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DISCLAIMER: To the best of our knowledge and belief all the material included in this publication is in the public domain or has been reproduced with permission and/or source acknowledgement. We have researched the rights where possible. RBW is a community organisation, whose aims are purely educational, and is entirely nonprofit making. If using material from this anthology for educational purposes please be so kind as to acknowledge RBW as the source. Contributors retain the copyright to their own work. This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are imaginary or are used in a fictitious way. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead is entirely coincidental.

SPECIAL THANKS: SCC’s Your Library Team at Rising Brook Branch Library E-PUBLISHED BY: Rising Brook Writers RBW is a voluntary charitable trust. RCN: 1117227 Š Rising Brook Writers 2012 The right of Rising Brook Writers to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 & 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 First Edition

www.risingbrookwriters.org.uk and on FACEBOOK and on www.issuu.com/risingbrookwriters

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Acknowledgement: The Trustees of Rising Brook Writers are very grateful to the staff at Rising Brook Branch Library for all their support over the years in support of the charity‟s Online Outreach Programme. The Mystery of the Bluddschott Scarab is a jointly written, farcical comedy put together by participants scattered from Cannock to Meir Heath and from Great Haywood to Highfields all joined via email and broadband internet connection. This tale of mayhem was built up week by week and page by page by means of the charity‟s weekly email bulletin which is distributed to Over 50s writers scattered right across the entire borough of Stafford. In addition the weekly bulletin is produced as a free, page-turning, online e-magazine and published on the main www.risingbrookwriters.org.uk website, our Facebook page, and www.issuu.com/risingbrookwriters where RBW publications have reached an international following of over 42,000 readers to date in this experiment of epublishing. If you can imagine pegging out washing the principle is the same. As contributors email in their pieces to the bulletin editor the jig-saw story gradually comes together in chunks of around 500 words. Each piece being shuffled forwards and backwards to achieve the best fit. This is a literary jig-saw where the picture on the box keeps changing. RBW writers‟ ages range between early 50s to over 90s. New writers always welcomed.

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Valley of the Kings, Egypt 1935 The desert heat was relentless. The sound of flies buzzing round the chewing camels drowned out all hope of an afternoon doze. Being left behind at camp was a punishment for her own naughtiness, she knew that. Aunt was digging her heels in: after the second nanny left in tears, she had been told empathically that something had to be done to curb that „tomboy‟ nature of hers, or else. Leaving the catapult hidden underneath the pillow of the camp bed Lucinda Bluddschott, first in line to the Trentby Bluddschott dynasty, scuffed her field boots in the sand and wandered aimlessly round the camp. Her eye fell on the only occupied tent where her uncle was working with his assistant, the thrills of the bar and pool at the expats club in town not being to his liking. „How much longer, Uncle Bob?‟ she asked pulling back the tent flap and allowing the midday heat to flood into the dim interior where piles of ancient object d‟art covered every available surface awaiting classification. The hooknosed assistant frowned, his own daughters would not have been so bold as to interrupt their guardian at his work. „Couple of hours, sweetie,‟ the man replied pushing horn-rimmed glasses up on to this forehead. „Bored are you?‟ „Bored, bored, and then more bored,‟ came the reply as looking for a seat and finding none, without warning she swung her khaki breeches upwards onto a table covered in „finds‟ boxes. The inevitable happened. The table, already overburdened with the weight of boxes and sand-covered artefacts, tumbled over spilling child and contents against 7


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the central support post which, fortunately, swayed but held. Extracting his niece from the mêlée Robert Bluddschott Earl of Trentby shook his head. „What are we goin‟ to do with you? Lucy, you‟ll never be a lady. Here, take this brush and go and clean yourself up before your aunt sees you. She‟ll think you‟ve gone native if she finds you covered in dust from head to foot.‟ Doing as she was bidden, rubbing another bruise, Lucinda found her way past the camels into the shade afforded by a date palm lined oasis. She dipped her hands into the warm water and as she crouched down she realised something had fallen into the pocket of her breeches. It was a lump of mud. She was about to throw it into the pool when a shaft of light caused something in the lump to sparkle. Intrigued, she dipped the mud ball into the water and washed off thousands of years of desert encrustation which had gathered in the tomb thus protecting the artefact. As she did so the sacred scarab of Rameses the Great‟s nephew‟s cousin Tuttemhotepp, the High Priest of the Temple of the God Dumilla, lay glittering in her hand. „Shiny,‟ she grinned and slipped the priceless treasure back into her pocket, suddenly, her aunt‟s displeasure and the loss of the swimming excursion diminished in significance. Present Day ... Monday morning „Morning 'Dolph.‟ Rose Thorne greeted her young colleague. „You're early; it's not quarter past ten yet and it's Colonel Bluddschott's turn to open up today.‟ 9


„Morning, Rose.‟ Rudolph Andover replied as he pulled his neck as far into his coat as it'd go and tried to get some shelter from the rain under the golf umbrella held by the pensioner. „I know. That's why I'm early. I want to have a chat with the Colonel before we open up. There's a job in the pipeline and I need a reference of some sort to swing it my way.‟ „Best of luck then, lad. With jobs as few as they are you‟ll need all the help you can get. Have you seen anything of the Colonel? He usually parks on the Old Mill car park and you've come right past it.‟ „His car was there; I mean you can't miss it, can you? A Range Rover with those dog things on the doors. There isn't another one anything like it in Trentby.‟ „That's true. He loves that car does the Colonel. More than his missus, I'll bet.‟ „Oh I don't know, Rose, I mean, his wife's a good woman, even if she is supposed to be TT.‟ „I think there's some kind of a story there, Dolph. Never heard a whisper mind you, but still waters run deep you know.‟ ‟You could well be right there, Rose. But, sleeping dogs and all that, eh?‟ Just then the lights inside the 'Mans' Best Friend' charity shop came on and the figure of Colonel Bluddschott appeared from inside and unlocked the door. „A good morning to you Ms Thorne and to you Randolph. Not a nice day, is it? Still we must hope that it won't put off our clients too much. Mustn't we?‟ „Good morning Colonel, they chorused as they stepped over the well worn coconut mat in the doorway. „The usual, is it?‟ Rose asked, as she headed towards the rear to fill the kettle and make the first of the day‟s 10


brews. „No sugar in mine, Rose, please,‟ the Colonel replied. „My wife says I'm putting on weight and cutting out sugar is one of my dietary restrictions. Randolph! There's a delivery at the back door which needs bringing in and sorting. Taking care of that should be the first thing, I think!‟ „Okay, Colonel, no problemo. But, before I do, could I have a word with you in the office, please?‟ „Right you are, Randolph. Come on through when you've hung your coat to dry.‟ So saying Colonel Bluddschott disappeared up the stairs to the stock room to await the arrival of Geraldine, the manageress of the charity shop. Monday 6.30 Sitting down to what he referred to as his „Full English Breakfast‟, because he said it filled him up until lunch time, of six rashers of bacon, three jumbo sausages, two eggs, half a link of black pudding, fried bread and half a tomato, which was only there because his sister Jean said he should have more roughage. Mick Grabble opened his hand and pushed a horseshoe shaped brooch set with red and white sparkling stones across the table. „What do you reckon this is, Jean? Worth anything do you think?‟ Jean reached over, picked it up, and examined it. „If the back of it‟s gold, it‟s heavy enough, it could be worth a few quid. We couldn‟t flog it as gold anyway, „cos there‟s no hall-marks. Foreign I‟d think; these stones could be diamond and ruby, not to my taste though. Where‟d you get this, Mick?‟ „It was in the stuff I collected from old lady 11


Bluddschott‟s place, up at The Manor. Fastened to an old fur coat it was. Marge didn‟t bag it for charity, it was chucked in lose.‟ He paused to shovel in another helping of fried bread and sausage. „That one‟s not going to the charity shops neither. I‟ve got that contact in the fur trade I‟ll take that too. No point in giving money away, is there?‟ „What‟s the plot for today, then?‟ Jean asked. „Normal Monday drop-offs first, Jean. Then I‟m going back to the Manor, „cos I told Marge Potts I‟d clear out the rest of the stuff today. I‟ll need to take some boxes with me this time though! Marge says the old lady had a real load of junk that she‟s been told to get rid of.‟ He gulped down some scalding tea. „Then I‟ll rag some of the house clearance rubbish I‟ve got in the shed and take it to the collectors. They owe us for last month‟s stuff anyway. That‟ll pay for the work on the van that needs doing. After that, it depends. May not have time to do much more. What about you?‟ „What d‟you think about another leaflet drop? Around the cattle market area I was thinking. We didn‟t do too badly on the last one. Funny isn‟t it? Now it‟s gone all upmarket, with them posh flats and all, they changed its name but it‟s still the slaughterhouse!‟ Mick thought for a few seconds. „Collection on Wednesday then, Jean.‟ There was another pause while he used the remainder of a loaf to chase the last of the bacon fat around his plate and slurped some more tea to help it down. „I don‟t want to keep on going up that drive to the Manor, I can tell you. All them statues and stuff half hid in the bushes; it fair gives me the creeps. Not like when I was a nipper and the old dear was alive. She used to tell me stories and go 12


fishin‟ with me. Now it‟s like going through a lost world, or somethin‟.‟ Reggie awoke, his third eyelid blinked and jaw yawned wide. What a nice day for a paddle in the shallows, he thought. The sun was breaking over the top of Trentby wood and casting its warmth along the strand of pebbles which circled around the shrub-covered island in the middle of Bluddschott Park‟s lake. Birds were singling their praise to the dawn from the very tops of the willows. They weren‟t daft. Reggie blinked a serious blink, and eased the creases out of his front legs. He sniffed a long sniff. He knew that smell. It was geese arrival time. He loved geese time. It made such a pleasant change from duck, sheep and deer and the odd gun dog. The sun‟s warmth was reaching his tail. It took a while for this to register: after all, his tail was nine feet away from his thinking end. He shuffled more of his body into the sunlight and basked on the shore, his long jaw wide open with sheer joy. „Morning, Reggie,‟ shouted a voice. The Postie on his bicycle was a tempting delicacy, but the water was too cold yet for a fast dash across open water, he dangled a clawed toe into the lapping pool. No, the red-coated Postie could wait. He‟d could live out another day. He was „a banker‟. One to bank on in dire emergencies when starvation threatened. Although, for three weeks now Reggie had noticed something was seriously amiss and the days of plenty were fast disappearing into memory. The old woman had stopped visiting. He missed the rabbits and the whole salmon she used to deposit on the bank by the 13


boat house before she‟d cycle off in top gear on a three wheeler bone shaker. Spritely for a human, she was. But, perhaps he had grown lazy. Perhaps, it would do him good to start hunting for himself again. The only eyes watching this event of life and death were deep set in the statue of the dog-headed god Anubis standing guard outside the Bluddschott folly, a strangely Grecian-Romanesque styled, scaled-down replica of the temple to Dumilla which dominated the island in the centre of the lake, once a favoured picnic spot of courting couples until Reggie took up residence. Plop, plop. Ahhh ... dinner. A brace of mallard had landed over by the reed bed. Silent and deadly Reggie, the enormous Nile crocodile, another acquisition of Miss Lucy‟s childhood Egyptian travels, (well, how was she to know the squidgy clutch of eggs she was given in the souq contained baby crocodiles), slid into the still, silent waters of Bluddschott Park‟s boating lake and totally disappeared from view save for a few tell tale bubbles bursting on the surface. Monday 8.30am Knock, knock. The tradesman‟s entrance door shook on its hinges as Marge Potts, wiping her hands on a teacloth, struggled to push back the huge bolts. „Hold your water there, Michael Grabble, don‟t you know an old biddy can‟t be all of rush this time of a morning.‟ The door screeched ajar and snagged over the flag stone floor of the scullery. 14


„He hasn‟t got this fixed yet, then,‟ said Michael adding his shoulder to the ancient woodwork and pushing his way inside. „Too tight to spend a penny is that one.‟ Marge said nothing but gestured towards the teapot on the Aga. The man nodded, it was parky outside and he had carried the cold, dewy morning in with him on his donkey jacket. The dampness had settled on a row of wild Irish curls plastered against his brow and was glistening on long dark lashes and handsome chiselled features. Caught off guard for a second by the nearness of the swarthy young man, Marge had a momentary flashback to an indiscretion on the Mountains of Mourn in her early spring with that devil-of-a-boy Jamie O‟Farrell, who bore an uncanny resemblance to the talk-of-the-town to women-ofa-certain-age, the said Michael Grabble. To her mind Michael Grabble was far too sure of himself and needed a good strong willed woman to take him in hand. Had she been thirty years younger she might have thrown her own hat into that ring. He was helping himself to tea as he waited for her to gather her composure together. He knew he had this effect on women, he took their breath away, whenever he entered a room perfectly sane women started gabbling and pouring coffee over themselves: this marvel was great in some circumstances, but a right nuisance in others. „So how many today?‟ he asked eyeing the stack of bin bags lined up by the scullery door.‟ „Five each,‟ she replied pushing a strand of grey hair out of her eyes. „There‟ll be loads more, but I can only do so much at a time.‟ „I don‟t suppose the Missus does a hands turn to help you.‟ 15


Marge didn‟t reply, it wasn‟t her place to comment on the lazy nature of the quality. Bone idleness was inborn in the aristocracy, sure didn‟t anybody with a head on their shoulders know that, indeed. „I miss her,‟ she said her eyes misting over. „Good old stick was Lady Lucy.‟ Mick picked up the first two bags and made for the door. He, too, missed Lady Lucy, she had been a character, alright. Not many seventy--year-olds encouraged a schoolboy to play hooky to go fly fishing with them or taught them how to smoke a joint without burning their lips. As he loaded the charity donations into the back of his van his eye caught sight of the oak tree by the gate. A stray tear mingled with the drizzle as he remembered sitting high up there in the branches with Lady Lucy listening to her stories as she began his education into the life and times of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The things she had seen and done in her long life were simply amazing to a boy from the back streets of Trentby. The things she told him had made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end, and the things she had taught him and shown him had broadened his horizons. Throwing in the last bag of Lady Lucy‟s unwanted possessions, he slammed the van door and as he did so a gust of wind rattled the leaves like a message. A shiver ran down his spine. His sister would have said a curse had been cast. Monday morning 1010h „Morning Tim.‟ Cynthia Saunders, the manageress of the Puss in Boots charity shop, greeted her older volunteer 16


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colleague. „You're early; it's not quarter past ten yet.‟ „Morning Cynthia.‟ Timothy Toogood replied, as he pulled his neck as far into his coat as it'd go and tried to get some shelter from the rain under his, too small, umbrella. „I know. I wanted to have a chat with you before we open up. There's a small, just part time, job in the pipeline and I need a reference of some sort to swing it my way.‟ „Best of luck then, Tim. With part-time jobs as few as they are you need all the help you can get. Have you seen anything of Dylis, or Evadne? They usually park on the New Mill car park and you've come right past it.‟ „The car was there; I mean you can't miss it, can you? A blue and red mini that looks like a union jack and those cat things on the doors. There isn't another one anything like it in Trentby.‟ „That's true. She loves that car does Dylis. More than her other half I'll bet.‟ „Oh I don't know, Cynth, I mean he's a good bloke, even if he is TT.‟ „I think there's some kind of a story there. Never heard a whisper mind you, but still waters run deep you know.‟ ‟You could well be right there, Cynth. But, sleeping dogs and all that eh?‟ Just then Cynthia managed to get the door to open and switched on the lights inside the Puss in Boots cats charity shop. „Not a nice day is it, Tim? Still we must hope that it won't put off our customers too much. Mustn't we?‟ „The usual is it?‟ Tim asked as he headed towards the rear to fill the kettle and make the first of the day‟s brews. „No sugar in mine, Tim please,‟ the Cynthia replied. „My Mum says I'm putting on weight and cutting out sugar is one of my diet things. And, Tim! There should have been a 18


delivery made at the back door that'll need bringing in and sorting. Taking care of that should be the first thing I think!‟ „Okay, Cynth, no problem. But, before I do that could I have that word with you in the office, please?‟ „Right you are. Come on through when you've hung your coat to dry.‟ So saying she disappeared up the stairs to the stock room. The office of the „Puss in Boots‟ manageress was a shrine to her youth. Pink gossamer curtains festooned the window and Princess Barbie perched on the sill among her attendants. The computer sat on a white and gold Queen Anne style desk and the chair into which Cynthia was squashed was of rosy translucent plastic. She swivelled round at Tim‟s knock. „Come in,‟ she trilled, for she liked to start the day on a positive note, whatever the weather. Tim entered and carefully put down her special cup and saucer. „Thank you,‟ she said. „Now you wanted a word?‟ „Yes, I don‟t think…‟ he began Cynthia raised her cup and took a sip. „Ahh,‟ she breathed. Wonderful. What was it, Tim?‟ „Well,‟ he began again. „It‟s not… it‟s not really… „Not really what?‟ „Not really working out here for me.‟ She replaced her cup, regarded him. For goodness sake what did he expect at his time of life? A proper job? He must be all of 50 and his qualifications – well! Ferreting among old bones and things – what call was there for that? Even if you were entitled to call yourself „Doctor‟. 19


Not that he ever did, but word was he‟d written a very good book on the Ancient Egyptians which meant he could if he wanted to. He wasn‟t allowed to cure anyone though so what was the point? You can be extremely clever without being in the least useful, reflected Cynthia and at the same time, have no qualifications at all like herself and be very useful indeed. After all, who had clothed the man but the shop she ran so successfully? He stood before her, skinny as a match in the fraying shirt stuffed into corduroys with matching plastic belt. His hair was dragged into a long greasy queue – it had obviously been imprisoned in the 80s and never released since. What hope did he have of any job? If it weren‟t for the likes of herself… „You‟re happy with us aren‟t you?‟ she asked in gentle tones. „Oh yes, very happy. No it‟s not anybody here. Not exactly here.‟ „What then?‟ She was becoming rather interested. „It‟s the cats.‟ Cynthia groped for understanding. „The knitted ones? Are you allergic to wool?‟ „No. The real ones.‟ „We don‟t have any real ones. Tim, would you like to sit down?‟ There was only the floor available, but Tim sat. „I just can‟t stand the things.‟ „But you love cats, Tim. You‟ve got lots of cats at home. „Yes, 17 of the things. They just keep coming. Producing more. They mess all over the garden, they stink the house out, and they kill things. Birds, little baby mice. They keep bringing them in. I hate them!‟ Tim dropped his face into his hands and his shoulders started to shake. 20


„So why do you keep feeding them?‟ „Because they‟d starve otherwise. I thought if the shelter had more places they‟d be able to take them, so that‟s why I came to help here. I thought I‟d be able to make a difference. But I can‟t.‟ Monday 10.00 British Municipal Museum, London Maxie watched the children clattering up the stairs to the Egyptian room and curled his lip. Striped blazers, ties spawn of the grabbers of this world, heading for careers in banking, law, politics, everything that kept the likes of Maxie down. „Come along please,‟ barked Miss Spur, „You‟re on the staff of the British Municipal Museum now, stand up straight.‟ She handed him a box of exhibits. „Don‟t lag,‟ she said, marching after the children. He scowled at her back but followed. His mam had told him he‟d be out on his ear if he messed up this time. „You‟re damn lucky to get another chance,‟ she‟d said. „And this is a very good job. Give you a bit of expertise.‟ „Expertise!‟ his gran had cackled. „That‟ll be the day!‟ Maxie‟s scowl deepened, but then it softened into almost a grin. So, he wasn‟t an expert? Where was her pearl hat pin then? Her inheritance, as she used to call it before Maxie found that fence on the internet who could shift anything and no questions asked. Those back to work courses taught you more computer skills than they realised. By now they had all reached Miss Spur‟s dead thing of the week. Max was getting better with the mummies – no nightmares for at least a fortnight – but he hadn‟t seen 21


this one before. It was gross. Parched eye sockets, no nose, thin lips drawn back over huge yellow teeth. And the wrappings – some rat had obviously been at those. „This is Tutemhotepp,‟ Miss Spur was saying. „Cousin of Rameses the Great‟s nephew‟s cousin and High Priest of the Temple of Dumilla. We call him the Bluddschott mummy.‟ Bloodshot? thought Maxie. Where‟s the blood? The thing was made of leather. The spawn were fascinated. „Why is it called the bloodshot mummy?‟ piped up one of them. „Because it was found by the Earl of Bluddschott,‟ said Miss Spur. „Of Trentby Manor in Staffordshire.‟ „There should be things buried with it. Where are they?‟ demanded another. „Somebody got there first,‟ explained Miss Spur. A lot of the important things had been stolen. Look, this is all the Earl could find.‟ That was the cue for Maxie to open the display box. The spawn crowded round. „Where‟s the Heart Scarab?‟ asked one of them accusingly. „It should be over the heart to ensure entry into the Afterlife. But it‟s obviously not on the mummy, and if it‟s not in the box either, where is it? Snotty little know all, thought Maxie. „It‟s missing,‟ said Miss Spur. „It must have been one of the things stolen. We think it looked like this. Typical for the status of such a person.‟ She fished out the picture of something in greens and blues held together by gold. It had a big orange lump in the middle. „This is a photo of the painting on the tomb. Look,‟ she said, indicating the lid. „There it is, and the inscription underneath would have been on the back of it.‟ 22


„Is it valuable?‟ asked the class idiot. „Yes, dear,‟ said Miss Spur. „Not the stones themselves, they are semi precious, lapis lazuli, turquoise and carnelian. But its provenance, that means where it came from, makes it very valuable. The museum would pay a great deal to recover that scarab.‟ „How much?‟ asked a scrawny one obviously destined for banking. „A million pounds?‟ „Something like that,‟ said Miss Spur. A niggling at the back of Maxie‟s mind finally jumped into clarity. Trentby – he knew it! It was where his Gran‟s mad sister lived. She used to come down to see them, bringing presents of hideous knitted cardigans he‟d been forced to wear to school. „You should be grateful,‟ his mam had said. „I am.‟ Grateful! As if school wasn‟t bad enough. „Maxie!‟ a kid had scoffed on the first day. „He should be called Minnie.‟ And so it had been, until the day he was officially expelled. Still it had made him a good fighter in spite of his size. But Trentby… yes that was where she‟d hung out. And still did – they‟d had a Christmas card. Where the finder of this lot hung out too. And who could say what had gone missing before this Bluddschott geezer arrived? Everyone knew aristocrats are mad, marrying their cousins and all that. Who was to say he hadn‟t taken a shine to the scarab and hung it on his apple tree to add a bit of winter colour? A million pounds? Surely it was worth a trip? Maxie gave no sign that his mind was gathering speed like a plane about to launch. He absentmindedly took the photo from Miss Spur and kept it in his hand. He‟d wear the interview suit his mam bought him, his black shirt, the 23


dog collar made from a slice of plastic washup bottle that turned him into everybody‟s ideal hitchhiker and he‟d hit the road on his next day off which was – oh great – it was tomorrow! He‟d have to park up with the old biddy, Eva… Evan… Evadne! That‟s what she was called, Great-Aunt Evadne, but he‟d have a thorough look round too. Explore this Manor place. That was where Maxie‟s expertise lay. In exploring. If the scarab was there, Maxie would find it. What Miss Spur had not mentioned, and what Maxie did not know, was that the Bluddschott mummy had been donated to the museum nearly eighty years ago and all attempts to trace the missing artefacts, although at first furiously pursued, had long been abandoned. Tuesday Morning 9.00am Second Collection Mick‟s white van bumped, rather more slowly than usual, over the uneven driveway to the rear of the Manor, the wipers failing to make more than a minor impression on the torrential rain pouring down the wind screen. „Flaming Hallelujah chorus‟, muttered Mick to himself, then he chuckled as he remembered that it was Lady Lucinda who‟d taught him to swear in proper English. „What was it she told me? “There‟s no excuse for vulgarity dear boy. All that shows is a lack of forethought. One may have a good swear in proper English and not be vulgar” I‟ll miss Lady Lucy; the old dear was a real toff, one of the best.‟ He was lucky, the driveways and garages were empty, which allowed him to pull up in shelter and get ready to clear the rest of Lady Lucy's things away. Knowing his way around the house as well as he did, 24


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he knew of all the service corridors, it was easy to get into the rooms recently used by Lady Lucy where all the 'clutter', as the current Lady Bluddschott called it, was being sorted out. Boxes of shoes, handbags and scarves, bags of underclothes, coats and dresses were all bundled up and loaded into the van. „These rooms are to be cleared, I don't care what you do with the stuff, but nothing is to be left,‟ was the instruction from 'Her Ladyship', as Marge Potts called her. „I don't want a single thing left in here when the decorators arrive.‟ Mick noticed 'Her Ladyship' as she walked out of the room with the key to Lady Lucy's safe and a jewellery box clutched firmly in her hands. She was a looker all right. „Hey, Marge! Do you think she means I can have the four poster bed as well?‟ Mick jokingly asked. „Don't be daft, Mick,‟ Marge replied. „That's fastened in place,‟ she chuckled at the thought, „and anyway you'd never get in the van!‟ Tuesday morning 11.00 Maxie lurched out of the car with a loud internal prayer of thanks. „Goodbye Reverend,‟ yelled his chauffeuse as she tore away in a cloud of exhaust fumes. He waved weakly and then staggered into a blessedly handy coffee shop. Women of her age shouldn‟t be allowed to drive. Not like that. Not in a Morris Minor. And they certainly shouldn‟t be allowed to pick up hitch hikers. She‟d had the hood down all the way and the wind had gone straight through his head and taken his brains and all the rest of his in26


nards with it. „White coffee please,‟ he managed to get out to the girl who had sidled up to him, licking her pencil. When it arrived he just breathed it in until his face thawed sufficiently to attempt a gulp. And then – oh it was fantastic! He could feel it coursing down like Scotch, a pure gold glow right down his throat, his chest, until it flared into his stomach. Gradually his limbs relaxed, his breathing slowed, his heart resumed its normal beat. He looked around. He was in a pedestrianised street with a clock at the end. They‟d actually got up from London in two hours flat! No wonder he‟d felt turned inside out. He rummaged in his rucksack for the old biddy‟s Christmas card with her address on it. His gran never threw them away. Kept them stashed in her bottom drawer along with those from old Uncle Ernie who‟d run away with the grocer‟s wife. 7 Gaston Place – yes he‟d remembered correctly. Now he just needed to find out where it was, where this Bluddschott Manor was, and the relevant bus timetables. „Could you point me to the library please?‟ he asked the sidling girl. One hour later, armed with the appropriate computer print outs, Maxie knocked on the door of a small terraced house. It would be nice to say his Great Aunt Evadne recognised him at once and clasped him to her bosom with cries of joy, but in fact she took the cigarette out of her mouth, said, „I‟ve worked out exactly what I can spend on charity this year, and I‟ve spent it,‟ replaced the fag and began to close the door. „No,‟ said Maxie, sticking his foot firmly forward. „I‟m Maxie. Don‟t you remember? You used to knit me such lovely cardigans.‟ 27


