Chapter 11

Olive had been thinking and thinking, but she simply didn’t know what to do next. It was true that Lucy Waters did not seem to be concocting any kind of incredible plan, but she was perfectly aware that they were sure to be under attack. Who knew what Lucy would plan for them now? You never could take a chance with someone who poked pins into voodoo dolls and held séances in her living room. But you especially could never take a chance with someone who poked pins into voodoo dolls and held séances in her living room with Mrs. Baxter. Sometimes mysterious figures from your past had to be dealt with properly.

            She was in the middle of thinking all this, ruminating on how intelligent she was to have such a sophisticated and mature attitude, when the doorbell rang. Of course, Olive and the rest of the Team were still practically living at number 12 Greenwood Drive, and so whoever was knocking at the door, surely, would be expecting to see Mary Maggott. Admittedly, Mary was out at the moment, and Olive had learnt something from the time Raymond had called just after she’d got back from casing the joint at number 14: not everyone who contacted Mary Maggott was a complete weirdo. At this stage, they were probably looking for her anyway. Looking for her…and this time he was coming in person!

Olive’s heart skipped a beat and she leapt to her feet and darted into the hall. Through the crinkly glass in Mary’s front door, a dark silhouette was visible standing on the porch, and Olive increased her pace. Suddenly, a lump in the carpet appeared seemingly from nowhere, and, with a yelp, Olive slipped to the floor. Screwing up her face in pain, she clutched at her thigh, and looked up in a panic at the window. The silhouette’s head was moving slightly from side to side as though it was shaking its head in exasperation. Olive blushed a deep shade of red and got to her feet again. She staggered to the door and pulled it quickly open.

            “Raymond! Sorry about that…” Olive stammered.

            But it wasn’t Raymond standing in the doorway. It wasn’t Mary back from shopping, of course; the figure was too tall to be Mary. And for the same reason, it clearly wasn’t even Lucy making another unexpected visit.

            It was Ethel. Olive’s worried face instantly contorted into a sneer as she gazed upon her daughter. Olive had not been on speaking terms with Ethel for a very long time, since the two of them had had an extremely destructive argument about Ethel’s marriage to Raymond. Olive was very glad in a way, because she didn’t have to pretend to be friendly or even neutral towards the enemy. She felt absolutely nothing but disdain when she looked at Ethel nowadays, anyway. She no longer considered her to be her daughter. And it was clear, from Ethel’s own expression, that Ethel clearly did not think very much of her mother at all. She was staring at Olive with an angry, distasteful look.

            “Morning, Mother,” Ethel said plainly. She leant casually against the doorframe, seeming perfectly at ease in her eight-inch stilettoes. She had on a very short denim skirt which showed off her suntanned legs, and a rather skimpy vest top. Her blonde hair looked perfectly styled, and seemed to almost float in the breeze.

            “Oh. Hello, Ethel,” Olive replied coldly. “What are doing here?”

            “Mother, I’ve known you’ve been here hanging around Mary for ages,” Ethel said, rolling her eyes to herself as she remembered exactly how dim her mother was. “I just want to say that I’m not interested at all about anything you’re doing around here as long as you don’t interfere with us or anything. But Raymond and I have got some news, and it’s probably best that we let you and Dad know. As a formal and official thing, you know. Nothing personal. We’re not looking for support or anything…”

            “You’re having another baby?” Olive asked tiredly. Great; that was all they needed. Raymond would be less likely to dump Ethel if she was pregnant again. “Brilliant…I’ll pass it on…”

            “No, Mother!” Ethel snapped, sticking one foot in the doorway as it began to close. “We’re not having another baby. We’ve got three already. Besides, I’m trying to lose weight; not put it on again. Don’t you know anything? No, we just need to tell you something else.”

            Olive’s heart suddenly leapt tremendously, and she felt more completely euphoric than she had in years. “You’re getting a divorce?” she squeaked.

            “No!” Ethel cried. “Why would we get a divorce? We love each other very much!”

            “Oh,” Olive muttered. She was relieved that she didn’t have to pretend to be thankful.

            “Anyway,” Ethel continued in a sort of growl. “We’ve got something else to tell you, if you’ll just wait a moment…”

            “We?” Olive said curiously. “If it’s to do with both of you, why is Raymond not here? I’d be perfectly happy to see him.”

            Ethel frowned. “Mother, the last time we spoke, you told me that I never should have married Raymond. What are you talking about?”

