“It appears your suit wasn’t that waterproof after all. You should have kept the receipt. Now you can’t ask for a refund.”
Finnley rolled her eyes while sending daggers. Liz caught them in extremis with her pen and put them down in writing at the end of her pink notebook for later reference. She thought maybe they could be an appropriate prop for the family betrayal she planned to write about in her next chapter. Daggers between the shoulder blades were always a nice effect.
“I don’t need a receipt, I ordered them online.”
“What do you mean? What does she mean Gordon? She looks so mad, she won’t answer me… and stop eating those bloody nuts. That’s not good for your cholesterol.”
“Actually that’s the reverse,” said Gordon.
“Stop eating them! I find the crunching noise and the movement of your tongue on your teeth disturbing.”
“She means she kept the email with the e-receipt. Knowing her she’s probably kept it in the trash for safekeeping.”
Finnley threw another pair of daggers.
“Ouch!” Gordon said.
“Just behind you. I’m always behind you.”
“Don’t say that, it can be misinterpreted. Anyway, can you answer the question?”
“She kept the email with the e-receipt in her trash can. You know, it’s an internet thing. Like the writing workshop you asked me to help you organise.”
“Oh! I totally forgot about that.”
“You have 57 inscriptions. The chat session starts in 5, no 7 minutes. Should I be worried?”
“No you shouldn’t. Just do the typing for me please. You type faster than me, I’m still doing it with one finger, well two actually, now I can use both hands.”
“Okay, you’ll speak to me as if you were speaking to them and I shall write down your words faithfully.”
“You can do the speaking too, dear. Godfrey, you’ve known me for so long, you know better than me what I’m going to say.”
“Well, I wish you would stop interrupting me while I fill in the empty pages of my pink notebook with gripping stories, I keep losing my thread. Most annoying!” Liz sighed. She wrote Liz snapped at first and then erased it and changed it to Liz sighed. Then she added Liz sighed with the very mildest slight irritation and then became exasperated with the whole thing and told herself to just leave it and try to move on!
But really, Finnley’s timing, as usual! Just as Liz had worked out the direct line to the characters fathers mothers fathers fathers mothers fathers mothers fathers father and mother, Finnley wafts through the scene, making herself conspicuous, and scattering Liz’s tenuous concentration like feathers in the wind.
“And I don’t want to hear a word about apostrophes either,” she added, mentally noting the one in don’t.
“Good God, Gordon, you’re smoking a pipe!” It was an astonishing sight. “What an astonishing sight! Where are your nuts?”
“Well, it’s like this,” Gordon grinned, “I’ve been eating nuts in every scene for, how long? I just can’t face another nut.”
Liz barked out a loud cackle. “You think that’s bad, have you seen what they keep dressing me in? Anyway, ” she asked, “What do you mean clever and you see what I’m doing? What am I doing?”
“The code, of course! I spotted it right away,” Gordon replied smugly.
Finnley heaved herself out of the pool and walked over to Liz and Gordon. (is it Gordon or Godfrey? Liz felt the cold tendrils of dread that she had somehow gone off the track and would have to retrace her steps and get in a fearful muddle Oh no! )
A splat of blue algae across her face, as Finnley flicked the sodden strands of dyed debris off that clung to her hair and body, halted the train of thought that Liz had embarked on, and came to an abrupt collision with a harmless wet fish, you could say, as it’s shorter than saying an abrupt collision with a bit of dyed blue algae.
“What was in that blue dye?”
“Not so fast!” Glor muttered grimly, grabbing a flapping retreating arm of each of her friends, and yanking them to her sides. “Now’s our chance. It’s a trap, dontcha see? They got the wind up, and they’re gonna round us all up, it don’t bear thinking about what they’ll do next!”
With her free hand Mavis felt Gloria’s forehead, her palm slipping unpleasantly over the feverish salty slick. “Her’s deplirious, Sha, not right in the ‘ead, the ‘eat’s got to her. Solar over dose or whatever they call it nowadays.”
“I’m trying to save you!” screeched Gloria, her head exploding in exasperation. She took a deep breath. Told herself to stop screeching like that, wasn’t helping her cause. Should she just let go of Sharon’s arm?
Mavis started trying to take the pulse on Glor’s restraining wrists, provoking Gloria beyond endurance, and she lashed out and slapped Mavis’s free hand away, unintentionally freeing Sharon from her grasp. This further upset the balance and Gloria tumbled into Mavis at the moment of slapping her hand, causing a considerably more forceful manoeuvre than was intended.
