The Other Half – Days 8 and 9

Here are the next two chapters from my 5* novel, Someone Tell Me What Is Going On. Day 10 is imminent. Can’t wait? Then get the complete novel, free through Kindle Unlimited.

Day 8. Interludes for more gossip.

Monday.

Not even out of bed yet and a text from Vera. I always put my phone on quiet, but my sister, Sonya, nosey as ever, opened an eye.

‘Who’s that?’

‘Vera.’

‘Why?’

‘She wants me to pick up her Financial Times? Seems the paper shop forgot to include it this morning.’

How can such an irrelevancy spark off the imagination of an eleven-year-old?

‘Have you seen the heap of papers poor Georgie has to lug up to the House every morning?’

‘She’s a big strapping lass. I’m sure she can cope.’

‘Aren’t we related to her somehow?’

‘Our mums share the same great grandmother.’

There was a pause while Sonya let that filter through her sleepy brain. I found I was dressing rather slowly.

‘And the girl in the stores is related to Georgie somehow, so she must be related to us.’

‘Too complicated. Sonya.’

‘Shouldn’t you be hurrying or something? You must be late. Don’t you care anymore? Bet you get the sack one day.’

‘It won’t be today Sonya love. I don’t want to be too early this morning. I put in one hell of a day yesterday, and I’m still not sure what I’m being paid.’

I thought she had fallen asleep again, but she was taking everything in.

‘Dad said Vera was really generous to you.’

‘True!’

‘And you have paid Mum back.’

‘Nevertheless, I need to let Vera know that I’m not doing ten-hour days and weekends as the norm.’

‘I thought it was a bit special of Vera to help Sid out. And that’s my bra you are trying to pull on.’

I studied the garment in my hand.

‘So it is. You’re nearly twelve and got bigger tits than me. How’s that work?’

‘Genes. I take after Dad’s side. Christ. I hope I don’t get tits like Gran.’

We both had to laugh at the thought. I found my bra and Sonya found a new angle.

‘Does Sid want to live in the stable apartments? They are very small.’

‘She’s lucky Vera fixed it for her.’

‘Sid always hated Vera’s lot. Now she has to be grateful. I bet she ends up pushing you out.’

I was speechless, but thought back to yesterday. I couldn’t work out if Sid wasn’t disappointed that Vera and I had patched things up.

‘And another thing – there is a dark shadow on your right cheek.’

‘Is there?’ I asked disinterestedly.

The slight detour past the post office-cum general store was no big deal – or so I thought! It’s just a wooden shack in the pub car park with an amazing view over the Broads. It has little useful on the shelves, but a phone call in the evening and they will have any wish you may have by the following morning. They also supply the convenience store at the garage. This means that your purchase history at either sales point is as carefully stored in the grey cells of the assistants, as if you had updated your algorithm with an on-line purchase. The main difference is that there is nothing confidential about purchases from the general store or filling station. The whole world gets to speculate, not just an Amazon server.

‘Hi, Millie,’ was how Sandi, who Sonya now reckons must be a distant cousin, greeted. I knew I would need to be in bobbing and weaving mode again. She doesn’t normally give me the time of day. She was after information.

‘You’ll know this one, Millie. I walked up with Georgie from the filling station this morning.’ (I groan inwardly). ‘And she said that Charley came by yesterday evening – nearly closing time – and bought some nappies. Now why would he need nappies?’

‘Nappies!’ I repeated after her, to gain a little time and maybe a few clues. It worked.

‘Yes, he came in and bought a top-up for a phone and some nappies. Now why would he do that?’

‘Because his phone had run out of credit?’

I enjoyed that one. There is nothing pisses a village gossip off more than a deliberately obtuse interlocutor. And here goes for the shake-off manoeuvre, where, without warning, I deftly change the subject.

‘Do you have Lady Ashington’s FT?’

Distant Cousin is a grand master in gossip and wasn’t deflected by my pathetic switch-move. She parried with a George Bush Junior shimmy – not noted for subtlety.

