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.”
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 wiggled her wooly fair isle toes in front of the log fire. She was glad she’d brought her thick socks ~ the temperature had dropped and snow was forecast. Good job we got that box out before the ground froze, she said to her grandfather. He made an indecipherable harumphing noise by way of reply and asked her if she’d found out anything yet about the inscriptions.
“No,” Clara sighed, “Not a thing. I’ll probably find it when I stop looking.”
Bob raised an eyebrow and said nothing. She’d always had a funny way of looking at things. Years ago he’d come to the conclusion that he’d never really fathom how her mind worked, and he’d accepted it. Now, though, he felt a little uneasy.
“Oh look, Grandpa! How fitting! It’s the daily random quote from The Daily Wail. Listen to this: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift; that’s why it’s called The Present.” What a perfect sync!”
“Oh aye, it’s a grand sink, glad you like it! It was about time I had a new one. It was a wrench to part with the old one, after seeing your grandma standing over it for all those years, but it was half price in the sale, and I thought, why not Bob, be a devil. One last new sink before I kick the bucket. I was fed up with that bucket under the old sink, I can tell you!”
Clara blinked, and then smiled at the old man, leaning over to squeeze his arm. “It’s a great sink, Grandpa.”
“Can’t we sit down over there for a minute? My feet are bloody killing me.” April nodded towards a park bench; she didn’t have much patience today for June and her philosophising, after all, wasn’t it June’s fault they were in this mess? “It’s too bad we can’t even afford the bus fare,” she grumbled as she settled herself on the wooden seat.
“Not too much further,” said June plonking down next to her.
April bent down to take off her socks and sneakers and massaged her grateful feet in the damp grass. “Think I’ve got a blister. And I’d kill for a cuppa tea. I do hope Finnley has kept on top of things.”
June snorted. “Not bloody likely. Anyway, while we’ve been walking I’ve been thinking … what if we sue?”
“No, you idiot, not, who Sue. I mean what if we sue for money? Sue the president for wrongdoings which have been done to us.”
“Oh!” April perked up. “There’s certainly been plenty of wrongdoings!”
June smiled smugly. “Exactly.”
“If you don’t pay the bill, I’ll call the police,” said the waitress, closing the door and turning the open sign to closed. She turned the key and put it in her apron pocket. “Either you pay the bill or you wash the dishes.”
Vince was just about the stamp his foot again and a look of anguish came over his face. Finton, the waitress, looked quizzically at him and reached out to touch his arm. “Are you alright?”
Then the floodgates opened and Vince collapsed in a chair, tears rolling down his face. Finton sat down next to him and put her arm across his shoulders, patting him gently until the sobbing had subsided.
“Now then, sir, why don’t you tell me all about it while you’re doing the dishes,” she said kindly, “I’d be happy to listen, and I can interrogate you too, if that’s what you’d like.”
Vince wiped his eyes and blew his nose with a crumpled napkin, smearing strawberry jam across his cheeks. Finton didn’t have the heart to tell him, and tried hard not to snigger.
“Call me Vince,” he smiled weakly, and followed Finton into the kitchen.
“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.”
“Clearly,what we do next, my friend, is free the middle-aged lady,” Tara smiled smugly.”First rule, notwithstanding that I hate rules, if you don’t know what to do, do what you do know what to do, even if you don’t want to do it because at least you’ve done something.”
“No, I made it up myself.”
“Oh, well … I’m too tired to do anything.You do it, Tara.”
“No, you do it! Lazy tart.”
“I’ll do it!” says Rosamund, appearing from nowhere and bounding over to the wardrobe. “I want to borrow her lippy again.” She tugged at the door. “It seems to be stuck.”
“It does seem to be rather stuck,” said Star said after a few minutes of fruitless tugging. She knocked on the door of the wardrobe. “Excuse me, are you there? Excuse me … dreadfully sorry about all this.” There was no reply.
“Dead,” said Tara. “Darn it.”
Undaunted, Star tried again. After a particularly spirited tug, the door flew open and Star fell backwards. “She’s gone! But she left a note. Thank you, Ladies for your hospitality. This is a clue. At 4pm Thursday, go to the cafe on Main street. Vince French will be there..”
Tara gasped. “Who was she? That seemingly innocuous middle-aged lady.”
“Perhaps we will never know,” said Star.
“Did someone say drinks are on the house?” asked Rosamund, pushing past the burly bouncer as she entered the pub. “What’s your name, handsome?”
“Percival,” the bouncer replied with a wry grin. “Yeah I know, doesn’t fit the image.”
Rosamund looked him up and down while simultaneously flicking a bit of food from between her teeth with a credit card. “I keep forgetting to buy dental floss,” she said.