Mavis scrambled to her feet and backed away slowly, nursing her hand, wide eyed and slack jawed in astonishment.
Where was this going?
“I’m not ‘aving this treatment, Mavis, I’ve booked meself in for the spirit chew all mender tations session instead. No need to loook at me like that, our Mavis, I aint going all new agey on yer, just thought I’d give it a try and see if it relaxes me a bit.”
“It’s not all about the body, y’ know!” Glor replied, feeling the futility of trying to make them understand the importance of it to her, or the significance in the wider picture.
“I’m listening,” a melodious voice whispered behind her. Andrew Anderson smiled and looked deep into her squinting eyes as she turned to face him (the sun was going down behind him and it was very hard to see, much to her chagrin).
Gloria, who knees had momentarily turned to jelly, reeled backwards at this surprising change in the conversation, and lost her balance due to her temporarily affected knees. Instinctively she reached out and grabbed Mr Anderson’s arm, and managed to avoid falling to the ground.
She retracted her arm slowly as an increasingly baffled look spread across her face.
Why did his arm feel so peculiar? It felt like a shop mannequin, unyielding, different somehow. Creepy somehow. Glor mumbled, “Sure, later,” and quickly caught up with her friends.
“Hey, You’ll never guess what, wait til I tell yer..” Glor started to tell them about Mr Anderson and then stopped. Would it be futile? Would they understand what she was trying to say?
“I’m listening,” a melodious voice whispered in her ear.
“Not bloody you again! You stalking me, or what?” Visibly rattled, Gloria rushed over to her friends, wondering why every time that weirdo whispered in her ear, she had somehow fallen back and had to catch up again.
She’d have to inform her friends of the danger, but would they listen? They were falling for him and wouldn’t be easily discouraged. They’d be lured to the yacht and not want to escape. The fools! What could she do?
“I’m listening,” the melodious voice whispered.
“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.”
The philodendron leaf was so large that on it’s trajectory towards Finnley it caught a bottle a Bhum on the edge of the desk, causing it to topple onto the floor.
“Don’t worry, he’ll never know,” replied Finnley, picking up the pieces. “And don’t shout at me, after my, you know…”
Liz softened and said gently, “Well speaking of brushes, dear, you’d be better cleaning that up with a dustpan and brush, or you might cut yourself.”
I hope all this social media as they call it stands the test of time because little things like this are priceless and so few and far between, and someday someone wants to know a little thing like this to paint a picture in their mind. I don’t know if this is one of ours as they say but but he was there too and could even have been one of you or another one of me, the possibilities are endless and the charm of the random snippet is boundless.
“The gallery stairs were honeycombed on
each side by old Jonathan Beniston’s spiked
crutches, and although Jonathan could not
read, he considered himself a valuable
addition to the choir, contributing a sort of
drone bass accompaniment to the melodies. after the style of a bagpipe ” chanter.”
Here’s another one I want to include in my book:
Mr. Joseph Moss, formerly a framework knitter of Woodhouse Lane, for several years kept a Diary of the principal events and incidents in the locality: a most commendable undertaking. It is much to be regretted that so few attempt anything of the kind, so useful, and always interest- ing. Besides the registration of marriages and funerals, we have notices of storms, removals, accidents, sales, robberies, police captures, festivities, re-openings of churches, and many other matters. His record begins in 1855, ^^d ends in 1881, Mr. Moss was a violinist of some ability, and was in great demand at all rural festivities. He was a good singer, and sang (inter alia) ” The Beggar’s Ramble ” with his own local variations^ in good style, and usually with much eclat. The following are a few extracts from his Diary : —
” — July. Restoration of Horsley Church. New weathercock placed on spire by Charles, son of Mr. Anthony Kerry, the builder, on the 31st. A few days later, the south arches of the nave fell down, bringing with it the roofs of nave and south aisle. The pillar next the tower had been under- mined by the making of a grave, and as soon as the gravestone over it was moved the column began to settle : a loud shout was made, and the workmen had only just time to scamper out of the building before the roof and top windows and all came down.”
Reddening, Bob stammered, “Yeah, yes, uh, yeah. Um…”
Clara squeezed her grandfathers arm reassuringly. “We’re looking for my friend Nora.” she interrupted, to give him time to compose himself. Poor dear was easily flustered these days. Turning to Will, “She was hiking over to visit us and should have arrived yesterday and she’d have passed right by here, but her phone seems to be dead.”
