“”Sorry, I’m only just telling you this about the note now, lovie. Your Grandma’s been on at me to tell you. Just in my thoughts I mean!” he added quickly.
Jane smirked and tapped her forehead. “Careful, Old Man. She’ll think you’ve completely lost it!”
Clara stared at him, a small frown creasing her brow. “So, the note said you were to call him?”
Bob nodded uneasily. Clara had that look on her face. The one that means she aren’t happy with the way things are proceeding.
“And then what?” asked Clara slowly.
“I dunno.” Bob shrugged. “Guess they’d bury it again? They was pretty clear they didn’t want it found. Now, how about I put the kettle on?” Bob stood quickly and began to busy himself filling the jug with water from the tap.
Clara shook her head firmly. “No.”
“No to a cup of tea?”
“No we can’t call this man.”
“I don’t know Clara. It’s getting odd it is. Strangers leaving maps in collars and whatnot. It’s not right.”
“Well, I agree it needs further investigation. But we can’t call him … not without knowing why and what’s in it.” She tapped her fingers on the table. “I’ll try and get hold of Nora again.”
Clara breathed a sigh of relief when she saw VanGogh running towards her; in the moonlight he looked like a pale ghost.
“Where’ve you been eh?” she asked as he nuzzled her excitedly. She crouched down to pat him. “And what’s this?” A piece of paper folded into quarters had been tucked into VanGogh’s collar. Clara stood upright and looked uneasily around the garden; a small wind made the leaves rustle and the deep shadows stirred. Clara shivered.
“Clara?” called Bob from the door.
“It’s okay Grandpa, I found him. We’re coming in now.”
In the warm light of the kitchen, Clara showed Bob the piece of paper. “It’s a map, but I don’t know those place names.”
“And it was stuffed into his collar you say?” Bob frowned. “That’s very strange indeed. Who’d of done that?”
Clara shook her head. “It wasn’t Mr Willets because I saw him drive off. But why didn’t VanGogh bark? He always barks when someone comes on the property.”
“You really should tell her about the note,” said Jane. She was perched on the kitchen bench. VanGogh pricked his ears up and wagged his tail as he looked towards her. Bob couldn’t figure out if the dog could see Jane or just somehow sensed her there. He nodded.
“What?” asked Clara.
“There’s something I should tell you, Clara. It’s about that box you found.”
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?
The wardrobe was sitting solidly in the middle of the office, exactly where they had left it.
Or was it?
“I was expecting a room full of middle-aged ladies,” said Star, her voice troubled. She frowned at the wardrobe. “Has it moved a little do you think? I’m sure it was closer to the window before. Or was it smaller. There’s something different about it …”
“Maybe they are inside,” whispered Tara.
“What! All of them?” Star sniggered nervously.
Rosamund was dressed in a silky yellow thing that floated to her ankles. Her feet were bare and her long hair, usually worn loose, was now neatly plaited. Encircling the top of her head was a daisy chain. She smiled gently at Star and Tara. “Peace, my friends.” Dozens of gold bracelets jangled as she extended her hands to them. “Come, my dear friends, let us partake of carrot juice together.”
“Knock, knock! Dinner’s ready!” Clara popped her head around the door to Bob’s room. “What are you doing?” she asked as Bob started and hurriedly put his hand over a small piece of paper.
“Er, nothing, just …” His words trailed off. He smiled brightly at her. “Dinner eh. Smells good. I’ll be right with you.”
Clara’s gaze travelled from Bob’s face to the cardboard box on the bed. “Are you okay? You look strange. What’s in that box?”
“Odds and ends. Just doing a bit of sorting.” He put the piece of paper in the box and placed the lid back on. “Nothing that won’t keep till after dinner.”
“If there are any old photos in the box I’d love to see them.”
“Tell her,” said Jane. There she was, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed near the box. “Go on, tell her about the number.”
