Olive was fibbing.
She wasn’t downright lying; that would just be immoral. But she was telling white lies. A lot of white lies. A whole ocean of huge white lies. And Mary Maveryck, who was currently standing beside her throne as she addressed her fellow members of the Team, was staring at her in confusion; the expression which never seemed to leave her face nowadays. The reason for this was, of course, that Olive and Mary’s day of attempting to convince Raymond not to move Timbuktu had not exactly been an overwhelming success.
“It all started this morning,” Olive began, as everyone had finished settling down, and Hetty had cracked open a can of beer. Luckily, she didn’t spot Alice reading ‘Sense and Sensibility’, the book being concealed behind Edith’s back. “There I was…”
“Erm, there we were,” corrected Mary quickly.
“There we were,” said Olive, rolling her eyes, “standing on the Calzones’ front porch with clipboards in our hands and wearing fake moustaches. So, we knocked, and when Raymond answered the door he was wearing this incredible thin sweater that brought out the shape of his muscles like a dream…”
“Olive, the plan,” Mary reminded Olive.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m getting there,” said Olive dismissively. “Anyway, when Raymond answered the door in his amazing sweater, we said, ‘Good morning, Mr. Calzone. We are from the Dangers of Moving to Timbuktu Company, and we’d like you to fill out a few questionnaires and have a look at this information we’ve got.’”
There was a short silence during which Edith, coughing uncomfortably, stood up and headed for the downstairs toilet.
“That bit was Olive’s idea; not mine,” Mary pointed out hurriedly, looking round at everyone else to ensure that they were staring with disbelief at Olive rather than at her.
“That was that amazing plan you were going on about?” said Alice, the sudden silence having even distracted her from Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. “Did it work?”
“No,” said Mary, just as Olive opened her mouth to answer. “Olive said the stuff about the questionnaire and the information, and then Raymond just looked over his shoulder and went, ‘Ethel, your mother’s here in some weird get-up. Should I call the care home people now?’”
“He didn’t say that!” Olive practically shrieked. “What he said was…”
“Oh, yes!” interrupted Mary. “He first he asked whether he should call the care home people to come and take Olive away to be with all the other senile loonies, but then Ethel came to the door and started screaming at Olive about what the hell she thought she was doing and that she’d call the police if we ever came near her house again.”
“Yes, thank you, Mary,” Olive growled. “Thanks for that little debrief.”
“No problem,” said Mary brightly.
“And don’t interrupt,” Olive snapped back at her. “Anyway, in short, it doesn’t look as though we’d managed to deter Raymond from moving to Timbuktu. It was probably because of Mary; if just I’d been there he would have understood that it was more serious. Next time only I’m going to speak to Raymond…”
“Maybe you should lose the moustache and the fake Birmingham accent as well,” Mary said airily. “That just made everything weirder.”
“Shut up, Mary. I bet you were the prime reason that Raymond thought we ought to be taken away to a care home. I mean, just look at you!”
“Actually, I noticed that he only said ‘Olive’!” Mary cried triumphantly. “He said, ‘take Olive away to a care home’! He didn’t say ‘take Olive and Mary’ or ‘take both of them’, did he?”
“He was just being polite! He didn’t know your name, so he was trying not to embarrass us by avoiding saying your name! He’s kind!”
“Olive, he was yelling into the street about you being taken to a care home and implying that you were a complete lunatic. I don’t think that kindness and an effort not to embarrass us were his top priorities at that particular moment.”
“Mary, either you start making sense or I’ll send you out of this room.”
“It’s my living room.”
“Technically it’s our living room, because whenever a Team meeting is going on, the headquarters belong to all of us. And I’m the leader.”
“I’m the co-leader. And besides, you haven’t banged that special gong I bought, so actually a meeting of the Team isn’t really happening.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake…,” Olive muttered to herself, burying her face in her hands. Then she turned to her husband. “Fred, go and sound the gong, will you, and say something really dramatic, like, ‘I now declare that an official meeting of the Team is in progress’.”
