When it became obvious Reverend Prendergast was desperate to take over the running of International Creaping Bottom Day, Vera willingly gave way.
At first, she’d resisted, but as October progressed, she’d changed her mind. The society may have been responsible for the inception of the celebration day, but since then, it had taken on a life of its own. And not a life for which Vera wanted to take responsibility.
The Creaping Bottom crest had been resurrected and images placed prominently around the village. That was a good thing and had provided much-needed work for the village sign-maker who’d reluctantly been about to close his business.
The microbrewery in Upper Chortle had spotted an opportunity and produced a new beer – Creaping Bottom’s Up. The village bakery was now baking Creaping Buns.
The members of the local amateur dramatic society were rehearsing a new play based on the life of Sir Oswald Bottom and his unfortunate wife, Bertha. It was called The Bottom of the Lake, which Vera thought rather tasteless since the ‘Bottom’ of the title didn’t just refer to the mud beneath the waters, but also to poor Lady Bertha, who’d met her demise in its murky waters. Although arguably, not much of Lady Bottom had made it to the bottom of the lake, having been gobbled up by a crocodile on the way down.
Vera suspected the play had something to do with Stuart, whose interest in amateur dramatics had suddenly re-surged. He’d auditioned for the part of Sir Oswald and had been most upset to have been cast as the brother of Lady Bertha’s lover instead. He was the one who shot her out of the cannon into the lake, where she encountered the crocodile.
‘If you don’t like your part, I could ask the committee to reconsider,’ Beryl said. She had the part of Lady Bertha. Stuart had brightened until she’d added, ‘They haven’t cast the crocodile yet.’
Stuart had been strangely quiet about the production after that.
Vera wasn’t sure if the play was a good thing or not. Time would tell and so long as Stuart didn’t neglect his knitting duties, she suspected it wouldn’t make much difference to her.
The local history society had written a book and the folk club had written a song that was rapidly becoming the anthem for the village.
That was definitely not a good thing. Vera thought the music was atrocious. One of those ear-worm tunes everyone hummed, over and over and over. She even woke up during the night with the song playing in her head.
There had been many other items of merchandise in the orange and purple of the Creaping Bottom colours. Bobble hats, scarves, mittens. Aprons – some with catchy slogans and others with rather vulgar ones involving Sir Oswald’s surname. There were lions and crocodiles with nodding heads for the dashboards of cars. The list was endless and becoming more bizarre by the day. And that was mainly the reason Vera felt it necessary to disassociate herself from the celebration day. If. Prenderghastly wanted to seize the steering wheel of this out-of-control juggernaut, who was Vera to remain in the driving seat? She’d creap her bottom elsewhere, as one slogan on an orange and purple mug proclaimed.
It would be a relief if people thought Prenderghastly was the figurehead. Vera could move on to more important things, such as the November topper. She realised with surprise she’d almost completed a year as chairwoman of the Topper Society and next month’s topper had to be the best of all. But she wouldn’t think about December now. She must focus on the current month.
To Vera’s surprise, no one suggested a Guy Fawkes’ Night theme, with pyrotechnics being added to the topper. Good. That would have been out of the question. Vera had no intention of being remembered as the person in charge of the society that burned the village to the ground.
The only suggestion – and the one that had unanimous agreement – was for Remembrance Day.
Very fitting, thought Vera with a glow of pride at her society’s choice.
So, the theme had been decided. Now to design the topper.
‘Well, obviously, it’ll have to include poppies,’ said Stuart.
Yes, of course, they needed poppies, but after the clumsy, chunky roses Stuart had made for Valentine’s Day, they’d steered him away from knitting flowers throughout the rest of the year. Now, their topper design must include poppies. And if Stuart had anything to do with them, they’d be clumsy, chunky poppies. Somewhat reminiscent of red dog bowls.
Vera glanced pleadingly at Levi. Could he come up with a plan?
