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“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.
“Ladies! what are youse all whispering about, eh?”
So engrossed were they in hatching escape plans—although Mavis and Sha were not at all convinced it was a good idea but both agreed it was wise to humour Glor when she got one of her “bloody brainwaves” —they had not seen Mr Andrew Anderson approach. The ladies jumped guiltily apart from their whispering huddle.
“Oh, hello Mr Anderson!” Sha said brightly. She beamed at him, flicking back a stray piece of hair and wishing she had thought to wear her lippy.
“How many times, Sha? It’s Andrew” He winked at them. “What are you gals plotting, eh?” His eyes narrowed playfully.
“I just arrived yesterday. So excited of course to do the erm … treatments. What about you? To be honest, you don’t look like you need any beauty treatments.”
Andrew grinned. “You sure know how to make a fellow feel good, Sophie. Nah, I’m just here to meet up with me mates who live here.” He gestured with his head in the direction of the sea. “Got here a few days ago on my yacht. Take youse out for a spin if you fancy.”
Before Sophie could answer, a loud cry made them turn. It was Berenice, her face red and frantic as she jogged towards them.
“Ladies! Ladies! you are late for your treatment. Make haste please!” She turned to Andrew. “You’ll need to leave now, Mr Anderson,” she said sharply. “This is private property.”
Glor startled. She’d been watching Mavis and Shar through the day-room window. Against her advice, they had joined the outdoor CryoChi class and it really was a hoot watching them gyrating around. All of a sudden though, like a bloody sign, there was a butterfly! Landed on the window ledge and then bumped against the glass like it were trying to get in. Most peculiar. Anyway it had got her thinking about how she was a bit like a butterfly herself. And how she was going to flit around showing off her fine new face. Soon as she got out of here anyway.
“Wot are you pissting about? Gave me a fright you did!” Glor frowned. “I was doing me meditations.”
“Sorry,” said Sophie.
“Sophie, ain’t it? You’re new here?”
“Well don’t you worry. A few beauty treatments and you’ll scrub up alright.” She paused, wondering if there was a kindly way of mentioning the latex. “And maybe a brand new outfit to go with the new face!” It didn’t seem to cheer Sophie up any and Glor sighed. “What were you pissting about anyway, Sophie?”
Sophie looked nervously over her shoulder. “I’m here against my will. In fact, I don’t even know where I am.”
“I said I’m here against my will!”
Glor nodded. “Hubby book you in did he? My first were always threatening to do that if I didn’t tidy myself up. Bastard. He’ll be sorry now though.” She smiled, thinking of the butterfly.
“Clean it up yourself,” snarled Finnley throwing a piece of bhum bottle towards Liz. “You were the one what knocked it over.” She glared menacingly at Liz who jumped behind the philodendron plant in alarm.
“Finnley you are looking very ferocious … whatever is wrong?”
“I am not going to waste my life cleaning up after you!” Finnley tilted her chin defiantly. “I have aspirations, Madam.”
“But Finnley, cleaning is what I pay you to do.” Liz shook her head in bewilderment at the girl’s audacity. “We all have our gifts. I was blessed with the gift of writing. Roberto is visually fetching and potters in the garden. Godfrey … well I don’t know what he does but it could be something to do with peanuts—I must ask one day. And you, Finnley, you clean. It’s your vocation in life.”
Finnley beamed. “Vacation! now you’re talking, Madam! Where shall we go?”
“Vacation! I suppose you’ve heard of glowvid?” Liz waved her right hand at Finnley and then held the palm to her up to her face and considered it carefully. “Look, Finnley! The glow has all but gone.”
“You were listening, Finnley!” said Liz barely able to hide her surprise. It had been a long time since anyone had listened to her. Godfrey said it was because she mostly talked nonsense. He’d smiled kindly and handed her a doughnut to soften the harsh words, but it had stung nonetheless.
Finnley rolled her eyes. “I told you already, I’ve turned over a new leaf. Since my brush with … ” She lowered her voice dramatically as her eyes slid around the room. “… death.”
“Death! Oh, you really are ridiculous and very dramatic, Finnley. And why are you squinting like that? It’s most unattractive.” Liz paused. Should she mention the hair? Finnley could be so sensitive about her appearance. Oh dear lord, now the silly girl is crying!
“Speaking of leaves, you can wipe your nose with that. Now, Finnley, I always say, it does no good to cry over milk which has been spilled. The question is, where to from here?”
Sometimes Bob spoke without his lips. Telepathy is what Jane liked to call it. It’s just thinking that other people can hear, apparently.
Bob could hear Jane thinking now and she didn’t sound too pleased. “What’s she doing here?” she hissed in his head.
Jane and Julienne never got on. Well, they used to years ago. Then something happened. Something to do with a fruit cake recipe … Bob could never understand the ins and outs of it. They hadn’t spoken much after that. Jane called Julienne the town gossip.
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” said Bob reaching out for the offshoots.Goodness knows what he was going to do with them. It was Jane who was the gardener.