Frederick’s face burst into a wide smile at the prospect of having such an important-sounding job. “Did you hear that, Augustus, Adolphus?” he squealed at his brothers. “I’m the person who decides when we have a Team meeting now!”
“You’re not; you just bang the gong!” Olive said.
“I get to bang the gong!” he cried, but looked puzzled, as though he had already forgotten why he had thought this was such an amazing job.
Frederick walked out of the living room and into the hall, where the massive gong that Mary had bought a few days ago rested against the wall. Picking up the large drumstick that lay next to it, Frederick gave the gong a couple of little taps, and, hearing a long, low noise, began his announcement:
“I now say…no, I now suggest…no, I now announce…no….”
“Oh, forget it!” Olive yelled eventually. “We’re just wasting time! Sit down, Fred.”
Frederick, his shoulders drooping in disappointment and his lip wobbling at the concept of having failed in his new role, slumped back into the living room and sat down, hugging his knees to his chest. Augustus and Adolphus sympathetically patted him on the back.
“…Anyway,” Olive continued, looking thoroughly exhausted. “The thing is that at that point Raymond became aware of our endeavours…”
“He became aware that Olive was trying to spy on him,” Mary finished off. “He knows full well that Olive’s desperate for him not to move to Timbuktu, but he doesn’t know why yet. That’s making him really suspicious, so he and Ethel are constantly watching out for when Olive’s around. Plus, I think Ethel might have spotted me when I was taking pictures of the three kids packing through the living room window that time when Olive was a bit depressed…”
“Which, naturally, was all your fault!” Olive cried. “Stop finishing off what I’m saying! Who’s leader, Mary?”
“You are,” said Mary sourly.
“Too right. So be quiet!” cried Olive. “So, Team, we haven’t exactly deterred Raymond from moving to Timbuktu yet, but all we need to bet on is that the plan to take down Lucy is successful…”
“Except that so far it’s been very unsuccessful,” Alice pointed out.
“Well…we’ll come up with a new one, won’t we? It was your plan, after all, Alice, so technically it’s your fault. Mary and I’ll carry on concentrating on the Calzones. Won’t we, Mary?”
“We already did,” Mary said quietly.
“Yes, I know we did,” said Olive. She turned back around to Alice. “We went on one other short little mission, except…”
“Except that it was no more successful than the first?” Alice guessed.
“Well…no, not exactly,” Olive said, failing to think of something positive to say. “After we’d been to Raymond’s house dressed up as the people from the Dangers of Moving to Timbuktu Company, the two of us spent a couple of hours crouching outside the kitchen window, and…”
“And Ethel spotted you and called the police?” Alice suggested.
Olive’s face suddenly spread into a massive grin, and she jabbed her two forefingers in Alice’ direction triumphantly. “Nope!” she cried, delirious that Alice was completely wrong about something. “No one spotted us! No one at all apart from a few of the neighbours from across the street, but no one cares about them.”
“I think they were going to mention something to Ethel and Raymond, especially seeing as we were there for so long, but Ethel and Raymond left before anything could be done about it,” said Mary.
“Yep,” said Olive. “We found out that they were going out to the Loopy Swan!”
“It wasn’t exactly an incredible revelation,” Mary admitted to the audience. “They go to the Loopy Swan every week at that exact time, as regular as clockwork. I already knew they were going, but Olive didn’t.”
“Don’t be silly, Mary; of course I did!”
“So why were you mentioning about how peculiar it was to go to the pub at that time of day, as though you’d never heard it before?”
“Well, I’d never had anyone to comment to about it before, did I?”
“Just accept that I knew, Mary. The only reason I acted like it was new information was because it suddenly came to me at that moment that it would be a brilliant idea to follow them to the Loopy Swan and try something else there. The idea is to be persistent, you see…”
“Persistence hasn’t worked so far.”
“Stop being so negative! You’ll never get anywhere with that kind of attitude; you’re always saying so yourself. Hypocrite.”
“You were the one who sat on the sofa crying for two whole days when you found out that Raymond was moving to Timbuktu!”
