Author’s Note: More background developments developing, potentially far more exciting than my previous announcement, which was exciting enough in itself. Goodness. I can’t say anything else for another couple of months because I won’t know more until then myself.
For once Mrs Woosencraft’s front door was firmly. Tim lifted the iron knocker and banged three times. Inside the cat box Morse gave a plaintive cry.
Mrs Woosencraft opened the door almost immediately. ‘Bore da,’ she said. ‘Come on in and take your jacket off. I can’t wait to hear where you found her.’
Tim followed her down the hall past the quiet dining room with its ticking clock and into the back room. Two cats peered down at him on the stairs, another trotted in from kitchen.
Mrs Woosencraft rubbed her hands. ‘Let’s have a look at her.’
Tim put the cat box onto the settee. He opened the lid, lifted Morse into his arms and faced Mrs Woosencraft.
‘Oh,’ she said as her face fell. ‘Bugger.’
Tim felt not one ounce of sympathy. ‘What’s going on, Mrs Woosencraft?’
Mrs Woosencraft dropped into her chair. ‘A good question, bachgen. And well put.’
Tim narrowed his eyes. ‘I don’t want you to call me that anymore. I thought we were friends. I was wrong.’
Mrs Woosencraft looked embarrassed, almost ashamed. ‘Let me put the kettle on. A cup of tea and a scone from the oven.’
It sounded nice but Tim hardened his heart. ‘You kidnapped my cat, Mrs Woosencraft. I don’t think that is too strong a word for it. You kidnapped him and dyed him. Not only did you make him look like your cat, but you did something to him so he thought he was her too. That’s not kind, it’s not nice, it’s certainly not what friends do. I’m still not sure if he’s back to normal.’
Mrs Woosencraft peered intently at Morse and her eyes widened. ‘He’s Morse, all right. Somebody undid it all, somebody who knew a thing or two. Take it from me.’
‘He doesn’t seem the same to me.’
‘He’s just got a few things to think about.’
‘So would I if I’d been hypnotised into thinking I was female.’
Mrs Woosencraft winced. ‘I don’t blame you for being angry. I’m sorry and I mean it, but I had my reasons. Selfish ones maybe, but important just the same.’
‘I worry that you wouldn’t believe me.’
‘That’s what Foxy said. You’ll have to try harder.’
Mrs Woosencraft’s mouth hung open. ‘Was it her who fixed Morse?’
‘If you mean did she drench him in freezing cold salt water, then yes.’
A hopeful look flickered across Mrs Woosencraft’s face. ‘Are you sure you don’t want a drink? I know it’s early but personally I could use a large sherry. About half a pint.’
Perhaps alcohol would make her more talkative. ‘Make it a proper one.’
‘Then I’ll get the scotch.’
Whisky for breakfast. Bring it on.
Mrs Woosencraft felt both shamed and elated. Yes, she’d done everything Tim had accused her of, she’d abused his friendship and more. But Morse had found her!
She had never truly believed such a complex spell would work. Nevertheless, she had to take the chance. Back in Wales the numbers had been so clear, they said this was what she should do, that this was the best place to search. She had never actually thought it would happen. Not now, not at her age.
Used properly the power, the strength of Deg Naw Wyth was unfailing. And she had used it properly. A lifetime of practice had ensured that. There was always room for doubt, sometimes the answer you got wasn’t quite the one to the question you asked. And that usually meant you hadn’t asked the question you thought you had.
‘I think Morse will be happier back in his box,’ Mrs Woosencraft said as she fetched the drinks. She was right, given the chance he eagerly climbed back in, curled up and promptly fell asleep.
Mrs Woosencraft poured sherry for herself and a surprisingly good peaty Islay for Tim. Lifting her own glass, she took a deep swallow. Tim cut the scotch with a little water.
‘Tell me about the woman who found Morse,’ Mrs Woosencraft said.
Tim shook his head. ‘No. You owe me. You answer my questions first.’ He knocked the whisky back, banged the glass on the table and leaned forward. ‘So, Mrs Woosencraft. Dorothy. Bachgen. What the fuck is going on?’
