You can’t blame me for not updating my diary because bugger all has happened all year. Borders closed, no tourists allowed in. How are bespoke bijou boutique establishments like ours supposed to survive? But we’re still here. Somehow we’ve managed to keep the wolf from the door, but only just barely. I get a bit muddled up these days and can’t remember the dates. Sometimes I find myself living in the past for weeks on end: things change so little around her that it’s easy to do. But what does it matter anyway?
Mater went into a sulk the likes of which I hope never to see again, when her 100th birthday party was cancelled. I thought she might give up the will to live, but oh no. She’s determined now to have a 110th birthday party now. She says the bloody pandemic ought to be over by then. I hope she’s right. She changes her health food and exercise regimes as often as she changes her knickers. Well more often than that, probably, she doesn’t bother much with personal hygiene. She says the germs keep her immune system in good shape. I think the smell of her would keep any plague ridden body well away from her, but whatever works, I always say. At least she isn’t sulking anymore, she’s grimly stoic now and tediously determined to outlive me.
I had some worrying news through the telepathic grapevine about the twins and Pan, they’d gotten into the clutches of a strange cult over there. I’ve got a feeling they weren’t really sucked into it though, I think they needed to use it as a cover, or to keep themselves safe. I say cult but it was huge, took over the entire country and even started spreading to other countries. As if the pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with. I knew they shouldn’t have gone there. There’s been a peculiar blockage with the telepathic messages for ages now. It’s a worry, but what can I do. I keep sending them messages, but get nothing in return.
Ah, well. We carry on as best we can. What I wouldn’t give for an unexpected visitor to brighten things up a bit. Fat chance of that.
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!”
Nora remembered something. Now that she had remembered, it seemed rather odd that she had forgotten in the first place. “Will, I don’t suppose you’ve seen my phone?”
Will continued to gaze into the distance. “Your phone? No, I haven’t seen it.”
“I don’t know where it is … ”
Now he looked at her, a slight frown creasing his brow. “Nora, you don’t need a phone up here. Look at all this beauty!” A violent sweep of his arm made Nora take a step back.
“It’s beautiful,” she stuttered.
Will’s expression softened. “I’m glad you can see it, Nora.”
Nora woke to the sun streaming in the little dormer window in the attic bedroom. She stretched under the feather quilt and her feet encountered the cool air, an intoxicating contrast to the snug warmth of the bed. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept so well and was reluctant to awaken fully and confront the day. She felt peaceful and rested, and oddly, at home.
Unfortunately that thought roused her to sit and frown, and look around the room. The dust was dancing in the sunbeams and rivulets of condensation trickled down the window panes. A small statue of an owl was silhouetted on the sill, and a pitcher of dried herbs or flowers, strands of spider webs sparkled like silver thread between the desiccated buds.
An old whicker chair in the corner was piled with folded blankets and bed linens, and the bookshelf behind it ~ Nora threw back the covers and padded over to the books. Why were they all facing the wall? The spines were at the back, with just the pages showing. Intrigued, Nora extracted a book to see what it was, just as a gentle knock sounded on the door.
Yes? she said, turning, placing the book on top of the pile of bedclothes on the chair, her thoughts now on the events of the previous night.
“I expect you’re ready for some coffee!” Will called brightly. Nora opened the door, smiling. What a nice man he was, making her so welcome, and such a pleasant evening they’d spent, drinking sweet home made wine and sharing stories. It had been late, very late, when he’d shown her to her room. Nora has been tempted to invite him in with her (very tempted if the truth be known) and wasn’t quite sure why she hadn’t.
“I slept so well!” she said, thanking him as he handed her the mug. “It looks like a lovely day today,” she added brightly, and then frowned a little. She didn’t really want to leave. She was supposed to continue her journey, of course she knew that. But she really wanted to stay a little bit longer.
“I’ve got a surprise planned for lunch,” he said, “and something I’d like to show you this morning. No rush!” he added with a twinkly smile.
Nora beamed at him and promptly ditched any thoughts of continuing her trip today.
“No rush” she repeated softly.
Nora was relieved when the man with the donkey knew her name and was expecting her. She assumed that Clara had made contact with him, but when she mentioned her friend, he shook his head with a puzzled frown. I don’t know anyone called Clara, he said. Here, get yourself up on Manolete, it’ll be easier if you ride. We’ll be home in half an hour.