            Olive blinked, checking herself. Of course, Ethel had no idea of the real reason Olive was against her marriage to Raymond. To tell her the truth would mean complete failure, obviously. “No,” she started carefully. “I’m just saying, if the news is both of yours, wouldn’t it be better if he’s here as well? I’d love to see him…I mean, I’d love to hear it from two viewpoints.”

            Ethel raised her eyebrows. “I’m not sure why you’d need two viewpoints, Mother,” she said. “Raymond and I are complete soul mates, regardless of what you say, and we agree on it completely.”

            “Hurry up, then,” Olive sighed, leaning on the door frame. “Pass it on to Dad,” Ethel ordered, flicking her hair carelessly and examining her fingernails, deciding that someone as stupid and disrespectful as her mother didn’t deserve to be looked at in the face. “He at least doesn’t have some ridiculous notion that I made the wrong decision with my marriage. Anyway, the news is that Raymond’s job has offered him a post working out in Timbuktu, and we’ll be moving there in a few weeks.”

            Olive blinked in shock.

            “What?” she gasped. This was dreadful; she hadn’t wanted news like this at all! “How can you move to Timbuktu? I’ll have to drive for hours to see you!”

“Mother, you won’t be able to drive. And I don’t know why you’d want to see us anyway. We’ve not spoken in months, you don’t seem to have the highest opinion of Raymond in the world and I’m not sure that you’re the sort of person we want around the children…”

            “Well, fly or get the train then!” Olive cried. Then she spotted Ethel’s face. “You know, if we suddenly decided to…Ethel, where is this Timbuktu, anyway? Is it up north? Fred won’t want to visit you up north. He hates the rain.”

            “Mother!” Ethel said. “Listen for a minute! Timbuktu is in Mali!”

            Olive looked blank. “So…it’s in Scotland? Or Wales?”

Ethel shook her head, looking disgusted at her mother’s ignorance. “No. Timbuktu is in Mali. In Africa, Mother. Oh, don’t tell me you don’t even know where Africa is…”

            Olive took a couple of seconds to comprehend what precisely Ethel had said, and then she felt as though her stomach had plummeted. She gazed at Ethel for a few moments, her mouth wide open like a fish, and then could not help herself from clutching at the doorframe to prevent herself from fainting. Her eyes widened and her cheeks went almost purple, and a startling gasping noise came from her throat. Ethel stared with an expression of more disgust than anything else for the first few seconds, and then actually started to look mildly concerned.

            “Mother? Mother, what’s wrong?” she asked, stooping unsteadily to peer into Olive’s deranged eyes. “Really, I don’t know what this reaction is for; you’ve been at Mary’s for days and I’ve not even seen you. I don’t see how you’d miss us this much. Oh, come now, Mother, this is getting a little bit stupid now….Mother? Mother!”

            At that moment, Edith strolled past the corridor on her way to Mary’s sauna. She was wearing a hideous bottle-green baggy swimming costume (the sort that women wore in the 1950s) that showed too much of her white, wrinkly limbs, and what remained of her grey hair was tied up in a topknot. Ethel caught sight of her momentarily and grimaced, but she had little time to think of Edith’s appearance.

            “Olive, what’s happening?” Edith gabbled fearfully, dropping the ancient, threadbare brown towel she was carrying over her shoulder. She ran up, tripping on her sandals, and knelt down on the floor, where Olive had practically doubled up, the weird gasping noise still coming from her throat. Suddenly, as expression of apparent realisation came over Edith’s face, and also a hint of excitement.  “Oh! It’s all right, Olive, it’s all right! I can deal with it! I know the Heimlich manoeuvre!”

            Olive suddenly felt Edith’s arms pass around her, and almost came to her senses in order to push her away and demand what she thought she was doing, when she felt a swift, agonising pressure on her stomach. Choking and spluttering, Olive tried to scream at Edith to stop right this minute, but her windpipe was cut off by another almighty compression. Olive felt as though Edith was trying to kill her or burst her stomach or something.

            “I’ll get it in a minute!” Edith gasped, performing the manoeuvre for a third time and ignoring Olive’s panicked wheezing. She was sure to win a Team prize for this.

            All of a sudden, Ethel saw Alice, who thankfully was dressed normally and carrying several thick hardbacks, come into the hall. She took one look at Olive and Edith, and Ethel standing dumbfounded in the doorway, and already had a rough idea of what was going on.

            “Edith, no!” Alice cried. She made a move as though to drop her books (which made up part of her numerous, newly-acquired collection of complicated works on human psychology and abnormality) to the floor in her hurry, but then abruptly changed her mind and placed them lovingly and neatly on a side table before running over. “Edith, stop doing the Heimlich manoeuvre! I don’t think Olive’s choking!”

