chapter 7 - puce-on-cream toile de jouy wallpaper

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After sundown Lionel picked Captain Kipper up from the harbour and drove slowly towards Harbour Lane and on towards the police station. He had with him in the car a bag containing a flashlight, a metal file, a crowbar and a set of screwdrivers. 

Lionel switched off the headlights as they approached and parked the car just before the bend, out of sight if anyone should have been watching. They crept out, taking the bag with them.

The police station was in darkness save for a single light in the office at the front of the building and the blue light over the door. An approach from the front was clearly doomed to failure. 

"We must go round the back," Captain Kipper whispered, "but I don't see how."

To the Captain's surprise Lionel walked softly through the front garden of the house next door and tapped on the door.

After a while a little old lady answered the door. "Lionel!" she said at once, "what are you doing out so late?"

"Ssh!" whispered Lionel. He indicated the presence of the Captain and the little old lady ushered them in.

"Come in come in!" she said, excitedly. "Any friend of Lionel's is a friend of mine! Lionel looked after my cat when I was taken sick in the hospital you know. Nothing too much trouble! Why he's still single I don't know – such a lovely man. Would you like a cup of tea?"

Lionel explained the situation. "You see, Nellie, there was a mermaid in my bath..."

"A mermaid?"

Nellie looked shocked. A strange mixture of emotions crossed her face – anxiety mostly, and surprise. She struggled to recover herself. 

The motifs on the chintz on closer inspection proved not to be the usual flowers, but fishes with floral fins in reds and greens. This marvellous fabric covered the sofa, the armchairs and the curtains, with the same design in yellows and blues for the cushions. All this glory clashed wonderfully with the puce-on-cream toile de jouy wallpaper which, rather than the expected nymphs, shepherds and pagodas, showed instead affecting scenes of handsome sailors caressing winsome mermaids under palm trees, these vignettes interspersed with flying fish.

"... yes, P.C. Figgis has taken her and put her in the cell, so I have to rescue her."

The Captain looked doubtful at the mention of the mermaid.

Nellie looked at the Captain. "I don't know about any mermaid," he said slowly, "but something's amiss, and this Figgis is up to no good ..."

"What was she like?" Nellie cut in. The Captain raised an eyebrow.

"She has sea deep eyes," Lionel explained, his voice suddenly calm and full of presence, "and sometimes she sings so that the sound would either send you immediately to heaven or else break your heart."

Nellie got up. "Well then something must be done," she said decidedly. "You are in love, and come what may, we must help you."

She led them to the back door and found a ladder in her garden shed. The two men clambered over the side wall and into the grounds of the police station, pulling the ladder after them. There was a low grumbling as of a sleeping dog somewhere.

They could see in the moonlight where the cell should be, but there was no light on. Lionel called out in a loud whisper.

"Mermaid? Are you there? It's Lionel. From the house. You were in my bath?"

She had never spoken but he knew that she could sing. They listened.

"Mermaid? Mermaid?"

There was no song.

Immediately the dog started growling more loudly and was joined by another – the police alsatians Fenrir and Ragnarok now awake in their pen at the end of the police station garden. The growling turned into loud and persistent barking and the pen rattled.

The Captain and Lionel quickly manoeuvred the ladder under the window of the cell and Lionel climbed up while the Captain steadied the foot. 

Since neither Spriggan nor Figgis had spent any time repairing the dog pen it wobbled and creaked under the repeated impacts of the two now frantic beasts.

Lionel reached down and Captain Kipper handed him the flashlight. He peered through the window and shone the torch into the blackness, illuminating in turn each corner of the cell.

It was empty.

As Lionel descended the ladder a light went on at the back of the police station. Kipper grabbed the ladder, set it up against Nellie's garden wall and started to climb, Lionel following. At that moment the dogs broke down the pen and sprang as one in the men's direction. As Lionel neared the top of the ladder Fenrir leaped, grazing Lionel's ankle as he bit. Fenrir was left with a piece of Lionel's trouser leg in his snarling jaws.

***

A note from Myfanwy

Hello Saline Sirenophiles,

Confine myself to typing and making tea? I'm supposed to type this stuff and not have an opinion? And why can't he make tea sometimes?

love,

Myfanwy

***

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