Category Archives: Serials

Rags’ Riches – Chapter 11

Jenny didn’t sleep, well in truth she never expected to.  She had made a lovely cup of hot chocolate and sploshed a generous measure of whisky in it.  That usually did the trick but not tonight.

After all the hard work, she’d climbed up to bed leaving the house looking almost back to normal.  The little table had been packed into a big bin bag.  There was a place down in town where they might be able to mend it, providing it wouldn’t cost too much and who knew in this day and age.  Quite often it was cheaper to buy new but the new things were rarely the same quality and they didn’t have the little memories soaked into them.

One thing that Jenny was absolutely determined about though was that she wasn’t going to let this horrible thing spoil enjoyment of her home and her peace.  All you had to do was face it, put it in perspective and move on.  The damage had in fact been minimal and the mess was cleaned up.  The thing that was causing her to toss and turn and fidget was that blasted box.  She knew without the merest shadow of a doubt that it had been there when she left for the vet’s office. So, was it that the horrors who had ransacked her home had taken it for nefarious reasons of their own?  The other option caused her more concern.  Had the people who had invaded her space come specifically for the box and the rest was simply subterfuge and nastiness.

In the dark of her bedroom she sat up and tried to sort out her thoughts.  If the burglars had been children, who knew what their thought processes were.  They could have taken the box for just about anything.  If it was the men from the garage how on earth could they possibly have known where she lived?  No, it just wasn’t logical.  It must have been children, youths whatever you wanted to call them. Well, she could think of a few names but stewing and worrying at it wasn’t going to make any difference.  She lay down and pulled the duvet up around her chin but the feeling of disquiet wouldn’t leave her.

The next morning Jenny needed to bring Rags back from the vet and before that she wanted to go to the wet fish shop for a treat for him. During the trip to town she would call in to see the butcher.  She wanted to know just what he had written on the note pushed under the garage door.  Although it was for certain that he would have been cautious it might help to set her mind at rest to have him confirm it.

“Hello there Mr Morton.”

“And a good morning to you my dear.  How are you?”

“Oh, I’m alright thank you.”

“Well you don’t look your chirpy self if you don’t mind me saying so.  Has something gone wrong with that old cat?”

“Well, no it’s not that.  You see I’ve had a robbery.”

“Oh that’s rotten.  Was much taken?  You poor thing, I’m so sorry. The buggers, oh excuse me, it just makes me so angry.”

The honesty behind his reaction nearly brought more tears but Jenny steeled herself.  She was proud and made of pretty stern stuff and kindness was nothing to cry about now was it?

“No, as a matter of fact nothing was taken, just a mess and a bit of damage. I suppose it wasn’t that bad really, but it shook me up I have to admit.”

“Well of course it did, of course it did, you poor thing.  I don’t know, we do live in nasty times don’t we?”

“Oh well, there are a lot of good people about.  Yourself for instance.”  She gave the butcher a quick smile.  One thing she didn’t want to do was to reduce the conversation into a session bemoaning the state of society.

“Mr Morton, please don’t read anything into this but I did just want to ask.  When you left the note at the garage what did you put?”

“Oh, I see what you mean.  No, no I didn’t go into any details, no, no of course not.  I just said that a cat had been trapped and we had rescued him.  I felt that was vague enough.”  The big man’s eyes cloudy with worry.  “Oh, my goodness.  You don’t think it could have been because of that do you?  If I thought I was in any way to blame for your trouble.  Oh my word.”

“No, no don’t upset yourself.  I’m sure that was fine.”

“Ah but it wasn’t, was it?  I mentioned a cat didn’t I?  Now everyone knows you are the lady who feeds the cats.  Even if they didn’t they’d only have to be around for a couple of days and see the little beggars trouping down to your yard.  Oh, how stupid. I am so sorry.”

“No, no please Mr Morton don’t worry, after all what else could you say?”

“Here, here take this.  He plonked a great piece of pork onto a paper, wrapped it and pushed it across the counter to her.”

“No, now come on Mr Morton don’t be silly I can’t take that.”

“Take it, take it.  I feel as though I have done something stupid.  Please take it and I’ll feel better.  Cut it up for you and the cats.  Please.  Oh, what an idiot I am. I should have made up some sort of story, oh dear.”

He was so upset she didn’t tell him about the box.  He was already getting into a state and she didn’t want to make matters worse but the conversation had actually confirmed what in truth she had been suspecting.  The men from the garage had come to take the box back hadn’t they?

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 10

It’s a cliché of course but nevertheless true.  The policeman who pushed his way through the kitchen door and tiptoed amongst the debris looked like a sixth former in fancy dress.  He was kind enough it has to be said.

“Have you anyone who can come and help you Madam?  Maybe you have someone you can stay with until you sort all this out.  I’ll have the fingerprint people here and they make a bit of a mess I’m afraid.”

Jenny shook her head.  He’d pulled the little black book from his pocket and made a note of everything she had to tell him.  The vet and Rags.  He had raised an eyebrow when she called Rags a stray and she knew straight away that he wouldn’t understand and the heart had gone out of her.  She had waited an hour and a half for him to come anyway.  She had used the time to check the rest of the house and felt blessed relief when it became apparent that “they” had only been downstairs as far as she could tell.

“Is there anything missing?” He held his pencil at the ready to list her goods and chattels.  She was trying not to be ungracious but really, what good was it all going to do anyway.

“No, I don’t think so.  They just spoiled things and broke things.  Do you think it was children?”

“Well, difficult to say really.  There isn’t that much real damage, just a mess and that would seem a bit like kids I admit but do you know anyone who might have a grudge?”

Not that much real damage, she looked in sadness at the little broken table and the pile of ceramic pieces.  No, not that much real damage but a great deal of hurt.

“No, I get on with my neighbours.  Well you don’t see them much anyway these days.  Not like it used to be, but no I don’t think I’ve upset anyone.”

“You feed the cats don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think that somebody might find that a nuisance?”