Bob shook his head vigorously and Clara regarded him strangely. “Not to worry about photos then,” she said
“You were wishing I was here and now here I am and you aren’t even going to listen to me?” Now Jane was whispering into his ear and he imagined he could almost feel her breath like a feather tickling his cheek—it was all he could do not to laugh. “Tell her or I will.”
“Wait!” said Star. “Have we unwittingly stumbled upon a secret meeting of the bellbird cult?”
The bouncer laughed. “Not exactly a secret meeting. It’s more of our monthly get-together. We have drinks and what-not and a bit of a sing-song”
“Sound great! Where do I sign up?” asked Tara, mesmerised by the burly bouncer’s biceps.
Tara sneered at the obvious lie. “Then why did you run? Huh?”
“If you must know, and it appears you must, I believe I saw him.” She pointed to the entrance. “He was wearing a disguise of course. When he saw me, he ran, clearly fearing I would see through his disguise and reveal to the world that he is not in a coma.”
Star scratched her head. “I see,” she said.
“So much for New Zealand and your remote viewing skills,” sneered Tara.
April shook her head. “Those are questions only Vincent French can answer.”
“Going around in circles a bit, aren’t you?” said BB with a kindly smile. “Cheer up! Look around you! Beauty is everywhere and drinks are on the house!”
Rosamund pressed her ear to the wardrobe door and listened. Nothing. She tapped gently. No response. “Is there anyone in there?” she whispered. She rapped on the door, harder this time. “Are you hungry?” she said loudly. “Got a pizza ordered, you want one?”
“Yes please,” came the muffled reply. “Ham and pineapple.”
Rosamund reeled backwards.
“Pineapple!” Romamund was aghast. “Not on pizza!”
“OK cheese and tomato then, just let me out! I’m desperate for a pee!” the voice was wheedling, and oddly familiar.
“Promise no pineapple?”
“For god’s sake woman, let me out! I promise!”
Rosamund turned the key and quickly stepped back a few paces, grabbing the broom as a weapon. People trapped in wardrobes could be aggressive, she knew that much.
The wardrobe rocked dangerously as a bulky shape emerged, swathed in mink.
April shook the moth eaten fur off her shoulders and smoothed the tangled hair back from her brow. “I might ask you the same question, young lady! Wait til your mother hears about this! But first, point me in the direction of the rest rooms!”
“Over there, ” Rosamund said weakly. “I’ll order your pizza.”
“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.
Shivering, the two women stood at the bus stop, suitcases standing beside them.
“What are we going to do now, April?” June was finding the abrupt dismissal unsettling, annoying. It wasn’t their fault the kid disappeared. “Why on earth are you grinning like that? Where are we going to go?”
“We’re going to stay with my sister in Australia,” replied April with a happy sigh.
“What, now? Are you mad? The place is a disaster zone!”
“Can’t be any more of a disaster than the place we just got fired from.”
June couldn’t argue with that. “Does she know we’re coming?”
April shook her head. “Oh no, it’s going to be a surprise. Oh my, she’ll be surprised.”
“Whereabouts in Australia?”
“Melbourne. Melbourne, here we come!”
“The Spanish Moss Motel? Well, I’ll be darned, so this it where it is,” said Arthur, “But hell, it’s no place for a baby!”
“What do you mean, Art?” asked his wife. “Is it one of them there broth kitchens full of painted tarts?”
Art shook his head. “Not exactly. Nobody really knows, ‘cept everybody knows that things go on here.” Art shook his head again. “Aint no place for a baby.”
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.”
“Here you are then,” said the driver. They were parked outside of an imposing iron gate with a large padlock. “This is as far as I can take you. I dont have authority to go any further.”
“Authority? You mean this is it?” said Maeve. “All I can see are trees.”
“Usually there is someone here to open the gate when visitors arrive. Must be running late. That’s not like them.”
“Oh,” said Maeve. “They aren’t actually expecting us. I mean, we didn’t make an appointment or anything.”
