Bike 1,151–1,200

The Daily

Dormouse

(aka Bike)

Parts 1,151–1,200

by Angharad

If you wish to make a comment please go to the original part by part posting on BigCloset TopShelf.


The Daily Dormouse Part 1151

Henry was a bit crabby when I phoned him the next morning, and when I challenged him, he explained he’d had too much to eat and drink last night at the Mansion House. This is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, so Henry would have been rubbing shoulders with the great and the good; thank goodness I’ve avoided that so far.

“Oh, is this a bad time to come with my begging bowl?”

“Cathy, this is a bank not a charity.”

“What big teeth you have, Grandmama.”

His response was to roar with laughter. “How much?”

“If you had £83 billion to spare, we could have aircraft on our carriers and a functioning library.”

“Don’t get me started on that,” he warned.

“We need some chain link fencing around some woodland, it was damaged by timber thieves and if replanted will be liable to deer eating all the trees.”

“What’s so special about this woodland that it needs a fence round it?”

“It’s one of my key dormouse sites and we lost eight nest boxes yesterday and five dormice.”

“How much are we talking?”

“I don’t know, I hope a couple of thousand—but it would give you a chance to use it for publicity—the bank comes to the rescue of endangered dormice, that sort of thing.”

“Get me some quotes, oh and will you appear in the photos for it?”

“If I say yes now, why won’t you?” I was learning to negotiate.

“Because you haven’t told me the price involved.”

“Okay, if you say yes in principle, so will I.”

“Okay—but don’t make a habit of it.”

“Just tell that lovely hubby of mine he has to make a bit extra to pay for my dormouse fence.”

“I’ll do no such thing, he’s under enough pressure as it is.”

“Why, what’s he doing today?”

“Showing the Mayor of Portsmouth round the proposed offices there.”

“He didn’t tell me,” I said indignantly.

“Why, would you have wanted to be with him?”

“No thanks.”

“There’ll come a time when you’ll have to do the dutiful wife thing.”

“Perhaps, but I won’t be breastfeeding then, I hope.”

“Oh yes, I forgot about that aspect of your current life.”

“I have this built-in reminder who squawks louder than a fire alarm when I keep her waiting.”

“Ah the joys of motherhood—this is the little one whose family all died, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I still feel guilty about that.”

“Why, you didn’t kill them? If I remember, the mother took her own life didn’t she?”

“She couldn’t bear to be parted from her husband and daughter.”

“Very sad.”

“Indeed.”

“Okay, get the estimate to me—email it, I’m going to be out of the office the rest of the day.”

“What, just to avoid me?”

“Cathy, it’s lovely to see a woman with such a healthy ego who isn’t also entirely rapt in her own importance.”

“Me important?—nah, I’m just a cow on two legs to one young lady: now she is important.”

“I think you’re a bit more important than that, say six or seven times more if I include your eldest child.”

“What, Julie?”

“I was thinking more Simon.”

“Ah, but he’s busy showing some horse round Portsmouth.”

“Horse? The mayor—oh now I get it, you are too quick for me this morning, young lady.”

“It could have been worse, Henry, it could have been a night mayor.”

“I’m going to my meeting before you drive me completely insane. Bye.”

“Bye, Daddy-in-law, and thanks.”

“Go away, you wicked woman.”

“I’m gone, bye.” I put the phone down chuckling as I did. I had a very good relationship with my pa-in-law, who indulged me almost as much as his son did. He told me that he thought of me as his daughter, except he fancied me like mad which I think was just a little boost to my ego from him. Although he had a reputation for being a ladies’ man, I trusted him implicitly—and there aren’t many bankers one could say that about.

I emailed Gareth to say the bank wanted estimates for the fencing and to make it snappy as I didn’t know how long the money would be available. I’d caught Henry in a good mood: tomorrow he might be different, though I doubted it. Anyway, Gareth didn’t know that.

Jenny was out with the baby in the pram giving me time to do some proper work, not domestic slavery. I was so into what I was doing, I’d forgotten Stella was still in the house.

“Cuppa?” she said, poking her head round the kitchen door.

“Um, yes please. I’ve been so busy I didn’t notice the time.”

“So I see.”

“I’ve just emailed Gareth.”

“He’s coming over tomorrow night.”

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know, can you keep an eye on Puddin’?”

“Yeah, one of us will, no probs.”

“Thanks.”

“You really fancy him, don’t you?”

“So d’you.”

I blushed, “I did, but I’m happy with what I’ve got, or would be if he lived here not just stayed for weekends.”

“Simon’s a good man.”

“Can you put that in writing, please—maybe better not, if he saw it, it would probably kill him.”

“Cathy, you can be so cruel, sometimes.”

“Only sometimes, you told me ages ago that I was a psycho.”

“You misheard me, I said, cyclist.”

“A likely tale and my hearing is pretty good.”

“I didn’t say it wasn’t, you were probably distracted at the time.”

“Yeah, living with you does tend to do that.”

“Do what?”

“Drive you to distraction.”

“Huh,” she pretended to be hurt, and huffed about the kitchen—I was nearly persuaded that she was hurt until she began to snigger. Then she said, “Bitch,” and left me to my computer.

I began to wonder where Jenny and the baby were, because they arrived back after I’d started preparing lunch. I’d made a fresh loaf which we had with a bowl of soup made with leftovers from the chicken and stock from the vegetables, plus of course some new chopped vegetables including potato and celery with a carrot, onion and some garlic.

Apparently Jenny had run into an old friend and stopped for coffee. I nearly told her to let me know next time, but she’s so good and I was worrying about nothing. I had to feed tiny wee, but that was to be expected, she was coming on nicely and had gained half a pound in the last week or so and was definitely teething the way she was chewing on her teething ring, or her hand. She already had one tooth in the front as my tender nipples would attest. It looked like it was getting some company in the near future. I hoped it wouldn’t mean disturbed nights.

Stella came down with Puddin’ as I dished up the lunch. She was able to chew on a piece of crust and ate some of the soup, even though I knew it was likely to go through her, all those vegetables—but it would hopefully do her some good en route.

“What time is Gareth coming tomorrow?” I asked Stella.

“Sevenish, I think, why?”

“I’m trying to work out if you’ll be here for dinner or not, or if I’ll have an extra mouth to feed.”

“No—we’re going out to eat, I think—I’ll check and let you know in plenty of time. He’s supposed to phone me later,” she beamed.

Jenny and I looked at each other and smiled.

The Daily Dormouse Part 96 Dozen (1152)

Gareth did phone her after he’d emailed me. The area of the woodland requiring fencing was a couple of hundred metres, the rest of the woodland being protected by existing fencing or some hawthorn hedging, which had been laid and trimmed less than ten years ago and was practically impenetrable—nature’s barbed wire—the other side of which was a dairy farm. So we couldn’t exclude deer entirely, just make it difficult for them. Some of the old fencing was metal poles and fence posts, which was more of a boundary marker than anything, and we had been planting hedging material inside it for the three or more years I’d been surveying the site.

I was miffed that the timber thieves had destroyed nest boxes and killed at least five animals. If only they knew how long it had taken to build up the population there, and the two cold winters we’ve had in the past two years makes it harder. I had a licence to take any underweight animals into the university labs to see if we could get them through the winter, and my survey team had removed one family—I guess they missed the other one. One of the problems of delegation—I like to think I wouldn’t have done so.

I was missing my practical work and wondered if I might do the odd session to maintain my handling skills and licence. Altogether we had five licence holders in my team, although mine was the most comprehensive one, the others being technically supervisees of mine.

The fencing was going to cost a fair bit, I won’t say how much in case any of you invest in the bank, although I thought it was worth it—I hoped Henry agreed. I sent him the quote.

He replied by email: ‘In view of the cost of this, I think a page three type photo with strategically placed dormice, would be in order.’

I have to give him his due, he’s a trier. I wrote back. ‘If you will, I won’t. How about a strategically placed Versace?’ I just happen to have a Stella-cast off suit which should fit the bill.

‘The bank is not paying for a dress as well—who do you think you are, Stella?’

‘I’ll provide the clothing,’ I replied.

‘You shameless gold-digger, you have a deal, but I do want photos, so get your hair done.’

I was tempted to ask if he was paying for it, but thought better of it. So far he’s been a great supporter, and I wouldn’t want to annoy him. I sent an email to Gareth telling him that Henry had agreed, but telling him I wanted a sign of some sort on the finished fence commemorating the bank’s involvement. I was tempted to tell him I wanted it on his erection, but he might have gotten the wrong idea—wait until he gets to know Stella better—he’ll get loads of wrong ideas.

I summoned my madam de coiffure, “Oi mush, come yer a mo.”

“You got huskies in here?” asked Stella, entering the kitchen.

“No just Hush Puppies, your pater wants me to have my hair done, what’ya think?”

“Seeing as it looks as if it’s spent the last six months up the Amazon while you were in Croydon, it needs doing.”

“Badly, I suppose?”

“Cathy, if you want it doing badly, I have plenty names of grotty salons. If however, madam would care to consult a genius…”

“I’m not letting Trish near it,” I interrupted spoiling her build up.

“Not Trish, you dipstick, me!”

“I suppose you have been known to wave a comb about.”

“Huh—that’s like saying you might have seen a dormouse.”

“Well, I mighta done.”

“Grrrrrr—you infuriating offspring of a canine.”

“Me? I was born under a wand’rin’ star,” I began to sing it almost as badly as Lee Marvin did in Paint Your Wotsit, only a shade higher in pitch. I must admit I prefer the sequel, Emulsion your bathroom.

Stella had her hands over her ears and Kiki was barking, “Please stop, I’ll do your hair for you.” I did as requested. “Thank you, I suspect if they do a horror version of that film, they could get you to do the soundtrack, people would turn white overnight.

“I’ll have you know I was in the school choir.”

“Which school was that, one run by the Royal National Society for the Deaf?”

“No, Bristol Grammar, I was the only sixteen-year-old male treble, all the others were about eleven.”

I began to sing, ‘Thank you for the music,’ the Abba hit and she joined in with me. Jenny came to see what the noise was about, it wasn’t our singing, honest—it was Kiki’s howling. Well how was I supposed to know she didn’t like Abba. Then the baby woke up and I had to feed her. By the time I’d fed and changed her, it was time to go and get the girls.

I was playing the CD of Abba’s greatest hits, which I’d had ever since I first knew Simon. Trish grumbled, “Is this, Mamma Mia?”

Just then it came on, ‘Mamma Mia, here I go again…’ Trish put her hands over her ears and squealed loudly. “What’s your problem?” I said, pulling her hand off one ear.

She began giggling and then so did the others. It was several minutes before I could get any sense out of any of them. Eventually I did—apparently, whatever music I had on or the news on the radio, Trish was going to pretend she hated it.

“You little maggot,” I declared, which set them all off again. I switched off the CD player, “Hmm, I know how to get my own back.”

“Betcha don’t,” dared the ringleader of the mutiny.

“Be careful, people have been known to throw themselves under buses rather than listen to my ethereal siren.”

“Wassat then?” asked Trish—when she gets a bigger vocabulary I’m in big trouble.

“My rendition of a popular dirge.”

“Mummy, please talk English, like wot the rest of us does.”

“Very funny.” Actually it was, coming from a six-year-old going on twenty-four.

“You gonna sing?” asked Livvie.

“It had traversed my frontal lobes.”

“Eh?” commented Billie.

“It went through ’er ’ead,” said Trish. How did she know that?

“Mummy sings nice,” Mima proved she was still awake, but then I hadn’t yet started my lullaby, and Brahms it won’t be.

I started up the car and pulled out on to the main road, then clicked the child locks, they’d have to bale out the windows to escape.

“Wotcha gonna sing, Mummy?” asked Billie.

“Something from a musical.”

“Not, Mamma Mia, pulllease,” pleaded Trish.

“Okay, here we go…” I coughed to clear my throat— “I was born under a wand’rin’ star…”

There were squeals from the back and they were covering their ears but I continued, I’ll show the little buggers not to try and put one over on me, and I continued my deliberate off-key dirge. Well I enjoyed it.

I stopped when Trish, who was sitting in the front seat, pressed the CD player back on and we all settled to sing-along with Abba while we drove home.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1153

Gareth duly collected Stella and I wished them both a pleasant evening. I really hoped they liked each other because they are essentially nice people, who perhaps deserve a bit of a break. They had both been unlucky in love, Stella with Des being killed and Gareth with his girlfriend being lost on a round-the-world yacht race. It was an all girl crew and they disappeared somewhere in the South Atlantic. They were all presumed drowned. I’d only found this out from someone who knew him from before his days in Hampshire, when he was a postgraduate student at Cardiff doing his PhD, which was when he lost his girl, Fiona Somerfield. I did a search on the net and found a small mention of her. It was back in 2005.

Puddin’ was babysat mainly by Julie, who would use the exercise to blackmail Stella at a later opportunity, usually for money—I let it happen because I saw it as teaching Julie the basics of baby care. Livvie came to help me sort out wee yin, and changed her nappy under my direction. Trish was busy playing Danny on some video game while Simon watched in amazement—they’d both beaten him easily.

Billie looked as if she was sickening for something and went to bed early. I’d have to keep an eye on her. Tom was in his study and I went for a wee chat with him. I asked him if he thought I should do more practical work next year—the dormice would be going into hibernation now, so any found in the nest boxes under about 20g would be considered underweight and brought into the university. We had a session booked for next Saturday when all the nest boxes would be checked during the morning. I was involved in that and Trish and Livvie were coming with me along with a dozen other volunteers from the department.

When Phoebe heard about it, she sent me a text asking if she could come too. I warned her that it was hard work, especially if it was wet, and she said she’d be fine, but could she stay for the weekend? I called her mother and agreed if she did come she would catch a bus or train or be sent straight back home—so no more hitching.

We considered that by next May, when the season really got going again, the baby would be six or seven months older and although still feeding from me, would be having solids too and thus able to be left for longer periods.

Tom suggested I should concentrate on the management of the survey and collating the data. After all, that was what my thesis would be about and the advantage of that would be finding new sites and having others check them for me to act as controls against my original sites.

This meant getting someone to survey some suitable sites and to use the Mammal Society’s recommended method. The initial survey would be for signs of dormice—mainly eaten shells of hazel and acorn with possible sightings of nests in suitable undergrowth.

How do you pick a suitable woodland? Well it needs to be able to feed them, so trees and shrubs like oak, hazel and sycamore. They use honeysuckle bark for making nests with grasses, so that’s quite important if not essential. Once nuts eaten by dormice have been identified, then during the season, one puts up loads of tubes or long boxes—these are corrugated plastic tubes with a wooden insert which blocks the tube at one end, and which has a bit of beading across its base halfway down the tube. The idea is if the tubes are hung from branches facing the trunk of the tree, dormice will nest in them. If you find nests then the next stage is to put up nest boxes.

The tubes, which are actually rectangular things and flat packed when you buy them, need to be checked every week and because they don’t take long to put up, and are relatively cheap, tend to be used in their dozens—the problem being that checking them can be a pain unless you’re doing it as a paid project, or have some poor deluded undergrad student who thinks he’s saving the planet to do it for you. Mapping the site is essential, especially when you put up permanent nest boxes and have different people checking them. In secure woodlands, we tend to put up fluorescent ribbons near the nest box so you can find them—they are very easy to miss otherwise. The other thing is to use GPS, which theoretically means you should find them all. However, as they say, theory and practice are only the same in theory, in practice they tend to differ.

The next stage once you have some data from a population is to chip them with the same sort of chips they use in dogs and cats—I know, dormouse and chips, yeah very funny—and then you can begin really collecting data because you know which mouse is which for certain. This means you can monitor weights, distribution and movement, and broods from females. Perhaps buccal scrapes, from the inside of cheeks, or even the needles used to implant the chips will give DNA and even more data can be collected, including possible family trees. So the prospects are very exciting—if the research grants are forthcoming. We have four proposals out at the moment, though with the cut backs the government are discussing, we could lose all of them. Henry might be good for one of them, but we’re talking quite large sums if we go to DNA testing because we’d need a bigger university to do that for us and that’s expensive. I have links with Sussex, so they’d do it for us if we could afford it, unless pissing off Esmond Herbert when I rejected the UN job counts against me.

“Ye should hae tak thae UN job,” Tom opined: he was consistent if nothing else.

“I think I told you I didn’t want it from the start.”

“Ye could hae done lots o’ guid wi’it.”

“I like to think I’m doing some good now, mainly to a group of children who were in need of a mother.”

“Och, dinnae be sae moralistic, ye could hae done that tae.” However, the sparkle in his eyes meant he was winding me up. So I didn’t take the bait. “Esmond thinks ye’re guid enough tae replace him in a few years.”

“I’m not sure I’d agree.”

“C’maff it, hen, ye’re his best student sae far.”

“Since when?” It was the first I’d heard of it.

“Hoo mony got firsts when ye were there?”

“I have no idea—I had my results sent to me.”

“Ye’re thae ony yin in thae last ten years. Why d’ye think I wis so glad tae hae ye?”

“Because I reminded you of your daughter.”

“Och, that’s below thae belt, sae it is.”

“I’d better go and feed the wee yin, and see what’s happening with Puddin’, she’s looking after Julie for me.”

“Och, ye’re mad as a ha’er.”

“Yep, it’s sniffing all these dormice.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1154

When I saw Stella at breakfast, it appeared the date had gone well. I took the girls to school and rushed back for all the gory details.

“So, spill the beans, Cameron,” I urged, sitting with Jenny and Stella at the kitchen table with fresh cups of tea before us, and more in the pot.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she feigned.

“You and Dr Gorgeous Sage, and get a move on! I have things to do.”

“Jealous are we, Cathy?”

“No, I’m content with my lot, and I’d like to see you similarly endowed.”

“Oh, trying to get rid of me now, are you?” she protested.

“Absolutely—now cut to the chase.”

“Chase? There was no chase, he behaved impeccably: we had dinner in an Italian restaurant and then went for a walk down by Gun Wharf Quay.”

“Awww, how romantic,” Jenny considered.

“What did you have to eat?”

“Tagliatelle, why?”

“With what, it’s boring by itself.”

“Oh I had bolognaise sauce, I think.”

“You think?”

“Well, I was nicely distracted by my escort.”

“You go to an Italian restaurant and eat the equivalent of spag bol and blame it on the company?” I was astonished. Okay, so he’s beautiful, but for goodness sake, he’s not worth passing up a decent Italian meal, not when he’s going to be there afterwards, anyway.

“Not all of us are so dedicated to our bellies, Cathy.”

“Stella, life is about experiencing new things, even you should have been able to cope with two at once.”

“I did, I had some ice cream afterwards.”

I felt like banging my head on the table. “Well, you were a cheap date.”

“Cheap date? We went Dutch.”

“A very cheap date.”

“Is he as nice as he looks?” asked Jenny.

“A perfect gentleman, but then Cathy knows this already,” Stella replied pointedly.

“I won’t disagree, he’s a very nice chap and I like to work with him on conservation issues because he’s so nice—he’s also quite bright, which makes a change.”

“What, from Simon? Wait till I tell him,” gloated my sister-in-law.

“Actually I was meaning some of the people I’ve worked with over the years.” I said this probably more defensively than I needed to, and felt myself blushing.

“Is he a good kisser?” asked Jenny, relieving my embarrassment.

“How would I know?” Stella blushed.

“You’re not usually so slow off the mark,” I observed, twisting the knife a little.

“Oh and you’re such a fast mover are you? Simon waited weeks to get a kiss from you, other than a peck on the cheek.”

I didn’t want her to get into too much detail about my love life in the early days, as things were a bit different then. “I kept you abreast of the details without the use of thumbscrews.”

“True, only because you wanted advice—I was her courting coach,” Stella informed Jenny, who found it all rather funny.

“Coach? The only thing you taught me was how to use someone else’s credit card.”

“I was her retail adviser, too,” Stella beamed.

“I’m quite happy to admit that I was a relatively poor post grad student eking out a life in a student bedsit, and that Simon was very generous to me—however, I found it more of an obstacle than a help.”

“Only because you’re so bloody independent. Jenny, can you believe she had this man who was crazy about her who was super-rich and she continued living in the bedsit instead of moving in with him? She only accepted the car he loaned her because her father had a stroke and she needed to go back and fore to Bristol to see him.”

“Wow,” said Jenny, “Did you know he was that wealthy?”

“Not at first, he told me he worked in a bank—how was I to know he practically owned it?”

“Cor, so you didn’t know the Camerons by reputation?”

“I didn’t know anything about them at all, and would possibly still be in ignorance if this one hadn’t literally bumped into me.”

“She bumped into you?”

“Um yes,” blushed Stella.

“She hit me off my bike.”

“Like, how did she do that?”

“She didn’t have any lights on her bike.”

“It was three o’clock in the afternoon, in July.”

“There was a terrific thunderstorm, I could barely make out the road, let alone that silly cow on a bloody bicycle with no lights—it was as dark as night.”

“One of the first things Simon told me was that Stella gave women drivers a bad name.”

“He’s just a male chauvinist!” Stella said defensively.

“There’s lots I don’t agree with that Simon says, but he was spot on then.”

“I’ve travelled with Stella, and she seemed quite a good driver.” As Jenny voiced this opinion, Stella beamed at me.

“Make sure your life insurance is paid up if you do.”

“That’s a gross overstatement of risk,” Stella huffed.

“Fine, but I’ll stand by it.” I drew my line in the sand.

“Okay, you’re entitled to your opinion, even if it’s wrong,” Stella pronounced imperiously and Jenny snorted tea everywhere. “Just remember, if I hadn’t bumped you off your bike, you’d still be living in a bedsit and Simon would possibly be with someone else, not to mention all these waifs and strays you’ve acquired.”

“I’m not disputing all that, Stella. In fact, I wouldn’t have known you either, and that’s been one of the most important experiences in my life. You’ve taught me so much, like a big sister.”

“Do you mean that, or are you softening me up for the coup de grâce?”

“Stella, I mean it: you’ve been like a big sister to me ever since we met.”

“Awww, that is so sweet, Cathy, it would bring a tear to a glass eye.”

Jenny snorted another cup of tea everywhere, and Stella winked at me. After she’d cleaned up, Jenny asked, “Have you no brothers or sisters, Cathy?”

“No, apart from a very strange Aunt and Uncle, I have no close family at all, hence my delight at having Stella as a sister, albeit with homicidal tendencies in cars.”

“That’s a downright lie—I demand a recount: especially on who has gotten through more cars in those three or four years, c’mon, let’s count them.”

The bitch—I needed to qualify this statement. “How many have I caused to be damaged? None.”

“Ha, you had a Mercedes totalled on the motorway because of where you left it.”

“Stella, that wasn’t my fault, the road was blocked by a multiple accident.”

“Is that where you saved the baby?” asked Jenny.

“How d’you know about that?”

“I did a search for you on the Internet and saw you’d had quite a chequered career, most of it saving lives or places. You were a regular boy scout.”

“I’ve been a lot of things, but not a boy scout.”

“I saw the BBC interview about changing over.”

“Oh, I hope you don’t think I tried to mislead you?” I was hot and bothered to the degree that I was astonished I couldn’t actually smell burning.

“No, you’re under no obligation to divulge such secrets—I’d never have guessed, and I suspect you made the right choice. I don’t see how you could ever have been a boy, let alone a scout.”

I blushed and felt the sweat running down my back.

“She was on the verge of transitioning sometime in the next hundred years,” joked Stella, “I pushed her into it, and apart from Puddin’, it is my most important achievement, making two unhappy souls contented through each other.”

“When did Simon learn about your little secret?”

“Quite some time later, I wanted to tell him, but she wouldn’t let me,” I pointed at Stella.

“He seemed oblivious of it, so why complicate the issue?”

“Complicate? Stella it was already complicated. Technically, he’d fallen in love with someone whose birth registration said, male.”

“Oh yes, seeing as you were born in Scotland, you could have changed your birth certificate ages ago.” Stella smiled.

“What d’you mean?”

“Scottish law was different to English, you could have changed it earlier.”

“Now you tell me,” I gasped.

“Well, better late than never—what’s for lunch, I’m starving.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1155

Lunch proved to be something quick—Welsh rarebit. After clearing up, I managed to get some survey work done and to remind all my volunteers about the upcoming dormouse survey, the last of the year. I sent out emails making sure we had a licence holder at every site we were doing, then it was time to collect the girls.

The week seemed to fly past. Gareth came to collect Stella once more and she went over to his place once as their relationship began to develop. It felt really good to see her dressing up and wearing makeup again. There was a spring in her step and she had something about her, which even Tom noticed.

“You look nice, Aunty Stella,” commented Livvie.

“Why thank you, Livvie, you look pretty good yourself.” Livvie walked about the place with a smile almost as big as Stella’s. She’d paid all of the girls to babysit Puddin’ who was no trouble except when she was teething and then guess who got to look after her?

So for a week I lived with Lady Stella becoming prettier and more confident by the day. “You know, you saved Gareth’s job, don’t you?” she said to me on the Friday.

“What d’you mean?” I asked, making up a bed for Phoebe who’d be here tonight.

“They’re making redundancies in Defra and Natural England.”

“Yeah, so what did I do?”

“He’s prosecuting the timber thieves, whom you effectively caught, and your help with getting the bank to pay for the fencing apparently makes him seem to be involved with the business community, which they’re trying to encourage.”

“Oh good—I’m glad I’m doing something right. Pass the duvet cover please, yes the grey one.” I finished making up the bed while we talked. “Nice nail colour,” I said, noticing she’d painted her nails.

“Gosh, Cathy, Gareth has given me a reason to live again and it’s really through you, thank you for letting me have him.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“C’mon, I know you fancied him and he rather fancies you, too…” As Stella droned on, I had visions of a rerun of the Des situation. I still hadn’t told her that he’d left me his property, and that I’d set up a trust fund for her daughter which all profits from the house went into, after repairs and refurbishments.

“I had nothing to do with it, Stella, other than working with him in his official capacity. That he asked you out, is nothing to do with me—I’m married to your brother—remember? And happily married, as well.”

“Methinks the lady protests too much,” was her reply.

“C’mon, Hamlet, help me carry this washing downstairs.”

The rest of the day was either talking to people about the survey the next day, or getting the place ready for Phoebe, which Julie was looking forward to, although I told them they could only go to the cinema if they went out and no alcohol. She told me they were going to see some film about lesbians with Julianne Moore in it. Great, oh well, maybe it will help her decide what she is—although I’m sure I saw something in the Guardian about both her and Annette Benning claiming they were straight. For goodness sake, they’re actors—aren’t they supposed to play anyone they need to, or is it especially challenging to do so to play someone who’s different to you? The world is crazy, too busy with its head up its arse concerned about its sexuality and what others will think, rather than getting on with doing something called living.

I’d bought a turkey which I’d roast for tonight, and do something with the rest of the meat tomorrow and Sunday. Tomorrow we could have turkey and chips—for those trying to wean themselves off meat—it would be the hell of cold turkey.

I had the bird in the oven from three o’clock, and the vegetables started before I went to collect the girls. Sister Maria told me they’d sold most of the tickets for my talk on November 26th. I’d nearly forgotten all about it.

I left Stella in charge of supervising the rest of the veg, while Trish and I went off to collect Phoebe who was waiting for us at the bus station, with a used ticket. She gave us each a bone-shaking hug and we got into the car.

“Lady Cameron, there’s something I’d like to ask you in confidence.”

I waited to start the car, “Okay, I’m not sure I can answer it, but I’ll try.” I assumed she’d spoken to Neal about my past—oh well, at least Trish knew about it and besides, she was sitting in the back seat singing along with Kylie Minogue on her MP3 player and every so often very strange noises emanated from the back seat.

Phoebe blushed, “It’s a bit embarrassing,” she said very coyly.

“Please don’t feel embarrassed with me.”

“Okay, is Julie a boy?”

I blushed showing my embarrassment. “What makes you say that?”

“She’s got some dangly bits.”

“She showed them to you?”

“No, I saw them while she was sleeping, the bed cover slipped down and they showed through her nightdress.”

“Why don’t you ask her?” I asked.

“Um, it’s a bit personal, isn’t it?”

“I think it might be a bit personal for me to answer, too.”

“So that means she is, then?”

“Does it?”

“Yes, ’cos if she wasn’t, you’d have said so.”

“Would I?”

“Yeah—wouldn’t you?”

“Would I?”

“I spoke to Neal and told him about you breastfeeding—he said if you took the right hormones anyone could do it.”

“Ah, so now you think I’m a boy again? Are you sure you want to stay with us if we’re all weirdos?”

“Oh yeah, it’s like great fun, an’ I don’t think you’re weird, I like you.”

“So what about Julie, are you still happy to share a room with her?”

“Yeah, no probs—I don’t suppose she could get it up anyway—though part of me would like to see her try.”

“I’m not sure I can let you share a room with her, you’ll have to sleep in the dining room on the couch.”

“Why?”

“Because I can’t allow underage kids to experiment with sex in my house.”

“What? I thought you were cool about all sorts of things, being different yourself.”

“I’m sorry, but you’re wrong there. I have very conventional views on what minors are allowed to do. By all means try it when you’re eighteen and somewhere else, but please don’t embarrass me or abuse my hospitality.”

She burst into tears, “I wasn’t gonna do nothin’, honest—can’t I stay with Julie?”

“I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it now, and I’d require an undertaking from both of you that nothing would happen. I’m a bit disappointed, Phoebe.”

“Aw pooh, I thought you were so cool an’ things.”

“I’m a parent, Phoebe. I’m also old enough to see beyond the barriers you have, because that’s what I’m required to do: to see the consequences of certain actions, it’s the difference between being an adult and a teen. I’m sorry if it sounds boring, but that’s the way it is. Now if you want to stay, you can, but on my terms, or you can catch the bus back and I’ll call your mum to explain why.”

“What? You’d tell my mum you were a bunch of weirdos?”

“If it protected you and Julie, yes.”

“Wow, no shit?”

“Absolutely none at all.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1156

Phoebe sat quietly all the way home. In fact, apart from the noise of the car and Trish occasionally sounding like a ferret that had got its gonads caught in a gin trap as she sang along with Kylie, there was no noise. I wondered if the weekend was now going to be a negative experience for Phoebe, and part of me felt it would serve her right, and part felt that I’d like Julie to have more friends.