‘The nappies, you berk. Why did he need nappies?’

‘Maybe he has got some girl up the duff?’

‘Can’t be. They were the largest size available for children. And it apparently isn’t you he has got into trouble. That was only a week ago.’

Now I was outmanoeuvred. Vera used binoculars to spy on my nocturnal visit to the stables, but how did she know?

Explanation of nappies: Sandra still wets the bed, Sid had tried to save on nappy expenses because she was skint, and that’s why the mattresses at the cottage were sodden. It never occurred to me to buy nappies with Sid’s provisions, so she sent Charley on an errand. Sid only mentioned the phone top-up to me.

What do I say to Distant Cousin, knowing it will get back to Georgie Gossip? I’ll be conciliatory and pretend I’m cooperating.

‘I have no idea, Cuzz, but I’ll ask him if I see him.’

She was back onto me like a hound chasing a rabbit.

‘So why has Sid moved out – with Tom and Sandra?’

She has already guessed the need for nappies. Two and a half years is not unusual for a child to still need nappies at night, especially when that child is as stressed as Sandra must be. Distant cousin was pissing me off. Why did she ask all these questions? I needed to flee, so I terminated the discussion with a move of doubtful legality. I told the less-than-straightforward truth. I call it my Michael Gove. Dishonesty and stealth intertwined.

‘You’d best ask her. I’m sure it’s not a secret, but she hasn’t told me. She’ll tell you herself, no doubt. Lady Ashington’s FT, please.’

I finally got out with the paper. I considered boycotting the shop when Sandi was in there, but that wasn’t realistic. I texted a warning to Charley.

‘Beware Georgie and Sandi over the nappies. They are in tracker-hound mode.’

I received an immediate reply.

‘Saw Sandi earlier. Told her MYOFB.’

Typical bloke. Resorts immediately to an illegal Cummings Twirl in the middle of a gossip war! This could mean civil unrest in the village, with only Charley and me on the rebel side.

I arrived at the House and was glad of a moment to collect my wits. Vera didn’t answer her apartment door. I had a key but didn’t feel familiar enough to use it, so sat on one of the Chesterfields in the passageway, admiring the view over the fens. Just as I was beginning to relax for the first time that Monday, I heard a guide droning at a group of visitors, at the bottom of the stairs.

‘And this is the sixth earl who was Master of the Horse for Her Majesty throughout the fifties.’

I took out Vera’s notepad and wrote an aide memoir. ‘Ask Vera who still gives a damn about a MotH?’

Not even the Queen nowadays – I’d put money on that.

I’d have lost. I looked it up. Her Majesty appointed Lord Vestey in 1999, and he still wears a pretty frock with gaiters and silly hat on ceremonies, to this day.

I heard Vera behind me. She had just reached the top of the stairs and was rather out of breath. Where to start with the questions?

‘Hi, Vera. Out of breath? Anything the matter?

‘Thank you for asking, Millicent. I was in a hurry, because I knew you would be waiting. Go into the office in future.’

Questions! There were now so many. As we went through the front door and she had her back to me, I scanned my notebook list and decided to go for the least controversial. As soon as the apartment door was closed behind us, I opened.

‘Vera,’ I whined in my least provocative, silly teenager voice. At least I thought it sounded benign. ‘Why did you tell me you were Jewish, when you clearly aren’t?’

‘What makes you ask that?’

‘You said, during your introduction on Joseph Roth and the Sultan story, prior to the egg debacle, that you were Jewish.’

‘Did I? Well so what? Who cares?’

‘I do because you obviously aren’t Jewish are you?’

‘Why is that so obvious?’

I was getting a little tetchy. Why was she being so evasive?

‘Because you go to church every Sunday and it isn’t to a synagogue and that wouldn’t be a Sunday – I don’t think it would.’

My knowledge of Judaism was very lacking for a girl who had a GCSE in Religious Studies.