The gentle rhythmic rocking astride the donkey soothed her as she relaxed and observed her surroundings. The woods had opened out into a wide path beside an orchard. Nora felt the innocuous hospitability of the orchard in comparison to the unpredictability of the woods, although she felt that idea would require further consideration at a later date. One never knew how much influence films and stories and the like had on one’s ideas, likely substantial, Nora thought ~ another consideration not lost on Nora was the feeling of safety she had now that she wasn’t alone, and that she was with someone who clearly knew where he was going.
Notwithstanding simultaneous time, Nora wondered which came first ~ the orchard, the man with the donkey, or the feeling of safety and hospitability itself?
It was me, said the man leading the donkey, turning round with a smile. I came first. Remember?
“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…”
When Clara remembered who it was she knew in that little village, she realized she didn’t know how to contact him. She didn’t even know his name; he made gargoyles and stone heads and statues, that was all she knew, and all the strange rumours and stories surrounding some of those statues, quite a local legend in a way. But what was his name? He had a white donkey….
Clara assured Nora that her friend was expecting her, keeping her fingers crossed that she would be able to find out who it was, contact him and ask for his assistance, before Nora arrived there. It was a long shot, admittedly.
By nightfall, Clara had not made contact, and was forced to rely on a miracle; or even to wash her hands of the whole thing: it was Noras’s trip after all.
The message was scrawled in pencil on a roughly torn off piece of note paper. Bob had to squint to make out some of the words.
Hopefully you won’t need this but put this somewhere safe, just in case. The man i introduced you to today will know what to do.
And then there was a phone number. Bob wondered if the man would still be there. It was nearly 15 years ago and Bob’s memory was sketchy. He frowned, trying to remember. When the receptacle had been unearthed in the bad flooding of that year, he had contacted someone … how he got onto him he can no longer recall … some number from the archeological thingamajigs maybe. The person he spoke to came round, him and another fellow, said he shouldn’t tell anyone about the receptacle. Said it should be put back in the ground. Said it was important. The other fellow, the one he is supposed to call, made sculptures—Bob remembered that because there had been some sitting on the back of his truck.
Bob sat on the side of the bed and rubbed his head. He couldn’t really be bothered with all this carry on. It all seemed a bit crazy now, having to keep the damn thing buried. What’s all that about? And Clara was so excited, contacting her archeological friend and whatnot. Strange girl though, that Nora. He wished Jane were still here. She’d know what to do.
Nora moves silently along the path, placing her feet with care. It is more overgrown in the wood than she remembers, but then it is such a long time since she came this way. She can see in the distance something small and pale. A gentle gust of wind and It seems to stir, as if shivering, as if caught.
Nora feels strange, there is a strong sense of deja vu now that she has entered the forest.
She comes to a halt. The trees are still now, not a leaf stirs. She can hear nothing other than the sound of her own breathing. She can’t see the clearing yet either, but she remembers it’s further on, beyond the next winding of the path. She can see it in her mind’s eye though, a rough circle of random stones, with a greenish liquid light filtering through. The air smells of leaf mould and it is spongy underfoot. There’s a wooden bench, a grassy bank, and a circular area of emerald green moss. Finn thinks of it as place of enchantment, a fairy ring.
She reaches the tiny shivering thing and sees that it is a scrap of paper, impaled on a broken branch. She reaches out gently and touches it, then eases if off the branch, taking care not to rip it further. There is a message scribbled on the paper, incomplete. meet me, is all it says now
The crumpled up paper among the dead leaves beside the path catches her eye. No, not impaled on a branch but still, a bit of paper catches her eye as the mysterious ~ ephemeral, invisible ~ story teller continues softly telling her tale
Finn feels dreamy and floaty. She smiles to herself, thinking of the purpose of her mission, feeling as though it is a message to her from the past. She is overwhelmed for a moment with a sense of love and acceptance towards her younger self. Yes, she whispers softly to the younger Finn, I will meet you at the fairy ring. We will talk a bit. Maybe I can help
But wait, there is no meaningful message on the crumpled paper that Nora picks up and opens out. It’s nothing but a shopping receipt. Disappointed, she screws it back up and aims to toss it into the undergrowth, but she hesitates. Surely it can’t have no meaning at all, she thinks, not after the strange whispered story and the synchronicity of finding it just at that moment. She opens it back up again, and reads the list of items.
