Two hours later I was in the village Post Office and General Store talking to a delightful coffin-dodger by the name of Eliza Petunia Emery-Stanthorpe.
Ms. Stanthorpe looked to be so old that I judged that it was only a combination of her heavy woollen stockings and the continuing intervention of the Divine keeping her upright.
Besides the fact that her years had not just advanced but high-tailed it out of sight, she was as sharp as a tack. For a woman who was born in Pebble Deeping and looked likely to complete her journey through life at any moment in the same location, she had an astoundingly broad knowledge of the outside world.
I had spent the better part of our 15 minute conversation trying to steer her towards the topic of the late Professor Wimple. I had hoped to coax any rumours of treasure or misadventure out of her but she was having none of it. She seemed to be revelling in the arrival of a face that had not heard any of her myriad stories regarding the life and times of the village.
"... There were those that said the marriage wouldn't last! Wouldn't last! Tell that to their 15 grandchildren."
"We saw a funeral in the village yesterday..." I tried again, more directly this time.
"Yes, dear old Professor Wimple, such a nice man. Educated. Why, many's the time he'd say to me, 'Eliza', he'd say, 'did you see the Prime Minister on the television?' and I would remind him of how I have no television, what with old Alf being allergic."
I picked up a chocolate bar and nervously fingered a tin of processed meat that may have been from the batch that kept Noah going on the ark.
"One pound fifteen dear." Oh, straight to the point now I see... I replaced the meat on the shelf and looked around for a packet of mints.
"Mints?" she replied when I had asked about the availability of such things "Ahh, yes." she craned her neck back and peered upwards through the thick half-moon glasses perched on the tip of her nose.
She scanned the shelves that covered the wall from floor to ceiling behind her, then reached out and grasped a wooden ladder firmly with a withered claw and tugged it hard. The ladder creaked around the shelves on some sort of rolling mechanism and came to rest at her feet. To my utter amazement she hauled herself from the ground onto the first rung of the ladder, which proceeded to roll several inches along the rail with Eliza swaying from it.
"Poor old Dr. Wimple, all alone" she chirped from two rungs up, unperturbed by the lateral movement of the ladder and the creaking of the wooden shelves. Her task seemed impossible to me, she might as well be tackling the North Face of the Eiger. Her spindly limbs were shaking with the strain and dust motes rained down like snow, disturbed by her racking breaths.
"I thought he was a Professor." I said, having visions of the headlines in the local paper – Local Heroine Plummets To Death After City Slicker Requests Mints!
"He was dear, but now Dr. Wimple is left at Holly Corner in such difficult times." I was not paying too much attention to what Eliza was telling me now that she was four feet off the ground and the ladder was creaking and groaning as if it were about to become detached from whatever mechanism held it to the shelves. I decided to take decisive action before gravity prevailed.
"You know, I think I'll just have this chocolate bar." I said. Eliza swivelled her head and the sudden movement shifted the ladder another few inches along the rail.
"It's no trouble young man." She said fixing me from on high with a beady gaze.
"No, no. I will be quite alright with just this, thanks." I said and she shrugged. Her descent was no less perilous and heart stopping – thankfully not literally in her case – only faster than the climb.
YOU ARE READING
Quid Pro QuoMystery / Thriller
Satchmo Turner is a failed private detective from the rusting heart of the Black Country who is reeling from the loss of his sister and fiancee. He's going nowhere at work, and treading water in life, until he picks up a simple missing person case a...