“Is that really necessary?” hissed Tara. “Is that moving the plot forward?”
“I’ll be away for a while on an important mission,” Rosamund said to Percival, “But give me your number and I’ll call you when I get back.”
“The trip is cancelled, you’re not going anywhere,” Star told her, “Except to the shop to buy dental floss.”
“I’m glad you mentioned it!” piped up a middle aged lady sitting at the corner table. “I have run out of dental floss too.”
“See?” said Rosamund. “You never can tell how helpful you are when you just act yourself and let it flow. Now tell me why I’m not going to New Zealand? I already packed my suitcase!”
“Because it seems that New Zealand has come to us,” replied Star, “Or should I say, the signs of the cult are everywhere. It’s not so much a case of finding the cult as a case of, well finding somewhere the cult hasn’t already infected. And as for April,” she continued, “She changes her story every five minutes, I think we should ignore everything she says from now on. Nothing but a distraction.”
“That’s it!” exclaimed Tara. “Exactly! Distraction tactics! A well known ruse, tried and tested. She has been sent to us to distract us from the case. She isn’t a new client. She’s a red herring for the old clients enemies.”
“Oh, good one, Tara,” Star was impressed. Tara could be an abusive drunk, but some of the things she blurted out were pure gold. Or had a grain of gold in them, it would be more accurate to say. A certain perspicacity shone through at times when she was well lubricated. “Perhaps we should lock her back in the wardrobe for the time being until we’ve worked out what to do with her.”
“You’re right, Star, we must restrain her….oy! oy! Percival, catch that fleeing aunt at once!” April had made a dash for it out of the pub door. The burly bouncer missed his chance. April legged it up the road and disappeared round the corner.
“Oh I say, that’s going a bit far,” interjected the middle aged lady sitting at the corner table.
“What’s it got to do with you?” Tara turned on her.
“This,” the woman replied with a smugly Trumpish smile. She pulled her trouser leg up to reveal a bell bird tattoo.
“Oh my fucking god,” Tara was close to tears again.
“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!”
“Now then ladies, what’s all this about?” The burly bouncer appeared, blocking the doorway.
“Nice tattoo!” he said appreciatively. “Why, I even have one myself just like it!”
“On your buttock?” asked Star incredulously.
“Why you cheeky thing,” replied the bouncer with a smile. “No, as it happens it’s on my ankle. I left the cult before I reached buttock bell bird status.”
“Wait, what? What cult?”
“The same cult as you were in,” he said, turning to April. “Am I right?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” stammered April, reddening.
“What the hell is going on!” shouted Tara. “Are we the only ones NOT in the damn cult?”
“Looks like it” smirked the waitress, pulling her blouse up to reveal a bell bird tattoo on her belly.
“That’s it, I’ve had enough of this! I’m going back to the wardrobe!” exclaimed Star.
The bouncer and the waitress exchanged glances. “Unwoke sheeple losing their minds,” the waitress said knowingly.
“Oh my fucking god,” Tara said, close to tears.
“Stop it!” shouted April, flinging the broom wildly above her head. “Just stop it, will you! First, you man-handle me into the wardrobe filled with dirty old coats and refuse to let me have pineapple on my pizza and now you are interrogating me as though I am some sort of criminal.” She threw the broom to the floor with such force that the handle snapped off, and then she collapsed in a sobbing heap.
“I suppose we have been rather unwelcoming,” said Star.
“There, there, Auntie,” said Rosamund, patting her awkwardly on the shoulder. “If you need to make up a husband, I totally get it. I’m always making up stuff.”
“I think it is about time you tell us the truth,” said Tara sternly. “Why have you invented a philandering husband and what does Vince French have to do with it and, last but certainly not least, why is that wardrobe filled with stinky coats in our office?”
“How about I make a nice cup of tea and you can tell us everything,” said Star.
Seizing the moment, April tossed her pizza aside and sprang over to to the wardrobe door, slammed it shut and turned the key. Leaning her back on the locked door, she smiled triumphantly.
The office door opened slowly, due to the melted cheese stuck on the carpet that had slid down the door when the pizza hit it. Fortunately for April the door got stuck on an olive, providing a valuable few seconds in which to grab the broom and flee to the rest room before Star and Tara entered the room.
“Don’t let me out until April!” a muffled voice joined the banging sounds coming from the wardrobe.
There’s nobody at all coming to see to my supper anymore, the girl that brought my lunch (a stale cheese sandwich again) said it was because of the curfew. I said, Oh the quarantine and she said, Oh no, not that anymore so I said Oh, is the virus over then, and she said Oh no, far from it, but that’s not what the curfew is for now, and I looked at her and wondered if they’d all lost their marbles.
