least I could enjoy the transit between places, that’s what I told me everyday. And better go to work than turn around all day in the studio I rented since I left the Inn.
You can’t imagine how many people need gas during the confinement. It looks like in this part of the country people don’t have as many dogs as them in the big cities, so they do all sorts of crazy things to be able to get out.
A man came to the station this morning. I’m sure it was to give the equivalent of a walk to his brand new red GMC Canyon, you know, treating his car like she needed fresh air and to get some exercise regularly. From behind the makeshift window made of transparent wrapper, I asked him how was his day. You know, to be polite. He showed me the back of his truck. I swear there was a cage with two dingos in it.
The guy told me he captured them the other day in case the cops stopped him in the street with no reason to be out. At least, he said, I could still say I’m giving them a walk. I told him them being in a cage would hardly pass as a walk but he answered me with a wink and a big grin that cops weren’t that intelligent. I’m glad we have makeshift windows now, at least seeing his teeth I didn’t have to smell his breath. I’m not sure who’s the less intelligent in absolute terms, but in that case I’d rather bet his IQ would fail him.
Well that’s probably the most exciting thing that happened before I went home after work. As soon as I got home I received a phone call from Prune. On the landline. It’s like she has some magical means to know when I’m there.
Anyway, she asked me if I washed my hand. I told her yes, though I honestly don’t recall. But I have to make her think all is ok. She started to talk again about Jasper. Each time she mention the subject I’m a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure I fancy having a brother, even if it’s kind of being in a TV series. She said she had looked for him on internet, contacted some adoption agencies, even tried a private called Dick. That’s all that I remember of the private’s name. Dick, maybe that’s because he never answered her calls. Might be dead of the pandamic I told her. PandEmic, She corrected. I know, I told her, I said that to cheer you up.
We talked about Mater too. That made me laugh. Apparently Idle saw her in a fuschia pink leotard. Prune half laughed herself when she mentioned the leotard, but she said : Truth is I don’t know what Dido had taken when she had seen Mater outside. I suspect the om chanting was simply snoring.
There was a silence afterward. Maybe Prune was thinking about age and the meaning of life, I was merely realising I was hungry. I swear I don’t know what crossed my mind. I have a tendency to want to help my sister even if I think there is no hope. You know, I told her, about Jasper we could still go and ask that woman in the bush. It’s like she already knew what I was going to say. Tiku? I knew by her tone that all the conversation was fated to lead there. Yeah. I can drive you there after work tomorrow.
Of course, we didn’t even have to go there after all.
Cousin Lisa came calling yesterday morning and she tells us there’s some in the Village have come down with sickness. Of course it would be Lisa being the bearer of such news, her face lit up when I tell her I have heard nothing. Cook, over hearing our conversation, which was private but Cook is always sticking her great nose in where it is not required, she’s hung braids of garlic at the front door. I caught her telling the children it was to keep away the evil spirits that brought death. Poor little Jimmy couldn’t sleep last night he was that afraid of the spirits bringing death in the night. He asked endless questions, how will the garlic stop them? Can the spirits get in through a window instead? He got his sister afraid also and the pair of them wouldn’t sleep then for crying in fear. I told Cook off roundly this morning for speaking to them thus.
The master came home filled with drink, crashing around like the damned drunken fool he is nowadays. He shouted at the children for their crying and shouted at me for not keeping them quiet. At least he did not raise his fists for he wanted to lie with me and I nearly retched with his stinking breath coming close and thank God for His mercies that the fool passed out before he could do the deed. I may have done harm if he’d tried for the brass bell was sitting there on the table (and it is a heavy thing) and I was seeing at it as he came close and there was a moment I could have picked it up and crashed it to his skull. May God forgive me.
He makes my skin crawl for I know what he has done that he thinks I don’t know. But all will come to light if not in this world then the next. I am more sure than ever I must get away and the children with me.
“Ouch! that hurt!”
“Look!” Tara nodded towards the mansion. “Over there, far window. It’s open.”
Star, still smarting from being unceremoniously dragged into the bushes, shrugged her shoulders. “So?”
“We’ve come all this way. We can’t go without a fight! Let’s break in!” Tara’s face was animated. “I mean, who is going to stop us? That butler could barely walk and Mr French is supposedly in a coma … and … well, don’t you think it seems strange about the accident and everything?”
