“I was ‘anging onto his bloody arm for dear life and the strangest thing you will never believe ….” Glor paused dramatically.
“If yer will both ‘ush, I’ll tell ya.” Glor folded her arms and looked at her friends sternly. “His arm didn’t feel right. It felt like one of them dolls they put in shops with the fancy clothes on. Wot do you call them?”
“Wot yer on about, Sha? Youse feeling alright?” Mavis slapped a hand to Glor’s forehead. “A bit ‘ot. Might be the bloody stress got to you. All this escaping nonsense that Sophie is on about. She’s lost ‘er marbles an all if yer ask me. Mind, she must be bloody ninety if she’s a day.”
Glor heaved a loud sigh. Why did she always have to be the brains? “Have you numskuttles ever thought to yerselves that Mr Andrew Anderson is a bit too bloody bootiful? That it ain’t natural?”
Before the others could answer, a loud siren shrieked followed by the doctor’s voice. “EMERGENCY. ASSEMBLE IN THE HALL. I REPEAT. EVERYONE MUST GO WITH HASTE TO THE HALL YOUR LIFE DEPENDS UPON IT.
“Go and put the kettle on while I think about this,” Liz instructed Finnley. “A vacation is not a bad idea. A change of air would do us good. Perhaps a nice self catering cottage somewhere in the country…”
“Self catering? And who might that self be that would be doing the catering for you, Liz?”
“I was only thinking of you!” retorted Liz, affronted. “You might get bored in a fancy hotel with nothing to dust!”
“Try me!” snapped Finnley. “You think you know me inside out, don’t you, but I’m just a story character to you, aren’t I? You don’t know me at all! Just the idea you have of a cleaner! I can’t take it anymore!”
“Oh for god’s sake stop blubbering, Finnley, no need to be so dramatic. Where would you like to go?”
“OH, I don’t know, Somewhere sunny and warm, with mountains and beaches, and not too many tourists.”
“Hah! Anywhere nice and warm with mountains and beaches is going to be packed with tourists. If you want a nice quiet holiday with no tourists you’d have to go somewhere cold and horrid.” Liz sniffed. “Everywhere nice in the world is stuffed with tourists. I know! How about a staycation? We can stay right here and you can make us a nice picnic every day to eat on the lawn.”
“I say, there is no need to be rude! I could sack you for that!”
“Yes but you won’t. Nobody else would work for you, and you know it.”
“Yes well there is that,” Liz had to admit, sighing. “Well then, YOU choose somewhere. You decide. I am putty in your sweaty hands, willing to bend to your every whim. Just to keep the peace.”
“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.”
“Let me see that,” said Tara, snatching the phone off Star. “Aha!” she exclaimed. “Just as I thought! You’ve been hacked. I’d spot those tell tale typo’s anywhere. That’s not the real Lemoon. Now the question is, what have they been advising you to do? That’s exactly what these cults and oracles do, they infiltrate and dish out bad advice.”
“But why?” asked Star, “It doesn’t make sense!”
“To cause chaos, apathy and inertia?” interjected one of the middle aged ladies, who got a swift dig in the ribs with the other ones elbow and a whispered “Shh! You’ll blow our cover!”
“Since everyone seems to be blowing their cover, maybe we should all come clean,” said the elderly man, who had sidled up behind them unnoticed. “May I join you?” he asked, pulling a chair out.
“It’s another trick!” hissed Rosamund, hoping to salvage the situation. “Don’t trust him! Look at the tattoo on his neck!”
“Ah, yes,” the elderly man said, rubbing his neck ruefully. “Let me explain. I was kidnapped and this tattoo was done against my wishes.”
“Why should we believe you?” asked Tara suspiciously.
“Will you believe me if I take you to the cult headquarters?”
“But I wanted a raspberry tart!” whined one of the middle aged ladies. “You promised!”
“Oh bugger off and buy your own tart,” snapped Star. “We’re on an important case and we don’t have time for starving middle aged ladies.”
“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.
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.