Will had to think quickly. If he could keep them both here with Nora long enough to get the box ~ or better yet, replace the contents with something else. Yes, that was it! He could take a sack of random stuff to put in the box, and they’d never suspect a thing. He was going to hide the contents in a statue anyway, so he didn’t even need the box.
Spreading his arms wide in welcome and smiling broadly, he said “This is your lucky day! Come inside and I’ll put the kettle on, Nora’s gone up to take some photos of the old ruin, she’ll be back soon.”
Bob and Clara relaxed and returned the smile and allowed themselves to be ushered into the kitchen and seated at the table.
Will lit the gas flame under the soup before filling the kettle with water. They’d be too polite to refuse, if he put a bowl in front of them, and if they didn’t drink it, well then he’d have to resort to plan B. He put a little pinch of powder from a tiny jar into each cup of tea; it wouldn’t hurt and would likely make them more biddable. Then the soup would do the trick.
Will steered the conversation to pleasant banter about the wildflowers on the way up to the ruins that he’d said Nora was visiting, and the birds that were migrating at this time of year, keeping the topics off anything potentially agitating. The tea was starting to take effect and Clara and Bob relaxed and enjoyed the conversation. They sipped the soup without protest, although Bob did grimace a bit at the thought of eating on an agitated stomach. He’d have indigestion for days, but didn’t want to be rude and refuse. He was enjoying the respite from all the vexation, though, and was quite happy for the moment just to let the man prattle on while he ate the damn soup.
“Oh, I think Nora must be back! I just heard her voice!” exclaimed Clara.
Will had heard it too, but he said, “That wasn’t Nora, that was the parrot! It’s a fast leaner, and Nora’s been training it to say things….I tell you what, you stay here and finish your soup, and I’ll go and fetch the parrot.”
“Parrot? What parrot?” Clara and Bob said in unison. They both found it inordinately funny and by the time Will had exited the kitchen, locking the door from the outside, they were hooting and wiping the tears of laughter from their cheeks.
“What the hell was in that tea!” Clara joked, finishing her soup.
What was Nora doing awake already? Will didn’t have to keep her quiet for long, but he needed to keep her quiet now, just until the soup took effect on the others.
Either that or find a parrot.
“I’ll be right back!” Nora told Will, who was stirring a big bubbling pot on the stove. “Need to wash my hands.”
She had a quick look around the bedroom she’d slept in for her missing phone. Nowhere to be found! Maybe she could find Will’s phone when he went out to feed the donkey, and call her phone to try and locate it. Damn, that wouldn’t work either. Will had said there was no network here. That would explain why her phone stopped working when she was alone in the dark woods.
“Smells delicious!” she said brightly, scraping a chair back across the brick floor and seating herself at the kitchen table.
The home made soup was chock full of vegetables and looked and smelled wonderful, but it had a peculiar acrid aftertaste. Nora tried to ignore it, taking gulps of wine in between each mouthful to eliminate the bitterness. She wished it wasn’t soup in a way, so that she’d be able to surreptitiously palm some of it off onto the dogs that were waiting hopefully under the table. If only Will would leave the room for a minute, but he seemed to be watching her every move.
“Very tasty, but I can’t manage another mouthful, it’s so filling,” she said, but Will looked so offended that she sighed and carried on eating. He topped up her wine glass.
By the time Nora had finished the soup, she felt quite nauseous and stood up quickly to head for the bathroom. The room started to spin and she held on to the edge of the table, but it was no good. The spinning didn’t stop and she crashed to the floor, unconscious.
Smiling with satisfaction, Will stood up and walked around the table to where she lay. Shame he’d had to put her to sleep, really she was quite a nice woman and cute, too, in a funny elfin way. He’d started to like her. Plenty of time to get to know her now, anyway. She wouldn’t be going anywhere for awhile.
He picked her up and carried her to the secret room behind his workshop on the other side of the patio. The walls and floor were thick stone, and there were no windows. He laid her on the bench, locked the door, and went back in the house to fetch blankets and bedding and a pile of books for her to read when she came round. Probably not for a good 24 hours he reckoned, somehow she’d managed to eat all the soup. He would put much less in the next batch, just enough to keep her docile and sleepy.
It would only be for a few days, just long enough for him to find that box and move it to a safer location. He’d been entrusted to make sure the contents of the box were preserved for the people in the future, and he was a man of his word.
If they had listened to him in the first place this would never have happened. Burying a box was a risk: all kinds of possibilities existed for a buried box to be accidentally unearthed. He had suggested encasing the contents inside a concrete statue, but they’d ignored him. Well, now was his chance. He was looking forward to making a new statue.