“Yes, well, that was a bit different, wasn’t it?”
“It just was, Mary. Anyway, we followed Raymond and Ethel to the pub, didn’t we, Mary?”
“Yep. They walked down the road and along the river and into town.”
“Have you made the map of the route yet?”
“Of course not! I haven’t had a spare moment since we got in!”
“Well, that’s not very good, is it, Mary? I mean, you were the one who got into this whole map-drawing thing in the first place, after all.”
“I told you; I didn’t have time! I’ll do it as soon as I can.”
“Whatever, whatever. Anyway, we followed Raymond and Ethel down the pub.”
“Thing is,” interrupted Mary. “We weren’t exactly subtle, were we?”
“How do you mean?” asked Olive.
“Well, they kept looking back every few seconds; do you remember? Sometimes they looked back for longer times than before, and by the time we got to the end of the river they were almost running into the town. And then you insisted on running after them.”
“Well, they wouldn’t have known that we were running after them.”
“But they saw that it was us!”
“No, they didn’t.”
“I’m sure they did. They were talking, and I’m sure I heard the name ‘Mary’.”
“Well, that’s your fault, isn’t it?” Olive cried crossly. “Even if they did! They were saying your name, and that means that they saw you! Naturally they’d be more likely to be interested in me at the moment, so you must have done something characteristically you that caused them to recognise you! Typical Mary…”
“I’m sorry, Olive.”
“Look, do you think you could get to the point?” Alice practically begged Olive and Mary, looking pained. “I could be doing other things!”
Alice and Hetty were sitting with their chins in their hands. The Whinging brothers were measuring the panels on the doors and jotting things down in their pocket notebooks. Edith was silently creeping out of the living room in the direction of the downstairs toilet again; neither Olive nor Mary had even noticed her come back the last time.
“Don’t be silly, Alice,” said Olive after a moment. “You of all people should be aware that every last detail is completely essential; everything is relevant. We can’t be missing out the crucial points, no matter how small they may be, all the time, can we?”
“I guess not,” said Alice, not bothering to argue.
“Right. Anyway, having said that, there actually weren’t many other details worth mentioning. By this time we got to the Loopy Swan. My Lord, you ought to see it; it’s a complete dump…”
“Oh, it’s an awful place,” Mary agreed passionately. “You lot ought to see it. It’s all grimy and dark, and there’s a miserable, dirty young man who runs it, and he spends all his time grimacing at people. And also, would you believe, they don’t use coasters under their drinks! Can you imagine what that must to do to the paintwork on the bar; putting all those leaky glasses down without coasters…”
“Yes, yes; terrible place…,” said Olive. “And the glass! Do you remember the glass, Mary?”
“Oh, yes!” cried Mary, screwing up her face in disgust. “That glass! On the windows there was green glass, which was one of the reasons why the light inside was so dreadful, and it was so plastered with dirt and dead flies and things that the camera lens would scarcely adjust. I only got a couple of shots, and they were all really boring because nothing interesting happened.”
“We were hoping to sort of walk into the pub in different disguises, weren’t we?”
“It wouldn’t have worked, Olive. They’d have recognised us in a second.”
“No they wouldn’t. This time it wasn’t the actual disguise that was better; it was the alibi! We were going to say that we were some representatives from the government who were doing a survey on how happy the people of Britain are. That way, we’d make Raymond realise that his life here is really amazing – think about it: he’s got his friends, his current job, his local pub, his mother-in-law – and no way would he move to Timbuktu after that! Alice, don’t you think that’s a good idea?”
“Yes,” Alice lied.
“Nevertheless, Olive, the alibi was never going to be useful if we didn’t have a disguise! And we basically didn’t!”
“Yes, we did! I found that wig in the rubbish bin, didn’t I?”
“There was one wig. And it was rubbish. That’s why it was in the rubbish bin!”