Tim expected his language to shock the old lady but he was disappointed. Mrs Woosencraft finished her sherry and refilled both glasses. Her grey eyes glittered as she said, ‘I’m a witch, see.’ She wiggled her fingers at Tim. ‘I can do magic.’
Then it was Dorothy Woosencraft’s turn to be disappointed. Tim had had no breakfast, that double measure of high quality scotch surged through his stomach wall and into his bloodstream like water poured over sand.
‘So you’re a witch. Well, I’ve done some divining and do you know what? It worked. Not how I expected, but thinking about it I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve always believed there was more to the world than the things we can see. In fact that’s how I try to solve crime. It’s why I left the police.
‘Foxy was right about you. An old lady living on her own, a house full of cats, and you’re not scared to leave the front door open. What does surprise me is that I never noticed. Was that another of your spells? Another part of your sinister deception.’
Mrs Woosencraft looked genuinely hurt. ‘I am not sinister. I make biscuits.’
‘You have to admit you show some of the symptoms.’
Mrs Woosencraft didn’t much like being told she had symptoms either but now wasn’t the time to be taking offence. She didn’t have the right. She tried to stay focused. ‘My turn. Tell me about this Foxy.’
‘She’s the woman who found your cat. My cat. Morse.’
‘Foxy’s her real name?’
‘Foxy Bolivia, yes.’
Now Mrs Woosencraft did look surprised. ‘You mean as in the Bolivian Foxtrot? The naughtiest thing you can do standing up in public–’
‘Without getting arrested, yes, yes. I’m surprised you know that.’
‘It may have been a while ago, but I was young once. And I was married at a time when people knew how to dance properly.’
‘Maybe I’ll take some lessons.’
‘Not with her, Tim. I don’t think she could manage the footwork.’ Mrs Woosencraft reached for Tim’s hand. ‘Tell me you haven’t kissed her?’
Tim pulled his fingers from her papery grip. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘She’s a mermaid.’
Tim gave her a long, steady look, then burst out laughing. ‘You’re a witch and she’s a mermaid. Is this what this is all about? You think she’s a mermaid? You really do.’
‘I said you wouldn’t believe me.’
‘She’s a woman. She’s got legs.’
‘You’ve seen them?’
Tim’s silence was enough.
‘I thought not. Narrow skirts, nice shoes, long hair, combs it a lot.’
‘Plenty of women are like that.’
‘I’ve studied this type pretty thoroughly, believe me. My search has been long, and until now, fruitless.’
‘Then you’ll also know she’s pregnant.’
Mrs Woosencraft’s sherry glass slipped through her fingers and smashed on the stone floor. ‘Drat. Never mind. Tim, listen, this is important. I came to Brighton to find a mermaid but I couldn’t use my magic to find her directly because they have their own magic, Deep Magic. It’s very old and very strong. To catch a mermaid on dry land you have to fish for them with cats. The way I do it you need exactly nineteen. Nineteen is indivisible, see? One of the numbers that can’t be broken. I was getting somewhere until Un Deg Naw disappeared. I needed another cat, one that knew me. I was running out of time–’
There was a knock on the door. Mrs Woosencraft ignored it. ‘My cats found the mermaid but then I lost the cat that found her – Morse. Except Morse was now, shall we say, disguised as my cat. It was obvious to me what was going on. Find the cat, find the mermaid. That’s where you came in, Tim. You must tell me where she –’
The knock came again.
‘I’ll get it,’ Tim said, happy to interrupt a monologue that belonged in a room with deep-buttoned walls.
He opened the front door to be confronted by Dolores Vogler.
‘Dolores, what are you doing here?’
‘Hello, Mr Wassiter. What an unexpected surprise,’ Dolores said. ‘I’m looking for someone called Dorothy Woosencraft.’
Tim felt light-headed. ‘This is where she lives.’
Dolores sniffed the air in front of Tim’s face. ‘Have you been drinking?’
‘All things considered, no more than absolutely necessary.’