The front door of Mr French had a certain Gothic quality to it which caught the eye of Star. She was a sucker for the glitz and the extravagant –the more garish, the better. Had she got her way, their office would be full of the cumbersome stuff. Catching the glint in Star’s green eyes, Tara rolled hers. She clanged the metal lion to signal their presence.
A decrepit butler called off their ruckus after what seemed like a pause in eternity. They could hear the rambling from a distance behind the door. “I’m coming! No need for such noise! Ah, these youngs nowadays, not a shred of patience!…”
“Shttt, let me handle it,” replied Star shaping her face into a genial one, oozing honey and butterflies.
When the butler finally opened the door, he snapped her shut “We’re not interested in whatever… hem, services you’re offering Mesdames.”
The butler’s face turned sour. “Yes of course, I understand. Then you should know Mr French has been in a coma since his dreadful accident last month. Since you have a direct line to him, I suggest you… call him?” And with that, he slammed the door shut on their faces.
“Rude!” Tara mouthed.
“At least, that tells us something my dear.”
“Don’t bait me like this. I’ll ask, what exactly?”
“That our Mr French is not who he says he is…”
“I wonder if it has something to do with the immense fortune he made with his voice…”
“That would be a very interesting question to answer indeed.”
“Why are you looking guilty?” It was impossible for Godfrey to hide anything from Liz. She noticed at once the nervous tic in his left eye, and the way he was shuffling his feet around. He was clearly rattled about something.
“I’ve g g g ot a confession to m m make,” he stuttered. Liz had never heard Godfrey stutter before, and it was unheard of for him to make confessions. Something was troubling her old friend greatly, and she was concerned.
“I put two of your characters in jail.”
Liz gasped and her hand flew to her mouth.
“And now,” Godfrey’s voice caught on a little sob, “And now, I have to pay the bail money to get them out.”
“Well it’s your book, so it’s your gap,” Godfrey retorted, reverting back to his old self.
“Then what were you doing in it, putting my characters in jail?” Liz snapped back. “Go and get that bail paid so they can go to Australia. Otherwise you’re going to muck up another book.”
“We’ll start as soon as we get our first client, Tara,” replied Star, “And don’t keep calling me a tart. You had better get out of the habit or you might do it accidentally when we’re working on a case.”
“What if we don’t get any clients? We’ve advertised everywhere we can think of. Once we get started, we’ll get recommendations, we’ll probably have to take on staff, we’ll be so busy.” A wistful look crept into Tara’s eye. She’d never been a boss, never been in the position of telling a subordinate what to do. It had a certain appeal. “Anyway, you are a tart.”
“Was, Tara, was. We are not tarts now, and nobody needs to know what we did for a living before. Nothing shameful in it of course, but people have such antiquated ideas; it might put them off. They don’t need to know that we might be able to use our skills to our advantage to solve cases.”
“I’d rather solve cases with our new skills,” said Tara. “Remote viewing, out of body travel, lucid dreaming, that sort of thing.”
“Never a bad thing to have an assorted tool box,” replied Star. “We have unique skills compared to most private investigators. Just thank your lucky stars that we escaped the eagle eye of Madame Limonella. She’ll never think to look for us in here in Melbourne, she’s probably thinking we’ll fetch up in some back street dive in Perth, desperate for our jobs back.”
“Well it might come to that if we don’t get any cases to solve,” Tara said glumly, “And on less money too, we’re not spring chickens any more.”
“Don’t be silly,” Star snapped. “We’re not even 40 yet. If we were too young we wouldn’t be taken seriously.”
Star was just about to call her a rude tart when the phone rang.
It’s a funny thing what tiredness can do to a girl. I could have sworn it was daytime when I knocked on Mr August’s door. Turned out it was nearly midnight and Mr August wasn’t best pleased to see me. Judging by the giggling I could hear and the way he was trying to barricade the door, he already had company. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was a bit of a ladies’ man with his smooth chest and satin bath-robe. (Although, if you ask me, the embroidered dragon down the front is overkill). Mr August snapped at me that I had the job and he’d get the paperwork sorted tomorrow. The mix-up worked out in my favour; he was that keen to get shot of me and back to business.