Keeping low under cover of the ornamental pears, they crept back towards the house. “Did that curtain move?” whispered Star. “It fluttered, the room next to the open window!”EricKeymaster
The front door of Mr French had a certain Gothic quality to it which caught the eye of Star. She was a sucker for the glitz and the extravagant –the more garish, the better. Had she got her way, their office would be full of the cumbersome stuff. Catching the glint in Star’s green eyes, Tara rolled hers. She clanged the metal lion to signal their presence.
A decrepit butler called off their ruckus after what seemed like a pause in eternity. They could hear the rambling from a distance behind the door. “I’m coming! No need for such noise! Ah, these youngs nowadays, not a shred of patience!…”
“Shttt, let me handle it,” replied Star shaping her face into a genial one, oozing honey and butterflies.
When the butler finally opened the door, he snapped her shut “We’re not interested in whatever… hem, services you’re offering Mesdames.”
The butler’s face turned sour. “Yes of course, I understand. Then you should know Mr French has been in a coma since his dreadful accident last month. Since you have a direct line to him, I suggest you… call him?” And with that, he slammed the door shut on their faces.
“Rude!” Tara mouthed.
“At least, that tells us something my dear.”
“Don’t bait me like this. I’ll ask, what exactly?”
“That our Mr French is not who he says he is…”
“I wonder if it has something to do with the immense fortune he made with his voice…”
“That would be a very interesting question to answer indeed.”
Star was perusing the messages in the cults online forum, having joined the private group under the name of Writhe Mamble. It was time consuming, and a task that Star hoped to delegate to Rosamund. But first she needed to familiarize herself with the angle of the dogma and the leanings of the various members, as well as the physical data: photos, location, age and other affiliations.
Star had to keep reminding herself that it was of no importance whether or not she agreed with some of the messages, or strongly disagreed. Never the less she found herself liking some of the members as she read more, as well as wanting to slap others.
Maybe easier than you can manage it, said Granola, the voice appearing as if from nowhere.
“Easier than I can manage what?” asked Rosamund, crashing into the room with an armful of pizza boxes. Without pausing for an answer, she continued, “Mum’s having a fit, I might have to have tomorrow off work to go and calm her down. She’s talking about locking the house up and moving in with me. I can’t have that, I got a bit of business going on at the flat, you know what I mean?” Rosumund wiped the tomato sauce off her mouth with her sleeve.
“But why is she threatening to do that?” asked Star, who wasn’t the least bit interested.
“Cartwright and Wrexham Private Investigators, can I help you?”
“Do you do missing persons?” Vince asked, getting straight to the point. “Good, well then can I speak to a detective; it’s a very confidential matter.”
“My uncle Basil, he’s gone. He got in with that cult, and now he’s gone. They’ve seduced him with all that mumbo jumbo and hype and parlour tricks, I could see it coming, I tell you, I knew they’d take him.” Vince was becoming emotional. “And now he’s left me.”
“Well if it’s your uncle, he must be, how old? So what if he wants to join a cult?” said Star, wondering why he was being so melodramatic. “What?” she whispered to Tara who was pulling faces and shaking her head. “Oh, right!” she replied, getting the message.
“Now then Mr French, I’m confident that we can find your uncle. We have some experience with cults and know how they operate. If you’d like to make an appointment with our secretary to pop in to the office as soon as possible..”
“I’m a senior partner, not a secretary!” Tara hissed, taking the phone. Her anger subsided when she heard his voice. Where had she heard that voice before?
“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.
There’s no two ways about it: I’ve let myself go. There’s never any excuse for that, even if you are turning one hundred. I’ve always tried to impress this on Dodo, but will she listen? That hair of hers! God knows what’s hiding in it. And those nasty dungarees she likes so much; they’d stand on their own if she ever got out of them.
Not that I am one for fashion, mind. Last thing I bought was a few decades ago. Some striped pants that one of the twins helped me buy on the internet, on the line, as they say. The legs were that wide I was scared some critter might crawl up to my privates. Don’t want that going on at my age! When Bert said he had a pair like it once, well, that was the last straw.
One hundred! Wonder if I’ll get one of those letters from the King. That’s about all the monarchy are good for now. After that debacle back in the 20’s, thought they’d do away with them. But old big ears is hanging in there; reckon he must be nearing his hundredth soon.