She peered over her specs, and slowly light seemed to dawn. „You are, aren‟t you?‟ she said, and closed her bony arms round him in a hug. „Come in, come in,‟ she cried, and led the way into a room where a small fire burned in an iron grate. Tar of ages yellowed the walls and ceiling and three large cats stared at Maxie from the sofa. More cats, made of wool this time, crowded a dark sideboard, adorned windowsills and filled an armchair. Great Aunt Evadne cleared the chair and motioned Maxie into it. „They raise such a lot of money for the refuge,‟ she said. Maxie looked puzzled. „The cat refuge,‟ she said. But the shop‟s full at the moment. And now dear, I‟ll make you a cup of tea and you can tell me why you‟re wearing that ridiculous get up. ‟ Tuesday Morning: The Solicitor calleth. 11.00am As he stood under the protection of Bluddschott Manor‟s porch, Thomas Green, the junior solicitor in the firm, realised that: „Thomas; you're to handle winding up the estate of the late Lady Lucinda Bluddschott. The probate work will be good experience for you. Go up to the Manor and take a quick inventory of her personal effects and things. Shouldn't take more than a couple of days. If you find anything of great value, or if you aren't sure of the value of anything, call here and we'll arrange a special pick-up, or whatever. Okay?‟ To which Thomas had answered, „Yes, grandfather,‟ these were far from the best instructions he'd ever been given and that 'a couple of days' was more like two weeks, maybe two months, too short. Still, faint heart never won 28


fair fees, as his grandfather, the head of the family firm, often had told him. He pounded with the doorknocker again. The door creaked open, he thought it sounded like a sound effect from a horror film, and an elderly woman stuck her head around it. „What do you want bangin' on this door like that?‟ She glared as she snapped at him. „Don't you know nothin'? Go round the side like all proper callers does, and whatever it is you're sellin' we don't want none!‟ The door slammed shut and the noise of the key turning had that sound of finality. Thomas looked at the door again. The door, which had stood there through four centuries, two sieges and two world wars and innumerable parties, sneered blankly, blackly, back and won. Admitting defeat, Thomas went around to the side until he found a door marked 'Tradesman‟s Entrance' and knocked on that. The same face appeared and inquisitorially asked. „Who are you and what do you want?‟ „I'm Thomas Green, the solicitor who‟s handling the probate on the estate of the late Lady Lucinda,‟ which proved to be the magic password. In a warm room, off the large, freezing cold, kitchen, he accepted the tea and cake offered by, „Mrs Potts, but call me Marge‟, and was introduced to, Mick Grabble, the house clearance man, a handsome, well built, man in his thirties, who was drinking tea by the gallon and eating cake as if it'd gone out of fashion. „Nothing much here for you, Mr Green,‟ Mick informed him. „Lady Lucy got rid of the house years ago. She said something about making it into a company of some sort 29


so that it wouldn't get swallowed up in death duties. There's only a few old clothes, but they've mainly gone to the charity shops, and some jewellery.‟ „You knew the lady then, Mr Grabble?‟ „A few years ago, Mr Green, a few years ago. I suppose, in a way, Lady Lucy was more a teacher than a toff. She certainly kept my sister and me on the straight and narrow. She's a sad loss to me, still, must keep to business. Where's your sidekick then?‟ „Side kick? What do you mean, side kick? I'm afraid I don't follow you, Mr Grabble.‟ „You don't mean you've been sent here on your own, do you? You need someone with an idea of the value of things.‟ He shook his head in sorrow at the naïvety of the other man. „Things that you can value because they were hers anyway. Not the house and grounds nor the cars, they're owned by the firm I've told you about. Dunno about the paintings and furniture, but I'll bet they are as well. Lady L rarely missed a trick there.‟ He turned and asked, „Do you know Marge?‟ „Nothin' to do with me, Mick. I does like I'm told. Like I'm tellin' you to get yourself shifted and move all that stuff. Her Ladyship was very particular that she wanted it all gone by tomorrow. The decorators are coming in then and Her Ladyship wants those rooms redone. Now move yourself and do it or you'll get no more tea and cakes from me, my lad!‟ „Okay, Marge, on me way now‟, Mick replied as he went out of the door. „Nice to meet you Mr Green, and if you want any houses cleared, or stuff moved, give me a call if you would. Always happy to oblige.‟ Thomas turned to Marge. „Is there anything left here of Lady Lucinda‟s effects, Mrs Potts?‟ 30


„Dunno really. There's some stuff in the safe upstairs I believe. Her Ladyship has the key for that, and there's an old jewellery box in Lady Lucy‟s dressing room. Lady Lucy had a list done for the insurance some time ago, that's probably the best thing. Her Ladyship's probably got that.‟ „You don't sound too happy, Mrs Potts.‟ „I'm not young man! As soon as this is all done and dusted, I'm off out of here. My old man and me‟s goin' to retire somewhere nice. I'll ask me cousin, Vera at Trentby Escort Agency where's the best place to go. With her social connections she's bound to know that!‟ Daniel „La Do‟ Smithers hummed as he minced his way along Trentby High Street in rather high heels. The bell above the door of „Man‟s Best Friend‟ charity shop rang out brightly as he entered. Rose Thorne looked up quickly from the copy of Lolita she was reading beneath the shop counter, and hastily hid it amongst the many other dogeared, but less absorbing titles on the bookshelf behind her. But she made a mental note of its location, for future reference. There it sat, between „Fly fishing‟ by J R Bartley and „Eating out of Doors‟ by Alf Rescoe. She was slightly irritated by the interruption, but as he was a good customer, she greeted him fairly warmly. „Hello there, Dan. And to what do we owe this pleasure?‟ „Hmm... It may be a pleasure for you, dearie, but frankly speaking, that sort of thing‟s not my cup of tea at all. Now that nice young Master Andover… well, need I say more?‟ „I‟m afraid he‟s busy, so you‟ll have to make do with me,‟ she added, tartly. „Ah well,‟ Danny sighed, in his high-pitched voice. 31


„Beggars can‟t be choosers. I need something a bit special for the Players‟ Ball tomorrow night. „Are you in luck!‟ exclaimed Rose. „I don‟t know. Am I?‟ „We‟ve just had a delivery from Bluddschott Hall. The old Colonel‟s getting shut of the dowager‟s wardrobe. And she was a snazzy dresser, I can tell you! Oh yes. Some pretty fancy stuff amongst that lot. And I‟ve only just finished putting it out on the rail over there. Why don‟t you take a look?‟ „Don‟t mind if I do‟, Danny responded, enthusiastically. He began sifting through the said rack, crammed tight with coat hangers and various garments, and occasionally took one out for a closer look. „Wow! There‟s tons of stuff here which might do for the Am Dram group. I‟ll come back when I‟ve got more time, in a day or two for a closer look.‟ „Don‟t leave it too long,‟ cautioned Rose. „Things of that quality don‟t turn up every day. And so reasonable too! There are sure to be plenty of folk out there who‟ll give them a good home, especially in times of recession. I mean, just look at some of those labels! Vivian Eastwood, Coochi, Lada, Dolce and Havana, Georgio Legani; all the big names. And even vintage stuff by Mary Font and Flanel. Top designers all. And shoes too, to complement any outfit. I tell you, if it wasn‟t against the shop rules, I would have had first pick of them.‟ She hoped he wouldn‟t notice the carrier bag with her name scrawled in black felt tip pen, containing the Laura Pashley flower-sprigged dress and the pair of patent leather shoes bearing the name of Jimmy Clue on the bottom shelf of the counter. „Glad I came in now!‟ Danny beamed. „Was thinking of 32


trying „Puss in Boots‟, to see if they‟d got anything suitable, but…‟ his voice tailed off „Oh heavens!‟ Rose interrupted. „You can‟t be serious! They haven‟t got anything like this. We‟re in a totally different league from them when it comes to exclusivity and value! Ours is a much better class of merchandise.‟ „Sorry‟, Danny muttered, sheepishly. „OK if I try these on?‟ „Be my guest.‟ Rose Thorne indicated the changing rooms; Danny took a generous armful of items and headed in that direction. Whilst his back was turned, she flipped the carrier bag over, so that the incriminating evidence was not visible. Danny „La Doo‟ reappeared minutes later, and plonked several of them down on the counter. Amongst them was a very nice sable coat, which, though it had clearly been in the dowager‟s possession for many years, screamed quality. Little did he know that the right hand pocket had a tiny tear in it, and that consequently, an item of great archaeological significance and historical value had slipped unnoticed into the lining. „What‟s the damage?‟ he asked Mrs Ethel „La Do‟ Smithers poured out a steaming cup of tea and pushed it across the table towards her son. She was a cheery, homely soul, with a round face and greying hair, which steadfastly refused to stay in the loose bun she had worn for the past fifty-odd years, and who doted on her only child. „How are you today, Doody?‟ she asked him, solicitously. „Fine, thanks, but oh mummy, I wish you wouldn‟t call me that! I‟m almost forty-three, after all.‟ 33


„I know that, sweetie. But to me, you‟ll always be my little Doody.‟ „You could do me a favour, if you‟re going into town today. Can you drop off that old fur coat at the charity shop? I‟ll never wear it again, and can‟t see it being much use for the gang. (He was referring to his friends in the Amateur Dramatic Society.) If it‟s no trouble, that is.‟ „No trouble at all. Consider it done,‟ his loving mater replied. The bag containing the coat was quite heavy, and the „Man‟s Best Friend‟ charity shop was at the opposite end of Trentby High Street from the bus stop, where Ethel alighted. She wasn‟t about to lug it round for long. Not with her rheumatics. Much as she adored Doody. No way! And besides, it was pouring down. Thus it was that she walked into the „Puss in Boots‟ shop, and proffered the unwanted item, along with its precious, secret stowaway, to Ms. Cynthia Saunders, proprietor of said small business. A large, white Persian cat sat on a cushion on a chair in the corner, and eyed her sleepily, yawning in a disinterested way. „My, that‟s a nice coat, Mrs Smithers. Funny, I hadn‟t got you down as a real sable type; more a faux fur lady, I‟d have said‟. She twiddled her pearls, pointedly. „No. It‟s not mine. It belongs to our Danny. At least, it did, for forty-eight hours, or so. But he doesn‟t need it anymore, and being the sweetheart that he is, thought someone else might be glad of it.‟ „I see,‟ said Cynthia, peering at Ethel over the top of her pink spectacles, which perfectly matched her cerise twinset. „Course, it‟s a bit out of fashion these days, and not exactly „de rigueur‟ thanks to those animal libbers. Naturally, I love animals as much as the next man, or should I 34


say, woman?‟ she giggled. „But really! They go too far.‟ „Don‟t you want it then?‟ Ethel asked brusquely. „Oh no. I didn‟t mean that. It‟s a good, warm coat for someone without such sensitivities. I‟m sure someone will appreciate it. Those people in the local hostel maybe. By the way, your Danny is into his Amateur Dramatics, isn‟t he? Perhaps you‟d pass on a message? We‟ve just had a big delivery from Bluddschott Hall. Lady Lucinda‟s stuff. Beautiful, it is. I‟m sure he and his mates could use some of it in their productions.‟ Tuesday morning „Don‟t take on so old bean. What can‟t be cured must be endured, don‟t y‟ know. Soldiers‟ wives, eh what?‟ said Lionel his hand casually following the contours of a well firm thigh amply displayed through the stretched jodhpurs of his companion in the stable‟s hay stack. „That‟s just it Lionel, it is soldiers‟ wives. Or at least this soldier‟s wife.‟ „Now, now, hunny-bunny. She‟s off to London for the season in a week or two, once the estate‟s sorted. She‟ll be goown for weeeks and weeeeks.‟ Lionel‟s vowels got longer and longer as his fingers delved into recesses of silk and lace fancies and two stuffed hamster cheeks flamed with torrid intent. „Not now Lionel!‟ came the sharp retort as Geraldine struggled to sit upright, strands of hay attached to her fiery tresses. „Why can‟t you just tell her?‟ „Tell her,‟ stuttered the Colonel his ardour for his number one mistress‟s charms rapidly quelling. „Tell her what? My Sweetness.‟ „Tell the woman you want a divorce,‟ grumbled Gerald35


ine allowing a gaping button to display a hint of pink lace, only inches away from the dead-mouse moustache that dwelled beneath retired Colonel Bluddschott‟s ripe-veined nose. „You know how it is, Sweetness,‟ he whispered. „It‟s the ...‟ „It‟s the money. Always the money. What do I care about money?‟ Lionel winced. Money was such an ugly word. His Sweetness might protest she didn‟t care about the wretched stuff, but my goodness she‟d care right enough once there wasn‟t any. The estate was hopelessly indebted to the trust fund set up by Annabelle‟s late father the northern sausage millionaire Barry Cumberbatch ‘We put the Cumber into Batches of Cumberland Bangers’. How could he explain to Geraldine, she of the divine thighs and tantalising suspenders, that he was borassic lint, hadn‟t got a penny to his name since Aunt Lucy had snuffed it and taken his monthly allowance with her to the stony mausoleum in the church yard. An army pension didn‟t go far to keep a fellow in brandy and cigars after all, not to mention his tab at Denton‟s the bookies in the High Street, or his other on-going extra-martial relationship with Cynthia ... she of the pink wellingtons, a real puss-inboots ... strewth what a pickle ... Tuesday Annabelle, Countess of Trentby, was busy spreading her bad mood when Thomas Green was ushered into the study she had inherited from her predecessor. The moderate sized room; moderate sized, that is, when compared 36


37


to the barrack block rooms in the rest of the house, had a battered roll top desk against one wall, a coffee table slightly off centre and old, but comfortable, arm chairs scattered around it. The table and chairs had become the repositories of papers, shoeboxes, books, odd items of clothing, and mysterious bundles. „About time too,‟ was her opening remark. „You should have been here days ago. All this legal clutter should have been cleared away after the funeral, not left until now!‟ She waved a bunch of papers at him. „I‟ve been through this list and photograph catalogue a dozen times and there are some items that I can‟t account for. There‟s a diamond and ruby brooch and an Egyptian scarab missing from her jewellery. A sable fur coat, probably an old one, that seems to have disappeared, and two hundred antique gold coins that seem to have evaporated.‟ „Do you think they‟ve been stolen your Grace?‟ Thomas asked. „More likely squirreled away somewhere, or given away to some worthy cause or other. The old besom was good at that.‟ Thomas noted in passing that there seemed to have been some friction within the Bluddschott family. That was no concern of his, but his mother and sisters would certainly like to know, and it promised a lively dinner table that evening. „What sort of value are we talking about, your Grace? If the police have to get involved then they‟ll also need to know the value. If they have been properly disposed of then we need to remove them from the estate valuation. Are we talking a few pounds or thousands of pounds?‟ „How am I supposed to know that, you silly man!‟ Was her blistering rejoinder. „You‟re the one with the experts 38


on hand. All I know is that there seems to be some items and gold coins that have evaporated. Here‟s the list and photos. You check it, that‟s what you getting over-paid for!‟ She thrust the documents and photographs at him. Taking the papers Thomas thought rapidly, then told the irate woman „The Scarab would be the province of Dr. Toogood; he‟s the only Egyptologist in Trentby, as for the fur coat I‟ll ask Mr Grabble. The gold coins will have to be valued by a specialist auction house. The first two will take about an hour each; the coins will take much longer, your Grace.‟ Randolph Andover wasn‟t what one would usually expect to find serving behind the counter as a volunteer in a charity shop, Geraldine had thought on Randolph‟s first day a few weeks ago. But, security tagged ankle bracelet or not, Randolph had been a godsend to Man‟s Best Friend. His computer skills were nothing short of genius. Bless his cotton socks, he had reformed the wretched spreadsheets within a twinkling of an eye and the daily returns sheets were a pleasure of simplicity: even Rose, she of the keyboard skills of a snail on tranquilizers, couldn‟t mess them up. If one looked passed the neck tattoo and the enormous black and steel earlobe extenders then Randolph was one of life‟s gentlemen. Nothing was too much trouble for him: he had a kind and gentle manner with the older clientele, and was adored by kiddies, who were fascinated by the pictures of Chinese dragons and serpents covering his arms from wrist to shoulder. How the youngster had wandered from the path of righteousness on to the wrong side of the local magis39


trates bench was a mystery to Geraldine. His mother, Carol, was such a lovely woman, and a pillar of the WI. But wandered he had, well his fingers had anyway, even if his size twelve trainers had never left his bedroom. Boys will be boys, she thought when he turned up accompanied by a parole officer. Geraldine had read through his application to join their happy band and decided to take him under her wing. As she watched him that morning making short shift of heaving a van load of collection bags into the sorting room, his biceps rippling, she grinned. Ah yes, that was the other reason she had set him on. „Randolph, if you could make a start with the unpacking I‟ll be in shortly to start pricing up,‟ she said. „No probs,‟ came the mumbled reply. Randolph was very shy around members of the fair sex. Unless, of course, they were online. Online Randolph had various personae including Victor the Vulongarian, a warrior king of the Vulongars of the planet Vulongaria, who had a harem of gigantic proportions. It was because of developing this manga resembling harem that the said Victor, i.e. Randolph, had started online gambling, which had led to online debts, and then online frauds, to cover the online debts resulting from the online gambling, which started out to cover his ever increasing purchases of flamboyant online girl characters with which to grace the harem of Victor the Vulongarian. It was only after the trial that he learned to his dismay that many of the gorgeous manga online lovelies he had purchased were being produced by Barry Norman-Stanley, the four-eyed geek who nobody used to speak to at Trentby High School. Stinky Barry, still as acne covered as pavement pizza, was now driving round in a brand new beamer which stood out like a sore thumb in Pear Tree Avenue, where most of the other vehi40


cles had different coloured doors, or bonnets, and which were supported on piles of house bricks. Had Randolph known the expensive exotic bimbos online were springing from the fertile imagination of fivefoot-two Barry Norman-Stanley then things might have been very different. Barry had always been terrified of Randolph at school. Randolph had been giving this some thought of late, and decided it was time to strike up an alliance with said manga doodler. A new beamer was a powerful incentive to an online loner who had recently acquired a criminal record. After all hadn‟t his parole officer told him he needed to get out more. Taking his leave of Lady Bluddschott, Thomas Green went straight to Puss-in-Boots. He was lucky; the man he was looking for was in the back, sorting stock. „Scarab. 14th century BC. Steatite. No provenance. Hmm... not worth much Mr Green. Old doesn‟t mean valuable you know,‟ the skeletal scarecrow told him. Thomas was very disappointed and said so. „Maybe a few hundred in the right auction,‟ Toogood replied. „Say fifty pounds as a book figure? If it had any kind of provenance it could go to a few thousand, but I wouldn‟t bet on it. If it‟s a forgery, and there are lots about, you‟re looking at change from a pound. Sorry, but without the real thing in my hand I can‟t tell you much.‟ He looked at the photos again. „There‟s something odd about this though. The photo‟s not very good but the hieroglyphs are unusual. They aren‟t the usual words from the Book of the Dead. Look here!‟ He pointed to a symbol that looked like two jagged lines. „They shouldn‟t be there. The wording looks to say, „The Heart of the Blacklands‟, 41


that‟s a sort of Ministry of Agriculture thing. I‟ll have to look it up but it seems that this scarab could be unique. If you can get it I‟ll be able to give you a better opinion.‟ Mick Grabble, the Ragman, sauntered down Trentby High Street, pausing briefly to check himself out in the plate glass window of the florists. He ran his hand through his thick, black, curly locks, lightly gelled, and pulled up the collar of his bomber jacket, assuming his John Travolta pose. This was the same jacket that Iris, a volunteer in the Puss in Boots shop had found for him amongst some good quality items recently donated, and which he knew she liked. He also knew that she had a thing about the star of „Grease‟, so hopefully, he would be onto a good thing. It was five to six, and the shop closed at six. He stuck his head round the shop door. Iris was busy with a customer, but looked up, blushing. He gave her a cheeky wink, and parked himself on the chair in the corner, where Cynthia‟s large Persian tom had previously been sitting, idly surveying the world from the comfort of his cushion. Cynthia had taken him with her when she finished her shift. Mick waited somewhat impatiently, until she had rung the item through the till and slipped it into a carrier. „Thank you, Mrs Brown. Have a nice evening‟. „Looks like you will!‟ the woman responded, glancing at Mick‟s handsome, chiselled features, his startlingly blue eyes and the slight hint of designer stubble on his chin, as she exited Iris swivelled the „Open‟ sign round and pulled down the blind on the door. Before she turned round, Mick‟s strong 42


43


arms were round her waist, and he spun her towards him. „I must be the envy of every woman in Trentby!‟ she thought to herself, contentedly. Meanwhile at the other end of the High Street, Daphne and Deirdre Drinkwater were identical twins, who gave a few hours a week to help out at the „Man‟s Best Friend‟ shop. Physically, they were alike in every way, and even dressed the same; a fact which caused considerable confusion at times. But though they were so similar in appearance, there was a fierce rivalry between the two young women, and both had hopeless crushes on Mick Grabble, the handsome and eligible delivery driver. Never one to turn down any attention from the fair sex, Mick was on good terms with both young women, and it has to be admitted, with most of the female population of Trentby, and saw quite a lot of all of them. But each twin was under the impression that she and she alone had his heart, and was blissfully unaware that her sister imagined the same. „If Deidre knew about me and Mick, she‟d be so jealous! It‟s great he chose me.‟ Daphne smiled to herself. „My poor little sister!‟ thought Daphne. „She doesn‟t know what she‟s missing! I‟m glad he picked the right one of us.‟ Mick had sworn them to secrecy, and this added a certain frisson to their relationship Oh yes, he was a very exciting man.

Tuesday. 1700h 44


Thomas returned to the Puss-in-Boots charity shop shortly before it closed. „I saw a fur coat when I was in here last,‟ he said to the overweight, bottle blonde woman behind the counter. She was dressed, mainly, in different shades of pink, which didn't suit her, and like a teenager, which definitely didn't suit her. „A dark colour it was, sable I think my sisters would call it.‟ „Oh, they are lucky girls to have a thoughtful brother like you,‟ she replied batting her, obviously fake, eyelashes at him. „We've just had it in. The last owner decided that it wasn't what they wanted. I'm afraid it's a bit expensive though, for a faux fur that is, £20.00 is the price our valuer put on the tag. „I'm afraid I didn't leave the office with more than a few pounds on me, but, if you'll take a cheque there‟s not too much problem there.‟ „I don't know you, and it is against the shop policy to take cheques from unknown customers,‟ she replied. Obviously torn between wanting to make the sale and shop policy. „£20.00 is quite a lot of money you know. I know you came in earlier, to see Tim Toogood about something, and he told me you're a solicitor. What was it he said, Green and something, I think, from by the Minster.‟ „That's right. I'm Thomas Green, the junior in the firm,‟ Tom said as he handed her his business card. „Solicitor! Hmm. Definitely a reputable person then.‟ „Not according to some people.‟ The bitterness in his voice showed he knew exactly what some people, thought. „They say we're an overpaid bunch of money grabbing... ermm... well let's just leave it at that shall we.‟ 45


„Surely not! Not a nice person like you Mr Green. I'm sure that you do a very good job for your customers. I'm Cynthia, Cynthia Saunders that is,‟ the eyelashes went into overdrive. „I can't see any problem with a cheque from you... Thomas. Are you … sure … I can't … help … you choose something else for your sister? We've some very nice designer label clothes that have just come in. I'd buy them myself if the policy wasn't strictly against it.‟ Tom thought, 'not that that'd stop you if they were anywhere near your size', but, tactfully, said nothing as he rapidly wrote out the cheque while Cynthia wrapped the coat in some brown paper and put it in a local supermarket carrier bag. He was glad to get out of the shop as he thought she'd be very ready to try to seduce him, given the opportunity, or something worse and he didn‟t fancy being ravished. Navigating the house door whilst managing an overfilled carrier bag and a briefcase was a bit tricky and the door banged shut behind him. His sisters, Barbara and Megan, both stuck their heads out of the rooms they were in to see who was, as their father put it, wrecking the house. „Hi Babs, Hi Meg. Are you ready for the family dinner party then?‟ Sour faces were pulled in answer. „Obviously overjoyed at the prospect I can see. A nice night with the relatives at the behest of Grandpa, who sees it as a bonding exercise for the firm.‟ „Where does he get his ideas from,‟ asked Babs. „That sort of thing's for manufacturing and retail. We're solicitors for heaven sake! Bonding and team ukkk isn't for us.‟ 46


