‘I don’t know what’s the matter with Effie,’ said Beryl. ‘She’s driving me barmy!’
The five Creaping Bottom Post Box Topper Society members followed her gaze towards the cleaner who was in the kitchen area of the café. Effie was filling in for Tilly who was on holiday.
Beryl had forgotten – or perhaps hadn’t bothered – to order a large enough Bonzer Buns’ shirt for her. Now, Effie’s generous proportions were squeezed into a t-shirt, bearing the café’s logo. She was wearing her own trousers and over that an apron that just managed to span her girth. The strings which went around Tilly twice, were just long enough to go around Effie once and to tie in a bow, although the tails were rather short.
The t-shirt, however, was another matter. The bun-eating kangaroo of the logo was so distended, it looked like a blue whale eating a boat, and it appeared as though the seams and fabric might not take much more. Each fibre was stretched to its maximum.
‘She’s gonna blow,’ Levi muttered, unable to take his eyes off the cleaner who’d selected the long-handled brush from her Weapons of Mess Destruction golf caddy and was reaching up to scrub away at the corner of the café’s ceiling.
Beryl rolled her eyes up until they almost disappeared inside her head. ‘She must’ve spotted another spider’s web.’ She sighed. ‘I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait for Tilly to come back. Fair dinkum. I know Effie is a beaut of a cleaner, but she’s a useless barista. Yesterday, she whipped away a cup of coffee from Colonel Mustford’s wife because it had a lipstick mark. A lipstick mark Mrs Mustford had just made on the cup after her first sip.’
Vera smiled sympathetically. ‘She’s definitely not herself. I’ve noticed she keeps dropping things. And tripping up.’
‘It’d help if she’d look where she was going. I don’t know if she’s got a crook neck but she’s permanently looking upwards. She’s so on edge. This morning, I asked her to take my electric fan upstairs and she nearly blew a gasket. She said she couldn’t manage the stairs, which is strange because she’d only just been up and down – and up again – carrying the hoover.’
‘Yes, I’ve noticed she’s jittery,’ said Vera. ‘It looks as though she’s frightened of her own shadow.’
Beryl nodded. ‘Although only if her shadow was hovering above her on the ceiling. It’s even worse when she goes outside. She puts her brolly up whatever the weather and drags that assorted long-handled tool caddy everywhere with her. It almost looks as though she’s expecting an attack from above.’
‘I blame her brother,’ said Stuart. ‘He’s always phoning her up asking her to come and rescue that damn parrot.’
‘Budgie,’ said Sally. ‘It’s a budgie not a parrot. Its name is Pegasus.’
‘So pedantic,’ muttered Stuart crossly.
‘Well, Tilly will be back soon,’ said Vera, who was keen to get on with the September topper planning meeting.
‘I’m not so sure about that,’ said Beryl. ‘For some reason, Effie’s convinced she’s run away. Joined a Flamenco troupe or something. What bunkum.’
‘Well, my nephew, Lucifer, needs a job so if Tilly doesn’t come back…’ Stuart left the suggestion hanging in the air.
Vera looked at Beryl. Guessing she was thinking the same as her. Would the young Lucifer be a smaller version of his uncle? Or a worse version of his namesake.
‘Well, let’s wait and see if Tilly comes back from Torremolinos,’ said Beryl. Luckily – or possibly, unluckily – Stuart hadn’t been able to press her about employing his nephew. A loud squeal from Effie and a clatter in the kitchen as she overbalanced and stumbled against the worktop knocking over a bottle of milk, called Beryl away.
Vera grimaced. That was going to take quite a bit of clearing up until it was done to Effie’s satisfaction. Still, it could be worse, at least the milk hadn’t gone over any of her society’s members. Petronella still hadn’t forgotten about the dry-cleaning bill for her coffee-stained skirt.
‘Right,’ Vera said brightly, rubbing her hands together. ‘Let’s get on with the September topper meeting.’
She read out the suggestions, deliberately finishing with Star Trek Day. Thankfully, although everyone championed their day as she mentioned it, as soon as she said, ‘Star Trek’, everyone’s eyes lit up.
‘What a super idea,’ said Sally. ‘And perhaps we could throw in a small teddy bear somewhere as a token to Teddy Bear Day?’