‘Surely one can go to any church.’ She hesitated, not so sure of her ground either. She resumed, ‘I mean God thingy stuff – they aren’t going to give a tuppeny-fuck whose house you are sitting in. With their omnipresence abilities and all that, they should get the message from the middle of a hay-field, shouldn’t they?’

I could hardly continue for a fit of the giggles. Her swearing took comedy to new levels.

‘‘Their omnipresence, Vera? They should get the message? They are plurals. If you believe in several deities, it probably doesn’t matter whose house you are sitting in as they would both be wrong. Polytheism rules you out of Church of England and Judaism. They are both monotheistic. But ignoring your confusion about how many gods are allowed, I still don’t think Jewesses can be regular C of E worshipers. These are mutually exclusive events. You can’t be Christian unless you believe Christ was the Son of God and you can’t be Jewish if you believe Christ was the Son of God. Ipso facto – you are not Jewish, because you attend a Christian House of Worship. Sultan, Vera. Why did you lie to me? First meeting too.’

Vera laughed at her own absurdity.

‘It’s Monday bloody morning, Millicent. Why are you giving me such a hard time already?’

‘Our religion teacher once said to me, ‘Never trust a Christian, Millie. They are deceitful and vindictive. It’s taken us two-thousand years to forgive the Jews crucifying Christ and we still haven’t quite managed.’ So, there is no easy time of it, just because it is Monday. Out with it! Why did you deceive me? When can I expect the vindictiveness?’

This time, it was me who had to laugh.

‘OK, OK. I’m not Jewish. I only said I was, because I needed to know my future summer companion harboured no prejudice. It was more a test, than a lie and a test/lie I now regret. How was I to guess you harbour genes from Miss Marple? And another thing, Miss Goody-Two-Shoes! Have you never lied to me in our first week of friendship?’

‘Never!’ I said with regal self-righteousness, and that made my third lie within a few days. Change the subject Millie.

‘Let’s have some tea,’ I suggested.


Vera insisted on playing in her new tea-kitchen. She served Darjeeling. I was feeling very wicked and very on form.

‘As a tea-snob, I think Darjeeling is an afternoon drink, but you’ve made it for mid-morning. What did they teach you at finishing school, Vera?’

This time she stood up, came round the table and gave me a hug.

‘That was brilliant, Millicent!’ she squealed. ‘Larissa Gormley-Stuart couldn’t have said it better. I’ll make a lady of you yet.’

‘Karl Vera. That was beautiful too. I try a put down on you and your class and you counter with a declaration that there is hope for me in the world of snob.’

She stood back a little, still holding me. She stared into my eyes. It was a real moment of friendship and expression that told me I was worthy of being in her confidence. Then she spoiled it.

‘Millicent, you are wearing so much make-up today. Why is that? You really have such lovely skin.’

I blushed.

‘What do you think my face looked like this morning Vera?’

She froze.

‘Oh, my Lord! How bad was it?’

‘Very blue and quite unlike having walked into something.’

‘Did your parents notice?’

‘They did after my little sister caught me trying her bra on by mistake, noticed my shiner even though the curtains were still drawn, and then announced it over breakfast to anyone who would listen.’

‘What did your Dad say?’

‘Before or after I told the truth of what happened?’

‘Before?’

‘I’ll kill the witch! Nobody hits my daughter.’

‘And after?’

I paused.

‘You mean, after I told them what I said – you know, the caring countess and whore with a heart bit.’

‘You told them that?’

‘Precisely as I said it! And my dad said he was surprised you didn’t hit me harder and if I ever said anything so disgusting, after all you’ve done for Sid, he’d hit me properly, even though he has never hit me in my living memory and probably not before. No danger there!’

She drew breath and hugged me again, this time with tears in her eyes.

‘You told the truth! Oh, bless you. You could have finished me –  you know that.’

I finished my tea and said, ‘Let’s go for a walk in the garden.’

I chose the rose garden. It was not part of the tour, so we could expect some privacy.

‘What are you going to do about Sid’s mum and dad?’