            “Of course she was choking!” Edith said, finally letting go of Olive and leaving her to slump to the floor, clutching her stomach and groaning in a mixture of pain and utter misery. Edith turned to Ethel. “Didn’t you hear those gasping noises she was making? Ethel, what did she choke on?”

            “Edith, that’s Ethel Calzone!” Alice hissed at Edith, as Ethel rolled her eyes again, thanking God that she didn’t take after her mother and have to hang around with loonies like these.

            “I know, Alice! I’m not stupid!” Edith said. “Ethel just happened to be standing in the front door when Olive started choking!”

            “I don’t think she was choking,” Alice said. “Edith, do you actually realise who Ethel Calzone is? She’s Raymond’s wife!”

            “Yes, I know,” said Edith exasperatedly. “I’m not an idiot, Alice!”

            “We’re against Ethel!” Alice whispered, eyeing the offending figure in the doorway with suspicion. “She’s an enemy of the Team!”

            “I don’t even want to know what you lot are talking about or what on earth the Team is,” Ethel said rudely. “I’m leaving right now. This place is turning into some kind of loony-bin. Really, I’ll be glad when we move…”

            “Ah,” said Alice quietly, peering down at Olive, who had begun to sob quietly. Ethel meanwhile rolled her eyes and made a hasty escape, swaggering down the drive a little unsteadily in her heels. “That’s why…”

            “That’s why what?” Edith demanded childishly.

            “I’ll explain later, Edith,” Alice said. She knelt down beside Olive. “Olive, where exactly are Raymond and Ethel moving to?”

            “Timbuktu,” was the almost silent reply.

            “Oh! Timbuktu in Mali!” Alice gasped. “That’s in Africa! That’s thousands of miles away! Oh my Lord, how on earth did Raymond get offered a job in Timbuktu?”

            Olive, unsurprisingly, did not answer. She sobbed quietly and rocked to and fro on the floor as Alice patted her on the back sympathetically. What did Olive care about Timbuktu? As far as she was concerned, her life was over.

Later that day, Mary finally arrived home from some fancy shop in Kensington. Alice had been one of the only members of the Team to even try to appreciate Olive’s sadness and complete inability to do anything out of grief, so she had managed to convince Mary to turn her attention away from the Rowlings’ caviar and come home immediately and give some sympathy to her friend. Frederick, Augustus and Adolphus were aware that something was very wrong, and when Alice had quietly explained it to them, Frederick even went round to number 14 Greenwood Drive to question Raymond and Ethel about their move, but apart from that, all the brothers had done was lock themselves in Mary’s spare bedroom to concentrate on stamps. None of them had ever been very good at comforting people, and the seriousness of the situation made them nervous. Albert and Priscilla were also relatively unhelpful, but most of that was probably to do with the fact that they were so upset that Mary hadn’t done enough of their shopping. Hetty and Edith merely stood around awkwardly whilst Alice offered Olive drinks, extra cushions, king-sized tissues, etc., and Mary was already busy trying to resolve the situation. She was using her title of Chief Spy to the full, and went next door very often to crouch in the flowerbed underneath the living room window, taking pictures until someone, usually one of the three children, spotted her. 

            They had heard suspiciously little from Lucy Waters after the incident with Alice and the sewer, although they had received a rather frightening-looking envelope where the address had been written messily in dark-red liquid. No one had been brave enough to open the envelope, but the writing on the piece of paper inside was so thick and dark that it was impossible not to pick out certain words, such as ‘curse’, ‘kill’, ‘Hell’ and ‘seduce’.

            Two days passed during this period, and although many members of the Team worked ferociously and enthusiastically, Olive barely did anything at all. Most of the time, she sat curled up on the sofa in a foetal position without speaking a word, looking very ill with dark circles under her eyes, untidy hair and a tear-stained face. Very often could be seen cradling a blown-up photograph of Raymond, but no one chose to disturb her for fear of some sort of dangerous outburst even more extreme than the ones they had seen before. All day, people buzzed around Olive. Alice had taken complete control of the situation, and every day Mary frequently reported back to her with new pictures she had taken or things she had overheard by sitting with an ear trumpet poking through the Calzones’ letterbox. Edith would sit alongside Alice between toilet breaks, scribbling down notes as she was directed and organising any information gained into a special little folder entitled ‘Timbuktu’. Hetty still was researching her mysterious sister, whom even she did not know very well nowadays, and had discovered several interesting and murky truths to do with Lucy’s past: she was the founder of a strange society which regularly engaged in holding séances designed to smite the living, she had had several warnings from the police for sending death threats to her many various enemies (including prime ministers and members of the royal family) and she had been known drive some to insanity by convincing them that her friends from the underworld would be back to get them. Alice herself became rather concerned about Olive. She often worriedly observed her Leader, secretly noting down her symptoms, such as the pronounced nervous twitch on her face and her ability to go for hours without moving a muscle, and then researching a number of psychological diseases on the internet when she wasn’t concentrating on the current situation with Raymond.