I don’t have many, never have had. I wasn’t popular in school except as a target for bullies—until I did Lady Macbeth—then all the gay boys and one or two straight ones wanted me to go out with them—as a girl. In those days I didn’t have any feelings about anything. I assumed I was asexual, as many transsexuals are supposed to be. Then Simon happened and that car mechanic bloke, Kevin who kissed me and caused a little discharge in my knickers. I suspect he would still, which is why I haven’t joined his cycling club—that doesn’t mean I don’t love Simon, because I do more than ever. It simply means that I can window shop, like with Gareth—he’s lovely and if I wasn’t spoken for, I’d be fighting Stella for him—metaphorically of course.

We arrived at the house and after allowing Phoebe to put her bag in Julie’s room, I went to check on the turkey. It was pretty well done, so were the roasties and the carrots and cabbage were nearly so.

Tom was the first back—“Not turkey, it’s no Christmas is it?” His eyes sparkled and I managed to put the kitchen knife back into the block rather than between his shoulder blades.

Minutes later the Jaguar indicated the arrival of Simon, and the lawn mower noise meant Julie was home. They came in together, Simon with his arm around his foster daughter’s shoulder.

“Hi Pheebs,” said Julie, and the two teens embraced.

Julie rushed upstairs to change, and I asked Phoebe to lay the table. She had no idea what to do, and when I looked for Trish, she was missing. Livvie showed her what to do, and eventually we got the table laid—in the dining room.

“Don’t you ever like do that at home?” asked Livvie.

“What? We don’t like eat at the table, you can’t see the telly can you?”

“I don’t know, we don’t have the telly on during dinner, and besides, it’s in the lounge and we eat in the kitchen or dining room.” Livvie seemed disgusted by Phoebe’s home—she told me after the older girls had gone to the cinema.

Trish had gone to tell Julie that Phoebe had seen her dangly bits. I was about to dish up the dinner when Trish came to say that Julie needed me urgently. I ran up the stairs thinking she’d hurt herself, only to find she was sitting on the bed looking anything but pleased with life.

“Phoebe knows about me, then.”

“So she said, I didn’t tell her.”

“No, Trish told me she like saw my dangly bits through my nightie.”

“I told you to wear knickers as well.”

“Yeah, but they’re so hot.”

“So are the fires of hell, allegedly, which is where you seem to be at the moment.”

“Yeah. Is she gonna stay?”

“As far as I know, but I have qualms about where she’s sleeping.”

“I won’t touch her.”

“I know that, but I can’t be sure she won’t touch you.”

“That’d be a waste of time—it don’t get hard anymore. She must have good eyesight, it’s got so small since I’ve been on the pills.”

“Is that a regret?”

“No way, I’d have felt happier if it had dropped off altogether.”

“Would have made life difficult for a surgeon who wanted to do a conversion for you.”

“Yeah, I s’pose so.”

“Mind you, you could always ask Trish, she has some experience in removing gonads.”

“I think I’ll wait, especially if Daddy’s gonna like pay for it.”

“That’s what he said, maybe he’s hoping to get a bulk purchase order with you, Trish and Billie?”

“He’s not, is he?”

I hoped the question was a rhetorical joke, but I had my doubts.

“Dinner’s cooked, c’mon let’s go and eat.”

The atmosphere over dinner was a little strained, with Julie seeming a little withdrawn from her ebullient entrance. Phoebe was flirting with Simon and Tom, and I realised how poor I was at it in comparison with her.

The meal itself was fine, and I did have some cranberry sauce, as well as sausage-meat stuffing, although I wasn’t trying to do an early rehearsal for Christmas. Tom tucked in despite his previous comments, while Stella played with her food—her mind was miles away, probably taking Gareth’s clothes off him.

Trish and Livvie squabbled about homework—they both had different ideas about which subject they should be doing. I was tempted to make them do both. Danny was telling Billie about his latest football match, and I sat and watched the interactions between the various diners.

Towards the end of the meal, tiny wee decided she wanted her breast meat and it wasn’t from a turkey. I went off to feed her in the kitchen and get some peace and quiet.

A little later, Gareth turned up for Stella and they gave the older girls a ride to the cinema, from where Simon or I would collect them. Tom did his grandfather thing with the others, playing Monopoly with them. Even Danny took part, although we all knew who was going to win before it started.

I spoke with Simon about my concerns regarding Phoebe. “Yeah, but there’s little chance of them doing anything is there—not after all this time on the pills?”

“I have no idea—if they did, I suspect Julie’s sperm would be infertile, if she could actually produce any.”

“Could you?”

“No—but that was because I didn’t know how.”

“What, you didn’t pull Percy?”

“No—I had no inclination to touch it except to wee or wash.”

“Cor, Cathy you must be the only person in history who didn’t.”

“Quite honestly, it never attracted me.”

“Not even when it went stiff in the mornings?”

“It didn’t do that.”

“Not after the pills, no.”

“No, before the pills.”

“Are you trying to tell me it didn’t get hard, ever?”

“Yes.”

“Did you damage it?”

“Not that I’m aware of, except my father did kick me once there, but that was much later, and I was about to start the pills then anyway.”

“There must have been something wrong with you.”

“Probably. As things have worked out, I’m not complaining as I didn’t really have a male puberty, so I had a female one instead.”

“I’m not complaining either,” he observed.

“What do we do about where Phoebe sleeps?”

“Up to you, Babes, I’ll support whatever you decide.”

“If I ask them to promise to behave, d’you think they will?”

“Probably, you scare me enough, so you probably terrify them.”

“Thank you very much,” I sighed, “I shall just tell them if they do anything they shouldn’t, Phoebe will be sent home and not invited again. How does that sound?”

“Terrific—let’s do that then—how about a little cuddle while Trish is breaking the bank?”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1157

Simon and I were just getting comfortable for a five minute cwtch when the phone rang.

I picked it up off the bedside table, “Hello,” I almost chortled down the phone because of what Simon was doing to me at that moment.

“Mummy, can you come and get us?”

“Is the film over then?”

“It is for us—they threw us out of the cinema.”

“Why? What did you do—no don’t tell me over the phone, I’ll wait till I get there.”

“What’s all that about?” asked Si as I put the phone down.

“It seems the two girls got kicked out of the cinema.”

“Eh, what were they doing—throwing ice creams at the screen?”

“I have no idea but I shall find out when I collect them.”

“When’s that?” he asked blowing on the back of my neck.

“Now, “I got up off the bed and began to straighten the few items of clothing I still wore, before redressing.

“Make ’em wait for half an hour, it’ll do ’em good.”

“After what happened last time, I don’t think so.” I finished dressing and grabbed my bag and car keys. “You could always come with me.”

What—um—yeah, okay.” He rolled off the bed and pulled on his pants and the top he’d been wearing, slipped on his trainers and followed me out, grabbing his jacket as I pulled on my coat.

We chatted in the car until I spotted the girls and they came running over to the car. They were surprised to see me driving my own car and for Simon to be in the passenger seat. Usually he drove, mind you, I think Julie was surprised to see him there at all.

I pulled the car up the road until I found a spot where I could park and they could tell me what happened.

“We got into the film—there were loads of women in pairs there,” started Julie.

“Given the content, is that surprising?” I said quietly.

“Nah, s’pose not, anyway the film began and we had this group o’boys behind us an’ they kept kicking the backs of our seats.”

“So why didn’t you move seats?”

“The place was pretty full and we were there first, so they shoulda moved—I mean they shouldn’t be kicking our seats anyway.”

“So what did you say?”

“I asked ’em politely to stop.”

“How politely?”

“She said, ‘Hey dickhead, lay off the kicking my seat’,” laughed Phoebe.

“I didn’t,” denied Julie, “I called him dickbreath.”

Simon snorted and I felt like banging my head against a wall somewhere private. “What happened next?”

“He told me and my lesbo girlfriend to do something very vulgar and get lost afterwards.”

“And, what did you do or say?” I asked as patiently as I could.

“It was her idea,” Julie blamed Phoebe.

“Um—well it seemed like a good one at the time,” said Phoebe shrinking down in her seat.

“What did you do?”

“We, um snogged in front of them.”

I had to admit I wasn’t expecting that, but I tried to keep a straight face while I could hear Simon trying not to laugh or gasp, unless of course he’d had a heart attack and was in death throes—it was hard to tell.

“Yeah, they made all sorts of obscene suggestions then, so I sprayed ’em.”

“You sprayed them, Phoebe?”

“Yeah, sorrrreeee, I shook my bottle of Pepsi and held my thumb over the end an’ sprayed ’em. Boy were they pissed.”

I wasn’t entirely surprised.

“One o’ them grabbed me, an’ Julie like decked ’im with a straight shot to the side of ’is ’ead.”

“Yeah, me ’and still ’urts.”

“An’ that’s when they like chucked us out.”

At this point Simon lost it completely and I couldn’t decide if he was laughing or crying—it transpired he was doing both—I always know I can count on his support, except he couldn’t speak for laughing for ten minutes—and then his suggestion wasn’t what I’d have offered.

“Oh I needed a good laugh,” he said wiping his eyes, “C’mon let’s pop in the pub on the way home.”

I was so astonished I made no murmur of protest, I mean children I was responsible for had perpetrated lewd behaviour in a public place and then started fisticuffs—we should be punishing them, not celebrating, even if it was amusing.

Simon told me to pull into the Green Knight, and we went and found a table in the corner while he went off to get drinks—cokes for the girls and a St Clements for me.

“Why did you have to hit him?” I asked Julie, who had some bruised knuckles.

“’Cos he wouldn’t let ’er go, when I asked him nicely.”

“Did other people see you?”

“Oh yeah, all the women roared when we like, kissed.”

I’ll bet they did—why me? Why do I seem to find myself in this world which is spinning round quite happily and some idiot, often one of my family, does something stupid which disrupts everything? Okay, what they did was cheeky rather than funny—only a man would find it funny or sexy—I thought it was embarrassing. What would I have done? Moved seats—too many witnesses unless the police are called and then one could complain about kicking the seats. Why were teenage boys there anyway apart from to watch the girls or women, especially in pairs who went to watch it—although listening to the critique of it on Radio 4’s Front Row it is a chick flick, but one which is handled very sensitively in dealing with same sex marriages and sperm donors in the US. They also had an interview on the Today programme with Julianne Moore, after which the interviewer declared himself to be star struck by the lovely Hollywood actress.

“Here,” Simon passed me the tray of drinks from which he removed his pint of Randy Stoat or whatever the real ale was called. I took a good sip of mine when he said, “I got a double vodka put in that,” which caused me to irrigate the table and cough like mad, much to the amusement of the girls. “I owed you that,” he said and went off to the gents.

Julie handed me a paper napkin thing which had been on the tray and I mopped up the mess I’d made. I couldn’t actually remember the last time I’d nearly caused him to choke to death, but I thought it was a pretty mean trick and if he fancied going back to what we were doing before we came out, he had another think coming. Nah, I thought I’d have a lesbian experience instead, getting a girl to suck on my boobs and so on—only, I think when she’s only about three months old, they call it motherhood.

—–

BBC Today Show Link: Julianne Moore on playing a lesbian mother

The Daily Dormouse Part 1158

After making a spectacle of myself in the pub, snorting orange juice and lemonade everywhere, I wasn’t best pleased when Simon bought himself and the girls another drink. I sat there glowering at mine to which he’d said he’d added a double vodka. Of course he hadn’t, it was a wind up which he admitted when he came back from the bar.

I frowned at him for the rest of our stay, which they say is not a good thing to do as it uses more muscles than smiling and encourages wrinkles. The way this lot were going, I’d be a grey-haired old lady by thirty.

Of course the girls were happy to have another coke, and to flirt with the young men in the pub, then hide behind the robust figure of Simon, who is over six feet tall and broad with it—brick sh—house comes to mind, and as an ex-rugby player, he’s quite useful in physical matters. I always feel safer when he’s with me. I suspect the two teens felt the same, because once or twice I had to caution them not to lead the men on or Simon and I would go on by ourselves.

We left the pub about ten o’clock and I hoped the baby would be good tonight because I seemed to be developing a headache, which is something I don’t usually get. By the time we got home, my head was pounding and I excused myself, took some aspirin and went to bed.

I felt rather than saw Simon coming to bed, and of course had to drag myself out at five to feed the vampire infant. Thankfully, my headache had passed by then although I didn’t feel brilliant and I had a dormouse survey to coordinate—wonderful.

The little bugger kept falling asleep as she fed, and I had to wake her half a dozen times during her feed. I gave her a bit of Farex rice mixed with cow’s milk and she swallowed it down. Then after changing her and bathing her, it was pretty well time to get up anyway.

I had a relaxing bath, taking my tea and the baby with me, she sat in her bouncer seat, a recliner thing which has a mobile hoisted above it on a thing like a fishing rod, so as she bounces it dances about and she giggles and bounces some more.

I relaxed in the warm soothing water, to which I had added some smelly bath lotion stuff I’d got the Christmas before last, I also shaved my legs while I was in there. Simon staggered through half an hour later for a wee and muttered something.

I dried myself off and expressed some milk, which had collected quite quickly, mind you I had just had a drink, which helps. I dressed, took the milk downstairs to the fridge and then got the girls up. Julie was going to work, Phoebe, Trish and Livvie were coming with me ‘mousing’ and Danny would be playing football, which Simon would go to watch taking Billie and Mima with him. Jenny would look after the baby and I expected to be home about lunchtime if it all went well.

I did a quick breakfast and then went off to check my equipment. My scanner for the micro-chipped animals, my little balance for weighing them, a notepad and pencil for recording things, a torch, a penknife, a bit of string and so on. Then a few thin plastic bags for weighing the mice and a couple of large see-through ones for catching them from the nest box.

I decided I wasn’t going to chip any today, so those we caught which hadn’t been done would have to be recorded as such. I’d also got permission to remove any which were under weight, and for that we decided fifteen grams, and even that was pushing it—I’d have been happier with twenty. So I had some tape for sealing any boxes we took back with us, plus their occupants.

I met up with the other mousers at the woodland and introduced my two girls. Another woman had brought her son, so we had three kids to watch out for as well as everything else—but at least the kids were all old enough to walk.

We had two licence holders in our group, which comprised four adults and three children counting Phoebe as an adult, and we had twenty-five nest boxes to check—all of which I’d set up myself over the previous two or three years. The other groups would be checking similar numbers of boxes, which all told were about a hundred and twenty over five sites.

We split into two groups of two adults, thankfully the woman with her son went into the other lot. I set the protocol for the survey and Chris, the other licensee agreed we’d remove any underweights, he had a balance and microchip reader with him too.

The girls followed me and in our six nest boxes we had two nests but no occupants. We did a second line and had similar success. Chris had found two dormice and one woodmouse but the best was for last. In the last box we checked, a weasel popped out—yeah, I know, pop goes the weasel, but when they do it makes you jump.

“What was that, Mummy?” asked Livvie.

“A weasel.”

“What was it doing in there?”

“It might have been resting or hunting.”

“Hunting, what does it hunt?”

“Anything small enough to kill or slow enough to catch.”

“Like dormice?”

“Sadly yes, they’ll kill any they find and eat them, but they also catch things like rabbits.”

“Rabbits, but they’re much bigger, Mummy.”

“Tell that to the weasel, they are ferocious predators and punch much above their weight, so do stoats, although they’re bigger than weasels probably twice as big, and then there’s polecats too, although they tend to occur in the west of the country and they sometimes interbreed with ferrets. All of them are members of the badger family.”

My two were finally impressed by my wit and wisdom until I stepped into a rabbit hole and went rolling down the hill into a bramble patch. It shook me up, they screamed and the other adults had to help me extricate myself from the murderous thorns of the brambles. Fortunately, I was okay and once back to the cars, I had a quick coffee from my flask and felt well enough to continue, although I expected some bruises when I next sat in the bath.

At our second site, the same team did forty boxes, this time we did have some dormice, fortunately all above the desired weight—one male actually weighed in at nearly fifty grams and was too fat to escape the entrance hole, he just sat there like a little furry, black-eyed Buddha.

Trish and Livvie got to handle one each, and I showed them how to weigh the mice and check for a microchip with the scanner, which is like a banana with a LCD display up near the top, we call it the electronic banana. It’s brightly coloured for obvious reasons, as it’s put down in long grass and bushes, in poor light and needs to be found—they’re also not exactly cheap to buy either.

It was half past one by the time we had finished. Phoebe had stuck with the task throughout and had been more of an asset than a hindrance, so I told her she was welcome to come again. She too had handled a dormouse—well, let’s face it if you let people do something they remember the experience—and she was actually quite good at it. So when I told her she’d be welcome again, she told me she’d like that.

The ankle I’d twisted the other week was now playing up a little and I was glad to get back to the car and get home, once I took my boots off, it would swell like crazy, which I suppose serves me right for not looking where I was walking. At least I only rolled into a bramble patch, Alice fell through the rabbit hole into a parallel universe—mind you some days when I see what happens in this world, I do wonder if I might have done an Alice, because so little of what goes on makes sense to me.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1159

Talking as a scientist, the first thing to do was to go back home or wherever and collate my data, and that of the other surveys. However, I had two young and one teenage starver with me. So we stopped at a café, washed our paws and ordered an all day breakfast each. Once I saw the bacon and eggs before me, I realised I was unlikely to ever become a vegetarian. Phoebe, despite being only as thick as a rasher of bacon, tucked into and demolished her lunch with gusto, plus a thick piece of apple pie and ice cream.

The two youngsters managed to eat their scaled down breakfasts, and a piece of the apple pie—I stopped at the first course and made do with a cuppa after mine. The drive home was a struggle, my ankle was really hurting and the boot felt very tight. At home I limped in, and after soaking it in cold water, and then ice packs, I had Trish fussing round me and Simon tutting at my clumsiness.

Half an hour later, I got a chance to laugh at him—he walked into a cupboard door and gave himself a black eye. More ice packs and Trish’s healing touch were needed.

“Have you ever thought your body might be asking you to sit down and rest a bit?” Jenny asked me as I sat with my foot elevated on a stool feeding our growing vampire—who seemed intent on using my nipples as teething rings.

“I haven’t been doing so much lately—not since you came.”

“Lady Cameron, you’re hardly still for a moment unless you’re feeding the baby or doing something on the computer—and it surprises me you haven’t found a way of feeding her while on your blessed laptop.”

“Now that’s a great idea, if I sat sideways on to the kitchen table I could…”

“Oh no, you don’t. If you do that, I’ll hand in my notice immediately. Babies need the full attention of their mothers when they’re feeding.”

“But if it saves time,” I protested.

“It doesn’t.”

“But of course it would.”

“Why don’t you do the ironing or vacuuming then as well?”

“The noise of the vacuum cleaner frightens her.”

“And the ironing?”

“I need two hands, if she could hang on by her teeth—ouch, don’t bite you little bugger—um, maybe not.”

“Okay, but you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes, even a dormouse brain like me can understand your argument.”

“And do you agree?”

“I can see where you’re coming from.”

“That isn’t the same.”

“How about we call it a draw and you make some tea.” I deftly changed the subject and Jenny filled the kettle giving me a very old-fashioned look. Seems I can’t fool anyone these days.

“Why isn’t your ankle better, Mummy?” said a disconsolate Trish.

“I don’t know, sweetheart.”

“I gave it some blue light.”

“I know, sweetie, it doesn’t hurt as much since you did.”

“Is it hurting then?” she squeezed it and a pain shot up my leg causing me to jump and the baby to pretend she was a stapling machine, clamping down on my poor boob. “Sorry,” said Trish, although the pain she caused was a great deal less than her baby sister who I’m sure had given me nipples like a sprinkler system. I was quite relieved to see she hadn’t quite bitten them off—it certainly felt like it.

“Yes, it’s still painful, sweetheart.”

“I’ll try again,” she roughly grabbed my ankle and I felt like asking her to just leave it in peace in case I jumped again and my nipples got amputated by the little carnivore sucking on them.

The heat she generated made me feel as if my foot was being burnt off and I felt myself sweating. Then it suddenly went cold and she let go of me, smacked her hands together as if she’d just finished a job and said, “That should do it, let me know if it doesn’t.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. My ankle was black and blue when she started and suddenly it’s nearly a normal colour again. Now I know such things are impossible but that was what I saw, and the swelling was going down very quickly.

“Quite an impressive trick, she doesn’t walk on water too, does she?” Jenny asked looking at my ankle.

“Only at bath time, she hates getting wet,” I replied, and she laughed.

“How does she do it?”

“Search me,” I answered, hoping it would stop the questions.

“Has she always been able to do it?”

“No, it’s quite a recent development.”

“D’you think it’s related to her transgender thing—some sort of special quality she has to make up for or caused by her gender disturbance?”

“I have no idea.”

“But you can do it too, can’t you?”

“On what do you base that observation?”

“Because I could see what was going on. You were feeding her the power and she just channelled it back to you, didn’t she?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I lied.

“No—okay, I’ll tell you what I saw, I saw this blue light moving from your hands into Trish, who in turn pushed it back into you. She isn’t big enough or strong enough to do it herself yet, is she?”

“I don’t know.”

“Please don’t treat me as a fool, Lady Cameron. I’ve heard rumours of a mysterious healer, a woman, not a child: who’s brought children back from the dead and adults from life threatening conditions—it’s you isn’t it?”

“They’re just rumours, tabloid stuff.”

“Why don’t you trust me?”

“I do trust you, d’you think I’d let you near my children otherwise?”

“You need me to help you care for them, so that’s just evading the issue.”

“If, and only if I said it might be me, what difference would it make to anything?”

She stopped and thought for a moment, “I don’t honestly know, but I wouldn’t tell anyone if that was your concern.”

I handed her the baby and did my bra back up and adjusted my clothing. I stood and my ankle felt almost back to normal. I was about to take the baby back to change her—preferably for one who didn’t bite, when Danny came dashing in.

“Mummy, come quickly, Phoebe’s done something awful to herself.”

“Watch her,” I said to Jenny who was left holding the baby quite literally, and rushed out of the door and up the garden.

Phoebe was lying very still on the grass and beside her was a football. “She went to kick the ball and she just keeled over, is she all right?” Danny explained.

“Get an ambulance,” I told him, while I began an examination of the young woman. She didn’t appear to be breathing and I could find no pulse. I laid back her head gently to clear the airway and gave her two small breaths, then began chest compressions to Nellie the Elephant, which I hummed in my head.

Simon came rushing out accompanied by Jenny, “What happened?”

“She collapsed according to Danny.”

“Ambulance?” he asked.

“I sent him to call one.”

“I’ll check.”

“Good,” I said feeling quite tired with my exercise in compressing the hapless girl’s thorax.

“Here, let me have a go, you blue light her.” Jenny knelt down, “It’s okay, I have a certificate to prove I can do it.” She took over and very competently. I moved over and laid my hands on Phoebe’s head, cradling it as I knelt above her.

“Phoebe, c’mon sweetheart, I need you to come back to me—home in on my voice and come back to us, come back now—follow the light I’m sending you, let it guide you back to your body—let it come—NOW,” I slapped her gently on the sides of her face and she gasped and opened her eyes.

“What happened?” she asked in a very shaky voice.

“We think you must have fainted, why?” I reassured her—it was totally untrue, her heart had stopped.

“I felt everything was black, like some awful dream and then I heard your voice and this wonderful beam of the most beautiful blue light led me back and I could hear you talking to me.”

“Yeah, well that’s what would happen when you faint, isn’t it Jenny?”

“Sure,” she said, giving me a strange look.

The paramedics arrived and I explained what I thought had happened—sudden death syndrome.

“So how come she’s sitting up and talking?” the paramedic replied.

“I gave her a precordial thump and chest compressions.”

“Yeah, that wouldn’t have got her sitting up.”

“I guess I got lucky,” I said, “But please check out her heart, she wasn’t breathing and had no pulse.”

“Look, lady, I know you mean well, but I’ve been doing this job for fifteen years and I’ve never seen one yet who could sit up after a cardiac arrest.”

“Please check it,” I insisted, and he did so, finding something not quite right in the print out.

“What’s going on here?”

“Exactly,” I replied.

We ended up at the QA yet again, I’m thinking of reserving my own chair in the waiting room. After two hours of tests, it came back that she had a heart anomaly which would require further tests to confirm.

It was only when Ken Nicholls came into the waiting room that I knew I was in for trouble.

“You did it again, didn’t you?” he said to me quietly.

“Did what?”

“Stopped someone dying.”

“She’s fifteen years old for God’s sake, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, but I need a hospital to do it, you did it in your back garden by all accounts.”

“Sudden death syndrome?”

“Looks like it, may never happen again, but they can do an operation to sort it—unless your magic can save the NHS the bother?”

“Like me to try?”

“Be my guest.”

We had to explain to Phoebe that Mr Nicholls wanted to try an experiment, and I sat and talked to her, imagining my light working on the vagal nerve, which misbehaved and stopped her heart. Half an hour later, I deemed it was over, but recommended she had the tests back home, which Ken agreed upon—he would write and suggest that to her GP, at the same time he winked at me when he said it. She was cured, I knew that, but her mother wouldn’t until the tests were done.

I phoned her mother later who was all of a twitter, not surprisingly, and Simon took the girl home despite her protests that she was okay.

Later, when were washing up together, Jenny said, “You are the mystery healer, aren’t you?”

“It was your CPR which seemed to make her come round.”

“Lady Cameron, you know as well as I do that doesn’t happen, they usually die despite our best efforts or nothing happens until the paramedics or hospital are involved.”

“We got lucky, or she did.”

“I saw you pull that girl’s soul back into her body and the effort it took you to do it, because she was dead.”

“Don’t ever tell anyone what you saw because I’ll deny it and so help me, I’ll get you struck off your nannies register.”

“I have no intention of saying anything to anyone.”

“Good.”

“Why can’t you trust me?”

“I’ve been betrayed before—I don’t take risks now, I get nasty.”

“Okay, d’you want me to leave?”

“Not at all, I want you to stay, you’re a very good nanny and a super person.”

“So why do you feel it necessary to threaten me?”

“You have access to the most precious thing in my life—my family. If the media were able to tie this down to me, the effect it would have on my children would be immeasurable. I will do whatever I have to do to protect them.”

“I believe you.”

“Good, now let’s have a cuppa and forget any of this ever happened.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1160

I’d been so involved with life, especially the dormouse survey and then Phoebe’s visit and collapse, that I hadn’t been paying much notice to the news. Then on the Monday morning as I was getting the girls ready for school—Danny was about somewhere, possibly trying to get Julie up for college—the news on the radio mentioned something about a transsexual winning some Scrabble championship. Naturally my ears picked up, and I had to shush squabbling schoolgirls whilst I listened to it. Trish also became suddenly alert as well on the longer report given about someone besporting a pink wig and PVC dress who had won the national Scrabble contest, and who claimed they were transsexual.

Oh well, I’m sure they got some fun out of it from their choice of clothing and because it’s a one off thing, doesn’t do us much harm—by us I mean the transgendered or more specifically transsexuals as a whole.

Perhaps it could be turned against us as fetishistic clothing, and I couldn’t really argue that one, although lots of girls wear it too, to parties and so on. Can’t be very comfortable, like wearing a bin liner I should think.

On the other hand, just as we’re called names for that, we could argue back that in which case the defamers would have to accept we’re all a bit clever too, because not just any old Scrabble player can win national contests. I can play it, and have beaten Simon and Stella whenever we’ve played, but I could no more play at that level than I could fly the next space shuttle—given the choice, I’d go for the shuttle every time.

Anyway, the tabloids could have their fun with someone who waved two fingers at them and who still won the contest, so I didn’t take too much notice of it.

The rest of the day was spent doing chores and entering data as it came to me from the other survey groups—we had another four babies and mother to take into the university, so we’d feed her up and delay her hibernation by a few days to give her offspring a chance to survive, then they could all hibernate to their heart’s content.

At lunchtime, Stella was home, and we dined on some rice with cold chopped turkey and salad. “Did you see that thing on the Internet?” she asked me.

“What’s that?”

“You know, that lawyer character who got pushed under a train last week.”

“Lawyer? No, I have no idea what you’re on about.”

“You must, headlines of cross-dresser pushed under train by woman, or man in women’s clothes pushed under train.”

“No, I didn’t see or hear it.” I was obviously busier than I thought last week.

“I dunno Cathy, you’re sometimes on a different planet.”

“Sometimes I wish I was, one where people were a bit kinder to each other and less cruel and greedy than they are here.”

“Watch out Mother Theresa, St Catherine is here.” Stella enjoyed her little jokes.

“I am no saint, as you well know, far from it.”

“Dunno, you tend to act in such a responsible way, so God might like you for a sunbeam.” She laughed as I made a silly face at her.

“Anyway, what about this person who was run over by the train?” I asked.

“He or she was a top immigration lawyer who had done all sorts of good things, challenged the government several times and so on.”

“Well somebody needs to at times, what else?”

“They were seen being pushed under a tube train, by some woman. It was captured on CCTV as well.”

“That’s an unusual thing for a woman to do.” I wondered what the point of all this was going to be.

“Exactly, and it turns out the woman is a transsexual.”

“She doesn’t play Scrabble does she?”

“What? Scrabble? How would I know—but I guess she’ll have plenty of time to find out.”

I felt rather flat after being told all this—it would appear that the tabloids would have a field day with all this going on. I wish no one had mentioned any of it—why does the gender problem have to be highlighted in the headlines as I’m sure it was? I may not even be a factor in the case. I mean, I cut my toenails this morning and my being a woman had no effect whatsoever, well apart from having difficulty seeing beyond my boobs which were dripping milk.

“So I suppose you’re not going to want to be near me, Trish, Julie or Billie if there are trains about?”

“Why?”

“Well, we might push you under one?”

“What for?”

“To kill you, why else?”

“Why would you want to kill me?”

“It’s what transsexuals do, apparently.”

“But women don’t, so why would you or any of you wish to do it?”

“None of us would, we’re more likely to jump under one than kill someone else.”

“Yeah, that’s what women do,” Stella declared, crossing her arms over her chest.

Somehow, the discussion had gotten away from me and I was becoming bored with it. Part of me wanted to say, but I’m not transsexual any more, I’m female, see my birth certificate if you don’t believe me. Then part of me knew I couldn’t deny my past anymore than I could pretend that with three children undergoing their own transitions, I couldn’t ignore the topic even if I felt it no longer directly applied to me.

I felt sick for the person whose life had been ended because someone else decided it had; and for whom the last seconds must have been terrifying, not to mention the poor driver who was involved but not through his or her own making. It was a dreadful act and in my humble opinion probably the work of someone who was just a tad crazy.