Feeling magnanimous since everyone had liked her suggestion, Vera agreed they could.
‘And what about something for Hobbit Day?’ asked Petronella.
Vera was sure they could sneak a Hobbit in there too. After all, who, at first sight, would know it wasn’t an alien?
‘And perhaps the crew could make crop circles?’ Levi asked.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said Stuart, and for once, Vera was glad he’d added his comment.
‘Well, you did say harvest,’ said Sally, ‘which of course, is an excellent idea, so perhaps they could eat apples or sandwiches made from harvested wheat?’
‘We’ll see,’ said Vera. Things weren’t exactly moving in the direction she had planned, and she wanted to keep expectations in check.
‘Sudoku?’ Stuart asked.
‘No!’ everyone said in unison.
‘I know,’ said Levi, ‘I’ve still got all the bits of that broken drone. Why don’t we get Ravi to put them back together and then we could modify it to look like a space shuttle taking off and landing.’
Vera was about to put a stop to that line of thought when there was another loud scream from Effie. She’d fainted away. Later, no one could remember if she’d shouted, ‘Groan,’ or if she had, indeed, groaned. But luckily, she’d slithered down the wall and hadn’t harmed herself. In the rush to help her, the idea of drones had been forgotten.
Once Effie had come around, Beryl tried to send her home, but she’d said she felt safer in the café.
There was definitely something not right with her, Vera thought. Still, back to the September topper meeting and the Star Trek Day plans.
‘May, the Force be with you,’ said Stuart.
Everyone stared at him.
‘That comes from Star Wars,’ said Petronella. ‘We’re talking about Star Trek.’
‘Beam me up, Spotty?’ said Stuart.
‘Scotty!’ Petronella and Sally said in unison.
‘Biscotti,’ said Beryl who’d returned to the table with a tray of sweet-smelling biscuits. ‘Beam me up, Biscotti’ She beamed with delight at her joke. ‘Bendigo Banana Biscotti. Bake of the Day and fresh from the oven.’
Thankfully, thought Vera, that had stopped Stuart’s quotes. And also a major altercation between Stuart and the ladies of the group.
‘How about a topper featuring ‘Beam me up, Scotty’?’ asked Levi. ‘We could have Perspex tubes and put knitted figures of the crew inside?
‘Won’t the wind blow them over?’ Vera asked doubtfully. It was actually a good idea – if they could make it work.
‘I could fashion something out of mesh that would present less wind resistance,’ said Levi.
‘It might be worth a go, it would look rather spectacular, just like the crew are being beamed up,’ said Petronella.
‘And I could put a sign in my window saying, Buy your “Beam-me-up-Biscotti here!” Beauty!’ said Beryl with a gleam in her eye.
Towards the end of August, Vera was getting nervous. Levi had still not produced what he considered were the perfect beam-me-up tubes. They all appeared to be fine to Vera who’d long since lost interest in how aesthetically pleasing the tubes were and just wanted something that was transparent and would remain vertical in a slight breeze. She was prepared to do various spot repairs throughout September if it turned out to be a windy month.
The seven crew members of the original series: Captain Kirk, Mr Spock, Dr McCoy, Scott, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov had all been knitted in Star Trek uniforms complete with miniature Starfleet logo. Levi may not have yet produced tubes to his satisfaction, but to Vera, the knitted figures of the crew were perfect. Even down to Spock’s hairstyle and ears.
Uhura was holding the hand of a Hobbit and Captain Kirk the paw of a teddy bear.
No apples, sandwiches, crop circles and definitely no Sudoku.
Stuart had, of course, felt the need to criticise. He’d suggested Uhura, as the only female member of the party, ought to hold the teddy bear but had been verbally savaged by Sally and Petronella. He hadn’t commented again.
If only Levi would hurry up with the beam-me-up tubes. Vera began to wonder if perhaps Levi was somehow trying to incorporate crop circles in the tubes but dismissed the thought as paranoia. Even Levi couldn’t do that.