            It had been Friday morning when Olive had found out about Timbuktu, and now it was Sunday. The Team had done a lot of research, and now they felt that all they needed was for Olive to come out of her depressed trance and show some enthusiasm. Moreover, Alice had a very good idea of what could be done. On Sunday afternoon they gathered anxiously outside the living room door as Mary and Alice alone crept towards Olive with their file and Mary’s organised album of photographs. They sat down on either side of her on the sofa, determined to carry out their plan even if Olive as yet was paying absolutely no attention to them or even acknowledging that they existed.

Mary looked nervously at Alice. Alice nodded, and Mary began to speak: “I’ve been doing some spying on the Calzones’ house, Olive, and it does look rather bad,” Mary said gently.

For a few moments, there was no sign of any kind of reaction from her friend. Olive continued to stare mindlessly into space, and Mary and Alice eyed one another and started to sigh with defeat, until Olive finally spoke for the first time in two days:

“Don’t know what for,” she said hoarsely. Even at this, Mary and Alice, along with the rest of the Team outside the door, felt like grinning, but they thought better of it under the circumstances. Olive continued: “I know what they’ll be of: people packing. People packing because they’re moving away from me, because I’m not good enough…”

“Olive, please,” Alice urged her, practically begging. “Please don’t give up! It’s not the end! Even if Raymond and Ethel do move to Timbuktu, that doesn’t mean that the Plan’s completely failed yet! And I’ve come up with something else; something brilliant! Just wait until you hear it! Please just take a look at the photographs! Please?”

Olive sighed. “I suppose I have no choice. My life is a meaningless mass of misery. I’ve been worn down by the pain and bitterness of loss and self-loathing.”

“Self-loathing?” Edith whispered in a confused voice from the doorway, but Alice gave her a fierce look which silenced her.

“Loss and self-loathing!” she said again, very quietly; so quietly that Mary and Alice had to lean in to hear her. Then she sighed. “But let’s look at these useless photographs, if it’ll only get you to leave me to cope with my almighty grief.”

             Mary held out a few photographs with a lightly trembling hand. She heard a slight sigh from Olive, and then Olive slowly and reluctantly took them from her for a moment, and peered at them in turn. The first picture, dated 25/06/2011, was a photograph of Abigail, Alexander and Anastasia sitting in the front room. Abigail was diligently placing pile upon pile of textbooks and exercise books into large brown suitcases, Alexander was carefully unplugging the television and placing it into a huge cardboard box, and Anastasia, the youngest little girl, was sifting through a pile of travel insurance forms with a pencil in her hand and a studious look on her face, as though trying to work something out. Olive noticed that the computer had been removed from the desk in the background. As this was Raymond’s prized possession which he most certainly could not live without, it was clear that the Calzones weren’t going to remain in their home for long.

            Olive burst into a fresh bout of tears all over again, but didn’t bother to wipe her face.

            “Here, Olive, have a tissue,” Mary said softly, plucking one from the box on the coffee table and offering it to her friend.

            “No, Mary,” Olive whispered hoarsely. “It’s no use anymore. My cheeks have already been sullied from tears after all the misery and heartache I’ve been through. A fresh stream of tears will make no difference to the agony in my heart. A mere tissue cannot heal the wounds it has undergone.”

            “I wasn’t suggesting you’d wipe your heart,” Mary muttered, almost crossly. She was getting a bit annoyed by Olive’s sentimental and over-dramatic attitude to all this. After all, when Olive’s enthusiasm towards the Team and the Plan had been at its height, she’d always told the others to look up in times of hardship and got angry every time someone despaired (though no one except Olive ever really did). Plus, Mary had spent her whole Saturday trying to gain some decent photographs. Olive could at least show some interest.

            Olive made a show of very, very slowly putting aside the first picture, as though she was so depressed that everything in the whole world, including her, seemed to be in slow motion now. She frowned when she saw the second picture. It was a photograph of Mary standing in her cellar, grinning and striking a pose as she modelled a blue sequined mermaid costume, which Olive knew had been taken at least twenty-five years ago.

