Life was looking up for Effie now she didn’t have to actually look upwards all the time.
The air-to-ground drone attack she’d feared hadn’t occurred and having lived under what she’d been treating as a state of siege for several weeks without being struck from above, Effie had grown fatigued. It appeared to be more dangerous to look up for a threat that never materialised than to keep an eye on where she was going. The bruises on her shins and knees proved that.
Another reason to be cheerful was that Tilly had returned. True, she was still as sullen and uncommunicative as she had been before her Spanish holiday. Indeed, Effie thought she was even more so since she’d returned – but at least now Effie didn’t feel so alone in her knowledge about the serial killer who lived in the village in Hurrah House.
Thankfully, there had been no fresh murders either in Creaping Bottom or the Southend-on-Sea area. And, since Alice Gruber’s return home, she’d been a reformed character. Effie’s brother, Des, and Tilly’s gran, Dora, hadn’t reported any night-time noises. They hadn’t reported any during the day either.
According to Des, Alice had even said good morning to him the other day. He’d added he’d never seen her smile before and had found it quite disturbing. But a ‘Good morning, Dave,’ was an improvement on the usual grunt. And he’d been too shocked to correct her.
The stay in Southend appeared to have mellowed Alice. Had it been something in the air? Perhaps she’d had a chance to unwind? Effie wondered if Alice had found religion. She’d suggested that to Tilly, who’d scoffed and said, ‘If she’s found religion, it’s one of them cults what does human sacrifice.’
Spain hadn’t improved Tilly’s pessimistic outlook.
But as each day passed, Effie wanted to believe Alice had somehow been converted. Into what, she wasn’t sure. But so long as Effie didn’t have to remain on high alert, she was happy.
Another reason for Effie to celebrate was that Des hadn’t called her to rescue his budgie recently. Pegasus hadn’t tried to fly away for several weeks. Either he’d learnt there was no escape from Des’s flat and that Effie would seek him down wherever he was hiding. Or perhaps after her last rescue attempt with the long-handled feather duster, he’d been too traumatised to try. Perhaps he’d simply settled down and decided to enjoy life with his doting but absent-minded owner.
Effie’s work had also picked up, and she’d now been engaged to clean many of the shops along the High Road, working early mornings and late nights. Her wages had almost doubled.
But if Effie was happy with her lot, many of the shop owners she worked for were decidedly gloomy. And they were becoming increasingly fussy and demanding. Of course, she expected each proprietor to be particular about the appearance of his or her shop, but in her opinion, they were being rather extreme.
This wasn’t Bond Street in London, it was Creaping Bottom. The slightest smear on the shop window or a minor irregularity in the symmetry of their display was often the reason for a childish tantrum.
Take that morning, for example, Beryl had been very precious about the café’s letterbox being scratched. Well, that was the postman’s fault, not Effie’s. She’d given it an extra buff, but there was nothing she could do about scratches. And really, what did it matter? It was hardly a health and safety issue. Beryl provided food and drink to people inside the café, not via the letterbox.
And Tilly wasn’t sympathetic, selfishly only thinking of her holiday and the young Spaniard she’d met. She wasn’t taking any interest in Effie’s complaints about the various shopkeepers in Creaping Bottom.
What’s more, every minute or so, Tilly’s phone pinged as the young Spanish gentleman sent her a text. Then she’d have to translate his message into English and convert her reply into Spanish. She wasn’t listening to Effie.
In fact, Effie began to wonder if perhaps she’d been over-optimistic and life wasn’t looking up at all. Everyone was moaning, and if they weren’t actually accusing her of neglecting her duties, they were certainly becoming more challenging.
Beryl rushed into the café from the kitchen. ‘Effie, there’s a weed growing outside the café.’ Her voice was accusatory.
Effie blinked and stared at her. ‘I’m not a gardener, Beryl. I’m a cleaner.’
‘Well then, I suggest you go and clean the weed away.’
Beryl’s tone was so sharp, even Tilly’s eyes opened wide in surprise.
