Welcome to Lockdown Lizzie, bringing hope and salvation to the world
Chapter One – How it all began
Lizzie Snoopes was a prisoner to the world wide web, living inside the virus fear bubble. It took her mind off other things. For years, Lizzie tried to adopt her orphan niece but the powers-that-be were making it tres difficult, and all because of a little iBuprofen!
So instead, she scrolled the Toddling Times, glad that they had scrapped the ridiculous online subscription service. Obviously, the editorial team had reverted to humble advertising for revenues, like all townie newspapers. Syndicate or no syndicate.
When Millie rang, Lizzie jumped at the interruption. “I’m sick of the virus! You can’t step outside for fear of droplets flying up yer nose.”
“I must admit, I’m glued to the news, only ever leave my chair to go to the loo.”
“Turn it off, that’s my advice.” Millie said.
Millie mentioned all the fun at the Con Club. The only place open during lockdowns, (discreetly of course). There had been a raffle and someone won a fat turkey, and a squabble broke out over a stolen ticket. A soul night was coming up, a psychic predicted a lotto winner, and Elvis was turning up for Christmas. All under cover. The windows were blacked out, and soundproofed. It helped having a local bobby as the head of the committee. . Lizzie unplugged the telly, locked the laptop away in the closet, and switched off the phone for the night. She promised Millie she’d go cold turkey for 24 hours.
The following day, Lizzie was bereft. “I tried it Millie, it hasn’t worked. I’m even flipping through Facebook in my sleep!”
There was a deep sigh on the other end of the line. Millie pinged something over on WhatsApp.
Lizzie clicked the link: Are you a Covid news addict? Try this ten-second, skinny-dipping method.
“What’s this all about Mills?”
“Read it,” Millie said.
“It’s ten pages.”
“Just skim through.”
Lizzie couldn’t just skim. “It’s no good Mills. Tell me what’s it about.”
“Shows you how to control your internet addiction. Dip in and out. Easy, like grabbing a coffee at Megabucks.”
Lizzie scanned the first paragraph. The psychology behind this method has been proven by Doctor B Swift of the New Thought Institute, California. More self-styled experts offering clap-trap advice! But it wasworth a try. Lizzie started with a headline, setting her timer, as instructed, and then moving on to the next item. It was hellish at first, but she persevered.
When Millie called in for a check-up, Lizzie had a good report. “I’m averaging 90 seconds per page, went to bed early for a change.
“And no nagging voices in my head saying – Oy! You missed that bit!
“Reminds me of my ex.” Millie said. “He was a nag an’ all. I had better things to do than flounce around with a mop and a duster!”
The two friends laughed, remembering Millie’s OCD ex. “I feel lots better Mills. There’s only one drawback.”
“What’s that Lizzie?”
“I’m doing everything on steroids.”
“Such as …?”
“Yesterday I went to Khan’s for a pint of milk, I couldn’t bear the queue, so I shoved my way to the front!!”
“Ooh, trez polite.”
“Nearly got banned for life!”
“Oh, my gawd, slow down!”
“Blimey! I’ve created monster!”
Luckily, the road-runner effect wore off, and Lizzie’s addiction subsided.
Life returned to normality.
But what is normality?
Voice of Lizzie
Millie and I have a special code. Yesterday, when the doorbell rang, I knew it was Millie, two quick buzzes and one long one. I was there in a jiffy. But it wasn’t Millie, it was Lottie Higginbottom, ‘neighbourhood watch’ stood there in her windbreaker, staring at me with suspicious eyes.
“I thought you should see this.”
She handed me a leaflet, and then turned in her chair and left. I glanced at the obnoxious thing. New lockdown rules. No visitors. Repeat. NO visitors. Naturally, I scrunched it into a ball and chucked it straight in the bin.
Minutes later, Millie arrived. I pulled her inside.
“Our code has been cracked!”
“Who do you think?”
“That nosy bitch across the street?”
“Yes her, the pride of Bletchley Park.’