“Well I don’t think so.  Nobody’s ever said so.  They don’t stay, the cats.  They just come and eat and then mostly they go on their way.  Why would that upset anyone?”

“No, it’s probably not that, but you know people are funny sometimes. Anyway I’ll get the fingerprint people to call in and I’ll give you a crime number for your insurance company.”

“Thank you.  Is that all?”

“Sorry.”

“Well are you going to try and find out who it was?  Who came in, who did this.”  Tears flowed anew as she swept an arm around the wreckage.

“Well if they haven’t taken anything, there’s no way that evidence will come to light or anything like that so, I don’t know what we’ll be able to do.”

“What about cameras?”

“Cameras?”

“Yes, I thought there were cameras everywhere watching us all.”

“Well, yes but not here, not in a little road like this and not in the back alley way.”

“No, no I suppose not.  So there’s nothing you can do?”

“I’m sorry, no.  If you’d had things stolen it would have been better.”  Jenny gasped “Well no not better, of course not better, but in that case we could have circulated a list, you know to pawn shops and such like.  When it’s just vandalism like this it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to do much.  Anyway this is your crime number and the finger print people will be along in an hour or so.”

“Can you tell them not to bother?”

“Not to bother?”

“Yes, the finger print men, I don’t think I can face any more mess and if they can’t do anything anyway, well.”  She shrugged her thin shoulders.

“Shall I make you a cup of tea?”  The young man looked a little shamefaced, he knew only too well the heart ache that robbery caused but he was a realist and there was no point raising false hopes.  “You know the trouble is that even if we caught whoever did it they wouldn’t be able to do much. There was no physical hurt, no major damage.”

“Oh it’s alright I realise it’s not your fault.  Yes go on put the kettle on and we’ll have a cup of tea.”

When he had gone she started to tidy the kitchen.  After an hour or two things were starting to look better.  There wasn’t that much actual damage, a few breakages and some scratches but really it was quite superficial.  She was saddened more than anything that someone could do this for no reason that she could think of.

As she worked her way around the lounge, cleaning and clearing and picking up, she bent and retrieved the piece of old string that had been wrapped around the wooden box.  She fumbled it into a bundle ready to go into the shed.  Might as well take the box as well.  It was nowhere to be found.  When she had left to go to the vet she had pushed the two things together into the corner she was sure, but now, and in light of the major clean-up she had done, she could see without doubt that it was gone.  She had been feeling better but discovery that the box was missing caused her stomach to clench and cold sweat to break out on her forehead.  She was gripped with a feeling of real dread, and she didn’t really know why.

 

 

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 9

Jenny wasn’t surprised when the vet suggested keeping Rags at the clinic overnight.  They needed to stitch up his leg and give him antibiotics.  Because he wasn’t a house cat they all agreed that it was best to have him confined until he was properly on the mend.  Mr Morton knew Jenny well and tailored his fees to fit the situation.  She agreed to try and keep the ginger tom in the house for as long as possible after his treatment.  The only one not happy with the whole thing was the patient himself.

He yowled and growled and grumbled the whole time.  He tried to scratch and he tried to bite.  After the effort to get him into the carry basket it now seemed that it was the only place he wanted to be.  He refused to come out and then once out, he struggled and fussed trying to clamber back in.  They had all seen it all before though, and simply carried on with kindness, patience and good humour.  By the time she was standing at the stop waiting for the bus home Jenny was smiling to herself, he was safe and now the problems were all over, she could relax.

Looking forward to a cup of tea she threw open the yard gate.  There’d be a bit of tidying up to do now before she could settle down for the evening.  She was totally unprepared for the scene that greeted her.  The back door to the house was hanging open; her hand flew to her mouth.  That was wrong.  She supported herself with a hand on the wall as she crept forwards across the yard, her kneecaps juddered and wiggled in the most alarming way.  Her stomach was churning and tears had filled her eyes.  This was trouble.

It was only later she realised that there could well have been real danger, there could have been people in there, yobs with weapons or paint spray cans, anything.  In those first moments her brain didn’t really send sensible messages though and so she walked forward slowly across the yard.  She pushed the door wider open.  The mess was everywhere.  The kitchen floor was scuffed and dirty and some of the drawers had been upended, knives and forks were scattered on the lino and her jars of coffee and sugar had been flung to all four corners of the room.

The lounge broke her heart.  There was chaos everywhere.  The cushions from the settee and chairs were thrown about, little tables had been flung aside and one was obviously broken.  The leg was separated from the top and raw wood glared white where it had snapped in two.

She was shaking now and crying, little moaning noises were erupting from her throat.  Her sideboard had been ransacked and cups from her special set were shattered on the carpet.

Suddenly she found herself on the floor, her legs had simply given in and plopped her onto her bottom.  She gave in, she sobbed and hiccupped and rocked back and forth as little noises of disbelief and despair bubbled from her mouth.  Tears soaked her cheeks this pain was horrible, dreadful.  For a while she could do nothing more than give in to grief.  Apart from the deaths in the family this was the worst thing ever to have happened to her.  The deaths had been hard but foreseen, prepared for in a way and the horror was manageable.  This though, this was a thrust to her very soul.  Her precious home had been violated, her life had been assaulted and her calm and accepting nature had been sundered by this vicious act.

Afterwards, she couldn’t have said how long she had sat on the carpet among the debris of her life.  The light was fading from the day and she felt chilled, although it could be the result of the shock as much as a genuine drop in temperature.  Eventually though she had to come back.  For a long time there was no way to see past the horror but ultimately a strange sense of acceptance took over and she dragged herself up from the carpet.

Oh Jenny.”  She addressed herself, “Just look at this.”  She picked up a couple of books, they weren’t torn and she took heart from that tiny little blessing.  She did a stock take.  Maybe, it wasn’t as bad as it had first looked.  The cups were broken and tears stung again as she picked up the ruined porcelain.  They weren’t valuable, not in a monetary way but they had been her mother’s. She took a big breath, if felt like a sigh but it filled her with oxygen.  She began to tidy things and then the thought struck her that actually she should probably call the police.  If she was going to she should leave things as they were.  She picked up the telephone and dialled.

