Chapter 42 – A Friendly Visit
Never before had Mrs Woosencraft been concerned about leaving the front door on the latch. As she looked at the three women in her tiny front garden she wondered if Tim hadn’t been right to worry. Her feelings of trepidation grew when she saw their car, a cream drop-head Mercedes. These were the women who had visited Tim a few days ago. Close up they didn’t look very nice at all.
However you looked at them they looked like trouble. All three looked like cruel little girls all grown up. It wasn’t that they didn’t care about being noticed, they flaunted it.
The one in front, with her spiky hair, white boots and fish-nets showed too much leg for her age, and was full of that cocksure aggression people these days called ‘attitude’. Beside her the platinum blonde radiated a glacial, intellectual cruelty Mrs Woosencraft found quite disturbing. Behind them a darkly voluptuous woman tugged down the hem of her jacket and smiled.
You’re almost normal, Mrs Woosencraft thought. Almost. The one who likes to watch and pretends that if she doesn’t join in she’s not involved.
Out on the street Mrs Woosencraft would have been vulnerable. In her own house, surrounded by her collections, her possessions and her paraphernalia, she was much safer. The white boots of the spiky-haired one who had pushed open the door and rung the bell were still outside the threshold. That proved a couple of things at least.
Mrs Woosencraft put on her best quavery old-lady voice. ‘Hello dearies. How may I help you?’
The one with spikey hair bared her teeth. ‘Go and put the kettle on, little old lady, or whatever it is you do. We’ve come from Koponen. He wants to know what’s going on.’
Mrs Woosencraft held her ground. ‘And you are?’
Mrs Woosencraft peered myopically and let her head wobble. ‘What a lovely name. Why don’t you come through and sit down. I’ve just baked a nice seed cake.’
Imelda stepped into the hall. There was a sudden scrabble of cats racing upstairs and the rattle of the kitchen door flap as others fled into the garden.
Mrs Woosencraft led the way into her suddenly quiet house. Her age-seamed mouth pursed, her eyes narrowed. Concealed by her body her fingers touched tip to tip, constantly moving, tapping together. Under her breath she was counting, counting, counting. One, two, three. Five, seven, eleven–
‘Make yourselves comfy.’ Mrs Woosencraft called as she bustled in the kitchen. ‘Tea all round?’
Imelda leaned in the doorway. ‘Where’s your whisky?’
‘I don’t believe in the strong stuff. I can do you a sweet sherry if you’d rather.’
The kettle boiled, Mrs Woosencraft set out the tea things on a tray and brought it through.
Imelda blocked the way. ‘Mind you don’t slip on those flagstones and break your hip.’
‘Don’t you worry, dear. I’m quite safe in what is, after all, my home. Now, step aside and let me pass.’
Smiling thinly Imelda stepped aside.
The platinum blonde sat in Mrs Woosencraft’s personal armchair. Straight-backed, feet together, one hand on each arm, somehow she seemed regal. The chair’s threadbare wings, cat-scratched legs and aged antimacassar had become an ancient throne.
‘Shall I be mother?’ Mrs Woosencraft balanced the tray of cups, plates, cake and teapot on the small table. ‘What can I get you, Miss–?’
‘I’m Electra.’ The woman in Mrs Woosencraft’s chair held out her slim, pale hand.
Unbidden, Mrs Woosencraft’s own hand lifted. With a conscious effort she turned it aside and took hold of the teapot. ‘One lump or two? Surely not three. Five–’
‘I’m sweet enough.’
Mrs Woosencraft looked into her pale blue eyes and saw a glimmer of respect. She turned to the black-haired woman. What can I get you, Miss–?’
‘It’s Dolores. White and no sugar, thank you.’
‘And some seed cake?’
Cup, teapot and strainer chinked together. ‘I hope you don’t mind odd cups and plates. It’s all that’s left,’ Mrs Woosencraft said.
‘I think they’re pretty.’
‘Charmed.’ Mrs Woosencraft sat on the piano stool and folded her hands in her lap. ‘Now, drink your tea and tell me what you want.’
‘Koponen wants to know where she is,’ Electra said.
‘I don’t know.’
‘The missing cat. Mr Wassiter was looking but he tells me he’s been very busy looking for your car instead.’
‘Nice Mr Wassiter.’ All three women smiled wide, bright smiles. ‘We think you should try harder.’