‘I know,’ said Levi.
Vera held her breath.
‘Why don’t we make one huge poppy to go over the top of the post box?’
Vera slowly let out her breath. That was actually a good idea. An enormous poppy would need to be fairly solid to give it some substance. So Stuart’s debatable flower-making skills would be put to good use. How appropriate for the November topper. However, one flower seemed slightly austere. Was that a good thing? Perhaps it was.
Obviously, the others were in tune with her because everyone appeared to be deep in thought.
Sally was the first to speak. ‘How about Stuart knits the important part – the large poppy, and the rest of us make some small ones to go on top?’
They all nodded, except Levi.
Please, thought Vera, don’t change your mind and suggest we knit fireworks – or heaven forbid – use real ones.
‘Well, it’s a fitting tribute for Remembrance Day,’ Levi said, ‘But I wonder if we can go slightly further?’
Uh-oh, thought Vera. A twenty-one-gun salute? Please no. She winced as she waited for Levi to go on.
‘How do you mean?’ asked Petronella, whose brow was furrowed and was presumably as worried as Vera.
‘Well, almost everyone in the village has been represented on our toppers in one way or another throughout the year, except us. How about we knit ourselves?
‘I hardly think this is the time to be thinking about us.’ Stuart peered at Levi in the aggravating way he had that prompted everyone in the group to grit their teeth and narrow their eyes.
Thankfully, Levi wasn’t taking any notice. His mind was elsewhere. ‘I just thought we could represent ourselves on top of the large poppy, knitting small poppies as a mark of our respect, and to show how we are remembering those who serve to defend our democratic freedoms and way of life.’
Even Stuart shut up at that and there was silence for a few moments. Levi’s idea of knitting the society members in the act of knitting poppies to show their support for Remembrance Day was good.
‘Any chance I could be in it with you serving up coffee?’ asked Beryl. ‘Goonengerry Gooseberry Gingerbread,’ she said proudly, placing a plate of the cake of the day in front of them. ‘I could be on your topper serving up Anzac biscuits.’
Vera tried not to sag. If they included Beryl, the other shop owners would be jealous, and that had caused problems before.
‘So, what d’you say?’ Beryl asked with that don’t you dare say no, tone to her voice.
Everyone recognised the danger of the situation. It definitely wouldn’t be a good idea to upset Beryl. On the other hand, if they did as she wanted, they’d be in trouble with everyone else.
‘We’ll make a note of it,’ said Sally, briskly writing something in her notebook.
Well done, Sally. Vera was fairly certain whatever she was writing in her book, it wasn’t Beryl’s name.
‘We’re trying to keep this topper simple, to show our respect,’ said Levi. ‘Although we could knit a few spare poppies and put them around your menu in the window. You could feature Anzac biscuits even though it’s not Anzac Day, but I’m sure people will get the point.’
Beryl’s scowl eased slightly, but didn’t disappear completely.
‘Well, I’m sure as mates, we can come to some agreement. Because mates get mates’ rates…’
‘Perhaps I could knit you serving Anzac biscuits and you could place the figure on your counter?’ Stuart suggested.
Beryl’s face lit up.
Well, thought Vera, that’s certainly a solution, but not one I’d have come up with. Still, let’s deal with one problem at a time.
First, Stuart’s version of Beryl was unlikely to be very flattering, and she might not want to display it. However, if she used it, then it could easily be removed before too many people saw it. A knitted figure could be knocked on the floor and lost, dropped in a mug of coffee… The list of possible hazards was endless.
And if people saw Beryl’s knitted figure, and wanted one of themselves, well, the society members would just have to knit them one by one and take their time. But meanwhile, their coffee and cake bill wouldn’t quintuple.
Conversation at the Tilly and Effie Private Investigation Bureau table nearby stopped as they both eavesdropped on the Topper Society members.
A personalised knitted figure of me, Effie thought, how lovely that would be.