“The same thing happened to me when I was planting trees in Normandy!” Nora laughed.
“Why am I not surprised,” replied Will with a smile.
It did seem to Nora that Will was less surprised that she was at all the similarities in their stories. The way the little anecdotes would bounce back and forth and spark another memory, and another, how many of them were unaccountably bizarre or unusual incidents, was enchanting to Nora. Spellbound and quite giddy with the delight of it. Will, on the other hand, seemed delighted but in a different kind of way.
Nora noticed, but didn’t think any more of it until much later. The ping pong stories continued apace, and she was was gasping for breath by the end of a somewhat longer story, as they made the final ascent to the top of the hill.
“This is what I wanted to show you,” Will said.
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.
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.”
secret feet clothes
finally story suddenly known
pain added sometimes feeling
top side telling
mars work bag
Bob sighed loudly as he rummaged through the odds and ends drawer: old menus from the takeaways in town, pens, rubber bands, a button, reading glasses, newspaper clippings. He’d never expected to need the phone number; now he did and what do you know? He can’t find the damn thing.
“What a shameful mess that drawer is in,” said Jane. She was seated at the kitchen table, arms folded, shaking her head at him. She looked about twenty today with her dark hair cascading prettily over a lacy pink mini dress.
Bob frowned at her though his heart did a leap. The way it always did when he saw her. “You were the one who kept it clean and you jumped ship. And I’ve said, can’t you look your age?”
“Don’t I look pretty?” She pouted and fluttered long eyelashes at him.
“Makes me feel old. And I don’t recognise you like that.”
“You are old,” she said as her hair turned white. “And bad-tempered as ever. What are you hunting for?”
“The phone number. You know the one he said to call if the box was ever unearthed. Can’t find it anywhere.”
“You’d lose your head …” said Jane as her head lifted off her body.
Bob jumped. “Darn it, Jane. I’ve said don’t do that! Why do you always do that and go giving me the heebie jeebies?”
“Cos I can, love.” She grinned mischievously before settling her head back on her shoulders. “Just a bit of fun. Now think hard, where else might you have put it? The shoe-box under our bed? The safe in the pantry?”
Bob flung a hand to his head. “The shoe-box! That’s where it will be!”
Jane grinned. “Well, get a move-along, old man. Before our Clara gets in more deep than what’s good for her. She won’t let it go now she’s found it. Stubborn as a mule my grandchild,” she added proudly.
Bob reached a hand to her. “Come with me while I look? I miss you, Jane. You never stay long enough.”
“Oh stop with all the sweet talk!” She poked her tongue out at him. “Anyway I’ve told you before, it takes too much energy.” She was fading and Bob felt his chest tighten. “Don’t worry, I’m keeping an eye on you, old man.” She was vibrating air now, sparkly and pink.
Damn these municipal restrictions! Frustrated, Nora looked again at the photo of the inscriptions on the mysterious pear shaped box that Clara had found. She picked up a pen and copied the symbols onto a piece of paper. Glancing back over the message her friend had sent, her face softened at Clara’s pet name for her, Alienor. Clara had started called her that years ago, when she found out about the ouija board incident and the aliens Nora had been talking to. Was it really an alien, or….? Clara had asked, and Nora had laughed and said Of course it was an alien or! and the name had stuck.
Nora’s mood had changed with the reminiscence, and she had an idea. She was working from home, but all that really meant was that she had to have internet access. Nobody would have to know which home she was working from, if she could just make it past the town barriers. But she didn’t have to go by road: the barriers were only on the roads. There was nothing stopping her walking cross country.
Putting aside the paper with the symbols on, she perused a map. She had to cross three town boundaries, and by road it was quite a distance. But as the crow flies, not that far. And if she took the old smugglers track, it was surprisingly direct. Nora calculated the distance: forty nine kilometers. Frowning, she wondered if she could walk that distance in a single day and thought it unlikely. Three days more like, but maybe she could do it in two, at a push. That would mean one overnight stay somewhere. What a pity it was so cold! It would mean carrying a warm sleeping bag, and she hated carrying things.
Nora looked at the map again, and found the halfway point: it was a tiny hamlet. A perfect place to spend the night. If only she knew someone who lived there, somebody who wouldn’t object to her breaking the restrictions.
Nora yawned. It was late. She would finalize the plan tomorrow, but first she sent a message to Clara, asking her if she knew anyone in the little village.
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.”
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.”
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