„Too true, Babs, but he is the head of the firm and if he says we do it, then we do it, full stop.‟ Tom replied. „Besides it'll be a good to have a natter to Auntie Vi. She's always good for a laugh.‟ „I suppose so, Tom.‟ „I hope so, Babs. Anyway, I've got a present for you‟, he heaved the carrier bag in her general direction. „You always did want to go for the retro 1930s look, so there's a start,‟ he said as both the girls gathered around to open the bag and wrapping. „This is fur,‟ stated Babs, „and you know...‟ „It's fake fur, not the real thing, so you can't get on your high horse about cruelty to animals.‟ „Not that you idiot!‟ Megan burst out. „We‟re both allergic to fur, cat fur particularly, and if this has been anywhere near a cat we'll both be in trouble.‟ „Ohh... In that case, you'd better not put it on then. I got it from the cat charity shop.‟ The coat went on the floor as if it were radioactive. „Thomas James!‟ The formal use of both his forenames was a family signal that meant Barbara, as distinct from Babs, was hopping mad at him. „You can damned well take it back tomorrow.‟ He knew better than to argue with his sisters. Wednesday 1045h Thomas stuck his head around the door of the secretarial pool. „I'll be going out for a few minutes,‟ he told the secretaries he shared with the rest of the firm. „Anything on your diary, Mr T?‟ asked Phyla, the head of the secretarial team. „Nothing until later, Phyla. I hope that the valuation of 47


those coins in the Bluddschott estate will be phoned in sometime today. If the valuer does call, get the value and I'll phone him back later. I'll have my mobile switched on if it's really, urgent.‟ „You mean if your grandfather wants you you're out of contact, I suppose, Mr T?‟ He winked and smiled at her. „Got it in one, Phyla. Anyway I don't expect to be more than half an hour.‟ So saying he withdrew his head. Tom, you've wasted twenty quid. So what are you going to do with this darned fur coat? He said to himself as he walked along the High Street. You'd look a real fool if you took it back to that cat charity place and you can't get your money back. Caveat Emptor is the rule there. Anyway, there's no way you could face that awful woman again. Then he spotted a sign 'Man‟s Best Friend' it said. Right, he thought, that's it. I'll give it to them; going to the dogs is about right. He entered the shop and said to the tattooed man behind the counter, „A little donation for you. You should get forty quid for it.‟ „Right you are, sir. Thanks a lot for this valuable donation; we'll take good care of it.‟ Opening the package he looked at the coat, „If you don't mind me saying so sir, does your young lady know you're giving this away? I mean a sable coat in good condition is something that most ladies, young or not, would kill for.‟ „An allergic reaction to fur, I'm afraid,‟ Tom replied. „This is real fur you know,‟ the man behind the counter said, „not the fake stuff.‟ „Are you sure?‟ Tom asked. „It was bought as faux fur, you see.‟ The man turned and called. „Rose, can you come out 48


here a moment please. There's this coat I'd like your opinion on.‟ A slight, grey haired, woman in her 60s came, slowly, out from the back. Thank heavens, thought Tom, this one's not likely to think about throwing herself over the counter and ravishing me. That one at the cat place is a menace to all men. „What do you think this fur coat is made from, Rose? Real or fake?‟ Rose ran her hands through the fur, turned it over, and found a label. „One thing I can tell you is that it's as real as the hair on your heads. It's got that lovely real fur feeling and anyway these people,‟ she pointed to the label, „don't make imitation fur coats. I'll just take it in the back and give it a quick inspection, but, with that label, and this lovely sable colour, about a £100 price tag I should think. As long as those animal rights folks don‟t spot it.‟ They did, of course, two hours on the rack and it was the subject of a heated debate with Geraldine who, faced with a trio of angry voices from animal lovers, reluctantly took it off the hanger and told Rose to get rid of the wretched thing. Rose being Rose did just that and dropped the beautiful coat off anonymously by the back door of Puss in Boots. Let them have the hassle with the curly permed, plastic sandal brigade. Later that Wednesday „Ooh, that‟s nice,‟ said Evadne as she took the coat out of the Tesco bag. „Feel that Cynth.‟ Cynthia turned from rearranging the knitted cats and 49


felt. „Fake,‟ she said, „You can put it out,‟ and turned back to the cats. No air freshener she‟d tried on them yet had killed the repulsive smell of cigarettes. „Nice though,‟ said Evadne, still stroking the fur. „I‟d look a picture in that, wouldn‟t I Cynth?‟ „You know the rules,‟ said Cynthia. Perhaps if she soaked the damn things in bleach? She was trying not to think about the new window display in that wretched dog shop, which meant they‟d had a fresh delivery, which meant Mick had been over there, whereas she, Cynthia, hadn‟t seen hide nor hair of him for a fortnight. That high and mighty Geraldine Vickers who mucked about pretending to run „Man‟s Best Friend‟ had got her claws into him, she, Cynthia, knew she had. She‟d got the hots for her Lionel as well, hadn‟t she? The woman was a menace. „Hey,‟ said Evadne. „There‟s something down here on the hemline. Is there a hole in the pocket?‟ „Why don‟t you feel?‟ Cynthia hated Wednesdays because she was on alone with Evadne, her stinking breath, her bristly chin. She‟d be far better off by herself. And then when Mick did call in… But no matter what hints she gave out the mad old woman persisted. Evadne felt. There was a hole, quite a large one. She pushed her hand through it and fished around until her fingers grasped something hard and sharp. She pulled it out. „Look,‟ she said. Cynthia glanced at the brooch. It was of tiny green and blue mosaic held together in the vague shape of a butterfly by some yellow metal. „Uh-hu,‟ she said. „Tina‟s coming in today to value the new jewellery isn‟t she?‟ said Evadne. „Okay, stick it in the box,‟ said Cynthia. „But it‟s probably 50


some student from the college on a craft course. Or something someone from St Paul‟s school made for Mother‟s Day.‟ Evadne stuck it in the box and went outside for a fag break. Wednesday 2.30 Tina brushed a swag of blonde hair behind her ear and squinted through her lens. „There‟s a lot of scratches on the back,‟ she said. „But, no hall mark. So it‟s not gold. The stones could be lapis and turquoise and carnelian, but probably plastic - look at the size of that orange one! Not that there‟s anything wrong with plastic of course. Can look quite good.‟ She pushed back her errant locks again and pocketed the lens. „You might get a pound or two for it,‟ she said. With that the priceless scarab was tossed unceremoniously into the tatt basket on the counter. Shortly afterwards ... Police Constable Daniel Smithers was a policeman by day, but a glamorous drag queen by night. Consequently, he was often found during off-duty periods, combing the local charity shops for items of clothing and ornament which could be used in his act. This week, he was appearing on stage in one of his favourite roles; that of Cleopatra, fascinating and beguiling queen of the Nile, and he was looking for some special finishing touch to his costume. He didn‟t know exactly what it was mind. „Don‟t know what I‟m after, but by George, I‟ll know it when I see it!‟ he told himself. 51


He wandered into the shop, casting a quick look round, to check out any new arrivals. His eyes were drawn to a basket on the end of the shop counter. It contained various items of cheap costume jewellery; pearl necklaces, glass paste earrings, a Victorian mourning brooch, containing a lock of some dead person‟s hair… „Yuk!‟ he thought… and two dress rings with huge glass „stones‟, like knuckle-dusters. „Hmm. They could do someone some serious damage,‟ he mused, in full lawenforcement officer mode. He rustled about in the basket, and BINGO! pulled out what at first glance appeared to be an authentic scarab. Not that Danny would know an authentic scarab if it jumped out and bit him on the bum. But then again, it would do! Oh yes, this was indeed the object he knew he would know when he saw it, and here it was! It would look splendid perched on top of his/her flowing, brunette locks, right in the middle of his/her forehead. Just what he needed to complete the look. „Great! A cheap bit of old plastic, but… exactly what I need to complete the look!‟ he said out loud, parting with two fifty pence coins into Evadne‟s outstretched palm. Meanwhile at the other end of the High Street, „How much is this mate?‟ asked a voice hidden behind a rail of vintage costume garments. Randolph gulped, he hated having to guess the price items when the label was missing. Geraldine could go ape if he messed up again. How was he supposed to know a Lalique glass vase was worth more than 50p. The reedy little voice asked again, „Excuse me ... How much is this?‟ a hand waved a pink satin 1950s brassiere on the end of 52


a spindly arm from behind the clothes rack. Randolph did a double take, that was a very hairy spindly arm and didn‟t he know that voice? He shuffled in behind the clothes rack. „Well, well, well ... if it isn‟t Barry Norman-Stanley, the bloke I‟ve been wanting to have a word with.‟ „It wasn‟t my fault ...‟ the bra waver moaned, his eyes flashing terror stricken. „How was I to know you were Victor the Vulongarian? I‟d have done mates‟ rates, if I‟d have known. Straight up. Cross my heart and hope to ...‟ „What d‟you want this old bra for? You coming out or sommat?‟ asked Randolph holding the offending object at arm‟s length and sniffing. „Pink satin, Barry?‟ „It‟s a prop.‟ „What a manga prop? Do you mean to tell me, you draw from props?‟ „Of course I do,‟ retorted Barry his professionalism piqued. „What, you think I can imagine whale bone corsetry? It‟s my attention to absolute authentic detail that ...‟ „That brings in the buyers ...‟ Randolph suddenly saw £signs floating in front of his big baby blues. „Barry old fruit ... you and me need each other. Bra 50p‟ „Wrap it up,‟ grinned Barry. „What are you working on at the moment, dude?‟ Barry grinned. This was a whole new experience for him. Someone taking an interest in his work. This must be something called „having a conversation‟. He couldn‟t remember the last time that had happened. Besides this was Randy Andover talking: a dude he had accidentally screwed over big time. That Randy, the tattooed wonder, hadn‟t pounded him into the pavement was a very pleasing outcome. 53


„I said, what ...‟ „Sorry, I was thinking the answer but it didn‟t get as far as my mouth,‟ replied Barry as if this was completely normal. „Understood,‟ nodded Randolph, who, too, had only recently realised that verbal communication was the norm in the world outside his bedroom. „1960s animation.‟ „Wow!‟ said Randolph his eyes on stilts. „You‟ll need...‟ „Retro gear and ...‟ „Comic book heroes.‟ „Zundar Girl, Princess Fellinda, Mindina the Merwoman,‟ drooled Barry his skinny arms waving like fins. „So the conical bra ...‟ „Zundar Girl.‟ „Of course,‟ nodded Randolph. Rose looked up from the bag of baby knitting patterns she was sorting and shook her head: what were those pair up to with her mother‟s old brassiere? „Such workmanship,‟ said Barry running his bony fingers over the elaborate wiring. „Firm control,‟ agreed Randolph his imagination running wild. „That‟s quite enough of that,‟ snapped Rose shoving the garment into a plain carrier bag. „Ring it up Randolph, and next time it‟s ladies‟ underwear, please ask me to serve the customer.‟ Grubby little tyke, she thought crossly. „Certainly, Rose,‟ said Randolph winking at Barry as his new best friend scurried out of the shop with owl-like peepers blinking in the sunlight. Randolph watched Barry struggle with the door to the beamer. Brand new, still under warrantee ... Randolph eyed Rose with pity, poor old soul, dusting away to her heart‟s content. All he had to do 54


now was make sure he did the sorting and price fixing on the retro gear destined for Barryâ€&#x;s artistry and to fix the profits cut with Barry, to whom he was going to be indispensible. Things were looking up, and didnâ€&#x;t his parole officer say he needed to make new friends and get a new hobby. Wednesday around midday Thomas Green, the Junior Solicitor in the family firm, had an idea running through his head. An idea that was saying; 'All Lady Lucy's personal effects from Bluddschott Manor ended up in the hands of Mick Grabble. See if he's found anything that's on the list of missing items.' Once he'd left the office and dropped the unwearable, fur coat off in the charity shop, he went to find Mick Grabble. A noisy machine, sounding from the rear of the Grabble premises, told him somebody was about. The office proved to be empty, so he followed his ears. A sliding door was liberally plastered with various standard signs that said: DANGER KEEP OUT, AUTHORISED PERSONNEL ONLY PAST THIS POINT EAR PROTECTION TO BE WORN, FACE MASKS MANDATORY, PROTECTIVE FOOTWEAR AREA and, in hand painted letters, Ragging Shop, Tom opened it and looked in. A figure was busy at a machine. The figure was some kind of blue shelled insect with staring goggle eyes above a horrid wrinkled snout, wiry, knobbly, antenna sticking out of a shiny yellow head and ugly 55


56


round black ears. Picking a piece of cloth, recognisably a T-shirt, from the bin beside it the creature ran it through the machine in two practised swipes and threw the halves into baskets. Then, realising he was there, gave an glassy expressionless glance at him, held up a green human like hand, raised two fingers to indicate two minutes and waved him away. He went, glad to be away from the horror in the room. As the machine noise died away Thomas braced himself for the monster that he was sure would be coming through that door. The extremely good looking, trim, young woman who appeared was a far cry from anything he'd expected. Thomas felt his heart leap in his chest, he'd heard of love at first sight and even felt a passion, although he'd admit was probably lust, for some of his previous girl friends, but it was the first time he'd ever felt anything like this. A beam of sunlight broke through the clouds and fell directly on her as she held out her hand towards him in greeting. „Good morning! I'm Jean Grabble, part owner of the business.‟ His heart not so much sank as plummeted down! She was Mrs Grabble! She couldn't be anything else! He'd heard, all too often, about the pitfalls of falling for married women and he'd done it. „You probably know my brother, Mick, who's the other half of the firm. He's not in at present, but I can deal with anything he can.‟ The Sun not only shone, it blazed forth in majestic glory, as he heard himself breathlessly gabble, „I'm Tom Green... Solicitor... Dealing with Lady Bluddschott's estate,‟ as he shook that gorgeous hand on that glorious 57


day. „I'm going to have a coffee, Mr Green. Would you care for one?‟ Coffee! He'd gladly have drunk poison if she'd offered it to him. He floated alongside her as she talked of... he never did know exactly what she'd said as they walked across to the house. It was enough that she was there! Over a coffee cup, and a plates of cakes that this goddess said she'd baked herself, Tom, barely, got a grip of himself. He was here on business and he could almost hear his Grandfather‟s voice saying, 'Don't make a fool of yourself over some young woman, Thomas. There's plenty of time to sort out a good steady girl for your wife.' That thought was almost being buried by a small voice in his head that was saying, 'THIS is the one for you. Grab hold of her before somebody else does!' Frantically searching for something to say, Tom looked around the sparklingly clean and very modern kitchen and saw a series of framed certificates, each one from a respected school or institute. „I see you are collecting certificates,‟ he said. „Antique ephemera should show a good return in a couple of years.‟ Jean laughed at him. „They aren't antiques, Tom. Some are Mick's, but most of them are mine. Open University in the main. The best thing that ever happened to me was signing on for OU courses.‟ She sighed and continued, „Just because I left school without any A levels doesn't mean that I'm ignorant, you know. I got my BA in Arts two years ago and am working towards an MA.‟ Tom was overjoyed, „Good,‟ he said. „I've got some questions to ask you, Jean. If you don't mind that is?‟ Jean shrugged. „Ask away. I'll answer if I can.‟ 58


Gulping air Tom slid his hand across the table. „The first question is a difficult one,‟ he said as he captured her hand. „Can I take you out tonight? Not far, to the local theatre. Trentby Dramatic Society is doing the annual show.‟ Jean smiled and gave her silvery laugh. „I'll be there, Tom. I'm a member and it's my turn in the box office tonight.‟ Her eyes twinkled and laughed at him. „Meet me in the bar afterwards. Now what's your next question?‟ „Will you marry me!‟ It came out like the cork from a bottle. A serious look came into her eyes. „I must say you don't hang around much. Do you always propose to, or maybe that's proposition, a girl ten minutes after you first meet her?‟ „This is the first time I've ever asked a woman to marry me, Jean,‟ Tom replied. „I fell in love with you when you escaped from that monster in the ragging shop.‟ Jean threw her head back and laughed, a full and hearty sound. With difficulty she stopped laughing, although a little chuckle escaped her lips now and again. „I'd love you for that alone, Thomas. A monster in the ragging shop?‟ A small chuckle escaped and a smile ran around her face. „That was me in my protective clothing, Thomas. You know: safety helmet, face mask, ear defenders and so forth.‟ Thomas thought that his name in her mouth was angelic. „A serious question like that deserves a proper answer. The answer is that I don't know you, Thomas. I can't say yes, and I can't say no, what I can say is that we'll have to see. Meet me tonight in the theatre bar.‟ She stood up and came around the table, placed her hands on his 59


shoulders, leaned over and kissed him, lightly, on the lips. „Thank you for asking me though.‟ With extreme difficulty, Tom pulled himself together. „If you won't marry me will you please look at this list and tell me if you have seen any of the things on it?‟ He passed the list and photo's across the table. Jean picked up the list and read rapidly through it, her face becoming a delightful picture of rapt concentration. „Horse shoe brooch, gold and diamonds. Yes, I can tell you about that... Scarab, nothing. I've seen it in Lady L's jewellery box though. She let me play with it when I was a youngster. She used to tell me the story of how she, 'came across it', was her term. What it boiled down to was that she nicked it when she was a nipper, sometime in the 1930s I think, when she was in Egypt on an archaeological dig with some relatives. Don't think it was worth much; but she did say that it was unusual because the words, she could read the hieroglyphics you know. She even taught Mick and me some so that we could use it as a secret language. It was fun.‟ She turned back to the list, „Fur coat, sable? Hmm, Mick told me he saw one go into one of the bags a few days ago; you'd have to ask him where he took it... Gold coins? Not a chance there, we wouldn't deal with them. Mind you, when you're dealing with Lady L they could have gone anywhere, or be hidden under the floorboards for that matter. Have you looked under the oak tree? She used to bury things around there, but you'll need a metal detector, or some dowsing rods, to find them if they are buried.‟ Jean brought a gold bar brooch into the kitchen and showed it to Thomas. „This was on a coat that Her Ladyship told Mick to get rid of,‟ she explained. „Let me have 60


another look at that list, please Tom.‟ Thomas passed the list across the table. „It's there,‟ he pointed and shivered when Jean‟s fingers touched his. „One hundred and fifty pounds according to this list, but it's out of date. That's too low for something like this,‟ she picked up the brooch and pinned it to her blouse top. „My estimate is something like two to three hundred at auction.‟ Then a thought occurred to her. „You know, Thomas, the Countess is in trouble.‟ A small smile played on her lips. „She‟s one of the beneficiaries of Lady L's Will; which means that it was hers when the old dear died, but she gave this away before it could be included in the settlement of the estate. That means that it's legally mine, well mine and Mick's anyway, but that she gets stuck for any death duty. Serve the stuck up cat right. I like it!‟ Then she burst out into silvery peals of laughter. Still smiling she took Thomas's hand and pulled him towards the door saying. „Bring some money with you tonight, Thomas. I'm an expensive girl to court and I'll be hungry when the curtain comes down.‟ The Puss in Boots charity shop depended on street collections for some of its income, so this morning found Dylis and Iris, two of the volunteers, busy with the bags of items brought in on the previous day. Iris Freebody a greying blonde, not yet past her sell by date, and a size 12 she always insisted and hoping to stay that way on her new diet. She was putting away yesterday‟s collection when she called upstairs to Dylis in the stockroom, 'Let's have our morning break shall we I'm parched already today and I'm wondering which bog stan61


dard part of our town sent in this lot. Look at these not even washed, they'll not be worth much' and she shuddered at handling them: 'Thank heaven we wear plastic gloves,' and she tied up the bag with the unwashed yfronts ready for the recycling bin. Dylis was a similar age to Iris, but, as a comfortable size 18, she lived up to her image of a cuddly gran the only concession she made was her well cut hair style silver now shaped to her head and still her pride and joy. From the stockroom she called down,'I'm almost finished this pressing it makes such a difference to a good jacket,' she skilfully steered the hot iron round the dampened collar then in a lowered voice she said, 'Iris do come and see what's pinned under the collar, it's that funny brooch we had in our bargain box a few days ago, so why is it on this coat?' That made Iris hurry upstairs to see, although a cup of tea would have been more welcome than a bit of costume jewellery. Dylis was by the back window turning it over and over to catch the light, 'Ooo ' she sighed,' I'd love this for our Sophie, she loves dressing as I've told you,' and away she went into her grandma mood about it. „Letâ€&#x;s have our tea,' grumbled Iris, she had heard it all before about Sophie and her dressing up games, so pulling out a stool she sat down and poured their tea.' I shall never get used to what some people put in our bags it's disgusting, fancy not washing them,' and she grumbled on. Dylis was still by the window lost in her own thoughts, 'Do you think I could buy this brooch,' she said, smiling at Iris and quite forgetting the shop rules. With an audible sigh Iris got up to serve a customer leaving Dylis to drink her tea, however she came back in a better mood, the customer had spent fifteen pounds. 62


'Now what were you wittering on about,' she asked on her return, „I would really love this brooch for Sophie, she's in a school play soon it could go on her head dress. What do you think?' 'What I think,' said Iris with heavy sarcasm, 'if you don't hurry and pay me for it and put it out of sight we shall have bossy boots in looking all pink and Barbara Cartland, you never know what her mood will be after a visit to the bank.‟ And so the scarab again moved on weaving it‟s magic on those it touched. Wednesday Evening British Municipal Museum Egyptian Section „Do you know, our Ethel?‟ said team leader, Mrs Grimshaw, stuffing her mop into the bucket with a jaunty plop. Ethel Scatterthwaite took her ears out and strains of Leonard Cohen wafted across the deserted antechamber and bounced off the nearby sarcophagus. Her nose wrinkled in anticipation, given the odd wine gum and Mrs G was a bit of a raggy trousered philosopher in Ethel‟s humble opinion. „Look here, this wasn‟t there last week, was it?‟ Ethel shuffled over to the open sarcophagus in the glass case. The cleaning team leader was right. There was something different about the half-wrapped Bluddschott mummy. An indefinable something, but definitely a something. Was he smiling? „And, that‟s not all,‟ said Mrs G scratching her spare tyre with a handy feather duster handle, „look at his nibs. Tell me that‟s in the same place? Look at the dust!‟ Ethel obliged and inspected the plinth of the associated 63


64


deity. The statue of Anubis, the dog faced god, was definitely in a slightly different place than the previous week as the disturbed dust ring clearly indicated and as it weighed over half a ton it wasn‟t as if some kid had leant on it. „It is a bit weird,‟ agreed Ethel, although she‟d always thought the Egyptian rooms were on the spooky side, always wondered if hundred‟s of eyes followed them round the room, she was especially careful not to skimp on the corners in here. „What is he anyway? What did he do?‟ Mrs G beamed her knowledgeable beam. She hadn‟t wasted the thirty years she‟d been washing these hallowed floors. „Anubis is associated with mummification and the afterlife: he weighs the heart of the deceased.‟ „Is that why he‟s next to the Bluddschott mummy?‟ „Ahh ... well ... this one, this Anubis statue, was actually dug up with the mummy in the case. He was guarding this actual mummy in the royal tomb.‟ „Royal? I didn‟t think this one was royalty?‟ said Ethel swinging a mop towards the glass case dismissively. „Worse,‟ said Mrs G, her attention suddenly taken up by the glitter of a dropped fifty pence piece, „he was a temple builder and high priest to the goddess Dumilla. A matchmaker by all accounts, liked to make mischief. Set folks up with unsuitable partners. Priests with scullery maids, fine ladies with a bit of rough. All good fun!‟ „Dumilla the goddess of reincarnation and rebirth,‟ said Ethel wandering after Mrs G as a shaft of sunlight fell on Anubis and for a second the eyes blazed. Thursday 65


Shortly after nine-o-clock, Thomas stuck his head around the door to the secretarial pool and said to the four inhabitants, „If anybody wants me I've gone up to the Manor, to see the Countess about the contents of the Estate of the late Lady Lucinda. I should be back just after lunch.‟ „Right you are Mr Thomas. Gone to see a client. Back after lunch. Have you got any appointments this afternoon?‟ replied Phyla the leading secretary. „Just a conveyance meeting at four, Phyla. If anybody wants me, urgently I'll have my mobile switched on.‟ „You mean if your Grandfather wants you you're not available again, I suppose, Mr T?‟ „Got it in one Phyla. See you later.‟ „Oh, while you're there, Mr T. would you give my Aunt Marge my love and tell her I'll ring her tonight, please?‟ „I didn't know you were related to the Potts clan, Phyla.‟ „Only by marriage, Mr T I suppose you could say we're a sort of a Sept, my mum's related to her cousin Vera, the saucy one. It's a distant relationship, but we all know each other.‟ The way into Bluddschott Manor was cluttered by the accoutrements of Trentby City Interior Designers and Decorators. Thomas managed to squeeze his way around, although fight his way through was more accurate, all the clutter that this well-known firm had brought along. Their motto of Enhancing Your Quality of Life, as emblazoned across all six of the vans left misarranged around the courtyard, seemed to have been mislaid somewhere along the way as there was a blazing row, really more of an harangue, going on between the Countess and one of the decorators. 66


„I‟m not paying you a penny until I see some work being done!‟ The Countess told him. „I mean proper work not this arty-farty what-ever you have going on in those rooms. Brushes being wielded to put paint on, carpenters making sawdust, electricians putting sockets in and all the rest of the stuff on the schedule. No work, no money!‟ The Countess was in full voice as she came up to a grand finish, „FULL STOP! Now get a move on or I‟ll ruin you. Have - you - got – that – little - man?‟ She poked her finger with each word then turned and stormed off. Thomas almost felt sorry for the Little Man, who was actually well built and 6 foot tall. He wouldn‟t want to be on Her Ladyship‟s black list either. As he squeezed past another chunk of scaffolding he said, „Take a tip from me mate. If I were you, I‟d take her very seriously. She has more money, and influence, than anybody else in the town. She‟s got you over a barrel and you‟d better make sure that you do what she says.‟ The man‟s face dropped. „But we can‟t start until we get some up-front cash. We‟ve got to buy the materials and stuff,‟ he explained. Thomas carried on fighting his way through the mess. „That‟s what Bank Managers are for,‟ he said, unhelpfully. „And, if I were you, I‟d get this junk tidied up; she doesn‟t like clutter either!‟ When he reached her study, he found the Countess in a smiling good temper. „That sorry little man‟s got a cheek asking for money up front,‟ she said to him. „Your father did a good job on the contract and I‟m sticking to it. Stage payments on results it says and that‟s what that oily oik is getting. Now, what can I do for you?‟ „It‟s about the Will,‟ Thomas explained. „I‟ve been told that Lady Lucinda sometimes buried things in the grounds 67


and I‟d like your permission to do a search for them.‟ „Metal detectors and such I suppose.‟ She paused for thought. „Very well, Mr Green, you can have next week to do what searches you like. You can begin today and must be finished by Saturday; when my visitors from New York and Paris will be here. I won‟t have your grubby metal detectorists cluttering up my grounds over the holidays.‟ Thomas had been told that a few days would do for a first search and agreed. An hour, and a phone call, later a van pulled up outside Bluddschott Manor and disgorged several men with metal detectors. They did a search in several likely locations and came up with a few old nails, the water pipe into the house, and a few „dry‟ holes. Then the serious work started with their „geo-phizz‟ mapping. From an elderly car descended an elderly woman. She looked around, sniffed, took two steel rods from the boot, and started to walk randomly around holding the rods out in front of her. Every so often she would stoop down and put a coloured peg into the ground. After half an hour she stopped and walked to where Thomas was sitting in a fold up chair. „A fool‟s errand,‟ she told him, sharply. „Those idle metal detector people,‟ she waved to indicate them, sitting drinking tea from flasks, „should have found all these places. Two places where there‟s copper, another six with iron in them, and only one with gold. Quite a large amount I feel. I‟ve marked them, it‟s red for copper, black for iron and yellow for the gold. I‟ll send you my invoice tomorrow. Good day to you!‟ She turned, walked back to her car and drove off. Thomas had been warned that this dowser was short tempered and wouldn‟t do any digging. Assisted by the „idle metal detector people‟ Thomas 68


went to where the yellow marker was stuck into the grass. „She said there was gold here,‟ he told them. „Right then, let‟s get digging,‟ said the leader metal detectorist, and stuck his spade into the ground. A little way down they came across a strongly built wooden chest. When opened it contained about two hundred gold coins. „One up for Lady L then,‟ the leader said. „This has got to go to the Coroner for a decision as to it being treasure trove or not; and that takes from six to twelve months.‟ Thomas smiled, that was another tick on his to-do list. Wednesday evening after 1945h. Thomas was the lonely occupant of the theatre bar, the show starring, if that was the right term, which he doubted, Danny LaDoo had started fifteen minutes ago. Jean was in the box office cashing up for the night whilst he was waiting, waiting, waiting for Jean Grabble, the star of his life to appear. He didn't mind waiting, he would, he thought, wait forever for her. 'Another drink, squire? While you're waiting for whoever it is you're waiting for?' The barman, obviously a staff member, asked him. 'Yes, a bitter lemon, please.' Tom was out to impress and having his breath smelling of something alcoholic wasn't on the cards. The barman was, obviously, not impressed by this heroic attitude. Suddenly the door swung open and the light of his life, surrounded by a glowing nimbus of pearly light, filled his sight. She was here! The most perfect woman in the world, the one he was going to marry, and marry very soon. The mother of his children and the supporter of his dreams. 69