She said it’s Marshall law out there now and I smiled at that, I used to know a nice girl by the name of Marshall, can’t recall where from mind you, but anyway then I realized she meant martial law when she showed me her arm. Great big bruise there was, she said it was from a rubber bullet. Seems to me they’re getting senile young these days and I wonder where it will all end.
Then she starts telling me about piles of bricks everywhere, and I’m wondering where this is going because it makes no sense to me. She says some people say there are piles of bricks appearing everywhere, but she can’t be sure, she said, because lots of other people are saying there aren’t any piles of bricks at all, and I’m thinking, who the hell cares so much about piles of bricks anyway? Then she looks at me as if I’m the daft one.
It’s a pity we don’t see piles of decent food appearing, I said, instead of bricks, looking pointedly at the cheese sandwich. She said, Think yourself lucky, with what can only be described as a dark look.
I thought I’d change the subject, as we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, and asked her if she’d be kind enough to pick me up some embroidery thread on her way past the emporium, and she made a peculiar noise and said Aint no shops open, they’re all boarded up. I was about to ask why, and she must have read my mind because she said, Riots, that’s why.
It’s a good job my hip’s so much better now that the weather’s dry, because I’m going to have to make my escape soon and see what the hell’s going on out there.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.”
“Let’s begin,” said the teacher. She was short and seemed around sixty seven. She walked around the room like a tamer surrounded by wild beasts in a circus. Her dark hair was tied into a long braid falling on her straight back like an I. She wore a sari wrapped around her neatly. “I’m Ms Anika Koskinen, your cryogurt teacher today. You’ve got the recipe in front of you on the benches right with the glass and a bottle of water. The ingredients will be in the cabinets on your left and everything is referenced and written big enough for everyone to see.”
“Those benches look like the ones in chemistry class when I was in college,” said Glo. “I have bad memories of thoses.”
“You have bad memories, that’s all,” said Sha making them both laugh.
“How do you want me to know? I was with you since we left the bungalow,” said Sharon who was trying to decipher the blurry letters on the recipe. “Their printer must be malfunctioning, it’s unreadable.”
“You should try putting on your glasses.”
“I didn’t bring’em, didn’t think we’d need to see anything.”
“I saw you! no need to shout,” whispered Mavis loudly. She muttered some excuse to the teacher who had been giving them a stern look.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to go with your friends,” said Ms Koskinen, “We don’t have enough material for everyone.”
The teacher resumed her explanations of the procedure of making frozen yogurt, checking regularly if everyone had understood. She took everyone bobbing their head as a yes.
“You shouldn’t ask us,” said Glo, “our eyes are like wrinkles remover apps.”
“I think he looks better without glasses,” said Mavis.
After Ms Koskinen had finished giving them instructions, she told everyone to go take the ingredients and bring them back to their benches.
“I’m going,” said Sha who wanted to have a better look at the man.
“Don’t forget the recipe with the list of ingredients,” said Mavis waving the paper at her.
She came back with the man helping her carry the tray of ingredients.
“Thank you Andrew,” said Sha when he put the tray on their bench.
“Oh you’re welcome. And those are your friend you told me about?”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Andrew. “I’m Andrew Anderson. I suggested Sharon we could have lunch together after the workshop. I’d like you to meet my friends.”
“Of course!” said Sha. She winked at her friends who were too flabbergasted to speak.
“That’s settled then. We’ll meet at 1pm at my bungalow.”
“See you later,” said Sharon with a dulcet voice.
“What the butt was that all about?” asked Glo.
“Oh! You’ll thank me. I pretexted not to be able to find everything on the list and Andrew was very helpful. The man is charming, and his yacht makes you forget about his Australian accent. We’re going to have lunch on a yacht girls! That means we’re not stuck on the beach and can have some fun exploring around.”
Sha looked quite pleased with herself. She put a bottle of orange powder among the ingredients and said :”Now! Let’s make some wrinkle flattener ice cream, ladies. I took some extra tightener.”
The journey to the Pistil itself would have been worth its own story, thought Charlton. They had to avoid road blocks, crowds of chanting christians that had certainly vowed to spread the virus as fast as possible, and howlers who you were never sure weren’t the real thing from Teen Wolf. They had to be, in such a landscape. Once arid, it had turned greener in just a few weeks. Rain was now weekly when drops of water used to only show up with the bottles of water from the tourists.
Despite Kady’s advice not to take anything, he’d still brought the book of drawings. Kady had said nothing about the book, nor the clothes, or the snacks. Charlton was sometimes literal about what people told him, but he also knew it. So he didn’t say anything when he saw Kady had her own backpack with clothes, some money and food. During the trip, he tried to reproduce the experience with the drawings and the dreams —but nothing happened. Charlton felt a little disappointed.
