Monday October 1 cont. into Tuesday
Cleo Hartley/Hurley wondered how Gary would take the news that she was planning a project that was a far cry from what he used to call snooping but now knew better. She would probably have less time to air her theories on the current cases that beset the Chief Inspector who had, despite himself, become quite reliant on his wife’s Agency and her wise comments, and been put on the straight and narrow more than once by Dorothy’s hunches.
“OK, my love, confess!” said Gary, who was helping with the children – a job he loved. Though he would not have admitted it, domesticity came as a welcome relief. He would like to have been a houseman and get away from the evil characters he was forced to deal with in the course of his job. Mathilda and Max, the new twins, were crowing away happily in the playpen. They were six months old and content with their own company for the time being. The older twins, Tommy and Teddy, were quite amenable about sharing the playpen, though their play was not confined to kicking limbs and trying out their voices, since Tommy and Teddy were more than a year older. When all four infants were gurgling or muttering happily Gary was inclined to think he had fathered a nursery all on his own. PeggySue, born during Cleo’s short marriage to Robert Jones, but the happy result of Cleo’s and Gary’s affair, was now getting on for three; Charlie, his daughter adopted by Cleo, and Lottie, Gary’s brother Joe’s daughter, were both thirteen years old. That made seven children altogether, since Lottie spent more time in the Hurley household than in Joe Butler’s, although his soulmate Barbara got on well with her future step-daughter.
“You aren’t …”
“Maybe not,” said Cleo.
“That was not a straight answer, Cleo. If it isn’t a new Hurley, what is it?”
“A bookshop and that would not make any difference even if there were another Hurley on the way.”
“Meaning there is?”
“Did you say a bookshop? You are giving birth to a bookshop? I think I’d rather have another little Hurley to feed.”
“I’ve been wondering what to do with my old office,” said Cleo.
“Let Robert have it to expand his empire,” said Gary. Robert, an enthusiastic family butcher, had once been Cleo’s possessive but unemotional husband. Gloria, Cleo’s mother, who had returned from an episode with a restauranteur in Middlethumpton to be Robert’s right hand in the family butcher’s shop, had once been keen on expanding the business.
“I’ll turn the office into a bookshop. I’m going to call it ‘Old and New’ and I want Dorothy to help me.”
“Have you asked her?”
“She’s thinking about it.”
“So am I,” said Gary. “I thought you wanted a houseful of children.”
“We already have a house full of children,” said Cleo. “Now I need an office full of books.”
“On your head be it, my love. You have enough to do here. Isn’t that why your agency is closed?”
“Business was unprofitable, but to be truthful, closing down was for the lactation of my new babies.”
“That’s one way of putting it.”
“I hadn’t really decided,” said Cleo. “But now I have. I need a challenge, and sitting in an office waiting for people to ask me to solve silly mysteries, find their pets, spy on their partners and air their grievances no longer charms me the way it used to.”
“What about your sessions at HQ? Aren’t those guys enough of a challenge?”
“The therapizing of criminals who just want to get off lightly is OK part-time, but I can’t dedicate myself to it, and I don’t really like telling professional cops how to approach criminals with tact and diplomacy. They should already know.”
“So the bookshop is sure fire, I take it.”
“Not if you disapprove.”
“I don’t really disapprove. It’s quite a good idea, but I’m not sure that you should be finding ways of keeping Dorothy at the grindstone. That’s part of the plan, isn’t it?”
Dorothy was undoubtedly the most enthusiastic sleuth north of the M25.
“Am I doing that?”
“I think you are,” said Gary.
“I’ll think about it from that angle.”
“The test is whether you would consider opening a bookshop if Dorothy refused to help you, Cleo.”
“That’s a rather leading question I can’t answer right now.”
“Why don’t you stick to your agency then?”
“Business was poor before the twins came along and it’s been on hold since then. You know that. I can’t just run around for your HQ. There is no future in it.”
“If I were looking for something to do with that office, I’d go for antiques,” said Gary.
“I’ve never thought of that.”
“You could fill the room with junk that looks like antiques together with one or two genuine items, have a corner for used books and maybe even a rack for bestsellers. You might not make a profit, but you could probably cover your overheads, and you need not open every day if you don’t want to.”