Through the haze he did note that it was different Jean. The Jean he'd met earlier wore red jeans, safety boots, and a blouse over a T-shirt. This Jean wore a tailored business suit that outlined her absolute perfection. 'Hi Tom, I saw you come in earlier, but you know how it is in that kiosk. Too small and rushed off your feet most of the time. Get me a drink will you? A glass of lemonade would be nice.' Thomas floated across to the bar and back with the glass. Jean took a deep drink. 'That's better,' she said. 'Now Thomas what about you? What do you do, what family have you, what plans do you have? I need to know all about you.' Thomas smiled as he replied. 'Mum, Dad, Babs and Meg my sisters. Grandpas and Grans on both sides, and a raft of relatives. You'll have to meet them all sometime soon. I'm the junior in the family firm and will probably stay there for some time, maybe forever, I don't know.' He slid off his chair and onto his knees, 'I love you, will you marry me? Today, tomorrow, sometime soon?' Jean's face became thoughtful. 'Not today or tomorrow, Thomas, but you may have a chance on the sometime soon, I think. That all depends on how well we suit each other.' She smiled and, as she spoke, Thomas felt shivers run up his back, he'd never felt like this before. 'We've an hour to talk before the interval and after that; if youâ€&#x;re very nice to me, you can take me out for a meal.' They chatted, Thomas didn't know, or care, about what, until the interval bell rang. The sound changed Jean from the flirtatious girl he was getting to know to a business person. He was even more impressed, here was someone who had more than one facet to their life and could switch between them. He could never, really, stop being a lawyer 70


but, maybe, it was something he could learn. He could try anyway. Sighing he sat back and watched the 'other' Jean Grabble at work. After the interval Jean took him back-stage to meet the cast. Danny La Do was in the wings doing a lightening change into his „Cleopatra Costume‟. 'Can't talk now, darling,' he said, in a high pitched voice, 'this is a very quick change. Is my hat on straight, dear.' The Egyptian head piece had a very OTT scarab hanging down into the centre of his forehead. 'Nice jewellery there; where did you get it from?' Jean asked Danny. 'Oh, that's from one of the charity shops, Jean darling. The cats one I think. Cost me a whole pound as well, mind you I don't think it really suits me though, do you dear? Not quite 'me' really, if you know what I mean! If you want it, sweetheart, you can have it when I come off stage.' Standing up and giving 'her' make-up a last look, 'Cleopatra' went through the scenery flats, paused, and, right on cue, swept into the next act. Minutes later, not wanting to offend, Jean smiled gracefully as the tasteless trinket was tossed her way by the retreating „star‟ tripping in his high-heels as the sound of thunderous applause rang in his imagination and the actually booing and the common ... „Gerr Off You Idiot‟ was blanked out. But next morning she buried the unwanted item in one of the collection bags destined for Mans‟ Best Friend where it was delivered by her brother within the hour, where in turn it was discovered by Randolph Andover, who slipped the find straight into his pocket. Sometime later: 71


72


They‟d never miss it for one day. Randolph stared fascinated by the shiny object nestling in his palm. It wasn‟t nicking if he was going to take it back. It was borrowing. It was so pretty. It shone, it glistened, it sparkled in the tiny glint of daylight that was allowed through the chink in his bedroom curtains so his goldfish wouldn‟t die of despair. This bit of bling was exactly what Victor the Vulongarian would give to his number one concubine, Princess Angelikka, to cement the alliance with the King of the Zorrunastrians. Randolph had toyed with the prospect of a marriage alliance but that thought that brought him out in a rash of boils under his armpit so he had suppressed it. Concubine it would have to be. He was too young for the prospect of marriage, even a virtual marriage. His mum, Carol, said he had „commitment issues‟ like his dad, wherever he was. Randolph weighed the item of his desire. It was heavy. Pity it wasn‟t real gold. It shone like real gold. But, nagh, it was only gold paint. Wasn‟t it? Should he keep it? Nagh! Barry could copy it and use it for Princess Angelikka‟s presentation regalia. It could hang round her neck and snuggle between her full rounded ... Randolph‟s armpits started sweating again. Randolph grabbed his hoodie, „Going out, mum. Got my keys. I‟m going round to Barry‟s.‟ In the kitchen of 9, Princes‟ Avenue, hands floured and face flushed, Mrs Carol Andover, divorcee, who was baking for the WI bake sale, heard the stairs clump and the front door close as her son went out, the Bluddschott sacred scarab secreted in his pocket. She smiled, such a nice turn of events, who‟d have thought Randolph would 73


find a friend through working in the charity shop. And didn‟t his probation officer, that nice Miss Wainwright, say he needed to be encouraged to go outside more. Randolph grinned as his size twelves hammered up Barry‟s stairs to his lair under the eaves in the attic space. Barry had long outgrown his bedroom and taken over the loft. His mother had wanted to have it properly converted, but Barry was adamant. He wanted the grunge look to stay, so apart from some boards slung between the joints, an old sofa and jerry rigged electrics for the bank of PCs, the loft was still pretty much a loft. Barry had consented with reluctance to having a Velux window installed but that was not for the health and safety reasons stressed by his dear mother. Oh no! „Bit radical, old mate,‟ said Randolph on his first daylight visit to the sanctuary of the Vulongarian Overlord, pointing to the roof light. „What‟s that?‟ his interest piqued by a glint of shiny metal. Barry had the decency to flush with embarrassment. „Nothing, bro. Shall we get on? What „ave you got for me?‟ Randolph ignored the „bro‟, Barry was rushing their „best mates‟ relationship, but if he thought this business arrangement had a social element then all the better. He tossed the scarab to Barry. „It‟s for ...‟ „Princess Angelikka,‟ breathed Barry reaching for his stylus and drawing pad. As the portraiture artist in Barry surfaced, and it had a long way to come, Randolph rummaged beneath an old crocheted baby blanket to discover Barry‟s secret shiny. „Wow! Barry you dog!‟ explained Randolph exposing the 74


telescope and screwing his eyeball into the eye-piece. „Whoa ... who is that?‟ Randolph had discovered Barry‟s source. The zoom lens was focused on a rooftop extension in Princes‟ Avenue. On a loft level bedroom in Princes‟ Avenue. On the rooftop extension to number 11, Princes‟ Avenue. A figure entered the room, Randolph gasped. The Goth girl wandering around in nothing but her tats, nose rings and hair extensions totally oblivious to Barry‟s all seeing eye was his next-door neighbour, Sharlene Mountjoy. As she turned an enormous dragon tattoo breathed fired over her naked shoulder ... Randolph jumped away from the telescope. „Can‟t you tell?‟ said Barry somewhat affronted. „It‟s ...‟ „Princess Angelikka,‟ said Randolph totally overcome by a wave of emotions. „Didn‟t I tell you? I always work from a model.‟ Deirdre Drinkwater was mooning about. Her mind was clearly not on the job of dusting the window display. She had polished the plastic statue of Hercules with the broken helmet three times and totally neglected to shake the dust off the heap of knitted dogs which, as usual, sadly graced the charity‟s display. Deirdre was still flicking about with the feather duster when Cynthia Saunders meandered by casting an appraising glance into the rival establishment, to gain an insight into their marketing plan. Deirdre didn‟t notice the vision in various shades of puce and pink pulling faces at the pile of overstuffed dogs of all descriptions. Deirdre was on the look-out for only one thing: Mick Grabble. It was as her nose actually made contact with the shop window that standing on the pavement, Cynthia noticed 75


two things, the bizarre antics of the weird volunteer with a face only a mother could love, and that Lady Annabelle Bluddschott‟s Land Rover had pulled into the only parking place left on the High Street. „Good morning, your Ladyship...‟ smiled Cynthia doing her best not to drop a curtsey. Cynthia was big on royalty, not that this brassy heiress had any claims on nobility, not much grandeur being attached to pork bangers. Lady Annabelle nodded and strode past, entering the establishment of Mans‟ Best Friend without a word, leaving Cynthia blinking at the affront. Meanwhile at the rear of the premises, Randolph was opening the door to accept another delivery. „Hey up, lad. Giss an „and with this lot. Albert Mews, might be a bit tasty,‟ said Mick, dumping four black bin bags onto the floor. Leaving the kettle, Randolph rushed to oblige, the sacred scarab safely concealed in his back pocket. Jumping into the back of the collection van where he was out of sight, Randolph hastily pushed the scarab into a convenient split in a plastic bag thoughtfully marked „bits and pieces‟ by the donator. It was as the last of the bags was secured in the back room that Manageress Geraldine, her face slightly flushed, and Lady Annabelle emerged from the shop front, and that Lady Annabelle was confronted by both the tattooed muscles of the sweating young offender, and the wide-eyed charms of the older ragman, who was holding the split bag and now giving her ladyship his full attention. It was a moment of choice, and for once Lady Bluddschott was temporarily lost for words as their eyes met over the sea of black bin bags. In the shop, over by the till, Deirdre Drinkwater glanced 76


up into the security mirror which covered any activity in the rear stock room and wailed. It was a silent wail. But she knew her place in the pecking order. That overdressed besom held all the aces: how could she compete with Lady Annabelle for Mick‟s attentions? Deirdre cuddled a stuffed poodle to her sagging bosom as her double chins wobbled in the abject despair of the rejected. Some weeks ago while rummaging, PC Daniel Smithers had noticed the tag on Randolph‟s ankle and had thought to himself, I‟ll keep a close eye on that one! He knew the station sergeant was keen to boost the crime clear-up rate in Trentby, which, at just 2% was at an all time low, and Smithers saw an opportunity of boosting his own ratings and prospects of promotion at the same time, and with very little effort on his part. All good news as far as he was concerned. So it was that he saw it as his civic duty as protector of the public and upholder of law and order, that whenever Randolph was in the charity shop, PC Smithers would hide behind a rail of clothing, or pile of boxes, to spy on Randolph and catch him in flagrante, or red-handed, or up to no good. What he was unaware of, was that Randolph was well aware of him, with his large, bulky frame and clumsiness, and took a very dim view. On more than one occasion, he complained to his shop colleagues or customers, or anyone within earshot, „Hey, I‟ll have him! That counts as police harassment, that does!‟ Tiffany Topliss, 29-year-old reporter with The Daily Oracle, 77


drove her red Fiat Panda through the wide gates of Bluddschott Hall, her tyres crunching on the gravel, and came to a halt outside the imposing oak front door. Hopping out of the car, she straightened her short skirt and grabbed the bell pull. Down the empty, hollow corridors of the hall, the sound echoed, eventually reaching the scullery, where Mrs Marge Potts, housekeeper, was busy discussing the day‟s to do list with the cook and the maid. „That‟ll be that reporter from The Oracle, I expect. What a racket! We‟ll get back to this in a mo, ladies.‟ Irritated, Marge opened the creaking door just wide enough to peer out, and check that it was indeed Miss Topliss. Then she promptly slammed it, shouting, „Tradesmen round the back, if you don‟t mind!‟ Sir Lionel Bluddschott had an eye for a pretty girl. He knew Miss Tiffany Topliss by reputation and was not happy that the housekeeper had sent such an adorable creature to the back door of the Manor before showing her into his plush office. He apologised profusely, regretting that she hadn't been received with the respect due to an important and talented reporter, taking the opportunity to prolong his handshake while looking into her pretty blue eyes. „You're interested in the missing scarab, I understand,‟ he said, still holding her hand and staring into her eyes. Miss Tiffany smiled back, thinking, I know what you're interested in Sir Lionel and it certainly isn't helping me to write an article about a missing scarab. „Come and sit down, my dear,‟ said the Colonel, leading her by the arm to a comfortable leather sofa. Tiffany thanked him, sat down gracefully, crossed her legs and took out her notepad and pencil. „There is a rumour going round that your aunt, the Dowager Lady 78


Lucinda, once owned this item of jewellery, a brooch that has gone missing after being sent to one of the town's charity shops,‟ she said with a sweet smile. ‟I wonder if you remember seeing such a piece.‟ „Well,‟ said the Colonel, eyeing the reporter's short mini skirt, „I'm not the sort of man who takes much notice of what people are wearing. Why all the interest in an old brooch?‟ „Professor Toogood, who as you know does valuable volunteer work at the Puss-in-Boots charity shop, is an expert of ancient Egypt and when the brooch was described to him, he became ecstatic. Unfortunately, staff at the shop searched high and low for this object, but it had mysteriously disappeared. I thought that if it had once been in Lady Lucinda's possession, you might remember seeing it. My editor is anxious to help the police by publishing a description in the local paper. Hopefully, this will help in tracing it.‟ The Colonel knew exactly what the brooch looked like, but wanting to see Miss Tiffany again, he told her he would think about it overnight and invited her back to the Manor at 10 o'clock the next day. Then he absolutely insisted that she had a sherry with him before leaving, saying it helped his memory and he never liked to drink alone. Tiffany accepted the drink, emptying it into a plant pot a few minutes later when the Colonel turned his back to refill his glass. „I really have to go now,‟ Tiffany said, sweetly. „I have an appointment with Evadne... She's always in and out of the Puss-in-Boots and she might be able to help us. I really have to get something for my editor.‟ „That Evadne woman is senile,‟ said the Colonel. „Smokes like a trooper and drinks like a fish. I don't think 79


you'll get any sense out of her. I'll tell you what, instead of coming back here tomorrow, why don't we have dinner tonight? I'm sure I'll have remembered something by them.‟ Randolph knew his place. In the pecking order of Mans‟ Best Friend volunteers he was the lowest of the low, anything of a „thinking‟ nature was not his business, he was manual help only. Thus it was as Lady Whattsit and Mick Grabble were having an eye-contact moment, which was dragging emotional torment and the prospect of wild desire upto the level of an Olympic sporting event, Randolph did what he did best and sloped off out of the way, sporting the black bin bag with a slit rent in it as he went. „Here you are,‟ he said, dropping the donations bag at the feet of Deirdre Drinkwater who was very flushed around the jowls and grasping hold of the cash till in a very strange manner with her gaze riveted on the security mirror where the „Lady Chatterley‟ moment going on in the back room. „Hang things up,‟ she snapped and waved majestically towards the „As Yet Un-priced‟ rail. This was exactly what Randolph had wanted. No-one would notice what he was doing. He set to with gusto, haphazardly hanging the various garments on to hangers. „Not like that, you chump,‟ said Deirdre, snatching a pair of polka dotted slacks of epic marquee proportions from a size 10 coat hanger. „You have to size the item to the hanger size.‟ Randolph looked blankly at the hanger and the polka dots. Sizing! That was something dudes had a mum for, wasn‟t it? 80


„Give it here. Go and fetch some doughnuts from next door,‟ sighed Deirdre handing over a fiver from the pocket of her piny. Randolph blinked, volunteers were definitely not allowed to have any money of their own on the shop floor. So he wasn‟t the only one breaking the rules round here. „What sort?‟ he asked remembering that the daily doughnut ritual was a minefield of complication, and Trentby Bakery had the widest selection in town, and he should know, he had in his schooldays tried them all. Emm ... at that moment Randolph had an epiphany revelation ... Trentby Bakery ... proprietor Mrs Mountjoy. Mrs Mountjoy, who was Sharleen‟s grandma. Sharleen worked there during the summer hols, didn‟t she? Was it the summer hols? Had college broke up yet? Randolph looked round the shop for a calendar. What day was it? What month? Was it summer yet? A light pinged on somewhere in that blank recess of a science fiction immersed frontal cortex ... it would be hours before he could go online as he wasn‟t allowed his phone in the shop. He‟d buy a newspaper that would have a date on. Oh dear, he would have bought one if he had any money... never mind. He could work with this idea and as he hesitated by the doorway he actually felt himself grinning from ear to ear. That was a strange new sensation. „Get an assortment,‟ grumbled Deirdre who felt the urgent need for a double choc doughnut with dairy custard coming on, and thus didn‟t notice the change in the demeanour of the usually reclusive recidivist. Then as the shop door closed behind Randolph‟s size twelve Biker Boots Deirdre heard a clunk and on looking under the counter found the item that had clunked and rolled. „Where did you spring from? I wondered where you‟d 81


got to.‟ With that Deirdre gave the sacred Bluddschott scarab a rub with her piny and dropped it back into the junk jewellery box by the till making a mental note to write out another price ticket when she had less on her mind than Mick Grabble‟s imagined infidelity with a member of the aristocracy and the prospect of chocolate doughnuts. Strange to say but that at the very moment of the piny rubbing, a shaft of sunlight pierced the gloom of the British Municipal Museum and the obsidian eye of the guarddoghead statue in the Bluddschott exhibit, glinted with malice. Mick Grabble, half of „Grabble & Sons (Recycling)‟, was busy in the ragging shop „recycling‟ a load of old tat into something he could sell: rags. The other half, his sister Jean, was also busy. She was one of „the Sons‟ (Dad was a bit previous there); „Front-ofHouse-Staff‟ and „Chief Accountant‟, amongst other things, but the thing on her mind was the young solicitor, Thomas Green. He had proposed marriage twice daily for the last four days. „Should I accept?‟ she mused aloud. „Tom‟s a nice bloke, washes regularly; which is more than some people do around here, got good prospects. Hmmm… No, Jeannie girl think about that one, he has a steady job, that‟s what he‟s got. Well spoken and polite and mad over you. Can you get on with him though? Give it try girl; you can always change your mind.‟ Reaching over she picked up the phone and dialled a number she knew, now, by heart. Thomas must have been a mind reader as he said, „Hello, Jean,‟ as he answered. „Hi, Tom, how did you know it was me on the phone?‟ 82


she asked. „Oh, I can tell your ring‟, he answered. „It doesn‟t have that nasty ring it does when clients want you. It more, sort of, purrs,‟ so saying he purred down the phone to her. Jean laughed; he could be funny when he wanted to be. „Well for that, Thomas Green, you can pick me up tonight at eight and take me out to dinner.‟ Jean could be bossy if she wanted to be, but spoiled the effect by chuckling all through the command. If it was a command. „Yes, ma‟am!‟ Tom barked in his most military manner, you could almost hear him saluting. „Ten hundred hours at your at your house. Best bib and tucker to be worn, face blacked, boots washed, swimming medals to be worn.‟ He dropped the military mannerisms and said, „I love you to distraction Jean, I can‟t think of anything else; when will you marry me?‟ As usual, Jean ignored the proposal. Not to hurt Tom, because she was very attracted to him, but because she couldn‟t cope with it. Instead, she asked, „Where are we going to go, Tom?‟ „The Golf Club,‟ was the unexpected reply. Jean was impressed. She knew that, unless you had some serious influence, getting a table at the newly rebuilt Trentby Golf Club‟s restaurant was next to impossible. „Are you sure, Tom? I mean I‟ve heard some fantastic stories about that place, how you pay for breathing, and the water‟s a pound a drop.‟ Thomas laughed, „All true‟, he replied, „Relax my darling; I have reserved a table for two on the balcony. The most romantic spot in the area.‟ „If it doesn‟t rain,‟ Jean told him. „That‟s what the screens are for,‟ she was told. 83


„Okay then! See you at eight,‟ Jean said, as she rang off, giggling. Best bib and tucker, she said to herself. Tastefully, but understatedly, sexy and the right amount of jewellery. God bless her; that‟s what Lady Lucy would say and she had an answer for everything. Now what can I wear? „Mick,‟ she shouted across the ragging shop from the office. „I‟m going out for a few minutes.‟ She‟d wasn‟t disappointed. „Bring something back for tea, I‟m starving,‟ was the reply, the one she‟d expected. „Right, I‟ll be about an hour, and don‟t forget to collect that stuff round the Slaughter House area!‟ So saying she left for the shops. Passing „Man‟s Best Friend‟ charity shop Jean decided to see if they had anything in she could wear. You never know, she thought to herself. There was nothing much on the rails but she did have a rummage in the costume jewellery box. „Have you got another one of these, Randolph?‟ She asked as she picked up a gold and lapis lazuli scarab marked at 50p. „I‟ve seen one very like it recently.‟ Randolph Andover broke away from his daydream of positively hordes of luscious lovelies on his computer and took in the real world. This real world. Sort of. „Only the one, Miss Grabble. That one‟s been around for bit; but nobody seems to hang onto it for some reason. Shame really, it‟s quite nice and colourful.‟ Then his brain kicked into gear as he realised he‟d seen her all dolled up for something last week and even dressed in jeans and a floppy sweater, that she beat his fantasy computer girls hands down when it came to the sexy stakes. She smelled nice as well! Randolph had never thought of smell as a factor in being sexy and wondered, briefly, if you could get 84


a computer screen to smell right. „I think it would go nicely with that blue dress you wore at the … erm... theatre last week. If you like, I can superglue a pin on the back. Be a bit extra, of course, for the pin and the glue.‟ Jean thought she‟d seen that scarab before. It was unlikely that there were two in the same town, so it probably was Lady Lucinda‟s, and she knew the story behind it. I‟ll keep it to remind me of Lady Lucy, she decided. „Okay Randolph, glue a pin on the back, please‟, she said. „Would two quid be enough, do you think?‟ Randolph agreed that it would and did the necessary work. This time totally failing to get his fingers glued together. Later that evening, the weather was nice, the surroundings lived up to their reputation, the food was fantastic, and, Jean, wearing the brooch, found, Thomas was a good dancer. As she swung around the floor in his arms, she felt safe and decided that, if he proposed again, she would say, yes. Back at the table, and to the shock of the other diners on the terrace, he went down on his knees and proposed to her once again. Jean kissed him, softly, on the lips; their first kiss, and said. „Thomas I‟ve thought about it and, the answer has to be, „Yes, I will marry you.‟ At which point Thomas fainted. It took copious applications of champagne to bring him round enough to get the ring out of his pocket and then amidst cheers from the other diners he put it on her finger and kissed her again. „It must be this lucky scarab that changed my mind,‟ 85


she told him later as they strolled back to his car. „Scarab?‟ Thomas asked in a bemused tone. „What scarab is that?‟ „The one Lady Lucy brought back from Egypt in the nineteen thirties,‟ she told him. „The one I‟ve got on my belt as a buckle ornament. Look!‟ The one Lady Bluddschott‟s been looking for, thought Thomas. In the British Municipal Museum, a stray glint of moonlight darting through the overhead windows in the Egyptian Hall caught the face of the god Dumilla and the eye of one of the guards watching on a TV monitor. „Blow me down if that there statue don‟t appear to be smiling. Never seen that before,‟ he said to his partner on shift. „Marvellous what them old Egyptians could do with a lump of rock, init?‟ „Clever them Pharaohs,‟ his partner replied. „Got any coffee left in that flask?‟ Meanwhile in Trentby, Randolph was aware of a strange sensation in his feet and lower limbs. The pavement didn‟t seem to be where it ought to be. He was bouncing on spring filled heels. It was only five yards to the bakery from the charity shop but it seemed to be miles away. „Hello, Randy,‟ said a voice. Randolph gulped. He knew that voice. He‟d known that voice ever since play group at the Methodist Church Hall. He‟d knocked her over at the Sunday school sport‟s day and made her cry. He‟d pulled her hair and spat in her pudding in primary school. He‟d called her fatty and cop86


ied her homework at the Trentby High School. He‟d played hookie with his mates and gone to the pictures in Year 7 with her tagging along as Big-Lad Ferris‟s little sister. That‟s what Sharlene Mountjoy had always been to him up until now, Big-Lad Ferris‟s little sister ... the girl who lived next door. Randolph turned and smiled: was that a shiny glow radiating round the Goth princess like in the planetary wars on Vulongaria? (Or, more likely, simply the glare from the bakery shop‟s neon sign reflecting off her nose ring and eyebrow piercings.) „You still tagged, then?‟ the black painted lips asked: it was not a criticism. Unable to form words, which were drying up in his throat, Randolph nodded. How could he, a mere mortal, speak in front of a naked princess? Not that she was naked. But the sight of her perfect tattooed nakedness seen through the eye-piece of the telescope was still imprinted on his retina. „Laters ...‟ she said, pushing passed him as she entered the bakery. „Laters ...‟ he mouthed, turning away and wandering off down the street. It wasn‟t until he reached the Council Offices that he realised, he was going entirely the wrong way and hadn‟t bought Deirdre‟s doughnut selection. „Randolph, what are you doing here?‟ said a voice. He knew that voice too. „Why aren‟t you at work?‟ „Fetching doughnuts, mum,‟ he replied and fell happily into step with her all the way back to Mountjoy‟s bakery, glad to have someone with him who knew the way and wouldn‟t let him come to any harm. His mum would be a perfect excuse for being late back. Mums are great for excuses. 87