 

 

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 7

As she stroked him gently Rags tensed.  It was obvious that the poor thing was nervous and hurting.  Jenny knew from her huge “stray cat” experience that just one wrong move now and he would run.  Even hurt and weak as he was he would be off like a little ginger rocket.  It was vital that he didn’t get away. He needed a vet to have a look at his leg, he probably needed some antibiotics, certainly it needed stitches. “Hush, Raggy, little lovey.  Don’t you worry.  I’m going to help you now.”  She crooned quietly, calming both herself and the stray.  All the time her eyes flicked around the room, searching in the dim space, looking desperately for something to put him in.  A sports bag, a box anything would do but it needed to be really secure.  Once they were outside the garage, if he had the chance to run he would and if he ran then almost certainly he would die.

Everywhere there were piles of the wooden boxes.  They almost filled the space, most were sealed up but against the wall were a few with lids were propped beside them.  If she could get him into one of those and find some way to fix a lid that would do the trick.

She carried a box with a lid resting on top of it across the concrete floor.  It was heavy and bulky, almost too much for her to manage and it was pure determination that got her there in the end.  Being that it was made from wood she had expected some weight but by the time she lowered it to the floor she was puffed and her arms quaked with the effort of moving the thing. She placed it carefully beside the piece of sacking and, crooning steadily reached out and lifted the poor old cat with her right hand.  Gently so as not to hurt him anymore she cradled him.  His claws were out and his ears had lowered, flattened against his head but so far so good.  As quickly as she could she flicked the old piece of sacking into the bottom of the box.  She laid Rags down on it and then before he had time for second thoughts she slid the lid across the top.  She heard him meow quietly.  “It’s alright, don’t you worry little fella.”  She couldn’t possibly nail the lid on but she had found a piece of old plastic rope.  The other crates seemed to be fixed firmly with silver nails, but there was no way she could do that and anyway you couldn’t nail an animal into a box it would be cruel.  She wrapped the stiff cord all the way round the box a couple of times and tied it as tightly as she could in a big knot on the top.  She inspected the thing.  Yes, if she was quick and because the poor thing was weak this might work, there were little knot holes and gaps in the wood and so he would have enough air for the short journey.  She stood up and tried to lift it. The weight of the cat and the box and lid was just about all she could manage.  Huffing and puffing, half lifting and half dragging her burden she scuffled to the door.

The bike was leaning against the wall just out of reach and so she had to put the box down again.  Not what she wanted but it was her own fault for not planning ahead so she simply tutted with frustration.  With an eye on the box in case the cat managed to push his way out she stretched over to pull the big door back into place and hook the broken padlock through the loop.  She jiggled it until it looked as though it was locked and then crossed her fingers that there wouldn’t be a robbery before Mr Morton came back.

She pulled her bicycle forward, leaned it against the wall and then with some juggling and a deal of huffing and puffing, and the odd swear word under her breath, she managed to balance the box on the saddle.  Wrapping one arm around the box and using the other one to guide the bike she set off on her slow way home.  She could hear Rags scratching and scrabbling at the lid and his pitiful meowing.  “Hush now, hush little puss.  It’s alright.”  She knew it probably wasn’t going to make much difference to the cat but it made her feel better crooning and murmuring.

After an absolute age she made it to her back gate and with a great gust of a sigh she leaned the bike against the wall.  Once the box was in the kitchen she took a quick walk around the little room to make doubly sure all the doors and windows were closed.  Very possibly the cat would make a mad run for it when she removed the lid.  It was enough, she was jiggered, totally exhausted, her arms were sore, there were splinters in her fingers and her back felt as though she’d been kicked by a donkey.  She flopped down onto the kitchen chair.  No matter, it had been a mighty struggle but she gave herself a mental pat on the back.  Mr Morton was going to see to the padlock.  Rags was safely in her care now and all her problems were over, weren’t they?

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 6

Jenny rattled the back door of the little building but it was locked tight.  The window was covered with metal mesh and so, even if she was able to break the glass it would get her nowhere.  Tears flooded from her eyes as she thought of the cat stuck in the horrible dark place.  She had knelt on the dirty ground and spoken gently to him through the door.

“Don’t worry Rags, I’ll get you out little lovey.  Don’t you fret.”  She hadn’t heard anything for a while but had no doubt that he was still there.  For a moment, unable to decide what to do, helplessness overwhelmed her.

There were the police of course but wouldn’t that be a bit silly, surely they wouldn’t countenance breaking in, no of course not.  “Just leave ‘im love. He’ll be fine, get ‘isself out next time the door’s open.”  She could hear in her head, the replay of the time they refused to become involved when a poor little kitten became trapped in an empty house across the road from her house. In the end she had been able to let that little guy out but ever since, and it was three years ago, she cringed remembering the condescending manner of the policeman.  No that wasn’t the way to go.

“I’m going away for a minute little fella, I’ll be back don’t worry.”  She carefully made her way to the end of the block and onto the concrete.  The front heavy pair of doors at the entrance of the garage was the whole height of the place.  There was a padlock on a hasp and staple.  She reached out and rattled at it, then she pushed at the door and although it moved a little it was well and truly bolted and barred.  Frown lines had drawn themselves on her brow and a great sigh escaped into the quite space.

The hasp and staple were screwed to the doors.  It was secure no doubt, but only in a way that would discourage ne’er do wells from trying to get in.  If she was to break the padlock, if she could, then surely the owners wouldn’t mind provided it was quickly replaced.  Oh no, that wouldn’t work, how would she get the keys to them.  No, that idea didn’t work.  If the men had seemed a little nicer a few days ago, she would have gone ahead and then left them a note with her address but it didn’t seem wise to let those sorts of people know where her home was.