            “Whoops! I must have put that one in by mistake!” Mary said quickly, snatching the picture out of Olive’s hands and blushing bright red.

“Hmmm,” Olive murmured.

            The third picture showed the inside of Raymond and Ethel’s bedroom. Ethel was sitting on the end of the bed, rifling in what looked like her make-up bag. Raymond was holding a massive carrier bag of what looked like dozens and dozens of different aftershave bottles. The couple were not doing anything particularly interesting, but they were surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of cardboard boxes, most of which were filled with Ethel’s clothes and Raymond’s hair gel. Olive couldn’t help bursting into tears again.

            Mary eyed Alice. Alice gave her a pained sort of look and nodded at the pile of photographs. Mary decided that she meant that Mary should ignore the tears for fear that they’d be there all night, so she put the third photograph aside and moved onto the fourth as soon as Olive had managed to contain her tears.

            It was a picture which looked as though it had been taken at exactly the same angle and time as the previous one; the date was the same and the clock which hung on a wall in the background showed roughly the same time. But Raymond and Ethel’s faces had changed. Their expressions had before looked focused and absorbed in their packing, but now they were both glaring at one another with mild dislike. Olive peered at it and saw that Ethel was holding a piece of paper that she appeared to have found whilst rifling through one of Raymond’s suitcases. She saw a small blue mark on the page, but with her eyesight had not a hope of seeing what it was.

            “That’s a print-out from ‘Facebook’,” Mary said helpfully. “It shows some of the comments Raymond’s been getting from young women about his photos. I saw Ethel find it in the suitcase in which Raymond was packing his Calvin Klein stuff.”

            “Pretty good, no?” Alice said. “The print-outs are making Ethel realise that Raymond’s getting attention from young women! And that leads to arguments, right?”

            “Oh, all young couples argue,” Olive said dismissively, although Mary and Alice saw a slightly brighter expression on her face than before, and they grinned at one another when Olive wasn’t looking. “Seriously, though. They won’t have a proper argument. It’ll blow over, and that stupid Ethel will love Raymond just as much as ever…”

            This time, Olive voluntarily tossed the picture aside and moved on to the fifth image, upon which Mary and Alice’s smiles grew broader. She saw another image, taken a very short time after the last, which once again showed the scene in Raymond and Ethel’s bedroom. Surprisingly, Ethel had thrown her make-up bag aside, and her body was blurred slightly as she leapt up from the end of the bed in order to aim a pair of nail scissors at Raymond’s chest. Raymond, meanwhile, had tossed his aftershave bottles aside and had both hands out before him like claws, with which he seemed to be reaching for Ethel’s throat. Both of their faces seemed filled with genuine hatred: Ethel’s mouth was wide open in a furious screech and her face was red (again, she looked alarmingly like Olive), whilst Raymond had lividly gritted teeth and a very white face. On the floor amongst the boxes, there could now be seen a whole pile of ‘Facebook’ print-outs, and more were spilling out from the suitcase that Ethel had happened to look in.

            “I think not!” Alice said happily, referring to the last thing Olive had said. She grinned again. “That’s what I call a proper argument!”

            “Shut up, Alice,” Olive murmured quietly, but her eyes were growing gradually brighter. Brighter with hope. “You know…maybe I was right. Maybe they are having a proper argument…”

            “That’s what I said!” cried Alice. “You said…”

            “Alice, be quiet,” Olive snapped, still staring at the picture. “Stop trying to get credit for things you didn’t do. Now, seeing as I was right about Raymond and Ethel having a proper argument, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be right in saying that this could happen again. This could happen many times again. Yes, I think I’ve got something here…I really think I’m on to something…perhaps we just need to be persistent…”

            “As I was just coming to,” Alice growled, folding her arms crossly.

            “So, Olive, you’re not depressed anymore?” Mary said, brightening. “So, seeing as we’ve worked so much stuff out, you can help us with writing out the reports and things now, instead of just sitting there eating chocolates!”

            “Mary, have a little compassion!” Olive said suddenly. Then she corrected herself and slumped down in her seat, putting on her best hopeless, sad face. “Can’t you see that I’m still really depressed? My horrible daughter comes to the door to tell me that my one true love is moving to Africa, and just two days later you expect me to help out with reports and things? I thought you were meant to be my friend!”

            “Oh….sorry,” said Mary awkwardly.

            “I don’t see why Raymond’s nicer than me!” Frederick piped up from the doorway, looking a bit anguished, as Augustus and Adolphus gave one another exasperated glances (which they’d been doing a lot of recently). “I’m the one you married!”