Perhaps she could persuade Vera to make one of her. She didn’t own premises, but she was as much a businesswoman as Beryl. The knitted figure could be secured to her long-handled tool caddy, like a lucky mascot.
At the first opportunity, when she had Vera on her own, she’d ask. Well, if you didn’t ask, you didn’t get. And Effie was determined to get.
Opposite her, Tilly was watching Effie and guessed she was going to ask if one of those fruit loop knitting people would make a figure of her. Tilly couldn’t help smirking. Who on earth would want a knitted figure of themself? She certainly didn’t want to be represented by an ugly, dumpy woolly doll.
On the other hand, she wouldn’t mind having a knitted figure of Miguel, the boy who’d broken her heart. He’d toyed with her in Torremolinos, and then complained because she couldn’t speak Spanish. Honestly, who in their right mind spoke Spanish?
But if she had a little knitted figure of Miguel, she could stick pins in it. Yes, at the first opportunity, she would ask the whacko knitting woman.
‘So, Tilly,’ Effie said brightly, ‘if you have nothing more to report about the serial killer, perhaps we should end the meeting.’
Effie ignored the fact that today her teenage partner hadn’t actually reported anything. Since she’d come back from Torremolinos, she’d been more sullen than ever and definitely not interested in fighting crime. It looked as though Effie was on her own in keeping Creaping Bottom’s residents safe from murder in their beds.
But first, she had to speak to Vera on her own and find out how she could get her name on Sally’s list to have a figure knitted for her. What would it take? A day spent spring cleaning Vera’s house might do it. It would be a day well spent, and after all, there was nothing Effie liked more than cleaning. So, win-win.
The November topper was a gigantic success with its huge poppy on the top, into which Levi had inserted wire to keep the petals rigid. In the middle were five figures, their backs to the centre of the flower, each one knitting tiny poppies. Scattered around them were life-size poppies that Stuart had not been allowed to make. Luckily, he’d been too busy on the large poppy to notice.
There had been compliments aplenty, although of course, an obligatory complaint from A. Godbin. He thought their appearance on the large poppy had been disrespectful. Not a view held by anyone else, thankfully.
That was eleven out of twelve months of the year that the society had pleased most people in the village.
Vera had already started worrying about the December topper. That simply must be spectacular.
Effie had offered Vera a complimentary house cleaning voucher, and Vera had snapped it up. However, Effie’d had to wait for several weeks before she could find a date when she was free.
On the appointed day, she discovered Vera’s house was almost spotless. That wasn’t surprising, because its owner always gave the impression of cleanliness and neatness.
Not that it mattered. Effie didn’t let apparent cleanliness get in her way. Her cleanliness trumped apparent cleanliness. She’d wipe, polish, scrub or spritz with floral air spray even if a surface was immaculate. However, although Effie had set aside the entire day for cleaning Chez Twinge – what a ridiculous name for a house – she’d finished by lunchtime.
She also had a vague promise that her name would be added to the list in Sally’s notebook, and if extra knitted figures were to be made, she would be second in line behind Beryl. But only if, Vera had said.
Effie hadn’t listened. She’d carried out her side of the bargain. Now Vera must honour hers. Not if, but when.
Now what? Effie looked down at her long-handled tool caddy and imagined the small, knitted figure of herself attached to it. She wondered if she’d be required to do a sitting for whoever knitted her, like when you had your portrait painted. She hoped so, although she wasn’t sure how long she could sit still. The merest rumour of a spider’s web in a corner would have her diving into her long-handled tool caddy for her Web Wiper.
But first things first. What should she do now she’d finished Chez Twinge? Perhaps she should call around at Hurrah House to see Des. He’d been strangely quiet of late, presumably because Pegasus hadn’t escaped for a while. Yes, she’d do that.
Effie stepped into the entrance hall of Hurrah House, and the hairs on the back of her neck bristled as she caught sight of Alice Gruber slipping out of the back door.