They saw the pistil long before they arrived at its foot. It was at the end of the day and the sunset was splashing its reds and purples all around it. Charlton had had time to get used to its tall presence in the landscape. Yet, seeing it at a close range from below was a strange experience. Taller than the tallest man-made tower. He wondered what he was supposed to feel in its presence. Awe? Electricity? Enlightenment? Bursts of inspiration? This should at least be a mystical moment, but all he could feel was annoyance at the crowd of people crawling around like aphids avid to suck its sap.
Kady looked more annoyed than surprised. She was walking past the flock as if she knew exactly where to go. Charlton followed, feeling dizzy by the sudden increase of activity and smells. He soon got nauseous at the mix of incense and fried sausages.
“There are so many of them,” he eventually said. “How come? It was so difficult just for the two of us to avoid police controls. Do we have to wait with them?”
“Nah! They’re just the usual bunch of weirdoes,” Kady said. “They’ve been here a long time. I bet some of them aren’t even aware there have been a virus. But stay close. I don’t want to lose you, it’s a maze before the maze. I just need to see someone before we go in.”
They walked for about another ten minutes before stopping in front of a big tent. There, a big man with a boxer’s face was repairing all kind of electronics on a table with the application of a surgeon. Phones, cameras, coffee machines… Charlton wondered how they got electricity to make it all work.
“Hey, Kady!” said the man. “You’re back. Did you give it to her?” His face looked anxious.
“Her favourite perfume,” he said with a broad smile.
“I told you she still loves you. I also brought you something else.” Kady dropped a box on the table among the electronics. Charlton didn’t think it could be possible to witness the expression of a ten year old child on such a hard face, but what was inside the box certainly did magic.
“You brought chocolate?”
“Did you find the chestnut one?”
“My favourite,” said Max to Charlton. “Is this your friend?”
“I told you, you’re always welcome. Did you know she saved my life in there?”
“Saved your life?” asked Charlton looking hesitantly at Kady. “No, I didn’t know.”
Shawn Paul looked suspiciously at the pictures of the dolls in the Michigan forest on Maeve’s phone. He had heard about the Cottingley Fairies pictures, supposedly taken a long time ago by two little girls. The two little girls came out long after confessing they had staged the whole thing. Some said they had been coerced into it to keep the world from knowing the truth. It could well be the same thing with the whole dollmania, and Shawn Paul thought one was never dubious enough.
He noded politely to Maeve and decided to hide his doubts for now. They were resting on sunbeds near the hotel swimming pool.
“Do you want another cocktail?” asked a waitress dressed up in the local costume. Not much really, and so close-fitting. She was presenting them with a tray of colourful drinks and a candid smile. Her bosom was on the brink of spilling over the band of cloth she had around her chest. It was decorated with a pair of parrots stretched in such a way their lubricious eyes threatening to pop out at any moment.
Shawn Paul, who had the talent to see the odd and misplaced, forced himself to look at the tray and spotted the strangest one. He pushed his glasses back up on his nose and asked without looking at the waitress.
“What’s that strange bluish blob under the layers of alcohol and fruits?”
Maeve raised one eyebrow and looked at her companion with disapproval, but the waitress answered as if she heard that all the time.
“That’s a spoonful of honey from the blue bees. We feed them a special treat and they make us honey with remarkable properties that we have learned to use for the treatments we offer.”
“Oh,” said Shawn Paul who did not dare ask more about the treatments.
They had arrived to Tikfidjikoo just before the confinement had been declared all over the world, and they had a moment of hesitation to take the last plane with the other tourists and go back safely to Canada. But after the inconclusive adventure in Australia, Maeve had convinced him they had to stay to find out more about the dolls.
They had met those three old ladies and one of them had one of the dolls. Sharon, Mavis and Gloria, they were called and they were going to a smaller island of the archipelago, one that was not even on the maps apparently. That should have given them suspicions, but it seemed so important to Maeve that Shawn Paul hadn’t had the heart to leave her alone.
“I have a plan,” had said Maeve, “We’re going to follow them, befriend them and learn more about how they came to have the doll and try and get the key that’s inside of it.”
“You’re here for the beauty treatment?” had asked the girl at the counter. “You’re lucky, with the confinement a lot of our reservations have been canceled. We have plenty of vacancy and some fantastic deals.”
Maeve had enrolled them for a free week treatment before Shawn Paul could say anything. They hadn’t seen the ladies much since they had arrived on the island, and now there were no way in or out of the island. They had been assured they had plenty of food and alcohol and a lot of activities that could be fitted to everyone’s taste.
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