“For Heaven’s sake, Mary! Don’t you have any imagination whatsoever? What had you and I just been doing, before we started following Raymond and Ethel? Spying on their house! Therefore, what are the odds of us spying on them at the pub? They didn’t know that we hadn’t been arrested by that police car that came round, and I’m sure they weren’t aware that we’d do something else right away…”
“They saw us following them.”
“They did not.”
“They did too!”
“Don’t argue, Mary. You’re behaving like a stupid schoolgirl.”
“I don’t really know why we’re talking about that plan at all! We never actually got to carry it out, did we?”
“That’s right. Mary broke the camera.”
“Well, actually it was you who smashed the lens against the window.”
“Well, what did you expect? The stupid thing was being so annoying; refusing to focus! I thought you said, just after you’d bought it, that it was the best one in the whole shop?”
“It was. But that window was just so dirty…I mean, you wouldn’t expect it to be able to photograph things through a brick wall, would you?”
“Brick wall? What are you talking about? It was a window, not a brick wall!”
“No! I just mean….oh, never mind…”
Olive stared at Mary with raised eyebrows, as though she was completely stupid. Then she pulled a face and carried on talking: “Unfortunately, when Mary broke the camera, not only did she make a big crack in the front of a piece of Team equipment, she alerted Raymond and Ethel that someone was outside.”
“They knew anyway,” said Mary.
“Olive, it does sound as though this plan of yours just was never going to work,” Alice said gently. “I should have been there.”
“No, you shouldn’t. You were bringing down Lucy; you know that,” Olive snapped. “Besides that, they did not know that we were out there. The window was too filthy. When Mary banged the camera against the window, however, they knew that someone was out there, so it wasn’t long before they spotted us…”
“Then they called the police again,” said Mary mournfully.
For a moment, Olive said nothing. She was remembering the scene which had ensued the moment after she had angrily bashed the camera onto the window sill as Mary shrieked in protest. The two women were standing on tiptoe, and Mary had been balancing the camera on the window sill so that it was directed into the pub, where Raymond and Ethel sat on bar stools, attempting to make conversation with Egbert Glaze, the sour owner of the Loopy Swan. Raymond was already showing the classic signs of drunkenness as he slumped at the bar and giggled manically to himself like a little girl, whilst Ethel was busy re-applying her lipstick, the delicate process of which happened after every time she drank from her own glass. Neither Olive nor Mary could hear their conversation from outside the window, which was probably twice as thick as it had once been thanks to the layer of grime that had been so carefully described by Mary, but judging from the excitement of both of them, Olive had assumed that it had been something to do with Timbuktu, and this had made her hurry even more in cramming the erratic green tinsel wig onto her head as she attempted to make herself look as little like Olive Whinging as she possibly could. But when she heard that irritating squealing sound from Mary’s camera, she could stand it no longer. So now they had been found out.
The force from the camera had also created a sharp crack in the window, and a piece of green glass shattered to the ground inside the pub, so that Olive was fully able to hear her daughter announce, “Raymond, that sounded like someone smashing a camera against the window!”
“Maybe it’s the paparazzi,” Raymond said hopefully. “Wow! I wonder what they want to photograph us for?”
“Darling…don’t you remember who was photographing us back at home?” Ethel murmured suspiciously, standing up and marching over to the window, where Olive and Mary remained, as still as statues. “Don’t you remember the two people who for some reason desperately don’t want us to move to Timbuktu?”
No one said anything more, but Raymond stood up and strode (unsteadily) after Ethel to the window. In a second, both of the Calzones found themselves staring into the horrified faces of Olive Whinging and Mary Maveryck. Both women looked fairly deranged in their own ways. Olive had bloodshot eyes and a green tinsel wig was perched unprofessionally on her head, allowing a few wisps of her grey hair to be seen. Next to her, Mary was cradling the broken camera and looking shocked as she practically choked on the words, “No receipt…”
Raymond’s mouth fell open, but Ethel looked focused. Gritting her teeth, she hissed to Egbert Glaze in a sinister voice which almost rivalled the sly, patronising tone of Lucy Waters:
“Egbert. Call the police. Now.”
“Telephone calls are 50p,” said Egbert unhelpfully. He hadn’t even looked up from re-counting the little money in the till.
