Mrs Woosencraft recognised the distinctive tone of the Imperial as the car pulled up outside. Filled with trepidation she listened to the doors open and close and the car move away. The knock on the door was no surprise. Reluctantly she prepared herself, walked down the hall and opened her front door. What would be, would be.
‘I’ve come for Morse,’ Tim said. Beside him was the young golden-haired woman called Foxy Bolivia who Mrs Woosencraft had glimpsed in the Mercedes yesterday, only yesterday.
Breathless with relief Mrs Woosencraft stepped back. ‘Best come in, then.’
A dozen cats made themselves scarce.
Morse lay curled up on the tatty old sofa in the back room.
Mrs Woosencraft could hardly keep her eyes off Foxy. There was an aura of wildness about the woman. Not of aggression but of freedom. She was someone who lived and was at home in the wider world. The deeper world. The thought made Mrs Woosencraft’s mouth dry with nerves.
She took in the weariness on Tim’s face, the ill-fitting boiler-suit and the fact he had no shoes. Weariness, and something else.
You’ve come through testing times, she thought. They have opened your eyes.
‘I’m glad you made it back,’ she said.
Tim nodded. ‘Thank you.’
‘I’ll put the kettle on.’
Tim sat down on the sofa, picked up Morse and scruffed the top of his head. ‘Tea would be lovely.’
Morse purred softly and pretended to go back to sleep. If cats could smile…
Mrs Woosencraft was almost but not absolutely sure. Hope put a catch in her voice. One short conversation in private… ‘Would you like to give me a hand in the kitchen, love?’
‘I could do with a hand.’
‘I’m sure you can cope.’
Mrs Woosencraft tried a different tack. ‘That’s Tim’s cat, Morse. I’ve been looking after it for him.’
‘I see it.’
‘Not a cat person, are you?’ Mrs Woosencraft said.
‘What are you supposed to make of an animal that likes fish but won’t go out in the rain?’
Mrs Woosencraft bit her lip. It’s you, Foxy Bolivia. It really is you and you are what they say you are. Oh, my goodness gracious me.
Even with that realisation, it was cats they were talking about so she tried for the last word. ‘You’re not meant to try to understand them. Just accept them for what they are.’
‘Some things are unacceptable.’
She means me and I deserve it, Mrs Woosencraft thought sadly. Deserve it in spades. Oh dear, oh deary me I’m in trouble now. Oh, bugger me sideways with champion leeks.
The simple of ritual of warming the pot, spooning leaves and brewing was as calming as ever. Some of Mrs Woosencraft self-confidence returned.
This was her house, after all, she told herself. And that meant a fair bit, even in this day and age.
She carried the tray into the back room. Tim and Morse occupied the sofa. Like Electra, Foxy had chosen the armchair, the one the cats knew not to sit in.
She put the tray down, sat on the piano stool and looked Foxy up and down.
And she could not help herself, she was just too excited. Things hadn’t gone as she’d hoped (there had never been a plan, just expectations). Yet now it looked as if it might now work out. She rubbed her hands and beamed her best sweet little old lady smile.
‘You really are her, aren’t you? The one we’ve all been looking for. The mermaid.’
Foxy looked down her nose at the dumpy little old lady. ‘And you’re a witch.’
‘Oh, but I knew it! This is wonderful, I’m so–’
‘You’re so sorry?’ Tim said sharply.
Mrs Woosencraft dipped her head. ‘Yes. You are absolutely right. Listen to me go on.’ She pressed her hands together. ‘Tim, I am very sorry for deceiving you. I have not behaved like a friend.’
Tim looked at her steadily. So did Morse.
Sitting on the piano stool with her feet not quite touching the ground Mrs Woosencraft felt a little interrogated. She bowed her head. ‘I’m sorry for the cat-napping too.’
She turned to Foxy. ‘And I’m very sorry for what you’ve been through, pet. Markus Koponen isn’t a bad man.’
‘Wasn’t,’ Tim corrected. ‘The last time we saw him he was trying to launch a boat from a sinking ship.’
That knocked her back. She’d known bad things were coming but to have them confirmed– ‘He might have made it.’
‘So might Troy, but Imelda hurt him badly.’ Tim sketched in the details of the fight and what had happened to Koponen’s women.
‘I tried to warn Markus. You were there Tim, you heard me.’ Mrs Woosencraft chewed her thumbnail. ‘I should have tried harder, I should have made him listen to the truth–’
There was scant sympathy in Foxy’s voice. ‘Yes, let’s have your version of the truth.’
‘Well–’ Mrs Woosencraft wriggled her bottom, she scratched behind an ear. ‘Well– It’s like this. You might not believe it but I was–’
‘There’s a lot I believe today that I didn’t yesterday, so just tell us,’ Tim said.
His sharp words were a verbal slap and brought her to her senses. ‘I was on my uppers, stoney broke and Koponen offered me money. Then I was one cat short, I’d been paid and I’d made a promise. Whatever you might think I’ve got my standards. I needed nineteen, you see? Nineteen cats to make it work.’ Her hands dropped into her lap and she sighed. ‘It all seemed so reasonable at the time. Looking back I can see how I talked myself into it. I thought it would all be all right, I’d be able to find Foxy first, we could have our little chat and you could go on your own way. All sorted out nicely. I never wanted any trouble, it’s all been very upsetting.’
Tim and Foxy exchanged puzzled
glances. Tim poured the tea. ‘I think you’d better start at the beginning.’
 Was it affection or was it relief? No doubt a bit of both. After all, meal ticket #1 was back in town.
To be continued…