She was close to despair.  It was horrible to think about just going home and leaving Rags, but what other choice was there, realistically.  She nearly jumped out of her skin when a car horn gently beeped behind her.  She spun round to be confronted by the smiling face of Mr Morton, the butcher.  “Alright, Mrs Woods.”

“Oh, Mr Morton, hello.”  He took one look at her troubled face and clambered from his delivery van.  “Hey, Mrs Woods is sommat wrong luv.”

Jenny could feel tears threatening again, she nodded.  “Oh Mr Morton, I know this is silly but you see.  One of my regular cats, Rags, I call him that because of his chewed ear.  Well, he’s caught in here.  I haven’t seen him for over a week and then the other day I thought there was just a glimpse, but you see the men were so very unfriendly.  I don’t know what to do.  It’s all locked up and who knows how long it’s going to be before they come back.  I know I’m a silly old woman but the poor thing can’t get out and it’s so dark in there.

“Now, come on don’t get upset.  You’re not a silly old woman at all.  Now I’m sure there must be something we can do.  Let’s have a look now.  Oh well, that’s a fine strong lock and no mistake.  I don’t think we’ll be able to do much with that, not without causing criminal damage at any rate.”  He grinned at her and then walked over to the back of his little van.

“Now then Mrs Woods, don’t you be watching me.  I don’t want you to have any sort of conscience.”

“Oh no, Mr Morton you mustn’t, really you mustn’t you could get into terrible trouble.  Don’t do anything wrong just because of me and my cats.”

“Tell you what, I’m just delivering some meat to that house at the top of Cloud Street, why don’t you do me a big favour and just take this parcel and give it to the lady there.  It’s all paid for.”  He handed over a parcel wrapped in white paper and gave her a tiny push off towards the end of the street opposite where they were standing.  “Mrs Patel, tell her you’re my assistant for the day.”

When Jenny came back from delivering the meat Mr Morton was stowing a great tyre lever in the rear of his van.  The padlock was hanging limply from the hook on the door.  “Will you be able to manage now love?  I really need to get on. When you come out just push the doors to and then hook the lock back in.  It won’t fasten properly but it’ll look right and then I’ll come back later and bring a new one.”

“But how will you get the new key to them.”

“I’ll leave them a note and Mrs Patel’ll hold it for us, I know she won’t mind.”

“Oh Mr Morton thank you.”

“Get on with you, we can’t leave the poor thing trapped in there now can we.  He’ll probably just run away now when you open the door.  I’ll pop along to the shop and get a new lock. I’ll be back later on when I’ve finished work”

Jenny opened one side of the doors just enough to slide into the space.  It was very dim inside.  “Raggy, Rags.  Hello, come on boy, it’s alright.”   She had imagined, as had the butcher, that the old cat would make a run for it once there was an escape route and couldn’t understand why he hadn’t.  Then she saw him.  He was lying on an old piece of sacking.  He raised his head as she walked towards him and gave a feeble meow.  His coat was dull and dirty, his eyes were partly covered by that odd eyelid that only shows when cats are not well. She gasped as she saw the horrible gash on his back leg.  It was clean, he had obviously been licking it but it was nasty and obviously should be stitched up.  “Oh Rags, you poor, poor thing.”

Now what was she going to do, she couldn’t carry him and push her bike, she couldn’t leave her bike here, and if she tried to put him in the basket he would without doubt jump out and run off.  If he ran off with that horrible wound she just knew he wouldn’t get better.

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 5

The cats enjoyed the boiled rabbit and chicken livers.  Mr Morton, the butcher was an old friend and often passed on things that were no longer saleable.  For Jenny there was always the temptation to keep some of it for her own meals.  She didn’t though, it would feel like a betrayal and she was strictly moral.

The kitchen door was open, Jenny leaned on the wall and sipped at her cup of coffee.  In due course each of the diners stalked off to whatever business needed their attention.  Rags hadn’t turned up again and that was seven days, which was now very worrying.  Replaying the quick glimpse of the lock up over and over, she was convinced that the flash of ginger had been him.  That little glimpse of orange must have been the old boy.  If he was in there it seemed likely that he would be trapped when the big doors were locked again.

She paced a little and argued with herself about the wisdom of taking any sort of action.  He wasn’t her cat, not really.  He was an old stray and as such she had no responsibility and certainly no rights connected to him.  On the other hand they had been friends for such a long time now and she was worried for him.

The coffee cup was empty, rinsed out and upended on the draining board, the little house was tidy, Jenny had a little spare time.  She would walk up towards the garages.  The exercise was good and it was a pretty day.  If there was no sign of Rags then she would try to stop fretting about him and take a stroll round the park in the sunshine.

Her tummy did a little somersault as she neared the short block of concrete buildings.  There was no sign of the big white van but the memory of that nasty little incident was still vivid.  She knew that there were no windows in the front elevation and being the middle one of a terrace, there was no access from the sides.  It wouldn’t be easy to see around the back, but it was the only possible place that she would find a window or perhaps a back door.

She was hesitant to take the plunge.  It would turn her little walk into something much more.  It would make her into a nosey old woman – or – an investigative explorer.  She chuckled to herself.  Oh yes, just like Nancy Drew, she had loved those books, in fact they may even still be in the attic, it might be worth looking in the boxes.  Oh darn it! she was worried about the cat and she didn’t mean any harm and if he was trapped in the storage unit then he needed helping. Nancy Drew wouldn’t have hesitated and so she wouldn’t, she straightened her spine.

The garages had concrete parking areas at the front and a narrow pathway down both sides of the block.  It was to be hoped that maybe there would be some sort of solid ground to walk on at the back. After a quick glance around she turned right and followed the wall of the first garage.  It wasn’t very big and taking a peep round the end corner she was disappointed to find that there was no proper walkway.  It was all uneven dirt spotted here and there with oil stains and with a few clumps of sad grass struggling to survive.  Everywhere was littered with paper and other things that didn’t bear looking at too closely!  This was not a nice place and if she went any further she was committing herself completely to the hunt.