Beryl rushed back into the kitchen and Effie followed her. This really was not acceptable. She wasn’t responsible for what grew outside the café.
What sort of weed would prompt Beryl to such a temper? Out of curiosity, Effie thought she’d look. Stepping out of the back door, Beryl screamed at her. ‘Where are you going?’
‘To look at your weed.’ Effie’s ham-sized fists were now on her ample hips. Her dander was up. She would not be spoken to in this manner.
Beryl, however, hadn’t noticed. ‘It’s not in the back. No one can see weeds in the backyard. It’s at the front of the café in the High Road.’
Effie stared at her for several seconds. ‘How do you know there’s a weed at the front? You’ve been in the kitchen all morning. Did you only just remember?’
‘No,’ said Beryl, pointing at her laptop. ‘Check out that email.’
Effie pushed her glasses firmly up her nose and read.
The appearance of your establishment, Bonzer Buns, is a disgrace. As I pointed out the other day, your letterbox is scratched, and now I notice weeds are sprouting up outside. I have no doubt that if this lack of attention is representative of your coffee and cakes, then you do not deserve to remain in business.
Yours A. Godbin.
Somewhere at the back of Effie’s mind, the name, A. Godbin, chimed various bells.
Effie nibbled her lower lip. No, she definitely didn’t know anyone of that name. Deep in thought, she wandered out of the café into the High Street. There, in a yellow blaze of glory, was a cheeky dandelion that had pushed its way up between the café and the pavement. She glared at it. She did not intend to bend over and pull it up. Not even for Beryl. And her long-handled tools would only allow her to clean, polish, sweep or dust it. But not remove it.
She stamped on it. The root would still be there, and it’d grow again in a few days, so she hadn’t solved the problem. But the next time she came, she’d bring some of Des’s carrot wine and pour it on top. The weed would probably spontaneously combust, and that would be the end of that.
She went back into the café to finish her – now cold – oat milk latte with honey and two shots of caramel syrup and asked Tilly if she knew who A. Godbin was.
Tilly shrugged, her eyes on her phone. ‘Nah.’
Like an electric shock had gone through her, Tilly sat upright. ‘No, wait! Yes, I have heard of him…’ She stared up at the ceiling for inspiration. ‘It was that crazy, knitting woman who kept going on about him.’
‘And? Who is he?’
‘Dunno. She didn’t say. Is he an old king? Or a singer? He’s not a famous celeb, or I’d know him.’
Vera and the other members of the Post Box Topper Society arrived at the café for the October topper planning meeting.
Petronella had large pieces of paper and a thick felt-tip pen. Sally had a list of special days for October on her mobile phone and once they’d placed their order, they sat at their usual table. Vera called the brainstorming meeting to order.
‘Do any of the special days leap out at you?’ Vera asked Sally.
Sally scrolled through. ‘Well, there’s Halloween I suppose.’
Vera gritted her teeth. She loathed Halloween. All that blood and guts. Ghosts and ghoulies. Not wholesome in her opinion.
‘Halloween’s too predictable,’ said Stuart.
‘There’s Harry Potter Book Day,’ Sally said.
‘Too boring,’ said Stuart.
‘National Handbag Day.’
‘No,’ said Stuart.
Vera’s shoulders sagged. This was going to be a long and tedious session unless she stepped in. ‘Any thoughts, Levi?’ Vera looked at her ideas man and turned her back towards Stuart.
Levi was also checking the list on his phone and read out several possibilities. ‘International Hair Day? Sheila Gote would appreciate that. International Coffee Day? Beryl’d like that.’ He scrolled further. ‘There are a lot of international days for really ordinary things.’
‘Well, what’s interesting about that?’ asked Stuart.
‘Many of those ordinary items are on sale along the High Road…’
‘Oh yes. I see what you mean, Levi.’ Sally ignored Stuart. ‘World Egg Day, World Porridge Day, National Apple Day. They’re all sold in shops along the High Road.’ Her eyes opened wide, and she gasped. ‘And look, There’s National Boyfriend Day.’