Thankfully the day got in the way of anymore discussions about Scrabble winning murderous gender benders, though I was about to leave to collect the girls from school when Simon rang.

“Hi, Babes, get your glad rags on for seven—we have to go to a dinner.”

“Simon, it’s half past three, three hours isn’t sufficient notice for me to arrange babysitters.”

“I’ve done that, Jenny and Stella will do it, and I’ll pay for them to get in a takeaway of their choosing.”

“Where are we going to dinner?”

“A posh hotel.”

“Do I wear long or short?”

“How do I know?”

“Are you wearing a dinner suit?”

“Natch.”

“Okay, it’s long then.”

“Have you got one?”

“Yes I have.”

“Good, well dust it off and get yer arse in gear.”

“I’m going to collect the girls—next time I want a couple of days notice.”

“Blame my dad, he pulled out and we have to be present at this one.”

“I’ve got to go—the girls will be out of school.”

“Good girl.”

“Patronising twit,” I said to the disconnected phone.

I was a bit quiet driving home with the children, and they noticed. “Are you okay, Mummy?” asked Livvie—Billie and Trish were arguing about something in the back.

“Yes, I was busy thinking. I have to go out tonight with Daddy, he’s going to pay for a takeaway, so I hope you’ll all behave for Jenny and Stella.”

“Can we have pizza?” called Billie.

“Nah, I’m fed up with pizza, let’s have a Chinese,” argued Trish.

“That’d be nice, a Chinese,” agreed Livvie.

“Yay,” shouted Trish, “Two against one, we win.”

“Remember Mima might not want a Chinese,” I reminded her.

“You wanna Chinese don’t ya, Meems?”

“I wike pizza, too.”

“Ha ha, that’s two each,” jibed Billie.

Somehow, we got home without me strangling any of them, the pettiness was beginning to get to me and I was glad to escape to the bathroom, jump in the shower and wash away the cares of the day.

Stella came up and helped me put my hair up and I did my makeup a little more heavily than usual, using blusher and eyeliner and mascara and even a little eyebrow pencil. I splashed some perfume—Chanel No. 5 about myself and then dressed in my long royal blue dress—one with a boned bodice and no other visible means of support. I’d only worn it once before, and since then my breasts had grown somewhat and it actually fitted me properly.

I put on my sapphire necklace and matching earrings and thought how well they matched the dress, the shot silk shimmering in the bedroom lights. I added a gold bangle and my gold plated watch. I just needed to collect my bag and wrap and I was pretty well ready. It was half past six: I had time to kill so I filed my nails and found some nail varnish—two coats later and I was ready.

Simon came dashing in, pecked me on the cheek and dashed into the shower. I got out his dinner suit, one of his dress shirts and a dicky-bow, his cummerbund and his cuff links.

“Wow, you look like a million dollars,” he said as I posed sexily for him, pouting and sticking out my one hip. Part of him suggested I was having the desired effect and I smiled as he struggled into his underpants and trousers with a little difficulty.

“What’s with this dinner, then?”

“Dad had to dash off to Canada for some important meeting, so I’ve had to stand in for him and you for Monica.”

“Gee, how come we didn’t get to go to Canada?”

“Because he’s the boss and we’re not.”

“Oh, fair enough.”

We eventually got to the dinner—banquet would have been a better description though I did manage to control how much I ate, so I was able to continue to breathe in the tight-fitting dress, although I think I knew where every bone was.

The table we were on was full of others from the bank’s top brass, most of them Sir this or Lady that, however, Si was the only Lord and I was the only other aristocrat—albeit by marriage—there too. So we were accorded some respect from the others. I was also the youngest there by quite a margin but most of them were public school types with plums or silver spoons stuck in their snobbish gobs. If they did but know it, I was an oik but in deep cover.

After several bottles of wine had been emptied and tongues loosened, they got to discussing all sorts of things including news stories. The Scrabble thing they thought was hilarious. Lady Astrid Butterworth thought it was a hoot, some trensvestite beating the top player by such a good word—she couldn’t remember what it was. Had we seen the piccies with the stubble and the pink wig?

“The word was obeisance,” I said curtly, I wasn’t amused. Not that they’d understand its meaning anyway.

“So it was, ladies and gents, we have someone who reads their Telegraph properly, or is it the Times?” she chuckled at me.

Guardian, actually.”

“Eoh, I thought thet was read by teachers end social workers,” she tried to dismiss me.

“Yes, I’m a teacher.”

“Goodness, what d’ya teach?” she seemed genuinely curious.

“I’m a university teacher.”

“Oh, en intellectual, how interestin’.”

“Ev’ry gel needs a hobby, Estrid,” commented Lady Cynthia Brown-Smyth.

“Hobby?” gasped Simon, “She’s one of the world’s leading experts on Muscardinus avellanarius.”

“What’s thet when it’s et hame?”

“A dormouse, what did you think it was?”

“I hed no idea,” she blushed.

“I saw a nice program on thase a few months ego,” said Astrid smiling, “Charles thought the presenter was quate dishy, didn’t you honeybunch?”

“Ebsolutely,” roared Charles across the table, “a tasty bit of tottie, eh what?”

“That was my wife,” said Simon angrily, “tasty tottie, indeed.”

“Heng on old men, I meant it in the nicest sense, she’s a real beauty, just the job to liven up a nature programme, what?”

“Goodness, our very own TV star—do tell us about making a TV program, better than discussing thase wretched trenssexual tapes who are busy throwin’ each other under trains, don’t ya know?”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1161

“Do you have a problem with transgendered people?”

“Good lord, no, we have an electric fence rand the hice,” declared Lady whatever her name was Brown-Noser. Simon gave me his no-bloodshed pleading look. I felt like a lioness who’s just wandered into a chicken coop—the birds were there for the taking, and in their drunken states, would be easy-peasy. Someone ordered more wine, it gets even easier.

“That’s truly funny,” I said to wossername.

“Oh is it?” she laughed.

“Yes, electric fences round houses are illegal.”

“Ooh ha ha,” she responded to my comment, “we’re illegal,” she laughed to her husband.

“Illegitimate?” he queried back, laughing like the facile, empty-headed twat, he was.

“That too,” she roared. In fact, the whole lot were falling about with laughter.

“Silly bastard,” called another which set off another round of laughter, tears were flowing copiously from laughter. I intended perhaps to make some others flow before I was finished.

Simon was tapping his watch, it was nine thirty, plenty of time to make my point and leave.

I stood up and faced the group. “So you think transsexuals are funny, do you?” My question was met with more laughter and hoots of derision except from Simon, who had his head in his hands and he was shaking it to mean no.

“What’s so funny about them?”

“Anyone who grows tits and has his willie cut off has to be funny,” screamed Sir Archibald Arsehole, or whatever his real name was.

“How d’you know, have you ever spoken to one?” I challenged.

“Why d’ya care about a load of freaks?”

“Because I’ve actually bothered to get to know one or two of them.”

“Why?” more raucous laughter.

“Because I try not to make prejudicial decisions, and certainly not without just cause.”

“Aren’t they just homosexuals who haven’t got the courage to face up to the truth?”

“Is that what you seriously think?”

“Yes, why?”

“Then you have an even smaller brain than my dormice.”

“I say, that’s uncalled for—I have a degree, you know?”

“If it’s in economics, it would explain why we’re in such a mess financially.”

“It is actually—hey, that’s a bit rough.”

“Rough, you ain’t seen anything yet. I tear out souls as a climax to my act.”

“Must keep our shoes on then, Charles,” called one wag, “protect our soles.”

“I have had students who were gender different.”

“Gender different?” he looked bemused, mind you, I suspect it was a permanent state.

“Yes, they were of a different gender to the one commonly accorded to their biological state.”

“Is that why you were involved, being a biologist?” More laughs, but they were less, people were listening to me.

“No, I was involved because I’m a human being.”

“Oh, isn’t everyone?”

“There are many people on this planet who would be difficult to categorise as human because they don’t meet the criteria—of being intelligent, compassionate and aware of other creatures in sharing this planet.”

“Are your dormice aware of other creatures, then?”

“Of course they are, seeing as they are a prey species to weasels, snakes, rats, cats, owls, badgers, pigs and people.”

“What? They pray everyone else will leave them alone?” a few laughs supported the witticism—perhaps he wasn’t as drunk as I thought.

“No it means they have little defence against predators.”

“Is a hamster a prey species—’cos the little b bit me, so he isn’t defenceless.”

I treated that remark with the contempt it deserved. “I was trying to explain what my experience of talking to transsexuals was.”

“Go on, then,” prompted another.

“You gonna make a documentary about them—endangered species and all that?”

“That’s only in tube stations, Astrid.”

I waited for the banter to die down, “Maybe I should make a documentary about it, but imagine this is a documentary and all my facts have been well researched.

“Most people with Gender Identity Disorder discover some problem with their ideas of gender and their identity, during childhood or adolescence—occasionally later. They grow up, except in a few instances where parents are sympathetic, trying to hide what they see as a weakness, because they’re brought up to believe that the qualities we generally attribute to women are a sign of weakness in men. Things like caring for others, enjoyment of children, talking about their feelings and listening to others doing the same.”

“What about shopping?” called someone from the far end of the table.

“Shopping isn’t sex linked anymore than masturbation is.”

“Do women masturbate then?” he asked astonished.

“Do you go shopping?”

“Occasionally, but…”

“You’ve answered your own question then.”

“Damn me, all this time I’ve believed her that the vibrator thingy was for her rheumatism. Astrid, do you mas…?”

“I think you’ll be better leaving this discussion to when you get home.”

“No I won’t—if my wife is being unfaithful to me with a piece of plastic, I want to know now.”

“Well, what d’you expect?—you couldn’t keep it up long enough to get it in let alone do anything with it.”

“I do not suffer from premature ejaculation.”

“No you don’t, it’s I who does,” she hit back, “An’ if it was any smaller, you could use it for eating winkles.”

I glanced at Simon who was still sitting with his head in his hands.”

“How dare you, you frigid old cow.”

“If I am frigid it’s only because you leave me cold, you unfeeling slob.”

“Ha, you can talk—if you had any consideration for me, you’d get rid of that plastic abomination.”

“If it could buy a round of drinks, I’d get rid of you instead,” she screeched back at him. The other users of the restaurant were now listening to the squabbles going on at our table.

“Astrid, eld gel, I think we need to get you hime.”

“Only if that impotent old fart stays somewhere else.”

“Charlie, you can stay et ire hise tonate.”

“You’re letting him stay with you?” Astrid began to accuse her friend. I walked over to Simon and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Take me home please.”

He looked at me before he registered what I said. “Satisfied?”

“No, but they are too drunk to make it worthwhile to do anything else.”

“C’mon then.” He handed me his car keys, “You’d better drive, I’ve had too much.”

“Me—drive the Jaguar? Okay—let’s go.” I almost dragged him through the door.”

Not only did I drive it, but in a silly frock with high heeled shoes on. We got stopped by the police, but as my breathalyser test showed negative, he let us go.

“Crikey, that was a close call,” sighed Simon.

“Why? I’ve not had an alcoholic drink all night.”

“Oh, I know that, but I very nearly drove home tonight.”

We sat quietly for a while as I drove towards home, “What did you hope to achieve by exposing yourself?” he asked me.

“I don’t know, it just got my goat, that’s all.”

“Whatever you’d said would have been forgotten five minutes later and you could have been accused of being one yourself.”

“I was one, remember?”

“Yes, but why put our children and other family members at risk to prove a point?”

“Transsexuals aren’t weird—are they?”

“So it’s normal behaviour to push people under trains?”

“No of course not, but that was anomalous behaviour even by weirdo tranny standards.”

“Okay, it was unusual and sadly tragic, but why did you get involved? You only reinforced their prejudices.”

“If I did, I’m sorry—I wasn’t thinking beyond making my point and it could have reflected on you and the children. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, you know how I feel about all this, you have my unconditional support as a woman, and a very lovely one.”

“If this means you’re wanting to prove to me that you don’t suffer from prem…”

“I know, wait until after you’ve fed the baby,” he sighed.

“You’ve got it in one,” I smirked, and we both laughed.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1162

Waking up with Simon is always good: it reminds me that amongst all the three billion men in the world, one is special to me. I hope he feels the same about me, but knowing him he’d say something like, ‘Three billion women on this planet and I had to choose you!’ Depending upon which way he said ‘had’ would make or spoil my day. However, I’m not going to ask him anyway—instead I snuggled into his back.

It wasn’t for long, as Mima came in to cuddle with her daddy, and I got pushed aside. I could quite easily feel rejected by this, but I don’t, we have lots of little cuddles when Si is in work, so I’ll leave them to get on with it.

I showered and reflected on the night before—I have no remit to campaign for transgender people—perhaps I’d get them a bad name. I anticipated being able to slay the bigots with my classy rhetoric and sharp arguments—instead, they were so drunk, it was wasted on them or would have been if I’d been able to get into my stride. Simon was right: I was setting myself up as a martyr. In the end they made themselves look stupid because they turned on each other over what should have been personal matters—but I suspect, they never talk to each other in any meaningful way. Mind you, we don’t always do so either, which doesn’t seem to worry Simon half as much as it does me—then he’s a bloke, I’m not.

Downstairs, the girls trooped down for breakfast, they’d showered yesterday and as their hair wasn’t too dirty, I let them wash and dress themselves in their school uniforms. I’d called Danny who was yelling at Julie to get up, we could hear him quite clearly and her abusive answers back to him—some days it really did feel like we were a family.

Danny was playing football again today and so was Trish. He was quite happy, she wasn’t. Once again, I asked her to try her best and she promised she would. Livvie was keen to play although by all accounts, Trish was the better player. Sometime I’d like to see her play with her ponytail bobbing about as she ran with the ball.

On the way home after delivering her and her sisters to school, I popped into the supermarket to fill up the fridge—having Simon home does make a difference, he eats the equivalent of half the rest of us.

While I was in there, I grabbed my Guardian, and had a flick through the other papers. One of the tabloids carried a story about a ten-year-old Spanish girl who’s just had a baby. The sex of the baby was not being disclosed and I had a silly thought run through my mind, visualising the story going like so, ‘A ten-year-old girl has recently given birth to a baby. The ten-year-old mother whose age and sex can’t be revealed…’ Different cultures have different customs but I can’t see how any could allow this to be a societal norm, as surely the still growing mother would be damaged by the experience of carrying all that extra weight. Apparently the girl was Roma, or gypsy, so that explains that, suggested the tabloid. I decided it didn’t explain anything, and justified nothing.

I was really on my high horse now—assuming the actual pregnancy didn’t damage her badly, how equipped would a ten-year-old be to look after a baby? I can’t think that girls here are much different to those anywhere else in Europe, including Romania. I don’t believe an average ten-year-old has the mental and emotional resources to cope with motherhood and that applies to our own gymslip mothers who tend to be aged fourteen or fifteen, and still not able to cope without the support of a mother or other significant female. Even at my advanced years, I find it hard going so I can’t even speculate on how they see it—a millstone for fifteen years?

On speculation, after shopping I went back to the convent and walked down to the playing field and there were some girls playing football. I managed to pick out who I thought were Livvie and Trish and watched from a little distance.

Can’t say I know much about football, but I saw one girl score two goals and I hoped it was one of mine. Would they see me if I went any closer?—surely not. I wasn’t actually in the school grounds but outside the fence on the pavement. I strolled a bit closer and then some more—it was Trish and Livvie and they both seemed to be playing as well as the others if not better. They were wearing different coloured vests over their football shirts, so I presumed they were on different sides.

Trish scored a goal and I knew it was her because I could clearly see her. She high-fived her friends and Livvie gave her a gentle push being an opponent. The play began again and for some reason I swallowed some saliva awkwardly and began to cough, and it went on for a few moments until I was red in the face. Trish who was running towards the goal near me looked up and saw me watching her. She stopped and said loudly, ‘Mummy?’ when suddenly one of the defenders gave the ball a hard clout and it hit her full in the face and she went down like a sack of spuds.

I screamed her name and frantically climbed over the fence and ran to her. Her face was all bloody from nose and mouth and was swelling and she had difficulty breathing.

The games mistress, tried to order me away until one of the girls said I was Trish’s mum. She came back with a wet cloth to wipe away some of the blood and Trish revived a little. Five minutes later, I had her lying on the back seat of my car as I sped towards the hospital, much to the disgust of the games teacher. Then I raced into A&E with her in my arms and insisted she be seen.

Ken Nicholls was on duty and recognised my hysterical rantings and told the nurse to find a cubicle for him to examine Trish. X-rays and ice packs later, I was reassured there was nothing broken as far as they could tell, but he told me to take her home and give her lots of love and blue light.

I felt so guilty, if I hadn’t been watching her she’d have been watching the ball and not me; and if I hadn’t insisted she play football, she wouldn’t have looked like a punch bag at this moment.

I was told to watch her and not let her sleep until bedtime and if she seemed to become drowsy to call an ambulance because it could be a delayed concussion or shock. I felt really awful about it. Some mother I was—huh. I was totally disgusted with myself and to think I tried to take the moral high ground last night. I was a hypocrite and nothing else, unless you added failure as a mother.

By the time we got home, I was ready to jump off Beachy Head, I was so full of self loathing. So when Jenny took over and helped Trish into the house I burst into tears.

Trish pulled free of Jenny and came over to me, “What’s the batter, Bubby?”

“It’s all my fault that you got hurt.”

“Doad be silly, Bubby, it happes, football is a dadgerous gabe—dow are you go-ig to heal by dose or dot?”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1163

Lunch was rather meagre that day—I was too upset to eat and although I’d given Trish half an hour of healing, she didn’t look a lot better. She was, however, able to talk pretty well normally again.

“I’ve got black eyes, Mummy.”

“Yes, I had noticed, sweetheart.”

“Why?”

“It’s the way facial bruising goes…”

“No, I mean why have I? Your blue light is supposed to sort it out.”

“I don’t know, you know I’ve never understood it—just trusted it to do what was required. I assume from the fact you can talk normally again, not sounding like an otter with sinus trouble, means you can breathe properly again?”

“An otter with sinus trouble? What’s sinus, isn’t it a mountain in Israel that Moses went up?”

“Sounds like a definite case of Mosesitis,” how I kept a straight face I had no idea.

“What’s that, Mummy?”

“Mistaking things from the Bible, it’s a very widespread problem that affects half the population of the Northern Hemisphere and much of the Southern one.”

“But we were doing Moses in school and he went up Mount Sinus.”

“Yeah, I heard he got up God’s nose.”

“Don’t be silly, Mummy, God doesn’t have a nose.”

“So how are we created in his image then?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Forget it kiddo, I’ll just confuse you with my prejudices. I don’t believe what the nuns teach you, because there’s no evidence about much of it at all, including how a group of people wandered about in Israel for forty years. It’s preposterous, even allowing for the fact that Moses was a man and obviously wouldn’t ask for directions.”

“What does preposterous mean?”

“Beyond belief, ridiculous.”

“Why is it ridiculous?”

“Well it’s like a large group wandering round Wales for forty years and not being able to find the Brecon Beacons.”

“But Sister Claire said it was because Moses had annoyed God by smashing the Ten Commandments.”

“What, so He took away their sense of direction? Sorry, sweetheart, this is why I think much of it is rubbish, because it doesn’t make any sense to a modern reader. It was based on an oral tradition which was eventually written down.”

“Sister Claire said it was the word of God.”

“Yeah, don’t tell me ghost-written by the Holy Spirit?”

“I don’t understand, Mummy.”

“It was a rhetorical question and one you’ll understand one day.”

“Is it the word of God?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart, I very much doubt it but then I’m not sure there’s a God to dictate it or write it.”

“Isn’t that hennesy?”

“I think you mean heresy, and yes it probably is—but it’s what I believe. Show me the evidence and answer my questions and I’ll believe.”

“Sister Claire said the evidence is all about us.”

“I think she’d need to be more specific to convince anyone but a believer, because science can counter that she is confusing emotion with cognition.”

“Big words, Mummy.”

“Yes, sorry, darling. I mean, she can say that simply looking about her she feels she sees the hand of her God. I can, however, see the same things and see only the evolution of the landscape and the things which live there.”

“I still don’t understand, Mummy.”

“That’s fine, sweetheart. When you’re old enough you can decide if you believe or not—there is no right or wrong, even though people get so upset about it that they actually kill each other. That is wrong, and one of the darker things about religion.”

“What do you mean, Mummy?”

“Religion is responsible for the deaths of millions of people over the centuries.”

“Did it kill the Pharaoh’s son?”

“Back to Moses, are we?” I asked, and she nodded. “I don’t know, there are people who believe that if the Moses tale is true, and it might not be, they have discovered evidence of the exodus from Egypt. Personally, I think it’s wishful thinking—they say if you look long enough you’ll find what you’re seeking, or think you have.”

“Are they telling me lies, Mummy?”

“That would be a very dangerous thing to say, Trish; what I would suggest is to accept what the nuns tell as being what they believe to be true. That doesn’t mean you have to unless you agree with them. I happen not to, but I want you and the others to make up your own minds when you’re old enough.”

“Do I take it with a pinch of salt then, Mummy?”

“Yes, that’d about sum it up. Like some people believe putting corks in bed stops cramp, you don’t have to accept it if you think it isn’t true, just don’t say so in a loud voice or you’ll be in trouble with them.”

“Will they burn a steak for me?”

“I think you mean will they burn you at the stake?” I corrected her, and she slapped her hand over her mouth and laughed, and as soon as she touched her face and laughed the bruising disappeared.

“What’s the matter, Mummy?”

“Go and look in the hall mirror.”

“See, your blue light did work,” she exclaimed.

“Did it?” I said to myself, then answered her, “Of course, darling. Now come and have some more to eat.”

I managed to force some ice cream down her, suggesting that if they’d had ice cream in those days, Moses would have discovered the Promised Land a whole lot quicker.

“Why is that, Mummy?”

“Well he could have followed an ice cream van to the nearest town.”

“You are silly, Mummy, that’s like saying he dropped his mobile phone on Mount Sinus.”

“Nah, he used to talk to a bush, and I don’t think it was the US President.”

“What—Mr O. Banana Bush?” she giggled at her joke.

“Absolutely,” I said, trying not to sound too much like Tom.

“D’you want to come to collect the others after I feed the baby?”

“May I help you with the baby?”

“Of course you may, darling.” I was pleased to encourage her participation in baby care, because it isn’t something she usually does—surely it wasn’t the bang on her head, was it?

I fed the wee yin while Trish supervised, then I supervised whilst she changed her nappy, making faces and disgusting noises about poo, which the baby found highly amusing.

I wondered if Trish would ever be maternal material, but there’s a lot of time for her to grow up yet. If she becomes a high flier she might not have time anyway, let alone the desire, and she’d have to adopt or use a surrogate. That’s her business and who knows which direction her life will take when she’s older? Being very intelligent doesn’t always make it easier, especially when you consider the world is usually run by morons—well, they’re the only ones daft enough to believe they can sort everything—usually it just means they haven’t appreciated the seriousness of the situation.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1164

“D’you enjoy helping me change the baby?” I asked Trish, who as I’ve mentioned before is more Mister than Dr Spock.

“I do when it’s just you and me, Mummy.”

“And the baby?”

“Well, yes of course, can’t change her if she’s not there, can we?”

I couldn’t fault her logic. “I suppose not. Are you coming to collect the others?”

“I could do,” she said diffidently.

“Don’t put yourself out, will you?”

“Oh all right,” she sighed, “I’ll come with you.”

We got to the car and realised the shopping was still in the boot, including a now melted tub of ice cream of a well-known make. I grabbed the bags and ran back to the house, asked Stella to shove it in the fridge and then I dashed back to the car.

“I suppose you’re going to blame that on me?” Trish got into the car.

“Of course.” I wasn’t but she can find that out the hard way. We chatted as we drove to the convent and I was pleased that the girls were waiting for us when we arrived, it meant minimal exposure for Trish. They all made a fuss of each other and hugged.

“Your face is okay then?” asked Billie.

“Yeah, Mummy blue lighted it.”

“Did it hurt?” asked Mima.

“Like mad, ’specially when I did it,” answered Trish.

“Did you go to the hospital?” asked Livvie.

“Yes, but Mummy fixed it.”

“C’mon, girls, we need to get home.”

“Yeah, Mummy forgot to take the shopping out of the car, like the ice cream was all runny.”

“Eeeuuuch,” squealed three little voices in the closest thing to harmony I’d heard for a long time.

“Enough, in the car please,” I asserted myself, and to my surprise they complied—probably because they wanted to see the runny ice cream.

When we got home, Stella had shoved everything in the refrigerator except the Haagen Dazs, which she poured down the toilet. She’d washed out the tub in case I wanted to use it for something else. I shrugged, all the children were too big even if we used the blender first—nah, it still wouldn’t work.

“I could just eat some ice cream, too,” sighed Trish.

“There isn’t any besides, you ate the last of the previous lot at lunchtime,” I reminded her, tomato cheesecake with mushroom and chocolate mint chip, or something equally revolting. I let them choose the variety, gone are the days when it was plain vanilla, raspberry ripple or Cornish. Now you can choose from cat litter to enraged potato or maybe that was wild cashew—can’t remember. The bigger supermarkets like Tesco and Asda and even some Sainsburys now stay open twenty-four hours during the week, mainly so you can actually see the full range of revolting ice cream: chocolate sewage with sea salt—oh, that might be the crisps, I let the kids choose, I don’t have the time to waste deciding which variety of cholesterol I want clogging my arteries.

We’ve had hedgehog flavoured crisps, so it’s only a matter of time before have dormouse or weasel. I wonder if the Americans have skunk flavoured ‘potato chips’? I half expect to see, Road kill, flavoured, with the full taste of bashed badger, bent bunny and flattened fox—no artificial preservatives or colourings added except for the macerated maggots—no extra charge for the increased protein level—all fried in recycled engine oil to help save the planet. Okay so my imagination ran away with that one.

Essentially, I suppose we’re all so spoilt in the West, that we can demand almost anything that is saleable and expect to get it. I wonder what will happen when China and India really get their acts together and dominate global markets and also start selling to their own internal markets.

I listened to someone talking about a new MG car, which is nothing like the roadsters we in the UK expect from such a marque. However, it’s aimed at the Chinese market, where the new emerging middle classes want cars and the chap on the radio suggested they’d sell half a million a year there. Apparently the reason the Chinese bought MG-Rover, was to enable them to sell to their home market. To have started up a brand would have taken a generation and cost billions, so they bought an ailing British company for peanuts and its exotic name will catch on very quickly in China.

How the world changes. It’s going to change even more, and we might have to get used to the idea that as the Asian economies boom over the next ten or twenty years, the West will become the poorer nations. I suppose we’ve had our turn, but I’m mostly concerned how these developing countries will power their new cars and the consequences for the environment—not just the fuel to run them, but also the power to manufacture them—loads more pollution, and will they care if their biggest markets are home ones, about flooding through a rise in sea levels unless it stops them selling goods?

The world went mad years ago when advertising developed using psychological theories of the Freudians, and turned us from citizens into consumers. From then on, it’s got more and more stupid creating a financial model which is ultimately built on sand or fantasy. It has to one day come crashing down and the price of everything will presumably fall with it. It’s unsustainable, the earth isn’t capable of producing all the raw materials we need for everyone to have a four bedroom detached house with double garage and enough parking for the family’s four or five motors. I mean one point three billion in China alone would use up an enormous amount, plus all the fuel to run the cars and heat the houses. By the time that happened most of Africa and Southern Europe would be desert or under water and half the species of mammals and birds we have now, would be extinct—although rats would thrive—they always do.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1165

The next day, Stella was going out with Gareth. He apparently had the day off, so I was busy tending two babies. Jenny had the day off too, so I seemed to spend much of the day dealing with dirty nappies or shoving food in the other end.

Stella waited until I got back from the school run before dumping Puddin’ in my lap, and of course my niece was teething and as grumpy as I’ve ever seen her. If I didn’t know better, I could have thought Stella was abandoning her to my tender mercies—and those were fraying by the time I had to get two babies ready to collect my motley crew from school.

I was hoping Julie would be home on time from college—then she left a message on my voice mail to say she was going to see a friend for tea and would be home later. My heart sank when I got that news. My mission now was to stay sane while looking after two babies, one five-, two six- and a ten-year-old plus Danny who’s twelve.

He was actually the saviour of the late afternoon. He and Billie took Puddin’ out in her pram—or should I say he offered, as he could see I was up to my eyeballs in babies, and the others decided to go with him. They were out for about an hour. It was beginning to get dark when they came home, and I’d managed to feed and change my wee yin, express some milk for a later feed and drink a cuppa.

When they trooped back in, I asked him what he fancied for dinner, hoping he’d see it as a treat.

“Dunno, what we got?” he replied in typical helpful-soul style.

“What would you like?”

“I dunno, do I?”

“What did you have for lunch?” I asked him, as he buys his own lunch from the school cafeteria.

“Macaroni cheese an’ chips.”

Not exactly an enthralling combination nor the healthiest option I could imagine. I checked the fridge, then the freezer. “I have some faggots here, what about those?”

“Yeah, they’ll be okay—can we have chips with them—oh an’ mushy peas?” This proved to be a popular choice so I loaded the meatballs in gravy into the oven and while they were cooking sent Danny down the road to get a whole pile of chips from our local chippy.

Simon came home and sniffed the aroma in the kitchen, “Mmm, smells good, what is it?”

“I’m doing faggots, peas and chips for the kids, why?”

“God, I haven’t had those for ages—sounds good to me.”

Of course, I didn’t have enough for him, I was going to do Tom and him a curry, which was one I had in the freezer and was defrosting. I asked if anyone else wanted curry instead and Simon said he’d have some of that as well. No wonder he’s putting on weight.

In the end, I quickly managed to do myself some scrambled eggs on toast while the others ate all the faggots, the chips and the curry and rice. When they asked what was for sweet, I dumped the fruit bowl on the table and huffed off to make some tea.

“Why did you have eggs?” Simon eventually asked me.

“Because you lot ate everything else.”

“You should have said, I’d have made do with the curry.” He knew I didn’t eat it.

“You said you wanted the faggots.”

“You didn’t say I was eating your share.”

“True—never mind, my eggs were okay.” I made the tea and poured a few cups for myself, Simon and the older children.

Puddin’ woke and screamed the place down, and she didn’t want to eat or drink, just scream. I decided she had colic, and managed to persuade her to take some medicine. Of course the noise set off tiny wee, and Simon tutted when I asked him to sort her out. I told him there was a bottle in the fridge, but he’d have to warm it first. There were more tuts.