We peered through the frost glass windowpane.
Lottie was seated across the road, all hugger mugger on the bench, spying on us, and tapping away on her phone.
“What’s she up to this time?”
“Christ knows! Keeping tabs on us lawbreakers I expect.”
Millie was outraged. Well, she can stick it where the sun don’t shine. That’s the job of the police, not her.”
“I know. Anyway, never mind all that, come inside the lounge. It’s cosy in there. We went in the lounge and sat on the sofa. I’d made a pot of tea. The electric dogs were dancing in the grate and on telly the swearing-in ceremony was about to begin. Millie and I tucked into our favourite choc-chip and ginger cookies from Mark’s. A pair of happy bunnies, settling down to watch telly. Before long, we had tears in our eyes, listening to our new non-binary Prime Minister, Nigella Spode talking so nicely about unity and diversion, and all what he was going to do for the nation. He wore a beautiful lavender suit, a mix of the blue and the red, they said, a symbol of togetherness. It made a change from old pouty chops, the previous Prime Minister.
“Nice to see ‘ em tucked up in their facemasks for a change,” said Millie. “Shows they take precorshuns, like we do.”
“Yes, the rainbow masks are divine.”
“Where’s all the people?” Millie asked, sounding disappointed at the paltry turn-out by the Cenotaph.
“At home, watching it on telly, I expect. They can’t take any security risks, not after the last time.”
We spared a thought for poor Ms Trumpet, who had been shot on her very first day in office. Rumours spread that the assassin had been hired by her uncle!
“That orange turd,” said Millie. I hope he slips on a golf ball and gets a club up his bum.”
“Yes, I’ll expect he’ll come a cropper soon.”
“Guantanamo Bay was built for the likes of him!”
When the young poet laureate took the podium, we both fell silent, listening to that sweet, rhythmic voice.
“Wot a brilliant poem!”
“Yes, ‘tis nice, isn’t it. Iambic pentameters I believe.”
The poet, Emily Gorse, was from Jamaica.
“My Shan is married to a Gorse.” Millie said. “Lives up in the hills in Ireland.”
I knew this already. Millie had shown me the wedding photograph when her sister had gotten married. Millie didn’t attend because being it was during her divorce from Len – the contrast was too stark.
“I wonder if there’s any relation.” Millie mused.
“Is he a poet perchance?”
“No, he’s a farmer.”
“Don’t be stupid. Anyone can drive tractors and still be a poet.”
“I suppose so, though I’ve not seen many poems on tractors.”
Millie was indignant. I’d pushed her too far.
“Gorse family goes back loads!! Back to slavery days!”
“I don’t doubt it, married to your sister.”
“He’s half-Jamaican an’ all.” Said Millie, clutching at straws.
“Rubbish! He’s as white as the driven snow! Apart from a few freckles on his eyelids!”
“And? Not prevalent!”
She meant ‘relevant’, but she had a point, I suppose. Not all Jamaicans are of African descent. We were still arguing when the doorbell rang. I knew who to expect. “Stay where you are, Mills. I’ll see her off – good and proper this time.”
I opened the door thinking to give that heifer a proper tongue lashing and send her along. When I looked at the figure standing on the porch, it was a plump young man in a high-vis vest, the unmistakable costume of the law.
He stood looking all sheepish.
“Yes. What can I do for you?”
“I’m so sorry to bother you, madam. Only I’ve had a report of illegal activity going on inside this premises.”
“What? Watching TV? Since when is that illegal?”
He showed me his badge. PCSO something or other. I eyeballed him over my spectacles. “Who gave you this so-called report?”
“I’m not at liberty to say, madam. It’s for data protection purposes.”
“Oh well then.”
I began closing the door, he put his foot in the door to prevent it – the cheeky little so-and-so!
“Madam, it’s been reported that a lot of noise is going on inside the premises. So, can I take your name, please, madam?”
“Lizzie is my name. Lizzie Snoopes!”