He had learned something this morning. Sharlene was as desirable in the flesh, he started sweating again at this point, as was her 3-D image on the small screen, and when she spoke he was rendered mute, which must be a super power he was previously unaware of, and his mum liked her. She had said so when she pushed him out of the cake shop drooling. Mums don‟t miss much, do they? Perhaps that was why mum‟d invited her round for tea on Thursday Perhaps that was why mum‟d invited her round for tea on Thursday. Perhaps that was why mum‟d invited her round for tea on Thursday. His mind looping, Randolph deposited the tray of doughnuts on the counter and wandered into the back room entranced. Princess Angelikka was coming to tea on Thursday. Barry would be so jealous, Barry would never believe it. Who would have known, having real friends could be such fun. „Randolph, don‟t just stand there, put the kettle on,‟ yelled a voice. Ah well, back to the day job. Barry‟s jaw dropped open. „You‟re having a laugh. You‟ve got a date with Princess Angelikka? The real one! Pull the other one, it‟s got bells on.‟ „Mum‟s invited her to tea. She said yes.‟ „Just like that?‟ „No, not exactly. Mum asked her to bring her mum‟s stuff round for a,‟ mumble mumble, „party.‟ „A what?‟ grinned Barry who knew what Mrs Mountjoy was into, what with him having the telescope trained on 88


every room in their house in case the Princess was ever into wandering around in the buff. This wasn‟t always such a clever move as her brother, the weight-lifter, BigLad Ferris, was in the habit of wandering around starkers scratching his itches while searching for his boxers in the washing basket. Often Barry had an eye-full of humongous dangly bits he‟d rather not have had imprinted on his retina for the rest of the evening. It wasn‟t all milk and honey being a virtual artist. Randolph‟s lips tightened into line as tight as a papercut in best lamb‟s liver: „A Francine‟s Secret-Spring Party.‟ Barry exploded into fits of giggles, most unbecoming for a manga warrior warlord. „I thought that was a girls-only do. All those frills and fancies flashing about.‟ „It is,‟ grimaced Randolph really wishing he had kept his big mouth shut. „What room will they be using?‟ said Barry, retraining the telescope. „Oi,‟ said Randolph jumping up off the beanbag, „you keep that lens away from my mum‟s conservatory. She isn‟t a forgiving sort of person.‟ Barry smiled. He had all the info he needed. The glass roof of Mrs Andover‟s conservatory was no barrier to his all-seeing eye. Thursday tea-time, all the great and the good ladies of the estate would be peeling off to squeeze their flabbiness into Francine Secret-Spring‟s lace and wire corsetry. Manna from heaven. Good job he hadn‟t confided in his new buddy that his latest acquisition was a camera with a zoom so powerful it could read the writing in Sharlene‟s diary if she was careless enough to leave it open on her desk. „Now, what have you got for me, today?‟ he asked, changing the subject and waving a plain brown envelope 89


which wasn‟t as well stuffed as Randolph would have liked. Randolph pulled a MBF carrier bag from under this sweatshirt, „This is quite nice.‟ With trembling fingers Barry reached in and pulled out a 1960s baby-doll nighty in pale pink satin trimmed with black ostrich feathers... „OMG,‟ he murmured rubbing the shininess between finger and thumb, „What a score, mate. What a beauty.‟ The plain brown envelope changed hands and Randolph toddled off down the stepladder from Barry‟s attic lair feeling very pleased with himself. A few more deliveries like this one and his dream machine wouldn‟t be such a distant prospect. Now all he had to do was work out how to waylay Sharlene after the frilly-pants party and before she went home. He‟d already offered to be a bouncer and a waiter, which his ma was having none of ... such a pity his ma didn‟t have another male interest in her life. Barry‟s ma had several. Yeah, Barry‟s ma was a Trentby cougar, a very old be-whiskered cougar. Bet she had a season ticket to Francine Secret-Spring parties. No, he didn‟t want his ma to turn into a chubbier version of Barry‟s old lady. But, a decent bloke with a good steady job, who‟d take her out a lot and get her off his back, now that was an interesting thought. He‟d give that idea a run round the block and see what he could sort out. Maxie, the treasure hunter as he liked to think of himself, the police had another term that wasn‟t quite as pleasant, lay pondering in his bed at his great Aunt Evadne‟s rather tatty bungalow on the outskirts of Trentby, but there again me and the Plod don’t seem to get along all that well. I 90


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wonder why? I’ve never done anything illegal; well, nothing that they could prove anyway. Through the thin walls came the sounds of tins being opened and pans rattled. Brekky? Already? It’s not seveno’clock for heaven’s sake. Still I suppose these country folk have to get up early, don’t they? Must be something in the blood I suppose. Hope I don’t catch it. „Maxie, it‟s time for you to get up and dressed and washed if you‟re going to start that research thing you talked about last night. I‟ve got your kippers cooking nicely so you‟ve got about fifteen minutes,‟ said the voice of, „Seeing as how you‟re family, you can call me Eva‟, from the kitchen. Washing was one of those things Maxie did on high days and holidays, or when he couldn‟t avoid it, but he supposed that it would be a good idea; just this once. „Okay, Eva, Be right out,‟ he answered. Now kippers and Maxie had never crossed paths before, however, he found that he quite liked them, once he‟d got used to the idea of using a knife and fork to eat breakfast instead of scarfing down a handful of cereals and a mouthful of beer. „What‟s your plans for today?‟ Evadne wanted to know. „If you‟re researching that scarab thing, like you said last night, then your best place to start is probably the public library. I know they‟ve got all the Bluddschott papers „cos there was an exhibition there last year celebrating the purchase for the County Archive.‟ „All of them Eva?‟ Maxie said putting on his best „bright researcher‟ voice. „I mean there must have been quite a lot of them.‟ „Cost them a hundred and sixty thousand quid at auction, that I do know.‟ 92


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„A hundred and sixty thousand!‟ Maxie‟s voice screeched a bit at the sum. He‟d never thought that pieces of paper could be worth so much money. „Yer. Cheap at the price too, they reckoned.‟ Came around the production of the stubbing out of a nub end and the lighting of another fag. „The archive people say that it‟s a complete record from fourteen something or other; right up to nineteen fifty.‟ Maxie was dumb struck; there‟d be TONS of stuff to read and he wasn‟t fond of reading, not very good at it either he admitted to himself. Reading wasn‟t what treasure hunters did in the books he‟d „liberated‟ from his local library back home. He did intend to return them; one day, so it was only borrowing, wasn‟t it? „Now, the place to really start and get some clues about what could have happened. It stands to reason they wouldn‟t write down what they‟d nicked it from the Egyptians, would they?‟ Evadne was now in full flow. „No way they‟d write that down; no, the best idea is to talk to the old folks down at the centre. There‟s nowt that they don‟t know about that lot up at the hall, I‟ll bet.‟ A quick slurp of her tea to moisten her tonsils and a deep drag on her fag started Evadne off again. „And, Maxie, don‟t wear that stupid vicar‟s collar thing. I know you ain‟t no vicar. If you was your gran would have been crowin‟ about it for years and she ain‟t said a dickey bird. I don‟t know what you‟re up to, and don‟t want to know neither, but clean shaven and smelling sweetly is the way to go. Got it!‟ Maxie nodded. He could tell that the voice of experience was talking here. Maybe Mad Great Aunt Evadne wasn‟t as mad as the family thought. 94


Thursday teatime „Mrs Andover, is that your Randolph?‟ Mrs A dropped the pair of purple-spotted, outsized ladies frilly things and hastened to the vertical blinds being held ajar by her neighbour Mrs Mountjoy. She blinked in disbelief. What was that daft son of hers up to now? On the patio was Randolph balancing on the garden seat holding the sunshade for the garden table and chairs up above his head like a giant umbrella as if trying to shade the conservatory roof from some invisible rain. „Randolph, get down off there, immediately,‟ she shouted. Of course, Randolph had his musical ears on and couldn‟t hear a word she was saying, as his brain cells were being bombarded by a Danish Mr Angry Person with very loud drums and bass on full throttle. Unfortunately, when Mrs A got her dander up, she usually took action. How could the chump show her up in this unseemly fashion? Acting like a right idiot in front of the ladies from the WI as they rummaged through Mrs Mountjoy‟s steamy unmentionables being so nicely modelled by Sharlene: such a nice girl despite appearances to the contrary and such a nice little baker, hadn‟t she made all the fondant fancies? Only as the conservatory doors were thrown open with the violence only a cross mum can wield, Randolph realised he had been spotted trying to shield the see-throughglass conservatory roof from Barry‟s telescopic sight. At which point he lost his footing on the rickety garden seat as a chuckling gust of wind caught hold of the garden brolly and tugged him towards the ornamental goldfish pond. Randolph hadn‟t the sense to let go of the brolly. The Splash! that followed was inevitable. 95


However, the gods do smile on those in the throes of first love, and as Randolph sat in the pond he was rewarded by the sight of his beloved Princess standing framed in the conservatory doorway wearing the frilliest fuchsia nighty in the history of the known world. As stinking pond water slime embedded into his Mext boxers, Vi-Le 601s and best Nuke trainers Randolph was transfixed by the twirl of pink feathers as Sharlene was pulled inside by her mam. It was then, Randolph realised, that he wasn‟t alone in the delicious unveiling of the charms of the girl of his dreams, as a glint of sunlight caught the lens of Barry‟s hidden attic telescope and twinkled. There really is no such thing as a victimless crime, is there? thought Randolph. Growing up a little, Randolph came to an uncomfortable conclusion. He shouldn‟t be helping Barry. He should be closing Barry down, or channelling his creativity elsewhere, preferably through a route equally profitable. It was at this point that Carol Andover striding over the wreckage of her patio and garden pond prodded him with the line prop, „You great dollop. You‟re just as useless as your father,‟ letting him know in no uncertain terms what an idiot she thought her son had turned out to be. Dripping in confusion, as he rescued the outsized umbrella from off the garage roof, Randolph considered the insult, his mam must be cross if she mentioned the „f‟ word. The spectre of his missing dad was never mentioned.

„The Bluddschotts you say? What about them?‟ came 96


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from 'Thin Woman' sitting across the table from Maxie at the Centre‟s coffee morning get together. „They were a funny lot to be sure. Lord Bluddschott, the old one not the new one, that new one's neither use nor ornament, and he's skint as well. No, Robert was the old one, he was an archaeologist, when he was alive of course, and he was a good bloke, even though he had some funny ideas. What do you want to know about them?‟ Maxie explained, again, that he worked for the British Municipal Museum and was doing some research into the whereabouts of the Bluddschott scarab. It's not exactly a lie. I do work for the British Municipal Museum, he told himself, only not one of the research bits. „Ha, you'd have to ask Reggie about that. Not much chance of getting a word out of him, of course.‟ That brought a titter out of the others around the table. „I suppose,‟ said another, a man that Maxie had pegged as „Baldy-locks‟ and either an ex-teacher, or Bank manager, „that you could be referring to the late Lady Lucinda and her scarab. Or, to be precise, the scarab that she was supposed to have had in her early years, I suppose.‟ Maxie was all ears as Baldy-locks continued. „I believe it was in the late nineteen thirties when it, ah-hem, came into her possession. However, it's not been seen in the last, oh, twenty years to my knowledge. Of course, if it is found, it would be a part of the late Lady Lucinda's estate and the property of the Bluddschott family. According to Tim Toogood, no doubt you'll be meeting him in the course of your research, it's not worth a lot, a few thousand at most. Tim, when he puts his Doctor Toogood the Egyptologist hat on, says that it could be a fake and only worth a few pence.‟ Maxie felt sat on. „A few pence?‟ he queried. „The Mu98


seum are prepared to pay up to twenty thousand for it, that I do know. The provenance alone puts it into that bracket.‟ Maxie, via Ms. Spur, knew a lot about provenance. About how the right article, with the right kind of supporting paperwork could be worth a hundred times the price of one without, even if they were the same things. Maxie thought it was plain stone bonkers, but, knew that that was the way it worked. „That's another thing I came to have a look into.‟ Maxie had thought it out over the last few hours, in case his plan went all pear shaped all over him. For once he had an escape plan in place. „We, the Museum that is, have some of the documents on the various digs but probably not all of them, that's what my boss thinks. I've got to do some reading in the Bluddschott papers,‟ Maxie had found he could 'do the academic waffle' with something like authority. „Please could you help me? Does anyone have any idea of which time span I should be looking at? I could trawl from the 1850s to the 1950s as start and finish points, however, as the archive has only been partially indexed, that will take me more time than I can really afford. It's only a small grant you see and, although I'm currently living with my Great Aunt Evadne, to eke it out you understand, I'm severely limited as to a time scale. Any help would be gratefully accepted and will be acknowledged in the publication I'm going to produce.‟ „You're living in the same house as Smoking Mad Evadne? You'll come out fully kippered young man. She smokes far too much does Evadne.‟ Fluffy Cardigan from two around the table offered. „Stay outdoors as much as you can is my advice.‟ That advice 99


got approving nods from around the table. Thin Woman chipped in with, „I should say you should concentrate on the period 1920 to 1942. That was the time when the area was, relatively, free of wars and upsets for archaeologists to work in that part of the world. Naturally you will need to look carefully at any Firman you may find, as that will give you where they dug, and may give you the names of any other European participants.‟ „Thank you, I'll do that,‟ Maxie replied; while he made a mental note, What the devil's a firman when it's out. „You're new at this modern history external research thing, aren't you?‟ Thin Woman stated. „You're starting the right way though. Keep it up young man and I can see you having a good career in front of you.‟ Maxie had never been told he was GOOD at anything and didn't know how to respond. „Er-mm ... Ta!,‟ he started, and then recovered. „Thank you very much, madam. I certainly hope so.‟ Thin Woman smiled at him and lost thirty years in the action, Maxie could, vaguely, see that, once, she had been a startlingly good-looking woman. „Then 1920 to 1942 it shall be,‟ he declared as he stood and thanked the people at the table paying particular attention to Thin Woman. She may be someone he could use in future. The 'Reading Room' at the local archive was warm, pleasant and bright with comfortable chairs and desks, a far cry from Maxie's expectation of dark, drear and dim. It was more like the reading room at the British Municipal Museum than anything he'd expected. His reader‟s room card, issued when he got the job as part of the stuff he'd been given, and hadn't bothered to read, got him a local 100


card without any problem. The files, one file at a time, were delivered to his desk. For the next three hours he spent more time reading than ever before in his life. Then, bingo, he found his first reference to, 'a scarab blue and gold, soapstone, as type V but with an unusual inscription', and a sketch of the item. Got you! All I have to do is to find you, he said to himself. A photocopy of the page cost him fifty pence. Then he left to become, A Real Treasure Hunter. After a delightful evening with Tom, Jean went home to bed. She lay there thinking about her coming marriage and started to panic. There was so much to do and so little time. It had to be a white wedding, of course with bridesmaids, a best man, ushers, a wedding feast fit for a king, a wedding dress fit for a princess. Should she wear a veil? She couldn‟t decide. She would think of that later. Who should she invite? She thought about the guest list, who to invite, who to avoid? Should that be whom to invite, whom to avoid? She couldn‟t decide. Did it really matter? Yes, of course it did. Everything had to be perfect. How much to spend? It was difficult. She couldn‟t decide. Who would print the invitations? What if the grammar was wrong on the cards? Would Tom be mad? She couldn‟t decide. Who would do the catering? She couldn‟t decide. Should she colour her hair? Change her hairstyle? Go on a diet? Get her legs waxed? Book the church? Talk to the vicar tomorrow? Book a photographer? Book the wedding cars? Book the florist? She couldn‟t decide and her head was spinning. She felt like running away, cancelling the wedding, screaming, No! „No! No! at the top of her voice. 101


Banging her head against the wall, taking a handful of sleeping tablets. She desperately needed to sleep. To sleep perchance to sleeeeee.. z z z z z z z… Often, when she was doing her Open University course, Jean would have a problem that seemed insoluble, but after a good night‟s sleep, the solution was clear and the problem was no longer a problem. Perhaps that would happen as she slept tonight… She hoped it would … In her mind‟s eye she pictured herself… desirable and lovely in a really unusual wedding gown, made entirely of pink roses; a dream of a dress; a midsummer‟s night‟s dream of a dress. As if by magic her wedding day had been sorted out as she slept. She was the proud possessor of something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. The pretty scarab brooch, she wore in her hair complimented her pretty blue eyes and fitted all the superstitious requirements of the day. Four problems neatly solved by one small Egyptian nick-knack. Why had she bothered wracking her brain about the wedding organisation when it could be so easily fixed? The church service was really delightful even though the vicar was wearing a wet suit. Nobody thought this was strange and everyone enjoyed the joke when he began the service with, „Dearly beloved, we are gathered on this sad occasion to mourn the passing of Jean and Tom… Everybody held their breath until the vicar said, brightly, „Only joking!‟ and then the guests laughed hysterically. They were even more amused when the vicar told Tom there was no need to kiss the bride, as he would do that onerous chore for him. There was such a happy atmosphere in church and that continued in the reception room at the Trentby Twelve Star Hotel. The table was set 102


thoughtfully with the staff of the „Puss in Boots‟ charity shop down one side and, facing them the staff of Mans‟ Best Friend. At the top table were Tom Green and Jean Grabble who, since the vicar‟s kiss, had become Mr and Mrs Thomas James Green. How she had enjoyed that lingering kiss! A holy moment she would never forget. The best man was Jean‟s brother, Mick, and instead of making the usual boring speech he acted out each word as if he were playing Charades. Unsurprisingly, the speech took an abnormally long time to deliver, but the guests who were still awake, had great fun guessing. Tom‟s sister‟s, Megan and Barbara, were bridesmaids and someone had thoughtfully seated the girls between the town‟s two cross-dressers, Police Constable Smithers and the Honourable Jason Fortesque-Chumleigh. They drooled over the bridesmaid‟s stylish outfits and it was endearing to hear the two men begging the girls to swap their wedding clothes with them. There was a slight hitch at the last moment when the wedding cars from Trentby Cabs turned into pumpkins, but almost immediately colourful hobbyhorses replaced them. What a splendid spectacle the wedding party made as they trotted happily on their wooden steeds from the church to the Trentby Twelve Star Hotel. A long beautifully laid table awaited them. The seating plan said, CATS ON THE RIGHT... DOGS ON THE LEFT. Cynthia Saunders, Manageress of the Puss in Boots, led her team to their places. Timothy Toogood, volunteer and Egyptologist, owner of 17 demanding cats, tip-toed behind. Then came Cyril, Dylis, Iris and Evadne. Evadne had made a valiant effort with the table deco103


rations. Each place setting had a sweet knitted cat beside it. How was Evadne to know that half way through the meal those woolly cats would come to life and run amok? Her grandson, or nephew or some such, Maxie, must have anticipated something like this because he had brought a loaded water pistol with him. He helped the waiters deal with this unwelcome distraction and, apart from a few scratches and splashes, no real harm was done. On the opposite side of the table the Mans‟ Best Friend staff were led to their places by Michael Grabble. Following him were Rosemary Thorne, Randolph Andover and Danny Smithers. There was just one worry as Jean glanced round the table, an empty seat. Surely nobody in Trentby would refuse to join in their joyful celebrations. Who was missing? Jean pondered for a few moments and looking round the table realised that Colonel Lionel Bluddschott OBE wasn‟t there. In his place sat an enormous Nile crocodile called Reggie, its front feet resting rudely on the starched white tablecloth. Jean went over to reprimand the unpleasant creature and it coughed violently, vomiting up a rather slimy person. It was Colonel Lionel Bluddschott OBE and although the poor man had been dead for some time, once he dried his face on a clean napkin, he was completely recognisable, and true to form, he ordered a double brandy. The wedding had been a triumph and, to Jean‟s relief, she hadn‟t had to organise a thing. She stretched as she woke the next morning. The phone was ringing. It was Tom. Jean was angry, „I haven‟t got time to talk to you,‟ she snapped. „I‟ve got a wedding to organise … To the amazement of Marge Potts and the dismay of The 104


Countess of Trentby, the next day Maximilian Crest, a researcher from the British Municipal Museum, presented himself at the side entrance of Bluddschott Hall. Maxie was very pleased with the credentials he'd fabricated for himself. The British Municipal Museum paper was authentic, he'd 'allowed a few sheets' to fall into his work bag one evening, and his imitation of the signature was pretty good; even if he did say so for himself. 'The Bluddschott Mummy, yes I know about that,‟ The Countess said. „But, I'm sorry to have to tell you, that this scarab you're looking for is something that went missing a few years ago. It's such a pity as we could do with the money it would fetch at auction. By the time the death duties are paid the estate is basically bankrupt you see, Mr Crest.‟ Maxie pressed her to talk about it and showed her the photocopy he had of the site report. „That's the one, Mr Crest. My husband‟s Aunt Lucinda kept it in her jewellery box for some time, however, when she passed away we couldn't find any trace of it.‟ There was more than a trace of bitterness in her voice as she continued. „For that matter we couldn't find a lot of things that we have evidence for. Gold coins that are missing, only 200 out of 423 that were inventoried previously have been found. That scarab, some rubies and emeralds in various settings, possibly a few diamonds, that kind of thing. You know the sort of thing I mean.‟ Owing to some very specialised, not illegal but definitely unusual, training Maxie knew exactly what she meant. Rubies, emeralds and diamonds were all expensive, saleable if you knew the right people, glittery rocks to him and here was this old trout acting as if they were nothing 105


but an assortment of kids plastic building blocks. „I hope you have the rest of the bequest securely under lock and key, Your Ladyship?,‟ Maxie asked. „No problem there, Mr Crest. Would you like to see them, there may be a clue of some sort that will help you in your research.‟ Maxie expressed pleasure in the idea and was taken into a small room where the jewellery was laid out on a table. „This was Lady Lucinda's dressing room,‟ the Countess explained. „Even if the house weren't effectively a castle there are only the two small windows and a strong lock on the door you see. No chance of them being stolen from here.‟ Maxie took one look at the lock and almost burst out laughing. Strong lock? You got to be joking Countess, he said to himself, 'I could open that thing with a nail file in ten seconds and as for this being a castle! I could be up on the roof and inside in two minutes; if I was that way inclined. The only thing that's stopping me is fencing the stuff. ‘As a matter of interest, Your Ladyship,‟ Maxie couldn‟t help asking, „what is the appraised value of these in the estate?‟ „We're awaiting the official figures at present, Mr Crest, but, I understand that it's about £200,000 in total. However, there is a problem with the actual ownership of some of the better pieces. Some may be owned by a firm that Lady Lucinda set up to give her some cash for repairs. A complex legal thing you understand. I'm afraid I don't know the ins and outs of it; that's what lawyers are for, isn't it?‟ Maxie thought that lawyers were there to keep you out of the nick and do things about selling houses, but he 106


nodded anyway. „Tricky stuff, the law,‟ he agreed as they left the room. Marge Potts, however, had heard about him on the grapevine; she collared him as he left. „There's nothing quicker than the old biddy's net,‟ she'd told him. „That scarab, Mr Crest, the last I saw of it anyway, was on a coat that went to one of the charity shops. It's probably been sold on by now. No luck there I‟m afraid. Ohh and give your Aunt Evadne my regards will you; and tell her she's still the Bess from Slaughter-house Yard that I went to school with.‟ This was another side of Evadne that Maxie knew nothing about. Marge went on, „It's far quicker to go down the drive and out through the front gate; as long as you keep away from the lake that is. Reggie's on the prowl at this time of day but you'll be safe enough on the drive.‟ „Reggie? I've heard about this Reggie. What's the problem.‟ „Nothing really. But a full sized crocodile can run fast for about twenty yards or so. As long as you don't go down to the lakeside you'll be as safe as houses.‟ „A crocodile? You're having me on!‟ „Suit yourself, lad. But don't say you ain't been told,‟ Marge said as she closed the door behind him. Maxie didn't believe that Reggie existed, that was okay with Reggie as he viewed Maxie as a walking meal as he lay in wait in the shallows. „An old log that looks a bit like a croc. No problem there, but what an idea to put about. Better than a guard dog any day.‟ Maxie marvelled as he jumped down the slight bank to stand on the shoreline by the boat house. He no107


ticed the temple folly on the island. If he wanted to hide a cache of illicit gems he knew exactly where he‟d have hidden them. Then there was a brief flurry of activity that saw Maxie, easily, breaking the standing high jump, long jump and 100 yards sprint records as he hurtled towards the gate yelling blue murder. Reggie gave up the chase after a few yards and waddled, grunting with disappointment, back to his interrupted nap. It looked like a fish dinner again. Safely back at the house Maxie told Evadne about his narrow escape, hardly dramatising it at all. „Serves you right,‟ Evadne said, as she lit up another cigarette from the stub end of the one she was busy inhaling. „Have a fag. It‟ll calm your nerves.‟ Jean found she quite liked kissing Thomas, so, after a short pause to catch her breath, she said. „You know, Thomas, I could quite get to like this being engaged business. It‟s nice, safe and exciting at the same time. Definitely a more-ish sort of thing, something that we need to practice though. We should practice; a lot!‟ So saying she moulded herself to Thomas and proceeded to practice. If Thomas objected to the idea he kept it firmly to himself as, seemingly enthusiastically, he joined in the practice session. „Sweetheart, we need to get a move on if you're to meet my family in half an hour,‟ Thomas said some little while later. Jean pushed Thomas gently away and towards his car saying, „Come on slow coach, it's about time we were moving; so let's get the show on the road!‟ 108


After arrival at the Green's house Jean was introduced to the family by Tom saying. „This is my fiancée, Miss Jean Grabble BA, a partner and the Chief Accountant in Grabble and Sons (Recycling) Ltd.‟ He then took her around the room introducing her to everybody. „Jean, these are my sisters Megan, usually called Meg, and Barbara, usually called Babs.‟ They both waved and said „Hi Jean.‟ Thomas continued, „My mother,‟ Jean shook hands with Mrs Green „My Father,‟ Jean shook hands again. „And my Grandfather,‟ another handshake, grandfather had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. „We've met before, Miss Grabble,‟ he said. „You won't remember it, of course, you were far too young to remember anything.‟ Jean was taken somewhat aback, and then asked. „When would that be, Mr Green?‟ „At your Baptism. Let's see, properly it's Jeanette, then it's Elspeth, after your grandmother, and Mary, after your other grandmother, if my memory is correct. I was in the RAF with your Grandfather William at one time and he invited me to the service. I'm afraid we got rather drunk in celebration together that night. That was, let me see... about 20 years ago.‟ He turned to Thomas. „Tom you've got a good lass here, one I'd be very proud to welcome into the family; if she'll have you that is. Look after her, she's a gem.‟ Picking up a glass from a side table, he raised it to Jean and said. „I propose a toast to Jean Elspeth Mary and Thomas. May they have every happiness for many years.‟ There was a chorus of approval and a whisper when Tom hugged her. „You're in his good books, my darling 109