“Where’s Julie, shouldn’t she be helping you with this,” he pointed at the squealing baby.

“Why can’t you? You’re her foster father.”

“In theory,” he muttered barely audibly. “Meems,” he shouted, “Give me a hand here.” She came rushing out and practically took over—she’s five years old and knows more about babies than Simon ever will. She’ll also do almost anything for her daddy.

While I nursed Puddin’ until she calmed down, I watched Mima set up the bottle warmer and shove the bottle in it. Then she lifted the baby out of her carrycot and handed her to Simon, then she laid up the changing mat and all the bits needed to clean up a baby’s bum; Simon stood holding the baby and looking very uncomfortable. He knows what to do—I’ve shown him loads of times. The difference is Mima enjoys doing it and he doesn’t. He did once throw up while I was changing a rather smelly nappy, so possibly the memory stays with him.

Neither Trish nor Billie came to see if they could help, they were playing chess and Danny and Livvie were watching, waiting to play the winner—we all know who that’d be.

Eventually Puddin’ went off to sleep again and I put her down—I felt quite tired. I went to see how Meems and Si were doing. Meems was sat on Si’s lap with the baby reclining on hers, with Simon helping to hold everyone together. They seemed to have things under control so I left them to it.

I looked in on the chess competition and our own Trish Spasky was slaughtering Danny, who should have known better than to try his luck. I slipped out again and went to sit in the lounge, picked up the Guardian and was asleep two minutes later. I awoke when a general panic arose because they couldn’t find me. I suppose I’ve brought it upon myself that nothing happens unless I initiate it, or clean up afterwards.

When I went back into the dining room, Trish was playing Tom and he was hard pressed to hold her off. I let them finish before I announced the curfew—Tom won, but only just. Simon was sniggering.

“Why don’t you play her instead of laughing at Daddy?” I asked.

“I did, the little bugger beat me.”

I couldn’t resist a smile which turned into a chuckle.

“If it’s so funny, why don’t you play her?”

“I’m no chess player.”

“C’mon, Mummy, play me,” challenged Trish.

“No it’s too late.”

“C’mon, Mummy, play her,” chorused the others. I should have declined but I caved in to stop the noise waking the babies.

For my sins, I drew white and started. I only have one gambit, fool’s mate we used to call it, where you attack with your knight and smash down with your queen. I felt awful when it seemed Trish hadn’t seen it before because I’d beaten her in five minutes.

“C’mon, Mummy, play me again—puuulllleeeaaasse,” she begged.

“No, I agreed to play once—off to bed with you lot—NOW.”

“Rotten rabbit,” she muttered as she stumped up the stairs.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1166

Having gotten Boris Spasky off to bed along with the others, I finally had a few moments to text Julie and tell her not to be late unless she wanted to sleep in the garden shed.

I glanced out the window and it was throwing it down, she was going to get wet—well that’s her hard luck, it wasn’t raining when she finished college. I checked on the little ones, they were both fast asleep.

“I cannot believe that you got a five year old to sort out the baby for you,” I complained at Simon.

“You know me, Babes, I don’t do babies.”

“That’s not true, because I’ve seen you feed and change them.”

“Nah, that was my good twin brother, I’m the wicked one.”

“So I notice. Well you won’t be wicked with me tonight, I’m too bloody tired.”

“Where’s Julie? I thought she was supposed to be helping you.”

“She’s gone to a friend’s, I’ve just texted her to come home soon.”

“Has she replied?”

As he spoke my phone peeped to say someone had sent me a text.

‘Its rainin—will cum wen it stops. Lol J x.’ I read it out loud to Simon.

“What time is it supposed to stop?”

“According to the Met Office, some time tomorrow.”

“Want me to go and get her?”

“What about her scooter thing?”

“She can catch the bus tomorrow and collect it. It’ll serve her right for messing us about.”

“Here,” I handed him my phone, “You can tell her then.” I left him to it and judging by the loud voices I heard a few moments later, she didn’t much go on the idea of him collecting her.

He came out to the kitchen where I was expressing some more milk, I had two cups of tea and I was dripping in my bra, so it seemed like a good idea. “Oh,” he said and his eyes lit up. “I could help if there’s a surplus.”

“No thank you, actually yes, you could help.”

Once more, his eyes lit up and I thought he actually licked his lips.

“Make us a cuppa will you.” Well, I had to replace the fluid I was losing, didn’t I?

He did so, but rather reluctantly. “She’s coming home now.”

“She’ll get soaked,” I protested.

“That’s her lookout—she refused a lift home or to tell me where she actually was.”

“I’m not surprised, especially if she’s with a boy.”

“She didn’t say with whom she was,” he said irritatedly, “You wait till she comes home, I’ll give her what for.”

“Isn’t that rather counter-productive, a bit like calling a dog then hitting it when it comes back to you.”

“She’ll understand better than a dog.”

“Simon, she’s a teenager—I wouldn’t bet on it.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right—okay, I’ll push off to bed and you can sort her out.” Before I could say anything he was gone—typical. He’s thought something through so problem solved. The fact that nothing has been done hasn’t occurred to him, it has in his mind, so it’s done. Thank goodness he isn’t a chef, most of his diners would starve to death.

I’d just finished expressing when Julie’s scooter thing came popping into the drive. It had actually stopped raining so she wasn’t as wet as I thought she’d be. Her mood wasn’t very good though.

“Where is he?” she asked peeping round the kitchen door.

“Gone to bed, why?”

“Oh—that’s all right then.”

“Is it? What did you have for dinner?”

“Some chips, why?”

“I’m responsible for you, remember.”

“Mummy, I’m sixteen, for God’s sakes.”

“Yes, I’m well aware of that, but you were fifteen when I found you on a pile of rubbish if you recall.”

“Oh, trust you bring that up…”

“I was going to say, you thought you knew best then.”

“That was year ago—I’ve learned loads since then.”

“Julie, you’ve been living as a girl for less than a year—I worry about you.”

“Yeah, so you stop me having any fun.”

We were going into a circular argument and I didn’t need to be going to bed full of adrenalin.

“I’m not going to argue, I’ll just take the keys of your scooter—you can go back to catching buses.”

“Oh no you fucking don’t,” she snapped back at me.

“We’ll discuss this in the morning—go to your room,” I said firmly but calmly, although inside I felt like slapping her.

“You’re not taking my scooter,” she yelled at me, tears running down her face.

“Throwing a tantrum like a six-year-old will solve nothing—now go to your room, goodnight.”

I stood up and she stood in front of me. It looked as if she was going to say something but she seemed to think better of it. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d hit me, but she didn’t do that either, she just burst into tears and ran up the stairs.

Stella came home as I was getting ready to lock up and go to bed. She was a little tipsy and wanted to talk about her wonderful Gareth. I yawned and said, “Tomorrow,” before heading to the stairs.

“The problem ish shome people are sho shelfish,” she slurred at my back.

“Is she home?” asked Simon, lying in bed reading.”

“Which one?”

“The teenager.”

“Yeah, which one, Julie or Stella?”

“Oh, she’s just come in has she?”

“Oh yeah, she’s full of Gareth…”

“You had your chance, you could have been full of me,” he said drolly.

For a moment, I had to work out what he’d said and how it related to what I’d said. I sighed and went to the bathroom, weed, cleaned my teeth and had a little wash. Maybe I’d like to be full of Simon after all—except when I came back to bed he was asleep—absolutely bloody typical.

I tossed and turned for quite a while before I managed to sleep. I wasn’t looking forward to telling Julie a few facts of life, nor was I anticipating Stella telling me about Mr Bloody Wonderful—I knew him first, maybe I’ll just remind her—nah, she deserves a bit of luck in the fun department.

If it was the summer, I’d be thinking about getting up early and going for a ride for an hour to blow the cobwebs away—sadly it’s not, and a handful of baby blubber will be yelling for a refill in a couple of hours, so I tried to think relaxing thoughts to go to sleep. Unfortunately, my mind knew I was trying to fool it so it went on the offensive and played me videos of Julie’s tantrum and Stella glowing, or was that gloating?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1167

“Who did you go to see last night?” I asked Julie, after Danny had managed to get her up.

“No one you know, so what’s the point of asking?” she snapped back. It was a good job Simon had left for his office as he’d have taken exception to her comment and acted upon it.

“The point of asking is because I care what you’re doing and who you’re seeing. I know you don’t believe me and see it as interference or intrusion.”

“If I’d had fucking surgery, it wouldn’t matter would it?”

“Don’t swear at Mummy,” chided Trish.

“Oh shut up, half pint, so bloody goody-goody, aren’t you. I’m sick of this fucking place, like a bloody prison camp.”

Trish of course burst into tears and three other girls looked reproachfully at their elder sister.

“No one is forcing you to stay if you find it that bad, and there is no need to be so aggressive to your sister.” I tried to stay calm instead of throwing her out, which was my first inclination. Just stay calm, she’s got loads of issues and this is her asserting her right to test the boundaries.

“Huh, where could I go? I’m dependent on you lot.”

“If you really wanted to, I’m sure we could arrange a bedsit somewhere for you.”

“A bedsit? I’d be an even bigger prisoner there.”

“I lived in one for six months when I first came to Portsmouth.” I remembered it and some of the idiots I shared it with.

“Yeah, well you’re bloody wonder woman, ain’tcha? I gotta go,” she left early and without breakfast. It might have been a total wind-up to test me, or she might still have been angry with me—though quite what she wanted me to do I wasn’t sure—and I suspect she wasn’t either. It’s make it up as you go along time.

“Ride carefully,” I exhorted her.

“Like you care,” came back the reply.

“Julie is very rude, Mummy,” commented Livvie.

“She’s a teenager, Liv, they all go through obnoxious periods, though admittedly, some are more obnoxious than others.

“What’s ognockers mean, Mummy?” asked Mima, and I looked at her for a moment before I understood what she’d meant.

“Obnoxious?” I asked, and she nodded.

“It means horrid and unreasonable.”

“I don’t fink she’s howwid or un weasonabew.”

“Ah, perspectives change with age, Meems.” I had just dug myself another pit.

“What’s perspexive?”

“When you look up the road and the cars which are closer look bigger than those far away, that’s perspective—I’m right aren’t I, Mummy?” Trish beamed her superiority at everyone including Stella who was drinking water like it was being rationed and just groaned. I’m sure Gareth would be just as wonderful when her hangover had receded a little.

“I couldn’t have put it better myself, Trish.” Part of me could strangle her and part of me loved her for her cleverness. All I’ve got to do is turn her into a human being and she’ll be fine—though my efforts with Julie weren’t proving too effective.

I eventually got them ready for school and we set off. Jenny was noticeable by her absence, so she presumably stayed out overnight. Her fellah must be home. I hoped Stella was capable of dealing with my wee yin as well as Puddin’ if she woke—I would have to drop the girls off and get back post haste.

Of course, there were road works and we got held up—is there anywhere in this country where they aren’t digging huge holes in the roads? And of course, the number of potholes is disgraceful. The car bounces off some of them, but on a bike if you didn’t see them, you could quite easily come off—in the rain or at night, it’s even more dangerous.

Several cyclists went past as we were stuck in the traffic-choked road. “Perhaps we shoulda rode our bikes, Mummy?” suggested Billie.

“It might have been as quick with this morning’s traffic.” Finally, we got the green light and moved on our way. We were late and I apologised to the headmistress. She advised me that several mothers were that morning, but added I would be prepared to morrow, wouldn’t I?

The way things were going, I had no idea if I would or not. My only saving grace is that she needs me to do my talk in a couple of week’s time, so she’s being extra nice.

I drove round the congested area, heading north and then back in a big circle. That was nearly as bad. If I knew the weather was going to stay fine, I’d almost feel inclined to take the girls by bike—then Mima wouldn’t get there until lunch.

“That bloody brat of yours,” said Stella, nursing her head and sipping soluble aspirin, “She started as soon as you left and stopped two seconds ago. Oh my poor head,” she whined.

“No comment,” I dismissed her whining and went off to see to baby Catherine. She gurgled when she saw me and waved her arms and legs. A moment later, she almost sucked my nipples off.

After I’d finished feeding and bathing her, nearly an hour had elapsed, Stella was still in the kitchen holding her head and muttering. “What d’you fancy for lunch—how about a nice big fry up?” She groaned and ran out of the kitchen swearing at me. The baby thought it was very funny and so did I.

Jenny strolled in looking as if she hadn’t slept all night, but had a certain smugness about her—that and her funny walk tended to suggest she’d had too much bed and not enough sleep. The fact that she also sat down very gingerly confirmed my diagnosis—and the phrase, at it like bunnies came to mind, although mink might be more apposite—the males are rather rough lovers and frequently gangbang any hapless female they come across. Thankfully, the return of the otter to many British rivers is reducing their numbers. Otters will kill mink if they catch them.

“D’you mind if I start after lunch?” Jenny yawned.

“Am I keeping you up?” I asked cheekily, and she nodded before heading up to bed for a few hours.

I picked up the baby, and popped her in her bouncer thing. She sat and squealed at me, sucking on her hand until I relented and gave her her dummy. “Well kiddo, looks like you an’ me are the workforce today. How about we do some ironing?” I asked, and she giggled. “You’ve obviously seen me iron before,” I replied, and she giggled and kicked her feet about.

“How can your daddy wear ten shirts in one week? Of course, he’s a banker and they’re not noted for their arithmetical skills, or we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in, would we?” The baby thought it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard, and laughed while chewing on her dummy—she was still teething and chewing on everything, including me when she gets going. I felt my left boob—the nipple felt like tenderised steak. I had to put some cream on it, which meant I had to wash it off before the next feed.

Life is such fun, all this and ironing too—I’m such a lucky bunny, I yawned.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1168

At last, the ironing came to an end and I took the clothing up to various bedrooms. Thankfully Stella does her own, as does Jenny: Julie was supposed to be doing her own plus most of mine and she seems to have forgotten that fact. I was tempted to leave hers for her to do, which she’d have to once she ran out of clean clothes, but that seemed simply provocative or confrontational. I left them draped on her bed so she’d have to hang them up herself and would hopefully notice I’d done them for her.

Simon can iron, but I’d prefer he spent time with the children when he’s here, which mostly he seems happy to do. I suppose I need to teach Danny, who’ll sweet-talk one of the girls into doing it for him. His school shirts take a while to do as do the girls’ blouses—I’m so glad I sewed in name tapes or I’d never work out which was whose.

Back downstairs, I made some tea and while I drank it, I contemplated what was in the fridge that we could have for lunch. I suppose ice cubes are non-fattening, but not very tasty, look again. Tonight I was doing shepherd’s pie, which explained the freshly killed shepherd in there. I had loads of tomatoes, so decided on a spaghetti Napoli and began its preparation—I checked for Parmesan and was relieved to see I still had some.

At one o’clock, it was all ready and I called Stella and Jenny to come for lunch, and they did eventually. Jenny was yawning as she came into the kitchen and Stella looked less ashen-faced than when I’d suggested the fry up.

Neither said they were very hungry, but they devoured my tomato concoction with gusto—okay, there were some mushrooms and onion in it beside garlic and tomatoes and the pasta was wholegrain spaghetti.

“That was delicious Cathy, I really landed on my feet when I arrived here, didn’t I?” Jenny smiled, disposing of the napkin she used to save spattering herself with tomato juice/sauce.

“I’m glad you think so,” I said, smiling back at her.

“Huh,” said Stella, and I knew a wind-up was coming, “It’s all right for paid staff, whilst we unpaid slaves are expected to work for just the crumbs off the table.”

“I’ve worked for quite a few different families and households, including some very wealthy and well-connected ones, but none have made me as welcome as Cathy has—I’ll also bet the crumbs off the table are very nourishing,” Jenny defended me.

“The only one who gets fat off the crumbs is Kiki and it’s interesting that she usually sits by Stella because she drops the most. They say spaniels love babies and old people for that reason.”

Stella’s face was a picture and Jenny sniggered. “I’m not that much older than you, Missus,” declared Stella.

“Must be the mileage then,” I shot back, and she looked daggers at me. Jenny was wriggling with laughter, then rushed off to the cloakroom.

“She gone to be sick?” asked Stella.

“No, for a wee I think.”

“Huh,” huffed Stella and she drank her tea.

I went and got the girls and on return began making the shepherd’s pie with minced lamb, probably from a sheep that died of old age in New Zealand. Why they can’t call it mutton, I don’t know, my mother used to make mutton stew which was lovely, although the meat was a bit sickly, it was so sweet. They don’t seem to offer it these days in supermarkets or the local butchers.

At six, the big tray of cottage pie was browning under the grill and I began to wonder where Julie was, as she was usually home about now. At twenty past, in strolled Simon and he seemed pleased with the prospect of a good old-fashioned British meal. He’d missed lunch through a meeting overrunning and had made do with a cup of soup cadged from his secretary.

“What time are we eating?” he asked.

“I’m just waiting for Julie.”

“What again? You need to have words with that young woman.”

“I did, which might be why she’s not here yet.”

“God Cathy, can’t you deal with a simple matter like that without complicating it?”

“Ah, that was why you delegated it—it was so simple.”

“Of course, women,” he sighed, and went upstairs to change, “I’m going to have a quick shower.”

“Hurry up then, I’m dishing up in ten minutes, with or without Julie.”

“Great, I’ll have time to paint my nails as well.”

He missed my, “Grrrrrrrrr, men,” but Jenny didn’t and she snorted and nodded.

I did dish up and Simon was back down smelling of Paco Rabanne cologne and for a moment I was distracted from eating, however, we all tucked in except Julie, who was now an hour late.

On the pretext of putting the kettle on, I sent her a text asking her to let me know that she was safe. Half an hour later I’d had no response, and I began to feel very uneasy. Simon came out to see where I was and I told him I was worried about Julie. He asked me if I wanted him to go and see if he could find her. I did, but I wasn’t sure he’d be able to, she could have gone anywhere.

Jenny asked what the problem was when she saw us talking and me with a worried look. I explained the situation, and she told us to go and look for her, she’d put the kids to bed and she was sure Tom would read to them.

Simon and I slipped away and went off in my car towards the college. He was driving, which would mean the next time I sat in the front, I wouldn’t be able to reach the pedals.

We drove out into the countryside for a mile, the way I would usually go to the college when I suddenly felt sick and made him stop the car. I chucked up my shepherd into a hedge. I couldn’t understand why, it was properly cooked and prepared—must be nerves worrying about Julie. I walked back down the road: the grass glistened with the recent rain in the headlights of cars. I continued walking back the way we’d come. Then I saw it, the pink scooter, it had gone through a hedge and down into a ditch. It was facing away from home—oh Jeez, it had been there since this morning. I ran back to the car and yelled at Simon to call the police. He ran back with me and two minutes later he was down at the scooter and the muddy water in which it was lying.

The rain started again and I felt like crying. “I can’t see her, get your torch from the car.” I ran back to the car and then back with the torch. The rain was pelting down, and I pulled out my waterproof from the boot and put it on. I held an umbrella as I stood on the roadside watching Simon poking about in the hedgerow and ditch.

I rang triple nine. “Hello, police please…”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1169

The police came quite quickly after my emotional call. A patrol car arrived in minutes followed by another with a higher-ranking officer on board. A WPC led me off to my car while the police talked with Simon.

“Don’t worry, we’ll find her,” soothed the young policewoman.

“We rowed last night because she was late coming home, and we parted on less than good terms this morning. She didn’t even stop for breakfast,.” I explained to my new best friend.

“How old is she?”

“Nearly sixteen.”

“Is she a mature sixteen, or still a kid?”

“A bit of both.”

“Okay, would you like to describe her for me?”

I saw Julie in mind’s eye and burst into tears. Suddenly everything was drowned out by the sound of a tractor flying overhead and bright lights shining all about the area.

“They’ve got the chopper out, if she’s nearby, they’ll find her.”

“What, in the dark?”

“They’ve got thermal imaging, they can even find someone who’s unconscious or…” she paused.

“Or dead,” I continued for her. “That’s what you were going to say, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sorry—I wasn’t thinking.” Through my bleary tear-filled eyes I saw her blush, the light from the helicopter shining through the windscreen of my car as it swept the area.

“D’you think she’s dead?” I asked ready to burst into tears again.

“No, it’s early days yet.”

There was a knock on the car door and a young copper wearing a reflective jacket popped his head into the car through the open door. “We haven’t found her yet. It looks like the scooter has had some sort of impact. We’ve got someone checking with the hospitals to see if anyone has been admitted with injuries that look like an RTA, are there any distinguishing features?”

“She’s sixteen, dark hair, about five foot five and eight and a half stone I think. Her name is Julie Kemp and she’s…” I paused, was it appropriate to disclose her secret?

“And she’s what, Mrs Cameron?”

“She’s—she’s transgendered.” I covered my face with my hand.

“Yeah, so?” stated the copper in a matter of fact manner which almost made me want to kiss him. “No big deal these days—unless it’s a factor in her disappearance. She’s not likely to have changed back is she—I mean, we’re not looking for a boy are we?”

“No, I don’t think so, she’d rather die than…” I burst into tears again.

“Don’t worry, we’ll find her, loads of teens go missing every day.”

“Do they leave behind their pride and joy?” I asked referring to her scooter.

“Um—I don’t really know, I’m just a dumb traffic cop really,” he shrugged.

“You don’t sound dumb to me.”

“Why thank you, Mrs Cameron,” he said, and was about to close the door, when his colleague who’d been staring at me for a while made a deduction of her own.

“It’s Lady Cameron, isn’t it—the dormouse lady?

I nodded and sniffed.

“See he’s not so clever, Missus indeed.”

“Told you I was just a traffic cop, I’d better get back to the search.” He left us.

“Tell me about her, I don’t know anything about transgender women,” confessed my young companion, who looked about twelve but was probably about twenty.

“She’s been seen by a psychiatrist several times who diagnosed or confirmed the diagnosis. I found her unconscious on pile of rubbish about a year ago.”

“What?”

“She looked like a hooker, in over the knee stiletto boots and micro mini. She’d been beaten up by a copper who thought she was older than she was and also thought she was a natural girl.”

“And you just took her in—like a stray kitten?”

“In short yes, she’d run away from home, her parents were anti anything they didn’t understand and they gave her a rough time. In fact, they kidnapped her after I’d been given custody of her. We managed to rescue her.”

“Who’s we?”

“The police, while I mounted a distraction.”

“You did what?”

“I climbed in a window and distracted her dad so the police could break down the door and rescue both of us.”

“Rescue both of you?”

“He was threatening to kill her and presumably me as well, especially after I kicked him.”

“You kicked him?” she sounded like a parrot or very poor counsellor.

“Yes, it made him drop the knife, although he managed to cut her a bit before I got to him.”

“Are you always this crazy—climbing in through windows to deal with unknown dangers?”

“I felt responsible for her—I was her foster mother—I mean, I couldn’t let anything happen to her could I?”

“Sounds a bit above and beyond the call of duty for the average foster parent; let alone a foster mum.”

“So, I take my duties seriously.”

“Obviously—what d’you think has happened to her?”

“I don’t know, Simon suggested we come looking for her and as we were driving up along here I felt really sick so he stopped the car and I chucked up in the hedge. I don’t know why, but I started walking back down the road and I saw the scooter. Then I called you.”

“If you’ll pardon me saying this, but it sounds a bit suspicious to my police mind how you found the scooter.”

“I know, but that’s what happened. Surely you don’t think I harmed her, do you?”

“I don’t know, I hope not, but others will ask awkward questions about how you found her.”

“She went missing once before and I managed to tune into her and found her.”

“So why didn’t you do that this time?”

“I tried: all I got was this place and the scooter.”

“That’s a very strange story.”

“So, strange things happen to me—if you check my file, I’m sure there is one at your headquarters, you’ll see that for yourself.”

“I’m beginning to think I know some of those things—Russian mafia come to mind.”

“That’s me.”

“Wow, you’re a legend in your own lifetime in the annals of the Hampshire Constabulary. They tend to say that anyone who gets involved with you ends up either injured or loses their job.”

“Not everyone, some actually prosper. When’s the baby due?”

“March wh—how d’you know about my baby? I only did the test yesterday.”

“I dunno, I suppose I guessed, but it was the same with the scooter.”

“What, you knew it would be there?”

“Not quite, once we’d stopped the car, I just had a feeling of dread and there it was.”

“You’re seriously weird, d’you know that?” She opened the car door and walked out into the rain. A few minutes later, Simon came into the car, he was soaking wet despite being loaned a police jacket.

“Aren’t you cold?” I asked him, and he nodded.

The young traffic policeman came back and told us we could go home, someone would let us know if they found anything and they’d be out to speak with us tomorrow morning anyway.

Feeling very despondent, I started up the car and drove us home. Simon sat and shivered and I wanted him to hold me in his big strong arms and tell me everything would be all right. Instead, I thought I saw a few tears run down his cheek. This did not feel at all good.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1170

“Did you ever get a response to your text?” asked Simon as I parked the car.

“The one to Julie?” I asked and he nodded. “No, but then if her phone was switched off I wouldn’t would I?”

“No, I suppose not. You don’t think she’s just pissed with us and dumped the scooter to worry us, do you?”

“Si, she might be a teenager but she wouldn’t do something as stupid as that. I wish there was some way of knowing if she’d been to college.”

“What good would that do?” He looked even more forlorn than I felt, and I felt pretty bad.

“It would give us a starting place.”

“What about the scooter?”

“That’s what’s so funny, it feels absolutely dead—I’m not getting anything.”

“Could that mean she’s dead?”

“I don’t know—it might, but equally might not.”

“What do we do now?” he asked me, as we walked into the house.

“Wait and see if the police find anything, which I think is unlikely.”

“Why?”

“With thermal imaging equipment, if she was anywhere near there, they’d have found her in a few minutes.”

“What even in the water?”

“Even if she was dead,” I replied, and burst into tears.

“You don’t think she is, do you?”

“I don’t know, Si.”

Simon went up to shower—he was cold and wet—leaving me to deal with all the anxious faces.

“We don’t know where she is, I found the scooter which the police think could be damaged by a collision. They haven’t found her yet, or hadn’t when we came home. I don’t know any more than that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a cup of tea and I suspect Simon will need something a little stronger.”

I retreated to the kitchen and Stella and Jenny allowed me to escape without interrogation by Trish, who was bursting to ask something. Most of the time I can cope with and even enjoy her questioning mind, but tonight I felt very fragile and vulnerable.

I sat in the kitchen and drank my tea, then resting my head on my arms, I leant on the kitchen table and was asleep in minutes, staying like that until Simon found me half an hour later. He took me up to bed and I just lay on the top and slept again. I later found out he undressed me to my undies and put me into bed then cuddled into me and I slept all night.

I woke about six, wondering where the baby was—Jenny had moved the cot with Simon’s help to let me sleep. I was still exhausted when I woke, but I knew that was nerves or anxiety rather than anything else.

I slipped out of the bed only to discover I was in my bra and pants with a mouth which felt as if it had been carpeted. I showered and dressed after cleaning my teeth—that helped the furry tongue syndrome. Then it was down to make some tea and start wondering how I could find my missing child.

I looked at the photo I had of her, such a happy kid—sometimes, she’s a teenager, remember. I kept saying she was fifteen, but she’s not she’s sixteen—she had to be to ride the moped thing—shows my mental state when I can’t remember how old my foster children are. Have I got too many to give them the attention they all deserve and need? Each one of them has issues, have I just bitten off more than I could chew?

I drank my tea and tried to focus on the face in the picture asking her to tell me where she was, and for my love to lead me to her. I felt myself falling into the photo, almost as if I was inside Julie. She was asleep or unconscious, like she’d been drinking or was drugged. I tried to make her open her eyes so I could see where she was, but she was unresponsive—but I knew she was alive.

Now I had to find her before who ever had her discovered her shortcomings if they hadn’t already. I tried to send her love and healing light, but for some reason it didn’t get to her, or it did but I couldn’t follow it.

I grabbed a handful of biscuits and bottle of water, my handbag, my mobile and my coat and drove off. It was half past seven on a Friday morning and the rush hour traffic meant I couldn’t get the space to tune in to her. I drove off up on the ridge overlooking Portsmouth and parked the car. I locked myself in and started scanning the landscape before me, trying to get a hint of any direction where she could be.

An hour later and I had no sense of anything or anywhere. I switched on my phone and I had a text from Simon.

‘Where the hell R U? Si.’ I texted him back.

‘I’ll be back soon, tell the kids they can stay home if they want.’

He answered me a moment later: ‘2 late they’ve gon.’

I drove to Julie’s college and enquired about her attendance the previous day. She had apparently attended up to lunchtime. The police had been there as well asking after her, she left during her lunch break and no one saw her since.

I asked if I could speak to her teachers or classmates but was refused. “The police have done all that, so we can’t allow you to disturb the class again.” I left with my tail between my legs and walked back to my car. Then I had a brainwave.

I stormed back into the college and found out which class Julie would have been in now. I knocked on the door and explained very quickly who I was.

“Look I understand you’re worried, but we’re running late—the police were here about Julie a little while ago.”

“If I can just borrow two minutes of your time and that of your class, then I’ll go.”

The teacher looked at me, “I don’t kn—go on, be quick or they’ll have my guts for garters.”

“Thanks.” I walked into the class. “Hi, I’m Cathy Cameron, Julie Kemp’s foster mum.” A buzz ran round the room. “I’m writing my mobile number on the board. If anyone has any info about Julie, please let me know. I’ll pay fifty pounds for anything that helps me find her, and if anyone helps me to catch the person or persons who have her—I fear she’s been abducted—I’ll pay them a thousand if we can get a conviction. There’s my number, write it down. Thank you.”

“Wow, that could get expensive,” said the teacher.

“My husband owns a bank.”

“You’re not one of those Camerons, I mean High Street Bank PLC Cameron?”

“Is there another?”

“I suppose not.” She blushed and looked a little sheepish.

“The reward includes teachers, or anyone you can think of who might be able to shed light on her disappearance. Oh, all calls will be in confidence.” I called the last bit to the class.

“I hope you find her, she’s not a bad kid.”

“She’s a lovely kid and I intend to.” I drove home hoping that I’d stirred up something which might help us, even if it pissed off the police. They have one kind of resource, I have another—or Simon does.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1171

“Where have you been?” demanded Simon.

“I needed to think.”

“Couldn’t you have done it at home?”