He jotted it down. “So, if it’s okay with you, Missus Lizzie, may I ask how many peoples is inside the residence right now?”
“How do you mean?”
“It’s been reported that there are human voices speaking.”
“Yes, there are. Me and my friend Millie. That’s Missus Sparks to you.”
“Is she your support bubble?”
“Are you sure?”
“No, as a matter of fact I lied. There is also the new Prime Minister and the entire British Army marching band.”
He made another note in his pad. “There’s no need for bein’ sarky, Madam. I’m just doing my job. And as I say, we’ve had several complaints in the neighbourhood about household breaches all over the road, as well as here Madam.”
After such a lengthy speech, he coughed and involuntarily, and then cleared his throat. I leapt at the opportunity to correct his misguided attitude. “Young man. Does your supervisor know you are going about knocking on doors and breathing heavily? Why aren’t you wearing a face mask.”
The PCSO pulled a mask from his pants pocket. “Sorry, Madam.’
“Never mind sorry, you’re breaking the law, you are!”
I shouted out. “Millie! Bring your smartphone!”
Millie dashed to the hall just in time to witness the officer struggling to get the mask over his nose and mouth, but the string kept slipping from his ear lobe.
“Record that offence!”
Millie pressed record on her phone. We stood observing his attempts to untangle the mask and replace it on his earlobes.
I gave him my special glare, the one that could strip the lining from a lead pipe. “Dear me, is that all the police can afford these days?”
The police radio crackled to life on his shoulder. Millie and I heard an irate voice. “Seven-three-one-five are you receiving me?”
He turned to talk into the radio. We heard his muffled apologetic tones apologising to his superior.
The crackly voice demanded, “Where the blazes are you?!”
The PCSO mumbled something incoherent.
“Speak up! I can’t hear you!”
He began explaining what he was doing. “Never mind that. Get back to base. We need you on traffic – NOW!”
The young officer turned around – his face beetroot. “Forry avout fat, madam.”
Mercilessly, I pressed my advantage. “You do realise that you may have already spread the virus. Millie and I are both high-risk categories.”
His response was barely decipherable under the mask.
I pointed at Higginbottom who was watching us with glee from the bench across the road. “Instead of bothering vulnerable residents, might I suggest you follow up on that pest sitting over there on that bench. She is the one going about spreading fake news about the neighbours. She ought to be arrested for wasting police time!”
“Fank you, Missus Lizzie, I vill voo vat. Forry for …”
“All right, all right. Now go and check on old nosy knickers!”
The officer turned and strode towards Lottie with a purposeful gait. We waited until we saw the shadow of a frown crossing Lottie’s mean old brow, satisfied by the worried look on her face. Then we shut the front door returned to the lounge, in time to see the new Prime Minister Spode and his wife waving at the cameras.
“Another cup of tea, Mills?”
“I don’t mind if I do, Lizzie”
“And a bikkie?”
“Oh, go on then!”
Chapter Two – Vaccine veterans
Lizzie and Millie were due for their updated jabs. They’d had letters asking them to attend the clinic. On the day of the appointment, Lizzie found out that Doctor Biggles had caught the virus from a patient, and so the surgery was closed. Lizzie submitted her UVI online for information. The system threw a blank, so she reset her password, fearing she’d been hacked. This time her unique virus identifier was recognised, and she saw that the jabs were being dished out at the church hall. However, due to shortages, there was only one date available – and that was for the over eighties.
Lizzie rang Millie. “Guess what Mills, this month’s jab is only for the over eighties.”
“What do we do?”
“I reckon we should go along. What if the vaccine runs out?”
“Aren’t we depriving the elderly?”
“Listen. They’ve already got one foot in the grave.”
Millie had a point, so Lizzie parked her conscience and arranged to meet her friend outside the church hall. She was just heading out the door when the phone buzzed – it was Millie with an update.
“Don’t bother Lizzie, I’ve been the church hall, it’s shut.”
“What, no vaccine?’
