Someone was ringing the doorbell and they were ringing it a lot. Long, sustained rings came interspersed with short finger-jabs. Sets of equal-length jangles stretched into a great, drawn-out clamouring, grew shorter and closer together before ceasing entirely. After a brief pause another manic pattern began.
‘I’m coming,’ Tim shouted. The ringing continued unabated. ‘I’m coming.’
Nobody but nobody ever rang the doorbell. He’d forgotten it was there let alone that the thing still worked. It had to be kids or some hyper-active delivery person. It wouldn’t be Smith, he always used the phone.
As he hurried down the stairs a sustained ring passed a sonic pain threshold and bored like a drill in his skull.
‘Stop it!’ Tim flung open the door. ‘What the f–?’
‘Hello!’ Foxy cheerfully shouted above the sound of the bell. Dressed in a soft high-collared raspberry top, cream pencil skirt and shoes that seemed to consist of nothing but arching heels and ankle straps, she danced on her toes. ‘I need a bell, let’s go shopping.’
Tim stared in amazement, blinked, swallowed, then lifted her finger away from the bell. ‘No. Believe me, you do not. Nor do your neighbours.’
Foxy’s face fell. ‘You’re cross with me. You gave me your card and I came to see you. Now, without saying a word, apart from these words now, somehow I’ve upset you.’
‘Most people just ring once or twice. Short rings.’
‘I’ll do that next time.’ Foxy drew a finger across and down her chest. ‘Cross my heart and hope to die.’
She looked so serious, Tim’s irritation evaporated. ‘Come on in. It’s good to see you.’
‘Yes, it really is.’
Tim stood to one side and Foxy stepped past him into the hall bringing a sea-fresh aroma with her.
At the top of the stairs Foxy was still apologetic. ‘The button said ‘Press’, so I pressed it.’
‘It really doesn’t matter.’
‘OK.’ Foxy looked around Tim’s second-hand furnished office with approval. ‘So, this is where you hang out and do your detectiving.’
Tim considered the balding carpet, battered desk and faded paintwork. ‘It’s a start, I’m going to–’
‘It’s wonderful!’ Foxy spun full circle. Her rotating heel bored a hole through the old carpet, the torn warp and weft gathered in a ball under her shoe.
‘You like it?’ Tim said, surprised and pleased.
‘Do I ever. You must have worked so hard to get this look. It’s so run down, authentic “shabby noir”, just the right side of sleazy.’
Was that a compliment? Tim hoped so. ‘I just threw a few things together.’
As she turned into profile Tim noticed her tummy had the slightest and to his mind delightful bump. It was a stomach that should be stroked, Tim fantasised, quite sure that if stomachs had opinions that was exactly what it would want. Stroked, or used as pillow after…
‘What’s wrong?’ Foxy tugged down the hem of her top. ‘Doesn’t this go? I thought it was OK.’
‘No, it’s fine, I– Would you like some tea?’
‘I don’t like hot drinks.’
‘Do I look dry?’
Not in the slightest, Tim thought, caught by the band of dusty freckles under her eyes. ‘I’m just trying to help you relax.’ He pointed to the chair. ‘Please, sit down.’
‘No thanks. It’s not easy–’ Foxy thought for a moment, ‘–in this skirt. But you’re right, I’m all agitated. You noticed because you’re a detective. You gave me your card and here I am, for your detective help.’
Disappointment fleetingly clouded Tim’s mind. ‘Is it the cats?’
‘Oh, you’re good, aren’t you? First you notice I’m a bit stressed, then you guess it’s the cats.’
‘I used to be in the police but I wasn’t very successful,’ Tim said and immediately wondered why he confessed to that.
‘Everyone knows the police are slow and stupid.’
Troy Jarglebaum’s paunchy, jowled bulk loomed in Tim’s mind. ‘Not all of them. Some are clever and sly.’
‘The police wouldn’t help me. They just laughed and told me to keep my doors and windows shut. They’re still all over the place. Somehow they keep getting in, they won’t leave me alone.’
‘The cats. One or two I can deal with, but there’s too many. I’m running out of places to…’ Foxy’s hand went to her mouth. ‘Where’s your cat?’
‘I don’t know. He went missing a few days ago.’
‘Oh goodness, what does he look like?’
‘He’s a Turkish Van, white with a ginger tail and ears.’
‘I haven’t seen one like that.’
‘Well… That’s a good thing, probably. Can you find out where they’re coming from?’
‘No,’ Tim said. ‘But I might be able to make them go away.’
‘Good.’ Foxy produced a semi-circular mother-of-pearl comb and ran it through her hair, once to each side, and once down the middle. ‘I’m ready. What’s the plan?’
‘The pet shop in the south Lanes. We can get some humane pest control.’
‘That’s what cats are, aren’t they? Pests.’ Foxy spoke with some venom.
‘Not all of them,’ Tim protested.
‘Maybe not but they’re starting to get to me.’
To be continued…