No longer did
assume the calls were random misdials. Somebody was deliberately trying to
scare her. And succeeding. And the impact on her normal level-headedness was
harrowing. It had been on her mind all morning and she had formed the opinion
that the calls were being made by someone with a grudge. But who? And why? What
satisfaction was there in ringing up and not speaking? At the back of her mind
lurked the belief that it might be one of those titular friends who had
harangued her years ago with righteous condemnation owing to her single parent
status. But they'd got over that now. Hadn't they?
It had been a tremendous struggle to recover from last night's call. She wasn't fully restored, but barring a kind of restlessness which she put down to reaction she was beginning to gain control. She fancied indulging in something outrageous to lift herself out of her unsettled temper so at she opted to change routine and go out to lunch instead of scoffing sandwiches in the shop with
Carol. The change would do her
good. Furthermore, it was probably an appropriate day to buy the yellow
sweatshirt she'd been dreaming of for weeks.
Unaware that she had an audience,
undid the belt of her biscuit-coloured shift and let it slip away, then peered
at the glass to check the effect. She jumped when she heard Audrey's greeting and bustled through an unnecessary
explanation. 'I'm going to the Copper Kettle,' she said, 'and I clean forgot to
change my clothes.'
With considerable effort, Audrey stopped herself from raising her eyebrows in despair. 'That's where I'm going,' she stated and proposed they went together.
The coffee-house was situated in a room off the bakery. It was owned by sandy haired
, whose name doubtlessly
inspired him to christen it the Copper Kettle. Charlie
and Eileen pushed through the crowded
room, dodging an assortment of shopping bags crammed into gaps between tables.
The drone of conversation merged with the clatter of cups, belching filter
machines, and the repeated clunk of the kitchen door as it swung to. They
reached an empty table where an unfamiliar waitress hovered with her order pad
Hating to be rushed,
snapped, 'Give me a chance to sit down.' She quickly apologised when she saw
the girl's dejection. The poor thing was probably petrified; new jobs were
always an ordeal. After poring over the main meals menu and finding nothing to
tempt her, Audrey chose simple crab
sandwiches on account of the low fat content, and decaffeinated coffee, then
ruined it by ordering chocolate eclairs. She passed the menu to Eileen who elected to have the same minus the cakes.
'I had to come out today,'
said, wearing a fearful expression as if it was an unheard of thing to do.
'Paddy's driving me mad with his interfering. He's too much sometimes. He tried
to teach me how to iron shirts this morning. You should've seen him sulk when I
told him to mind his own business.'
'I wouldn't have thought there was any need for you to worry,'
Audrey said, taking a
sandwich. Observing Eileen pat her
greying hair in unmistakable pleasure, she felt distinctly warm inside and was
glad she'd seen fit to tell an untruth.
'Did I ever tell you about our
'She's a dreadful flirt. I don't know how to deal with her sometimes.'
'It's part of growing up.'
'She's nineteen! And she doesn't just mess around with boys. She goes for anyone in trousers. She even tried it on with her Dad. Promiscuous, she was, even then.'
gave her chin a frenzied rub. Her voice faltered. 'He stopped kissing her when
she was fourteen 'cause she kept shoving her tongue in his mouth.'
In need of distraction,
collared the waitress who had just deposited a tray of tea at the next table.
Retrieving her pencil from behind her ear the girl waited to scribble Audrey's requirement on her pad. Audrey found herself wondering what lay beneath her
fresh faced, innocent surface.
'Did you want something?' the girl asked.
'I'm glad I bumped into you,' Eileen said, brushing crumbs off her skirt. 'I've asked everybody else. I would've rung only the phone bill's going to be steep enough with Paddy and our
using it day and night.' She poured coffee into plain white cups and passed one
to Audrey. Lowering her head, she
continued in an undertone. 'Do you know anyone who might give Paddy a job?'