Vera sighed. Trust Sally to find that. Luckily, Levi hadn’t appeared to notice.
‘Perhaps we could incorporate all the shopkeepers in our theme,’ Levi said. ‘It might give the High Road a bit of a lift. Everyone is so fed up at the moment. All I hear when I go shopping is people moaning about a customer making complaints.’
‘But we’d have to make sure we don’t leave anyone out,’ said Petronella. ‘You know the problems we had with the July topper when people thought they hadn’t been featured? We don’t need anyone complaining about us.’
Sally frowned. ‘But will people want to be represented by an egg or a pile of oats?’
‘You’ve got a point.’ Levi tapped his chin. ‘I know. Let’s go rogue.’
Vera’s heart sank. ‘Rogue?’ she whispered with dread.
‘Yes, I mean why don’t we celebrate International Creaping Bottom Day?’
‘Because there’s no such thing?’ asked Stuart.
‘Then let’s make it so,’ said Levi.
‘I think that’s a marvellous idea.’ Sally beamed at him.
‘So do I,’ said Petronella. ‘That way, we don’t have to represent each person, just the village as a whole. I think that sounds like fun.’
Vera nodded. It did, indeed, appear to be an excellent solution, and far better than the ghosts and zombies she’d suspected they’d end up making for Halloween. And knitting with blood-red wool was so hard on the eyes.
‘Excuse me,’ said Effie, who’d sidled up to their table. ‘I’m sorry. I couldn’t help but overhear. I believe you said something about complaints?’
Vera glared at Effie. ‘Do you wish to make a complaint?’
‘Oh no. It’s just that I’ve also heard a lot of people mention they’ve received complaints.’
‘And?’ Vera asked. They didn’t have time to waste on people’s grievances. They had a topper to design.
‘Well, I was just wondering if you’d heard of A. Godbin…’
After a sharp collective intake of breath, all eyes snapped to Effie.
‘Only as I’ve been working along the High Road, that name has come up over and over with complaints about displays and…’ Effie scowled. ‘And cleanliness. As the Creaping Bottom cleaner, I feel I’m being unfairly maligned. Do you know who this person is?’
‘No,’ said Vera. ‘But pull up a chair and tell us what you know.’
‘Go to the parish council meeting?’ Levi asked, aghast.
‘That’s the only way we’ll be able to speak to everyone at once,’ said Vera. ‘I’m going. I’m happy to give up an evening, even for a dreaded parish council meeting with Prenderghastly.’
The corners of Levi’s mouth drooped.
‘I’m going,’ said Stuart.
‘And I suppose I’m going too.’ Petronella frowned.
Sally looked imploringly at Levi.
‘Okay. Count me in,’ said Levi.
‘Me too.’ Sally beamed at him.
The Creaping Bottom Village Hall was full on the night of the parish council meeting. There was such a throng that Revd Prendergast’s spectacles kept steaming up.
Villagers fidgeted and checked mobiles until Penderghastly asked, ‘Is there any other business?’
So many people shot to their feet, the vicar dropped his glass of water in surprise. He held up his dripping hands for silence and pointed at Sheila Gote in the front row, who was waving her arms. ‘What is the meaning of this, Miss Gote?’
‘A Godbin.’ She tossed her head, crossed her arms and sat down. All those who were standing nodded and followed suit. Vera expected the vicar to ask for an explanation, but was surprised when he simply said, ‘Ah, so you’ve all heard from that scoundrel, too?’
Vera narrowed her eyes and scowled at Prenderghastly. So, he’d also received complaining emails from A. Godbin? And it appeared all the shopkeepers in the High Street had as well.
Vera felt a sense of betrayal. She’d thought she and A. Godbin were exclusive combatants. However, that didn’t appear to be the case.
How dare he? Waves of resentment like hot magma rose in her chest, threatening to bubble over.