            “Don’t be silly, Fred; I married you before Raymond was even born,” Olive muttered, before waving her husband’s trivial cares aside and getting down to some much more important business.

            Olive stood up importantly, and strolled majestically towards her dormant throne which still stood against the wall at the end of the room, forgetting that she was meant to be too sad to even drag herself to her feet. She intended to step up to it gracefully, like a queen ascending her throne in Westminster Abbey to be crowned, but it was rather difficult to climb up onto the large table on which the chair was still perched, seeing as Mary had removed the little ladder to aid her with her spying. Olive crossly tried to climb onto it, but after slipping down a few times (which couldn’t have anything to do with her physical shape) she grumpily ordered Hetty to help her up. When the procedure had finally finished, Olive sat down slowly, narrowly avoiding toppling straight off the table as it wobbled violently under her weight, and crossed her legs at the knee. She realised that she was just a seventy-six-year-old woman sitting in a cardigan and baggy trousers on a poorly-decorated chair on top of a dining table, but in her mind’s eye she was dressed in magnificent ermine robes and was sitting on an enormous throne glittering with diamonds and emeralds and rubies, holding an equally-luxurious orb and sceptre in either hand.

“Next order of business,” Olive announced proudly, holding her head high as she addressed her adoring subjects, who all stood on tiptoe trying to get the best view they could of her as they hung on her every word. “I hope you all realise that your Leader is far too depressed to help you much over the next few days, so I’ll need all of you to improvise in whatever ways you can. We’ve just entered into a very serious situation, so we need to think of a way in which to prevent the Household of Objection from moving to Timbuktu.”

            “We know, Olive; we know,” muttered Alice Reynolds, rocking back on her heels and staring at the floor, barely listening. “You don’t need to keep saying that!”

            “Well, do something useful, then!” Olive snapped.

            “We have,” Alice said. “I’ve not presented to you any of my research or ideas for what we could do yet, and Hetty hasn’t shown you any evidence concerning Lucy Waters, or anything…”

            “Oh! Is it my turn?” Hetty squeaked, jumping up and down.

            “Very well,” Olive said, rolling her eyes and mumbling, “Oh, Lord…” under her breath. “What have you been doing, Hetty? Investigating how many nails Lucy has in her letterbox?”

            “Hetty’s been working very hard,” Alice said defensively. It was one of the rare times where she was actually impressed with what Hetty had been doing. “Just take a look at her research, Olive!”

            “Sure, sure,” Olive muttered, sitting back as though in preparation for a long wait. Then she turned to her best friend. “Mary, put the kettle on.”

            “All right,” Mary said moodily. “Do you want normal tea or Earl Grey?”

            “Earl Grey, of course,” Olive said quickly, eyeing the mocking expressions of the Rowlings siblings as they heard the word ‘normal’. “What do you mean, normal? I know people like you love to drink normal tea, Mary, but it’s not for Team Leaders…”

Mary sighed and left the room, and Hetty stepped forward gracefully and tipped several pieces of paper all over Olive’s lap.

            “These are all print-outs from the internet,” she explained immediately, sitting down on the edge of the dining table and making a few cutting movements with her hands, as though to explain how strongly she felt about what she was saying. “Right, as far as we all know, Lucy has one ‘Facebook’ account under the name ‘Lulu’. I’ve printed out a few sheets of conversations between her and Raymond over the past few days. Take a look.”

            Olive moodily reached for the piece of paper on top of the messy pile. It was dated three days ago, on 23rd June, and showed a number of comments beneath that attractive photograph of Raymond dancing on the counter at the pub.

            “Right,” said Hetty again. “The first thing that Raymond does is ask everybody to admire his muscles, and Lulu replies that he’s the most gorgeous specimen she’s ever seen.”

            “Stupid idiot,” Olive muttered. “She can’t honestly think that Raymond’s dumb enough to think anything of that ridiculous flattery. He won’t take it in for a second.”

            “…Upon which Raymond thanks her and asks for her telephone number, arranging to meet up with her at his favourite pub, ‘The Loopy Swan’,” Alice finished slowly, eyeing the piece of paper, and then Olive, with raised eyebrows. She stayed silent for a few moments before continuing: “But Hetty tells me that as far as we’ve been able to ascertain, this meeting never took place, luckily. Isn’t that right, Hetty?”

            “Yes,” replied Hetty. “It seems that Lucy told Raymond that she wasn’t able to meet up with him. Her excuse is that if she stepped out of her house, the paparazzi would immediately flock around her and potentially ruin her outfit. I’ve looked into it carefully, and after close consideration, I’ve concluded that this excuse is probably a lie.”