Steadying herself with her left hand against the dirty back walls of the buildings she took careful steps onto the broken, lumpy surface.  Thank heavens it was dry otherwise it would be impossible to get down here.  It was typical of so much in modern life she reflected, the garages looked reasonably smart at the front but here in the back it was just a messy rubbish dump.

Now, to head towards the fourth little building.  It was easy to count them because, to her delight, each one had a narrow wooden door in the back wall and a tiny window of wired glass.  One, two, three, now here it was.  She stretched out her hand and grasped the metal door handle.  It would be too much to have any hope at all that it would open but of course it was worth a try.  It was no surprise to find that it was locked.  She listened carefully.  There was the sound of bird song and then, muted and quieted by the block of concrete structures, there was the faint noise of traffic on the main road.  It was a lonely and rather unpleasant little place and she felt nervous and flicked her eyes back and forth along the back walls.  There was no sign of anyone around, it was impossible to be seen from the front parking area.  If she was to fall and twist an ankle or something here it would be very difficult to attract attention.

She took a couple of staggering steps and found that the little window was higher in the wall than a house window would have been.  As such she had to stand on tiptoes and pull up with her finger- tips.  It was dingy and dark inside.  There were brighter vertical lines far to the front and it could only be that they were where the front doors didn’t fit completely together.  Apart from that there was just the very dim light from the tiny dirty window.

The wooden boxes just about filled the garage.  They were piled on top of each other to the height of a man and then stacked one behind the other.  There must be hundreds of them, all the same sort.  She rubbed at the grime on the outside of the window but it was just as thick on the other side.  Cupping her hands around her face she pressed against the dirty glass.  There was no sign of movement.  She tapped against the wooden frame, “Rags, Rags”.  It was silly because he didn’t know that was what she called him.  He had never even been into her house, he was his own cat this one not like a cute little pet who comes when called.  She knocked again, “Raggy, Rags are you there.” How silly it sounded and yet what else was there to do?

There was a small sound against the base of the doorway.  A scrabble, a tiny little scratching.  Her heart missed a beat, “Rags, Rags is that you.”  She had leapt away from the window and knelt on the dirty earth.  “Raggy.”  Then she heard it, a pitiful little meow followed by another scrabbling noise.  “Oh, Rags you poor thing.”  Tears came to her eyes.  She had known all along, deep down, the poor thing was trapped in this horrible dark place.  How on earth was she going to get him out?

 

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Rags Riches – Chapter 3

The old bike was stored in what had been the outside toilet.  When the house was modernised and a lovely new bathroom installed Jenny had decided to have the old lavatory taken away and the little brick building converted into a handy storage shed.  She dragged the machine out and popped a shopping bag into the wicker carrier basket on the handlebars.

She clambered aboard, swung her legs over the frame and tucked her skirt in around her knees.  She didn’t have one of the strange plastic helmets and didn’t think it was the law to have one whilst cycling, but that could be a mistake.  She would never have thought herself vain but they did look so very odd.  Some of the racing cyclists wore sleek pointy ones and they looked special and right on those fit young people, but the others were very ugly to her eyes.  Of course for the little ones anything to protect them had to be good but really, some of the older people with woolly hats pulled on underneath looked most peculiar.  Still, it was wrong to judge and maybe going without was making a mistake, anyway, apart from anything else she wouldn’t really know where you would go to buy one.

She shook her head and chuckled to herself, what an old fogey she was becoming.  It didn’t bother her at all.  She enjoyed this life with its small pleasures.  It had been awful when Mum and then Dad had passed on of course, but it was in the way of things and had to be accepted.  When Bill had died that had floored her for a long time, but the shock and pain had eased now and, although she thought of him every day, the loss was more a little nugget of sadness deep down inside and there was still a lot in life to be happy about.

She pedaled down the jigger and stopped at the end.  The road was so busy these days.  The lorries were very frightening and some of the cars were driven too fast, but there was a little cycle path for the first part of the trip and then just a walk to the shops and there was a place to lock the bike in a rack by the church.

The sun shone on the lovely day and it made a pleasant trip to town. She had lived here all her life and still loved it.  It was a small place and didn’t have anything really particular to make it outstanding, though there was a famous person in the graveyard, a scientist, and some people came to stand and look at his gravestone.  Otherwise it was just a pleasant English town.  Yes, the main road wasn’t quite what it had been and there were lots of charity shops and estate agents offices, but it was bright and colourful in the spring light and, as she passed the corner, Mr Shah waved and made her feel real.

Why not treat herself to a lovely cup of coffee in the Spiced Bun, and maybe one of their lovely shortbread biscuits. Yes indeed why not? Afterwards she would drop the shopping bags at home and then have a pedal around to try and spot the old cat.

She had barely acknowledged it to herself, but as she’d travelled along her eyes had swept the road edges and her cheerful mood was in part due to the lack of a poor ginger corpse, lying dirty and wet in the gutter.  Probably by the time she arrived home the old boy would be sunning himself on the top of the shed in the warmth that built up on the black tar paper roof.  Well it would be lovely to have a little ride anyway and maybe go through the park.  She hummed happily,  a smile lifting the corners of her mouth.  Life felt good, small and a little unexciting to be sure but good nonetheless.

 

***

 

 

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Well Head Cottage – Conclusion

As they clambered out of the car, Carl leaned towards Jean, still in the driving seat. “We’ll go for a walk. I’ve got my phone. If you need us at all just let it ring three times and we’ll come straight back.” Jean nodded and as they turned towards the gate, she waved at the farmer’s wife and managed a small smile.

She didn’t fall into the trap of asking how the other woman felt, it was obvious from the ravaged expression on her face, the constant pulling and tweaking at her coat and the tears that welled in her eyes only to be dashed away impatiently.

“Come inside Doris. Do you want tea, coffee?”