‘Excellent,’ Petronella, who was sitting next to her, whispered.
Vera stared at her, detecting no sign of sarcasm. How could she possibly believe this was excellent?
Petronella whispered in her ear, ‘With so many people looking out for our friend A. Godbin, it won’t be long before we discover his or her identity. He or she couldn’t give such detailed complaints without regularly visiting the shops. If everyone pools their knowledge, we can find A. Godbin and put a stop to this nonsense.’
Practical Petronella. As usual, she’d seen a sensible solution.
The HQ for ‘Operation Find A. Godbin’ was set up in Gadgets-A-Go-Go, where Ravi had offered to coordinate the CCTV footage. He intended to look for the common person in each piece of film.
Petronella had noted the dates and times of all the complaints received and had compiled a list of places where A. Godbin must have been shortly before.
And finally, by cross-referencing, Ravi spotted one person who was common in all the snippets of footage. Finally, he had an image of A. Godbin, Arch-Complainer.
Vera congratulated herself. A. Godbin was male, as she’d guessed. He was wearing a hat in most of the frames, so his face was partially concealed. No one recognised him. An outsider? It was hard to tell. He was just a grey man who merged into the background. Nothing to distinguish him. Nothing that would make it easy to pick him out in the future.
He was even wearing a different hat in three of the glimpses of him in various shops.
However, they were closing in. It was just a matter of time, and then Mr A. Godbin’s identity would be revealed.
Meanwhile, Vera and the society members were busy preparing the October topper. They’d decided October 15 would be International Creaping Bottom Day. It was a date halfway through the month and Levi had also discovered it was Stuart’s birthday.
The date had been a wise decision because it ensured Stuart was completely engaged with the idea. He was basking in the reflected glory of such an illustrious day.
Petronella had been set the task of researching the village crest. There had once been a sign at the entrance to the village, but it had fallen into disrepair and faded. However, Petronella found several ancient documents showing the Creaping Bottom crest.
She held up a photocopy of the enlarged emblem. ‘The sun, a heart and beneath them both, a bar with two semi-circles dangling beneath.’
But what was the bottom symbol?
Petronella laid it on the table, and they all peered at it.
‘Handcuffs?’ suggested Sally doubtfully.
Stuart screwed up his eyes. ‘I think those two round, dangling things look like a lady’s br—’
‘Don’t you dare!’ said Vera. Trust Stuart to lower the tone.
‘What? I was only going to say it looked like a lady’s bra.’
‘Well, it’s not,’ snapped Vera. ‘There were no such underwear items in the day this was designed.’
‘All right. Well then, it looks like a letter B that has fallen forward,’ said Stuart, still squinting.
Actually, Stuart had a point. It did look like the letter B on its front with the spine horizontal and the curved parts hanging beneath.
‘It looks rather like a bottom – male or female,’ said Levi with a grin. ‘Perhaps it’s a B for bottom?’
What was the matter with everyone? Vera wondered. Why the obsession with body parts? She yearned to go home and take two paracetamol tablets. Then, she’d lie down in a darkened room…
‘B for Bottom? Yes, that makes sense,’ said Petronella. ‘Sir Oswald Bottom. The “Bottom” of Creaping Bottom.’
Vera sat up. Perhaps it wasn’t such a silly idea after all.
‘Sir Oswald Bottom was the Lord of the Manor during the Middle Ages. He fought in the Crusades and is famed for bringing back a lion from the Holy Land,’ said Petronella. ‘Apparently, he called the lion, Hugo and it became quite famous.’
‘Did it do tricks?’ Sally asked.
Petronella checked her notes. ‘Not as far as I know. Hugo is famed for eating Sir Oswald.’
‘I bet it bit him on the bottom.’ Stuart sniggered.
Despite the rather unpromising beginning to the meeting, it had ended rather well, thought Vera.