There was something ferrety and furtive about the woman’s movements. Effie was already out of breath after her walk from the High Road, but now a surge of adrenaline shot through her. It turbocharged her across the hall to watch Alice through the back door window.
The Gruber woman was obviously going to do some gardening because after a glance left and right – but luckily not over her shoulder towards Effie – she went into the shed in the corner of the communal garden.
Not very interesting, thought Effie, unless, of course, Alice had hidden dead bodies in there. It would be risky, of course, because somebody kept the gardens tidy, and presumably stored their tools in the shed.
Effie would ask Des. He’d know who did the gardening. And if it was only Alice Gruber who attended the lawn and flowerbeds, and therefore the only person who used the shed, she may well have dead bodies stacked from floor to ceiling.
Effie rushed to the lift, pressed the button and when the doors slid open, she stepped inside. As soon as Des opened his front door, Effie rushed to the window overlooking the garden. It was empty except for two women sitting on the bench reading books. Neither of them was Alice.
‘Tea?’ Des asked which Effie knew meant, ‘Please make me a cup of tea,’ rather than ‘Would you like one?’
He’d already asked her twice, but she didn’t want to take her eyes off the garden until she spotted Alice. Perhaps she was potting up plants inside the shed. It was possible. Did people pot up plants in November? Effie didn’t know.
But eventually, after Des had broken a mug – the result of him clinking them together to attract her attention, she gave up and make him tea. Alice was nowhere to be seen, and Effie was parched. Before she left, which would be as soon as she drunk her tea, she’d go for a stroll around the garden She might even clean the shed windows. Yes, that was a good idea, and then it would make it easier for her to peer in.
Effie went into the garden. It was now empty, so she crept to the shed and, with relief, noticed the door wasn’t padlocked. If anyone challenged her, she’d claim she intended to clean the inside of the windows. Stepping forward boldly, Effie opened the door. She tried to suck air into her chest, but either her lungs weren’t working or there was no air in the shed. Had her heart stopped?
Years before, she’d experienced similar feelings when she’d experimented with a cocktail of toilet cleaning products. She’d tipped generous quantities into a toilet, resulting in a choking, eye-watering green cloud that had whooshed out of the bowl and discoloured the wallpaper.
Now, looking into the shed, Effie had a similar experience, except it would have been a blessing if her eyes had filled with tears. At least she wouldn’t be looking at a dead body in the corner of the shed. Since she had no breath to scream, she just stared at the… Well, it wasn’t exactly a body. It was more what a dead body might look like once it had decomposed, leaving behind a pile of clothes with the hair on top.
Areas of Effie’s mind, which had switched off at the dreadful sight, now clicked back on. Shouldn’t there be a skeleton? What had happened to that? All that remained was a pile of clothes and the hair.
Hair? if the skin had decomposed, would the hair still be there?
Effie was tempted to use one of her tools to give it a prod. Perhaps it wasn’t hair but an animal nesting on top of the clothes? But she couldn’t bring herself to dirty any of her pristine tools.
Hanging on the shed wall, however, she spotted something she could use. She nervously stepped inside and with the extended hoe, she slipped the business end under the hair – or the animal – and flipped it over.
Not an animal or hair. It was actually a wig. That would explain why it hadn’t decayed with the rest of the body.
But now she’d removed the wig, it was clear the clothes had all been folded. Effie let out a long sigh of relief. This wasn’t a case of a dead body at all. Simply somebody who’d dumped their clothes and wig in the shed.
And who’d last been in the shed as far as Effie knew?
Alice Gruber. And that was indeed the brown skirt she’d been wearing.
So why would Alice leave her clothes in the shed? Perhaps she changed into overalls to do the gardening? Yes, that was possible, in which case she could be returning any moment and find her clothes disturbed with Effie holding the offending garden tool. With a deft flick of the wrist, Effie tossed the wig back onto the clothes and patted it down with the tip of the hoe.