“There’s a note on the door – they’re doing it at the Con Club at four.”
“Really? What, have the jab and chase it up with a glass of vino!”
“Don’t be silly. The bar’s on lockdown.”
“We better get there before the queues. You know what the wrinklies are like, oh and be sure to wear a disguise. We’re supposed to be over eighty, remember?”
At four o’clock, Millie was outside the Conservative Club standing in line. The queue snaked all the way to the church hall next door. Millie wore a long black coat, and wraparound scarf to hide her blonde hair. Both wore dark sunglasses, just in case.
Lizzie sidled up, and Millie made a space. “You look like Lawrence of Arabia. Why the change of venue, I wonder?”
“I found out that vicar is an anti-vaxxer.” Whispered Millie. “He’s refusing to let the NHS use the hall.”
“Oh, and he wrote a letter in ToT Times. Says the vax is made from monkey doo.’
“Yeah, reckons it lowers the human intelligence.”
“That’s smart of him.”
“I’ll tell you what, I’d sooner have the jab and live to see another day than pass an IQ test and die! Wouldn’t you?”
The Con Club was sandwiched between the vicarage on one side, and the old church hall on the other. Lizzie imagined the quirky McDougall sat at his mahogany writing desk, (he didn’t believe in laptops apparently) and scribing his poison pen letters to the Times, raving about the evil vaccine.
The veterans were delighted to be having their shots at their venerable old watering hole, and by the sound of the excited chatter, they were eager for the doors to open, even though the bar was on lockdown. Lizzie suspected that they had a trick up their sleeve.
“Look at that lot,” said Millie, “clinging to the slippery slopes of senile dementia. What good’s the vaccine?”
“Be fair Millie, they’ve got the right to be inoculated against the virus.”
“They’re always inoculated, that lot.” Millie said. “Make no mistake Lizzie, senile or not, they could drink you or I under the table!”
Millie nudged Lizzie, and she heard the familiar crunch of Lottie Higginbottom’s Pride-Go Electric Chair. The friends put their heads down and remained silent, waiting until she had passed.
Lottie turned into the yard, zipping to the front of the queue, beeping her horn and yelling, “Priority pass! Priority pass!”
Someone shouted back. “Have you got a licence for that thing?” Lottie paid no heed. Instead, she rapped on the entrance door of the club. The entrance door nudged open, and a small grey-haired lady peeked out, sniffing the air cautiously as if a pack of wolves was waiting outside.
Lottie flashed her badge. “Neighbourhood watch volunteer community support officer. Let me in, please!”
“We was just about to open,” the door keeper replied pulling the door wide and letting the crowds pour in, leaving Lottie on the wayside.
Inside the foyer, Millie, wrinkled her nose. “I smell booze.”
Some of the veterans had sneaked over to the bar area already. We spied a chink of light behind the shutters, and a silhouette moving around inside.
Millie wrinkled her nose at the stale smell inside. The club had not been cleaned since Grimes the grave keeper had come for a drink wearing his muddy boots. “Just look at that rug. It’s still got his flippin’ footprints!”
Lizzie peered down at the prints. “Good lord, they ought to give it a wash, that’s a vintage Jackson Pollock!”
“I don’t blame you using them words Lizzie!” Millie said. “What with the state it’s in! I’ve never seen so much dirt and grime!”
In the corner of the room, a clerk with an electronic device was registering dates of birth and other EO data. Lizzie and Millie kept an eye on the exit door just in case things got sticky. They gave phoney dates of birth, of course, but the baby-faced clerk didn’t blink an eye, which was a relief and a disappointment all at the same time.
“I can’t believe they’re taking us for a pair wrinklies Lizzie. Its offensive AND insulting!”
“I shouldn’t worry Millie – anyone over 18 is an old hag these days.”
“You’re not wrong, Lizzie.”
The clerk sat at a table with his pad, and on another small table, they saw the vaccine paraphernalia. In the centre of this charming tableau, the young intern, was cleaning his vials, and wiping down his equipment.