Not knowing what else to do, I made myself a possie under a large desk in the hall and tried to get comfy. Anyway, that’s when the fun really started. The maid, the rude one who took the baby, came tiptoeing out of her room wringing her hands and muttering that she had a doubt. Not long after that, two middle-aged ladies barged in, both off their faces I would say. “I’ll give that maid Alabama if anything has happened to our Barron!” shouted the short one, and they lurched their way into the baby’s room.
Finally, the maid tiptoed back to her room and the ladies went back to whatever hole they’d crawled from and I hoped that me and the baby would be able to get some sleep at last. Who was I kidding? I nearly managed to drop off when the doorbell rang again. The maid answered it—I’m starting to understand why she is so ill-tempered; she never gets any sleep. This time it’s some crazy looking lady who said she had come to help me! But I’ve never seen her before in my life!
I’m pretty flabbergasted by the lack of security and all the comings and goings. Things are going to be a bit different from now on, I can tell you that right now.
“You should get the app if you’re so damn impatient!” finally snapped April who had watched a video on how to stop being a crowd pleaser and start asserting herself. Might as well be with June, as she was the kind of bossy britches who would let the light shine anywhere else than on herself.
June looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Good, you’re learning from our dear Pdt Lump, be yourself. Have you tweeted it already?”
“Why do you always have to make everything a political statement?”
“Because everything is, dear! Don’t get me started on that… Look, I think that’s our driver! Whoohooo!” She waved at him in an outrageous fashion.
“Stop that! Or we’ll have to find another ride, or worse, get assaulted!” The driver did actually look a little bit started by the two in their matching red tracksuits. They had a street dance planned with the Chinese maids from the Chinese Embassy where the party was planned during the time it was empty, due to Chinese New Year.
“Anyway, I hope the kid is going to be fine.” April sighed a little concerned.
“Oh don’t worry about that, what could happen, really? Let’s enjoy our Friday night out, shall we.”
“I hardly think wearing such a peculiar hat is apt for undercover work, Agent X,” remarked Veranassessee.
“It’s a local tradition,” gasped Agent X, trying to catch his breath as he attempted to right his mangled bicycle.
“Never mind that! Leave it there, it’s no good now!”
“The doll is hidden in the water bottle!” Agent X snapped, “And it’s stuck fast behind all this twisted metal! We have to take the whole thing!”
Veranassessee snapped her phone shut, put it in her pocket and turned to hail a taxi. As she spotted one coming around the corner she lunged forward with her arm out to flag him down and slipped on a rolling apple in the gutter. Her extended arm got caught in the spokes of a passing bicycle, and she ended up headbutting the cyclist in the groin, before somersaulting right over the bike and landing head first in the ice cream vendors street cart. The innocent cyclist doubled over, his strange beannie hat with the wooden top getting caught in the mangled wheel spokes.
“How far is it?” Gloria was starting to complain, after the blue powder’s effects started to wane and give her a fit of anxiety mixed with intense boredom.
“Oh quiet!” snapped Sha, “it’s not enough we had to drag you along, don’t you start to complain. I need to concentrate.”
Gloria turned to Mavis quizzically. The bus took a bump in the road, and she giggled madly as if under the influence of laughing gas. “Look at her!” she said pointing at the vibrating cellulite around Sharon’s ankles.
“She’s got to have a brainwave, and you’ll know what next!”
Sharon started to shout “STOP! Now! Bus 57 express to Glasgow airport, then we Brexit to Norway!”
“Wot?! No bloody way! It’s going to be cold ‘ere!” Glo whined.
“The article said: a party will meet you in Bodø, Norway! It’s clear, no?”
“I have no idea ‘ow you managed to mouth that ø, but we better catch the blimin’ bus express; got a feeling diabolical nurse Trassie is goin’ to catches up on us trail!”
“It’ll be shady inside the mine, and the sun will be going down by the time we walk back to the inn.”
“Do we have to go inside?” The feeling of apprehension had been steadily increasing as they neared the location, and had now ramped up to an ominous dread. Not wanting Hilda to see how frightened she was, she added, “I mean without equipment, all we have is one torch. What if the batteries run out? We’re not very well prepared, are we?”
