Chapter Nineteen

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My sister had been a wise woman.

Her specialist area of wisdom was other women. I had always considered this a waste of wisdom from her point of view, but it never did me any harm to have her advice.

One of her most apposite maxims was this: "Satchmo," she would say, "do you know how to spot a really beautiful woman?" 

Of course I did after having heard this a few times, but I would always play along.

"No," I would answer. Mary would smile.

"A really, naturally, beautiful woman - not some precious creature that cannot bear to leave her room without make-up – a really beautiful woman wakes-up beautiful," Mary would opine.

Hardly Confucius, but still, like so much my sister said, this was absolutely true.

Two things reminded me of this; firstly, upon waking up the following morning with shooting pains in my back and cramp in my calf, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the rear view mirror.

Dawn had broken grey and murky like yesterday's wallpaper paste, and in its grimy smears of light my looks appalled even myself. The usual lived-in face was smudged with filth, two days of stubble and deep lines. My eyes were bloodshot and the tangle of hair on my head looked as if it could house a family of hedgehogs. I had most certainly not woken up beautiful.

The second reminder of my sister's words was the sight of Martha emerging from the farmhouse, wrapped in a towel. Her face too was smeared in soot and grime, her hair was tousled out of its usual strict ponytail and her legs were streaked with black mud from the ditch we had held her in last night.

Despite this, her back was straight and her shoulders spread. Her face was placid and her vivid green eyes were bright. She wore not a stroke of make-up, had endured a considerable ordeal last night and yet she had woken up beautiful.

I could almost see my sister smiling at me from a cloud.

"You win again, Mary," I said out loud. "But being right doesn't always help."

Martha made it to the cowshed and the icy water of the shower started to flow. I groaned and clambered out of the car to stretch my legs. My right calf was still complaining bitterly and I realised that I stank. I was in need of a shower and a shave, If Martha left any water.

I trotted over to the barn to see whether Ty had any plan of action following the night's events. I found him rolling up his bag, already washed and dressed in neat khaki trousers and a loose brown T-shirt.

"Did you sleep alright?" he asked.

"I've had worse nights," I replied.

Whilst this was true, the night I spent sleeping in the flowerbed on a roundabout having drunk far too much on a teenage night out did not really count.

"Good. We have a busy day. I thought we might take a trip to see Mr. Michaels. Martha will have some business to sort out with the police and her insurance people." Ty looked at me implacably.

"Is it a good idea to leave her?" I said, concerned.

"I'm sure she will be fine with the police Satchmo. Besides, it is definitely better that she not accompany us to our meeting." That sounded ominous.

"Oh, and have a wash Satchmo, you look awful." Charming! He did have a point though.

"I'll drive Martha into town while you clean yourself up. You don't smell too good either ... "

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