Anyway, the mirror doesn’t lie and what it’s telling me ain’t so fancy. My hair looks like something the moths have had a chew at and I’ve put on that much flab the only thing will fit me is a potato sack. And now Prune’s planning some big birthday bash…I’ve got my work cut out! She thinks I don’t know but there’s not much gets by me. If people think you’ve lost your marbles, they’ll say all sorts in front of you. And since those magic pills the aboriginal fellow gave me, my marbles are all back where they should be, thank you very much! Now I just need some pills for my boobs.
I wish now that I’d had the sense to open the letter in private. I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of that, but I didn’t. I tried not to make a drama out of it, I didn’t make an announcement or anything. One morning after breakfast I untied the string and opened the letter. It wasn’t any of the things I had expected. Clearly printed in large capital letters at the top was written DON’T TELL MATER.
Quickly I folded it over, dropping it discreetly into my lap under the table. “Any more nettle tea in the pot, Bert?” I asked and feigned a casual yawn.
“Well?” asked Mater.
“Well what?” I asked.
“I can read you like a book,” she said, to which I replied hotly, “Well then I won’t need to write one, will I.”
“What did the letter say?” she pressed on.
“What letter?” I said
“For crying out loud!” she said.
“Pass your cup then,” said Bert, giving me a piercing look. Over the top of Mater’s head he mouthed a word, with a questioning look. I’ve never been any good at lip reading, but it looked like he was trying to say Jasper.
“Who?” I mouthed back, but Mater saw me, so I pretended I had a bit of nettle stuck between my teeth.
WIB (workman in blue) opened his lunch box and unwrapped a sandwich. He sighed when he saw it was cheese and pickle again. It had been cheese and pickle all week, a sure sign that WAH (woman at home) wasn’t giving him the attention he deserved, throwing the easiest thing together day after day instead of planning a nice roast chicken dinner, with the prospect of a couple of days of savoury chicken sandwiches to take to work. She hadn’t even bothered to boil up a few hard boiled eggs for a bit of variety. He loved egg sandwiches. He wasn’t a hard man to please, he ruminated dolefully, chewing the cheese and pickle.
He reached for his flask to wash it down with a gulp of tea, and noticed with some surprise that she’d bought him a new flask. His old one had a few dents in the screw on cup, and this one looked all shiny and new. Anxious to wash down the cheesy lump in his throat, he unscrewed the cap and poured the flask over the cup.
But there was no tea in the flask, nothing poured out of it. He peered inside and shook it.
“That woman’s lost her marbles!”
It was the last straw. He stood up, shook the flask above his head, and roared incoherently.
“Everything alright, mate?” asked his work colleague mildly. WIB2 was contentedly munching a juicy pink ham sandwich. He even had a packet of crisps to go with it, WIB1 noticed.
“No tea? Fancy some of my coffee? Pass yer cup. What’s in the flask then, what’s rattling?”
WAB1 sat back down on the low wall and upended the flask, pulling at a bit of black stuff that was protruding from the top.
““Maybe it’s full of banknotes!” WIB2 suggested.
“It’s a fucking doll! What the..?”
“Why did your old lady put a doll in your flask instead of tea, mate? Private joke or something, bit of a lark?” WIB2 elbowed WIB1 in the ribs playfully. “No?” he responded to WIB1’s scowl. “Maybe there’s something stitched inside it, then.”
“Lucinda, where is this going?”
“I don’t fucking know, Helper Effy.”
“I thought as much. Perhaps we’d better go back to the beginning.”
“Perhaps it’s an anagram,” Ricardo ventured tentatively, “Look: INNFOODAWFUL is an anagram of “I found lawn of”, see?” He cleared his throat nervously, demoralized by the agitated energy in the room. Everyone was looking at him expectantly, so he bumbled on: “All we need to do it work out the rest…”
Exasperated looks were exchanged around the room, making Ricardo feel a fool. He was just about to excuse himself for a trip to the lavatory to wring his hands in private (hangovers always had that effect on him), when Miss Bossy tart herself piped up excitedly, “Wait a minute, by George I think he might be on to something!”
Sophie cast a skeptical eye in her direction, as Ricardo plopped back down in his chair with an audible sigh of relief. He reached for his water bottle with a trembling hand and took a swig. God, his mouth was dry.