‘Nothing. They have a few months before we can turn them out of the cottage. They will be offered help with their addictions. If they reject the help or fail to kick their habits, my site manager David – you remember David?’

I nodded.

‘Of course you do. David will begin proceedings, in accordance with their contract, to get them out. I have to pay their wages until notice is served, but the money will go to Sidonie and she can give them whatever she thinks appropriate.’

I was stunned into silence. On the one hand, what she said made perfect sense and was completely fair, but I was convinced they couldn’t come off their substance abuse and would therefore end up homeless, and still with a habit.

Vera changed the subject.

‘One of our tenant farmers wants to put wind turbines up. He’ll earn a fortune from it.’

‘That’s good, isn’t it?’

It came out a bit more provocatively than I’d intended. Vera winced, the way she does, when she can’t work out what I’m really getting at.

‘I don’t know. The farmer will earn loads, I’ll get a rake off, others will want to try too, but…’

‘What is there not to like about it?’

‘I think I have a conflict of interest and I don’t like that. It’s uncomfortable. The planning department won’t stop it, because they can’t. They will be overruled by a higher instance, so what is the point? But everybody who is anybody doesn’t want the turbines, has opposed the planning application, and knows that I could probably stop it with one letter to the farmer, saying ‘don’t’.’

‘Are you scared your posh chums won’t talk to you if you don’t stop the building?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘And are you going to cave in?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘Why?’

‘They are my tribe, Millicent. They make me what I am.’

‘A posh privileged…’ I paused to think of a word politer than that on the tip of my tongue. She took me on.

‘Precisely. And as a noble among nobles, you don’t crap in your own nest.’

‘I see. Well – I don’t actually. You know what is right, but you won’t do it because Mrs Gormley-Stuart et al, won’t let you swan around in their company with a plumb in your mouth.’

‘I suppose that is how you would choose to see it.’

I sighed. ‘Is there another way?’

‘I think so. We are custodians of the countryside and as such, we have to protect it, even if it does mean a financial loss. You must be able to respect me for that.’

‘Respect you? Always! Custodian? Never! Productive crop planting and battery meat production doesn’t make for sound ecology. But look at it another way. Men, women and especially children are dying around the world, because some untidy crude oil extraction, pollutes crops big time. Have your tribe, with their shares in oil companies and their connections at Westminster, ever tried to limit that awful disgrace?’‘You have been binging on Greenpeace ads again, but I don’t see the connection.’

‘We all want cheap oil. We get it at the ecological expense of poorer countries. We kill their children with carcinogens, but the suggestion that we may have to tolerate a wind turbine on our hillside gets the knickers most complicatedly twisted. Please explain why we are upset about a hillside, but ignore poisoned children!’

There was a pregnant pause, while Vera cogitated.

‘You really hate us and all we stand for, don’t you? Can’t I get it into your numbskull, that without the power to say ‘No’ to a wind turbine, we have no function – worse still, no power. We would be dinosaurs.’

‘The power to say ‘no’ earned me a slapped face yesterday.’

‘Explain!’

‘You must have worked it out. I was so awful to you outside the church, because I was jealous of your intervention – an intervention I had failed to make, so I tried to say no. The poor say ‘No’, because they can, to protect their dignity, as if there is dignity in poverty. The rich say no, because they can, to protect their dignity, as if there is dignity in doing a wrong or dishonest thing.’

‘Interesting,’ she drawled.

‘And to avoid this truth, you are prepared to kill children.’

She hit me with a perfect dialectical argument. It hurt nearly as much as the slapped face.

‘Karl, Millicent. If we covered the land in turbines, we may become energy independent and greener and produce less harmful gases and all that, but we would worsen the lot of a family in a third world oil-producer. We would buy less oil, so the degree of exploitation would increase in order to push prices down and make oil competitive again. By not building turbines, we push the price of oil up and help poorer countries.’

Oh smugness, where is thy balm? I was dumbstruck by that lob-shot. I decided to rescue the point with a left-wing, volleyed smash.