Despite a slow start earlier on, Lottie had gained traction, and was at the front of the line, as before. The nurse rolled up Lottie’s sleeve, and within minutes the intern had his needle out and was jabbing it in Lottie’s right arm. Lottie yelped at the site of blood trickling along her upper arm.
The intern had a soft Scottish accent. “Don’t worry, Mrs Hagganbotham. It’s only a wee prick. Surely you don’t feel a thing!”
“Her Ron had that problem, too,” Millie muttered, under her scarf, just loud enough for Lottie to overhear. Lottie’s head whipped around, her eyes darted around the room, searching for the culprit.
The intern patted her on the knee. “All done! You can go home now Missus Hagganbotham.”
“That’s right, you can go now, Missus Hagganbotham. Next please!”
Lottie did a three-point turn and put her machine into gear. The two friends averted their gaze, waiting for the Gestapo to pass, but Lottie’s chair came to a standstill at their toes. “Don’t I know you two from somewhere?”
Lizzie adopted her best French. “Non, non madame, I sink not, I ave nevoor seen you beefour!”
Lottie spat out the words, “Euro Trash!”
As soon as she was out of sight, Lizzie tapped Millie on the arm. “She could have had us then.”
“Oh, I don’t know, ID fraud, stealing government property?”
“The jabs Millie! We’re not supposed to be here, remember.”
“You’re paranoid you are Lizzie.”
Lizzie thought about it, perhaps Millie was right, but it was just all too these days to break the law, what with the new regulations being issued every other month.
After the jabs, the two friends went outside and filled their lungs with oxygen – the sky was turning dark, and the air was cold. It felt pleasant after the stifling atmosphere of the room. Lizzie looked at her watch. It was nearly seven o clock. “I’m glad that’s over. Let’s get rid of these scarves and go home!”
They were just about to leave the yard when Lizzie was distracted by a hint of orange, blinking intermittently. She saw a distinctly malicious looking wheel poking out from behind the club wall, and knew at once that Lottie Higginbottom was there, spying on them both!
“Millie, don’t look around, just put your scarf back on, and the hat, and goggles, all of it quickly, and then walk slowly toward the gate, don’t run and don’t ask any questions, just keep moving.”
“Oh, my gawd, it’s her innit?”
Lizzie nodded her head. Walking toward the gate they could hear Lottie’s wheels cautiously crunching on the gravel. Lottie was playing it safe too, as if she didn’t want to get caught stalking them. As soon as they were outside, Lizzie and Millie dived into the Vicarage Garden next door and crouched under the Vicarage window until the sound of Lottie’s wheels faded around the bend. No sooner had she gone but they heard the swishing sound of a sash cord window opening behind.
To their horror, the reverend McDougall yelled out, “Who’s there!?”
They remained stock still, not budging until they heard the window sliding shut; as soon as they heard the click, they scurried out of the garden, and ran for their lives, weaving through the neighbourhood, scarves akimbo, never sure that Lottie wasn’t somewhere in the vicinity. On Stanley Road, they hurried inside the house, slamming the door behind – and panting heavily.
“Oh, my gawwwd, I can see the headlines: divorcees steal vaccines from veterans.”
“Never mind Lizzie, we escaped the long arm of the law.”
“Indeed Mills. Come on, let’s have a cup of tea!”
“Shot of brandy, more like!”
Chapter Three – Plotting in the graveyard
VOICE OF LIZZIE
I was in the kitchen putting the kettle on when Millie entered looking the worse for wear. Her banana peel was un-peeling, and her hair was an uncombed mess. “Oh, Lizzie, I feel crap, look at me, eyes like two piss holes in the snow!!”
“You do look a wreck. What’s the matter?”
“I was up all night, counting sheep – and their offspring!”
“Not a tiddly wink.”
“Never mind. You’ll be right as rain after a cup of tea.”
Millie pushed her phone across the table. “See this Lizzie, I had blimmin nightmares after that.”