Doris shook her head. “I’m floating on tea. It’s all anyone wants to do. Give me tea. I want to talk.”

“Okay.”

Doris wouldn’t remove her coat, though she kicked off her muddy shoes on the floor mat. Country habits, dyed in the wool. “I won’t beat about the bush Mrs Duncan.” Jean was surprised at the strength in the woman’s voice. She had expected the tears but, here in the living room, Doris obviously steeled herself to accomplish what she had to do.

“You talked to her, that young woman?”

“Yes.”

“Did you talk to Lipscow as well? How much did he say?”

Jean slid her arms out of her jacket sleeves, placed it in a bundle on the floor. She was filled with sympathy but needed to keep control of the situation. Though she would try to be truthful she didn’t want to add to the woman’s hurt.

“It was all very difficult, Doris. I was very frightened, it was…” she struggled to find a suitable word. “it was tense and scary.”

“Yes, I’m sure but you talked to her? You had a conversation?”

There was something off here, Jean sensed it. This wasn’t just a grieving woman looking for answers to help her cope, but it was impossible to know just what was going on.

“Yes, I talked to her, here.” She raised a finger, indicated the room they were sitting in. “And in the shed. She came into the shed and we talked there.”

“And him.”

“Not so much, he ranted at me a bit, shouted instructions. He did say some things about what he was afraid of, for her, for his wife. I’m not sure I could recall all the exact words. Doris, do you think this is really going to help. I imagine a lot of it will come out at the inquest anyway and it seems that it’s just tormenting yourself. Of course, I’ll tell you what I can but, you know…”

“Did she tell you when she met him, Ted. Did she tell you how long they had been seeing each other?”

Jean thought it all became clear now, “Oh Doris, I don’t think they were ‘seeing’ each other. Not like that. I don’t think there was anything except a sort of wish for something, a wish by Flora, she’d sort of made up a story about the two of them.”

“Well, why then? Why was he there. Why was Ted visiting her, and why did he kill him? Why did that pig of a man kill my husband if him and her weren’t having an affair?”

Jean was lost for words. She didn’t know how much it would be safe to say. The police hadn’t told Doris what they knew. Not yet. She didn’t know whether it was her place. Surely it wasn’t. She shook her head. She couldn’t lie.

Doris was speaking more quietly, muttering to herself, her eyes lowered, “I can’t believe it, after all we’d been through, all the problems and I can’t help wondering, how much of the time he was going behind my back.” She raised her head “Do you know, Mrs Duncan, do you know how long?”

“Doris. I think you should wait. What have the police told you?”

“Oh them, nothing. They keep saying I have to wait, I have to wait until they talk to Lipscow, he’s not talking. I don’t know if he’ll ever talk again, neither do they. That’s why I’m asking you.”

I think you should ask the police these questions. I don’t know how much it will be alright for me to tell you.”

“Oh, come on, you must see I have a right to know? I was standing by him, I thought we were in it together and all the time he was playing away.”

“No.”

“No?”

Jean couldn’t leave it like this, couldn’t see the poor woman falling apart under the belief that her husband had been unfaithful.

“He wasn’t having an affair. She thought he cared for her. I know that for a fact because she told me. But, Doris she was fragile and damaged, it was mostly in her head. From what she said I don’t think Ted had done anything wrong. I truly believe that all he was trying to do was to sort things out. Tell me though, had you really, you and your husband, had you really tried to stand in the way of them expanding and diversifying, at the other farm? That was one of the things Stanley said, it was why he was so bitter.”

Doris pressed her lips together, she looked down at her hands folded on her lap. “Ted said that there wasn’t room for two of us. Lipscow wanted to open a caravan site, wanted a shop. Well you can see there wasn’t room for two shops. The caravan site would have changed things, made it like bloody Rhyll or somewhere. We didn’t want the place treating like a theme park. Kids running riot, gates left open, footpaths and stiles broken and damaged. No, this is our place, our land. We did it for the best. We were here first. He came back when his dad died, trying to muscle in, wanting to change everything.”  She stopped, looked a little ashamed. “But if that was why, that’s no reason to kill my Ted. God, I hope that’s not why. No, no that can’t be why.”

“Do you know about the chickens, about the sheep and the shop?”

Doris shook her head, “What do you mean?”

“That was why Ted was there Doris, at their farm. He went over because he thought that Stanley Lipscow was responsible for all of that. It wasn’t anything to do with an affair, he was just questioning Flora because he thought he could find out the truth from her. I think he flattered her a bit, to make her tell him what he wanted to know. What he would have done with the information, I don’t know but…” she shrugged.

Doris was quiet for a while, her head tipped to one side, eyes flicking back and forth unseeing across the room.”

“Is that why he killed him then? Is that why he killed my husband, to protect himself? Because of what he’d done to us?”

Jean couldn’t let it go on any longer. “I don’t believe that he did. From what I was told I don’t believe that Stanley Lipscow killed your husband.” Nobody had told her that she had to lie, to hide the truth and what difference would it make anyway, it would all come out in the end.

“I don’t understand. Of course, he did. My Ted is there, he’s still there, in that horrible place. I can’t see him, they haven’t even brought him out. Not until they have gathered what they want. He’s still there. He didn’t just fall down, and die, did he? Stanley Lipscow killed his wife and he killed my husband and he’s got to be locked up for it. Don’t you go now saying that you don’t think he did it. Well, it’s ridiculous. Don’t you go feeling sorry for him.” As her voice rose in anguish, Doris pointed and jabbed with a finger towards Jean.

She tried to keep calm, the woman was distraught, riven with grief but she had to speak out. She took a breath. “Flora killed Ted. I truly believe that, Doris. She killed him because he wouldn’t take her away. Well in truth I think she killed him because she was unhinged, she never should have been allowed to live at the farm, it wasn’t safe.

