Chapter Twenty Three

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I woke late and awash with a thick sweat. The morning was hot and humid, unusually so for early summer, and the air heavy with squadrons of flies; each seeking a tasty vein for breakfast.

I had shared the knowledge of Luca Brasi with the others last night. We had talked through the possibilities and the meaning of the message Morgan Edge intended us to find. When the fire in the hearth had burned low, we retired to bed unsure but feeling on the cusp of doing something remarkable. Martha in particular was in electric mood as she closed in on the archaeological find of a lifetime. We all now believed that Morgan and Professor Wimple must have recovered the votive sword and shield and had stashed them away for some reason.

I rolled out of the hayloft and enjoyed a brief shower; the water was lukewarm and very refreshing in the early morning heat. Once dressed, I found a note left in the kitchen, it was attached to a loaf of bread.

Martha had heard that her solicitor had managed to secure the release of the Professor's bank statements. Ty had taken her into town to get hold of them and maybe pick up a few more items she needed.

I lit a small fire in the kitchen grate and toasted several slices of the thick granary bread, spreading them with honey Ty had bartered from a farmer who kept bees on his land at the edge of the village. I was still peckish having only eaten a salad the previous evening and I really fancied an egg. I wandered through the village, nodding and saying a few hello's to folk who were out walking dogs, or dead-heading their rose bushes.

The dented brass bell above the door tinkled merrily when I entered the Post Office-cum-General Store. Eliza Petunia Emery-Stanthorpe, the decrepit shopkeeper, shuffled out from behind a mountainous pyramid of assorted tins like the mummy from a 1930's B-movie; all stiff joints and moaning. She peered towards me, screwing her eyes up in an effort to focus.

"Hello there Eliza!" I called; overly-loud but conscious of the fact that she was as deaf as a post. Eliza lifted the thick-lensed glasses hanging around her neck, with its dangling flap of skin that made her look like an ancient turkey, and balanced them on her nose.

"Oh, it's you Satchmo. How are you today? Hot is it?" Eliza blinked slowly, the action pronounced and magnified by the powerful lenses of her glasses.

"Yes, a real belter." I theatrically mopped the beads of sweat from my brow. The shop itself was cool, partly due to the thick stone walls that comprised the old building and partly due to the heavy velvet curtains that were drawn across the shop's two small windows. The atmosphere inside was gloomy and a little musty.

"I can't stand it me; it ain't natural," she muttered and turned back to the pile of tins which she had been stacking. She bent tortuously to retrieve two tins from a cardboard box that had yellowed with age, before creaking back into an upright position and straining to reach the top of the pyramid that must have taken her slightly longer to build than the pharaohs.

I crossed the shop floor and took the cans from her, placing them gingerly atop the pile. I was conscious that if a shaky hand brought the lot down, it would swallow Eliza's tiny frame like a mudslide. I had visions of her spindly stocking-clad legs jutting from beneath a mound of tins in a photo on the front page of the local paper.

"You're a good lad Satchmo," she patted me on the behind. "What can I do for you today?" she asked.

"I fancy some eggs please," I replied. Eliza nodded and doddered to the back of the store and ferreted about beneath the counter, finally placing a cardboard carton of eggs in front of me.

"Duck, fresh this morning," she said. I opened the box to inspect the eggs for cracks and Eliza nodded her silent approval at my customer nouse. I imagine caveat emptor would be carved on her headstone, although at the rate she was going she may well outlive us all.

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