I sat down to read, but before I’d begun, the sound of Millie’s new alarm clock exploded in the spare room upstairs. Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo! “Bloomin heck Millie, what’s that noise?”
“It’s me Rugged Rooster.”
Millie laughed that dirty laugh of hers. “Me alarm clock, Lizzie. I bought him in Lidl – he’s fantastic. There’s no need for batteries, and like it says on the box, this cock never lets you down!”
Millie went upstairs to switch off the alarm and remove her face peel. Meanwhile, I looked at the news item on her phone. It was something in the Toddlington Times. I saw a picture of a woman wearing a hoodie. In the photograph, her face was obscured in shadow and the headline read, “I grew mouse whiskers after the jab, and I can’t wax them off!”
I couldn’t help thinking about McDougall’s theory that the vaccine changes your DNA. If that was true, was this lady turning into a giant lab rat? I reached for the brandy, and when Millie came back downstairs, I poured us a both a glass.
My hand shook badly. “Surely, it’s gotta be a joke!”
“I don’t know Lizzie. It says she’s from around here! And she looks familiar somehow, despite not bein’ able to see her face.”
It was a bridge too far, people turning into giant rodents, right on my doorstep. I said to Mills. “No point sitting here worrying about it. Let’s get out for air before old nosy starts on her rounds.”
On the way out, I looked at my reflection in the hallway mirror. During the last lockdown period, I’d put on weight, but there was no sign of any whiskers. Not yet, but for how much longer? I wondered.
To take our minds off, Millie and I walked around the neighbourhood. It was still early, so Khan’s Newsagents wasn’t open, but over on Shackled Lane, the cemetery gates were ajar. Millie and I strolled inside. Just recently, the cemetery had won an award for being the best kept boneyard in the county. The newspaper announcement was mounted on a glass frame on the gate, a superlative repository of the dead – the pride of Toddlington-on-Thames. We wandered through the five-star hotel for the dear departed, seeking a dry bench on which to sit and gather our thoughts.
We found one with a gilded plaque in memory of mum and dad, facing a black granite tombstone opposite.
That stone carried a poem etched in gold.
Dearest Eddie, you left this world, but were not ready. A fabulous husband, a loving son, goes without saying, I love you a tun. All my love, Shell.
I recalled what someone had said on the radio. By the time this latest lockdown is over, we’ll all be fossils. May as well bury us now and be done.
A feel of desperation crept over me, I said to Millie, “this place is making me feel worse! No point sitting here all desperate, let’s go to Khan’s and get some of those choc-chip and ginger biscuits, go back and have a nice cup of tea!”
As we neared the gate, Millie pointed at a stone folly hiding amongst the headstones. “See that building with the funny little faces either side of the door?”
“The gargoyles Millie. Yes. What about it?”
“It’s the grave keeper’s lodge,” Millie said.
“And? What about it?”
“He knows everything what goes in in this town! Top to bottom, above and below.”
“Yeesss. I see what you mean.”
We heard a slight rustling sound and glanced about. There was no telling when Lottie Higginbottom might appear, but it was only a red squirrel darting about among the mouldering statues. I thought about it. Millie was right, if anyone knew anything about mice and men around here it was Grimes the grave keeper.
“Reckon he knows about the whiskers?”
“I don’t know Millie, but let’s go find out.”
We went over and knocked at the door of the lodge. It was well old, with grey paint peeling off. Grimes answered, his sharp blue eyes were gleaming with curiosity. We told him we’d like a word – in private.
“Best come inside then.”
Grime’s lodge was tiny, just an oval shaped room with an ancient armchair, a tatty sofa, small gas stove and a weathered piano in the corner that stuck out like a sore thumb. He sank into the armchair and indicated the sofa opposite.
We perched gingerly on the worn sofa.
Millie flashed her film-star smile. “Lovely place you got here.”