Effie was finding it hard to breathe. Des had just phoned to say Pegasus was missing and could she come around to his flat and hunt for him. She’d explained she was covering for Tilly in Bonzer Buns and couldn’t just leave when she pleased but she’d be around later to help look. Panic was rising in her chest like steam bubbling through coffee. She hadn’t imagined serving in a café could be so complicated and as soon as Tilly was back, she’d happily relinquish her apron. She couldn’t wait.
Cleaning was her forte.
Coffees were not.
Although the cake samples were welcome. Beryl always needed a second opinion for her Cake of the Day batches. Effie had put on a few pounds since she’d been working in Bonzer Buns and that may also have contributed to her breathlessness. The t-shirt was too small, but Beryl had pointed out Tilly would be back shortly and then Effie wouldn’t need to wear the t-shirt again. Effie could cut herself out of it and consign the remnants to the bin.
When Tilly came back… Effie was more inclined to think not when, but if Tilly came back. On the odd occasion she’d texted, she’d hinted she’d like to stay in Spain.
The person Effie definitely didn’t want to come back, was Alice. Des hadn’t mentioned her having returned, so presumably, she was still enjoying the delights of Southend-on-Sea. Effie had scoured the Essex newspapers for murders but there hadn’t been any for some time. Well, she supposed, even serial killers needed a holiday…
Effie hurried away from Bonzer Buns after her shift, with her umbrella in one hand and dragging her trusty cleaning tools in their golf caddy in the other. Thankfully, the sky was clear of death drones although if she didn’t watch out, she’d break her neck tripping up kerbs. By the time she arrived at Hurrah House, she was hot and breathless. Why couldn’t her brother keep Pegasus in his cage?
Des opened the door to her with Pegasus sitting on his finger. ‘Look!’ he said happily, ‘Pegasus came back to me.’
‘Why didn’t you phone and tell me?’ Effie snapped.
‘He’s only just flown down from the chandelier,’ Des said, his face falling. ‘And don’t shout or he’ll fly off.’
Effie sighed. ‘I’m sorry, dear. It’s been one of those days.’
After tea, Effie felt a bit better and since Pegasus was safely back in his cage, Des was happy. After tidying up, Effie decided to go home.
Just as she was about to open the door, she thought it prudent to ask, ‘So your noisy next-door neighbour is still away then?’
‘Yes,’ Effie said nonchalantly.
‘No, she came back last week.’
‘Last week!’ Effie squeaked.
‘But you didn’t say. You haven’t complained about noise!’
‘There wasn’t any. She’s been very quiet since she got back from holiday. Anyway, why are you bothered? It’s not like she’s ever kept you up at night.’
She’s kept me up every night since I broke into her flat, thought Effie but of course, she couldn’t tell Des that.
‘Shall I get Pegasus out of his cage to say goodbye?’ Des asked as Effie picked up her umbrella to leave.
‘No!’ Effie said firmly, fearing another budgie escape and rescue mission. She wanted to go home – especially now she knew Alice was only a few yards away on the other side of the wall.
In fact, she needed to get out, suddenly the Bonzer Buns’ t-shirt appeared to have shrunk, and was crushing Effie’s chest. After checking Pegasus was safely confined, she hurried out into the corridor and closed Des’s door quietly.
‘Goodbye, dear!’ Des shouted, too loudly for Effie’s liking.
‘Good evening.’ The voice came from behind Effie, and she swung around.
There, poking her head out of Alice’s room was the serial killer herself. Blood drained from Effie’s face, and her knees sagged together. She gripped her Weapon of Mess Destruction caddy and her umbrella.
‘Goo… good evening,’ Effie said. For a serial killer, Alice appeared to be rather diffident. Was that her modus operandi? Lure unsuspecting victims into a false sense of security.
‘I wonder if you could help me, please,’ Alice said politely – almost apologetically.
This was very strange. Effie had never heard the woman do anything other than grunt or moan.
‘Y…yes?’ Effie wondered if her heart was going to thrust its way out of the front of her t-shirt. It might be messy but it would almost be a relief. The t-shirt fabric constricted her pounding heart like a steel band.
‘I wondered if your delightful brother, Dave, mentioned that anyone had come to my room while I was away…’
Effie’s knees sagged further. Did the woman know about the night-time breaking and entering? Should Effie correct her and tell her Des was Des, and not Dave? Was it a test?