            “Obviously,” Olive growled, glaring at Hetty. “Is your sister the sort of immensely breath-takingly beautiful person who would get made into a supermodel and have the paparazzi follow her all day long?”

            “Well, Grandmama used to say she was very pretty, but…”

            “She isn’t, Hetty. She just isn’t,” Olive said matter-of-factly. She then turned to Alice, who was violently shuddering at the word ‘Grandmama’ as she remembered her frightening ordeal at 666 Raspberry Avenue. “Alice, being a vaguely intelligent person, do you have any idea why Lucy didn’t want to meet Raymond at ‘The Loopy Swan’?”

            “Well, the obvious reason is that she didn’t want him to see her,” Alice said, recovering herself. “Because as you say, Olive, Lucy isn’t a supermodel.”

            “Right, of course,” said Olive quickly. “I knew the obvious reason. I just wondered whether there were any more suggestions.”

            “Well, there are,” said Alice. “She must have known there was a huge risk that one of us could sabotage her whilst she was sitting in such a high-profile pub as ‘The Loopy Swan’. But she didn’t give any alternative meeting places, so the only real reason is the obvious. Ockham’s Razor, you know.”

            “Perhaps you’re right,” said Olive thoughtfully, not bothering to ask what ‘Ockham’s Razor’ was. “I knew it was that reason all along…hmmm…anything else, Hetty?”

            “Oh, yes!” Hetty said excitedly. She indicated some more sheets of paper. “These newspaper articles list all of the creepy things Lucy has done, like driving people to insanity and stuff. Each time, though, she always gets off. And here’s an advertisement for her secret organisation…”

            “An advertisement for a secret organisation?” Olive asked, raising her eyebrows as she stared at the poster Hetty was holding up, which had ‘Contact the deceased whenever you like when you join Lucy Waters’s top-secret séance club’ written on it. “Hetty, are you sure about that? How can an organisation be secret if Lucy is actually putting up posters all over town about it? It’s probably a trick or something.”

            “Well,” said Hetty. “I think it was going to be a top-secret organisation, but then Lucy realised that she wouldn’t really get many people to join it if no one knew about it, so she put up a few posters. I found this one outside ‘The Barmy Duck’ yesterday. She doesn’t have many friends, you see.”

            “Hardly surprising,” muttered Olive. “I bet she doesn’t have many allies, anyway. But Hetty, why would you just tear a poster down from a wall? Don’t you think that that might make Lucy a little suspicious when she realises it’s gone?”

            “Oh…,” said Hetty uncertainly, looking worried. “I didn’t think about that….hmmmm…hey, maybe I could pretend to join the top-secret séance club? That would explain why I ripped the poster off the wall.”

            “No, Hetty,” Olive said firmly. “We don’t want you getting mixed up in anything to do with Lucy.”

            “Well, she sort of already is,” Alice said. “She’s her sister.”

            “Be quiet, Alice,” Olive snapped. “Anyway, Hetty, good work, I suppose…”

            Hetty positively beamed. She gathered up the pieces of paper neatly and swept away from the table. Alice rolled her eyes briefly and then turned to Olive. “Olive,” Alice began. “That’s the most important piece of the research we’ve been doing. We’ve got all the paperwork and stuff in our special Timbuktu folder. But listen, you haven’t heard the most important part yet. The plan…”

            “Ahh, a plan!” Olive cried excitedly. But then she corrected herself and put on a more calm expression. “A plan, Alice? Lovely. You really should leave the plans to me, though, seeing as I’ve got the best idea of what to do.”

            “Obviously, seeing as you’ve been sitting on a sofa snivelling for the past two days,” Mary muttered, who had just arrived back in the room. Olive didn’t hear her, thankfully, so she walked forwards without anyone noticing and quietly placed Olive’s cup of tea on the sideboard next to the throne and slunk back out of the room to begin preparing afternoon tea for the Rowlings siblings. 

            “…But I’d be thrilled to hear what you’ve all come up with,” Olive continued, leaning to one side interestedly. “Have you got another plan to make Raymond break up with Ethel?”

            “No,” Alice said. “That wouldn’t work anyway, would it, because Raymond’s the one taking the job, isn’t he?”

            “I know, I know,” Olive said. “I’m just testing you; opening your minds a little. That sort of thing would have been a bit unoriginal anyway. But go on, Alice. Is it a plan to get Raymond to lose his job? Of course, we don’t want to cause him any pain, but desperate times call for desperate measures, after all…”

            “No, Olive,” said Alice. “We’re not going to make Raymond lose his job. We’re going to….”