To celebrate International Creaping Bottom Day, they’d decided to re-create the elements of the village crest and incorporate some scenes from Sir Oswald Bottom’s life. Not the part where he was eaten by Hugo, of course. That was too gory for Vera’s tastes, even though it was Halloween later in the month. But some other scenes from his rather colourful life, according to Petronella’s research.
While Sir Oswald had been away crusading or travelling the world, his wife Lady Bertha had languished at home in the castle. She’d fallen in love with Robert Grimbold, one of her servants. When her husband had returned, he’d banished Robert and forbidden his wife to leave the castle. Bertha and Robert’s brother, Peter – another servant – had formed a plan for her escape.
Peter had suggested he fire Lady Bertha from the cannon on the castle ramparts. His plan had been to aim her at Robert, who’d be waiting on the other side of the valley. Unfortunately, although Peter was an excellent shot, he had no idea about range. Lady Bertha had hurtled out of the cannon but fallen short into the lake. And that had been the end of her.
Sally sighed. ‘Oh, she drowned. How tragic.’
Petronella looked back at her notes. ‘No, she didn’t drown. Apparently, she was eaten by the crocodile Sir Oswald had brought back from his travels in Africa.’
There was silence for a few moments while the members of the society visualised the story.
‘Right,’ said Vera briskly. There was no point in dwelling on past tragedies. ‘I think we have plenty of material to proceed.’
The October topper far exceeded Vera’s hopes. Everyone in the village joined in with the inaugural celebration of International Creaping Bottom Day. Bunting and flags flapped and fluttered the length of the High Street in a riot of colour and motion.
Tourists came from far and wide. There was hardly room to drive a car along the road for all the people, strolling back and forth, buying souvenirs from the shops and, of course, admiring the October post box topper.
Tony Parstedd’s report on the day had been front page news and for once, he’d given the society and its topper fair coverage. His report had been positive and peppered with cheery quotes from ecstatic shopkeepers. Although, Vera thought, his headline accompanying the sun, heart and drunken letter B of the topper was rather tasteless. The Sun Shines Out of Creaping Bottom. Typical Tony Parstedd.
The only disadvantage to having so many people descending on Creaping Bottom was that A. Godbin increased his output of complaining emails. Indeed, Vera received three during October, haranguing her for bringing so many strangers into the village.
Ravi was too busy to check CCTV footage for A. Godbin. He was making a fortune selling Creaping Bottom souvenirs. Unfortunately, one of his most popular lines was the Creaping Bottom Trilby, with the village crest on the front. All the shopkeepers agreed they’d put up with complaining emails from their nemesis while they were making so much profit. A man wearing a hat amongst crowds of tourists also wearing assorted headgear, including Creaping Bottom trilbies, was unlikely to be identified easily.
There was almost a breakthrough when Sheila Gote thought she’d spotted A. Godbin, peering into her salon through the window. Unfortunately, by the time she’d run to the door, the man in the hat was moving swiftly away through the crowds along the High Road. Sheila gave chase. She thought she’d trapped him when he turned off towards Hurrah House. However, he disappeared into the woods behind it, and Sheila lost him.
An extraordinary Parish Council meeting was held at the end of October, and everyone expressed their thanks to Vera and the Post Box Topper Society for the inception of International Creaping Bottom Day. The village’s economy had received a significant and welcome boost.
Typically, Reverend Prendergast assumed responsibility for the idea and insisted that the following year, such an important event in the village’s diary, should be run by the Parish Council.
We’ll see about that, thought Vera. But let’s fight one battle at a time.
Sheila reported her suspected sighting of A Godbin, but since he’d disappeared into the woods, most people considered he must be an outsider. Perhaps he had a car parked somewhere on the other side of the woods.
But that was something to be considered in November when the crowds in the High Road and Creaping Bottom had subsided.
November, thought Vera. And what would they do for the month’s topper? Bonfire Night? Good heavens, no!
Vera would have to come up with something good to distract her members from that.
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
Part 9 – Post Box Topper Star Trek Theft – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/08/the-post-box-topper-star-trek-theft-by.html