“But…” Jean watched as Ted’s wife tried to process this bombshell of information. “But, he killed her. I know, everyone knows. He strangled her, right in front of your eyes. There’s some that think you should take some of the blame for that.”

Jean relived the scene in the pub, the strange atmosphere. A lump filled her throat, she had to swallow hard before she could speak. It had never occurred to her that people could lay blame at her door. But did they have a point? The thought turned her stomach. “We couldn’t do anything Doris. We tried, we tried so bloody hard, but it was no good. He killed her because he knew they would take her away. I really think that. He knew she would be locked up forever and he couldn’t bear it. But, we couldn’t do anything. We were trying to keep him there, until the police came. God, do you imagine for one minute that we would have left her alone with him if there had been any other way?”

They were both crying now, both shocked and lost in their own horror. Jean was the first to speak. “I think you should go, Doris. I don’t think this is doing any good. If you have any more questions, ask the police. I’m sorry, I really am.”

As she fastened her coat buttons and pushed up from the chair Doris turned and looked directly into Jean’s swamped eyes. “I wish you’d never come here.  I had some hope. Before you came and poked your nose in, I had some hope. Alright, he would never have come back, I know that now. But at least I had hope, I could have found a way to live with that. You took that from me and it was all I had.”

I’m so sorry, Doris. I would never have wanted to cause you hurt. I thought we were friends.”

Doris turned and stood for a moment staring down at Jean. “Friends. Friends are the people who leave their warm homes to help you get the flock in when the snow comes early. They lend you money when the subsidies are held up and they run you into town to pick up bits for the tractor when your car’s not available. No, Mrs Duncan, you and your kind. You’re not friends. You’re just a means to an end, helping us to keep the wolf from the door.”

With those final devastating words, she turned and stalked from the room. Jean heard her sliding her feet into the shoes in the hall and then the thud of a door and the tramp of feet on the path.

She pulled her phone from the pocket in her jacket and dialled Carl’s number. “Come and get me Carl. Please just come and take me home.”

 

They slammed the door behind them and walked down the narrow path to the cars waiting at the gate. Jean didn’t glance back, she left behind the broken memories and tried to hold on to the echoes of happiness.

 

Jean had to go to the inquest but avoided Ted Smart’s funeral. There was no reason to go, she had no friends there after all. Doris listened dry eyed to the evidence, shown no reaction when Jean related the heart-breaking words of the tragic, Flora. She walked from the court leaning on the arm of her daughter. In spite of their last meeting Jean was desperately sorry for the woman but none of it had been her fault and all she could do was tell the truth as she knew it. Carl and Dave were there to give their own evidence and Lesley had come along, though she had no part in the real drama, and they hadn’t needed her to speak. Jean had a feeling her sister was a little disappointed.

When Diana Turnbull mentioned, months later, that she had sold the cottage to a holiday company Jean felt no real emotion. The same company had bought Hawks Farm and were turning it all into a holiday centre and caravan park. Well Head Cottage was just another place to rent in a pretty part of the country, the name changed to Bluebird House, to try and wipe away the stain of what had happened. Stanley Lipscow was in the sort of institution he had saved his wife from. He was still uncommunicative. They didn’t know if he would ever be well enough to stand trial. Maybe it was for the best, Jean had no doubt that he had loved his damaged wife and maybe, wherever he was hiding in his broken mind, they were together, and they were happy. She hoped so.

 

The End

 

 

 

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Well Head Cottage – 34

It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it was worse that Jean was expecting. The police hadn’t been overly destructive or careless, hadn’t turned out cupboards. They hadn’t left the cushions thrown around in the living room, dragged out drawers or any of the other things she had been dreading. But, from the moment they pushed open the boarded-up kitchen door she was overwhelmed by memories. She heard Stanley Lipscow’s voice in her head, roaring at them that he would break in. She walked into the hall and the small door to the cloaks cupboard swung on its hinges and she imagined again, Flora, eyes wide and terrified, scuttling in to hide.

The surfaces in the living room were smeared with finger print powder and the rugs were tangled and rolled. She didn’t know whether this was as they had been when Lipscow had carried her bodily from the room, or whether it was all a result of the police search.

She thought that, maybe, it had been a mistake to come back but then Carl called from upstairs, “It’s not so bad up here Aunty Jean, not much mess. Slumpy’s on your bed. He said hello.” Dave called through from the kitchen that he was putting on the kettle and did she want tea or coffee. It was enough to ground her and calm her.

They went through the fridge. There was cold meat, sausages that Jean slammed into the Aga without allowing herself to reflect on where she had bought them. She cooked a big pan of pasta and made a salad, used all the bits and pieces that she could find. They opened the wine and lit candles and tried not to mention the dead girl, the guilt they all felt and the dreadful feeling of ‘if only’. They would, she knew that, and more than once and for a long time but tonight they left it alone.

Jean assumed that the boys, being younger, were processing the things better than she. They came in at the end of the horror after all and, though they had been through an ordeal, it wasn’t her ordeal. The hospital’s dressing felt rough, when she ran her finger over her wrists. When she looked in the mirror she saw the scratches and bruises discolouring her face. Her legs and back ached constantly. She swallowed painkillers and, followed them up with wine.

They were hungry though and the food was devoured quickly in the warm little kitchen. She didn’t know whether they had planned it, but the boys sat facing the damaged door, so she didn’t have to see the broken panes.

Slowly the tension eased, a result of drugs and booze but welcome anyway and when they went through to the living room she felt better. The boys made her laugh with stories of college and they talked well into the night. None of them could face the upstairs, lying alone in dark rooms listening to the silence. In the end Jean brought down quilts and pillows and they bunked down in the living room

It wasn’t a good night, but they got through it and there was bacon for breakfast. Jean tried to ignore the damage to her body but she hurt. She was stiff and sore everywhere, scratched, bruised and battered. She swallowed more pills, pushed the physical stuff aside. They had to leave today. Until she was back in her own home she didn’t think she could start the long process of dealing with this trauma.