“AHOYSICKICONGRIN is “shack in Congo!” the Boss Tart continued. “Of course!” she said, slapping her forehead.
“Cute pyjamas”, said Maeve helping herself to butter from the refrigerator.
Maeve didn’t need the butter any longer as she had discovered she could successfully substitute olive oil and the muffins were still deliciously fluffy. However she did need an excuse to enter Shawn Paul’s apartment. Emboldened by recent events, she was privately rather pleased with her recent brazen persona. The Maeve of a week ago would never have barged into anyone’s apartment without an invitation.
Not finding anything suspect in the refrigerator, except maybe some oranges which looked past their use by date, she scanned the rest of Shawn Paul’s apartment. It was then she spied the package, mostly obscured by old notebooks and granola cookie boxes.
“Find what you were looking for?” asked Shawn Paul. He had found his dressing gown under a pile of clothing on the floor.
“Yes, thanks,” said Maeve, brandishing the butter at him and wondering how she could get hold of the package without Shawn Paul noticing. “So, how long have you been a writer? Have you had anything published?”
A quick google search had not uncovered anything, but perhaps he wrote under a pseudonym. Best to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Shawn Paul looked awkward.
Or was it guilty? Maeve wondered. While she was pondering this, she had her brainwave. Some would say it wasn’t much of a brainwave really, or indeed, a brainwave at all. But it was the best she could do under the circumstances. And after all, she was now an intrepid investigator.
“Look over there!” she shouted pointing at the window and at the same time making a lunge for the dining table.
Glynis hadn’t said a word to any of the others about the potion and was non-committal when they pressed her for information as to the identity of her unusual visitor.
“I used to know him … he just came to tell me his father died”, was all she had said, turning her head to avoid Margoritt’s keen gaze and excusing herself hurriedly on some pretext of needing to gather more herbs for the impending journey.
“His father must have been as old as Methuselah and then some!” muttered Fox crossly after she was gone. “I don’t believe it for one moment. Always keeping secrets, that one.” He shook his head, possibly irritated as much by the heat and mosquitoes as Glynis’s small evasion. For after all, they each carried secrets and it was generally acknowledged they were an unlikely group of travellers who found themselves together.
Privately, Glynis was nearly bursting with anticipation and would have applied the potion to her face at once had the instructions on the package not said to wait for the full moon.
On the first night of the full moon, take one half teaspoonful and rub into the affected area. Rub thrice in a clockwise direction and once in a counter-clockwise direction. Repeat until the lotion is fully absorbed. FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY.
And tonight was the first night of the full moon phase.
It was as she was staring in shock and disbelief at the empty jar that she heard the scream.
Bert seems to be digging a very large hole. I mean, good grief, it’s just a veggie garden. I don’t think my cabbages warrant all that effort. I pull open the window—the latch wobbles precariously on its single screw—and call out to him.
“What are you doing, Bert? Digging a grave or something?”
My humour is clearly lost on him. He glances over in my direction, distractedly, before placing his spade on the ground. He then kneels down in the dirt and leaning right inside the hole begins scrabbling with his hands.
I pull a jacket on over my pink floral onesie. The onesie was a birthday gift from the girls and was accompanied by rather a lot of silliness and giggling. However I was privately rather taken with my gift and with summer over and a cool chill in the air it was very handy to put on in the mornings. Completing my ensemble with an old pair of gumboots by the back doorstep, I go and join Bert in the garden.
“What’s that, Bert? What’s that you’ve found in there?”
“I’m not sure yet,” he replied. At least, I think that’s what he said. It was hard to hear him when he was hanging upside down in a hole.
I crouch down beside him, no mean feat at my age, and take a look.
All I can see are some bones.
“What is it? A dog or something?”
“Too big for a dog.”
“Oh my goodness!” I gasp. “Are those … people bones?”
Bert gently extricates an object from the dirt and pulling himself back up he perches down beside me. “Not unless they have a beak for a nose,” he says, gently dusting off the dirt and holding it up for me to see.
It was a giant skull. Like a strange giant bird.
“Dragon skull,” says Bert with a satisfied smile.
I offered to help Stevie go through her mum’s things expecting her to refuse on the grounds of it being private, but she said, Yes, you do it and I’ll watch, it will be easier that way. Stevie wanted to do it all methodically and start with the drawers, and I said no, that’s silly starting in the least likely place.