“No, no I couldn’t. I’ve also been to the college. She went in for the morning.”

“How come the scooter was where it was, then?”

“If I knew that, I’d probably know where she was.”

“You realise it’s bonfire night?”

“I hadn’t particularly.”

“The kids asked if we were going tonight.”

“Can you take them?”

“I can’t watch all of them can I? You’ll have to come.”

“I hate bonfires and I’m not that struck on fireworks.”

“It’ll do you good to get out for an hour.”

“I’ve just been out for an hour and all you’ve done is complain about it.”

“Pardon me for breathing,” he snapped and walked away. I was too tired to argue, not that I wanted to anyway. I felt like shit. I made some tea and found Simon: he was in the dining room standing looking out of the window.

“Would you like some tea?” I asked him.

“What?” he answered absently.

“Would you like some tea, I’ve just made a pot.”

“Dunno—drinking tea won’t bring her back will it?”

“No, but it helps us to deal with missing her.”

“Does it? It hasn’t so far.”

“I’m sorry—I’ll be in the kitchen.” I left him to his thoughts.

Jenny arrived a few minutes before Stella. Jenny had taken the girls to school and Stella had taken Danny, who was apparently upset at not finding Julie in her bed when he went to wake her as usual.

“Where did you get to?” They both asked me and I explained I’d been to the college to offer money.

“Won’t the police see that as dangerous?” asked Jenny, meaning the reward money.

“I don’t care. I’d happily pay a thousand or two to get her back.”

“I just meant in giving people ideas to either defraud you with duff info or give whoever is holding her the idea that she could be ransomed.”

“That’s the only reason I can think of for her abduction.”

“What, ransom?”

“Yes—I just hope she’s okay.” I felt tears roll down my cheeks and Stella hugged me.

“I’d better see to the baby,” said Jenny excusing herself.

“Simon wants to take the kids to the firework display,” I told Stella.

“Well you can’t do anything very much can you?”

“No, but it seems insensitive to be out enjoying ourselves while she’s missing.”

“But don’t the kids deserve some form of outing now and again?”

“I suppose so. You think we should go?”

“Yeah, it’ll take your mind off things for an hour or so.”

So that’s what we all agreed we’d do. Jenny would collect the girls in the Mondeo and we’d take two or three cars with us to the fireworks display at the rugby club. I’d get us a quick dinner and we’d go to watch the money burning—as you can see, I’m a keen firework fan.

Simon phoned his friend at the rugby club and we were told if we arrived early, the kids would be given sparklers—until they ran out, we’d also get to see the bonfire being lit. So he agreed we’d be there for six thirty.

Jenny came back from the school and I served up a thick vegetable soup with homemade bread, and some rice pudding afterwards—good stodge to keep them warm and stop them feeling hungry. Simon had two lots of each and we ate both the loaves I’d made that day.

We were ready to leave at six. Everyone was wrapped up warmly and Tom agreed to stay and keep an eye on the babies. I’d not eaten too much as I’d had to feed tiny wee, and I had a pile of chocolate bars in my handbag for the children afterwards.

We parked the two cars. Simon drove the Mondeo with all the girls—except Julie of course—and I drove with Jenny, Stella and Danny. We were there at six twenty and the kids were each given a couple of sparklers, which they’d be lighting after the bonfire was set ablaze. It was a pretty big one with a guy on the top and I hoped they’d checked it for hedgehogs looking for places to hibernate.

It was quite dark and getting cold, so I stood to the windward of the fire—not wanting to smell like a kipper or Arbroath smokie. As the brand was lit which would start the bonfire, I could see the size of the fire properly for the first time—it was very big and the guy on top was life-size.

The fire was started and the flames lit up the surrounding area and for the first time I could see the guy in more detail, the clothes looked more female than male, so did we have a gal rather than a guy. I looked again, they were familiar. Oh my God.

I pointed at the effigy on top of the now growing fire—“Those clothes they’re Julie’s,” I said to Simon.

“Don’t be daft, you’re just hypersensitive.”

I watched again and I was sure a hand moved. “There’s someone in that—it’s not an effigy.”

“What?” gasped Simon. I pointed and we saw a leg twitch. “Holy shit,” he ran off towards the clubhouse as the fireworks began.

“What if it’s Julie?” I said out loud. Then I grabbed my penknife from my handbag, told Stella to watch the kids and dashed on to the fire, braving the smoke and flames. I reckoned I had no more than a couple of minutes before it was too late to save whoever it was.

People were shouting and yelling at me to get off as I was spoiling the event. However, I stuck to my task and cut the ropes holding the arms legs and torso of the victim. I could hear them coughing, so they were still alive.

My eyes were streaming with the smoke and it was getting very hot, I had a feeling the rubber on my shoes was melting and some of the flames were coming very close.

Moments later Simon jumped up to help me carrying a fire blanket which we threw over the ‘guy’ and between us we just managed to drag them off the fire and roll them on the ground to douse the odd flame.

People from the club now came to assist, and we were all taken well away from the fire. I was coughing and spluttering and my legs were stinging a bit where my jeans had scorched.

We laid the ‘guy’ down on the grass and still clutching my penknife I cut away the sacking over the face and hands, it was a young woman—oh no, I fainted and I think Simon caught me—I don’t really know.

I woke up in A&E in the QA attached to an oxygen machine. Simon was sitting with me, still covered in dust and soot from the fire. I smiled at him. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, how’s Julie?” I enquired.

“I’m not sure, they were still working on her.”

“Who would do such a thing? Such a wretched thing?” I asked, my eyes filling with tears.

“I don’t know Babes, but if you hadn’t spotted her, she’d have had an agonising death, that’s for sure and much of the evidence would have been lost.”

“She was drugged and gagged,” I said sobbing, “she nearly died, who could hate anyone enough to do that?”

“I don’t know Babes, but if ever I find out, someone will be in deep, deep shit.”

“Can I go and see her?” I asked the young doctor who came in to check my vitals.

“No, you just stay there—she’s in ICU, she’s very poorly.”

I made to get off the bed and Simon pushed me back. “Just rest there,” he said, and I coughed and brought up a whole pile of grey black sputum. “Get your sea legs back first—eh?”

I lay back and wept.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1172

I think I must have fallen asleep because when I awoke, Simon wasn’t there. I called for him and a nurse appeared and told me he’d gone home to shower and change. I sat up and a physio came in and explained she wanted to clear my chest. Well, she started slapping me on the back and I began to think that clearing my chest was knocking my boobs off. I began to cough and brought up this horrible black scummy stuff. A couple of minutes later and I was able to breathe much more easily. I thanked her and she nodded and went off to torture another victim—I’ll bet she does water-boarding in her spare time.

I asked about Julie and the nurse went off to find out for me. She returned five or ten minutes later. “She’s comfortable and they hope out of danger. They’re still trying to analyse what she was given. They’re concerned about her kidneys but otherwise she’s coming on.”

“Can I go and see her?”

“Shortly. What’s this about you dragging her off a bonfire?” asked the nurse, “Did she fall into it?”

“Something like that, I don’t remember.”

“Only the press have been sniffing about like dogs round each others’ bums.”

“When can I see her?”

“I’ll go and phone the unit and see what I can do.”

“Thank you.” I sat impatiently and coughed from time to time, but it was less black. I must have inhaled more smoke than I thought. Goodness knows how Julie is.”

“There’s a porter going to take you up in a few minutes, you’ll need to wrap a blanket round yourself.”

I looked down and realised I was wearing one of those disposable gown things. I felt down below—at least I still had my knickers on. The nurse came back with one of those hospital cellular blankets and I stood up and wrapped it round me like a giant shawl. I saw I also had some of those disposable slippers they provide. The porter arrived and he helped me into a chair. “I can walk you know,” I said indignantly.

“Sit still or I’ll shove you down the laundry chute,” he barked at me and I sat quietly. It took an age to get to the ICU, and then he had to speak with the nurse in charge. She pushed the chair into a cubicle and there under a mass of tubes and wires was Julie.

“We didn’t realise she was a boy until we went to put the catheter in.”

“She isn’t, she’s a transgendered girl.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that—I mean anatomically, she has a willie.”

“No she suffers from vagina inverticus.”

“From vagi… oh? I see, yes, very good.” She blushed and laughed, “You obviously don’t have a problem with it then?”

“Why—do you?”

“No, no of course not.” She blushed again.

I got out of the wheelchair and sat next to Julie and rubbed the back of her hand, which felt a bit cooler than usual, yet when I touched her forehead, that felt warmer. “Is she on antibiotics?”

“Oh yes, quite a high dose—we think the drug she had taken…”

“I don’t think she’d have taken it voluntarily, she would either have been duped or forced to take it—she doesn’t do drugs.”

“Mrs Kemp, please don’t be so aggressive. I wasn’t implying she’d taken it for fun, but she did ingest it one way or another. Anyway, we think it might have affected her breathing and I believe she was caught in a fire and had sacking on her face, if that wasn’t very clean. However, it may have also protected her face from the heat a little.”

“It might have done, oh and my name isn’t Kemp, Julie is my foster child, my name is Cameron.”

“I’m sorry—I thought you were her mother—but you’re far too young to be her mother. Did you know she was transgendered before you fostered her?”

“Yes, it isn’t a problem—she’s never been anything other than a young woman to me—perhaps one with a particular issue, but all teenagers have something to deal with, even if it’s only their grotty parents.”

“What are you doing to her?” the nurse walked towards the machines. “Her oxygen level has increased to nearly normal and her kidney function is improving.”

“I’m not doing anything, am I? I’m just holding her hand—maybe she recognises my voice—hello, sweetheart, you’re going to be okay, can you hear me? You’ll be okay now, I’m here.”

The nurse rubbed her eyes, “What are you?”

“Why?”

“There’s this white light surrounding you and Julie, I think I’d better get the doctor—maybe you’d better go.”

“Julie, wake up and tell her you feel better,” I said to the supine child. Her eyes opened and she looked at me and smiled.

“Hello, Mummy, where are we?”

“In hospital sweetheart, you’ve been ill.”

“Have I? I’ve had the weirdest dreams, Mummy.”

“Don’t worry, sweetheart.”

She gave a terrific cough and I held out the papier mâché receiver and she spat out this almost black tar-like gunge. She took some more deep breaths and coughed up another lot.

The nurse was stood mesmerised, with her mouth wide open and her eyes bulging. “When you see the dentist next week, get him to check that crown you have on your wisdom tooth, there’s decay under it,” I told her.

She snapped back to life, “Dentist? How d’you know I’m seeing the dentist? What are you, some sort of witch?”

“Why do people always see witches as wicked—most are actually very nice people, who do no harm to anyone—it’s against their religion,” I smirked.

“She’s an angel really,” said Julie, before bringing up another pile of gunk.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in over twenty years of nursing.”

“It’s good to learn something new every day,” I teased.

“They say there’s some mystery healer that comes here—it’s you, isn’t it?”

“Me—nah, I just love her—that’s all you saw, a manifestation of my love—it just seems more visible with some people than others. When you have your cat sat on your lap, you’re doing exactly the same, only you can’t see it—what’s his name—Jefferson? Unusual name for a cat, is it because your name is Davis?”

“How do you know that?”

“Know what?”

“My cat’s name?”

“A lucky guess, I suppose.”

“You are weird, Mrs Cameron.”

“Yeah, it’s teaching students for a while—it gets to you eventually.”

“You’re a teacher?”

“Not exactly—well okay then, a teacher of men.” I used the phrase especially. I could see the cross round her neck.

“I don’t believe in false prophets, how dare you use words from the Bible?”

“I’m neither a prophet nor false. You believe what you believe and I’ll believe what I believe and apart from never the twain meeting, we’ll get on fine.”

“I think you ought to leave.”

“If I go, so does she.”

“I think I’d better call the police.”

“That would be a mistake, call Mr Nicholls instead.”

“How do you know Mr Nicholls.”

“I know lots of people, including many of the police.”

She picked up the phone and bleeped Ken Nicholls. He called back a moment later. I could only hear half the conversation. “Hello, Mr Nicholls, I’m sorry to disturb you, it’s Sister Davis on ICU. I have a strange lady here who says she knows you, Mrs Cameron, I think she said she was, making my machines go funny. You’ll come over? Oh good.”

“He’s coming then?” I clarified.

“Yes, he asked if I saw any blue light. He also said you were an angel—what’s going on? God protect me.”

“You have nothing to fear from me, I don’t hang upside down in a wardrobe on full moons or anything like that. I would ask that you keep confidential what you’ve seen today—or I get nasty and sue for breach of confidence, and I always win.”

Her smile turned to a look of dismay, which was when Ken Nicholls strolled in. “Cathy, what are you doing here and wearing one our gowns? Tut tut, Calvin Klein they are not.”

“Damn, I dressed in a hurry this morning…” I said, and he bellowed with laughter.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1173

Fortunately, Simon had noticed I needed a change of clothes and so brought some in with him a little later. The chest physician had checked out Julie and agreed she could be moved to an ordinary ward and if she showed no further symptoms of breathlessness and her other problems were resolving, he thought she could come home in a day or so.

Simon took me home and I was pleased to see that Stella had brought my handbag back complete with chocolate bars. I had a cuppa and checked on the kids—they were all asleep, well except one—who once she’d reassured herself I was all right, went off to sleep.

“Do they know who abducted Julie and why?” asked Stella.

“Not yet, she doesn’t seem to remember too much about anything.”

“Surely, someone must have seen something?” she continued.

“I’m sure they did, but whether or not they report it, makes the outcome uncertain. There must be umpteen occasions, when she was taken—was she drugged first? When they crashed the scooter, and when they took her to the bonfire. There would have been people doing things round there all day—setting up the fireworks and so on.”

“I spoke to several at the rugby club while we were waiting for the ambulance: no one seems to know who the two blokes were who put Julie on the bonfire.”

“Were they young or old?” I asked, “Black or white, big small—what were they wearing?” I fired questions at him.

“They were both black, wearing gold lame evening gowns and cowboy boots,” he shot back—“They don’t bloody know because everyone was doing their thing and not paying attention to the two putting the guy on the top of the pile of wood. They did use a ladder, so they must have come in a car or van with a ladder on the roof.”

“So we don’t have a motive yet, either?” posited Stella.

“Aye, wis it personal tae Julie, or wis it aginst Cathy, or e’en thae Cameron clan?”

“That’s what’s going round in my head too,” I agreed, “maybe we need to go somewhere else?”

“Where?” asked Simon, “I suppose Dad could have the estate organised in a few days, open up the old place, get it aired.”

“No Si, we need somewhere smaller not bigger—the bigger it is, the harder it is to defend or protect.”

“If it’s just Julie?” he suggested.

“I don’t know, send her away for a few days—if we can find somewhere safe, I suppose I could take her to Bristol with the baby.”

“Or we could send her to Hampstead.” Simon beamed at me.

“I thought it was Coventry you send people?” I played deliberately stupid despite being tired.

“Thae polis’ll want tae talk wi’ ’er.”

“I know, I’ll give Stephanie a call first thing tomorrow and book a session with her as soon as Julie comes home, just in case.”

“I suppose if she can’t remember much, then it saves her some trauma,” said Stella.

“But until we find out who did it and why we can’t stop it happening again—I wonder if Stephanie can do hypnosis?” I’d heard that some people can even recall incidents whilst under a general anaesthetic while hypnotised, though I wasn’t entirely sure how easy it would be as it seemed to require a very deep trance state. It might work for dormice—they spend half their lives in a trance, but I’m not sure about teenagers—although it’s arguable they are just hibernating humans—which emerge from their sleep five or ten years later and resume being human again.

“Is she going to be safe in hospital?” asked Stella.

“Yes,” said Simon, “I’ve paid a firm of bodyguards to sit outside her door day and night until she comes home.”

“You didn’t tell me,” I said frowning.

“Well the police couldn’t or wouldn’t supply a guard, so I organised it. The hospital was okay about it.”

“Like what happens if he needs to go to the loo?” asked Stella, making quite a valid point.

“They only do four hours, so it shouldn’t happen.”

“Four hours—if it’s cold I need to go two or three times in that sort of period.”

“Not if I was paying you wouldn’t.” Simon closed that part of the discussion aggressively.

I excused myself and went to bed. I couldn’t sleep though, my head was buzzing with what ifs and maybes. My major concern was protecting the family. We couldn’t all have bodyguards, and even with them, things can happen. To try to take my mind off things, I attempted to send healing vibes to Julie and I did finally sleep.

When I awoke the next morning, it took me a moment to realise that Simon wasn’t in bed. In fact, it was obvious he hadn’t come to bed at all. My first thought was that he’d been taken and I rushed out of bed and dashed downstairs, nearly falling over the armchair at the foot of the stairs. In it, fast asleep with a broken shotgun across his lap was my husband. I was touched by his gesture of protection, though I leant across and removed the gun without him rousing.

I then kissed him on the cheek and he muttered, “Not now, Rosemary…”

“Who’s Rosemary,” I demanded slapping him on the cheek.

He sat in the chair and roared—“I heard you come down the stairs, like a clog-dancing elephant.”

“You were asleep, I even took your gun,” I protested loudly.

“Only because I let you.”

“So who’s Rosemary?” I clicked the gun together and pointed it at his groin.

“There is no Rosemary,” he said going pale.

“I don’t believe you,” I said, “and I’m not prepared to share you with another woman.”

“Cathy, there is no one else, honestly. There is no Rosemary, I only said it to annoy you. It’s a joke.”

I drew back the hammers. “You’re lying, who is she?”

“Cathy, don’t be stupid.”

I pulled both triggers and he practically pooed himself. I then showed him the two cartridges in my other hand. “It’s a joke, too. Can’t say I like yours very much.”

“Jeezuz H Christ, you really had me worried there.”

“I meant to, I won’t share you with another woman—just thought I’d let you know.” I handed him the gun and the cartridges, “I think this needs to be locked away securely.” Tom has a gun locker in his study, and I presumed that was where it came from—though I didn’t know Simon had a key to it.

After I’d showered, he continued to complain about my frightening the proverbial out of him. “Simon, I came dashing down the stairs to see if you were okay, so to have you play such a tasteless joke on me needed some repayment. Besides, you know I couldn’t hit a barn door with a shovel, so you were quite safe.

“I thought your aim was pretty good—I’ve seen you fire a bow and heard the reports about what happened in Scotland with the police attack.”

“That was a Kalashnikov, a proper gun, not one of those turkey bashers, and it also fires so many bullets, you’re bound to hit something eventually,” I retorted going to make breakfast.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1174

Simon and I made up after his tasteless joke and my dangerous one—I hate guns, so it made little sense to me either, but at the time it seemed like a good idea—a bit like riding my bike the day of the thunderstorm. If I’d seen what was coming, I’m not sure I’d have known what to do. Anyway, it’s all spilt milk under the bridge over which I leapt without a look and landed in the fire, which has burned pretty well ever since.

Trish came down and gave me a huge hug and a kiss, so that made me feel better, and when Livvie, Mima and Billie did the same, I felt much better. I called Stephanie who was dashing out to have her hair done. I asked her to come and see Julie very soon.

“But I see her every week, already. What’s happened that’s so urgent—she’s been coming on fine?”

“Have you heard about the human guy left on the bonfire?”

“Oh, she wasn’t there to see that, was she?” Stephanie sighed in the background.

“No, she didn’t see it.”

“Thank goodness for that.”

“It was her.”

“What was?”

“She was the guy on the bonfire.”

“Oh my God,” she said slowly. “Where is she now?”

“Still at the QA.”

“I’d have thought it would be Odstock Hospital for burns.”

“It wasn’t burns, I managed to pull her off before then.”

“You pulled her off?”

“Yes, with Simon’s help.”

“Are you all right?”

“As ever I’m going to be.”

“Are you sure—why not see Ann Thomas? You’ve probably undergone as much trauma as anyone else.”

“I’m okay,” I protested.

“Fine, let’s keep it that way, go and see Ann or I’ll have you sectioned under the Mental Health Act.”

“Oh all right, you bloody trick cyclists are a pain.”

“I’ve got to dash, I’ll pop in and see Julie this afternoon.”

“Is that okay?” I felt embarrassed.

“No, I was getting my hair done for a date this afternoon, he’ll just have to wait an hour won’t he?”

“Lucky you,” I sighed unthinkingly.

“See? You do need to see Ann.”

“Okay, I’ll make an appointment.” I put the phone down.

“When can we see Julie?” asked Trish, after she’d helped to clear the table.

“I’m not sure sweetheart, she could be home in a day or two, but as we don’t know who attacked her, I’m very reluctant to let any of you go anywhere.”

“If I can work that out, can we go and see her?”

“How can you do that?” I was astonished.

“Elementary, my dear Watts.” She disappeared in a mass of giggles.

I left her to it, she was doing something on her laptop—her computer skills were coming on in leaps and bounds. Livvie who’s pretty bright as well, doesn’t always understand what Trish is doing—this kid is like, six years old—and I have no idea.

I found out later that she was trying to hack the police computer, via an address in the Ukraine to disguise her identity. When I was six, I’d never heard of Ukraine, let alone trying to pretend I was there.

The firewall was too complex for her, but she managed to get into the road surveillance system, including the recordings over the past few days. She called me two hours later—there was a picture of a youth or man riding the pink scooter. The size made it obvious the rider was male, although the helmet was Julie’s.

If he didn’t abduct her, he was certainly involved. She stored the images and printed off some copies. I’d be back to the college on Monday and showing the photo to all and sundry. He was big, so we could eliminate all the smaller men from the rider although they could also still be involved.

Nothing was clear-cut about this case. At mid-morning, I had a call from the hospital: the police were waiting to interview Julie and she wanted me present. I wondered if Simon would be better to go, but she insisted on me. I spoke briefly with him, and he agreed to supervise the kids while I went to the hospital.

Leon had arrived and wondered where Julie was. I think it was Danny who told him what had happened and Leon became very angry. Julie wasn’t quite his girlfriend, but as close to him as any girl had ever got, and he was quite distressed. Stella had to work hard to calm him down. He was spouting vengeance, but Simon told him to get in the queue.

Actually, I’m not so interested in revenge, I just want Julie and the others to be able to live a normal life, but that means negating the threat we believe her and possibly my other children to be under. How we do it, I’m not too worried, provided we don’t end up in bigger trouble for doing it. The motive still wasn’t clear, unless it was a transphobic one, it’s not exactly uncommon, even I’ve experienced a bit of it, or did in days gone by. But Julie is so pretty, unless you got her knickers off you’d never know she wasn’t a natural girl, she’s really blossomed from the hormones.

The interview was a waste of time, she couldn’t remember anything. She was upset when she discovered her scooter had been damaged—she didn’t know. She had no recollection of leaving college that lunchtime, she could only muse that she was probably going to get a kebab for her lunch—but she wasn’t at all sure.

I felt like showing them the picture of the bloke on her scooter, but then I’d have to explain that my younger daughter had hacked into the road system surveillance of the County Council.

I gave a statement, out of Julie’s hearing—she wasn’t yet aware she’d been left to die on a bonfire.

“And you didn’t want to go to the firework display?” asked the woman Inspector.

“No, I only went because everyone else wanted to go and they promised free sparklers to kids who got there first.”

“You seem to have some phenomenal coincidences in your life?”

“Yeah, don’t I just.” I shrugged.

“Someone up there seems to think you can work with Him.”

“Not me, I’m an unconvinced unbeliever. Prove to me there is someone up there and I’ll reconsider my position.”

“For many, the coincidences would be enough. What were the chances that you’d be at that bonfire party?”

“I don’t really know, but I suspect the person or persons who did it weren’t expecting me to recognise Julie’s jacket.”

“How did you?”

“My friend Siân got it for her in Paris, so there aren’t too many about in Portsmouth.”

“Your husband didn’t notice it then?”

“Only when I pointed it out to him.”

“He is a man, so I suppose he wouldn’t notice what women were wearing unless it was very little or they were taking it off,” the police officer speculated, but it sounded about right. If the guy had been wearing a bikini, Simon would have noticed and Stella would have been able to tell you who made it. But it was very fortunate that the guy was wearing an expensive French leather jacket—why hadn’t other people noticed and why hadn’t I noticed it earlier? I noticed it because it was Julie’s jacket, not because it wasn’t the sort of thing that Guy Fawkes effigies usually wore. Then I’m not a copper, but I’m supposed to be a trained observer—or does that only apply to dormice and assorted furry things?

I went back to see Julie after the police left, and Stephanie walked on to the ward. The sister rushed off, presumably to find her a room—well she is a consultant psychiatrist, like Ann Thomas—which reminded me…

The Daily Dormouse Part 1175

Julie didn’t need me to be there for her interview with Stephanie, so I gave her a hug and went off to do some food shopping and then home. Stephanie promised to speak to me if there was anything I needed to know—usually there isn’t much.

It took me an hour and a half to fill a large trolley with enough food to keep us going for a few days, if Simon stayed home, one day less. I didn’t think anyone could eat so much and be able to walk about, but he seems able to. I shall have to watch his weight because he sure ain’t going to.

I paid for my groceries and loaded the car. One of these days I was going to do it all online—even in the better supermarkets, it is a total pain and waste of useful time. Back home, my boobs told me it was time to either express or feed the wee yin. You might well have guessed it was the latter.

Tiny wee isn’t quite so tiny, despite my neglect and she now has the odd solid food as well, usually something like Farex or Farley’s Rusk, the latter we soak in milk until it becomes like sludge—but she eats it with relish. I also do a little bit of dinner in the blender and she’ll have a spoonful or two of that.

She had a bit of Farley’s in milk followed by breast of foster mother, chewed not shaken—little monster. Sometimes I’m really glad I’m a human, because the thought of being something like a mother cat feeding a litter of kittens with their needle sharp claws and teeth makes my eyes water. This little toad with just two teeth and jaws like a badger sometimes makes me feel like I’ve had my nipples pierced—by a staple gun. She is definitely going to be a carnivore—she’s been practicing on me for over two months.

While I sat with the baby, I had time to reflect on recent days—boring it has not been. I still couldn’t understand why anyone would want to hurt Julie. I know she can be a pain in the arse but really no more so than any other teenager and I didn’t see stacks of other teens ready for chucking on the bonfire. Ergo, there must be a more specific reason: such as she did something or said something or witnessed someone else doing something or talking about it. I was speculating and wearing out my surviving brain cell—I suppose I should have got my super-brain computer thinking about it—we call her Trish.

On Monday, I would visit the college and show the photos to students and see if anyone recognised the rider on Julie’s scooter. After lunch, I went to visit Julie again, taking Trish with me. We also took the photo she’d found on the CCTV site to see if Julie recognised the rider.

She was asleep when we entered her room, but she soon woke up when Trish planted a smacker on her cheek. If she kisses like that with boys when she’s a bit older, they’ll be calling her Dyson, because it’s about the only thing with similar suction I’ve ever encountered.

Julie woke up, lazily stretching and opening her eyes. “Oh hi, Mummy—Trishy, oh wow.” They hugged like they hadn’t seen each other for several months, not a couple of days.

“How did you get on with Stephanie?” I asked Julie.

“Dunno, she hypnotised me I think—I like went to sleep an’ when I woke up, she’d gone—I suppose she got bored an’ left. If she talks to you can you say soz from me, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“If she calls, of course I will—however, she knows what she’s doing, so if you slept, then it was probably meant to happen.”

“She could sleep through a firework display,” said Trish, and then saw my expression which was not one of approval. ‘Sorry,’ she mouthed to me and I gave her some more scorn.

“Don’t be daft,” replied Julie, “the slightest noise and I’m awake.”

“That isn’t what Danny says when he tries to get you up in the mornings,” I reminded her.

“Oh I do that deliberately, just to push his buttons.”

“It might be rather nice one day not to try and annoy him, but just get up and get yourself dressed.”

“Yes, you should,” agreed Trish, trying to divert attention from her own failings.

“Will I get my jacket back? From the police, I mean.”

“If it’s like my phone, it won’t fit you by the time they give it back,” Trish commented.

“I don’t know, we’ll get you another one sometime if they don’t—it might be forensic evidence, you know DNA and all that sort of stuff.”

“Oh, d’you know this person?” I handed her the photograph.

“He’s got a scooter like mine.”

“It is your scooter, Jules,” beamed Trish, “I got it from the CCTV camera down the road from where they found your scooter.”

“Cor, you are so clever, you’ll have to show me how you did it.”

“I wouldn’t bother if I were you, Julie, it’s such a long-winded process creating a fake identity so they can’t trace you. But she has promised me she wouldn’t try hacking into the military, because I don’t think it would be very funny to give the order to start World War 3.”

“The Prime Minister does that, Mummy.”

“Yeah, but if you said your name was Cameron, they’d probably think it was him. It gets very boring in those nuclear submarines unless you’re playing tag with the Russians or Chinese, or even the French or Yanks. I remember when I was in school in Bristol, we had this war hero bloke come and speak to us. He was with the submarines and he and another British sub together with an American one were about to attack a Japanese convoy in the Pacific. The two British boats got underneath the escort destroyers and were waiting for the Yanks to follow, when they bottled out and fled—apparently it was a very young crew. The two Brit boats got depth charged for nine hours. He was livid when the American avoided a court martial.”

“What’s a depth charge, Mummy?”

“It’s like a bomb that explodes under water and creates a pressure wave against the submarine. If it’s close enough, it can break the welding on the outer skin of the sub and it sinks.”

“But it’s under the water already, so how can it sink?” Trish protested.

“It’s sailing under water or even resting on the bottom, not lying on the bottom with the air and the pressure inside it escaping, which means if the sailors in it don’t drown or asphyxiate, they get crushed by the weight of millions of tons of water on top of them.”

“Yeeewwch,” Trish made a nasty face, “I don’t think I want to go down in a submarine, sounds dangerous.”

“Only if men are driving it,” I joked, thinking about the latest British sub which ran aground while sailing on its maiden voyage and had to be towed back to its depot.

“Do they have ladies in submarines?” asked an astonished Trish.

“I have no idea, but you certainly wouldn’t get me down in one either. They’re very cramped and noisy and I don’t trust nuclear power, except we’ll have to use it to keep the lights burning in future however much people object. Wind farms are a waste of money.”

“I thought you’d be all in favour of green energy, Mummy?” suggested Julie.

“They’re nowhere near as green as they’re made out to be and they kill large numbers of seabirds.”

“That’s it,” snapped Julie.

“What is?” I asked, still thinking about wind farms.

“Bird, that’s the bloke’s name in the photo.” Julie looked pleased with herself.