“Are you suggesting that I fake antiques?”
“Of course not. Furniture can be renovated to 85% without losing that definition. There’s even a carpenter in Huddlecourt Minor who will be glad to help you rescue old stuff.”
“Can you see me swamped by other people’s junk?”
“Not if you don’t see it that way. You could still offer investigative services as part of the venture and there is no antique shop in Upper Grumpsfield. I’ve often wondered about that.”
“I can’t say I’ve missed not having a junk shop here. Even the Norton Brothers left this office because they could not disguise the fact that they were not selling anything.”
“You don’t know that’s the reason, Cleo.”
The good thing about Gary’s suggestion was that if he had made it, he could not very well disapprove.
“I’ll talk to Dorothy,” she said. “I could still call it ‘Old and New’ and it could involve all the family, couldn’t it?”
That was something Gary had not thought of.
“I expect we’d all contribute in one way or another,” he agreed. “At least one pensioner will go for it hook, line and sinker.”
“Meaning Roger, T expect,” said Cleo. “But he’ll be working part time at HQ, won’t he?”
“I’ve no idea, Cleo. I just hope I don’t have to take over his chores.”
“So you will support my new venture, will you?”
“You already have a name for it and my blessing for what it’s worth.”
“It’s worth its weight in gold, and you know it, Gary Hurley. I’ll phone Dorothy now unless you want to discuss a case.”
“Later. I’ll start making dinner, shall I?”
“Just a quick phone call, Dorothy.”
“Oh. It’s you Cleo.”
“Were you expecting someone else?”
“My sister Vera. She said she’d call. I expect she’s too busy.”
“Are you OK? You sound a bit unfriendly.”
“I was going to tell you that I don’t want to be part of the new bookshop, Cleo.”
“It’s off anyway.”
“It was rather a barmy idea,” said Dorothy. “Didn’t Gary approve?”
“He’s had a better idea.”
“Let me guess. You are going to keep the agency open instead. That would be nice.”
“No, just offer consultations if anyone asks for one. Gary thought the village could use an antique shop.”
“Did he now? That was clever. I’d help you with that. Remember the fun we had at the Bring and Buy stall on the vicar’s lawn?”
“How could I forget?” said Cleo, remembering the trouble she had convincing people that it was not a swap-shop.
Events on the vicarage lawn were now a thing of the past, and people had never really understood that it was in aid of a good cause and was not an opportunity to dump garbage, but somewhere you could donate your overkill and buy other people’s, thus enhancing whatever good cause was being supported. Talking of village fetes, Cleo did not miss the sports events, run by Miss Plimsoll, Charlie’s sports teacher and a vicious hockey-player who evidently had a grudge against humanity. That was the only reason Cleo could think for driving people to do things that were strenuous and futile.
“If you come to the chorus auditions tomorrow evening we could talk about the antique shop idea, Cleo. Have you got time?”
“I was planning on coming out of curiosity, but not to sing.”
“I’ll see you there then. At seven sharp if you don’t want to miss anything.”
“I’ll be there.”
Gary was well pleased with the solution he had thought up for Cleo’s determination to do something with the office. He had known that it could not go on for ever with Cleo as a stay-at-home wife and now he had hit on a plan that would please everyone.
“So Dorothy’s in on it, I take it,” he said later as he made coffee in between helping Cleo to clear up the kitchen.
“She is, and you’re making great strides as a houseman, Gary,” Cleo said.
“It’s my turn for the kitchen so you’re helping me, technically speaking. It’s in the marriage contract, isn’t it?”
“Reading between the lines, I suppose it is.”
“I know of a few subliminal customs I prefer,” said Gary.
“Such as borrowing my kimono?”
Cleo took her coffee into the bedroom, proceeded to take off all her clothes and put on her kimono instead.
“Maybe the au pair will enjoy washing up,” said Cleo as Gary followed her.
“I’d borrow your kimono if you didn’t have it on.”
“Here you are,” said Cleo.
“You’ll catch cold.”
“Not under the hot shower,” she replied, streaking into the bathroom.
“Good idea,” said Gary, “even if hot showers are not in the marriage vows.”
A quick check revealed that all the children were asleep except for Charlie and Lottie who were next door at Joe’s.