It was admirable of
to make the effort on behalf of her husband though Audrey
doubted if Paddy could equal her boldness. Jobs were short in Fieldmoor, except
for cleaning work which was not Paddy's forte. She eyed the posies as she
sipped her coffee and thought of Maureen's
shop. There was a job there but she couldn't imagine Paddy working in a flower
shop. It was too classy an establishment and Paddy Finnigan lacked the finesse
to work in such a place. But who was she to pass judgement? Despite her
reservations she reminded Eileen of
the vacancy and suggested an early approach to Maureen.
'I couldn't ask her.'
'Why not, she won't bite.'
'I don't like to be a nuisance.'
'I could go with you.'
'Would you mind? I don't know her all that well.'
'We'll go this evening. I'll ring first. What time shall I say? Six?'
'That's fine. Ooh, I am excited. I've never been inside the House. Is it nice?'
'Wait and see.'
'Wow! That's a knock-out colour. Where'd you get it?'
'Smarts. It was the last one.'
'You jammy beggar. You wouldn't have had a look in if I'd spotted it. My
Alan's partial to
yellow. He says it gives my skin more of a chocolaty look.' She fluttered her
eyelids. 'He loves chocolate as well.'
to anything that symbolises sex.'
'I know. Great, isn't it?'
Browsing round the splendid red and gold room,
Eileen walked the length of the packed bookshelves
with her head tilted in order to scan the titles. She bypassed an elegant
Regency chaise-longue to get to an onyx table, intent on inspecting an array of
framed photographs. She whistled. 'Here's one of Queen .
Victoria D'you think they're related to royalty?'
At that moment
entered, her wavy hair bouncing, her willowy figure displayed to advantage in a
turquoise suit tailored in cashmere and silk. Picking up the frame, she
explained, 'The photographer gave this to my grandfather as a keepsake. It is a
good shot. I particularly like the enigmatic smile.' She reinstated the
picture. 'Now, what can I do for you?'
pounced in with her request. In her uncomplicated manner, she pleaded, 'Can my
Paddy have the job in your shop?'
Eventually, as she laid the glasses in front of the photographs,
Maureen delivered her
reply. 'The departure of my friend Erick
created a post which I am finding it difficult to fill. He was a wonderful man,
energetic, obliging, and devoted to duty. It will be a formidable task
obtaining a suitable replacement. His successor must be dependable and honest for
I shall require him to tend my miniature emporium when I am otherwise engaged.'
In that case we may as well go, thought
positive now that Paddy's record would stand against him.
fast and courageously unfolded the reason for Paddy's compulsion to steal …
always on the anniversary of his father's death. Small tears trickled down her
cheeks. 'How can he pick himself up if no-one' gives him a chance? It wasn't
his fault his father gassed himself, but he's the one being punished.'
Eager for her to get matters sorted,
seized Eileen's elbow and propelled
her towards the door, imploring her to go and inform Paddy. As they went out
she called over her shoulder, 'You're a brick, Maureen.'
Turning to close the door, she captured Maureen's
contented expression. By heck, she thought, she's flattered, and prayed it
augured well for Eileen's man. When Maureen's cheerful 'Goodnight' sailed after them, she
was convinced of it.
It was when
Audrey arrived home and the phone
was ringing. She turned the key in the lock and hurried in, letting the door
crash to behind her. Flicking the light switch, she went to grab the receiver,
and froze the moment her fingers touched it.
It was one of those bizarre calls. She knew it, and her hunches were mostly reliable. She drew back, reluctant even to stand close. How could she be so sure? It might be Matty on the line? If she was certain ...
Suddenly undecided, she clicked off the light. The hall was plunged into semi-darkness. She released the breath she'd been holding, feeling stupid yet relieved that she could no longer be seen.
The shrill ringing persisted.
If only she'd remembered to turn on the answering machine.
She wanted to run to escape the noise but the persistent sonorous tones grazed her nerves and she snatched up the receiver.
'I know what you're doing,' whispered the voice.
She stiffened, clenching her eyes tight, gripping the table for support.
The dialling tone welled forth.
Even that was menacing.
(to be continued)