“Just do it!” Ethel yelled suddenly, looking daggers at him.
“I’ll add it to your bill, then,” said Egbert blankly, and he slowly picked up the phone with his left hand whilst jotting something down on a piece of paper with his right.
Ethel didn’t bother to wait any longer. As Raymond continued to stare at the two women, Ethel grabbed the phone off Egbert and dialled 999, not seeming to care about what the violent stabbing movements were doing to her fingernails. In a second she was shouting something high-pitched into the receiver; some nonsense about her mother-in-law stalking her and her husband on several separate occasions.
“Anyway, long story short, we’re due in court next Monday,” said Mary glumly to the rest of the Team.
Alice buried her head in her hands. “You’ve done it now!” she groaned. “Olive, you promised me when I joined the Team that this would not become involved with the authorities!”
“Me too!” Hetty cried. “And it has!”
“Ooh! What’s happened?” Edith said excitedly, walking into the room and wiping her wet hands on a cloth.
“Now they’ll definitely move to Timbuktu,” Alice said, ignoring Edith and still with her head in her hands. “This is a complete disaster!”
“Don’t be like that, Alice,” Olive muttered, looking down at her clasped hands. “You’re my second witness.”
“What?” Alice yelped.
“Yep. You’re going to be my second witness.”
“Who’s your first? Can’t they be your only witness?”
“Of course not! If Mary makes any mistakes, I need you to fix them for me! Then whatever Fred says after you, the judge won’t mind as much if he disgraces himself.”
“Mary? What’s Mary a witness for? Isn’t she on trial as well?”
“Well, no. Raymond told the police that it was me who’d been stalking them.”
“I must say, Olive, you’re taking this very well,” said Alice, eyeing Olive suspiciously and trying to remember what she’d read about the symptoms of severe depression. “Why are you so calm? Raymond’s probably going to move now.”
“I could still be persistent,” Olive whispered meekly, staring at Alice. “I mean, I’ve got you lot, haven’t I? You’ll all defend me in court, won’t you? Especially you, Alice; you could come up with something. You love the law!”
“Well, I have read a few books on it,” Alice admitted. Olive’s sudden worried expression and meek manner made her feel suddenly as though she actually wanted to help her, for once. “I could find something…”
“Yeah, and I’ll write something down on a piece of paper so I don’t forget it,” Frederick piped up.
“Yes, except I’ll write it for you,” said Alice quickly, shuddering to think about the sort of thing Frederick might come up with on his own. “I’ll have a look in one of my books. I’m not sure there’s ever been a case like this. Hmm…Olive, do Raymond and Ethel know why you’re trying to stop them from moving to Timbuktu?”
“Oh….no,” said Olive quietly. “I’ve not told them about Raymond and me yet.”
“Well, at least that gives us an advantage,” said Alice, getting suddenly excited. “We can….we can make up a really good defence team! I’ll find a brilliant excuse for why you’ve been spying on them, Olive! Just wait and see! I’ll write Mary and Fred’s speeches for them, and they’ll be perfect! Everything will be perfect!”
“I’m writing my own speech,” Mary muttered, but no one was listening to her.
“…And James’s good at law!” Alice continued boisterously. “He’s really interested in it! Where is he, Fred?”
“Oh, he’s in bathroom, writing,” Frederick said carelessly.
“We’ll get James to help us, too!” Alice squealed. “We’ll make a whole council for the defence, and we can all discuss our ideas! Can’t we, Mary?”
“Oh…I suppose,” said Mary uncertainly.
“…And we’ll win, and everything will be wonderful!” Alice cried as the other members of the Team peered at one another.
“There. Alice has it!” Olive said, looking more cheerful.
She was right. Everyone could see that now Alice wasn’t going to give up. She suddenly felt bound to the Team; she felt a sense of attachment and loyalty that she’d never experienced before, and for once she actually wanted Olive to be happy. And how many times did she get to organise a whole law case, anyway? It was time for Alice to step to the centre of the stage…