‘T…to your room?’ Effie whispered.
‘Yes, has anyone knocked at the door?’
‘Oh, no, no, no, no, absolutely no! No!’ Effie said.
Alice appeared slightly abashed but relieved. ‘Good,’ she said slowly. ‘So, just to be clear, nobody in…’ She paused for a second, then continued, ‘no one in authority came looking for me after I went on holiday?’
‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Definitely not.’ Effie was surprised to see what looked like relief flicker in Alice’s eyes.
What did it mean? Was she really asking if people had been to her room to look for her? Or was it some weird way to let Effie know she knew Effie had been in her flat? Don’t let your guard down, Effie, she told herself.
Alice continued, ‘Sorry to be nosy but I just wondered what happened after I left on my holiday. Shortly before, there was a bit of a… shall we say, fuss, in the village. A group of villagers running amok. I only heard about it, of course. Nothing to do with me… But I wondered if anything more had been said or if there’d been any follow up…’
Did she mean the drone chase?
‘No, no, no, no, no. Nothing. No. Nothing at all,’ Effie said.
‘Good,’ said Alice with what appeared to be a sigh of relief. ‘Then in that case I won’t detain you any longer.’ After saying good night, she closed the door.
Effie leaned against the wall for some time, her heart thumping in her chest, complaining at the death-hug of the t-shirt. Or was she having a heart attack? She gathered up her things and on wobbly legs conveyed herself home, trying to scan the skies for death drones at the same time as peering over her shoulder for Alice creeping through the shadows in pursuit.
On safely arriving home, she celebrated still being alive with half a bottle of sherry, and fell into bed. But not before sending a text to Tilly.
I think we’re safe.
A. Does not know about us.
Come home. Flamenco is not for you.
Effie fell asleep, waiting for a response. For a girl whose fingertips were constantly in contact with her phone, Tilly was remarkably uncommunicative whenever Effie sent her a text. Why didn’t she reply?
In the morning, she had received a reply from Tilly.
What was the matter with a girl? Couldn’t she spell? What did they teach them at school? Then, glancing up at the text she’d sent the previous night, she could see the reason.
I thik were safely.
A dousing know above us.
Come home. Flames not for you.
Stupid auto-correct! Or perhaps it had been the sherry. With her tongue poking from the corner of her mouth Effie’s chubby, fingers struggled to hit the right keys to convey the good news. And the plea to come home.
Vera called an emergency meeting at the end of the first week of September in Bonzer Buns. Luckily, there were few people in the café, although there was really no need for secrecy. Neither was there any need to give everyone the news. They’d all seen what had happened as soon as they’d passed the post box on their way into the café.
The topper had been relieved of its knitted figures.
The empty beam-me-up tubes had been put back in position, but the knitted Star Trek crew members that had been inside the tubes were missing.
What a disappointment after such a great start to the month. The topper had been an instant success. Star Trek fans had descended on Creaping Bottom in droves. Exactly how they’d known about the topper was a mystery, although Beryl had looked rather sheepish when Stuart had asked her if she’d had a hand in it. She’d vehemently denied it before rushing back into her kitchen.
‘The thief must have been one of the Star Trek fans,’ said Vera.
The others looked at her glumly. Vera had been prepared for the tubes to blow over in the wind and to have to fix them, but she hadn’t imagined anyone would steal the figures.
‘We need to knit some more,’ she said.
The others nodded wearily and got out their knitting needles and wool.
Several days later, Vera received an interesting email.
Not from A. Godbin. Vera had almost given up on him. No, this email was from someone who called himself ‘Trekkie Trevor’. And attached, was a photograph of seven knitted Star Trek crew members at an airport. In the background could be seen the departures board. She forwarded it to everyone.
‘Oh, how exciting,’ said Sally. ‘I wonder if we’ll receive any more photos of them from other destinations around the world.’
The next day, Vera received a photo of the Starship Enterprise’s crew outside the White House in Washington DC. And so did Tony Parstedd.
He arrived at Bonzer Buns with a scowl, having been told by his editor to cover the story, “whether he wanted to, or not.”
He obviously didn’t want to, Vera assumed from his attitude. And guessed it was because he believed he’d been snubbed by not being included in the July topper.