So we did it my way, and haphazardly followed random impulses. I’m not sure whether it was successful or not, because Stevie didn’t find what she was looking for (not forgetting that she didn’t know exactly what she was looking for anyway) but we did find something interesting. If I wasn’t going home soon, I’d have sent a message to Corrie right away, but I decided to keep it to myself for a bit, I don’t know why.
The elephant in Sue and John’s bedroom caught my eye, one of those big ceramic Indian ones with a flat saddle to put a spider plant on. It weighed a ton, but we managed to turn it over without making too much of a mess of the spider plant, which we forgot to remove first, and sure enough it had a cavity inside and there were some papers wedged up there.
Stevie got excited and started making squeaky noises and telling me to be careful. I gave her a look, and pulled them out and handed them to her. They weren’t like documents or anything, they were torn up maps with some little bits cut out where the letters of the names of the places were.
“Just a load of old rubbish! It must have been in there when she bought it, I can’t see Mum shoving rubbish up there. How exasperating, I thought we were on to something!”
“Let me have a look at them, Stevie,” I said, slowly reaching out for them. I was starting to have a funny moment, trying to remember.
It took me a minute or two, but I did remember. Although I can’t imagine how it could be connected. But still, it was a bit odd. It reminded me of what we’d found at the Brundy place that day, me and Corrie.
Sometimes I wish I’d never started this, but somehow I can’t stop. It’s daunting, with bits of the story here, there and everywhere (and sometimes, nowhere). A bit like starting a huge jigsaw puzzle when you wonder where to begin, or what even is the point. But then all it takes it that little flutter when two pieces fit together to spur you on to find the next.
When I’d chanced upon Aunt Idle’s private blog, coincidentally on the same day that I’d found mater’s old paper spiral notebook with that loopy old fashioned writing, I had an idea to put together a story, the story of the flying fish inn. Because there was something funny going on here, and I wasn’t sure what it was, but it felt like the story wasn’t over yet. So some of the pieces were nowhere yet, obviously, but many had fallen elsewhere, for various reasons.
“Thanks,” said Bossy taking her cup of tea.
“So, tell me more about this evil fruit-loop doctor,” said Ricardo with an encouraging smile.
Bossy looked intently at him. “It’s no joke,” she admonished him sharply.
“Oh, no. No, of course not. I mean, yeah, I really want to know. It all sounds very … intriguing. And sort of creepy, to be honest. But definitely not a joke.”
Bossy relented and gestured imperatively for Ricardo to be seated.
“The doctor could best be described as a mad genius. He believed he had found the answer to looking eternally youthful but didn’t want to go through the time and expense of clinical trials through the normal channels. So he set up a testing laboratory on a small and relatively unknown Pacific Island. Tifikijoo, I believe it was called.”
“Uh huh. Actually I do vaguely remember something about that story.”
“We got the story first,” Bossie said proudly, “but there was a media ban on publishing some of the information, unfortunately. The Doctor managed to get funding for his tests through an undercover organisation whose hidden agenda was to hide an ancient crystal skull while at the same time providing them with a facility where they could continue their own secret testing into spider genomes. I can’t tell you too much about that — it was all hush hush. So, you wouldn’t have read about that in the news, I bet,” she added with a smug smile.
“Uh, no,” answered Ricardo, privately wondering if Bossy was the mad one. It was all starting to feel a bit surreal to him.
“Did the doctor know about the skull stuff?”
“No, the doctor was genuinely only interested in preserving beauty. Unfortunately, to this end, he killed one of his first guinea pigs. And tried to disguise his crime by mummifying the body. That’s when it all began to implode on him.”
“What happened to him?”
“He had some good lawyers and was found not competent to stand trial on the grounds of insanity. And the fact that all his clients had signed liability waivers helped a bit. He was sent to a high security psychiatric institution but managed to escape by reverting to his female identity—he was transsexual—and hiding in a laundry trolley.
“The doctor hated the way he was portrayed in the media and most of his venom was focused on our people. We had a guy working with us then, John Smith, and he covered the story with Connie. They got the brunt of the hate emails. John nearly had a nervous breakdown with the stress of it and moved to the country. Pity, he was a good writer.”
“So what makes you think Santa Claus and the doctor are one and the same?”
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