‘Consequences, Vera. The obvious way out of your dialectical dilemma, is to cut off your heads, sequester your wealth and give it to UNESCO. Then you don’t have to worry about becoming dinosaurs, because you will already be extinct. After all, using your argument, you do nothing useful with your money.’

‘We make more money with it! It’s called wealth creation.’

‘Which you don’t need, but refuse to give to people so poor, they haven’t a pot to piss in. You’d rather poison them than give them a pot. That’s fifty quid, I think.’

‘You can shove your commie revolution in your old kit bag, Millicent Backhouse. This is comfy Suffolk and in the meantime whistle for your fifty quid.’

I started whistling the Marseillaise. She started laughing. We gave each other another hug.

‘By the way, I have to go to the solicitor tomorrow early. Hopefully, there is something that prevents me interfering with the planning process. Then the farmer gets his blasted windmills and I don’t have to annoy the county set.’

‘Is that likely?’

‘No idea? The family has been farming that patch for generations. Who knows what was agreed in seventeen fifty something and how easily it can be applied to wind farms?’

‘Why can’t you lie about the legal position and tell your posh chums you can’t block it?’

‘Because Larissa insists on accompanying me.’

I looked blank, then the penny dropped.

‘Larissa Gormley-Stuart intends to stake out the solicitor’s office, to make sure you don’t try to deceive the county set. She suspects you of some fifth column activity.’

‘And with good reason. I’d love to let Giles Ferguson have his windmills.’

A plan formed in my mind. I was willing to form a Vera-support network to help her make an independent and hopefully, correct decision. Vera didn’t need to know about her new ally in the wind-farm war, but hostilities against the counter-revolutionaries had begun. (Nice pun, Millie.)

‘What time are you leaving?’ I asked disinterestedly.

‘Before you are up.’

‘Whose car?’

I had to be really disinterested now so I pretended not to listen to the answer.

‘Hers. I pray it will break down and I can slope off without her, but she’s got one of those Japanese tank monster thingies, with four-foot wheels so there is little hope.’

We agreed to meet on Monday after lunch.

I had to walk home on my own. I would miss Sid. I phoned Charley and heard his phone ringing. There he was, sitting at the opposite bus stop to the one Sid and I always used. I hung up and watched him fishing around in his pocket for his phone.

‘Don’t bother. I’m here,’ I called across the road, but that grin again as he saw me. ‘I’m going to fall in love with that boy,’ I thought to myself.

‘What did you want?’ he asked.

I sat beside him.

‘To talk to you, of course. What are you doing here? This is hardly en route for the stables. But tell me, what do you know about the entrance to Gormley-Stuarts palatial gaff?’

‘It’s palatial – drive is 120 metres long and has eight centimetres of French rounded granite pebbles on it, with an electric gate that is activated by some radio-controlled device in her car.’

He drew breath to continue.

‘Whoa Charley. How do you know so much?’

‘Larissa regularly bullies Vera into lending her labour to smooth her pebbles or paint the gate. I’ve done both this year.’

‘How many cars do they have?’

‘No idea! Garage is the size of a small railway station. Hers is always on the drive. His, whatever it is, doesn’t come out at the moment due to a drink-driving disqualification last year.’

‘Goodness. Couldn’t he buy the cop off?’

Charley laughed, dimples and hair everywhere. I felt my knees weaken and various other body parts reacted, too. Not a breath of wind. Could he detect me?

‘Why all the questions about your least favourite villager? Are you planning something wicked? If so, can I be part of it? You and your dad must be really cross with her.’

I knew she had let my father down and suspected, from Vera’s intimations, that the woman had done something evil.

‘What do you know?’

‘She’s boasting round the village about having ordered a load of plants from your Dad, and then cancelling them after the point of no-return. Apparently, it was deliberate pay-back time, because your old man wouldn’t do her a lorry load of turfs for next to nothing last summer.’