“Bird?”

“Yeah, they call him The Vulture, he’s the guy who does fetching and carrying, and dishwashing at college. He’s a bit creepy, has funny eyes—like really heavy lids to them.”

“Like some types of vulture—well done, girl. Now all we have to do is work out why he abducted you.”

“Oh he didn’t did he? Yeeeeeuck.”

“I don’t know, but I’m sure you didn’t give him permission to ride your scooter.”

“No way, he’s far too fat, he’d break it.”

Trish made a mime of someone huge sitting on something not strong enough to bear his weight and getting stuck between the handlebars and the seat as it bent in on them. It was quite funny—maybe she’s going to be an actor?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1176 (98 dozen)

A little while before we left, Trish and I gave Julie some combined healing. It sent her off to sleep and we left her sleeping as we made our way home. We stopped at a cyber café and Trish created an email account with Yahoo and then sent a copy of the picture plus the name we’d been given to the woman police inspector who’d come to speak with me. She’d left her card which made it easier.

An hour later, the inspector knocked on the door and Simon let her in. “Lady Cameron, I don’t suppose you know anything about this do you?” She held up the photo of the man on Julie’s scooter.

“Why would I know anything about it?”

“You didn’t send it to me, then?”

“No, I didn’t send it, but that looks remarkably like Julie’s scooter. What’s he doing on it?”

“It is Julie’s scooter, and we’re hoping to arrest him in the next few hours.”

“Where’s he live, I’m sure Simon would happily go and arrest him for you, although I suspect he would resist arrest and Simon would have to quieten him down, wouldn’t you Si?”

“Wouldn’t I what?” he replied.

I held up the picture, “This guy is riding Julie’s scooter.”

“Where and when?” he asked, walking up to get a better look at the photo.

“The date is on it, and it was taken by a camera half a mile up the road from where it was found dumped,” informed the inspector.

“Big Jessie riding a girl’s scooter,” he almost spat at the picture, so I didn’t remind him he’d had a go on it.

“The man’s name is Alfie Bird, alias the vulture, because he has hooded eyes like the bird of prey.” The inspector informed us and although she was technically incorrect, a vulture isn’t a bird of prey because it eats mainly carrion. Red and black kite will also eat carrion and yet they’re regarded as birds of prey, and other raptors are equally happy to eat stuff they didn’t kill. Why waste energy when there’s fast food waiting for you?

Sadly, the same laziness applies to mammalian predators as well, and the red fox, Vulpes vulpes is quite happy raiding dust bins instead of killing rats and mice. Mind you, so is Kiki and domestic moggies are quite adept at opening black bin bags, as are various gulls and corvids. Nature is adaptable, or some of it is—it can still come unstuck, as one consequence of bin bags was large numbers of gulls dying through botulism about twenty years ago. The bacterium Clostridium botulinus, is a nasty little anaerobe, which means it doesn’t like oxygen or need it to thrive. Black plastic bags in warm weather are just the right sort of environment it loves, and it was growing in old foodstuffs in the bags. The gulls were ripping them open or helping themselves to the spillages from landfill sites and poisoning themselves. The same toxin which was killing them is the one that’s injected to people’s faces to reduce wrinkles or lines by paralysing tiny muscles, and is better known as botox—botulinum toxin. Other delightful members of the Clostridia are C.welchii, C. tetani and C. difficile—all expert killers. The first two are gas gangrene and tetanus, bugs found in the earth or in animal faeces.

“Who is this Alfie Bird?” I asked, knowing he worked at the college.

“He’s a nasty piece of work, with more records than Madonna, all of them criminal.”

“How is he nasty?” I asked, realising it didn’t probably apply only to his personal hygiene.

“He’s been done for violence, sexual violence, armed robbery and supplying drugs. He’s not exactly a big fish himself, he’s too stupid, but he has been used by different gangs to enforce or extort money, so he gets to exercise some the violence for which he’s rather too well known.”

“Why would he have attacked Julie, and did he?”

“We’ll have a better idea when we’ve spoken to him. I don’t know why he attacked her, or even if he did, but perhaps she saw or heard something she shouldn’t have.”

“If he’s sexually abused her, I’ll…”

“You’ll what, Lady Cameron?” asked the inspector.

“I’ll hope you catch him and he goes down for a long time.”

She gave me a very old-fashioned look, and her eyes narrowed. “I have to remind you that we take a dim view of people who take the law into their own hands.”

“Would I do a thing like that?”

“According to our records—yes—quite frequently.”

“Not recently, the thugs round here seem to realise that we deliver them back to civilisation sky-clad, with a bit of a walk to do.”

“Sky-clad?” queried Simon.

“It means birthday suit, and tends to be used as a description of some pagan celebrations, such as Wicca.”

“Wouldn’t that be a bit cold on a broomstick—birthday suit I mean?” asked Simon, finding the whole interview hilarious.

“I don’t honestly know, I could tow you behind the car if you really wanted to find out,” I offered. The inspector allowed her lips to twitch at my suggestion before returning to her poker face.

“We learned very little from Julie, it seems she was possibly taken after being drugged. They found traces of Rohypnol in her blood amongst other things. Before you go thinking date rape, we didn’t find any trace of that as far as we could see.”

“How do you know what happened to her, if she was either drugged or unconscious?” asked Simon.

“She was medically examined by a police surgeon who would know where to look for signs of sexual abuse.”

“It could have happened without leaving any marks,” Simon was becoming quite angry at the thought of it, especially as we knew it had happened before.

“I can assure you, our doctors are well trained.”

Simon looked at me and I wondered if the same idea went through his brain—at which well are they trained? I realised he wasn’t thinking the same when he said that if he came across the guy first, he wasn’t sure how he’d react. I asked him to let the police deal with it, at the same time wishing I could have five minutes alone with him and a pair of tin snips.

“I honestly wouldn’t recommend any contact with him, Lord Cameron, as he has escaped at least one charge of manslaughter because the witness withdrew his statement—we’re pretty sure it was because of intimidation. He’s a really nasty piece of work.”

“If he turns up here, he’ll leave in a body bag,” stated Simon impassively.

“Please, I’ve already asked you to avoid taking the law into your own hands. Vigilantism achieves nothing but more problems for all concerned.”

“Oh, it’s not me he has to worry about,” Simon said quite cheerfully.

“No?” said the Inspector.

“Oh no, round here the female is definitely much more deadly than the male.”

She looked at his slightest of smiles, and then she looked at me and her eyes narrowed.

“We have a very savage guard cat,” I joked, and she shook her head at me and sighed.

“You’ve been warned, if he shows up here, dial triple nine…”

“And ask for the ambulance?” suggested Simon.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1177

“What if ’e comes at me with a point-ed stick?” said Simon, in probably the worst Welsh accent I’ve ever heard and straight out of Monty Python.

“Who—Alfie Bird?” I asked.

“’Ere, come at me wiv a banana.”

“I have better things to do than encourage your silliness.” I sloped off to get the kids to bed and check my emails.

“D’you think that nasty man knows where we live?” asked Billie, and sounding quite scared.

“I don’t know, kiddo, but I doubt he’d be stupid enough to come here. The police would be round here in moments once I phoned.”

“Don’t worry, sis, we’ll look after you, won’t we Liv?” said Trish confidently.

“An’ me, I’ww hewp too,” said Meems, “So don’t wowwy, Biwwie, we’ll pwotect you.”

“Thank you,” said Billie and slid under the bedclothes.

I read them a short story and tucked them in, then went down and chatted with Danny for a while. He went off to bed with his soccer magazine. I fed the baby and chatted with Stella and Jenny. Then they went off to bed and I put tiny wee down after changing her.

Finally, I got round to my emails, most of which were rubbish—although there was one from Sussex Uni.

‘Dear Cathy,

I appreciate you’re busy, but our membership was asked who they’d like to do our Christmas lecture and your name came up. Any chance you could say something profound about dormeece and show a few more out-takes? The date is 17th December.

Could you let me know, oh the fee is two hundred, hope that’s enough to tempt you.

Kind regards,

Abi’

It was dated today. Did I have the nerve to do another talk there? I wasn’t sure, plus the fact, that it was okay to do a talk to a bunch of parents who are being fleeced for school funds but to do the same talk to a larger group of undergrads and graduates plus staff—was a rather different matter.

I wrote back telling her that I had a young baby that I was feeding myself and I needed to think about it, but would get back to her in a day or two. I had a reply minutes later.

‘Wow, is there anything you can’t do? Dilly is pregnant—donor obviously, but she’s really happy with herself…’

Yeah, just wait until you tell her I’ve beaten her to it, I thought as I read her email.

‘Can you let me know asap if you can’t come and I’ll see if Sir David is available.

Congrats on the baby.

Abi’

There was another point to consider, did I want to do it and face the likes of Dilly and Ezzie Herbert, especially as he’d wanted me to do the UN job. Given the credit crunch and all the austerity measures being promoted by various governments, funding ecological projects wouldn’t be high on the political agenda—so I’m glad I didn’t succumb to the temptation of doing something beyond my abilities, which I considered the UN job to be.

Simon came through as I was mulling these things over. “Hi, Babes, we goin’ to bed or what?”

“Why, what’s the alternative?”

“We could do it on the kitchen table,” he smiled and winked.

“At this moment, I think I’d rather come at you with a banana.” I switched off my computer and went up the stairs.

I was in bed and reading Cycling Weekly when he came through from the bathroom, the very image of male sexiness in his underpants and socks. Why do they always keep their socks on until just before they come to bed?

He pulled on an old tee shirt commemorating some rugby match or other, now if it had been the TdF, I might have been interested, but it wasn’t.

I felt his hand on my leg and moved my leg. “Oh, be like that then,” he grumbled.

“Sussex Uni have asked me to do their Christmas lecture.”

“On what?” he asked, more out of politeness than real interest, his attention being focused on a bulge in his underpants and a corresponding dent in my pants.

“I think they want some more out-takes from the dormouse film.”

“Have you showed them the one of you falling in the stream? ‘Look she’s fallen in da water’,” he said, pretending to be Little Jim from the Goons.

“No, I don’t think I have, I’ll have to speak to Alan about that one. I suppose he could have lost it.”

“I’m beginning to think I have,” he sighed.

“Lost what?” I asked, laying my magazine down.

“Not my virginity, if that’s what you were thinking.”

“Eh? I wasn’t thinking any such thing,” I said disdainfully.

“Not even a quickie?”

“Quickie what?” I asked disingenuously.

“A quickie shag, what else?”

“You mean you want to make love to me?”

“No, I haven’t got time for that, I just want some raw sex with the woman of my dreams.” His hand came back on my leg and he began to rub it gently.

“Don’t tell me she’s not available so your wife will have to do?”

“Something like that,” he allowed, then added, “Look are we going to fuck or not?”

“Could do I suppose, since you put it like that,” I sighed.

“Your enthusiasm is always such a turn on, missus.”

“Well, you know, I’m still sore after the milkman, the butcher, the baker…”

“Don’t tell me and the bloody candlestick maker?” Simon interrupted.

“Well he’s always welcome, dunno what we’d do without his wares.”

“Yeah okay, up school—up school—right up school.”

“Goodness, you went there as well?” I said naïvely.

“Very funny, now stop yapping and get sh…” I switched the light off and simultaneously ran my fingers over his bulge before grabbing it. “Ooh,” he squeaked, the rest I’ll leave to your fertile imaginings, but I walked slightly stiffly the next morning and sat down very carefully—dunno if blue light sorts such things out as well.

Billie was very glad that we hadn’t all been murdered in our beds until I pointed out that it was Monday morning and she needed to go to school along with all the others.

After breakfast and the school run, I emailed Alan to ask if he still had the clip of the stream episode. He wrote back saying he thought he’d sent it. I played the DVD and found he hadn’t, so he promised to do so later that day. He also said he’d made one or two more contacts for harvest mice and hoped to schedule some filming in late spring. I told him I looked forward to it.

The post arrived and with it a typed letter with a first class stamp on it. Inside was a badly made attempt at a blackmail-type letter made from cuttings. I immediately put it down and found a polycover thing you stick in loose-leaf binders. Then I called the police.

‘tell Julie shes dead or good as.

the watcher.’

I looked at the note, you couldn’t really call it a letter and began to feel more angry than scared. If that fat bastard showed his face round here, if Simon didn’t get him first, I sure as hell would.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1178

After the police came and removed the note for forensic analysis, and presumably to compare fingerprints with those they had on record of Alfie Bird. If he’s dumb enough to have left any, he’ll soon be doing bird—it’s an offence to send nasty letters through the Royal Mail, and the missing apostrophe made it very nasty. He should get an extra six months for poor grammar.

Stephanie had gone to see Julie again, and had pronounced her well enough to come home. The physicians agreed and I was called to go and get her. Just as well I wasn’t doing anything important, only drawing up plans for world domination by the Mammal Society—actually, I’d moments before put the bread machine on and was thinking about lunch. Instead, I grabbed my jacket and car keys. I sent a text to Simon to advise him that I was collecting Julie from hospital.

The traffic was dreadful: why does everyone with a car always want to use it the same time that I do—and always in the same place? It took me forty-five minutes to get to the hospital and park the car. I picked up my handbag and the small holdall with Julie’s clothes and walked to the ward to collect her.

She gave me a huge hug and then went to change into her jeans and top, plus trainers and socks. Ten minutes later, she thanked the nurses with a hug each and then we left the ward, strolling back to the car park. We were being watched, as we soon found out.

Walking on the pedestrian crossing with several other people, a car flashed past and nearly caught both of us. If I hadn’t seen movement from the corner of my eye and pulled her back, who knows what would have happened.

Several people saw and commented on the old red Cavalier that so nearly knocked us down. It happened so fast that were unable to see the driver or get the number. We took a deep breath and continued on to collect the car. Perhaps I was still tired from the previous night or what, but I didn’t realise that we were actually being attacked.

We stepped into the car park and the red car came screaming at us once again, I pushed Julie between some parked cars and had to scramble over the bonnet of another avoiding the maniac in the Vauxhall by inches. He then drove out at breakneck speed and I heard his engine whining in the distance.

“Are you all right, Mummy?” called Julie from between the cars.

I pulled myself out from the bushes at the edge of the parking spaces and told her I was. Alas, she wasn’t, she’d twisted her ankle and was limping heavily on it. Fortunately, my car was only yards away and I went and got it and she managed to scramble inside, throwing her bag on the back seat.

Safe at last: Mercedes make secure cars—they’re renowned for it—so I felt safe. We drove round the hospital road and a blue car pulled out in front of us and I had to do an emergency stop to avoid him. He stayed in front as we exited on to the main road and did he dawdle. The windows were blacked out so I couldn’t see who was driving but it felt like a little old lady—I mean I cycle faster than he was going.

He drove on past a crossing where I stopped to let some children cross and one of them almost thanked me—cor, recognition at last. We caught up with the blue car at some traffic lights and once again he drove off like a clockwork slug. In desperation, I pulled off to the left to avoid him and go home by a different route, he was beginning to annoy me.

Another A class Merc followed him through the junction, although it was a red one. We went in a big dogleg to come back to the main road and suddenly from nowhere the blue car came screaming past us—at least I thought it was the same one.

“Is that the same car which nearly ran us off the road coming out of the hospital?” I asked Julie.

“Could be, yeah, it looks the same, why?”

“Why indeed? He was crawling along in front of us, though he pulled out like a maniac to do so. Now he’s overtaken us again and is slowing down again—what’s going on?”

“What d’ya mean, Mummy?”

“Why’s he slowing us down—someone going to take a pop at us?”

“Mummy, this is Portsmouth not Chicago and Alfie Bird doesn’t have the brains to plan something like that, does he?”

“Who said he’s planning it, what if it’s his boss?” I glanced at Julie who’d gone pale. “What’s the matter, sweetheart?”

“That’s Alfie up ahead.”

He stepped out into the road carrying something in his hand, I accelerated past the blue car and opened my door as we drew level with Alfie, who was knocked flying. The impact cracked my window and probably dented the door, but we squeezed through between a bus coming the other way and the blue car, which now began to come after us.

“Call the police,” I instructed Julie but she seemed to have fainted, slumping forward in her seat against the seat belt.

I now had to try and lose the other car, which I suspect went much faster than mine. Coming up to a roundabout, I deliberately turned against the traffic flow and went down a one way street against the direction of oncoming traffic, somehow, we all managed to miss each other. Getting to the end, I did a handbrake turn and went back up the road passing the lunatic in the blue car who had finally worked out where I’d gone except he was now going away from us and I saw he’d also hit a taxi coming up behind us.

I sighed for a moment of relief when I heard a dripping noise, I glanced down Julie was bleeding from the chest and it was running off the seat onto the floor of the car. I don’t know what had happened but she was unconscious and bleeding heavily. I had one thought in my mind—hospital and quick.

I don’t think I ever want to relive that journey; suddenly the red car appeared again and tried to ram us, this time I saw him coming and he careered across in front of us and crashed through the window of a chemist’s shop.

I was now speeding well over the limit through streets with pedestrians and slow moving traffic, one hand on the wheel the other on the horn, beeping my way through, squeezing through gaps I’d never normally even try in a car park, now I was doing it at fifty miles an hour.

Approaching the A&E entrance to the QA and the blue car appeared again, this time with a police car on his tail, lights flashing and sirens wailing. To my horror it didn’t seem to stop him, he just kept coming.

I put my foot down and swerved into the A&E parking bay and stopped suddenly expecting an impact from the rear, instead he shot past us and got broadsided by an ambulance which caused him to fly up into the air and land on his roof.

A policeman came running up to arrest me and I pointed to Julie—“She’s hurt, I don’t know how.”

He took one look at her and ran into the hospital returning a moment later with two nurses and a gurney. “Gunshot wound,” he said breathlessly and pointed to Julie whom I’d sat back in her seat and had a handful of tissues over the wound.

We all lifted her onto the gurney and some more nurses and a doctor appeared. She was rushed back into the hospital and the copper stopped me and said, “You’re under arrest,” and read me my rights.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1179

“Wouldn’t you be better helping your friend with the accident over there,” I pointed to the inverted car and damaged ambulance.

“Oh yeah, and let you run away?”

“You know who I am.”

“Yeah, so?”

“You also know where I live.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“I have five other children there, I’m not going anywhere except to see how my daughter is.”

“Gunshot is a serious offence.”

“I didn’t shoot her, but I know who did.”

“Who’s that then?”

“Alfie Bird.”

“Didn’t know ’e used guns. You’re still under arrest.”

“Go and help your friend, I’ll speak to your superiors later.”

“That sounds like a threat.”

“I wouldn’t threaten a member of the county constabulary despite their stupidity.”

“Don’t push your luck,” he pulled himself up to his full six feet.

“I could say the same to you. Talk with your colleagues and mention my name, listen to their advice.”

“Who do you think you are?”

“I know who I am, it’s you I’m unsure about—oh, does testicular cancer run in your family?”

“What’s that supposed to mean.”

“The injury you got, what two years ago? I’d get it checked out quickly.”

“What d’you know about that?”

“Very little, but more than you it seems.”

“Look ’ere, if you’re pissin’ me about…”

“If you don’t get it sorted in the next few months, you have five years to live. Now excuse me, I have to see my daughter.”

I pushed past him, leaving him standing in a daze, serves him right if he loses his dangly bits. I didn’t offer to heal on him because—well could you see me standing in the car park with my hands round his—um, you get the point, besides I had Julie to deal with. Maybe I was losing it but I didn’t feel she was under any great risk—perhaps I am losing it.

I spoke with reception, “Yes, it’s me again.”

“She’s in theatre.”

“I’ll wait—oh who’s the duty surgeon?”

“Mr Nicholls, why?”

“I just wondered.”

I sat in the waiting area and called home, Jenny agreed to sort out the baby and collect the girls. I sent Simon a text. ‘Ju shot, back at QA. Cx’

Half an hour later I got his reply, ‘WTF? Si.’ It might have been easier to respond to a specific question, so I let it go. Minutes later, he called my mobile.

“Where are you, Babes?”

“I told you, the QA. I went to collect Julie and she was shot as I drove towards home.”

“Shot? Who shot her?”

“I think it was Alfie Bird, in which case he should be here somewhere too.”

“Why?”

“I hit him with the car.”

“You did what?”

“He tried to stop us after he set us up with two other cars to crash us off the road. I could see he had something in his hand, so I clipped him with the car. Looks like it was a gun. I was being chased by two cars and I didn’t notice for a moment that Julie had gone quiet and was bleeding. I rushed her here, only to be arrested.”

“For what?”

“Probably dropping litter.”

“I’ll give Dad a call, I’ll get there as soon as I can—how is she?”

“In theatre, Ken Nicholls is the duty surgeon, so I’m hoping he’ll let me see her soon.”

“I’ll call Dad and see if he can call the plod off, better see if you can help Julie.” He rang off and I sat down to wait. Some while later, Ken Nicholls arrived—he looked very tired.

“Lady Cameron, this is becoming a habit.”

“It’s not my fault, I didn’t shoot her.”

“No—I know that, but this poor child.”

“Can I see her?”

“If you can bring your healer’s hat with you, yes—otherwise no.”

“I’m wearing it.”

“Follow me, kimosabi,” he wandered off in his scrubs and I followed. He led me to a recovery room where Julie was linked up to oxygen and all sorts of machines. “Can you manage? The machines, I mean.”

“I’ll cope, thanks.”

“God, I need a drink, you?”

“A cuppa, white no sugar, please.”

I saw him nod to a nurse or technician and she left. I sat beside Julie and started talking to her.

“I’m here now, sweetheart, you’ve been hurt but don’t worry—you’re going to be all right—I promise. I want you to listen carefully wherever you are, I want you to start coming back to me—follow my voice and use the light I’m shining for you. Just look for it, it’s the brightest light you can see, brighter than the sun, just head towards it and let me know when you see it, then I’ll know you’re on your way.”

I watched her; she was lying very still, the machines bleeping gently in the background, then I saw her eyes moving under their closed lids. I knew then she was coming back to me, she was searching for the light. “Just follow it, I’m sending it to you like a beacon—follow it and my voice, feel the light contacting you and bathing you in its energy. You know only too well that it’s healing you, so hurry back to me, darling, so we can heal your hurt and then we can go home.”

I felt her clasping my hand tightly and her expression became one of pain. I poured energy into her and told her to relax and trust me. Eventually, she got the message and relaxed—then all hell broke loose. A huge man, the size of a large ape burst into the room and pointed a gun at me and by association, Julie.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

“So, she survived did she? Oh well, I’ll kill two birds with one stone.” As he spoke the nurse came in with the cup of tea.

“I’m a bit busy, nurse, oh and he’s got a gun.”

“You don’t expect me to fall for that old trick do you?” he laughed at me.

“Not really, I mean if there was a nurse there with my cup of tea, she’d fling it all over you wouldn’t she?” Thankfully, she got the message and he turned and swore as the hot liquid went all over him.

I only had one chance, and I grabbed a drip stand and smashed it against his back and side. The gun discharged and he fell down. I jumped towards him and kicked his wrist, dislodging the gun, then I kicked him under the jaw and his head jerked back into the leg of another bed. He lay very still. The nurse screamed and half a dozen people ran in, including Ken Nicholls, a security man and a copper who was in the building.

They dragged Alfie Bird out and loaded him on a gurney, he had a suspected fractured skull—well those beds are quite substantial.

“Jeez, Cathy, I’ve got enough to do without this,” Ken moaned.

“He’s had two goes at her now, if there’s a third I’ll kill him.”

“You’ve damn near done that now.”

“No, I hit him with the stand, he fell and banged his head.”

“Is that why his teeth are all over the floor?”

“He might have clamped his jaws together when he fell.”

“On the bed leg?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

“And I was going out for dinner tonight—the missus’ll kill me.”

“Do you know that rather large hotel at Southsea?”

“The posh one?”

“Yes. How about you take her there tomorrow night and send me the bill—go to the Green Room—the menu there is delicious.”

“Are you joking?”

“No—I’ll tell you what, I’ll call them and arrange it—eight pm?”

“Why?”

“To thank you for helping my various kids.”

“It’s my job—it’s what I do, and besides, you’ve done just as much for some of my patients.”

“It’s what I do.” I shrugged and we both laughed.

“Mummy?” said a weak voice behind me.

I turned round and smiled at a little face which was blinking at me.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1180

Simon appeared whilst I was talking with Julie. “What the hell has been going on?”

“Julie got shot as I was taking her home.”

“How?” he looked bewildered.

“She spotted Alfie Bird as we were driving home, I could see he had something in his hand, but I didn’t see what. It turned out to be a gun and he managed to get off one round as I clipped him with the car. Turns out he used to be a wrestler and stuntman, so he escaped most of the car.”

“Should have let Stella drive.”

“At that stage I didn’t want to kill him,” I shrugged. Well, I didn’t—obviously the blue light stuff is softening my brain.

“How’s my girl?” he said to Julie.

“Better now you’re here, Daddy,” she played him like a natural daughter.

“I’ve done some work on the wound which is healing very quickly.”

“So when can she come home?” he gave Julie a hug.

“That’s not up to me.”

“Okay, I’ll get the security people back. The garage is sending someone over to sort your car, so I’ll take you back.” He wandered out of the room to make some calls and he came back a few minutes later, “All sorted. You,” he pointed at Julie, “behave yourself, don’t talk to any strange men, especially those carrying guns.”

“Yes, Daddy,” she said meekly while batting her eyelashes at him, I glared at her but she didn’t look at me.

By the time we left, the bodyguard chap was there, about the size of a brick sh… you get the idea, he was so big he made Simon look small and he’s six foot tall. “I don’t think I’d like to keep him for long,” I muttered to Simon.

“Is that for feeding purposes or sex?” he shot back.

“Eh? Either I suppose, having that lying on top of me would probably crush me to death, but I was actually meaning feeding him. He looks like he might just manage one of those huge steaks they have in Texas, or wherever it is, seventy-two pounds or inches or something like that. If you can eat it all in an hour, they give it to you. Very few succeed.”

“How do you know about that?”

“It was on the Today programme one morning while I was taking the girls to school, and I saw something on the Internet the other day which reminded me.”

“That is one big steak, I think I’ve seen lighter fence posts.” Simon smirked at his own joke and I slapped him on his arm. Down in the car park, the garage was collecting my car on a suspended tow. At least I hoped it was the garage, because otherwise it was being stolen. It needed some work to the offside front and door and a new glass in the driver’s door. There was also the issue of the blood over much of the front passenger seat.

I got in the Jaguar with Simon and he told me they were sending a loan car to the house this evening, but he wasn’t sure what it was. We drove out of the hospital and I kept a very wary eye on the traffic, but no one jumped us or tried to close in on us.

“So, do we know why this Alfie bloke is trying to kill, you two?” Simon asked as he slowed down at traffic lights.

“Presumably because someone told him to.”

“I’d got that far already. Do we know who?”

“No, not unless the police have made some progress. I got a hate letter this morning telling me they were going to kill Julie, but not why. I can’t believe it’s because she forgot to return her library books.”

“CD or DVD?” he suggested, smirking again.

“Nah, the council is strapped for cash, hiring hit men usually costs money. I really can’t think why they would pursue her so doggedly.”

“What, the council? Don’t they usually send in bailiffs not psychos if you owe them money?” Simon asked rhetorically.

“Look, if they were allowed to kill people, they’d be doing it to those who were on housing lists or use social services.”

“Like foster parents?” he said smiling.

“We own the others, she’s the only fostered one now—oh.” I wanted to hit him for outmanoeuvring me, but he was driving again, I’ll hit him later. “Let’s be serious, because this is far too important to joke about.”

“Okay, what do we know?” asked Simon, stopping at another set of lights.

“Not very much, only that Alfie Bird seems to have been engaged to kill her, and he’s indisposed.”

“Whose fault is that?”

“He did come in with a gun and was intent on killing us both.”

“If he was a stuntman, he can’t have been a very good one, can he?”

“Why—he survived my efforts to run him down? That’s pretty impressive in my book.”

“But when you whacked him with that stand he should have been able to roll with that, they do in the films.”

“Simon, the nurse had just thrown a hot cup of tea over his head, I hit him when he wasn’t looking, the stuntmen in films work to careful choreographies or they do get hurt, and occasionally killed.”

“But aren’t wrestlers supposed to be able to cope with a little pain and still function?” Simon still wasn’t buying it that I disabled this human mountain called Alfie Bird.

“I hit him quite hard, then kicked him in the jaw, plus he banged his head on the bedstead. I think most wrestlers would find that combination difficult to deal with—he had a suspected fracture of the skull and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’d broken his jaw on my shoe.”

He looked down at my feet, “It’s a trainer, for God’s sake not a toe-tector thing.”

“Yes, darling, but my foot was in it at the time—it makes all the difference.” I wriggled my toes, my foot was hurting a little, probably bruised over the instep.

“Okay, so you zapped him, fortunately for all concerned. Surely, walking into a hospital to shoot someone is a pretty kamikaze thing to do.”

“No more than trying to crash a car into another. Even if they’d succeeded, they could have been hurt as well, it’s all high risk stuff, and there was no guarantee they’d kill their intended targets.”

“Dunno, if the intention was to get you into hospital if not the morgue, then maybe they had ways of finishing you off in hospital—overdose of insulin—that sort of thing.”

“And we’ve just left our daughter there—perhaps we’d better get her home?” I said anxiously.

“She’ll be all right, they’re not going to try again so soon, are they?”

“I don’t know, it could catch everyone napping.”

“Look, the Jolly Green Giant at her door will stop anyone from harming her.”

“Not if it’s someone who looks official, like a nurse or doctor?”

“You don’t seriously think that could happen do you?”

“It could, and won’t they be busy guarding Alfie, so our poor Julie could be vulnerable.”

“Why would they be watching Alfie?” Simon looked at me.

“So they can question him when he comes to.”

“He’ll just plead amnesia, or the voices; besides if they knock him off, it would do everyone a favour.”

“That’s not very Christian, Simon.”

“Ha, coming from the president of the Richard Dawkins fan club that is very rich.”

“You know what I meant,” I prodded him. “Now, can we turn back and check on Julie?”

“What for, The Incredible Hulk is guarding her, so why not just say hello to the other children in your life and get a shower and some food?”

“But I’m worried, Si. I have this awful feeling,” I rubbed my solar plexus.