Olive oil, wine, wheat, garum…. wait, what? Garum? She looks at the date on the receipt ~ a common enough looking till roll receipt, the kind you find in any supermarket ~ but what is this date? 57BC? How can that be? Even if she had mistranslated BC ~ perhaps it means British Cooperative, or Better Compare or some such supermarket name ~ the year of 57 makes little sense anyway. And garum, how to explain that! Nora only knows of garum in relation to Romans, there is no garum on the shelves between the mayonaisse and the ketchup these days, after all.
Nora smooths the receipt and folds it neatly in half and puts it in her pocket. The shadows are long now and she still has some distance to walk before the halfway village. As she resumes her journey, she hears whispered in her ear: You unlocked the blue diamond mode. You’re on a quest now!
Smiling now, she accelerates her pace. The lowering sun is casting a golden light, and she feels fortified.
Clara couldn’t sleep. Alienor’s message asking if she knew anyone in the little village was playing on her mind. She knew she knew someone there, but couldn’t remember who it was. The more she tried to remember, the more frustrated she became. It wasn’t that her mind was blank: it was a tense conglomeration of out of focus wisps, if a wisp could be described as tense.
Clara glanced at the time ~ almost half past three. Grandpa would be up in a few hours. She climbed out of bed and padded over to her suitcase, half unpacked on the floor under the window, and extracted the book from the jumble of garments.
A stranger had handed her a book in the petrol station forecourt, a woman in a stylish black hat and a long coat. Wait! What is it? Clara called, but the woman was already inside the back seat of a long sleek car, soundlessly closing the door. Obliged to attend to her transaction, the car slipped away behind Clara’s back. Thank you, she whispered into the distance of the dark night in the direction the woman had gone. When she opened her car door, the interior light shone on the book and the word Albina caught her eye. She put the book on the passenger seat and started the car. Her thoughts returned to her journey, and she thought no more about it.
Returning to her bed and propping her pillows up behind her head, Clara started to read.
This Chrysoprase was a real gargoyle; he even did not need to be described. I just could not understand how he moved if he was made of stone, not to mention how he was able to speak. He was like the Stone Guest from the story Don Juan, though the Stone Guest was a giant statue, and Chrysoprase was only about a meter tall.
Chrysoprase said: But we want to pay you honor and Gerard is very hungry.
“Most important is wine, don’t forget wine!” – Gerard jumped up.
“I’ll call the kitchen” – here the creature named Chrysoprase gets from the depth of his pocket an Iphone and calls.
I was absolutely shocked. The Iphone! The latest model! It was not just the latest model, it was a model of the future, which was in the hands of this creature. I said that he was made of stone, no, now he was made of flesh and he was already dressed in wide striped trousers. What is going on? Is it a dream? Only in dreams such metamorphosis can happen.
He was made of stone, now he is made of flesh. He was in his natural form, that is, he was not dressed, and now he is wearing designer’s trousers. A phrase came to my mind: “Everything was in confusion in the Oblonsky house.”
Contrary to Clara’s expectations ~ reading in bed invariably sent her to sleep after a few paragraphs ~ she found she was wide awake and sitting bolt upright.
Of course! Now she remembered who lived in that little village!
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.”
“It’s Thursday today,” remarked Star.
“Special subject the bloody obvious?” Tara replied rudely. “You should be on Mastermind.”
“Well, we were wondering what we were going to do to pass the time until Thursday, and here we are. It’s Thursday!”
“Are you losing your marbles?”
“Actually it’s you losing your memory,” Star sighed. “Remember the case?”
“The case we were working on!”
“Oh, that case! Well you can hardly expect me to remember that when it’s been such a strange week!” Tara was starting to get tearful and agitated.
“Look, Tara, the tests came back negative. You can stop worrying about it now. We can go back to normal now and carry on. And just in time for the rendezvous at the cafe on Main Street.” Star patted Tara’s arm encouragingly. “And what timing! If the results hadn’t come back yet, or we’d tested positive, we wouldn’t have been able to go to the cafe.”
“Well we could have gone and just not said anything about the tests,” sniffed Tara. “Everyone else seems to be doing what they want regardless.”
“Yes, but we’re not as morally bankrupt as them,” retorted Star.