The driver shook his head and laughed. He turned his head to look at them. “I might as well take you back then. You don’t get in here without being expected.” He started the engine.
“Wait!” said Maeve. “We haven’t come all this way to give up. Have we?” She looked at Shaun-Paul who, after a moment of hesitation, nodded.
“Ah! There you are, my dear,” said Alessandro. “I have searched all over the house for you and now I find you in the laundry.” He shook his head and waggled a finger at Liz. “Where is that naughty maid of yours who should be doing this?.”
Liz leapt away from the laundry basket. “I was looking for something other than this … this obscenity,” she said flinging the pink satin garment to the ground. “And, who exactly are you?”
“I am Alessandro! Fashion Designer extraordinaire. I am rather surprised you do not know of me,” he said, pouting. “Your maid employed me to assist you with your fashion choices.”
“Cheek!” spluttered Liz.
Finnley limped into the room. “Oh you are here. Good,” she said flatly. “Sort her out, will you, Alessandro. She has done nothing but moan lately.”
“Sure,” said Finnley. She bent down to pick up the pink satin with a loud groan. “I might cut this up for doll’s clothes,” she said mysteriously.EricKeymaster
It took a while for Franola to get back to the sudden surge of activity. She had to use Finley as an anchor for awhile, since Tiku seemed to have moved out of the picture.
Franola shook the typo mergence out of her dusty cloud, and resumed being Garnola — — well, Granola.
She’d picked up interesting stuff on her way to the now overcrowded inn.
Bits and pieces of a ragtag team of mag’spies on their way to fetch the engraved key, but they seemed to have been distracted by promises of gold on their way from their last known location. She hadn’t stayed too long to check on them, as she’d felt a sudden telepathic attack from the Doctor, and had simply popped out to avoid attracting him into her safe mental spaces.
Well, without Tiku around the Inn to lend her body for spirit possession, it would be more difficult to verbally warn her friends Maeve and Shawn-Paul, especially caught up as they were in all that dramatic tension.
She quite liked her new vantage point though. Fisheye view, literally. She could see the whole company, hidden in the eye of the strange fish hanged on the wall.
A mean looking cat was starting to hiss and snarl at her though. Or maybe that was her mind playing tricks. After all that backstage exploration, she might have been confounded as to whom was doing the snarling.
As if I didn’t have enough to think about without this! Bert had let it slip that he’d been down to the old Brundy place but that man is like a sardine tin without a key when he’s got a mind to be secretive, and he wouldn’t tell what the dickens was so important down there that he had time for it, now of all times. That got me thinking about that time the twins brought a life sized doll from down there and scared me half to death, but before I had time to start thinking about those ripped up maps that ~ I’ll be honest ~ I’d forgotten about, Finly burst in with her hand over her mouth and a wild look in her eye.
“Don’t be sick in here!” I snapped and quickly swung her round by the shoulders and gave her a shove in the direction of the bathroom, but then she blurted out that Prune had eaten the chicken. “Prune?” I said, admittedly rather stupidly, I mean, nobody told me Prune was coming, or had I forgotten? And then Finly shook me ~ actually shook me bodily! ~ and shouted, No, The CHICKEN! That’s when my own hand flew to my mouth, and I said, Not the chicken. Finly said Yes, and I said No, and this went on for a time until I had a moment of clarity.
Don’t tell her what was in the chicken, Finly, I said, Just go and give her something to make her sick. Quickly!
Bloody woman rolled her eyes in a most unnecessarily exaggerated fashion at me and fled. I was left contemplating the nature of modern humans and their love of theatricals when it dawned on me that making Prune take something to make her vomit, at such short and urgent notice, with no explanation forthcoming, might be difficult to accomplish. Especially for the likes of Finly. I wondered if we had time to devise a cunning plan, or if we had no choice but to resort to brute force.