‘Oh that?’ I pretended I knew all about it, but I was seething! I had a vision of her showing off to her coffee-nosed county set about dumping the lobelias. Before, it had been about Vera. Now it was personal, and time to get to the point.

‘Charley, would it be possible to stop Larissa leaving the premises tomorrow morning. Let her tyres down in the night or something like that.’

‘Tyres?’ he snorted with derision, ‘with all those ridiculous alarm systems on the house, drive, car, and the dogs that bark if you so much as fart within a hundred metres of the house. No way!’

‘Oh well. It was just a thought, but I really need that her not to be able to keep an appointment with Vera early tomorrow.’

A bus turned the corner and indicated it would stop. Charley stood up, ready to board.

‘If I could think of something, what’s in it for me?’

‘You know I’ll pay you in sexual favours, Charley boy.’

The bus stopped and the doors opened. He jumped on and bought a ticket, then turned and called back to me, ‘I’ll text you details. Make sure your camera is charged up.’

The bus accelerated towards the main road and turned left for Lowestoft and Yarmouth. I took Vera’s notebook out and wrote a reminder to find out why Charley needs to go to some point between here and Yarmouth.

Yes! I know. I’m as bad as the rest of the village.

Day 9. Wrecker Charley.

Tuesday.

Five o’ clock. I heard my phone vibrate. ‘Shit and derision,’ I mumbled. Through half-opened eyes I saw little sister spring out of bed and grab the phone.

‘Give it here,’ I barked, but it emerged as a croak. I was on a loser.

‘Let me read it or I’ll tell Dad you swore and had a wet dream about Charley boy.’

‘Girls can’t have wet dreams, you berk.’

‘Well you had something. What are wet dreams?’

‘Give me my phone and I’ll tell you.’ She was already flicking through my mails.

‘I’m not falling for that one. I want to know who texts you at five in the morning.’ She paused and then giggled. ‘There’s a thing. It’s Charley lover-boy and he says, ‘assume S at 9. Leave L 8. be in bushes opposite drive for 7.30, with camera ready. I have to work and will miss the fun, so make some good pics. Love Charley.’

We had to go through the obligatory puking noises as she read ‘love Charley,’ but then she was on fire.

‘What’s it about? I’m coming, too.’

I knew there was no point in arguing. It was school holidays, so she could stalk me all day if need be. She was so excited that she wouldn’t go back to sleep.

‘Yeh, sure. OK. Just wake me at seven.’

A moment of hesitation, as she absorbed the unexpected and immediate capitulation, then, just as I closed my eyes, she leapt on me and hugged me.

‘Aw. Thanks, Millie.’

My bladder nearly burst. I struggled from underneath her and padded to the bathroom.

We went downstairs shortly before seven, had bowls of cereal and tea and set off for the Gormley-Stuart estate. It was a magical morning, no clouds, but cool and still full of dew. The leaves were gently rustling and the distant reed beds rippling, as if some giant, invisible comb were completing a morning ablution. There was plenty of song from the bushes. The bird song gave me an idea. A quick phone Internet search and I gave Sonya her instructions.

‘Remember oriolus oriolus.’

‘What, why?’ came back as if fired from a gun.

‘It’s what we are going to photograph – should someone ask. OK?’

‘OK. Oriolus oriolus it is,’ she repeated as though it were a verse from the bible.

Skinny Sonya, about to go to secondary school, was turning into a bean pole. She was nearly as tall as me, but more athletic despite a formidable bosom, and was treating the whole outing as seriously as an eleven-year-old would. The big question was, could I rely on Sonya if we were caught hiding in a dry ditch, behind some bushes, spying on one of the smartest addresses in Suffolk? If we were spotted and the police called, if we accidentally set off an alarm, would she be able to not give the game away? I looked at her, looking in concentration at our target as we approached. Yes! She would say oriolus oriolus until supper time. She wore dark-coloured clothing – T-shirt and jeans, with an ancient sun hat pulled down over her face. She had probably watched an old gangster movie and remembered they blacked up before staking out the bank. She can be a bit intense, can our Sonya.