Tara giggled. “But we used to work for Madame Limonella.”
“Is it a fancy dress party? I could wear my plague doctor outfit.”
Star rolled her eyes. “No! We have to dress appropriately, something subtle and serious. A dark suit perhaps.”
“Oh like my Ace of Spades T shirt?”
This is going nowhere fast, Star thought, but then had a revelation. A moment later, she had forgotten what the revelation was when the door burst open.
“Ta Da!” shouted Rosamund, entering the office with two middle aged ladies in tow. “I nabbed them both, they were lurking in the queue for the food bank! And I single handedly brought then back. Can we talk about my bonus now?”
One of the ladies piped up, “She said you’d be taking us out for afternoon tea at a nice cafe!”
The other one added, “We haven’t eaten for days, we’re starving!”
The first middle aged lady said, “Oh no dear, it’s September. I’m quite sure of that.”
“Never again,” said Tara, pouring her second black coffee. “I’m done with these hangovers. You’ll have to find someone else to drink with from now on.”
“You say that every week, Tara. What are we going to do next? We’re floundering. We don’t even have a plan. Everything we do takes us further away from the case. I don’t even remember what the case is!”
“Here, have some more coffee. Don’t roll your eyes at me like that, cases are always like this, they always go through this phase.” Tara wasn’t in the mood for this kind of depressing talk, it was much too complicated. Surely it was simply a matter of drinking another coffee, until everything fell back into place.
“Cases do, do they?” Star asked, “Do they really? And what phase would that be, and how would you know?”
“Snarky tart, yes they do. I’ve been researching things you know, not just swanning around. We’ve reached the part of the case where nothing makes sense and the investigators don’t know what to do next. It’s an essential part of the process, everyone knows that. The important thing is not to try and work things out too early. The danger is preconceived ideas, you see,” Tara pontificated, warming to the theme.
“I can assure you that I have no preconceived ideas because I have no clue what’s going to happen next,” replied Star, trying not to roll her eyes too obviously. She knew from experience not to provoke Tara too much until at least the third cup of coffee.
“Precisely!” Tara said triumphantly. “Now it will all start to come together and make sense. ”
Star didn’t look convinced. “What are we going to do about the middle aged lady we locked in the wardrobe last night, though?”
“What did we do that for?!” asked Tara in astonishment.
“I can’t remember. Maybe we thought it was Aunt April?”
“Wait, if Aunt April isn’t in the wardrobe, then where is she?”
“That’s what I”m saying!” cried Star in exasperation. “What do we do next?”
While April was noisily distracted, Star cleared her throat meaningfully and nudged Tara. “Something has occurred to me,” she whispered in Tara’s ear. “April doesn’t have a husband, never married. She was a professional nanny or something…oh now I remember! She worked at the ..,” but she was loudly interrupted by Rosamund asking what they were whispering about and hadn’t they been rude enough already for one day.
“VINCE FRENCH?” the others shouted in unison.
“Do what?” asked Rosamund, returning from lunch.
Rosamund scrunched her brow. “Am I in bloody groundwort day or something? Didn’t you close that case?” She grinned apologetically. “Just before I went to lunch?”
Tara rubbed her head. “Damn it, she’s right! How could we have forgotten!”
“Oh!” Star gasped. “The person who turned up in the mask! Yesterday evening. That must have been our second case! The one with the cheating husband!”
They both looked towards the wardrobe — the large oak one, next to the drinks cupboard. The wardrobe which had rather mysteriously turned up a few days ago, stuffed full of old fur coats and rather intriguing boxes—the delivery person insisted he had the right address. “And after all, who are we to argue? We’ll just wait for someone to claim it, shall we?” Star had said, thinking it might be rather fun to explore further.
Tara grimaced. “Of course. It wasn’t an armed intruder; it was our client practising good virus protocol.”
“And that banging noise isn’t the pipes,” said Star with a nervous laugh. “I’d better call off the caretaker.”
“We really must give up comfort drinking!” said Tara, paling as she remembered the intruder’s screaming as they’d bundled her into the wardrobe.
Rosamund shook her head. “Jeepers! What have you two tarts gone and done.”
Star and Tara looked at each other. “Rosamund …” Star’s voice was strangely high. “How about you let her out. Tara and I will go and have our lunch now. Seeing as you’ve had such a long break already.”
“Me! What will I say?”