‘We’ve got to win him over,’ said Sally while the reporter waited for Effie to serve him coffee, ‘or he’ll publish a really dreadful story about us.’
‘Leave it to me,’ said Stuart.
‘Stuart!’ said Beryl leaping to her feet, ‘you’re just the man to help me carry the coffees and cakes to the table. Effie’s in such a fluster today. And I wanted someone to try the Cake of the Day.’
Stuart, puffed with pride followed Beryl into the kitchen.
Vera breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Come on, Sally,’ she whispered, ‘can you do something quickly before Stuart comes back and manages to upset Tony?’
Sally brought a chair to their table for the scowling reporter. ‘So, Mr Parstedd, how did you like the way we represented you on the July topper?’
Vera’s mouth dropped open. She suspected he wouldn’t like it much at all when he discovered he’d been the imaginary shark with the knitted fin in the knitted pond. What was Sally doing telling him?
Tony’s frown slipped, ‘I wasn’t aware I was on the topper. Although I noted that most other people were.’ His voice was frosty.
‘Oh, yes,’ said Sally. ‘Guess which one you were.’
‘Well, not the dog walker because I haven’t got a dog. One of the cyclists?’
Sally clapped her hands together in delight as if he’d guessed correctly.
‘Oh,’ said Tony Parstedd. ‘But I don’t have a bicycle…’
At that point, Beryl and Stuart returned with their coffee and a plate piled high with Beam Me Up Bendigo Banana Biscotti.
Clever girl, thought Vera, not certain if Sally had planned that or had been adlibbing. Well, thankfully, whatever the truth, it had worked. Tony was now tucking into Beryl’s biscotti or ‘Beamies’, as she’d begun to call them. And he was even smiling. A good sign? Well, they’d find out later when the Creaping Bottom News came out.
Overall, September had been a good month, Vera mused as she filled in her CBPBTS journal. The new knitted Star Trek figures had remained in place in their beam-me-up tubes on the topper. Star Trek fans had poured into the village and the local shopkeepers had all done well, even Debonhair Styles Salon which had been recreating Mr Spock’s hairstyle. And Ravi in Gadgets-A-Go-Go had sourced some latex Spock ears and gadgets that looked like Enterprise Communicators.
Emails arrived periodically with photos of the knitted figures of the Star Trek crew in various parts of the United States with cheery messages. Vera couldn’t wait to get to her email in the morning. She’d even forgotten A. Godbin hadn’t complained about anything for some time. He hadn’t been anywhere near as diverting. And Tony Parstedd had written a rather good article about the wandering Star Trek Topper figures.
And as for Bonzer Buns, Beryl had been baking Beamies non-stop all month. Sales had been so good, the Post Box Topper Society members had been allowed preferential mates’ rates which had brought the prices so low, everyone was beginning to put on weight. Next month, Vera would have to think of some way of getting the members fitter.
And, of course, they still had to decide on the theme for October’s topper. But first, another cup of coffee and a few Beamies, Vera thought.
To read the previous stories in this series:
Part 1 – Post Box Topper Outrage – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/02/the-post-box-topper-outrage-by-dawn.html
Part 2 – Post Box Topper Surveillance – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/02/post-box-topper-surveillance-by-dawn.html
Part 3 – Post Box Topper Confusion – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/03/post-box-topper-confusion-by-dawn-knox.html
Part 4 – Post Box Topper Shock – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/04/the-post-box-topper-shock-by-dawn-knox.html
Part 5 – Post Box Topper Triumph – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/04/the-post-box-topper-triumph-by-dawn.html
Part 6 – Post Box Topper Photo-Opportunity – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/05/the-post-box-topper-photo-opportunity.html
Part 7 – Post Box Topper Summer Scene – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/06/the-post-box-topper-summer-scene-by.html
Part 8 – Post Box Topper Animal Extravaganza - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/07/the-post-box-topper-animal-extravaganza.html
About the author
Dawn’s three previous books in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’ series are ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’, ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’ and 'The Crispin Chronicles' published by Chapeltown Publishing.
You can follow her here on https://dawnknox.com
on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SunriseCalls
Amazon Author: http://mybook.to/DawnKnox
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