Clara smirked. “I’ll go and see if Nora is up.”
“No, she’s alright,” said Bob sharply. “You stay here. She’ll just be resting up now. It’s all been quite a shock for her I think.”
“What’s all this?” asked Julienne. “Someone’s had a shock?”
Did I hear you ask: what is a framework knitter?
It was William Lee from Calverton in Nottingham who invented the first knitting frame. In 1598, or thereabouts. This made it about 100 times faster than knitting by hand.
Bad luck for old William though. Queen Elizabeth I refused to grant him a patent for his invention. Maybe because she thought the new fangled invention would take work away from hand knitters.
William took the design to try his luck in France but alas he had no better luck. It is said that William died a penniless man. His brother fared better. He took the design back to Britain and the framwork knitting trade took off.
It was hard work being a framework knitter. The work was tough and the hours were long.
Will didn’t like unexpected visitors. What kind of people turned up unannounced nowadays? He was tempted to ignore the knocking but then it is the not knowing that’s the killer. And what if someone gets it in their head to nose around the property?
“Yep?” he said opening the door. The pair of them were starting off down the front steps as though they meant to go exploring. He’d been right to answer.
“Oh, you are here!” said the girl, turning towards him with a bright smile. “Sorry to just turn up like this …”
Will gave her a curt nod and she faltered a little.
“Uh, my name is Clara and this is my grandfather, Bob, and we are hoping you can help us … “
The old fellow with her, Bob, was staring hard at Will. He looked familiar but Will couldn’t quite place him … he wasn’t local. And he certainly didn’t recognise the girl—very pretty; he would definitely have remembered her.
“Have we met somewhere, Bob?” Will asked.
Clara had an uneasy feeling which, try as she might, she could not shake it off. She attempted to distract herself by making a sandwich for lunch, but the feeling wouldn’t go away. She went outside to look for Bob, eventually finding him chatting away to himself out in the orchard. It sounded like he was arguing with someone.
Bob jumped. “Didn’t see you there, Clara!” He laughed shakily. “What are you doing sneaking up on me like that? It’s not good for me old heart.”
“Grandpa, I need to go and find Nora. I’ve got a bad feeling, like she’s in some sort of trouble.”
“Go and find her? Do you know where she is then? Has she been in touch?”
“I need to go to the Village. Where the statue man lives.”
“Well you’re not going by yourself. Not with all these strange goings ons and the numerous bits of paper and maps and whatnot which keep turning up all over the place.”
Nora remembered something. Now that she had remembered, it seemed rather odd that she had forgotten in the first place. “Will, I don’t suppose you’ve seen my phone?”
Will continued to gaze into the distance. “Your phone? No, I haven’t seen it.”
“I don’t know where it is … ”
Now he looked at her, a slight frown creasing his brow. “Nora, you don’t need a phone up here. Look at all this beauty!” A violent sweep of his arm made Nora take a step back.
“It’s beautiful,” she stuttered.
Will’s expression softened. “I’m glad you can see it, Nora.”
“Grandpa, I can’t get hold of Nora. I keep getting her answer phone.” Clara flicked back through her texts. “Last time she messaged me was to ask if I knew anyone in the Village she could stay with. And I never got back with the details like I was supposed to … I got distracted by Van Gogh going missing and everything … ” She screwed up her face. “Also I couldn’t recall the man’s name.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” said Bob soothingly, reaching out to pat Clara’s hand. “She always were a bit unreliable that one, weren’t she?”
Clara looked like she was about to burst into tears. “Grandpa, I’m such an idiot! What if something bad has happened to her?
“”Sorry, I’m only just telling you this about the note now, lovie. Your Grandma’s been on at me to tell you. Just in my thoughts I mean!” he added quickly.
Jane smirked and tapped her forehead. “Careful, Old Man. She’ll think you’ve completely lost it!”
Clara stared at him, a small frown creasing her brow. “So, the note said you were to call him?”
Bob nodded uneasily. Clara had that look on her face. The one that means she aren’t happy with the way things are proceeding.
“And then what?” asked Clara slowly.
“I dunno.” Bob shrugged. “Guess they’d bury it again? They was pretty clear they didn’t want it found. Now, how about I put the kettle on?” Bob stood quickly and began to busy himself filling the jug with water from the tap.
Clara shook her head firmly. “No.”
“No to a cup of tea?”
“No we can’t call this man.”
“I don’t know Clara. It’s getting odd it is. Strangers leaving maps in collars and whatnot. It’s not right.”
“Well, I agree it needs further investigation. But we can’t call him … not without knowing why and what’s in it.” She tapped her fingers on the table. “I’ll try and get hold of Nora again.”
Clara breathed a sigh of relief when she saw VanGogh running towards her; in the moonlight he looked like a pale ghost.
“Where’ve you been eh?” she asked as he nuzzled her excitedly. She crouched down to pat him. “And what’s this?” A piece of paper folded into quarters had been tucked into VanGogh’s collar. Clara stood upright and looked uneasily around the garden; a small wind made the leaves rustle and the deep shadows stirred. Clara shivered.