Mrs Woosencraft pushed past Tim. ‘You again. What do you want?’
Dolores turned to Tim in bemusement. ‘I don’t know what she means.’
‘Oh, you dirty little fibber,’ Mrs Woosencraft said.
Dolores’ eyes narrowed. ‘If you weren’t so old–’
‘You wouldn’t dare!’
Tim took hold of Dolores arm and whispered, ‘She’s not having a very good day. She thinks one of my friends is a mermaid.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with me or my ears,’ Mrs Woosencraft snapped. ‘If I say she’s a mermaid it’s because she bloody well is, not because I’ve gone soft in the head.’
A man Tim did not recognise walked up to the door. He was in late middle age and dressed in pale blue slacks, a charcoal jacket and collarless shirt, and rather incongruously a white Stetson. He held out his hand. ‘Mr Wassiter, an unexpected surprise. We meet at last, I am Markus Koponen.’
Tim didn’t feel like shaking hands. ‘I found your car.’
Koponen gave him a brilliant smile. ‘Indeed you did. I am using it today. You have also done something which is difficult to put a true value on. As for the real nature of your friend, why don’t you ask her yourself? Ms Bolivia is travelling with us in my Mercedes.’
Parked in the street Tim saw the beautiful and imposing Airflow Imperial Eight. In front of it was the low-slung cream Mercedes. There were three figures inside, all female. The driver and one of the rear-seat passengers wore red. The other had a head of hair so golden it shone. It could only be Foxy.
At some unknown impulse she turned. Her face was pale. She saw Tim and raised her hand.
Koponen extracted a thin white envelope from his jacket’s inside breast pocket and handed it to Mrs Woosencraft. ‘Payment in full, with my thanks.’
Mrs Woosencraft took it quickly and wordlessly, unable to meet Tim’s accusing eyes.
Koponen checked his watch. ‘It’s time we were off. I have a ship to catch.’ He studied Tim thoughtfully. ‘Mr Wassiter, I think you should accompany us.’
‘No, thanks.’ Tim gathered himself, ready to shove past Koponen and run.
Koponen’s hand slipped smoothly into his hip pocket. The material jutted forward in exactly the way it would if the hand held a gun. Tim subsided and watched Koponen warily.
‘I see you’ve noticed how serious I am. We’ll ride together in the back of the Chrysler.’
Dolores slipped her arm through Tim’s. ‘I’ll walk you there.’
‘Don’t go,’ Mrs Woosencraft exclaimed. ‘None of you. I’ve seen it, a journey across water into danger.’
‘Really?’ Markus Koponen said, startled. ‘Through your magic?’
‘Two groups of four people travel towards their doom.’
‘Then I can reassure you because there are only three people in the Imperial. Much as I respect your gifts, this time you are mistaken.’
As Tim climbed into the back of the Imperial he had another surprise: Troy Jarglebaum sat at the wheel.
‘Troy,’ Tim said. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’
Jarglebaum gripped the wheel. ‘I sub-contract. Get in the car, kid. Time and tide, we’re on a schedule.’
‘Troy, help me. Koponen’s got a gun.’
‘What?’ Jarglebaum’s head snapped round. He took in Koponen’s pose with his hand in his jacket pocket in an instant. His big jaw worked, his tombstone teeth showed in a helpless grin. ‘Oh, that’s good.’ He wiped a tear from his eye. ‘Everything’s OK, Tim. Koponen’s not going to shoot anyone, trust me.’
Tim slid warily across the rear seat behind Jarglebaum. Koponen climbed in and pulled the door shut with a soft clunk. The cars swept away.
Mrs Woosencraft looked down at the white envelope in her hand and found her tongue. ‘I didn’t do it for the money, Tim,’ she called out in a quavering shout. ‘It wasn’t just for the money.’
The cars turned at the end of the road and were gone.
‘I’ll look after Morse for you,’ she whispered. ‘I’ll take good care of him. See if I don’t.’
To be continued…
 This is very like cooking. All recipes work perfectly; it’s just that sometimes you’re just not baking what you think you are.