Jean. He's never done anything like that before! I wonder what the story behind it is?‟ Jean didn't have a clue either. Dinner was an occasion for light banter, laughter, and good food. True to Thomas's prediction, Babs and Meg did get Jean to one side for a brief girly period and came away giggling. ‟When will you marry me, Jean?‟ Tom asked. „We can have the wedding any time you like after midnight. I went out and got a special license when we got engaged and I‟m sure I can get somebody to conduct the service at short notice.‟ Jean turned away and opened the house door, then turned and gave him a thoughtful kiss. „Soon, very soon, she replied. „What you mean, Tom, is that you can get somebody to conduct the ritual at short notice. Make that, ohh, the day after tomorrow for the ceremony. But, our real and actual wedding is going to be tonight; in the next hour, and I want a lo-o-ong, slo-ow and utterly delightful wedding, Thomas. If it doesn‟t take until at least dawn to „get properly married’, say two or three times.‟ So saying she pulled him through the door slamming it behind her. The next morning, freshly showered and dressed only in bathrobes, they picked up the trail of discarded clothing in the hallway, had a cup of coffee and went and ‘got married’ all over again. Meanwhile in Bluddschott Hall: „Lionel, if we are to balance the budget. If we are going to have anything like a reasonable standard of living, then you will have to give up something!‟ Annabelle, Countess of Trentby, told her 110


spouse. „Either that, or get a position, or a directorship, or something on a quango, that pays a decent salary.‟ Lionel, obviously, didn't like the idea of working for a living any more than he liked budgetary restrictions. „If there are any decent positions open for someone in my position, dear, I would, naturally, apply for them. I suppose... yes, I suppose my best bet is to get onto the old Regimental network and see what, if anything's, on offer.‟ „Hmm.‟ Annabelle wasn't at all sure about that, but she wasn't the daughter of a food products millionaire for nothing. She knew a negotiating position when she saw one. „I suppose, that that will have to do for a start. The other thing, and one that you can do immediately, is stop drinking in an evening. The wine merchant‟s bill alone is more than 20% of the household budget and,‟ she thumped her desk for emphasis, „it has got to come down!‟ „A chap is entitled to the odd little tipple in an evening, dear.‟ Lionel protested. „It calms me for the night, helps me sleep; you know that.‟ „An odd LITTLE tipple is acceptable, Lionel, half a bottle or more of three star brandy every night is more than an odd little tipple. From now on you're to limit yourself to one double per night.‟ Her pencil came up and ticked off an item on her list of trim able expenses. „Now! There are some other expenses that I need to talk to you about. The Golf Club and that Man's Best Friend Charity shop are examples.‟ Lionel just had to come to the defence of his two main escapes from Annabelle and The Hall. „My dear, my activities at MBF don't really cost us anything you know. Any moneys I do spend are reimbursed at the month‟s end, as you know. As for the Golf Club. That's a bit different. You 111


know that's a requirement for people in our position. We must show the flag mustn't we? Besides which; if I'm going to find a paid position then keeping an ear to the ground up there will be crucial.‟ The Countess wasn't sold on that idea either, but had to agree, that he had a point. „Very well, Lionel, however, the one drink a day rule applies at the Golf Club as well. Not one there, and one here, and another one somewhere else. We just CANNOT afford large bills coming in.‟ Lionel had a thought. It wasn't often he did, so he usually acted without really thinking all the way through. „My dear, we know a lot of stuff that Aunt Lucy left us has gone missing. If we could find that, then, instead of being penniless we'll be able to live how we want.‟ Annabelle shook her head. „As usual you're too late, Lionel. We've already looked all over the estate. That's where and when we found those 200 gold coins. I'm sure you remember those metal detectorists people who couldn't find their backsides with both hands and a map, and that detestable old woman with a couple of wire coat hangers who found almost all of it!‟ „Ahha but I'm not thinking of looking outside,‟ Lionel replied. „We haven't had a good look inside the hall. Lucy was basically confined to the house in the last year or so; so it stands to reason that she's hidden stuff inside the hall. All we've got to do is find it!‟ Annabelle indicated that she wasn't sold on that idea either. „I'm going to start at the top of the house and search every room until I do find the missing jewellery and stuff.‟ Lionel was getting enthusiastic which, as Annabelle knew, was a dangerous sign. „I hope you don't damage anything, Lionel. Remember the Hall isn't ours, it belongs 112


to the Trust, if you do any damage then we've got to repair it and that could cost a lot of money.‟ „My dear, I wasn't thinking of using a hammer and chisel to find it.‟ That was an outright falsehood; he'd planned on doing just that; with a good sized crowbar as a back-up tool for the fine work. „A good look round,‟ he continued. „Maybe tapping a few panels in the library and in here the study, some careful work in the passageways. Asking Mrs Potts if she‟d noticed anything unusual in Lucy's last couple of years, things like that. Detective work really. Nothing to damage the fabric at all.‟ „Start in the cellars, Lionel,‟ his wife instructed. „Lucy obviously had a thing about cellars. I believe she used to take that young Grabble fellow down there quite frequently. No doubt she had some perversion about young men and dark places.‟ Annabelle knew about that sort of thing; she had one similar. A woman had her needs after all and Lionel wasn't up to much in that department. Not, of course, that she indulged in it ... well, not often ... the budget wouldn't stand it. Torch in one hand and riding crop in the other. „To tap the walls to see if they sound hollow, dear,‟ he'd explained; his service pistol in the pocket of his floppy jacket, just in case an opportunity arose to remove Annabel from the equation, wasn't mentioned; Lionel, and a tin of penetrating oil, won their fight with the lock and went down the 'Butler‟s Stairs' into the cellars. „I'll be jiggered!‟ Lionel exclaimed when the flick of an ordinary light switch turned on banks of fluorescent tubes 113


and revealed brick built arches containing rack after rack of dusty wine bottles. „There's got to be a few thousand quid‟s worth of liquid gold in here. Those gold coins didn't disappear at all. That crafty madam turned it into an investment in wine. Aunt Lucy; I take back half of the things I said about you!‟ Prowling the racks; not daring to touch anything and break the spell, noting the names chalked on the frames. Du Pape, Cliquot, Vermille, Rhine, Rhone, Oporto and other great names as well as some he didn't recognise. Then 'Napoleon' jumped into his view. „I wonder what you are, you darlings,‟ he murmured as he reverently withdrew a bottle from the rack, gently wiped the dust from it and read the label. „1896? A whole bottle of 1896! The last time one of these came up for auction it fetched six thousand and I've got,‟ he quickly counted, „TWENTY TWO bottles. That's one hundred and thirty two thousand pound in my hands.‟ He did a little dance of joy in the aisle. Prowling the racks to see what other 'liquid' money was, as it where, lying there undiscovered, he spotted a door to another cellar. „Shut and locked and from the looks of it, no key on the ring for that lock,‟ he said to himself after trying them all. „Now where would the old darling hide the key so that she and her toyboy could get at it easily? It's got to be around here somewhere, and not too far from the door either.‟ After a frantic search he found it under a bottle. The lock worked without any fuss. The interior was disappointing. It was a dusty school room. True it had a dust sheet covered day bed against one wall but it was definitely a school room. The table had a pile of books on it and a couple of chairs against it: there 114


were piles of paper lying on the 'Mend it Badly Yourself' bookshelves and a blackboard that had a series of squiggles which could have been a map and badly drawn birds still showing on the face. No sign of any salacious activity at all. Lionel was disappointed. „Why a school room though, Lucinda,‟ he asked the shade of his Aunt. „And, where have you hidden the cash?‟ Bluddschott Hall library: „A hundred thousand Annabelle. A hundred thousand!‟ Lionel said as he waltzed about the study. „All our money worries are over!‟ Annabelle was a little more sanguine. „We've got to sell it first, Lionel. Don't get too excited until the cheque's in the bank. Then we have to argue with the tax people, they‟re bound to demand some of it. Capital Gains Tax or some such.‟ Lionel was deflated. „Righty-ho then, dear. I'll have another look in the cellar. There's a lot of cellars down there that I haven't even started on yet.‟ „Good idea, Lionel. You do that and I'll get onto the wine merchant and get them to send somebody around to appraise the wine cellar contents. It could be that those bottles are our salvation.‟ She smiled at him. Lionel had seen that smile before, it meant that somebody was going to have to do some serious work, and he was the only person available. ‟While you're down there have another look around in that school room. There could be a clue in there somewhere. You know Lucy's interests better than anybody else, for all we know she could have written the hiding place down in those ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic things 115


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she was so fond of. Do some drawings; get some pictures of things so that we can check.‟ Lionel went off to see Mrs Potts to borrow a camera. „It's very simple to operate, Sir Lionel,‟ she said. „You just point it at whatever it is you want to photograph, make sure you've got all of it in the picture frame that appears when it's switched on, then, you press this button here!‟ Although she was doing a childlike 'Point and Show' Mrs Potts wasn't at all sure of how much was going in between his lordship‟s aristocratic ears. „To get the hang of it why don't you take some pictures in the kitchen? It does take a bit of practice. Once you're happy then you can use it. I'll need it back tomorrow though. The next batch of visitors has been booked for the 'Bluddschott Hall Tour' and it's my turn to be the guide.‟ Lionel wasn't at all happy about this, but the monthly tour was a part of the Trust‟s conditions of occupancy so he couldn't argue. He cheered up as the thought crossed his mind that a part of the tour was a drink and a sandwich in the main hall, and the Trust always put plenty on the trays. „I think I'm going to be available for this tour, Mrs Potts,‟ he said. „Meet the owner was always a part of it with Lady Lucinda, wasn't it? I feel it's only right that I, or the Countess if she's about, should continue the tradition. Please put out another glass for me, Mrs Potts, and I'll mingle at the end of the tour.‟ What Mrs Potts thought about it she kept to herself but said, „Another glass for you, and, one for the Countess I think you mean, Sir Lionel? Madam has already told me that she'll be available.‟ „Right you are then Mrs Potts.‟ He was a bit disappointed; with Annabelle in the hall a quick snort or six was 117


out of the question, two was the limit. „Now, how much do films for this camera cost? I'm going to be taking a lot of pictures and I need to get plenty of film for the project.‟ Mrs Potts laughed. „You are a joker, Sir Lionel. Film indeed! You don't use film in this type of camera. It's a digital and will hold about two hundred pictures before you need to bother about it running out of space for them.‟ As she thought, Sir Lionel was hopeless. He had the attention span of a gnat on hard drugs and all the coordination of a soft rubber hat rack. It took the rest of the morning but, eventually, he got the hang of it. „Right, got it! Now for some serious stuff,‟ he said as he left for his mysterious errand down in the cellar. There Lionel photographed everything that could possibly show some sign of writing. Even the central heating boiler found its way into the photo shoot session. „Doctor Timothy Toogood! That's the man I'm going to see,‟ he told Annabelle sometime later. „He's the Egyptology expert around here, or so I'm told. If anybody can recognise these hiero-thingy's it'll be him.‟ „Good afternoon, I'm Lionel Bluddshott, The Earl of Trentby and I'd like to see Dr. Toogood. I'm told he works here,‟ he said giving a huge wink to Cynthia the woman behind the counter at the Puss in Boots Charity shop. „Good afternoon, Sir Lionel. If you'd like to come through to the back I'll ask him if he'll see you,‟ his mistress replied, not at all affected by his lordship‟s current weirdness. „He's at the rear of the top floor so it will take a few minutes to find him. With your work at Man's Best Friend you'll know how difficult it is to keep stock in good condition. Tim's working on that problem at the moment.‟ 118


Once into the office she turned and berated him. „You utter idiot, Lionel! How many times do you have to be told not to come here under any circumstances. The Earl of Trentby and the Manageress of a Charity Shop in a sexual relationship, what that would do to my reputation is beyond belief. What were you thinking: if you were thinking at all? Lionel was taken aback at the totally unfounded attack. „But, Cynthia my dear darling, I really have come to see this Toogood fellow,‟ he protested. „He‟s the local Egyptian expert and I‟ve got some pictures I‟d like him to see. They could tell us where to look for the missing cash.‟ Then a crafty thought slid into his mind. „If I'm right and find the lost money, and the other stuff that Lucy squirrelled away, it solves all our problems. Don‟t you see?‟ Mollified but not completely satisfied with his answer she wrapped herself around him and gave him a quick kiss. „Wait here, Lionel,‟ she instructed. „I‟ll go and get that clot Toogood, maybe something good will come out of it after all.‟ Tim Toogood was dressed in his usual lack of style. Glaring orange flip-flops held together with parcel tape and bits of string really didn‟t go with the dark grey cord trousers and a green frilly shirt. The pictures on the camera got his attention though. „Get me some proper pictures of these,‟ he said pointing to a number of frames on the camera. „I really cannot be expected to give you an opinion with this sort of picture. Why haven't you got a proper drawing or a good photograph?‟ Tim was a bit testy when his authority could be in question. „Incompetence I suppose. Go away and get me a decent size of picture! When you come back I'll ex119


pect clear sharp images and a down payment of £50 in cash.‟ Tim may have been a bit woolly when it came to daily living with his cats but he knew that, basically, the market value of a professional opinion was whatever you can get away with. In addition, he knew that it was no good trusting the value of the word of Lionel. Cash or nothing was going to be his standpoint. Cynthia came to the rescue of her lover. „I can print out Sir Lionel's pictures, Tim. Will that be good enough?‟ „Firstly we'll see what sort of fumble fisted excuse for a photographer it was who took them.‟ Tim replied, still in a testy mood. „From what I can see I'd say that it's going to be difficult to find one without a finger over the lens or some such idiotic fault.‟ Ten minutes later: the till was £50 lighter in cash, £50 heavier on a cheque signed by Lionel, the cash was in Tim‟s wallet, and a pile of pictures was lying in the printers out tray. Skimming through them, Tim said things such as. „Useless. Out of focus. Useless. Camera shake. Useless. The fool's got his finger in the way,‟ and threw more than half into the wastebasket. „Now that's interesting,‟ was the comment on four. Those he concentrated on. „Lionel, or Colonel, or whatever it is you call yourself, these are good and I can make sense of them. The price for a proper translation is £200; however, I will give you a preliminary one, a draft as it were, for the £50 you've already paid me.‟ Lionel, smarting under the various: „incompetents‟, 'idiotic' and 'fools', that had been thrown around in last short while, said „That should be good enough to get me 120


started, Dr. Toogood. I'll need something to report to free up the cash for the translation.‟ Putting on his best lecturer voice, Tim read out the first few characters. „The first line is clear enough, it says; 'Those, or all, who disturb the repose of the gods'. The second line and third lines are indistinct but it's something like; take care or possibly beware of something called the guardian of Dumilla, then something about honour, dentition, and the family. They aren't drawn too well and some of the signs are out of context. Is that any help?‟ Lionel seized onto some words and said to himself. 'The gods? That could be something to do with that folly on the island, that's supposed to be an Egyptian god of some kind. It could be called Dumilla I suppose. Take care; well it's falling down so that makes sense. The honour and family bits I don't understand. The dentition, too difficult. Get Annabelle to see what she can find out.' „Thank you Dr. Toogood,‟ he said aloud. „Please keep the photographs and work on them when you can. I'll get the cash to you when the estate is finalised.‟ Tim Toogood wasn't at all sure that the £200 would be found but said nothing. „I‟ll get back to the top stock room then, Cynthia. There's been a leak, only a small one, in the roof that needs some attention from the outside. I've put a bucket under it for now but it's going to need a roofer to fix it properly.‟ So saying he left the room. „Does that solve the puzzle?‟ Cynthia wanted to know. „Possibly, Cynthia. It's a clue that says I should be looking on the island in the lake.‟ Lionel was so taken by the answers he had received that he upset her by failing to give her more than a single goodbye kiss on the cheek. „How?‟ Lady Annabelle asked as she entered the boat121


house, „Can you possibly fail to get a boat into the water?‟ In answer, Lionel pointed to the remains of the punt. „That came apart in my hands as I tried to get it into the water, Annabelle. Those planks in the water over there were, until I tried to move it, a rowing boat. Then, it not so much sank as became that floating pile of soggy firewood. I'll have to find another way.‟ „What about the underground passage? Where does that start!‟ Annabelle asked in her, 'The Countess is not amused', manner. „That? Oh, that‟s a silly story, my dear. When great grandfather built the original folly, not the one that‟s there now, he put it about that there was a secret passage but there never was. All „you‟ need is a pair of rubber boots and you can walk across on the underwater steppingstones. I did it a few times when I was younger.‟ Annabel‟s nose wrinkled at the word „you‟. „What‟s to stop „you‟ doing it again now, Lionel?‟ „I don‟t know if the stones are still there, my dear. Lucy may have had them pulled up or they could have fallen into the lake.‟ „Find out, Lionel. FIND OUT!‟ When she gave that sort of order there was no gainsaying her. Crocodile, or no crocodile, he was going across to the island. Fingering his old army pistol in the pocket of his tweeds Lionel nodded meekly and found some old Wellies in the rear of the boathouse. Clumping along lakeside, he stepped, gingerly, onto the first stepping stone, felt around with his foot, and using all his concentration, found the second, the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. The eighth wasn‟t there; but he didn‟t find that out until it was far too late. All the splashing and clumping had attracted the atten122


tion of Reggie who decided this could be lunch. When he saw the portly figure struggling in the water Reggie went into hunting mode, swam quietly up to it and gave it a knock with his tail. There was a yell and lunch arrived, delivered right into his teeth before Lionel could get even one shot off. These fearsome sets of dentition worked only the one way. If something went in it didn‟t come out again. Annabelle stood on the bank watching circles of bubbles popping until all was calm once again. „Hmm,‟ she said, „I suppose that means that I‟ll have to wear mourning for a little while and black never suits me. I wonder ... that nice Mr Grabble ... I bet he‟ll know somebody who can shoot that crocodile for me? I‟ll drop around there tonight, I‟m sure he‟ll be a great comfort to a grieving widow. Although a grieving abandoned wife is probably a better option to plump for, thinking about it. Less taxing ... less death duties ... less complications all round.‟ Tom & Jean‟s wedding The Church of the Bleeding Heart, Trentby Minster, was getting crowded, even the short notice hadn‟t stopped many of the local legal professionals from turning up, not to mention a few who looked to them to keep them inside the bars they preferred, and outside the bars they deserved. After all, it wasn‟t every day that an up-and-coming member of the legal profession married into the burgeoning recycling business. There were a few who speculated, quietly, that it might be a good thing to keep a weather eye on the two firms. Conflict of interest and all that? Hmm? Not with the old chap in charge! He’ll keep it private as sure as eggs are 123


eggs. Going public on the other side maybe, unlisted of course, could be a few shares going spare. Something to keep in mind old chap, nod’s as good as a wink and all that! Tom was busy with his last minute preparation, but not busy as Jean was with hers. „Meg are you sure that this dress will stay on?‟ Jean had asked Tom‟s sisters, Megan and Barbara to be her bridesmaids, and they‟d spent the last 36 hours running around getting dresses altered and generally in a tizzy. „Of course, Jean. You don‟t think I‟d let my favourite sister-in-law go up the aisle in something that was going to fall off, do you?‟ Megan replied. „I know it feels a bit like it is but it‟ll stop on okay, as long as you don‟t try running in it. But Tom‟s not going to run away from you, not while you‟re wearing that anyway! Throw you over his shoulder and run away with you is much more likely.‟ Babs passed her a roll of double-sided sticky tape. „This is what you need, Jean. If you put some of this in the right places not only won‟t it fall off, it‟ll take you and Tom some time to get you out of it; and that could be some really good fun.‟ Babs, ever the organiser, said, „Have you got everything Jean? You know; Something Old, something New, something Borrowed and something Blue.‟ „Something old and something blue, yes, my lucky scarab. That‟s very old and very blue at the same time.‟ She showed them. „Something borrowed? Our dresses are hired so that‟s borrowed, and something new?‟ She thought for a second or so, „Shoes! We‟ve all got new shoes. That‟s it, all the four.‟ They all looked stunning in their gowns, the colours melded splendidly and they had the upright carriage to go with it. 124


„Don‟t we look the business?‟ Meg said. „Three flowers blooming in the snow.‟ „Snow?‟ Babs blurted out. „What snow are you on about, Meg. The forecast was for dry and warm! If it snows we‟ll freeze to death in these clothes.‟ Meg sighed. She‟d forgotten just how literal Babs could be sometimes. „Metaphorical snow, Babs. Not real snow!‟ „Ohh; that‟s alright then.‟ Babs was visibly relieved. Jean snorted, it wasn‟t ladylike but laughing at these pair with a mouthful of tea was difficult. „Less than half an hour to go ladies!‟ Madame Moredebt, the couturier said poking her head around the door. „Any problems that need my attention?‟ „Not a single one,‟ declared Meg to her friend. „You get yourself off to The Minster, Madame. If there are any dress problems it‟s going to be there.‟ The neoclassical front of The Minster for Trentby, better known as The Church of The Bleeding Heart, was bathed in sunlight. Through the open doors came the sounds of the organ playing a selection of light music, a recent innovation by the incumbent, the Reverend William Warmer, who‟d told his congregation that it would be an improvement. He was right; even if the organist disagreed and wanted to play pop music. The new walkways, required under the Disability Discrimination Act, matched the design, were smooth, well swept, and looked to be an ancient part of the surroundings. Looking around him at the usual, confused jumble of traffic jams in the narrow streets, long abandoned road works mouldering into picturesque cityscape features, and overfilled builders‟ skips left in the worst possible 125


places; the vicar sighed happily as he said to himself, „God's in his Heaven and all's right with the World,‟ before scuttling off to check that the choir girls weren't bullying the boys, again! „What time are the Taxis due, Babs?‟ Meg wanted to know. „You ordered them, Meg. What time did you tell them to be here?‟ Barbara replied. Megan looked blank. „But you were the one looking after that, Babs. It was on your list of things to do!‟ Jean was busy doing fiddly things with sticky tape and the top of her gown. „It looks like none of us have. There‟s only one thing for it! Babs, get onto one of the taxi firms fast,‟ she said. „Trentby Cabs is the nearest. Ask Pat Miller if she can do us two cabs here in fifteen minutes. Tell her it‟s my wedding and it‟s an emergency; she‟ll understand.‟ In the office of what had been the amalgamation of Concorde and Cavalry Cabs, plus most of Trentby Wedding Cars, but was now Trentby Cabs & Wedding Cars, the new phone system was working well. Pat thought so, now she‟d, almost, got the hang of it. „Trentby Cabs and Wedding Cars. Pat speaking, how can we help you?‟ She said into the mouthpiece. A rushed message, one she didn‟t understand, came out. Something about an emergency and a wedding at the dressmakers shop, or maybe at the Minster. She wasn‟t sure. „Could you repeat all that, please? „ She asked the flustered woman at the other end of the line. The story was a bit clearer this time. „Two cabs for a wedding at Madame Moredebt‟s Le Couturier? But they aren‟t allowed to do weddings there!‟ Pat 126


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was sure of that. „Start again, my love,‟ she advised. „Deep breaths,‟ for some reason that got a hysterical giggle from the far end, „Now: you want two cabs at Le Couturier in how long?‟ The voice on the phone changed. „Hi, Pat. It‟s Jean Grabble here. We‟ve have a problem. We didn‟t book any cars for my wedding which is in twenty minutes at the Church of the Bleeding Heart. Can you rustle up a couple of cabs for me, please?‟ Wedding and Jean Grabble were the two things that Pat had thought would never go together, because Jean was too plain bossy for her own good. „Right you are then Jean. It will be done!‟ Turning round she called into the drivers‟ ready room, „Panic call! Anybody who can get one of the White Wedding Cars on the road in the next five minutes is wanted at the posh wedding togs hire shop on the High Street ten minutes ago.‟ Two voices answered: „Got one ready, already,‟ shouted Billy the Kid, the firms oldest and longest serving driver, to the sound of an engine being started and a delicate screech of tyres as he departed. „There in a jiffy, Pat,‟ called Hoppy Cassidy as he dragged his boots off the couch and tipped the office cat out of a white cowboy hat. He always wore a white hat for weddings, he didn‟t know why but thought it was better somehow. Pat heard the sound of starter whirring and then Hoppy shouting. „Start yer goldurned thing, start will yer.‟ It didn‟t work. „I‟ll have to take the wheelchair car, Pat‟, he called. „It‟s white anyway, but I‟m leaving the chair on the hoist so don‟t book it out until I get back.‟ There was the sound of 128


tyres on the floor and he was gone. Pat relaxed and phoned Madame Moredebt to pass on the news. As Jean had said it wasn‟t far for the cars to come, however, that wasn‟t, thanks to traffic snarl-ups and road works, the same thing as taking a short time. By dint of some unorthodox short cuts, and driving that could only be described as „competitive‟, Billy was outside the shop in less than the ten minutes he‟d thought it‟d take. Meg and Babs popped out of the door as he drew up. „Right you gorgeous ladies,‟ he said as, with a little help from his foot, he carefully placed the train of Megan‟s dress in the back of the cab. „Bleeding Heart, five minutes. Fasten your seat belts we‟re about to take off!‟ „Is my hair okay, Meg?‟ Babs asked her sister four minutes later as the car pulled up at the Church Close entrance to the Minster. „I never knew that you could get here that way, even if you walked!‟ Billy smiled; he‟d been wanting an excuse to use some of those, not illegal but definitely frowned on, short cuts for ages. „All perfectly legal and above board ladies,‟ he assured them. „It‟s not often you see the backs of some of those buildings, is it? Still all safe and sound and here now. Now you get into church and get ready for the big occasion, all smiles and happy. Which one of you‟s getting married by the way?‟ „Neither of us,‟ Megan explained. „Jean Grabble‟s marrying our brother Tom Green. We‟re along for the experience, it‟s the first time we‟ve been bridesmaids.‟ ‟If I were you I‟d go inside and sooth him. Hoppy was on the radio and says that with traffic as it is the bride‟s going to be late. Another ten minutes or so I‟d say.‟ Babs interjected. „But it didn‟t take you that long, so why 129


should, Hoppy I think you called him, take any longer?‟ „‟Cos Hopalong‟s not a Trentby native lad, Miss Green. I grew up here and used these streets as a playground. That matters when you want some serious short cuts.‟ Mick Grabble came over, well barbered and looking resplendent in a top hat and tails, „Hi girls, you look absolutely fabulous, but where‟s our Jean, then?‟ „On the way, we‟ve been told, Mick. Another ten minutes or so according to this gentleman.‟ Megan replied indicating Billy, as the girls, all smiles, went off towards the main doors The two men, who knew each other, exchanged greetings in the form of a „Morning‟ as Billy nodded in confirmation. „Hoppy‟s driving, Mick. Says the traffic‟s terrible, even worse than a match day.‟ „Right! Thanks, Billy. You doin‟ the drop off afterwards?‟ „Dunno, Mick. Pat didn‟t say but I expect so. Anyway, we haven‟t got another wedding this morning so there‟s no problem. Where you got the „do‟ any-road up?‟ „Labour Club I think, Billy. Jean‟s been in and out of there since she was a nipper; and now the re-build‟s finished after that pop group wrecked the place it‟s got some good facilities, so it makes sense.‟ „That a to-do at Chummy‟s almost wedding certainly set the place afire. What with the bride running off with his cousin and all. Where is he as a matter of interest? I haven‟t seen the Honourable Jason Fortesque-Chumleigh around recently.‟ Mick jerked his thumb over his shoulder. „In there, Billy. He‟s the best man!‟ „Best man! How did he land that one?‟ „Tom‟s best mate at school, so I‟m told. He‟s also 130


dragged his dad and step mother along so we‟ve got Sir Lancelot and Lady Britney Fortesque-Chumleigh as well as Fiona Finzy, Chummy‟s latest lady friend in there.‟ „Sooner you than me, mate. Who‟ve you brought along by the way as your plus one?‟ „At present I‟m helping a poor Countess cope with her grief at being abandoned,‟ Mick said with a straight face. „Her husband has, tragically, gone missing. Done a bunk, I'm afraid The Countess of Trentby needs a lot of consolation, poor darling. I'm offering her some assistance in that direction.‟ Billy gulped. This lot knew a LOT of the nobs around here. „Righty-ho then. I‟d better get this cab out of the way before Hoppy gets here with the bride. Ta-ra!‟ Meanwhile in the cake shop next to Mans‟ Best Friend. „The little ****. He‟s been doing what?‟ hissed Sharlene, her gothic dead-pan makeup turning puce around the edges and black painted eyelids contracting into beady slits of pure evil intent. „Wait till I see him, I‟ll give him a ... „Hang on, Sharlene, I can see you‟re upset,‟ pleaded Randolph dreading the fact that the girl of his dreams wasn‟t daft and she‟d pretty soon realise that he must know more about Barry‟s illicit telescope than he was prepared to let on. „Don‟t you „hang on‟ me, Randolph Andover. I want to know how long you‟ve known about Barry, the Degas of Trentby. Are you telling me he‟s making a fortune online drawing manga warriors based on me in the all together? The midnight blue shield-maiden with the dragon tattoo and the Egyptian beetle cartouche ... that‟s me? Princess Angelikka? ‟ 131