Tara scratched her head. “Um …offer her a nice cup of tea and tell her she’ll laugh about this one day.”
“If she’s still bloody alive,” muttered Rosamund.
“That damn cult is going from strength to strength and not a damn thing we can do about it,” said Star. “What bloody awful timing for a lockdown, just as we were getting started!”
“I know,” replied Tara sadly. “At this rate we’ll have to go back to work for Madame Limonella.”
“Don’t be silly, she’ll have had to close down too!”
“Don’t you believe it!” retorted Tara, “She’d find a way to keep her clients happy.”
“But we’re not keeping our clients happy are we? We haven’t found a way. We’re pretty useless, aren’t we?”
“Not just our clients. Well client, really, we only had one. We could have saved the world from the Zanone cult if it hadn’t been for this quarantine. Hey, maybe that cult started all this, just so we couldn’t stop them.”
Star barked out a bitter laugh. “Now you sound like one of them parroting out conspiracy theories.”
“We could find a way to break the quarantine, sneak out at night dressed as urban kangaroos or something.”
“I don’t think the kangaroos would mind all that much,” Tara replied huffily.
“I didn’t mean the kangaroos, good lord! But you know what, you might be on to something. Remember that kangaroo dressed in a mans overcoat that tried to break someones car window the other day?”
“Well never mind that,” Star continued, who had started to wonder herself, “The point is, we can use a disguise. And it’s a matter of grave social responsibility to expose the cult. In the fullness of time, we will be exonerated, hailed as heroic, even.”
The excitement was contagious and Tara found herself sitting upright instead of slumped in despair. “Let’s do it!”
“Liz!” shouted Finnley, without pausing from her writing. “Liz, be a love and make me a cup of tea. The organic green tea in the second drawer down.” There was a crash and some unintelligible screaming from the next room. Fortunately, Finnley was used to unintelligible noises coming from Liz’s mouth. “Oh for the … what do you mean you don’t know where the kitchen is?”
Finnley took a deep breath. She recalled the words of Lemon Tzu:
Tension is who you think you are, relaxation is who you are.
“Okay, okay. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. I will interrupt my important writing for a few minutes to elucidate you on the mysteries of the kitchen.”
A duster came flying into the room, closely followed by a red-faced Liz. “There is really no need for sarcasm, Finnley. I trust you remember it is all down to MY goodness that you have this opportunity.”EricKeymaster
“A dil-do factory?” She was aghast. “A fucking carrot dildo factory?”
“Oh don’t push it.” Star lit a large cigar, a nasty habit that cropped up when she was nervous. She blew a smoke ring and sighed. “At least the rogering was a nice change. Good clean sex, almost a spiritual experience.”
“Oh come now, with all the don’t-need-to-know details…”
“Well, don’t be such a prude, you were there after all. With all that luscious moaning. Haven’t seen you so flushed in ages…” Star tittered in that high-pitched laughter that could shatter crystal flutes.
“Wait… a minute.” Tara was having a brainwave. “We may have overlooked something.”
“What? In the sex department?”
“Shush, you lascivious banshee… In the flushed department.”
“What? Don’t speak riddles tart, I can’t handle riddles when my body’s aching from all that gymnastic.”
“Can’t you see? They got to get rid of the dissident stuff unfit for cultish dildoing, if you catch my drift.”
“Oh I catch it alright, but I’ve checked the loo… Oh, what? you mean the compost pile?”
“I’ve seen trucks parked out the back, they where labelled… Organic Lou’s Disposal Services… OLDS… That’s probably how they remove their archives, if you see what I mean.”
“I have a theory. Although it usually would be more in your area of theories.”
“What? Alien abduction?”
“No, don’t be ridiculous. I’m talking time travel… Haven’t you noticed the scent of celery when we were at the mansion and the appartment?”
“A dead give-away for time-travelling shenanigans!”
“Exactly. And if I’m correct, might well be that it’s Mr French from the future who phoned us, before he returned to his timeline. Probably because he already knows we’re going to crack the case. Before we know.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Would have been nicer if he’d told us how to solve it instead, if he knew, from the future and all? Are you not sure he’s not from his past instead, like before he got in that dreadful car accident?”
“Oh well, doesn’t matter does it? And probably won’t any longer once we locate the Uncle Basil in the Drooling Home of Retired Vegetables.”
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