“Yeah, it’s called wind—have a fart, you’ll feel better.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1181

Simon insisted we continue home despite my pleading to return to the hospital. I dashed in, spoke quickly to the other children, ran up to the shower, dried and dressed in clean togs and grabbing some biscuits, took the keys to the Mondeo before Simon noticed what I was doing. I knew he’d be cross—he’d run out to get takeaways to save me cooking. He was still dishing up when I escaped.

Once I’d parked, I ate a couple of the digestive biscuits I’d brought with me, and then walked to the hospital to check on Julie. I had to plead with the ward sister to allow me to go and see her as official visiting was over. The gigantic bodyguard was standing impassively at her door, but recognised me and let me enter. Julie was sleeping—at least I hoped that what’s she was doing.

I rubbed her hand and held my breath—thankfully her eyes opened and she looked at me and smiled. “Hi,” she said and smiled again.

“Hi, yourself,” I replied, “How d’you feel?”

“I’m okay, a bit sleepy but otherwise okay. Why are you back here—I thought I wouldn’t see you until tomorrow?”

“I got a bit anxious, if Alfie is still in the hospital, they might try something on him.”

“He’s in Southampton, someone fractured his skull apparently. He’s huge so they must have been even bigger.”

“Probably,” I blushed, thinking, maybe I do need to lose some weight?

“It wasn’t the bloke on the door, was it—he’s like enormous.”

“Could have been, he is pretty big—but then, it’s not size that’s important…”

“I know, it’s what you do with it,” she interrupted.

“Actually, not quite—it’s more a question of technique plus use of available weaponry.”

“Oh yeah, you carry around a spare club do you?” she seemed rather sceptical.

“No, but that drip stand for instance, would make a formidable weapon.”

“Sure and he waits while you empty it.”

“It was empty already.” I blushed.

“Crikey, Mummy, it was you who hit him?”

I nodded—“He had a gun, I had no choice, he was intending to kill us—I had to do something.”

“Wow, why are we paying the guy on the door, you’re far more dangerous than any of them.”

“Very funny.” I went to ruffle her hair and my phone bleeped. It was Simon texting me.

‘Wot RU playin’ at? Nusflsh-patient’s been killed in S’oton hosp. Was it U no hu? Si x’

“Oh dear,” I said aloud.

“What’s the matter, Mummy?”

“According to Simon someone has been killed in Southampton Hospital.”

“Did he say who?”

“No, he’s guessing, but you said he’d been moved.”

“Yeah, he had a head injury—that’s where they do brain surgery an’ stuff.”

“Yes, I know that. I wonder what happened, was it an accident or was he murdered?” I felt my worries were now becoming validated by this most recent event, although that was speculating on unknowns—I didn’t know for sure it was Bird, it could be any one.

“So what happens when you go home?”

“Who said I’m going anywhere?” I riposted whilst squeezing her hand.

“Hmmmm, I feel really safe when you or Daddy are about,” she said snuggling down into the bed—“I feel soooo tired,” she yawned and closed her eyes.

I sat feeling a lovely warm sensation thinking that I was allowing her to feel safe. Suddenly, I felt a sudden jolt of energy flow through me into her hand which went limp. Shocked I stood up and couldn’t see her breathing. I screamed for help and pulling her flat began chest compressions—all the while the energy was flooding through my hands and into her.

The bodyguard on the door had vanished by the time a team of doctors and nurses arrived—the crash team. They made me wait outside while they tried to start her heart. I was sure she’d been given something, probably by the person who was supposed to be protecting her.

More staff arrived, including Ken Nicholls, “What are you doing here?” he asked me.

“I was worried about her, she seemed to go off to sleep and then stopped breathing.”

“D’you think she was poisoned?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, but I think she could have been.”

“Get those drips out and preserve them, I want them checked by pathology, in case of foreign agents.” He came back out to me, “Good job you came back.”

“Simon has just texted to say someone was killed at Southampton hospital.”

“Oh, not our not-so-little friend was it? We sent him to the neuro unit.”

“I don’t know. How’s she doing?”

“We’ve got a very good crash team here, if anyone can save her, they will.”

“Thanks, I’ll just sit and see if I can help her recover.”

“Okay, I’ll get them to find you a cuppa as soon as I can.”

I nodded and sat down in the corridor, trying to connect with Julie. It wasn’t working. I sensed her wandering in unknown places, she was lost and distressed. She seemed oblivious to my light or my voice—in the distance I could hear the medics talking, the lead doctor was calling for so many mils of some drug or another. I heard the defibrillator charging—it whines, then the medic called—shocking, stand clear. I heard the phutt as it did so and the machine recharging. Tears were rolling down my face—was this how it was to end for her, murdered at age sixteen?

I’d lost count of how many times I’d pulled her through from the brink and now some bastard kills her, betrays his trust and administers a lethal dose of something. I wanted him dead, I didn’t care who did it—if she dies so does he. I felt the energy shut down in me, obviously influenced by my negative thoughts.

I sent Simon a text telling him the bodyguard probably has killed our foster daughter. He sent one back—I’m on my way.

I shut out the physical world and went deep inside myself—it felt dark, not helped by my recent anger and desire for retribution. I tried to distance myself from those thoughts, and think about Julie, positively about her. I tried to recall her laugh and her smile, things she did which showed her love for us and ours for her. I felt the atmosphere lightening. I kept sending her positive energy, telling her I loved her and for her not to give up on me, but to come back to me to follow my light and my voice.

I kept doing this over and over—sending her love, telling her we all loved her and not to leave us but to come back to us. I poured energy into my mind’s eye image of her wandering but a light seeking her and finding her, then winding itself around her and drawing her back to me and to her body.

I visualised the light circulating round her chest and her heart starting—I could see it pumping, pushing the light round her body through her blood—it spreading, healing and oxygenating her body. I could see her sweat and hear her breathe again.

The leading medic came out of the room, “Mrs Cameron, I’m so sorry.”

“No,” I screamed, “You must keep trying—I won’t let her die.”

“Calm down, there’s nothing anyone can do—sorry.”

“You’re wrong, I rushed past him and as they were pulling down the drips and unplugging the machines, I ran up to her and slapped her face and thumped her chest with my other hand. “Come back, I told you, dammit, come back, we need you.” My tears fell on her face and something wonderful happened, she coughed and began breathing again.

“What the fuck?” exclaimed the young doctor, “Dr Hendry, get back here, quick,” he shouted and the departing medical team stopped and turned round.

I was asked to leave again whilst they examined her.

“What happened?” asked Dr Hendry.

“Search me, she slapped her, gave her a precordial thump and the patient coughed.”

“But that’s impossible.”

“Nothing’s impossible,” I said loudly outside, “you just have to believe it.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1182

“Is she some sort of witch?” Hendry asked Nicholls.

“Nah, an angel of mercy.”

“I was sure that kid had croaked,” Hendry continued.

“Anyone can make a mistake,” reassured Nicholls, “And Cathy is rather special.”

“Which one is Cathy?”

“The mother, why?”

“I just wondered—I’m sure I’ve seen her somewhere before.”

I sat and listened as the two consultants chatted whilst watching Julie, whose respiration was now regular and her heart and blood pressure stable.

“She seems to spend an inordinate amount of time here, she has a big family and they seem to have more than their share of trouble.”

“Why’s this one in here anyway, I mean before the cardiac?”

“She was shot.”

“Shot? People don’t get shot in Portsmouth, it’s not Manchester or London or the bloody wild west.”

“Alas, this poor kid is the exception which proves the rule or something like that.”

“Why has she been shot?”

“Presumably to kill her, that’s the usual reason I believe.”

“Ken, that isn’t funny—now why was she shot, gang stuff?”

“Gang stuff? Doesn’t that usually apply to deprived areas with loads of unemployment?”

“Yeah, I suppose so—so these don’t come from that sort of background?”

“Did you see the mother in designer jeans and sweater? Those trainers cost an arm and a leg.”

“That means little, Ken, these days people go without food to buy designer wear. Are you trying to tell me they’re well off?”

“Cathy, the mother works for the university as a lecturer, she also makes films. Simon, her husband works for a bank.”

“Yeah, good white collar stuff—so?”

“Simon’s father owns said bank.”

“They’re millionaires?”

“Something like that, say, million spelt with a ‘B’,” replied Ken Nicholls.

“She seems down to earth for a billionaire.”

“I don’t think she is, but pa-in-law is.”

“What sort of bank, a private merchant bank?”

“No, more mainstream than that.”

“Like Coutts?”

“No, like High Street.”

“But that’s one of the fastest growing banks in the country?”

“Spot on, Dr Hendry, can we discuss your family now? Or better still, how is my daughter doing?” I decided to interrupt their discussion as it was probably erroneous and besides, they were there to make Julie well again.

He coloured up like a tomato, “Um, Mrs Kemp,” he said looking at Julie’s name card over her bed.

“She’s not Mrs Kemp, she’s Lady Cameron,” corrected Nicholls.

“Sorry, should I curtsey or something?” asked Hendry joking about his mistake.

“No we stopped insisting on that weeks ago,” I replied. “Now how is she doing?”

“She’s doing fine, your majesty.” Hendry obviously didn’t like playing second fiddle to an aristocrat by marriage.

“That form of address only applies in Scotland,” I threw back at him—“direct descendant of Robert Bruce.” Which I believed was true on both sides of the family, I suppose I should have been grateful I wasn’t called Robert or Bruce—the latter name I couldn’t take seriously after Monty Python’s Australian sketch.

“Well, maybe I should bow then as my granddad was from Scotland.”

“So is McVities shortbread and Irn Bru,” I rebuffed him.

“Okay, Lady whatever, what did you do to your daughter?”

“Told her to get well.”

“Yeah, sure ya did.”

“Is it my fault that I seem to get more respect than you?” I felt irritated by this man.

“Because you’re wealthy?”

“No, because I’m who I am.”

“And who is that, exactly?”

“An agent of illumination.” I was staying deliberately obtuse.

“What, you sell light bulbs?” he quipped back.

“No I’m a priestess of Darwinism.”

“Excuse me? Didn’t Darwin sort of recant on his death bed?”

“He’s still one of the greatest minds of all time.”

“What, making notes on earthworms?”

“He actually collated a study with dozens of volunteers doing his field work for him and was one of the first to appreciate the importance of Lumbricus to the health of the planet. It happens to be far more important than doctors.”

“Sure, it goes to university for seven years…”

“Without humble earthworms very little would grow as the soil would be impoverished and un-aerated, millions of us would starve to death.”

“I suppose you’re going to tell me, honey bees are more important than doctors, too.”

“Is that a question or a statement of logic?” I threw back.

“So if doctors are so irrelevant to your world, how come you brought your daughter here when she was shot?”

“It was closer than home, and getting blood out of sheets is a huge chore.”

“Oh very funny,” he replied meaning the exact opposite.

Simon arrived—“Where’s the guy from the door?”

“Oh he went ages ago,” I told him.

“He was supposed to stay here no matter what happened.”

“He didn’t, he disappeared about the time Julie arrested.”

“Arrested? Arrested who?”

“Cardiac arrested—her heart stopped,” you have to keep it simple for bankers.

“At her age?” Simon was very surprised.

“We suspect someone slipped her something, or put it in the drip.” I looked at the doctors, Ken nodded and Hendry shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m paying these guys a fortune, so it shouldn’t have happened—you wait till I see Morris.”

“Who’s Morris?” I asked.

“The CEO of Morris Security Services.”

“He doesn’t own a garage, does he?” I asked, and it washed straight over Simon’s head—he’s obviously never heard of the MG marque.

“Not as far as I know. Are you coming home or what?”

“In the absence of our own garde loo, I suppose I’d better stay and watch out for her.”

“What about feeding the baby?” He turned to the two doctors and said, “She’s breastfeeding the baby.”

“Send me in my breast pump and some bottles and I’ll do some here while I sit with Julie.”

At this Hendry’s eyes went very wide—I can only suppose he’s never seen anyone breastfeed or express milk before.

“I’ll get some sent over from the maternity unit, if you’d care to wait Lord Cameron, you can take some home with you.” Ken Nicholls went off to use the phone and Hendry made another check of Julie.

“I think she’ll be all right now, unless she’s suffered some brain damage from the delay in restarting her heart.”

When he heard this, Simon’s face fell. I reassured him that she was okay. Hendry threw some black looks at me as if to say, ‘Stick to your earthworms.’ I looked back at him. “How is your back nowadays?” I asked him.

“It’s fine now thanks—hey, what d’you know about my back?”

“You have a chipped vertebra, you got it playing rugby at university—fullback I think, you were scared of him when you went into the tackle and consequently you got hurt. Here,” I touched him on the back. He jumped back and screamed with pain.

“What have you done?” he bent over then stood up straight, “Jeez, it feels better—what did you do?”

“Oh it’s an old trick we Darwinists do from time to time—but it should be better now.”

“What has she done?” asked Ken returning, “Bottles and pump on their way over. Now what did you do to him?”

“She hit me on the back, it hurt like hell then it felt great.”

Ken narrowed his eyes at me, “I thought you said you’d retired from that stuff?”

“Well, you know how I like a challenge…”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1183

“What did she do to me?” asked Hendry.

“She—can I tell him?” Ken Nicholls looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders. “My decision then?” he asked and I nodded. He paused for a moment.

“Tell me what? What is this between you three?” Hendry demanded.

“Okay, I’ll tell you if you swear to keep this secret,” Nicholls informed his colleague.

“If it isn’t illegal or immoral, I suppose I could.”

“Little Cathy here has magical powers.”

Hendry looked at him and burst out laughing. “You’re taking the piss, Ken, aren’t you?”

I shrugged again, and Nicholls shook his head.

“You’re serious, ha ha, that’s even funnier,” he laughed loudly and I could see Simon becoming a little irritated. I put my hand on his shoulder to calm him down.

“Let me put a question to you,” posited Nicholls.

“Fire away,” replied the sniggering Hendry.

“If you were to have an X-ray on your back what would it show?”

“A chipped vertebra, T8, why?”

“So if it wasn’t chipped, what would you say?”

“I’d say you had the wrong X-ray.”

“Go and get it X-rayed and see.”

“What’s that going to prove?”

“A starting point.”

“For what?”

“For a discussion.”

“Don’t be stupid, Ken, it was X-rayed last month, it’s not going to have grown bone is it—not in that time, if ever?”

“I’ll bet you a tenner you’ll be surprised.”

“If you’re so confident, make it twenty,” said Hendry.

“Why not make it interesting, how about a thousand?” Simon enjoyed a wager.

Hendry swallowed hard, “That’s getting a bit silly.”

“Go on, the winnings go to the children’s unit,” Simon urged.

“I can’t afford a thousand, it’s all right for you banking types.” Hendry looked very anxious.

“Okay, you give me twenty pounds if I win and I’ll give you a thousand if you win,” said Simon, who was showing a great deal more confidence than I felt.

Hendry seemed to think for a moment, then said, “Okay, you’re on.” He went off towards the Diagnostic Imaging Department.

“While it’s quiet, let’s go for a cuppa,” said Ken Nicholls, so we did. I also brought a bottle of water back with me so when I expressed, I’d be replacing some of the fluid.

The conversation at the restaurant had been about what drug could have been used to stop Julie’s heart and who had introduced it into the drip. We decided it could have been anyone who had entered the room, including our so-called bodyguard. We’d left a nurse sitting with Julie with instructions not to move unless the hospital burnt down. She had paperwork to do so she was quite happy to sit down for five minutes and rest her feet.

“Why d’you think someone wants to kill Julie?” asked Nicholls.

“I wish I knew. If she does, she’s keeping it very quiet, which isn’t like her at all. She didn’t tell Stephanie as far as I know.”

“If she knows something very dangerous, would she tell anyone? It could endanger them too.” For Simon, that was quantum leap stuff.

“She’d have told me,” I boasted, although I wasn’t as sure as I pretended.

“Is that why that bloke Bird tried to kill both of you?”

I hadn’t thought of it like that, “Could be, but he’d be taking a huge risk in a hospital.”

“Maybe he was paid enough to make it worth his while?” suggested Simon.

“If it was him who died at Southampton, I think he needs to renegotiate his terms and conditions of employment.”

“Cathy, you are funny,” said Ken, tittering.

“I’m not sure your colleague would agree,” I suggested.

“That’s his loss. I’d better get back—I wonder if your stuff has arrived yet?” We walked back down to Julie’s room where Hendry was waiting and showing the nurse some X-rays. Ken Nicholls looked at them saw the damaged vertebra and was about to tell Simon to pay up and look big. Then he saw the date—this was the old one. He asked Hendry for the new one and thankfully, the bone had regenerated. I took a deep breath, for a moment I thought I might have been losing my touch.

“Now dear boy, let me tell you a bit about our esteemed guest,” Nicholls put his hand on Hendry’s shoulder and they wandered off together.

“Your stuff is on the locker,” said the nurse pointing to a bag. I checked inside and there was a breast pump and a couple of screw top bottles. I sat down, made myself comfortable, pulled the curtain round me and undressed enough to start expressing. My boobs were bursting with milk, so I filled the two bottles in less than half an hour then pulled my bra back on. Someone had generously supplied some pads which I slipped into the cups of my bra and sat holding Julie’s hand.

Simon kissed us both, and took the milk home for the baby. I felt a slow but regular flow of energy passing through my hand and into Julie, it was obviously restoring her to where she needed to be. I tried not to think negative thoughts, it interrupts the flow and makes things take longer.

Two hours later, she pulled her hand away and her eyes fluttered open. “Mummy?”

“Hello, sweetheart, how d’you feel?”

“Where am I?”

“In hospital.”

“Why?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

“Oh, okay then.”

“Why was Alfie Bird trying to kill you?”

“Who’s Alfie Bird?” she asked and looked at me curiously. I wondered if she’d had too much juice.

“He’s a big fat chap who worked at your college.”

“Where?”

“In the kitchens, as a porter or something.”

“Did he? Dunno—can’t think of anyone like that—you sure it’s the right one?”

I wasn’t any more, except he had tried to kill me as well, though it was he who had the bruises. I wondered if it was he who was dead or had someone else been killed?

“Would you like a drink?” I asked Julie.

“Oh yes please.” She sipped the water down a straw, then a little later she nodded off to sleep again.

I was left to ponder a number of loose ends but came to no conclusions other than we were very fortunate to have Julie still with us. If she could come home tomorrow, I’d take her there as soon as I could.

Simon sent me text. ‘It was a bird at Soton. Take care of urself. Love Sxxx.’

‘Missing U. Luv C xxx’

Deciding there was only one way into Julie’s room, I pushed the chair up against the door and curled up in it and tried to sleep a little. I think they call it power napping, if you get twenty minutes you’re able to go on for a couple more hours. I did it on and off all night.

My phone woke me, Simon sent a text: ‘How r u? S xxx

I sent back: ‘OK, wots for brekky? C xxx

Half an hour later he turned up with two huge bacon and egg rolls and two cups of tea in take away polystyrene cups.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1184

Breakfast over, Simon agreed to stay with Julie whilst I went home, showered and had a snooze, probably after feeding tiny wee. I stumbled out to my car, actually Daddy’s car, mine was being mended and I’d be pleased to get it back soon, although the Mondeo was better for taking more children. Being an estate car, we could fit two child seats in the boot area if we wanted. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, being a bit close to the back of the car if someone should run into us, but it did mean we could get most of the kids in the car. I did wonder about getting a people carrier but much of the time I wouldn’t need anything that big.

I drove home, yawning much of the way. If I hadn’t been so tired I’d have noticed the car following me—an unmarked police car. I wasn’t speeding or as far as I knew committing any offence but the next thing I knew, it was right behind me with all bells and whistles going plus the hidden blue lights in the radiator grill.

I decided that being tired and the weather cold, they could come to me. I pulled over and sat in the car. A uniformed copper approached my door, which I’d locked—I’m suspicious of everyone these days.

I opened the window enough to speak with him. “Excuse me, madam, is this your car? he asked.

“No, it’s my father’s, why?”

“Would you step outside, please?”

“Why?”

“Because I asked you to.”

“And if I decline your very generous offer?”

“I shall order you to step out of your vehicle.”

“It smells cold out there.”

“Sorry, but would you step out of the car? It won’t take long.”

“What won’t take long?”

“Issuing you with a ticket.”

“I don’t buy tickets from strange men, my mother told me not to.”

“Very funny—please get out of the car.”

“Can I see your warrant card?”

“What for, I’m in uniform.”

“Yeah but you can hire those from the fancy dress shop.”

He reached into his tunic and I saw the metal glint just in time and put my foot down screaming away from him and towards home. He obviously thought it was too public a place to shoot at me as I escaped, instead I saw him dash back to his car and the big BMW came flying after me.

I jumped a red light and narrowly missed a large truck coming up to the junction. I careered round a corner and skidded into a car park, where I ducked down below the windscreen. The fake police car went straight past. I waited half a minute and went out of the car park.

I looked in my mirror and they were just behind me—shit and double shit! I should have waited longer. They set their sirens wailing and lights flashing again. Everything but me stopped, I raced through the junction again and kept my foot down as I headed this time for the police headquarters. It was the easiest way to see if they were fake, I was pretty sure they were. I mean you can hire these cars if you pretend you’re making a film.

I managed to park the car and scramble into the building before my pursuers opted to drive on past. I knew then my suspicions were correct.

“Can I help you, madam?” asked the copper on the desk.

“Yes, I’ve just been chased by a fake police car, this is the number. The passenger has a handgun of some sort.”

“I see and where did this happen and when?”

He eventually took me seriously and a senior officer came down to speak with me, fortunately, it was the woman CID inspector from the other day. “Lady Cameron, to what do I owe this pleasure?”

I told her, filling her in on the business in the hospital, the shooting of Julie and so on. She looked at me and shook her head. “You are certainly dangerous to be near, aren’t you?”

“Certainly not, it’s just some of us good sorts seem to attract bad sorts who seem intent on killing us.”

“Indeed, is Julie safe without you there?”

“My husband is with her, he’s hoping she might be let home after the consultant has seen her.”

“What, twenty four hours after she’s been shot in the chest?”

“We tend to heal very quickly.”

“You must do,” she shook her head in disbelief.

“Can I go home now?”

“I wasn’t stopping you, but hopefully the pretend plod have gone, but I’ll ask a real car to accompany you home just in case.”

“I hope they’re armed, the bloke who stopped me looked as if he had a gun.”

“I’ll make a note of that, but I suspect that they won’t come anywhere near a real squad car.”

I quickly called Simon and told him to get a taxi home if he brought Julie, and explained what had happened to me.

“I can’t leave the Jag in the car park, some bugger might steal it.”

“Okay, if you’d prefer bullet holes in it.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Totally. They’re not after autographs, you know.”

“I’d gathered that much. You be careful going home.”

“I shall, let me know when you’re on your way?”

“Okay.” He rang off and I walked back to my car, a lemon curd sandwich followed me home and tooted his siren when I turned off into my drive, I waved them a thank you. For once, I was more than happy to see the police while driving, usually they’re the last people I want.

I fed the baby and made a fuss of the kids—we’d decided—okay, Simon had decided it was too dangerous for them to go to school so he emailed the various educational establishments and had them email some work for them to do. Trish was the only one to have finished—I think hers was to design a newer, safer and more economical nuclear reactor and cost it—took her all of ten minutes. Actually, she was doing long division without a calculator, Livvie was struggling with the same sort of exercise but she was getting there. Meems was practicing her writing—no she wasn’t writing a novel—just a feature for the Times. Danny was reading a history textbook and complaining it was keeping him awake and Billie was doing some geography with the help of her computer.

They were all pleased to see me, if only as an excuse to stop their homework for a few minutes. I told them they’d be off school for another day or two the way things were going. I spoke to the head teachers at both Danny and the girls’ schools, without being too informative—they were both suitably horrified.

Simon actually came home with a police escort, he’d called the station and they’d agreed to follow him home. Julie walked carefully from his car while he walked behind her, continually turning round in case someone followed them. This was becoming unbearable—especially as we didn’t know what it was all about.

The kids were delighted to see Julie and made a huge fuss of her. Once she’d calmed down I took her to the kitchen and we chatted, she couldn’t remember much about anything. She did recall some big bloke working at the college but not his name. He was dead now, so it didn’t seem to matter so much anymore. It was his employer I wanted to discover and why they wanted several of us dead.

What did she have, or what did they think she’d seen or heard? What else could it be? If they’d only have asked us nicely, I’d have been happy to discuss things with them—well perhaps not happy exactly, but I’d have been polite if it had prevented this wild west nonsense—it’s like something out of a very bad spy story, with assassins popping up left right and centre.

I called Tom and explained, he said he’d be careful driving home—I told him to come early and to do so in daylight on built up roads. He pointed out that we lived on the edge of the country and therefore built up roads weren’t always possible. I told him to stop arguing and get home safely. He laughed.

“Oh, Mummy, some policeman handed in Julie’s bag—I think she lost it the night she went missing.” Trish handed me the black leather bag.

I was going to give it to Julie who was upstairs when I wondered if it was her bag and could it have been handed in by the fake police? In which case was it a bug or a bomb? I walked towards the back garden as quickly as I could.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1185

Once outside I was able to examine the bag. I didn’t see anything particularly obvious as a bugging or explosive. I even opened up her mobile phone and looked inside there too.

I laid everything out on the bench in the workshop and realised she had two sets of keys, each with a fob of the infamous ‘Bunny Club’ and purporting to be ‘Bunnies’ Changing Room.’

Why did she have two key rings? The keys were quite different, one even looked like a deposit box type. I picked them up and went in search of Julie. I found her upstairs talking with Trish.

“Are these your keys?” I asked her holding up one group.

“Yeah, where did you find them?”

“Sure it’s not these ones?” I held up the other lot in my other hand.

“Oh, how come there’s two lots?”

“They were in your handbag.”

“Were they? Oh. I don’t remember picking up someone else’s keys.”

“Seeing as you can’t remember very much at present, it’s quite possible that you did pick them up thinking they were your own. The fobs are quite similar even though the keys are very different; how many of us actually look at our keys unless we’re going to use them?”

“I do,” beamed Trish, but then she would, wouldn’t she?

“May I see?” asked Julie and I gave her both sets of keys. Her eyesight might be no better but her politeness was. “I have no idea where these came from.” She held up the second set of keys. “No idea at all.”

Trish almost snatched them from her grasp. “Hmm,” she said, and I was surprised she didn’t pull out a magnifying glass and light her pipe. “What’s this for, Mummy?”

I felt gratified that I possibly still had a purpose to the Brain Box. “A deposit box, I think. They have them in banks.”

“There’s no car key,” she beamed, “So whoever owned them doesn’t have a car.”

“Not necessarily, Trish, they might keep them separately.”

“You don’t and you’re average,” she shot back and I thought about my keys, I did tend to keep all of them together—I used to, but since I changed the car I don’t.

“Sorry, Trish, but I don’t keep my car keys and house keys together on the same ring.”

“Well, you used to,” she sighed as if I’d just caused her to have to rethink her all in one theory of everything, including proof of dark matter.

“I don’t now,” I narrowed my eyes at her.

“Besides, I wouldn’t describe Mummy as average, being married to a millionaire makes her a bit special.” Julie having dashed to rescue my reputation from Mrs Average, turned me into Mrs Not-Average, but only because I was married to Simon. I mean, does Mrs Average even go to university let alone teach in one? Or make films, adopt every waif and stray in Portsmouth…?

“Never mind my reputation, where could you have picked up these keys, and are they why people are trying to kill you and possibly have killed already?”

“I dunno, do I?” said Julie shrugging, “I can’t remember if I did pick ’em up, like do I?”

“You musta done,” said Trish, “if they were in your bag.”

“I would suggest that it was probably in your college, as you disappeared during the lunch hour.”

“But if I’d been going for lunch, I’d have had my bag with me, wouldn’t I?”

“I’d have thought so. But then if they’d tried to knock you off your bike, why didn’t they get the bag as well?”

We examined the bag, there was a buckle which Julie said was always coming undone. So could it have done so during that lunch hour? But why didn’t Alfie Bird or whoever else was involved find it?

The mystery deepened. I mean it could be a total red herring from the main play, a simple coincidence, but I thought it remote. So the mystery was possibly locked up with these keys—in which case it could also be unlocked by them.

The next question, do we hand them over to the police or do we try and solve the mystery ourselves? So far we’d had very little publicity, despite the bonfire rescue and the car chase. The paper had mentioned a shooting but then allowed it to go quiet. That’s even more curious than finding the keys.

I held out my hand and Trish gave them back to me. There were six keys, the deposit box one, a small filing cabinet-type one, two Yale-type front door keys plus what looked like a mortice lock key, and a Chubb padlock key which must have fitted a very substantial padlock indeed.

“We have three keys which open a door to a building, another which looks like it could be for a filing cabinet or even a garage—some of those doors have quite flimsy locks. Then we have the padlock key, even that might be used to lock a door or a box or anything—it’s probably quite a big lock; and our deposit box key.”

Simon came up to see where Julie and I were and we discussed them with him. “Have you called the police yet?” he indicated the keys.

“The police only brought them back today,” said Trish indignantly, as if suggesting they’d had their chance, now it was ours.

“How did they know they were Julie’s?”

“Her address book was in there,” I replied.

“They’ve taken their time,” he stated.

“Perhaps they hadn’t got round to examining it—her purse has gone.”

“Any cards in it?” he asked, ever the banker.

“I cancelled those when she disappeared.” Ever the banker’s wife, I answered him.

“Good, I hate paying out to thieves.”

He picked up the key ring again, “The deposit box isn’t one of ours, pity.”

“You couldn’t have opened it anyway,” I said, “not without a court order.”

“Of course not,” he shrugged. “So you think these are what it’s all about then?”

“I can’t think of a better reason, can you?” I challenged.

“Not off hand no, so how did you get ’em?” he asked.

“Si, I just told you we don’t actually know, but we think Julie must have picked them up because the fob is similar to one she has. I showed him the other key ring.

“Perhaps if you gave it back to them they’d leave you in peace,” he said.

“Who are they?” I asked.

“How do I bloody know?” I’m going to watch the telly,” he flounced off downstairs.

“We could put a photo on the Internet asking if anyone had lost some keys,” suggested Trish.

“We could, but then it would confirm that we had them and that could be even more dangerous,” I cautioned.

“I could make up a false trail.”

“Trish, with all due respect, I suspect the people who want these back would have the wherewithal to see through that. It would also show we hadn’t given them to the police and that we didn’t know what they opened.”

“Gosh you are clever, Mummy,” Trish declared.

I smiled in acceptance of her recognition, the old girl still had a few tricks left in her or was it just more experience than the young genius?