            “Well, make him not go some other way, then?” said Olive.

            “Olive! Just listen!” Alice said. Then she calmed herself, remembering that Olive would probably be angry if she was spoken to in that way. “Olive, we’ve come up with something different.”

            “Well, hurry up and spit it out, then!” Olive said impatiently. “Stop stalling!”

            Alice resisted the urge to remind Olive that she’d been interrupted every time they’d tried to explain the plan to her. Hetty and Edith were looking very excited; they were terribly impressed with Alice’s plan themselves.

            “I have decided,” Alice began slowly. “That the factor that needs to be addressed is not actually Raymond’s move to Timbuktu. That theory is based on…”

            “Well, what factor does need to be addressed, then?” Olive asked incredulously. “Isn’t the move to Timbuktu the very problem? What else would we address?”

            “Olive, just listen, please,” Alice begged, closing her eyes and massaging her temples in frustration. “Look, the theory is based on another piece of ‘Facebook’ evidence that you haven’t seen yet.”

            “Well, let’s see it, then,” Olive said impatiently.

            Alice held out her hand, and Hetty passed her a single sheet of paper. Olive immediately recognised Raymond’s profile picture, and, just below that, Lulu’s: the simple silhouette where a photograph would be, had Lucy been that stupid. Olive grabbed it out of Alice’s hands immediately, and saw the problem as soon as she began reading.

            “It seems that initially, Raymond wasn’t even going to move to Timbuktu, because he was concerned about the impact moving so far away would have on his social life. He specifies the fact that he can no longer spend time with his friends at ‘The Loopy Swan’, and seems all set to refuse the job in Timbuktu. However, then…”

            “That revolting Lulu gives him more disgusting, sickening praise and goes on to tell him that the move to Timbuktu would be the best thing for him, for his family, and for all his many admirers!” Olive shrieked, finishing Alice’s sentence for her. “That stupid little dwarf! What does she think she’s doing? Since when has she lived in Timbuktu?”

            “She hasn’t, of course,” said Alice. “She’s only trying to get the first step out of the way and take Raymond away from us. But here’s why I’m saying that Raymond isn’t the first problem to be addressed. At first, he wasn’t going to move to Timbuktu, but he is eventually persuaded by Lulu and her promise that the move will have a huge positive influence on himself, his family and his admirers. Raymond is obviously very conscious of what is best for himself. He doesn’t seem to care all that much about what’s good for his family, but he cares a great deal about his admirers; here Lulu implies that moving to Timbuktu will somehow make him a more attractive figure. And, Lulu having built up a good, strong relationship with Raymond over these past few weeks, he listens to her, and it isn’t long before he does exactly what she says.”

            Olive was shaking with fury. “That evil little minx!” she growled, going bright red. “That moronic, Raymond-bewitching freak!”

            “I know, I know,” said Alice gently. “But my point is that it’s Lucy Waters who is the main problem here. If there’s no Lucy Waters to encourage Raymond that he’s doing the right thing, both over the next few days and after he’s moved to Timbuktu, Raymond will slowly begin to lose confidence in what he’s doing. He might even move back home as quickly as he moved away. This is why our plan is that our main aim is to take down Lucy Waters before we concoct a serious plan of action for getting Raymond home.”

            “What, do we focus entirely on Lucy and simply allow Raymond to go?”

            “Not entirely. The main body of the Team will work on bringing Lucy down; I thought this should include myself, Edith, Hetty, Fred, Augustus, Adolphus, James, Albert and Priscilla. But as for you, Olive, along with Mary, I thought that you lot would be the right ones to concentrate on what to do with Raymond and Ethel. You’re going to be persistent.”

            “Hmmm. Sounds good, I suppose,” Olive said, sniffing. “One or two design errors, perhaps, but it’s a good plan overall. What’s our first move?”

            Instead of replying straight away, Alice simply grinned nastily, and took something out which she had been concealing behind the sofa in anticipation of this very moment. It looked an awful lot like a crowbar. Hetty promptly reached behind the sofa as well, except that she pulled out a large, black mask; the kind that burglars wear to break into houses. Edith, Frederick, Augustus and Adolphus pulled out a pair of walkie-talkies, a human-shaped dummy, a hammer and, with difficulty, a collapsible ladder. Albert and Priscilla spent a few minutes lazily checking all their bags before they finally pulled out a coil of rope and a set of marker pens. Alice smiled again.

“We’re going to teach Lucy Waters a lesson she’ll never forget,” she said. “We’re going to destroy everything she holds most dear.”

Published by CuriousWriter

Read and you will find out.

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