There were thick rhododendrons opposite the Gormley-Stuarts which belonged to another front garden. They had an equally long drive, so we could hide in front of the bushes in a dry ditch beside the road, without being detected by either house. I scoured the opposite drive and gate with my binoculars, but could see nothing to indicate that Charley had nobbled anything. Sonya squeezed my arm. I put the glasses down. There was Larissa leaving the front door and heading for her car. I gave Sonya the camera.

‘Zoom a bit, and then keep shooting until I say otherwise.’

Her excitement next to me as she became part of the action, was electrifying.

‘What are you going to do?’

‘Me? Keep calm and focus the glasses on Larissa. She’s behind the wheel, fiddling with something.’

The engine started and she roared down the drive toward the gate, taking her eyes off the gate, to do something again on the dashboard. When she looked up, her face contorted in horror. The gate was now focused by the binoculars and I noticed it was quivering but not moving. Black smoke was coming from the hinge end. I dropped the glasses and saw the car begin to skid as Larissa tried an emergency stop. The wide tyres had no grip on the dewy stones, but also didn’t sink in. The crash as her two-ton monster hit the gate was awesome. The brick pillars either side sheered, followed by the explosion of airbags. Then everything was strangely quiet, except for a slight hissing noise from under the bonnet. The peace could only have lasted seconds. Alarms sounded from around the house, in the house and finally from the car. The bag in front of Larissa deflated, but she wasn’t moving.

‘Shit! This has gone all wrong. Take the camera and go home, Sonya. Make sure nobody sees you!’

I climbed out the ditch, up to the road, and ran across. Climbing over the wrecked gate was hardest as it wobbled, perilously balanced on a pile of bricks. The car was pointing slightly up in the air and the door was a struggle. Standing on wrought iron scrolls, I was pulling at an odd angle. I could see that Larissa was only in shock. She allowed herself to be helped from the car and after a few moments, she regained composure. She could hardly avoid thanking me, but then went on the attack.

‘Thank you, Millie. What are you doing here? Why have you mud over your jeans and a grassy blouse on?’

I was ready for her.

‘Oriolus oriolus, Mrs Gormley-Stuart. It was sitting on your gate. Very rare in the UK. Beautiful specimen. I was watching it from the rhododendrons. I’m afraid you scared it away with your unusual driving technique.’

I ostentatiously adjusted the field glasses hanging from my neck and waited for an apology.

‘Oh, really. I’m afraid I did make rather a crash.’

That was nearly an apology. I missed the word ‘sorry’ but small mercies have to be accepted.

Various members of the house-staff were running down the drive and a police car could be heard turning into the lane. The gardener was making conciliatory noises, and she lapping them up, so I wandered off in the direction of home and sent Vera a message, warning her not to wait. Larissa would be a while.

Mid-morning Vera phoned.

‘Don’t wait for me this afternoon. I’ve decided to go shopping now I am here.’

‘OK. That’s fine.’

‘Larissa phoned to apologise for missing me. The reason she gave was a bit vague. Some accident, she said. Do you know anything?’

‘Apparently, she forgot to open the gate before driving onto the highway, but she’s not hurt.’

Vera finished with a curt, ‘Oh dear,’ and rang off.

My day should have been perfect! Larissa ram-raids her own gate. Brilliant!

However!

I knew we had caused an accident that could have resulted in injury. The idea to trap Larissa the wrong side of her gate, now seemed not so harmless and I had involved Sonya in the doomed escapade. The fallout was incalculable, and the nervous tummy I was developing reminded me of that.

Larissa’s house and car insurers won’t take the claim lying down. We have stirred up two insurance investigations and the police. One of them is bound to spot the sabotage.

I hope you enjoyed these chapters. There is more to come in the next weeks, but hopefully you can’t wait and might want to try the e-book version – just £0.99 or use Kindle Unlimited.

For US readers

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