That’s when a little voice popped in my head and said, “Magic: The last resort.”EricKeymaster
Fourty four hours and 3 stopovers later, Maeve was glad to have arrived at Alice Springs airport. It was fun to see that the further she went, the smallest the aircraft became. Until it wasn’t too funny, and got almost downright scary with the last small propeller plane, that shook so much it seemed out of an old Indiana Jones movie, sans flying chicken.
The airport was quaint and small, the way she liked, with a passageway shaded by large swathes of fabric reminiscent of Seville’s streets. The air was surprisingly fresh, and she wondered if she’d been too optimistic about the weather and her choice of clothes, considering it was still winter down here.
While she was waiting at the luggage belt, she discreetly observed the other waiting people.
Uncle Fergus always said she had to be observant. Besides, she had a natural eye for details.
Apart from the few Crocodile Dundees that screamed tourists who were waiting for their oversized luggage, she could spot a few out-of-place people. One in particular, that seemed to have followed the very same route since the first layover in Vancouver. Too strange a coincidence, and the fellow was too unassuming too.
“Maeve! MAH-EH-VEH” She jumped at the sounds. Almost didn’t recognized her own name, if she hadn’t recognized her neighbour’s voice first, and his peculiar way to pronounce it like she was a precious wahine.
“Shawn-Paul?! What on earth are you doing here?” She frowned at him “Have you been stalking me?”
“No, no! It’s not like that! I’ve received those funny-looking coupons, you see…”
“What? You too?”
Now, a second person following on her tracks even through a different combination of flights was more than a coincidence. It meant danger was afoot.
“Shouldn’t we carpool? I looked up the trail to the inn, it’s a long drive and by the looks of it, not at all too safe for a lone woman travelling.”
Maeve shrugged. That may keep the other creep off her trail. “I don’t mind, but if you insist on being so chivalrous, you’re paying for the taxi.”
Before he could say anything, she handed him her piece of luggage to carry.
“You do that, Sha. Nurse Trassie wasn’t it?”
Sharon nodded and pursed her lips tightly. “Bloody uppity tart. We bloody pay enough to be ‘ere, I reckon. They should get the tea bloody right.” Her eyes narrowed menacingly. “ Anyway, she’ll keep. So,‘ow we going to find ‘im then, Glor?”
Gloria scratched her head vigorously, perhaps checking it was still there, before taking a moment to examine her fingernails.
“Wot’d Mavis say then?” she asked at last. “When you did that texting thing to ‘er?”
“‘Ere let me find my phone and I’ll read it out loud to you. Oh, blimey, ‘ave you seen my glasses, Glor?”
Gloria’s generous curves wobbled and gyrated as she convulsed into fits of laughter.
“They’re on yer bloody ‘ead!” she said pointing and gasping for breath. “Oh, I nearly peeed myself, ya blimmen muppet!”
“Thanks, Glor. Wot I’d do without you, I don’t bloody know. Don’t mean to make you pee yerself though. It’s ‘ard enough getting them nurses to give out them extra thick pantyliners. Blimmin uppity tarts. Expecially that Nurse Trassie. Anyway, she’ll keep.”
“Oh, it’s text talk. The younguns talk like that now and our Mavis always did like to keep up with trends. Lots of lust it means. That saucy cow!”
“She always was a saucy one that, Mavis! Look at us stuck in ‘ere and ‘er with a new fella. Lucky sod. Maybe after our beauty treatment, we might get us a new fella too.”
“I don’t know ‘ow we’re going to track down the Doctor though, Shar. I don’t know ‘ow we’re going to track him down when we’re stuck in this bleedin’ ‘ole.” Gloria shoulders shook and she began to sob loudly.
“Wot’s that then,” asked Gloria, sniffing loudly into her hanky.
“I’ve ‘ad one of my bloody brainwaves!”
“I knew you would, Shar! You’ve always ‘ad brains. I’m all agog!”
“We’ll get Mavis to go to the papers! Put in an advert to find ‘im!”
“You’re a blimmin genius, you are, Shar!”
