Chapter 18 – Ffwch
Tim detoured past the local flower shop, bought a bunch of yellow and purple freesias and headed straight to Mrs Woosencraft’s house. Once again the front door was off the latch. He pushed it open and went into the hall.
‘Hello? Mrs W? It’s me, Tim.’
The house was silent, and strangely so, for there was no thump and scurry of cat paws hurrying downstairs to see who the visitor was. Nor was there a rattle of crockery in the kitchen or the sound of a badly-tuned radio.
‘I don’t pay any attention to what they’re on about,’ Mrs W once told Tim as he adjusted the dial. ‘It’s the company, see?’
Tim listened to the silence. The steady tick of the clock on the mantle in the front room only emphasised the stillness of the rest of the house.
She had not gone shopping. The one concession Mrs Woosencraft made to security was to lock the front door whenever she went out. At the far end of the hall the doorway to the back room acquired the aura of the entrance to a mausoleum. A sweet waft of scent came from the freesias. Tim’s imagination ran away with him: a pathetically motionless huddle under the blankets in the bedroom; stockinged feet among a scatter of baking trays behind the kitchen table. Bracing himself, he went into the back room.
Mrs Woosencraft sat in her upright chair. Her head was tipped back, her eyes were closed and her mouth hung open. A tangle of knitting lay on floor, a cold cup of tea sat on the nest of tables.
Tim had seen death several times when he was with the police, it had never been someone he knew. The flowers in his hand felt like cruel anticipation. He took her hand in his, it was cool but not cold.
A low organic grumbling came from the nether regions of the chair, Mrs Woosencraft let out an impressively sustained fart. Her nose twitched, she lifted her head, closed her mouth and opened her eyes. Her gaze swivelled towards Tim. They looked at each other uncomfortably. Tim let go of her hand.
‘Hello, Tim. Catch me having forty winks, did you?’ Mrs Woosencraft said.
‘I was worried. After yesterday I thought…’
‘Oh, don’t be so maudlin, I’ve a good few miles in me yet.’ Mrs Woosencraft wrinkled her nose. ‘Those cats and their digestion. I think it’s all that meat. Let’s get some fresh air in here.’
Mrs Woosencraft pushed herself out of the chair, took the step down into the kitchen with a roll of her hips and opened the kitchen door. ‘It’s brightening up and about time too. It’s not like me to drop off during the day.’ She spooned tea into the pot, filled the kettle and clanged it down on the hob. ‘Time for a cuppa.’
Tim held out the freesias. ‘I thought you’d like these.’
Mrs Woosencraft’s eyes almost disappeared among the wrinkles as she smiled. ‘Bless you, pet, I do. Let’s get them into water.’ She buried her face in the blooms. ‘Freesias are my favourite, a little old fashioned but so am I. Let’s be posh and put the tablecloth out for them.’
The cloth was old, heavy white linen hand-embroidered with violets, and roses in the corners and centre. Tim helped her smooth it out.
There.’ She put the vase on the table and looked at Tim. ‘Such a strong fresh scent.’
The sound of the kettle coming on was the only noise in the house. ‘Where are the cats?’
‘Oh, they’re here and there, looking for this and that like cats do.’
‘Mrs Woosencraft, your angina–’
She waved her hand dismissively. ‘It comes and goes–’
‘I was worried.’
‘I know, and I’d rather you didn’t. Now, tell me how things are going?’
‘I haven’t found out who MK is yet.’
Mrs Woosencraft became brisk. Cups and saucers clattered onto the table, teaspoons rattled, milk and sugar appeared in jug and bowl beside a plate of honey flapjacks. The kettle sang. She picked up the teapot, turned and knocked the pot against the corner of the oven. The spout detached itself from the pot with a musical clink and skittered across the worktop.
‘Blast and bother, look what I’ve done now! I’ve had that pot for ages. We’ll just have to have mugs and tea bags instead.’
Before long they were sitting at the table. One by one the cats appeared. Pedwar the Manx leapt onto the top of the dresser while others just seemed to materialise under the table.
‘Any news of Morse?’
‘No.’ Tim picked up the broken teapot spout and turned it round in his fingers. ‘I’m still looking for your cat too.’
Mrs Woosencraft patted Tim’s hand. He seemed so despondent. She subtly adjusted the position of her mug in relation to the freesia jar and tried a little cantrip. ‘In the last five years I’ve lost four cats, three came back, two are still with me so that just leaves the one. Now, tell me what happened since we last met.’
To his own surprise Tim found himself telling Mrs Woosencraft all about this girl with the long golden blonde hair and how she was so suspicious and distant. How she had needed help and he had tried to give it. That they had argued and for the life of him he couldn’t work out why, or what he had done wrong.
‘Of course you can’t, and there’s a perfectly simple explanation.’
‘Yes, bachgen, and it’s this – you’ve done nothing wrong. That’s why you can’t work it out, see?’
‘She likes you, she just hasn’t got used to the idea. Now tell me, when are you going to see her again?’
Tim’s shoulders slumped. ‘Never, probably. I don’t know where she lives.’
‘Well, that is a bit of a problem. Do you know where she works?’
‘I don’t even know what she does.’
‘Never mind. I’m sure something will happen.’
Tim idly matched the broken spout to the pot. ‘I don’t know.’
Mrs Woosencraft took the spout from him. ‘Here’s something we can fix straight away.’ She ducked under the sink, shooed an inquisitive cat away and emerged with an ancient and over-sized pot of contact glue with a crusted-over lid. She handed it to Tim. ‘Uncrack that will you?’
Tim twisted off the lid. Pungent vapours emerged, the pot was filled with white glue like viscous cream. Mrs Woosencraft handed him an old wooden spoon. He used the handle to smear glue on the two sides of the break and left them to dry.
All the cats pricked up their ears and turned to look at the kitchen door.
An enormous bumblebee with a furry black body and orange bottom zoomed through the open door and circled the kitchen. Down on the floor cats danced on their hind legs and patted the air with their forepaws. Up on the dresser Pedwar followed the bee with rapt fascination.
Droning like a saw the bee battered against the window and swung back towards the flowers. Pedwar leapt off the dresser, landed on the tablecloth and swept the flowers and teapot towards the edge.
Mrs Woosencraft snatched the flower vase away to safety.
Tim grabbed the pot and spout.
‘Glue!’ They both darted forward. And they both stopped to let the other one go first.
Cat, tablecloth and glue pot tumbled onto the floor.
The bumblebee looped around the room then zoomed through the outside door. The drone of its wings faded into the distance.
Mrs Woosencraft gingerly lifted one edge of the tablecloth. Tim peered past her arm. A pair of feline eyes blinked up at them from a small cave dripping with white glue.
‘Ffwch,’ Mrs Woosencraft said with feeling. She turned to Tim. ‘I’ll deal with this best on my own, pet. Get yourself home.’
It took some persuading but finally Tim was out the house. Mrs Woosencraft looked down at her glue-covered cat and swore at length and with admirable creativity. Accidents like this should not happen in her house and she was not happy at all. They should not happen because she had effective protection against such chaotic mishap. Which meant somebody was deliberately dicking her around. And to do that they must be using magic.
To be continued…
 Bother. (cough)