Best to leave now.
Vera had decided to keep out of Effie’s way while she cleaned, so she’d gone to Bonzer Buns. Beryl was keen to discuss what her knitted figure would wear, insisting it should show her Bonzer Buns t-shirt with bun-eating kangaroo logo. She plied Vera with pieces of Shark Bay Shortbread – all on the house – while she made her demands.
Free shortbread? Well, why not? Vera didn’t intend to go home and risk interrupting her cleaner for the day. It was best not to get in Effie’s way when she was in cleaning mode. She was a demon with those long-handled tools. If your feet were in the way, Effie swept over them. If she spotted an invisible cobweb high above, the handle of her Web Wiper might almost remove your nose as it whipped past.
No, it was best to keep clear, and when Vera returned, her house would be spotless and sparkling. Vera looked out of the window at the post box with its topper in place. And there in front of it, writing something in a small notebook, was a man wearing a Creaping Bottom bobble hat. The same man, Vera was sure, who’d been spotted on various clips of CCTV footage wearing a variety of different headgear.
A Godbin. It must be him.
Vera shot to her feet, scattering her notes and drawings of knitted figures. The rapid movement must’ve caught A. Godbin’s attention because he jumped and, thrusting his pen and notebook into a pocket inside his coat, he hurried away.
Vera gathered all her papers together, shoved them in her bag, and rushed for the door.
‘Oi! I thought we were going to discuss my knitted figure’s outfit,’ shouted Beryl from behind her. ‘And what about the Shark Bay Shortbread?’
But Vera did not look back. It was the choice between complimentary cake or A. Godbin. And Vera knew which she wanted served on a plate.
She hurried into the street, eyes scanning the High Road for the dreadful man in the bobble hat.
However, there was no sign of him. He’d hidden somewhere. Well, if necessary, she’d go into every shop and seek him out. Vera dodged in and out of shoppers, finally catching sight of him hurrying past the last shop in the High Road and taking the next turning. She broke into a canter.
Ahead of her, A. Godbin was almost running towards Hurrah House. However, he didn’t go into the building, as she’d expected. Instead, he disappeared down the alley at the side.
Rats! Vera had lost him. Once he went into the woods, she’d never find him.
Perhaps she could follow his tracks? She carried on, wishing she hadn’t eaten so much cake during the past year. She’d put on weight and was now huffing and panting. But when she got to the footpath – thank goodness – fresh footprints almost leapt out of the soft mud, pointing the way.
Trying to keep her shoes out of the ooze, she kept to the grass at the side of the path, taking care not to trip over roots.
Ahead, she caught sight of something rather strange. A. Godbin was climbing through the fence into the back of Hurrah House. If he thought he could hide from her in there, he had another think coming. Two could play at that game. However, when she got to the opening, she wasn’t so sure.
Yes, she would definitely have to cut back on the cake. She squeezed herself into the gap left by the three broken fence timbers which were attached at the top but not the bottom, then got jammed halfway in when one of them slipped back into place. If she’d let go of her bag, she might have been able to wriggle in, but there was no way she was going to do that. It contained her mobile phone, her credit cards and, most importantly, her knitting patterns. She clung to the bag handles.
Calm down, she told herself. Stop panicking and relax. Then try to force yourself through.
Or perhaps she could dislodge another plank and give herself more room? With superhuman effort, Vera breathed in and urged herself forward. She shot through like Lady Bertha, erupting from the cannon, landing on her side and rolling into the hydrangea bush.
By the time she’d got her breath back, she’d stopped seeing stars. Getting to her knees, she brushed herself down, and, most importantly, collected her bag, then peered around the hydrangea bush. Who, if anyone, was in the garden? After the noise she’d made, most likely not A. Godbin. He’d probably have escaped.
The garden was empty. Other than behind bushes or trees, there was nowhere to hide.
Except for the garden shed.