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Randolph wasn‟t too sure how Degas came into it, or actually who Degas was, but he didn‟t want to show his ignorance. So he fessed up to what he actually understood of her question. „Yeah, you‟re Princess Angelikka! Not long, Shar, honest only a day or two.‟ „Wait a minute, you dog! That‟s what all that palaver on Thursday with the big brolly was all about, wasn‟t it?‟ In truth Sharlene had never been more flattered and she couldn‟t hold back a chuckle at this point as she had a flashback of the sight of him sitting in the goldfish pond. Even though it rankled that she had spent twenty five quid downloading the primal Amazonia warrior character she found was now based on herself. „Sorry,‟ said Randolph taking his change and picking up the bag of mixed fondant fancies from the counter. „I really am. I‟m going to shut him down, honest.‟ „Oh, no. No you‟re not, not until I‟ve been well and truly compensated and perhaps ... no, not now I‟ll give this some thought. Meet me after work,‟ she said, a sticky hand grasping his hairy wrist. Stunned by the first physical contact with a girl since he‟d had his TB booster jab in high school and the nurse‟s thigh had brushed his arm, Randolph nodded as sweat trickled into his eyes. Stumbling out of the cake shop his feet didn‟t quite reach the ground and he fell straight into the arms of their local cross-dressing upholder of the Queen‟s peace, who quick as a wink had the young offender back on his feet. „ „ello, „ello, „ello, what‟s going on here?‟ said the expression all over the crime fighter‟s much abused countenance. It was a pivotal life-turning moment. A ping went off in his brain. Now Randolph knew what he had to do to get 133


his over-possessive mother off his back. This was turning out to be quite a day. Across town a white cab, equipped for wheel chairs, was departing Madame Moredebt‟s establishment. Hopalong, was fuming at the traffic and at the designers of the cab. Owing to the fullness of the multilayered meringue-type skirt, he‟d been unable to get Jean, the bride, in the main body and had had to put her into the wheelchair housed in the back. „Not much chance of getting to the Bleeding Heart on time, Jean‟, Hopalong apologised. „I‟ll use some of the back streets and short cuts but this thing‟s too unwieldy to do it properly.‟ Billy, talking to Mick, was busy not answering the radio until it was too late. Ten minutes later people were thinking of leaving the Minster saying, „The bride's done a bunk‟. The organist thought that this was a happy moment to introduce her ideas of what an organist should play and, swell pedal hard down, burst into a popular rendition beginning with „Yellow Submarine‟. While Hoppy was saying, „There's only one thing for it Jean: the King Arthur bridge!‟ „That's a foot bridge, Hoppy. You can't get a cab across it and anyway it‟s illegal. They‟ll have your license if you get caught.‟ „That‟s what people think, Jean,‟ Hoppy said as he turned into a narrow side road. „When Arthur King built that bridge it was intended to be part of an inner relief road, but it‟s never been closed to traffic. It‟s only that folks think it has.‟ 134


Rocketing along at a lot more than the legal 30 mph, Hoppy turned onto the „King Arthur‟, horn going full blast; scattering pedestrians like confetti in his wake. The Minster Courtyard was, except for a few haphazardly parked cars, empty, which allowed Hoppy a chance to really cram the speed on, he exited it at almost 70 mph and, braking hard, pulled up at the Minster front. As part of this manoeuvre, assisted by the handbrake, he turned the cab sharply into a sliding dough-nut turn. Magic ... he‟d always wanted to do that. Jean, although belted into the electric wheelchair, was thrown forward and accidentally hit the door release handle. The chocks on the chair mechanism hadn‟t been designed for this and, with a loud „THUNK‟ released their hold on the wheels. Seeking a handhold, Jean grabbed the control handles as the chair was ejected from the back of the cab. Unfortunately, being what could be called a genius in the mechanical arts Dusty had „souped-up‟ the motors. Instead of the stately 4 mph it was designed for, they now gave the chair an impressive turn of speed. Fortunately, the new smooth disabled access path gave the chair a soft landing as it shot towards the open doors. People leaving the church, thinking the wedding had been abandoned, scattered before the screaming apparition bearing down on them. The verger yelled in alarm and leapt to one side as the chair, vaulting the two processional steps inside the door, disappeared in the general direction of the Lady Chapel. By this time, Jean had begun to get hold of herself and hauled back on the two control handles. Unfortunately, heavy braking hadn‟t figured as a design feature and the chair slowed more than braked. This would have been 135


perfectly acceptable if the cleaner hadn‟t removed some of the floor gratings to get improved access to the heating system. Tom Green was in „a bit of a stew‟ by this time. His utterly and absolutely marvellous and beloved Jean had deserted him, and before they were even married. Mentally he corrected that statement; before they were legally married. Pacing about in the aisle, he saw Jean, and the chair, hurtling towards the impending doom of the heating system chasm and took action. Rugby football was his school game, none of that effete soccer was allowed, so he took a short run and tackled the chair scooping Jean out of its clutches a second before it plunged into the stygian depths of the crypt. A short hiatus ensued before the ceremony started. Half an hour later Mr & Mrs Green appeared at the main door of the Minster to the applause of the crowd. If Mrs Green appeared, a little shaken it was put down to the stress of getting married and if Mr Green appeared a trifle dishevelled that was not to be wondered at. Being married to „That Grabble Girl‟ was enough to make any hot-blooded man sweat a bit. Meanwhile in the High Street... „Oh, knickers!‟ Randolph groaned inwardly, as he felt P C Smither‟s rough hand grab at his collar. The very person I didn‟t want to bump into. He‟s got it in for me, he has. „Yo, Sergeant Smithers. I hope you‟re well?‟ He smiled sweetly up at the policeman, hoping his promotion of the law officer might flatter him into forgetting about trying to nail him on some supposed offence. For a brief moment, he could have sworn that P C 136


Daniel Smithers grew six inches in stature and puffed out his chest in pride, before coming back down to earth with a bang, and replying „It‟s Police Constable Smithers, actually, as I‟m sure you well know, young Randolph‟. „Really?‟ Randolph feigned incredulity. „I can hardly believe it. After all these years of public service and you‟re still only a Constable!‟ P C Smithers stiffened. „Now then…‟ „What I meant was…‟ Randolph added, quickly redeeming the situation, „…whatever can the police hierarchy be thinking of. I‟m sure you ought to be a Chief Inspector by now, by rights. But, as I know from my own experience, life is anything but fair‟. „Hm. That‟s as may be, but I want a word with you!‟ Oh no. If his mother got to hear about this, Randolph would never hear the end of it. Undoubtedly, she would be asked to leave the Women‟s Institute, or at least give up her position as Chairman of the Trentby branch. „Oh Randolph,‟ she‟d so often complain. „You‟re such a disappointment to me. I don‟t know where I went wrong. You don‟t take after me. It must be that good-for-nothing father of yours. All those school reports saying how bright you were, all the love and attention I lavished on you, and yet you refused to apply your brains to positive activities, instead of law-breaking. And ending up with a tag and Community Service Order. I had such dreams and hopes for you, Randolph Churchill Andover. A name to be proud of and to live up to. If you‟d gone to college, got a good education, used your abilities properly, you might have been a lawyer, a doctor, a salesman or a statesman. If the worst came to the worst, you could at least have gone into 137


the police force, instead of which you spend all your time wasting your life on that computer, or avoiding the police! Now I can‟t hold my head up in my own town.‟ Nag, nag, nag, nag, nag. That‟s all he ever heard from her. He needed to think of a way to get her off his back. And he was nothing if not resourceful. But, meanwhile, the pressing problem was not Carol Andover, but PC Smithers. Randolph had to come up with a diversionary tactic. And fast, too, and though he possessed little in the way of documentary evidence of educational achievement, apart from his A Level in computing, he nevertheless was an intelligent boy, who could think on his feet. „That‟s good, because I want to have a word with you, Sergeant.‟ „Er, really?‟ Smithers was momentarily wrong-footed, and overlooked Randolph‟s deliberate slip of the tongue. „Yes, indeed. Do you want to go first, or shall I?‟ The young man asked, with mock respect. „Oh well, if you put it like that, you go first, sonny.‟ „It‟s like this…‟ Randolph continued, lowering his voice enticingly, as if about to reveal a secret. „This mustn‟t go any further. You must promise on penalty of death not to sell me down the river. OK? If she ever found out what I‟m about to tell you...‟ PC Smithers didn‟t know what „selling down the river‟ was, but imagined it must be something to do with trading from canal boats, so he nodded. He was intrigued, and released Randolph‟s collar, bending his bulky frame over to catch every word Randolph whispered. „You know my mum?‟ „Er, yessssss‟, Smithers nodded, nervous about incriminating himself in some way. „What about her?‟ 138


„She‟s not bad looking, for an old bird, wouldn‟t you say?‟ „Can‟t say I‟ve ever really noticed‟, the policeman confessed. „You‟re kidding! P‟raps that‟s what‟s held you back. I mean, officers are meant to be observant, notice everything, be alert at all times. Have you ever thought that might be your problem? Anyway, you may not have noticed her, but she‟s certainly noticed you! Oh yes. Never stops talking about you.‟ „Really?‟ Daniel Smithers was amazed, and found the revelation quite pleasing. „I‟d say she‟s got the hots alright.‟ Randolph dangled the prospect under Smither‟s not inconsiderable nose. „In fact,‟ he continued, „I‟d be willing to bet ten bucks that if you were to ask her out to Ladies Night at the Freemasons‟ Hall, or some other gig, she‟d snap your arm off. Heck yes. Get this. She only told me this morning that she would have been proud to have a son in the police force; a pillar of the community, like that lovely Officer Smithers.‟ The policeman‟s mind was buzzing with new, unexpected possibilities. So much so, that he quite forgot about apprehending young Andover, and „the word‟ he‟d wanted with him. Randolph seized his opportunity and legged it down the High Street. Ten minutes later, he arrived home. Now to tackle the problem of his mum, he thought. Carol Andover was busy in the garden, or to be more accurate, the back yard. She was cutting what few flowers were robust enough to grow amidst the cracked paving flags and weeds, for the table arrangement at the evening WI meeting. She noticed that Randolph was a bit out of breath. 139


„What have you been up to now?‟ she groaned. „Give over, mum. You are so suspicious.‟ „With good cause!‟ Carol asserted. „I‟ve been talking to our friendly neighbourhood lawman, alias PC Daniel Smithers, if you must know‟. „Oh Randolph! You‟ve already got a tag, Community Service Order and several ASBOs! Won‟t you ever learn!‟ „No, mum. Stop sweating. This was a chat about personal matters.‟ „You chat with Danny Smithers about personal things? Pull the other one. The only time you two speak is when he cautions you and drags you round here, to inflict more shame on me.‟ „Seriously, mum. Would you be surprised to hear we were talking about you, and his feelings for you?‟ „Frankly, I‟d be astounded. Feelings for me? Pigs might fly!‟ „Now mother. Show some respect. It‟s not very nice to describe PC Smithers as a pig. A rozzer, a peeler, a cop or even, fuzz maybe. But a pig. That‟s mean. Especially when he obviously thinks so much of you.‟ Carol Andover felt faint, and leaned against the plastic greenhouse, stuffed with empty plant pots and soil, to steady herself. „Don‟t say you weren‟t warned when he asks you out!‟ Randolph declared triumphantly and with a huge degree of satisfaction. Later that day in the doggie charity shop ... „Barry, I‟d like you to meet ...‟ the cordial greeting was cut off at this point by Sharlene‟s intervention as her right knee was finding contact with a soft part of Barry‟s anat140


omy. Staggering towards the clothes rack, Barry folded in the centre and sank to his knees watched in horror by Manageress Geraldine from over by the security mirror at the rear of the till. „Randolph what are your friends doing over there?‟ she called in her „I‟m in charge‟ voice. „Nothing, nothing, they‟re just leaving,‟ pacified Randolph who hadn‟t expected Sharlene to be so literal. Proving that characters coming to life can lead to the unexpected. Outside on the pavement Sharlene, carried forward her plan of action with a judicious handful of Barry‟s grubby collar. „You listen to me, you evil little toe-rag, you are giving me my twenty five quid back and you‟re cutting me in 50-50 for any further sales of Princess Angelikka. And you‟re getting rid of that telescope today or I‟m telling PC Smithers about it. Got it? Got it? Good!‟ The last questions being emphasised in a manner far too graphic for Randolph‟s gentle disposition, needless to say Barry‟s thrice kneaded undercarriage wasn‟t the same for many days which followed and he adopted an unfortunate dancing gait which afforded him several warm smiles from chaps of an alternative disposition to his own. Randolph was impressed. Sharlene further bowled over her new beau by riffling Barry‟s pockets while he was being sick on the pavement, and snatching said twenty five smackers from a hidden hoard in his sock. Randolph blinked in surprise, she was a darn sight braver than he was, there was no way he‟d have put his own fingers inside Barry‟s footwear. With her triumphant withdrawal into the cake shop, Randolph helped Barry to his feet hoping she‟d wash her hands be141


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fore serving any Eccles cakes or cream buns. „That went well. Got off lightly, I‟d say,‟ said Randolph brushing off Barry‟s jacket. ‟50-50. That‟s a bit strong. I wonder if she‟ll negotiate?‟ „Couldn‟t you draw another character? A warrior prince perhaps?‟ asked Randolph drawing his stomach in and flexing his biceps. Watching from the shop window Geraldine winced, what was the great chump doing? „Who you?‟ grinned Barry. „Yeah me, what‟s wrong with me?‟ „Have you got all day ...‟ muttered Barry. But then, as Randolph was storming off in a huff, Barry had another one of his „moments of clarity‟. Perhaps, just perhaps, the idiot had something in that idea. There was a niche market for tubbiness. Chubby heroes were big news ... lots of games wanted „inclusive‟ characters so the dumb suckers sat on their backsides playing away into the night had somebody onscreen to relate to, someone who looked as muffin-waisted and podgy as they were themselves. And here was Randy ... willing to be that hero. Barry‟s eyes lit up with £ signs. „Okay ... perhaps I was a bit hasty. We‟ll give it a go. Come round tonight and I‟ll take some photos.‟ ‟50-50 or no deal.‟ Barry nodded. Randolph went back in to the shop grinning from ear to ear. It wasn‟t until he wandered in front of the cracked mirror in the changing room that it finally dawned what sort of photos Barry would need to take of him on which to base this virtual alter-ego. Getting his kit off in Barry‟s draughty attic wasn‟t the way he had envisaged spending the evening and if his mum ever found out ... Somewhere, sometime after „THE WEDDING‟ 143


The cab disappeared into the gloom the street lights cast across the car park and the assembled guests retired to the bar. „Thank heavens for that! Now I can get these shoes off and get changed into comfy clothes,‟ Babs said to her sister Megan. „Oh poot,‟ Meg replied. „you're a shorry excuse for a pardy aminal Bads. You should me like be.‟ „A bit tidily you mean, Meg?‟ Babs replied. „I'm dod a bet toddly, Bads, I'm decipherably squifferly. It's nod every day you lose half a brother... no... that's half lose a brother, and gain 'nother shishter, id id? That needs sebrelating, and nod only that bud we should have a pardy over it. Ash well!‟ „Right, you finish that drink, Meg, and we'll both have another, then we'll go over and chat up that hunky brother -in-law we've just been handed on a plate. What is it anyway?‟ „Dunno, Bads. The marban... barman I mean, shed... said... it was some sort of indivisible rabbit I think. Some'ing about a harvest festival head-banger.‟ „Oh you mean a Harvey Wall-banger. Right, two of them and a chatting up session with Mick then. You sit down there and I'll get them.‟ By the time she got back with two, Mega, extra large, super giant economy sized, drinks Megan was asleep in the corner. „Poor Meg, two sniffs of a wine bottle cork and you're out for the count,‟ she said looking at her sister, folded into a bundle of expensive fabric. Turning to the man by her side she asked, ‟Can you manage to get her home okay, Uncle Arthur?‟ „Not a problem, Babs,‟ he replied. „And I've told you be144


fore; stop calling me uncle! I'm your cousin and I'm only four years older than you for heaven‟s sake.‟ „Not a problem for me, Arthur, but what about Araminty, your dearly beloved wife? Would she agree?‟ „Hmm. Ye-es. You've got a point there, Babs. I'll talk to her first. Any idea where Tom and Jean are going for the honeymoon? She's bound to ask.‟ „Not sure, but Egypt was mentioned. Tom got some sort of bargain package deal I believe. Three weeks up a pyramid guided by Ramekins the Grate or something. Mind you, Jean said it was a two month wine tasting course at darkest Iceland. But I think she was joking, 'cos it doesn't get dark in Reykjavik at this time of the year!‟ She shrugged, which, Babs being too slim to be called 'Junoesque', but was never-the-less noted by the cognoscenti to be 'VERY WELL BUILT', was dangerous to any bystanders within range, and an instant demonstration of how dress makers managed to totally ignore the finer points of stress engineering design, and get away with it. „Whatever, your guess is as good as mine.‟ Hoisting the comatose Megan into his arms Uncle Arthur went out of the room, his wife tagging along behind frowning. Babs went in search of her new brother-in-law and found him talking to 'The Nobs'. Mick Grabble was holding forth on the importance of the recycling trade to Sir Lancelot and Lady Britney Fortesque-Chumleigh, The Honourable Jason Fortesque-Chumleigh, or Chummy as she knew him, as well as Fiona Finzy, Chummy‟s latest lady friend … again, if the rumours were right .... and Annabelle, Countess of Trentby, who was hanging onto the ragman‟s arm with a death grip. „Hi everybody,‟ she greeted them. „Here's your drink, 145


Mick,‟ and forced the remaining mega-sized cocktail into his free hand. Mick took a quick swallow, „Nice!‟ he said as he came up for air. „What is it?‟ „Fruit juice I believe. That's what the barman said anyway. I asked him for something to smooth out a sore throat. Mainly grape juice‟s what he said.‟ Emptying the largest brandy balloon the club had, one of a pair that were usually used as flower vases, he passed it back. „Wheeoo, I needed that. It's dry work talking. Could I ask you to get me another one please, Babs. Say a pint or so? That glass is too small for a proper drink.‟ „If you wouldn't mind, young lady,‟ said Annabelle, „Could you get me one as well? I like fruit juice. It is so different to the dreadful stuff my dear departed husband drank.‟ Mick frowned: „Dear departed!‟ What did she mean by that? Surely Lord Lionel had done a bunk, not cocked his clogs? „Of course, your Ladyship,‟ said Babs, giving a saccharin smile. „I'll get the barman to bring them over.‟ The barman gave her a conspiratorial grin. „Leave it to me, I'll bring them over when I'm done.‟ The barman then told her „There‟s a man over there who wants to speak to you, Miss Green, that one by the window in the blue shirt. Says he‟s Maximilian Crest, a researcher from the British Municipal Museum. Really wanted to talk to Jean Grabble but I told him that he‟d missed his chance as she was off on her honeymoon. I thought you might be able to help him. That okay?‟ Babs went over and talked to Maxie. He learned much more about Jean‟s lucky scarab than he had from Randolph with his random and inarticulate memory. 146


Maxie‟s course was clear, he had to go to Egypt - extremely cheaply. An idea came to mind, one he‟d have to go back to London to work on. Window leather in hand Deirdre Drinkwater was despondent. The man of her dreams had turned into a nightmare, how could a dream disappear into a puff of reality like that? What had a married Countess got that she hadn‟t got in spades? What could Michael Grabble see in that hussy? She was common as muck. She might have money? But taste? Had she any taste? The only taste Countess Bluddschott had any knowledge of was that of fried bangers. The circles in the grime on the shop front window grew larger and larger as Deirdre vented her annoyance. It so happened the luckless Barry was about to enter said shop in search of soul-mate Randolph, who he had forgotten to tell to bring some props for the photo shoot, when Deirdre decided it was time to empty her bucket into the gutter. Without a thought ... whoosh ... „Oh I‟m so sorry,‟ she spluttered as the soaking wet and bedraggled Barry gasped in amazement. „Crikey, I haven‟t been this wet since Christmas morning when mam threatened me with the sharp end of the toasting fork if I didn‟t shower and shave in time for Christmas dinner. If you can call fish fingers and baked beans worthy of celebration.‟ Clearly he was delirious and in shock. Deirdre took charge of his arm and steered the dripping Barry inside the shop. „There‟s no one in the changing room,‟ said Geraldine eyeing the trail of squelching footprints on the lino. 147


Such close and intimate proximity was a new sensation for both parties, and as Barry allowed Deirdre to towel him down, comb his hair and rearrange his soggy clothing in the bijou changing room something decidedly odd occurred. His breathing raced, his skin tingled and his stutter vanished. Flush-faced Deirdre insisted, „You‟d better come home to my house for dinner. Compensation like, it‟s fish-pie! And there‟s pudding.‟ She had him at fish-pie. All thoughts of the missing Randolph went entirely out of Barry‟s head. True Deirdre was Rubenesque in stature and had a face for radio but when she was in that cubicle on her knees rubbing him all over with a teacloth, Barry‟s soul had soared to heights untold, never connecting the influence of the mischievous sacred scarab‟s mismatching of opposites between the events unfolding. What Geraldine meant by, „no glove, no love‟ as she pushed them out on to the street wasn‟t lost on Barry either. Bit rude! he thought. What an afternoon, so full of possibilities! Marmalized by a space Princess and now he seemed to have acquired a girl-friend of his own. A real girl-friend who could make fish-pie and send shivers up and down his spine. Although that might have been the unexpected faceful of cold, soapy water. Exactly how he had achieved this minor miracle was a mystery. His mam would be pleased: he was sure she held suspicions that he batted for the other team. Thus it was Geraldine was left alone to cash up that Saturday teatime and, unconcerned, not far away on the island in the middle of Bluddschott Park‟s lake Reggie yawned, and picked his teeth with a claw, watched benignly by the dog-headed statue guarding the faux-temple of Dumilla. 148


Maxie hadn‟t gone far from the newsagents shop when a stranger, a foreigner to judge from his accent, came up to him. „Excuse me please,‟ the man asked, „Can you tell me the way to the station, please?‟ „Sure!‟ said Maxie, always willing to please, „The best way from here is across the park. I‟m going part of the way myself; I‟ll show you.‟ They walked through the streets. Maxie pointed out various places of interest as they went. The stranger remained absolutely silent. Maxie would have like to ask him what country he came from, but felt that would somehow be rude. There were very few people about in the park, but then suddenly and unexpectedly another stranger appeared from behind the rose-bushes. Each man took Maxie firmly by the arm and marched him off to a park bench, where they made him sit down between them. „Now, sir,‟ said the first stranger, „We need to talk about the scarab.‟ „What business is it of yours, might I ask?‟ „We are Egyptians. It is our business. And yours as well, if you are sensible.‟ „Are you trying to threaten me?‟ Despite the unusual situation, Maxie didn‟t feel particularly frightened: he felt he could handle himself well enough against this pair, and he found the whole experience strangely intriguing. „We have no need to threaten you. The scarab is threatening enough.‟ „What on earth are you talking about? Anyway, I don‟t have the scarab. It‟s not here anymore. I think it‟s going to 149


be taken back to Egypt.‟ „And the mummy? The one that your English lord took?‟ „That‟s still here. At least, I think it is.‟ „That is no use. The scarab and the mummy: they must not be separated. The goddess will be angry.‟ „The goddess? You mean Dumilla?‟ „That is what the Romans called her, yes. But her true name, in the ancient language; that is too sacred to be spoken out loud. Your Mister Toogood, if he was any kind of a scholar, he could have told you this.‟ How come they knew about Tim Toogood, Maxie wondered. And why hadn‟t they approached him, not me? But he said nothing for the moment. The first stranger continued to talk, while the third man said nothing, his face remaining absolutely motionless, staring straight ahead. Like some kind of automaton, thought Maxie. „Listen, sir; this is very important. The scarab and the mummy; they do not like being separated; they want to be together. Otherwise strange things will happen. Already you may have seen people behaving oddly, perhaps? That is the scarab‟s doing. It will get worse. And who knows what the mummy might do? There is great danger here, not just for the people of this town, but perhaps for the whole world!‟ „That‟s just rubbish!‟ Maxie exclaimed in disgust, „I‟m not superstitious, you know: occult powers or any of that twaddle! It‟s no good your trying to scare me!‟ „I am not surprised, sir, for that is what you have been taught. But you are wrong. The old gods of Egypt; long, long ago they fell before the Cross and the Crescent, but they are not dead. No! They are watching, and waiting. They are stirring once again. And she who must not be named; she whom you call Dumilla after the Roman fash150


ion; already I can sense her impatience, her anger.‟ Maxie looked from one to the other of the two strangers. „I think you‟re a couple of frauds. You‟re trying to con me, aren‟t you? I don‟t believe you‟re real Egyptians at all!‟ „And why should you think that, sir? How would you know what real Egyptians would be like?‟ Maxie had not anticipated this response. „I‟ve seen Egyptian leaders in pictures on television‟, he replied, „Mubarak, Nasser, Sadat …, King Farooq …‟ He was aware he was becoming less and less convincing. „Tush! They were not real Egyptians, they were Arabs! Apart from Sadat, who was a Nubian from the south. But we are of the ancient blood of Egypt, and we remain true to the old ways. „It is for your own good, sir, that you must bring us the scarab. As for the mummy, we shall see to that. Now we shall let you go. You need not try to find us, for we have put our mark on you, though you cannot see it, and we shall know when you have the scarab in your hands. Expect us then. And be warned: do not delay too long! The goddess is waiting, and she will not wait forever!‟ In the departure lounge of Trentby International Airport, Jean Grabble was snuggling up to her brand new husband. „I think you handled that very well, Tom,‟ she said, as she reached down and kept his hand where it was. It wasn't that she objected, too much anyway, but not in public! Her mum had always said, 'Nice girls don't do that!' She giggled at the thought that now she wasn't a 'Nice girl' any more, she was married and the rules had changed. She wasn't sure of what they'd changed too, but was going to 151