Carl and Dave cleared out the kitchen cupboards and tidied the living room. Usually they would leave all of it for Doris Smart. She came in after every renting to give clear out and clean. Jean couldn’t begin to imagine what that poor woman would be going through but it didn’t seem likely she would be coming back to Well Head Cottage any time soon, if ever.

She supposed that Sandra would be back on duty as guardian and companion and the Smart’s daughter would be heading up to be with her mum, if she wasn’t there already.

It would be the last onerous task and though she really didn’t want to face it, she knew that it was necessary if she was to draw a line under the whole business. She would go in the afternoon and talk to the Smarts.

“Shall we go to the pub for lunch?” Carl and Dave were quick to agree and once the cases were packed and ready, Jean drove them all into the village.

All heads turned towards them as they walked into the dim space. It was understandable but Jean wished she had thought of it beforehand. Now, they were committed and had no choice but to try and carry on and ignore the sideways glances, the muttering.

“I’ll drive you back to the cottage and then I need to go to Hawks Farm. If you want to get off I’ll be alright now, it’s all done.” She tried to put on a brave face in front of Carl and his mate.

She wasn’t surprised when her nephew answered and in truth she was relieved. “Don’t be daft. We’ll go back and wait for you. I don’t suppose you want us to come with you?”

“No, I don’t want to overwhelm her. I can’t imagine what sort of state she’ll be in.”

As they turned into the cottage gate her heart jumped, Doris Smart sat on the bench outside the door, alone.

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Well Head Cottage – 33

They didn’t want to keep Jean at the hospita.She was suffering from shock, but they had no beds. When they told her they thought she was fit to be discharged, she couldn’t wait to leave. Carl and Dave had waited in the reception area and they trooped out onto the main road together, dejected and a little bewildered confronting an ordinary day. They had no idea what had happened to Stanley Lipscow and no way to find out.

Dave left the others and jogged away towards the car park to bring back his little Fiesta. Carl, had an arm around Jean, supporting and comforting her. She felt grubby and underdressed. They had offered her clothes from the charity bag but in the end, she refused, preferring to wear her own stuff, even though it was filthy and torn in places, and not really suitable for early afternoon in Bangor. She wore Carl’s jacket and ignored the inquisitive glances of passers-by. Let them stare, she was numb with horror at what they had witnessed, been a part of. Her appearance and other people’s opinion was of no importance when she thought of the dead girl and her husband. Then there was Ted, his horrible death. The whole dreadful mess, rattling round in her brain.

Carl leaned close to speak, treating her carefully, “What do you want to do, Aunty Jean?” The question forced her to consider the options. She had no idea.

“I suppose I have to go back, to Well Head. My stuff is there.”

“Yes, but we could take you home now. The police said that they can take your full statement later and if you’re back home they will come there. You don’t have to go to the cottage.”

“But my stuff?”

“We can get it for you. Me and Dave will go if you like, or Mum, she won’t mind.”

At the mention of her sister, Jean closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. “How much does she know? What have you told her?” As he shook his head, he couldn’t meet her look.

“I haven’t been in touch. To be honest I couldn’t face the fuss.” This made Jean smile.  Lesley would go to pieces, as she always did in times of crisis. Then after there would be a tearful apology.

No, they didn’t need that right now.

She gave a small laugh, “We’ll do it together, eh? When we’re there with her and she can see we’re okay.” Carl smiled at her and nodded.

“So, it’s not fair to expect you and Dave to do it and anyway you’re supposed to be on holiday, what about your climbing?”

“No, we’ve already agreed. We haven’t got the heart to go back to that. The others are going to bring our gear.  There’s your car though, as well as your clothes and what have you, and there’s Slumpy.”

Jean’s hand shot to her mouth. “Oh God, Slumpy.”

“He’s okay. Dave asked one of the police blokes to arrange for him to be fed. They were really good about it. They’ve checked on him, boarded up the broken door and they’ve let Diana Turnbull know that she needs to make a claim on her insurance, they’ve given her a crime number. Mind you they also said that they’ll need to go in and do some finger printing and so on. Just to dot the ‘I’s and what have you.”

“I hadn’t thought about that. I suppose that’s all part of the whole rotten business, isn’t it?”

He nodded. “It could be really grim for you, going back.”

“Yes, but I still think I should. If I don’t it’ll always feel just a bit unfinished somehow. I need to walk out, properly, in control. And, there’s, Doris. I really have to go and see her, don’t I?”

Carl didn’t argue, he knew his Aunty well enough. She would see a visit to Hawks Farm  as her duty as much as an act of kindness.

“Could you face spending the night? If we stay with you? It’s too much to sort everything out now, it’s getting late already, and you’re exhausted.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep.”

“No, I guess not. Me neither. But you know, we can get something to eat, some wine maybe and we can talk. If you hate the idea, then forget it and we’ll get you home today. I just think it might be better to do it calmly. Your house will be cold and all of that. Really, we are probably better going back to the cottage, at least the heating’s on, there some food.”

“Yes, you’re probably right. But, you will stay with me, won’t you?”

“Every minute.”

“We’ll see if the police will talk to us tomorrow, finalise the statements, that sort of thing. I’ll go and see Doris and with luck, when I go, I’ll be able to leave it all behind me.”

Even as she spoke Jean knew it wouldn’t be the case. Although, unlike the last time she had become mixed up with violence and crime, there probably wouldn’t be a big public court case, unless Lipscow recovered enough to stand trial. She could tell them everything that had happened. There would though be inquests, wouldn’t there? She sighed, the mess left behind would go on for weeks, months maybe and it would never really be behind her anyway. It would be there, lurking, waiting for a quiet moment when it would sweep back and chill her to the heart and make her cry. It was a part of her history and she would need to learn to live with it.

The little red car, pulled into a driveway just a few metres away, flashed its headlights, and Jean forced her feet to move, one step at a time, leaning against her nephew and trying to ready herself for the next bit of this horrible saga.

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