“So what’s new?” replied Hilda with a snort. “We’re not going to get an exclusive scoop by telling all and sundry our plans, are we? Not to mention sharing anything we might find.”
“If we get lost, nobody will know where to look for us.”
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.”TikuParticipant
I could smell trouble as soon as I entered. And it was not because of the lizards, i can tell ya. Lizards, once roasted, they smell delicious. They taste good too, a blend of chicken and fish, is what they say. But don’t get me started on food.
It smelled trouble for sure. There was a convergence happening, something dark and twisted over the place. At times, I feel strange, like the Dreamtime speaking through me.
The lady didn’t come down to greet me, of course, bad hip and all, at her age. Their maid, Finly took the offering by the tails with a painful look, I almost regretted bringing them. Maybe she’d have liked roasted gator’s paw better.
“I think it all comes from your bathroom.” I said almost without thinking.
“What about the bathroom?” snapped the Finly, with pride and outrage on her sweet wizened face.
“There is some bad juju there, the Fish was a talisman to protect you from the evil eye here, but it has worn off, and your family ties… won’t do no, not strong enough, no. Evil seeps in, not good, not good at all.”
At times, I like to make a ton and play the local madwoman, it helps seal deals, you have no ideas. But truth is, something’s amiss in that bathroom. It’s in serious need of magical help.JibParticipant
The door snapped open and made a hole on the wall. Sophie entered shaking plane tickets she brandished like a Viking trophy. She paused, looked at the wall and said :
“Oops! Sorry for that. I don’t know my strength since that Doctor experimented on me. I never asked for that,” she added trying to put on a sorry face, but her shining eyes betrayed her mercilessly.
“Well, what about those plane tickets ?” asked Miss Bossy. “I don’t recall validating the expense.” She kept her lips tight and didn’t say for you but thought it very hard.
“You didn’t need to, someone sent them to me. Apparently they want me to investigate the China doll production and are sending me to…” she paused and looked at the destination. Her excited look faded away so fast that Ricardo and Miss Bossy looked at each other from the corner of their eyes. It was hard to maintain, but not impossible if you practiced yoga regularly.
“What?” asked Ricardo, a tad irritated by the interruption.
“Well, I thought they were sending me to China, but apparently they are sending me to
Finland to investigate the Suomenlinna Toy Museum… about their china dolls… Someone can take my place if they want,” said old Sophie.
Miss Bossy took the letter and read it quickly as only a boss can do.
“They specifically ask for you. I’m sorry, dear old Sophie, but we can’t spare our resources at the moment, you’ll have to go alone,” she offered her best bossy smile face ever. Her aunt Marcella would have been proud of her.
It had been a strange tale that Maeve had told her, and Lucinda had a feeling that her neighbour hadn’t told her the whole story. Surely, if one was going to enormous trouble to make lots of dolls, one would ask more questions about why the keys were being sent to particular addresses. But Lucinda hadn’t asked any questions, as she didn’t want to stop Maeve moving towards the door without the doll. If she had done there was a danger that Maeve would remember to take it. Lucinda had wanted to know why that Australian Inn was full of coachloads of Italian tourists, and wondered why Maeve had used the word wop to describe them. It wasn’t like her to be rude, the comment about her ears notwithstanding.
Granola, meanwhile, from her temporary current vantage point of the dreadlocked doll, was pleased to see that the doll had drawn attention. The misinterpretations were mounting up, but that didn’t matter at this stage.
“Do you mind?!” hissed the doll to Granola. “Can’t you see there’s only room for one of us in here, and I was here first!”
“Oh give over, a bit of merging never hurt anyone, least of all a cloth doll. Good lord woman, think of all the tapestry and weaving symbolism of it all!”
“Oh alright then,” the doll grudgingly admitted. “I feel a ton lighter since passing that dreadful key. Holding on to that made me feel constipated. If you’d barged in while I still had the key, it would have been a bit cramped.”
Lucinda was looking suspiciously at the doll. “What did you just say?” she asked, feeling ever so slightly foolish.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” the doll snapped back. Lucinda’s jaw dropped. Well, I never! Not only does the doll talk, it talks to imaginary friends.
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