have fun finding out. „In the circumstances it didn't turn out too badly, did it Jean? You keeping your maiden name really put a kink in the system but it got us a free move into first class.‟ „Yes: I could see it on the booking clerk‟s face. He was expecting a Mrs Thomas Green and he got a Jean Grabble, Mrs T. Green. Silly man!‟ The scorn in her voice was evident. „Another one who never paid attention at school I'll bet.‟ „My darling Jean, you may be the first one he's ever come across. It's not that often it happens!‟ „Don't let's argue about it, Tom. I mean here we are on our honeymoon, to somewhere you still haven't told me about, and you haven't told me you love me to distraction for almost five minutes.‟ „According to that clock it's six and a half to be exact my dear darling wife whom I love to distraction and will do so until the end of time; and probably a bit longer.‟ Jean wrinkled her nose at him and then pulled his head down for a real kiss. The public address system gave its 'bing-bong-bingbong' and burst into life. „Will all passengers for flight AE213 please go to channel 32 for boarding.‟ Tom stood and offered his hand. „Come my dearly beloved wife!‟ He declaimed. „Let us sally forth into the great unknown and find our seats in the comfort of the first class compartment of the magic carpet that will waft us to the mysterious middle east.‟ He bowed and, still declaiming, gestured for her to link arms and accompany him. „To a land where the pace of life has been unchanged for countless and uncountable generations. To the land of the magic of the Pharaohs, the Gods and Goddesses of Ancient times, the Pyramids and the slow flow of the great 152


river as it wends its way through the 'Black Lands' to the great waters. There, where we shall recline on the deck of our felucca, sailing from Aswan under the light of moon whilst we dine of the finest viands prepared in the secret manner that has been handed down to the chef from his forefathers, and partake of the wine of the country.‟ Jean had suspected that, at Tom‟s core, there was buried a romantic streak a mile wide and having her feelings confirmed was overwhelming. She threw her arms around him and hugged him, „You wait until I get you alone tonight‟, she said. „I'll have you begging for mercy for not telling me you're a romantic at heart.‟ „Hmm, yes please. Can't wait!‟ Tom replied as he kissed her and led the way to channel 32. „What will it be d‟you think, Tom?‟ she asked as they made their way down the ramp. „What will what be?‟ „Tom! Stop being so infuriating! These finest viands prepared in the secret manner that has been handed down to the chef from his forefathers.‟ „Something exotic I should think, something... ohh... full of strange and peculiar foreign spices and the exciting to the taste buds. You know? Something like a half burnt beef burger with a cola to wash it down.‟ Jean laughed and punched him in the ribs. ‟A double dose of the most exquisite punishment for you tonight, Thomas Green.‟ „Promises, promises!‟ Tom softly said, in a deep, sad, voice. „All I get is promises.‟ Their arrival at the gate and boarding the plane stopped any further levity. Maxie had visions of being followed by the three secret 153


society agents and the gaping jaws of crocodiles for days after his rapid departure from Trentby, even when he was back at work at the museum, but now he had a plan. „Miss Spur, can I have a word with you, please?‟ To say that Maxie was polite to his supervisor was an understatement. He grovelled. „What is it now Maxie?‟ She ticked them off on her fingers. „Too many school groups? Too much to learn? Not enough time off? If I've told you once I've told you a dozen times. Buckle down and do it, don't moan!‟ „Oh no, it's not that, Miss Spur. It's just that... you see … I'll never be anywhere nearly as good as you are at this personal skills thing you're teaching me. So it'd be best, much more use to the Museum, if I do something I can do and moving things around is where I'm good.‟ He didn't say that he had, on occasion, and sometimes with the real owners knowledge, successfully 'moved' things when he had a questionable right to do so. Exactly what those owners told 'The Plod' and the Insurance Companies was another matter. One that Maxie didn't ask questions about. „I think I'd be better as a Museum Assistant than as a guide. There's a position come up and I'm going to apply for it.‟ Miss Spur paused; she knew that Maxie was right. Personal skills were more inborn than teachable. „You want a reference from me, don't you?‟ „Yes please, Miss Spur.‟ Although Maxie was mediocre at personal skills, when it suited him he could have given lessons to Dickens' Uriah Heep. „I'll have a word with the Senior Handler,‟ she told him. „I'm fairly sure that he'll listen to me, but I'm not promising anything.‟ 154


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Later that morning Maxie was called into the Museum Services Offices and interviewed. Two hours later Miss Spur told him he'd got the job and was to report to the Head of Museum Services, immediately! „We've got a problem in Egypt,‟ he was told by his new boss. „You're the only pair of hands covered by insurance we've got to spare and, although you aren't trained, you'll simply have to do. The only thing you need to remember is to do as you're told by the lads over there. No nipping out for a quick burger and no beer! Got it?‟ Maxie admitted that, „He'd got it,‟ and shortly afterwards found himself on a plane heading for Egypt. At Cairo he got off the plane, feeling terrible, as if he was short of some important parts, and staggered off to find the driver waiting for him. After a fast wash and brush-up he was renamed. „You can't be called Maxie! That's a kid‟s name! We'll call you Max, that's a man's name,‟ was decided by consensus of the other handlers on site, and he was put to shifting packing cases around. He didn‟t care, he‟d answer to anything, adopting a new name was a regular occurrence. „Number four,‟ said Will, the senior man on site. „The Bluddschott Mummy. That's to go into position six. Shift it to one side for a second, when Ron gets back open it up and put it in that display case.‟ „What's Ron doing, Will?‟ „Not a lot, Max. He's got a runny tummy. Let that be a lesson to you, stick to food-stuff you can rely on.‟ Maxie was intrigued. „The Bluddschott Mummy, you say! Now that's odd. I was up at Bluddschott Hall last week listening to a talk by Lady Bluddschott, she said it's unique.‟ „Not unique, Max. There's lots of them around, so many that about a hundred and fifty years ago they got burned 156


instead of coal, but that one's a bit special. That's why it's back here on semi-permanent loan. We won't have to lug that one back to London.‟ Maxie was elated. Here he was in Egypt, and, he was getting paid for it. And ... so was the Bluddschott mummy. All he had to do was find the Green's and get the scarab from them. Money for old rope! Geraldine finished cashing up the till and stuffed the meagre takings into a bank bag: £23.62. Not a rich haul for a Saturday, she thought, once again decidedly glad that only she was on salary, all the rest of the staff being voluntary. As she wandered along the High Street heading for the night-safe on the corner of the Market Square she almost fell over a prone figure lying flat on his face on the pavement. „Oh my goodness,‟ she cried whipping off her cardigan and bundling it into a pillow shape, „don‟t worry dear, I‟m a first aider.‟ This wasn‟t strictly true as she had failed the obligatory shop management first aid course, but any port in a storm. Forcing the cardi bundle under his head, she realised she was acquainted with the prone person, who was now crossly staring up into her rather curvaceous balcony which was overpoweringly close to his nose. „Could you get off me please, Geraldine,‟ said a muffled voice. „I‟m not ill. I‟ve dropped my fob watch down this storm drain.‟ Geraldine followed his eye-line towards the gutter, where indeed the man‟s right arm was delving below the surface of a slatted iron grid. „Oh I‟m so sorry,‟ she muttered, retrieving her cardigan 157


rather more smartish that she intended and succeeding in banging his head against the paving stone. Timothy Toogood rubbed his head good naturedly with his free hand and, unfortunately, shifted position and thus pinioned his right arm tight fast inside the storm drain. „It‟s stuck,‟ he said stating the obvious. Geraldine coloured, this was all her fault. „I should have minded my own business,‟ she said crestfallen. „You meant well,‟ he replied gallantly as a crowd began to gather. „He‟s stuck,‟ said Geraldine, mopping his brow with her hanky. He didn‟t object to this familiarity, or to the fact that one of Lord Lionel‟s amply endowed mistresses (it was common knowledge, to everyone except Cynthia, of course, what with her being the other one) was adopting a motherly dose of concern for his predicament. Dr Toogood didn‟t mind that she stayed with him when the fire-brigade arrived to cut the grid to release his swollen arm, or that his fob-watch, inscribed with hieroglyphs, when retrieved was mangled beyond recognition. He didn‟t mind at all when Geraldine, ‟No worries, I insist,‟ insisted on driving him home in her four-by-four, or when she stayed to share a take-away chow mein, or the bottles of red that followed, and then with blues on the record player and a dash of gentlemanly good manners listening to her damsel-in-distress tale of woe: „Gone, naffed off without a word!‟ So, Lord Lionel had gone walkabout without a word of farewell, leaving his number one squeeze high and dry without so much as a gilt-edged investment in her name. „You can‟t drive after a bottle of red, can you?‟ So one thing inevitably led to another after the Dr of Egyptology unleashed his ponytail for the first time in many a long 158


year and let all seventeen cats out of his cat flap for an unexpected night on the tiles. Once again the scarab had worked its magic on those unsuspecting souls whose hands it had figuratively passed through, if not literally. The scarab had not finished yet. It was a moment of revelation. The mists fell away from her eyes. Beside her on the pillow, a mass of curls damp against his forehead was the rag-and-bone man, Mick Grabble. Lady Bluddschott gasped. What had she done? And, how soon could they do it again. Around this time, across town in his dishevelled cottage Dr Timothy Toogood was also aroused to the possibilities of a new day as the smell of hot coffee and toast drifted up the stairs from the kitchen which was far nicer than the pong from the over spilling, kitty litter tray which he usual awoke to. The sound of another person in the kitchen, especially one as gorgeous as Geraldine, was a new experience; one he was deeply grateful for from the innermost depths of his soul. Thank all the heavens that old fraud Lionel Bluddschott had naffed off to wherever. He was not going to be missed in Trentby. Randolph Andover also awoke that morning grinning from ear-to-ear. Before logging off Barry had sent over the first drafts of his new character the warrior Prince Vulgar of the Vulongarians and they were ace. Princess Angelikka agreed. „They‟ll make you a fortune,‟ she said squinting at the small screen on his mobile phone. „They‟ll make us all a fortune,‟ agreed Randolph taking a chance and holding Sharlene‟s hand as they reached street level. In fact she had allowed him to walk her home (it was only next door after all) from the session in Barry‟s loft without biting his head off even once, which the virtual warrior saw as a 159


very good sign. What Deirdre from the shop was doing in Barry‟s loft was a bit of a mystery, but she seemed well up for the photographs he was taking of her in the all-together, so it must be okay. She was a proper grown up after all. All those curves were a bit of a revelation, and Barry must have thought so too as he‟d turned a very strange shade of purple and was sweating when he and Sharlene had left them pair to it at about 1.00pm. Alone in the bedroom she shared with her sister, Deirdre was having a proper grown up moment. Her head was clearing after two cups of very strong coffee. She was having flash backs of Randolph dressed in a teacloth and plastic helmet and herself draped in a bed-sheet leaning over a clothes horse and the arm of the battered old sofa in Barry‟s attic while he took photographs. No! That was too weird, wasn‟t it? She‟d have to go round and find out exactly what was going on last night. Everything had been fine over dinner. He asked for seconds of the fish-pie! More than fine in fact, until Barry remembered he had promised to doing some characterisation shots for Randolph and his girlfriend and invited her to tag along. And now after all these barren years she had a delicious secret that her twin sister did not have to share. She had Barry, who had a nice slice of the black-economy going on, and a very nice brand new beamer. Constable Danny Smithers blinked and gasped. This was not his room. This was too pink and flowery to be his room unless his mother had had the decorators in again without telling him. The Postman Pat wallpaper had not gone down well last time – he was 43 after all. „So you‟re awake,‟ said a voice brimming with expectation. Danny gulped as Saturday night came back to him in all its splen160


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dour. What a lucky policeman he was. „Carol,‟ he grinned. „Carol! Who‟d have guessed.‟ At that moment as a pink policeman‟s hand reached for his ma, upstairs her son, Randolph, was also booting up a PC. A few streets away sprawled on the battered sofa half hidden under the eaves, Barry was still in the land of nod, his hand cradling his old teddy bear with one arm and a grin the size of Cheshire plastered all over unshaven chops. There has to be a first time for everything. Barry and Deidre were both caught unawares by the unexpected experience. Difficult to say which being the most surprised and delighted. Sufficient to say the sofa‟s springs would never be the same. „Lady Vee of Vulongaria,‟ he muttered as in his mind‟s eye plain, plump Deirdre morphed into the woman of his dreams complete with sword and shield, scantily draped as Britannia, old bed-sheet permitting. He had to look after this woman. Her plumptious curves would be worth a small fortune online not to mention that to-die-for fishpie ... As the influence on the inhabitants of Trentby by the Bluddschott scarab waned, across two oceans on the other side of the Med its powers were growing as the mummy and the sacred scarab began the pre-destined path towards their inevitable reconciliation. Nothing now could stop the events which fate had long ago written in the stars when a small child had washed eons of mud away from a golden artefact. Half a world away from Trentby ... „Oh Tom, it's lovely! The view of the Nile, the Pyramids, those funny boats, everything. You are a darling to get us this room,‟ Jean en162


thused as she stood, a slim figure against the cerulean sky, at the window. Tom wasn't as struck. „I suppose this is better than the other one. We‟ve a proper bathroom and the bed‟s much better. This one's a proper honeymoon bed.‟ He patted the mattress like a favourite dog. „Why don't you come over here and we can try it for size?‟ Jean didn't hear him. „I feel like ... oh I don't know ... as if something magical has happened. Less than a week ago I was just plain old, boring, mousey, Jean Grabble working in the family business. Then you swept me off my feet and now I'm Mrs Thomas Green.‟ She turned and did a little dance that brought her near enough to Tom for him to make a grab for. Jean, who had heard him, launched herself at him and co-operated in proving that 'Egyptian PT' had more than one meaning. Later, as they were getting changed for dinner, Tom said, „And who told you that you were, plain old, boring, mousey, Jean Grabble, may I ask?‟ „Well, I was! I knew that because my mirror told me.‟ „My dear, darling, beautiful, wife that glass was telling you lies. When we get home it's going to be recycled as a punishment. It's going to spend the next twenty years as a cracked pint pot in a disused public house!‟ His attempt at a maniacal cackle was a complete failure. Over their meal in the crowded dining room they talked about the next day‟s arranged trip. „A sail along the Nile? Sounds like the one you promised me, Tom. What was it now? Something about sailing on a felucca from Aswan under the light of moon and being served the best viands. Hmm... I like the viands bit, it sounds better than food. Now where was I? Oh yes, under the light of the moon and something about the chef‟s se163


cret recipe handed down from his forefathers.‟ „Got it in one Jean. Except, this one isn't, quite, as perfect as all that. We aren't in Aswan, it's going to be broad daylight and the chef works in this hotel to American recipes. But, other than that, it's exactly as I said. Except that the boat has an engine, of course.‟ Jean swatted him with her napkin, pulled a face, and called him a spoilsport. In the Museum, Maxie, was busy installing the exhibits sent from London to the satisfaction of Will and his team, and their equivalent local conservators. ‘That looks to fine, Maxie,’ Suleema, the conservator remarked in Arabic. „It's a pity that you can't find the scarab for him though. He looks incomplete without it.’ ‘It's not for want of trying, Suleema. I was at Bluddschott Hall last week trying to find it.’ Maxie was not above gathering a bit of kudos with the exotically beautiful young woman by talking in her language. ‘There are traces of it, odd mentions in contents lists that could be it, until about twenty years ago but all the clues died with Lady Lucinda.’ Will was standing looking over the case and wondering where young Maxie had learned to speak Arabic, and what he was saying, or was he chatting her up. Lucky dog! Suleema put Will‟s thoughts into words. „Where did you learn Arabic, Maxie? It's not something you learned to come out here is it?‟ Maxie laughed, „No, I learnt it at play school and primary school. All the kids came from different backgrounds and you had to learn fast if you wanted to play anything. Mainly it was Arabic, Polish, English and Hindustani. Us kids learned very quickly.‟ „Four languages!‟ Suleema was impressed. „Maxie, I 164


don't suppose you can read hieroglyphics as well, can you?‟ „Not really well, Suleema. Miss Spur was teaching them to me but I wasn't any good at it.‟ „Miss. Spur! You don't mean Margaret Spur do you?‟ „Yes. She was my boss until I became a Museum Assistant. Why do you know her?‟ „Yes, she's family. It's too difficult to explain but she's a second, or maybe third, or fourth cousin on my mum's side. She was here about ten years ago trying to find her ancestors. She found us instead. Now! Let me see what you know. What do these symbols say!‟ Suleema pointed to the arm of the Bluddschott Mummy. Maxie looked at the exposed, leather-like, skin. „It's not too clear, but something like,‟ he changed into Arabic. „My heart will … something, it's not clear … reside in the Blacklands and ensure fertility and love for all time.‟ During this talk Will had wandered off to check on something. Suleema beamed at him. „Stop putting yourself down! For somebody who, 'wasn't any good at it', that was fantastic. Right now though it's lunch time and I'm treating you.‟ Jean trailed her hand in the water as it burbled and chuckled along the side of the felucca, Tom was busy watching her and wondering what life had in store for them when they returned home. One thing he was sure of was, that whatever it was, it'd be a lot of fun not to mention some changes, however, his sisters had trained him to know better than to say anything. „No engine, Tom. Just the river, and the sails, and the sun.‟ 165


„Okay, my love, so I got that bit wrong, although I must admit that it's an improvement, but I wasn't wrong about the food though. A picnic lunch from the hotel with a bottle of cola to wash it down with.‟ A little further down the boat deck another couple, a young, quite good looking, European and a stunning young woman with an exotic look about her, had their heads close together. „Tom,‟ Jean remarked, „I'm sure that that's the researcher from the British Municipal Museum who was in Trentby last week. Now what was his name?‟ „Crest,‟ Tom replied after a short pause to think about it, „Maximilian Crest. Mum told me about him going around asking questions about something to do with the Bluddschott Mummy. It's odd that he's here, but I expect he's on some sort of treasure hunting trip. Mind you that girl looks a lot like those statues of Nefertiti so it could be that she's the attraction.‟ „Keep those ideas to yourself, Thomas Green if you have any lascivious thoughts keep them for me.‟ She chuckled and smiled at him, „I like a bit of lascivious now and again.‟ So saying she arched an eyebrow and preened. Tom wasn't bothered about any other woman, he had more than he could handle with this one. On the landing stage the two couples came together. „Excuse me, but aren‟t you Maximilian Crest from the British Municipal Museum?‟ Jean asked. Much to Suleema's bewilderment Maxie replied with a wide grin. „It's a fair cop, guv. I'll plead guilty and blame it on a poor upbringing.‟ Then, „Do I know you?‟ „No,‟ said Jean. „But I've heard about you from my friends in Trentby. You were asking about a scarab last week.‟ „Oh, yes, the Bluddschott mummy scarab. Why? Have 166


you any clues that I could follow up?‟ Maxie was on the trail again. „Oh sorry! This is my colleague Miss Hassan, a conservator at the local museum.‟ There were introductions all around. Eventually Jean answered the question. „Yes, I know moexactly where it is. It's not worth a lot, according to Lady Lucy and Doctor Toogood. Tim Toogood says a few pounds and Lady Lucy, bless her soul, told me about twenty.‟ „A bit more than that, Mrs Green.‟ Suleema replied. „If you can prove you're the owner it could be worth a few thousand. Although you could have problems with it. It was illegally exported you see. But, if it was restored to its rightful owner I'm sure that it would be okay.‟ „You mean that the mummy wants its scarab back, I suppose, Miss Hassan?‟ Tom interjected. „Really! I thought things had gone beyond that sort of superstition!‟ „This is Egypt, Mr Green,‟ Suleema answered, „Not your green and pleasant England. Even if you don't believe in them, here it does not do to anger the Gods of the Ancients. So yes, I suppose you could say that he wants his scarab returned.‟ Jean felt a coldness close in about her, not the physical coldness which is a mere lack of heat, but as if her very soul had been chilled. She clung to Tom for support. „We're due at the Museum tomorrow morning,‟ she said. „If I ask for you at the desk will you be able to talk to us, do you think?‟ „Both Maxie and I will be there from about eight.‟ Suleema answered as they walked off the pier. „We‟ll see you tomorrow. But, please. Don't let my talk about the ancient gods upset you. After all, they're my country‟s gods not yours, so they'll have no power over you.‟ Jean wasn't so sure. 167


Much to the disgust of their courier, Jean and Tom ditched the tour and asked for Miss Hassan and Mr Crest at the museum entry desk. Two minutes later they were escorted behind closed doors into the business of the gallery revamp. „There he is!‟ Suleema said, pointing to a mummy in an open case. „That's the Bluddschott Mummy and, as you can see, he's been robbed of his heart scarab.‟ Jean opened her shoulder bag and handed a gold and blue object to Suleema. „That could be it. Lady Lucy told me it was. She came here with her Uncle, sometime in the 1930s I believe. The mummy went home with him and that went home with her. It wasn't stolen and neither was it illegally exported, it was all on the report and the digging license allowed it, according to Lady Lucy.‟ Suleema and Maxie turned the scarab over. „Who put this pin on it?‟ Suleema asked frowning. „The lad in the shop I bought it from.‟ Jean told her. „It had been donated to a charity shop. When I found it, it was 50p plus another £1.50 for the pin.‟ Maxie and Suleema returned to the scarab. „If we take this pin off we can see better,‟ Maxie stated, „but it looks right. There‟s no damage.‟ A few minutes work in the conservation workshop and the scarab came away pristine. „Is it me, or is it glowing!‟ Suleema asked the others. „Quick, I‟ll get it into place on the mummy,‟ Maxie said as he took the scarab and ran into the gallery hurdling packing cases and bouncing off walls as he went. The others followed as fast as they could. They arrived in time to see Maxie put the scarab in place. They refused to believe their eyes as the scarab seemed to give a little wriggle as it settled back into the hollow that it had been 168


its home for many centuries. The glow, if it was a glow, faded away and the gold and blue shone in the sunlight. „I'll be jiggered! It's … I dunno ... I mean fairy stories don't happen … do they?‟ Maxie put into words something of the feelings of the group. „No! And that didn't happen either!‟ The ever practical Jean came to the fore. „Not unless you want to be taken for some kind of headcase anyway. We know, and that's enough.‟ Tom nodded in agreement adding, Suleema, can you issue a press release please? One that says that, Suleema Hassan, and Maximilian Crest, from the British Municipal Museum, traced the scarab and, at great personal cost, returned it to its rightful place.‟ Maxie joined in, „And you would also like to thank Thomas Green and Jean Grabble of Trentby, for their assistance in making the recovery.‟ Jean smiled, „You can both have the glory and Tom and I will get on with our honeymoon. We'll probably see both of you in Trentby next year, please drop in and have dinner with us.‟ Suleema nodded and smiled, Tom and Maxie looked stunned. Eh up! Now what! Jean looked like the cat who'd got the cream, blew Suleema a kiss, took Tom's arm, then went and rejoined the tour group. All of Tom's questions were, except for an enigmatic smile, left unanswered.

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Lord Lionel Bluddschott had disagreed with something that ate him. Reggie hadn‟t been quite himself since his lordship‟s rotund forequarters had wedged in his belly and rotted. Reggie had literally bitten off more than he could chew. It was around his time, after several weeks of fasting on the foreshore of the island in the middle of Bluddschott Park lake, and grumbling in the manner only a Nile crocodile can grumble, Reggie came to a decision. A thought hit his cerebral cortex like a thunder bolt. Coincidentally this twinkle in the dark adapted eye of the crocodile occurred right around the time of the sacred scarab being reunited with the Bluddschott mummy far away in the land of Reggie‟s birth, if a clutch of eggs can be said to be born rather than laid. That was another thought, getting laid, or the crocodilian equivalent of such mundane matters of reproduction. As if by magic, something occurred which gave Reggie the push he needed to get off the beach and to do something positive. He slid into the water and glided to where the disturbance to his peace was occurring. It was a visit by Cynthia ever the inquisitive. A vision in pink wellington boots Cynthia was patrolling the reed beds and prodding with what looked like a long boat hook. She had company. Daphne Drinkwater was holding the torch and shining it onto the surface of the lake. „Are you sure about this, Cynthia?‟ asked Daphne who was having a very bad week, what with her twin finding herself a toy-boy with a brand new beamer and a liking for fish-pie. „Do you really think Lady Bluddschott has done him in?‟ „Hold that torch steady, I thought I saw something 171


move.‟ „Wouldn‟t he have floated? He was a lump after all?‟ With that criticism of her departed lover ringing in her ears, Cynthia banged the boat hook down hard on the reeds. Cruising, Reggie didn‟t like the look of the sharp end of that dangerous weapon and did a hasty detour round the end of the lake he didn‟t often visit. It so happened that since Lady Lucy‟s demise, no-one from Bluddschott Hall had taken on the duty of drainage maintenance and thus the sluice gate was hanging by a thread. Reggie blinked in surprise. The swinging gate was smashed open in a swish of his tail. He was free. Free, free at last ... Just like Nellie the elephant, Reggie figuratively packed his truck and said goodbye to the life of captivity. He was a free crocodile. His days of servitude to Lady Lucy were over. He sniffed the breeze, yep, all he needed was to follow the brook to river and the river to the sea. He had the stars to guide him and the smell of home in his nostrils. „What was that?‟ dithered Daphne, crossing her legs, „I wish there was a ladies handy. All this cold water‟s playing havoc with my waterworks.‟ „Nothing, only the sluice gate clanging,‟ muttered Cynthia squelching out of the reed bed and completely overlooking a chewed foreleg wearing a hand-made brogue which was lodged close by the toe of her shocking pink Wellington boot.

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Writers taking part in this project were: Clive Hewitt, Penny Wheat, Yan Watwood, Steph Spiers, Anne Picken, Peter Shilston and Edith Holland, together with Sanjaya, Judy, Pat and Liz, Alice and Elizabeth, Yazz and others far too numerous to mention in the early plotting stages.

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Thank you for taking an interest in RBW projects and we hope you have enjoyed another romp through the streets of Trentby. Trentbyâ€&#x;s madcap characters can also be found romping around in

Fare Deal & Are We There Yet? Perhaps you have always fancied having a go at creative writing. It is never too late to start. Watch out for our trampling on the legend of the knights of Camelot in the near future.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The Egyptian images were donated to this project by the writer and historian, Mr Peter Shilston, to whom we all offer a big vote of thanks.

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Thank you for joining RBW on this romp through time and suspension of disbelief. We hope you have enjoyed the fun and, perhaps, may be inspired to pick up a pen and have a go yourself. After all, if we can do it, anyone of our age can have a go ... PS Keep a sharp eye out for Reggie. He’ll be getting hungry by now ...

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The Mystery of the Bluddschott Scarab