“Subliminal again. You are referring to that bit about ‘for hot and for cold’, I expect,” said Cleo.
Moments later the water was gushing out of the king-size shower head.
“In a steaming hot shower where everything is good rather than bad, can I have some shampoo, Cleo?”
“I’ll give you a head massage.”
“What luxury. I don’t expect a head massage from an au pair,” said Gary.
“We could be getting an au pair guy.”
“The agency said to tick the box for girl or guy so I ticked both.”
“So I can’t see the au pair being fair game unless you’ve changed your preferences,” said Cleo.
“I’m not planning to,” said Gary. “I hope you are not planning on having a toy-boy. Can we get some shut-eye now?”
But Cleo had not finished with the topic of au pairs.
“I know of husbands who treat au pair girls as bedfellows while their wives are out working.”
“I am unlikely to look anywhere else for a shower partner or a bedfellow after working so hard to persuade the one I have to be one.”
“You couldn’t afford to, Gary.”
“I admit that’s a consideration.”
“That remark is worthy of a cold shower.”
“Spare me, please! I’m just getting warmed up.”
A veil shall be drawn over the rest of this family exploit.
By Tuesday evening, when the chorus was hoped to be expanded by a few strong vocalists, Dorothy had made a list of possible names for the chorus. From Village Songsters to Ladies’ Night, all her ideas were written down. Sweet Sisters, Keys’ Kittens, Good Girls, Ladies Calling, Silver Singers … you name it, it was listed. In case of eventualities, some mixed chorus names would be on the list. A vote would be taken so that the chorus could be known by its new name from the word go. Dorothy would then bow out gracefully. At least, that was the plan.
Lisa Keys was nervous. When she arrived at Upper Grumpsfield church hall, where the rehearsals took place, she was even more agitated to see a crowd of women of all ages waiting at the door.
“Are you all singers?” she asked.
“We’ve come for the audition, Miss,” they answered.
Lisa opened up and went inside, wondering what she had let herself in for. Dorothy had earlier set up a table in front of the little stage. Lisa would sit and listen, taking notes and only excluding the tone deaf from the new chorus. Dorothy would be on stage at the piano ready to help anyone who could not sing a scale or a little song on her own. Not many of the contenders were male. Dorothy thought it would be more polite to send them home now, but Lisa thought they should all be given a crack, so they were.
“We’ll start the ball rolling with the gentleman carrying a guitar,” said Lisa. “Name?”
“I’m Herbert Hilton,” said Herbert in a fake Texan accent.
Everyone oohed and aahed at the hill-billy rendering that followed. Lisa promised to let him know. The don’t-call-us-we’ll- call-you judgement was an important addition to the casting routine, it transpired.
One by one the former Finch Nightingales were put through their paces. Either they had not learnt much under Mrs Finch’s direction and not added anything to it while Lester Keys was coaching them, or they had picked up a tip or two during the weeks Lisa Keys had been in charge, or – and this usually applied - they had forgotten it all. Lisa became ever more depressed as the evening wore on.
The final exponent was an old regular, Barbarella Knowles, who had not been at any of earlier rehearsals with Miss Keys. She had had many different jobs and was very loud voiced, with a large appearance, an unhealthily florid complexion and very belligerent personality. On hearing that this candidate had been a member previously, but had just recovered from a bout of chicken pox, Lisa wondered how Lester had put up with it for as long as he did. Barbara, alias Babsi, Babe or Baby depending on your relationship with her, produced a rendering of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ that had to be heard to be believed. As a hard-core, hard-hitting former member of Laura Finch’s chorus, Babsi had been a leading light when it came to mobbing poor Laura out of her director seat.
“Which voice did you sing in the chorus,” Lisa asked, not just for something to say. She was inclined to cast Babsi in a beatbox role.
“I can sing anything,” said Babsi.
“And I could accompany her, called Mr Smith the local postman, brandishing a trumpet. When the others are singing I can play,” he said, “unless you want me to sing, of course. I’m a competent bass with plenty of high notes.”
“I’ll let you know, Mr Smith,” Lisa commented, ignoring Dorothy’s gesticulation that amounted to don’t let him.