Did madness run in Maeve’s family, was that it? She’d admitted that her Uncle Fergus was a paranoid old loony, and it was becoming obvious that Maeve herself was becoming a little unhinged. What was she doing, galloping out of Shawn Paul’s door, and what was all that gleeful cackling for? It was going to make Lucinda’s plan to get the twelve addresses harder, with Maeve being so unpredictable. She would simply have to be prepared to take advantage of it and seize any opportunity that arose.
The fact was, there was no plan to get the addresses, but she knew she had to have them. She had to find the connecting link between them.
Oh bugger it! Lucinda muttered. Just go for a nice long walk, my girl, and stop thinking about it. She glanced up sharply at the doll, but no, the voice had been her own. This time. I’m going as mad as Maeve, she mumbled as she rammed her feet into a pair of walking shoes.
“Mad as Almad.” With a pained expression Lucinda spun round to glare at the doll before slamming the door on her and stomping off down the corridor, loudly complaining that that idle cleaning woman had left bits of paper on the floor in between Shawn Paul and Maeve’s doormats. She bent down to pick it up to put it in the bin outside, noticing that it was an old newspaper clipping with a paperclip attached to it.
“Oh my god!” Could it really be that easy? It was an advert for a trip to Australia. There was a photo of an old woman standing in front of an interesting looking old hotel. The old woman in the photograph had been smiling, the welcoming hostess, when Lucinda first looked at the picture, but she seemed to be frowning now, a searching intent look. Lucinda shook her head and blinked, and looked again. The smiling face in the photograph looked quite normal.
“Oh my god,” said Maeve again. “Do you know what this means?” She put Ima back on the shelf. “You need to water that plant.”
“No,” said Lucinda. “I mean, no, I don’t know what this means.”
“I don’t either really,” said Maeve with a sigh.
“How about I make us a nice cup of tea and you can explain what you do know.”
Maeve nodded and cleared a pile of books off Lucinda’s sofa so she could sit down.
“You’ve got a lot of stuff.”
“Yeah, I’m a hoarder. It’s a bit of a problem but I’ve started getting help for it. I go to ‘Hoarder’s Anonymous’. Have you heard of it?”
Maeve shook her head.
“Hi, I’m Lucinda and I’m a hoarder … you know … 12 steps stuff. Same old format.”
“Cool,” said Maeve, not sure what else to say.
“Bugger,” said Maeve. “I’m out of butter. What shall we do, Fabio?”
Fabio rushed excitedly to the front door.
“Go and see if Lucinda has some butter? Good idea, but you have to do the talking. Okay?”
Clearly, I am in need of human companionship.
An old rhyme from her childhood came to mind. She would say it over and over, fast as she could without tripping over her tongue.
Biddy Botter bought bum butter. Blah said she the butters bitter but if i buy some better butter, better than the bitter butter that will make the bitter butter better.
Lucinda’s door has the number 57 on the front and a skull door knocker. Maeve’s door was numbered 22 so it made no sense at all. Lucinda opened the door a crack and peered out at Maeve.
“Oh Maeve,” she said, “Um, hi.”
“Hi. Is this a bad time? I just wanted to borrow a bit of butter if you have any spare.”
Lucinda hesitated before opening the door and gesturing Maeve in.
“Sure,” she said. “Excuse the mess.”
Maeve spotted the doll right away.
“What are you doing with Ima Indigo!”
Ima was sitting on the shelf near the the window, sandwiched between a cracked concrete buddha head and a dying fern. Maeve picked the doll up.
“May I?” she said, without waiting for a reply.
She turned the doll over and felt the back seam with her fingers. The stitching was rough and the thread didn’t match the tiny stitches on the rest of the doll’s body. She gently squashed Ima. No key.
“Where did you get this? Did you take a key out of her body?”
Lucinda patted Fabio and shook her head, annoyed at Maeve and at the same time feeling guilty.
“I found her at the market.”
“Oh my god,” said Maeve.
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