“It suits me, anyway,” Grimes said, lighting a rolled-up cigarette and blowing a great big ring of Old Navy into the room. “I thought I recognised you two birds. You’re from the Con Club, right?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I been a member there for twenty-five years, but I don’t go so much nowadays.”
“Is that because of the lockdown?”
“No, no. It’s the socialising that’s gone downhill. In my estimation. We bowzied it about champion back in the old day. Used to get rat-arsed drunk. Not anymore, the hooch is too expensive. Anyway, friends are all gone now. Dead. Many of them.”
“I pointed at the upright piano. “Do you play piano?”
“Only a bit of ragtime – keeps me entertained of a night when I’m working late.”
“Doesn’t anyone complain?”
“What? For? Disturbing the neighbours? In this place?” Grimes slapped the stone wall with the palm of his gnarly old hand. “Over a foot deep them walls is, solid! I can bash away at the ivory and none’s the wiser. Not even the community police!”
Millie gave me a nudge with her elbow. We were both thinking the same. What a place for a party! The grave keeper flicked a switch and a pale-yellow sconce appeared on the wall. My eyes were drawn to a toenail peeking out through a hole in one of Grimes’s stockings. “So, ladies, what do I owe the pleasure of this visit to then?”
“Well, Mister Grimes, it’s like this.” I began.
“You can call me Joe.”
“Well, Joe, there’s a woman in this town who claims she grew whiskers right after she had the vaccine. As you’re so knowledgeable and such, we wondered – do you know anything about it?”
Grimes cleared his throat. He stubbed out his cigarette and lit another. The ashtray on the arm of his chair was full of butts. “Uh huh, and how did you two find out about it??”
Millie told him about the article in the Times. Grimes nodded. “I’m not one for reading much. I get all my news on the grapevine. But I will tell you this. It’s my belief that she might be the wife of my nephew, Fred. Lovely lady. Eloise is her name. French from Camembert. But I haven’t seen her in a long time. Not since last year, as it goes. Fred came here one day and said she was acting funny. He says she’s obsessed with cheese. I said, well she would be, wouldn’t she, coming from the land of cheeses? Fred said there was more. He said she was acting weirdly and starting to look mousy.”
“Did he say anything about whiskers?” Millie asked.
“Not as such, no, but if she is the person concerned, there’s one way to find out.” Grimes said.
“Leave some cheese outside her door, see if she comes out for a nibble!”
Grimes laughed so hard that he cried. Millie and I were less amused. What if it were true? Should we be worried?
Grimes scratched the grizzle on his chin. “Well, it’s like this, see. I’ve already got whiskers, so I’m not too bothered about growing a few more.”
Millie was unimpressed by Grimes’s flippant response. “Well, that’s alright for you. I’m not waxing mouse hair off me face for the rest of me days!”
Grimes plucked some tobacco from his tongue. “I’ll tell you what – I’ll have Eloise and Fred over here for a night of entertainment. He likes a bit o’ ragtime does Fred. Especially where there’s free booze involved. We’ll soon tell if the story is true or false. Most probably, it’s just a fragment of Fred’s imagination. From what I hear, Eloise is at the vicarage most days – asking for
Salvation. It’s upset him rotten that has.”
Millie was scornful. “Salvation. What she needs is a good set of clippers!”
“Well, put it this way, if she has got mouse mixed up in her molecular, then we may need to take action.”
“Action? What sort of action? Call Rentokil?”
“Don’t be daft. Who needs pest control for just one mouse?”
“Ah, yes, but there may be others!”
Millie and I agreed, being in the Grave Keepers Lodge was way more fun than being sat at home, chewing our fingernails.
Grimes looked at his watch. “It’s been a pleasure, ladies but I must get on, a new plot to organise this morning. Old Wickham the solicitor popped his clogs last week at age 90, and he’s ready for the underworld.”
Grimes heaved himself out of the chair and saw us to the door of the lodge in his stockinged feet. We agreed to meet back the lodge the following Friday at six. Fred would be there, along with Eloise, and we’d see for ourselves whether she was turning into a mouse, or not.