He must be in there. Vera crept forward, realising for the first time, she was actually trespassing. Well, there was nothing she could do about that, and if she uncovered A. Godbin, everyone would understand.
Luckily, the shed door wasn’t padlocked. Vera opened it and looked inside. Tools, old pots, a rusty lawn mower and, in the corner, a pile of clothes, and a bobble hat. The same bobble hat and coat that A. Godbin had been wearing.
So, that was his plan. Change into a disguise in the shed and disappear back into the woods.
How had he got out of the garden? It couldn’t have been through the gap in the fence because she’d been using that. So, possibly, it was the same way that Vera intended to leave because she definitely would not put her body through the contortions it had required to break in. She’d simply walk through Hurrah House as if she’d come in the entrance sometime earlier. Patting her hair back into place, she hurried towards the back door, praying it wouldn’t be locked.
It wasn’t. Vera let herself in, glanced about, finding the entrance hall empty and, with a sigh, walked through the front door out into the road. No sign of A. Godbin there either.
Effie or no Effie, she was going home for a stiff cup of tea. That was not an experience she ever wanted to repeat.
However, she now had plenty to reveal about A. Godbin to the others, even if she hadn’t caught him. The trap was closing and perhaps Effie could persuade her brother, Des, to keep an eye on the shed and see who came back for those clothes.
Vera called a meeting of the Topper Society the following morning. She reported her findings on A. Godbin. The others sat in silence, lost in their own thoughts.
‘So, his point of entry into the village is via the woods. Then he changes into a disguise in the Hurrah House shed, walks into the village, spies on everyone, takes notes about anything he wants to complain about, and does the return trip in reverse order,’ Petronella summed up.
‘Is there a pattern to his timing?’ asked Levi.
‘Sadly, no,’ said Petronella, who’d studied all the details about his comings and goings on her spreadsheet. ‘It appears to be totally random. Sometimes even at night.’
‘If he walks across the woods when it’s dark, he’s remarkably determined to come to Creaping Bottom to find things to complain about.’ Levi frowned. ‘This isn’t making sense at all.
‘And what a cheek using Hurrah House’s shed,’ said Sally.
There was a crash from the nearby table. Everyone turned to see Effie staring at them with wild eyes. It was hard to know if she was disturbed by what Sally had said, or that she’d made a mess.
‘Hold that thought,’ Effie said as she hurried off to the kitchen to get her cleaning tools. When she’d cleared up, Effie joined Vera and her team. Tilly was staring at her phone, thumbs a blur, completely absorbed. Probably unaware she was alone at the table.
Effie pulled up a chair. ‘Sorry to eavesdrop, but I understand you found a pile of clothes in the Hurrah House garden shed. Well, funnily enough, the other day, so did I.’
After that, there was much fanciful speculation. Was it possible Alice Gruber and A. Godbin were in collusion? But why? Since the removal of clothes was involved, it was suggested they were having an affair. That was Sally’s idea, but that made no sense. Because they hadn’t had their clothes off at the same time.
Levi suddenly froze. ‘I think I might have it.’ The others looked at him expectantly. ‘Alice Gruber and A. Godbin have the same initials—’
‘So?’ said Stuart. ‘Lots of people have the same initials.
‘Well, I wonder if they share more than initials. I wonder if they are the same person.’
Everyone fell silent. Eyes screwed up as each person raked over their memories of accounts leading up to that moment.
Was it possible? wondered Vera. A man in Hurrah House who was posing as a woman? It sounded too fanciful, and yet Levi’s explanation was the only one that made sense of this rather preposterous situation.
But one thing was certain, A. Godbin’s secret was about to be revealed.
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
9 – Post Box Topper Star Trek Theft – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/08/the-post-box-topper-star-trek-theft-by.html
Part 10 – Post Box Topper Celebration of Creaping Bottom – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/09/the-post-box-topper-celebration-of.html
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