‘I need nineteen cats and one is–’
The room darkened as a cloud moved across the sun. A scuffing sound came from under Electra’s chair. A scruffy Manx cat with bald spots on its fur stuck out its head and said ‘Miaow’.
Scat, Pedwar. Scat! Mrs Woosencraft thought as hard as she could.
Pedwar broke for the kitchen door, baulked as Imelda blocked its path and tried to go back under the chair.
Electra scooped it up by the scruff of its neck. ‘What’s wrong with this one? It looks like it’s got mange.’
‘Just a little accident.‘
‘What happened to its tail, did you use scissors?’
‘It’s a Manx, they’re born like that.’
‘It’s a mess. Let me put it out of its misery.’ Imelda said. ‘If your spell’s broken what’s the difference?’
One of her hands encircled its neck, the other pulled at the patchy fur. Pedwar yowled and squirmed then fell still as she tightened her grip.
Mrs Woosencraft improvised a simple release cantrip. ‘I see three nice ladies who aren’t used to cats. I think I’m the only one of the five of us who knows what he wants.’
Twisting his head, Pedwar bit down on Electra’s fingertip. Electra gasped and let got. Pedwar dropped off her lap and ran under the piano stool behind Mrs Woosencraft’s legs.
Electra held up her finger. ‘It bit me.’
Dolores leaned forward and gasped. ‘Right through the nail.’
Electra inspected her finger. A fat drop of ruby blood welled from the hole in her nail then broke. A red rivulet ran down Electra’s arm, vivid against her white skin.
Imelda bent over Electra’s hand and swallowed her finger. Dolores wriggled and shifted her legs on the settee beside Mrs Woosencraft.
Enough was enough. It was time for some real magic. Mrs Woosencraft scooped up Pedwar and stood. ‘There are at least eleven things to remember about cats. One, they have seven lives; two, Pedwar has five left; three, five of–’
‘You can stop that. Right now.’ Electra’s voice was hard as old ice but held a brittle, nervous edge.
The air vibrated with energy from the part-cast spell. ‘How about another cuppa?’
Electra gave her a smile cold enough to freeze oxygen. ‘Stop buggering us about, old lady.’
‘And you,’ Mrs Woosencraft drew herself up to her full five foot nothing, ‘Paid a ffwcio da fi yn fy nhy’n hunan.’ 
‘This is just a friendly visit. We all want the same thing.’
‘Remind an old lady what that is, exactly.’
‘Find her. Find her fast. We’re tired of waiting.’
‘We don’t want to have to come back,’ Imelda said.
Dolores touched Mrs Woosencraft’s arm. ‘Please, you really wouldn’t like that.’
‘I’d like it,’ Imelda said.
‘I’m glad we understand each other a little better.’ Electra stood a foot taller than Mrs Woosencraft. She looked down at Pedwar, who bared his teeth and hissed.
‘Do you want to bite me again, nasty cat?’ Electra held out her hand. ‘Here you are.’
Pedwar sank his teeth into Electra’s palm. Electra closed her eyes and shuddered. ‘Well, this is nice, but I don’t have all day.’
Pedwar opened his mouth and spat.
Imelda sauntered out through the front door.
‘Thank you for the tea,’ Dolores said.
Electra held out her hand. Pedwar hissed and she laughed coldly. ‘Be a good little old lady and do your job.’
As soon as they were gone Mrs Woosencraft shut the front door. Then she bolted it.
‘Well done, you brave, foolish little cat,’ she said and hugged Pedwar tight.
The encounter had exhausted her. She returned to the back room, sat on the settee, pursed her lips at the undrunk cups of tea and scowled at her favourite armchair. She didn’t fancy sitting in it just now, not until she’d purified it with something powerful, something from at least the seventeenth path. Pedwar settled onto her lap and she absently stroked him. It would have to wait for when she had more energy and focus.
Poor Tim. What have I got you into? As if I haven’t treated you badly enough anyway. What a foolish, selfish old lady I have become.
One by one her other cats crept back down the stairs or in through the cat flap. Some jumped up to sit beside her, others lay at her feet. Pedwar began to purr. Mrs Woosencraft closed her eyes.
Once again the room was full of cats. Some slept, others groomed themselves. The Siamese licked each other’s fur. Mrs Woosencraft’s hand slipped from Pedwar and she began to snore.
To be continued…
 Don’t push you luck in my home. (Or something like that.)