“Clara?” called Bob from the door.
“It’s okay Grandpa, I found him. We’re coming in now.”
In the warm light of the kitchen, Clara showed Bob the piece of paper. “It’s a map, but I don’t know those place names.”
“And it was stuffed into his collar you say?” Bob frowned. “That’s very strange indeed. Who’d of done that?”
Clara shook her head. “It wasn’t Mr Willets because I saw him drive off. But why didn’t VanGogh bark? He always barks when someone comes on the property.”
“You really should tell her about the note,” said Jane. She was perched on the kitchen bench. VanGogh pricked his ears up and wagged his tail as he looked towards her. Bob couldn’t figure out if the dog could see Jane or just somehow sensed her there. He nodded.
“What?” asked Clara.
“There’s something I should tell you, Clara. It’s about that box you found.”
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.”
“Box?” said Bob placing a hand on his chest. “Not the … ”
“Not box, Grandpa. Crops.” Clara spoke loudly. Poor old Grandpa must be going a bit deaf as well—he’d gone downhill since Grandma died. “His dogs got into your garden and dug up the crops. He says he’ll come by in the morning and fix up the damage. ”
“No, need to shout, Clara. I swear you said box. I thought you meant the box in the garage.”
“Oh, no that would be awful!” Clara shuddered at the thought of anything happening to her precious treasure. “Maybe we should bring the box inside, Grandpa? Make sure it’s safe.”
Bob sighed. Last thing he wanted was the damn box inside the house. But Clara had that look on her face, the one that means she’s made up her mind. He glanced around, wondering where they could put it so it was out of the way.
“Hey!” exclaimed Clara. “Where’s VanGogh gone? Did he sneak outside when Mr Willets came.” She went to the door and peered out into the darkness. “VanGogh! Here, Boy!” she shouted. “VanGogh!”
“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.”
The message was scrawled in pencil on a roughly torn off piece of note paper. Bob had to squint to make out some of the words.
Hopefully you won’t need this but put this somewhere safe, just in case. The man i introduced you to today will know what to do.
And then there was a phone number. Bob wondered if the man would still be there. It was nearly 15 years ago and Bob’s memory was sketchy. He frowned, trying to remember. When the receptacle had been unearthed in the bad flooding of that year, he had contacted someone … how he got onto him he can no longer recall … some number from the archeological thingamajigs maybe. The person he spoke to came round, him and another fellow, said he shouldn’t tell anyone about the receptacle. Said it should be put back in the ground. Said it was important. The other fellow, the one he is supposed to call, made sculptures—Bob remembered that because there had been some sitting on the back of his truck.
Bob sat on the side of the bed and rubbed his head. He couldn’t really be bothered with all this carry on. It all seemed a bit crazy now, having to keep the damn thing buried. What’s all that about? And Clara was so excited, contacting her archeological friend and whatnot. Strange girl though, that Nora. He wished Jane were still here. She’d know what to do.
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.
“That horsetail has such long roots, otherwise I never would have dug so deep,” mused Clara. “Are you okay holding that end? Not too heavy for you?”
Grandpa Bob grunted. The box was heavy—in more ways than one—but he wasn’t about to let Clara know he wasn’t up to it.
“Let’s put it down there behind the lawn mower,” said Clara. “Do you think it will be safe there? We could cover it?” She ran her hand appreciatively over the shiny exterior of the box; her fingers paused inquisitively at one end and she peered closely at the spot. “I think there is something here … an inscription or something!”
“Probably just some old scratches,” muttered Grandpa Bob. He straightened up with a moan and rubbed his back.
“No, look!” Clara was shining her phone torch at the area. “Look, it’s definitely letters of some sort. I’ll take a photo for Alienor!”
Grandpa Bob loved the sound of the kettle whistling. Cheery, he thought as he turned the flame off. Companionable.
He shuffled to the kitchen door. “Clara, cuppa?” he shouted down the hallway but there was no reply. Maybe she wasn’t up yet—it had been a long trip for her yesterday. Perhaps he could make her up a tray, although she’d probably say he was fussing.
Just then he heard VanGogh barking from the garden. He drew back the curtain and peered out the kitchen window. There she was! Way down the back digging in the vegetable garden. Bless her soul. Must have got started early on that weeding. She was saying she would last night. Grandpa, you really need to get some help around the place! she’d scolded.
“Clara, love!” he shouted. Damn dog was making such a racket she didn’t hear him. Nothing for it but to go out there. He chuckled, thinking how she’d probably scold him again for wandering around outside in his pyjamas. Bossy little thing she could be. But a good girl coming all this way to visit him.
He slipped on his outdoor shoes and slowly made his way down the path to the vegetable garden. VanGogh bounded over to him and Grandpa Bob gave him a pat. “What are you two up to out here, eh VanGogh?” But Clara was so engrossed on her phone she didn’t even glance up. He was about to call out to her again when he saw what she’d dug up and the words stuck in his throat. He let out a small cry.