Since Mr Smith always had his trumpet with him, it took him no time at al to launch forth on the ‘rainbow song’, thus encouraging Babsi to proceed with the second verse. The improvised duet silenced the loud murmuring of everyone in the hall and appalled anyone who was interested in joining a choir rather than a brass band.
Cleo secretly wondered if Babsi would be a good match for Robert. She would be much more suitable than Edith Parsnip, widow of the late vicar, with whom Robert was carrying on a sort of affair, though his sex drive in no way matched hers in enthusiasm and – it has to be said – perseverance. Edith Parsnip had also turned up for the auditions and had rendered quite a nice version of Schubert’s trout song. Lisa had immediately decided to include Edith, for which Edith was truly thankful.
Mr Morgan still fancied her and had done so ever since he got to Upper Grumpsfield to take up his organ post, although meeting Clare, Edith’s identical twin sister, had thrown his emotions into disarray for some time.
Getting into a different chorus from the church choir would be a feather in Edith’s cap. Being near to Robert would benefit both of them; her womanly wiles would take care of Robert’s ungentlemanly reticence.
Edith had not had much of a life before the untimely death of the vicar, which was inadvertently (?) sped on by an inadvisable dose of arsenic that Edith had given to him to teach him a little lesson for behaviour that was less than dignified for a vicar. Her period of what the judge called imbalance of mind - since her innocent appearance did not appear evil - had been therapized.
A veil should be drawn over Edith’s version of the therapy, which was accompanied by indiscriminate sex with paying clients at a farmhouse known for its reputation as a house of ill-repute, was now apparently over. The farming pimp was dead. She had returned to respectability and Robert. She was going to be a model vicar’s widow. In time she would even persuade Robert to marry her, she had decided. He was taken care of all day in his shop and Edith could use the days doing whatever she chose. Candidates for sharing those empty hours could be found easily and the resulting improvement in her cash flow was an added bonus. Edith did not regard her erotic activities as prostitution.
On the way out at the end of the rehearsal, Edith announced to Cleo that she was going to see Robert. Cleo told her that since she no longer married to Robert it was really none of her concern, but Edith insisted on assuring Cleo that she was looking after Robert’s needs since he was lonely. That left nothing to Cleo’s imagination since she knew all about Edith’s extraordinary transformation into a vamp.
Having auditioned the candidates, Louisa was in two minds about the chorus. Dorothy pleaded with her to give it a try. Lisa said she would on condition that Dorothy helped. Lisa looked to Cleo for clearance on that.
“Not for long, Lisa,” Cleo said, knowing how unwilling Dorothy was to work with or for that chorus. “Dorothy is planning to go into the antique business with me.”
Dorothy nodded assent. The main thing was that she was not going to be saddled with the Finch Nightingales for ever now that Lisa was going to stay.
The two sleuths extricated themselves prematurely from the rehearsal and made for home.
“I did not try the soup,” said Dorothy. “Jane’s soups are rather cloying even though she means well-.”
“Neither did I,” said Cleo. “I’m glad we did not stay to the end, Dorothy. The whole evening was a drag.”
“I’m not seriously thinking of helping out with that chorus.”
“You said you would but I knew you would rather do something else.”
“I crossed my fingers behind my back, Cleo.”
As they approached Dorothy’s cottage, Cleo having accompanied her friend past her own cottage to get there, Dorothy could not resist asking Cleo what she thought about Edith visiting poor Robert.
“Do you know, Dorothy, in the meantime he may have got to like being seduced by a woman weighing about a third of his tonnage. It takes all sorts.”
“I suppose so. To change the subject, I’ll start sorting out stuff for the antique shop. That will keep me busy and stop me thinking about Edith’s misdemeanours and Robert’s stupidity.”
“We’ll sell on commission, Dorothy. Ask around who wants to sell stuff. They’ll get 80% of what they are asking for it or what we can get for it. That should give us a flying start while we amass stuff from house sales and so on. I’ve notice how cheaply some things are almost given away when the relatives of the deceased just want to be rid of them.”
“Did Gary work all that out?”
“No, but he’ll agree to it. I think he’s hoping to start a family business that way.”
“Let me know when you need me, Cleo. I’m really quite excited.”
It would have been nice to report that the Hurleys drank their nightcaps, took a sensual shower and fell into bed and into each other’s arms, but it didn’t happen quite like that.