“So what do we do then?” asked Julie, “I don’t fancy being shot again.”

“That is the problem, Jules, I don’t really know.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1186

I had a dilemma: if I involved any police however friendly they were, it would become official as soon as I did. If I didn’t, then I’d be on my own against someone I had no knowledge of in any shape or form. I didn’t know who they were, or how many of them, nor what they did apart from rather nasty things to other people. They were presumably criminals, because anyone who did some of the things they did who weren’t criminal, were criminal if you see what I mean. James Bond gets away with being amoral or even downright evil, because he’s the good guy—it says so at the start of the book or film. Same with Jack Bauer in 24, although I’d stopped watching it several series ago, despite Keiffer Sutherland being very pleasing to the eye, his character verged on psychopathic at times and his wife had been murdered by his so called colleague—crikey, he had more problems than I but he was allowed to shoot anyone at will, which might make it easier if a tad messier.

I could hire some help, but are private investigators any good or do they just cost loads of money? Most of what they do is presumably divorce or industrial espionage stuff, with finding the odd missing person in between. I wondered.

Common sense told me to turn what I had over to the police and let them deal with it, but a part of me wanted to know just who was trying to harm me and my family and why? Did I want revenge? I wasn’t sure—that’s a bit juvenile. What I wanted was to stop them doing it to me again or to anyone else. That would mean putting them away for a very long time or damaging them beyond recovery—either financially or physically.

I looked through the yellow pages and then the Internet. There were plenty of names but most of them seemed inadequate for what I wanted. I called Henry, explained what I wanted, and he gave me a name—James Beck, ex military police and Royal Marines, with experience in Iraq, and Afghanistan. Great, if I find any roadside bombs he’ll be very useful.

I called the mobile number Henry had given me. It rang several times before a rather nice voice answered it. I don’t know about the caller, he could be a hairy dwarf with a broken nose and a squint but he had a voice like melting chocolate and I nearly put on a stone listening to him saying, ‘Hello.’

“Hello, I’m Cathy Watts, I have a problem with which I’m told you might be able to help.”

“Well it isn’t your syntax, Cathy Watts, so how can I help?”

“Could we meet, somewhere public, my life could be in danger.”

“We could, but you have nothing to fear from me.”

“Yes, my friend recommended you highly.”

“Who’s your friend?”

“I’ll tell you when we meet.”

“Okay. I have to warn you I charge two hundred an hour up to a thousand a day.”

“Wow, I hope you work quickly then?” I said rhetorically.

“Oh yes, I’m a fast worker.”

We arranged to meet in a coffee shop in a department store in Portsmouth at ten the next morning. I wasn’t sure I’d done the right thing, but now I wanted to get a chance to see who the voice belonged to. He’d be carrying a Guardian, besides, I knew to look for the guy wearing the trench coat—don’t they all wear them? I agreed to carry or be reading a Guardian myself—his suggestion, so he can’t be all bad, can he?

The children were off school, so I had to fib a little bit to get away from the house to meet with James Beck. I’d asked Henry not to mention my call to anyone, and being Henry, he’d respect that. I had made clear that I wasn’t doing anything against the family, so he was happy to believe me. At times, Henry is a super chap.

I left home at nine and caught the bus into Portsmouth. I left the car behind because I felt they were too easy to follow, or had apparently been so far. Perhaps I should have gone by bike, although it was cold and wet. I sat downstairs on the bus on one of the seats by the door, the long ones for oldies and disabled passengers. I sat there because I felt I could see anyone get on who might be a threat. I forgot that any seats in a bus except those on the aisle side, are potentially exposed in so far as it’s possible to see where someone is sitting.

The bus stopped and passengers got on. Then as it lurched forward to re-enter the traffic, a window behind me shattered with a huge bang. I yelled and threw myself forward just in time to see a second slug drill a hole in the opposite side of the bus a foot from the first one.

Tyres squealed and a car drove off, the bus stopped and the driver came to see what had happened. I managed to excuse myself and walk towards the town centre, leaving the bus and its mystified driver behind. It looked very much as if we were all marked by whoever these maniacs were.

A bit further on, I flagged down a taxi and he took me the rest of my journey. I got to the coffee shop with two minutes to spare and sat with my back to the wall and opened my Guardian. I ordered a latte coffee and sat waiting for the enigmatic Mr Beck to arrive.

He was late, it was five past and I’d had two sips of my coffee and the complimentary biscuit. I’d also read the same letter four times and still had no clue what it was about.

A voice startled me as I was about to have my third sip and I nearly sprayed milky coffee everywhere. “Miss Watts?”

I looked up and saw a tall fair-haired man, who looked about mid thirties, and whose brown eyes sparkled and his lips crinkled into a smile, showing regular white teeth. “Yes,” I managed to croak as I put down my coffee mug. “I take it you’re Mr Beck.”

“Correct, how d’you do?” he proffered his hand and I shook it. “May I join you?” I wanted to say, ‘Anytime’, his voice was as smooth as melting butter and I’m sure I had goose pimples.

He ordered a coffee, black and strong—hardly surprising, if he’d ordered a weak tea I think I’d have been disappointed; this was a man of action and my head filled with loads of clichés.

“May I call you, Cathy, I’m Jim by the way?” he paused but continued before I could do more than nod my agreement, “Or do you prefer Lady Cameron?”

“Whatever—did my father-in-law speak to you?”

“Henry, good lord no, I did a search for you and came up with the dormouse lady; a clip on YouTube of one of the critters parachuting into your cleavage—lucky blighter; a clip of you and Simon telling about your forthcoming marriage despite your previous status and several references about acts of bravery—saving babies in burning cars and the like. If ever I need a back up in a tight situation—can I call you?” There was that perfect smile again—I must remember I’m married to Simon.

“You’ve done your homework, I’m impressed.”

“A bit, although I don’t know what you want—so, how may I help you?” My brain melted with his voice and I had to almost shake myself to concentrate on the business in hand. If Simon hadn’t got me first, I’d have been throwing myself at him body and soul. Shit, I hope he didn’t notice.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1187

At last I had a chance to explain my dilemma. He listened and his eyebrows raised when I mentioned the bonfire rescue, then the shooting and car attack, and finally the attempt on the bus.

“This is far more serious than I imagined, but it explained your rather nervous entry this morning.”

“How did you know I was nervous, you weren’t here?”

“Oh yes I was, you just didn’t see me. I sat in the corner over there,” he pointed, “reading a magazine. You just didn’t see me. I like to get to my venues early, it gives me a chance to assess my clients before they’re aware I’m present.”

I wasn’t sure if I was impressed or found it a little creepy, like he was some sort of voyeur, watching me—but then, the enemy were too; they were watching and not only me.

“Is this too big for you? Should I go to the police?” I wasn’t sure how I felt about all this, except scared.

“We’ll have to include the police eventually, but I’d like to have a poke about and see what surfaces from the muck-pile. The enemy, whoever they are, are big time—nothing local could do half the things they’re up to. Local boys would have come in and killed you all in one hit. These guys are trying to take you out one at a time to make it harder for the police to get a handle on things. I suspect it’s coming from the Smoke. Did you bring the keys with you?”

“No, but I do have some photos. If it was the keys they were after, then if they got me, they’d get them too—and they’d have won.”

“Be very careful, or they’re going to win anyway. You’re fortunate that you have some resources to fight back. We’re going to need some help—but it’s going to cost.”

“Help?” I wasn’t sure how much of this I could actually afford, nor if I was happy with his spreading the information about.

“I have some friends, ex-service mates, whom I contact now and again when I need a bit of help. I think we need some poking about done, and we need some surveillance done to see who we’re up against. We also need some protection for you and your family. I don’t know yet if they know quite who they’ve picked on. D’you mind if I make a quick phone call?”

He walked out of the coffee shop and sat there, my coffee now cold—I asked them to warm it for me and was pleased that the waitress didn’t think I was weird in asking her.

Jim came back a few minutes later. “I’ll be candid with you, I’ve spoken to Henry, he’s told me to go ahead, I hope you’re happy with that?”

“I’d have preferred not to have involved him.”

“This is a much bigger job than you think.”

“Maybe I should just go to the police?” It wasn’t an option I wanted to take, but then I wasn’t sure I wanted to help fund some sort of covert war against some London based organised crime gang, either.

“You can go to the plod if you wish, but believe me, they won’t make much progress and the keys will end up back with the original owners, and some of your family will probably be dead or badly hurt.”

“But how can you protect us, the police have greater resources.”

“They have more, not necessarily better. Do you know who are based down the road at Poole?”

“The Lifeboat people.”

“Um yes, they are. But also some of my friends in the SBS.”

“The SBS? Who are they?”

“Special Boat Service.”

“I hate to say it, but I live on dry land.”

He chuckled, “They operate anywhere, I could tell you just a few of their exploits but have a look on Wiki.”

“We’re getting the army involved?”

“Royal Navy, actually but only incidentally—they’re experts at collecting information while being able to handle themselves if it gets a bit rough.”

I had visions of Scotland all over again, and World War Three starting.

“But won’t the powers that be get involved?”

“Not entirely, besides if we sort out some organised crime, Special Branch will take credit or MI5.”

“This is beginning to get silly, I mean, it’s all about my foster daughter picking up the wrong blessed keys.”

“I suspect it’s been ripe for the picking for some time.” He glanced at his i-Phone, “They’ve rumbled someone was shot at on the bus.”

“Who have?”

“The plod, it’s on the BBC.”

“Oh, does that mean they’ll be looking for me?”

“Probably. Do some shopping on the way home—they won’t know will they?”

“I suppose not.”

“You have a mobile?”

I pulled out my Blackberry and gave him the number.

“Nice phone.”

“Simon gave it to me ages ago, but it still does all I want and more.”

He nodded. “I’ll send you a text as soon as I know anything. Go home and stay there, keep all the kids in, and if you see any strange men wandering about let me know immediately.”

“Why, will they be your people?”

“No—you won’t see my people, neither will the bad guys.”

“What about Simon and Tom, they have to go to work?”

“They’ll be all right for the moment; I’ll have them shadowed just in case.”

“This is becoming so much bigger than I thought it would. I just wanted to stop them trying to hurt my kids and now—well now, we’ll have a bloody aircraft carrier parked in the drive the way things are going.”

“If you want to buy one, I know someone who’s got one for sale—reasonable terms, probably arrange for a squadron of Harriers, too.”

“Stupid government cuts,” I said and meant it.

He nodded, “All governments are stupid, this one seems to excel at it. Oh well, they’ll realise when it’s too late—like they usually do. Go home, take a cab, go beyond your home, and walk back to it.”

“But that’s like, fields?”

“Yeah, they won’t be watching fields, just your house, and you have some protection there by now,” he said glancing at his watch.

“I hope no one is going to get killed in all this.” I said this with a sense of dread and foreboding.

“The object is to make sure if they do, it isn’t you or yours.” He said in a matter of fact way.

“Does anyone have to—to die, I mean?”

“I hope not.”

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“Shall we say it could prove a bit more challenging than my usual work, although I’ve annoyed a few crime syndicates in the last year or two.”

“What if this is one of them?”

“I think I’d know by now if it was—so this is a whole new adventure.”

“Are you mad?” Here I was clenching my buttocks to avoid soiling my pants and he was revelling in it.

“Yeah, but don’t tell everyone. I have to go, things to do. I’ll be in touch.” He offered his hand once more and when I took it, he kissed the back of mine. “You were never anything but female, and a lovely one at that. Adieu.” He walked away and I paid for my coffee bought a few things for the kids, and took a cab home—well half a mile beyond home, then walked back. I didn’t see anyone near the house.

“Where have you been, Mummy?” asked Trish.

“I went shopping, see?” I displayed the bags and was soon overwhelmed by children looking to see what I’d bought. While they were distracted, I told the adults that no one was to leave the house, except Simon and Tom because it was getting dangerous. I told them briefly about the bus ride and Jenny gasped. Stella shook her head.

“One of the things about Cathy is, in her company there is never a dull moment.”

“Yeah but this like being in the war,” said Jenny, “I mean, it’s like a siege, isn’t it?”

“It will come to an end, and I hope soon.” As I spoke, Stella gave me a very knowing look. I shrugged.

“Was he nice?” she asked.

“Who?”

“The man about whose dog you went to see?”

“Yeah, he was nice—yeah, very nice.” My hand tingled where he’d kissed it, but I was married to Simon, good ol’ Simon. Just as well, anyone with Jim would be worried his next job would be his last. He was fun, in a very dangerous sort of way, but the last thing I needed with six kids and one of Stella’s was an adrenalin junkie and I suspected that’s what Jim was. He positively revelled in organising counter ops against my criminal enemies and I suspect his friends were as bad. If it meant we could sleep safely in our beds at night, then I was very glad he and his friends were about.

Wikipedia: Special Boat Service

The Daily Dormouse Part 1188 (99 Dozen)

I kept my Blackberry with me all day. About four o’clock, I had a text to unlock one of the outhouses and leave the key in the door. On no account were any of us to venture outside during the night. I did as I was told, wondering why the shed was wanted—perhaps for someone to doss down—except it would be very cold, the weather was not very good at all, with snow forecast in Scotland and the North of England.

“What’s happening outside, Mummy?” asked Danny.

“The people who kidnapped Julie might well be about, so we are to keep indoors—that means everyone.” There were some groans but they all agreed—why they grumbled, I have no idea as they don’t usually go out at night anyway—it’s cold and dark.

“Can we use your night thingy, Mummy?”

“What night thingy, Trish?”

“The one where you can see in the dark?”

“The image intensifier?”

“Yeah, the image in the tensy-fire?”

“I don’t know, if the bad guys think they’re being watched they might start shooting.”

“They won’t see us, we’ll look through the bathroom window.”

“The bathroom window has frosted glass, darling.”

“Yes, so they won’t be able to see us.”

“Um, sweety-pie, you won’t be able to see them either.”

“Oh damn.” Trish actually stamped her foot, just like a six-year-old—I had to think for a moment—she is a six-year-old.

“I think for the moment it might be best to stay away from the windows.”

“Mummy, I just seen a man disappear.” Billie came dashing to tell me.

“Saw,” I tried to correct her appalling grammar.

“No it was definitely a man.”

“You saw a man disappear.”

“That’s I just said, innit?—I just seen ’im disappear.”

I gave up on the syntax, after all I did understand what she said, “What d’you mean, he disappeared?”

“’E was trying to ’ide behind a wall—an’ ’e just got pulled behind the wall an’ didn’t come back. I think ’e ’ad a gun like Grampa’s.”

“Like Grampa’s shotgun?”

“I dunno, it ’ad a long barrel thing.”

I had a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. Even with one or two Special Services men out there, the odds were surely in favour of the bad guys. I mean, how many of each were out there? It would only take one with a gun to kill all of us.

My Blackberry peeped and I checked the text message. ‘I know who we’re up against—a nasty lot. Keep everyone in doors, even the dog. Jim.’

Simon and Tom had just come home. I called for everyone to meet me in the dining room. “Everyone has to stay indoors.”

“Why—apart from the fact it’s flippin’ freezin’ out there?” I hoped Si wasn’t going to get awkward.

“There are criminals out there, the ones who tried to kill, Julie and me.”

“I seen one disappear, Daddy,” boasted Billie.

“’Snot fair, they won’t let me look.” Trish stamped her foot again.

“Look at what? Who disappeared?”

“I asked Henry for some help, he put me in touch with a chap who’s ex-Commando. He’s out there with some of his friends.”

“What?” Simon almost went ballistic. “Don’t they know there are children here?”

“That’s why they’re out there, trying to protect us.”

“Can we shut the shutters, Tom?” he asked.

“Aye, we cood.” He and Simon began to pull back the curtains and the shutters were soon closed.

“I wondered what those were for,” said Danny, watching them. He followed them into the lounge and I heard a yell.

“What’s the matter?” I asked rushing after them.

“There was a man at the window and hand grabbed him round the face and he disappeared into the dark—it was horrible,” said the sobbing boy.

“Hurry up and shutter them,” I said to Simon and Tom who were standing facing the window with mouths wide open.

“Bloody hell—did you see that, Tom?”

“Aye, I did, I hope he’s on oor side.”

“Now you see why you’ve got to stay in?” I said comforting Danny.

Both Simon and Tom nodded without saying anything, but they did hasten to close the shutters on the big bay window and the other smaller window.

“Even the dog has to stay in, okay, Daddy.”

“Aye,” he said nodding. He went into his study and I heard the shutter in there being closed.

“How about upstairs?” asked Simon, and we both ran up the stairs and started to close up the shutters there too. The second floor, is attic really and they don’t have shutters, but it would take someone with the climbing powers of Spiderman to get up there.

“Are those men being killed?” asked Danny.

“I don’t know—I hope not, but I don’t know.”

“Are they like ninjas?”

“Sort of, they’re special forces.”

“Like soldiers?”

“Yes, like soldiers, super soldiers.”

“What like Superman?”

“No, he’s a comic book hero, these are real men, who are trained in all sorts of things.”

“Like killin’ people?”

“Including that, yes.”

“I’m scared, Mummy,” he said clinging on to me. “It was frightenin’ to see the black hand grab the man round his face.”

“It’s okay, Danny, no one is going to hurt you.”

“But was the black hand on our side?”

“I hope so, I think so.” Actually, I couldn’t say one way or the other, except I couldn’t see a gangster from London taking someone out quietly, he’d just have shot them and possibly shot through the window at us as well. It was much more likely to be one of Jim’s friends.

I suddenly thought about the cameras we’d fitted before. I tried to find them on the computer but they weren’t working, maybe the Special Forces are camera shy—yeah, I think I know the answer to that question.

What I didn’t know was that there were raids being organised in London by some of Jim’s friends and some heavyweight thugs were being rounded up and evidence being collected. By the morning, MI5 were informed and very busy swarming all over various venues including our house, but I’m jumping the gun here.

During the night, Danny and Meems had bad dreams about giant black hands grabbing them. They woke the baby up so I had to feed and change her. It was a nightmare for all concerned. I awoke with a banging on the door. I ran down and shouted at Trish who was about to open it.

“Don’t open the door, we don’t know who it is,” I yelled at her.

She burst into tears and ran off. Just what I needed.

“Who’s there?”

“The police.”

“Can you show me some form of identity?” I yelled back through the still closed door. A warrant card popped through the letterbox, it was the woman CID officer.

“Hurry up please, Lady Cameron, it’s freezin’ out here.”

I pulled back the various bolts and chains we rarely use, and opened the door, Simon threw me my dressing gown.

“We have a warrant to search the outhouses.”

“Hold on, I’ll get the keys.” I said and trudged off to the kitchen to find them. “What are you expecting to find?”

“We’ve had a tip off.”

“In which case I have a feeling the one you want is already open.” I pointed to it. She nodded and two uniformed constables ran up and threw open the door.

“They’re in here, ma’am.”

“We’ll check the others, just in case.”

Apparently they found six, bruised and bound thugs, all of whom were rather cold, and who they took off in a police van. As it was departing, two unmarked cars screamed into the drive and four men in suits got out of each. They showed some ID to the police inspector and she shrugged and left.

“Lady Cameron?” said the obvious leader of the suits.

“Yes, who are you?”

“Nigel Larsson, MI5. We have some questions to ask you.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1189

I invited the agents into the house once I’d seen what looked like reasonable identity cards. I put the kettle on and while it was boiling for teas and coffees, I had a text from Jim:

‘Don’t tell the cops or MI5 about the keys. JB’

So I didn’t. They asked who the villains were and I referred them to Jim as he’d previously told me to do. The interview lasted an hour, and I was informed that my ‘friends’ had routed a criminal gang, known as The South Bank Show, in a parody of an arts and culture show that was hosted by Melvin Bragg.

They spoke briefly to Julie who was still recovering from her ordeal and had very little memory of anything. I was congratulated for pulling her off the bonfire to which I answered that any woman would have done it. They chose to disagree. I suppose they’re entitled to their own opinions even if they are wrong.

I asked if the children were safe to go back to school without risk of being attacked or abducted, and was told to wait until the next Monday. Soon after they went, I had the police return to ask questions and I referred them to Jim as well or to MI5. I was evading the issue but so would anyone.

The police left and Jim arrived in a perfectly posh Porsche—Danny and Simon were well impressed. Me—it’s a means to getting from A to B and probably uses twice as much fuel as my little Mercedes.

He gave me a few minutes to change into some trousers and top, throw on a jacket and grab my bag when he whisked me off in his German chariot. “Where are we going?” I asked him.

“You’ll see.”

“I’d prefer to be told before we get there.”

“Don’t you trust me?”

“I hardly know you, James.”

“Oh, James is it? You sound like my mother. She always calls me James when she’s about to carpet me.”

“Okay, Jim, but I still hardly know you.”

“Didn’t stop you fancying me, though did it?”

I thought I was going to die from embarrassment I was glowing bright red like the stop light of a car. “I don’t know what you mean,” I lied.

“Your body language told me the truth even though your lips don’t.”

“What?” I spluttered.

“Anyway, don’t worry, you’re perfectly safe—unless you revert back to your previous sex. You see, I’d fancy Charlie more than Cathy.”

“You’re gay?” I wasn’t sure if I felt relief or disappointment.

“Why d’you think I left the services?”

“I’ve no idea.”

“I had to investigate a supposed Homosexual Circle at a naval shore base. I decided I couldn’t hack the deception any more. I told them and they asked for my resignation.”

“I thought the UK forces were okay with gay soldiers and sailors—it’s the ’Mericans who aren’t.”

“I was a Royal Marines major being fast tracked, when they found out they decided they didn’t really need my services any longer. I threatened to sue for discrimination and they settled out of court. I did quite well out of it and set up my own agency investigating any and everything—do mostly industrial espionage or stopping it. Did you bring the keys?”

“I can’t believe you’re gay,” I said looking with unfocused eyes through the tinted windscreen as he hammered up the motorway. “And you egged me on,” I sighed, “I can’t believe it.”

“That’s okay, I didn’t believe you were supposed to be a boy.”

“I wasn’t—well only in dress, because my father kept destroying my secret wardrobe until they did Macbeth in school and I got landed playing Lady B. He made me dress as a girl all the time until the rehearsals and the play finished.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“Not really because I wasn’t doing it because I wanted to—but I did enjoy pissing him off by appearing to enjoy it. I was so girly it was untrue.”

“You got some good reviews though, didn’t you?”

“How d’you know that?”

“I’ve seen them in the Bristol Evening Post, archive.”

“You do do your homework, don’t you?”

“My life may depend upon it—being one step ahead of the rest.”

“D’you play chess?”

“Sometimes, why?”

“I don’t think I’d like to play you.”

“I’m not that good, you know.”

“No, but you’re a better planner than I am. I’m a half-baked Sagittarian who does things after seeing the big picture but sometimes trips up over the small print.”

“Isn’t it Sagittarius now?” he asked.

“I suppose it is, shows how much I was thinking—see, fine detail let me down again.”

“You have had other things to worry about—so when’s your birthday?”

“Friday, why?”

“I just wondered.”

“Hey, we’re heading for London—you could have told me.”

“Would you have come?”

“No.”

“That’s why I didn’t tell you.”

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see in about twenty minutes, traffic permitting.”

“I always knew when we were getting close to London on the M4 because of the increasing numbers of posh cars you see as you get closer.”

“Like Rolls Royce and big Mercedes?”

“All sorts, sports cars too.”

“Like this one?”

“Yeah, what is it again?”

“It’s a Porsche Boxster.”

“Is it? It’s quite comfortable—are these real leather seats?”

“They’d better be. For what I paid for it, I should have got the meat from the cow as well.”

“I have no idea about the price of cars, Simon buys them—I just drive them.”

“What are you driving at the moment?”

“A little A class Mercedes—it’s lovely.”

“So that wasn’t your Jag, then?”

“No, that’s Simon’s—the kids love it.”

“You don’t?”

“He rarely lets me drive it.”

“That’s a shame—would you like a go in this?”

“What—like drive this?” I gasped.

“Yes, would you like to?”

“I don’t know if I could.”

“If you can drive a Mercedes, you could drive this, I’ll pull over at the next services.”

I blushed—I’m not that good a driver and what if I bent his pride and joy? “Can we just get on and do what we have to do—I’m not that interested, really I’m not.”

“Cathy, please don’t lie—you’d love to give it a burn up the motorway—but you’re scared of it, aren’t you?”

“If you say so—you like to be right don’t you?” I sulked for the next ten miles while he chuckled to himself every so often.

He pulled into the next service area, and I refused to get out and drive his car. So we went for a coffee instead. “Go on, have a go—only take it as far as the next service area if it worries you.”

“What if I bend it?”

“I doubt you will, I suspect you respect lovely things—besides it’s insured for everything except nuclear war.”

Reluctantly, I got in and adjusted the driver’s seat—his legs were longer than mine. I started it after moving the mirror. I crept out of the car park and out into the slow lane of the motorway.

“Put your foot down girl, it won’t fall apart.”

I gave it a bit of wellie and it shot off like a rocket, so I took my foot off the throttle. It slowed down and after a couple of miles I got the idea of controlling this powerful beast.

Then as I was getting the hang of it, a car drew level, a large 7 series BMW and I thought I heard pops—I looked and some bugger was pointing a gun at us. Jim, told me to take evasive action, and I began to drop back and then accelerate past the gunman and his limo.

“I suspect that’ll be the one member of the inner circle we didn’t pick up last night.”

“See, I told you, you should have driven.”

“You’re doing fine—here he comes again.”

This time I did accelerate and meant it, weaving in and out of traffic at a hundred and forty miles an hour. The sweat was pouring off me as steered this earthbound fighter jet through the increasingly congested traffic. I pulled off at the next services and jumped out of the car—“You can drive, my nerves won’t stand anymore,” I yelled at him.

“You can take the gun then,” he put his hand into his pocket.”

“Oh no, that’s even more illegal than my driving.”

“Oh-oh, he’s spotted us, quick drive,” he said and I jumped into the car and reversed round the car park at forty miles an hour turning suddenly and straightening up just in front of the pursuing Beemer, who had to avoid us or get a paint job. He still needed the paint job as a Ford Transit van, bashed into the side of him as he swerved.

“Woo-hoo, ride it cowboy,” yelled Jim and I screamed out on to the motorway at about a hundred miles an hour, hoping the plod weren’t too close. They weren’t and by the time we hit South London, I’d got quite used to the car and the traffic.

“Pull in here.” I followed Jim’s instruction and even managed to park it tidily.

“Where are we going?”

“In here,” he grabbed my arm and pulled me into a building.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1190

“Just what is this place?” We walked into a plush modern building all glass and marble but with no sign to indicate what it actually was.

“Keep your eyes open and your mouth closed and act as if you own the place.”

Jim led me to the counter which I presume was reception. “We’d like to examine a deposit box.”

“Do you have your key?”

“Yes, well my wife does, Kate if you could…”

I reached into my bag and fiddled for a moment before bringing out the bunch of keys. The woman behind the desk picked out the small key and examined it. Then she tapped in a number on the computer keyboard. Is that why they call them keyboards? I wondered—it was safer than thinking why and what we were doing.

“Follow me,” said the woman, her bum swaying in her tight skirt and skyscraper heels and despite his claims to be gay, Jim’s eyes seemed glued to her gluteal muscles and sub-cutaneous fat.

We entered a private room with a desk or table in the middle of it upon which a large locked box was standing. The receptionist handed me back the keys and told us to press the bell on the table when we’d finished.

I picked up the keys and selected the deposit box one, I looked at Jim and he nodded. I inserted the key and turned the lock. Opening the box I wasn’t sure what I expected to find inside.

It was a series of manila envelopes, inside which we found treasury bonds—at a quick calculation there was over five million pounds. Beside that, there was a hundred thousand pounds in fifty-pound notes and some diamonds. The box was completely full.

Jim pulled a folded up cloth bag from his pocket and stuffed the bonds, money and diamonds into it.

“What are you doing?” I gasped, shocked by his action.

“This is mob money, I’d like to see it do something for charity, like build a hospital or school in Africa, feed the homeless at Christmas or pay for hostels for those on the streets.”

“What will they do?”

“Who, the homeless or the mob?”

“The mob.”

“Take out a fatwa on us, but so far they haven’t caught up with me.”

“I’m a bit more vulnerable than you with six children.”

“True, but think of all the good this evil money can do.”

“I am, I’m sure it could do loads, but I’m still worried about the risk.”

“There’s a High Street Bank just round the corner, let’s open a deposit box there and at least make it safe.”

“Um—I don’t kno—um, okay.”

“Oh and you get to keep the key.”

“Why me?”

“Because you’re far more responsible than I am. I’d be tempted to spend it.”

We left the bank, after locking the keys in the box except the box key. Jim handed that back to the receptionist. “Should someone come asking for that box number, please give them the key.” We strolled out before she could answer.

“Was that wise, now they’ll know we stole their cash?”

“I don’t think it would have taken very long for them to look inside the box, there are safeguards for people who lose keys, you know, mother’s maiden name, that sort of thing.”

“MacDonald,” I answered.

“Yes I know.”

“Is there anything you don’t know about me?”

“Oh lots, like how the hell you’re breastfeeding and how you have saved so many lives.”

“So many lives?”

“Yes, the children at the QA and various other people.”

“Who?” I bluffed.

“Look, Cathy, I know about the miracles you perform—a perfect little angel, you are, which is why you’re going to have the keys for this little lot, oh after I remove my fees. Ten K should do for the action the other night and continuing protection.”

“Am I still at risk?”

“Only as long as the Don Corleone of Sarf Lunnun is alive.”

“Perhaps we should take the money back, it’s worth nothing compared to my family.”

“Very well said, but I have a little plan to minimise the aggro.”

“I’m not sure I’m going to like this.”

“You probably won’t, but it’s very simple—we kill the bad guys.”

We?” I gasped.

“Okay, I do the actual vermin control, you just act as the tethered goat.”

“I don’t like this, have we got a plan B?”

“Only reversing positions and I suspect I might be a bit better at the despatching bit.”

“Definitely.”

We entered the High Street Bank and after talking with the manager for a few moments—all right, I name dropped—my pa-in-law’s to be precise—they provided a new deposit box which we locked after James removed ten thousand and I kept the key—actually, I asked them to send it to my local branch and for them to place it in a new deposit box and hold the key for me and only me, unless I was deceased and in which case to be given to Simon or Trish if he predeceased her.

Jim waited for me while I set this up unknown to him. I scribbled instructions on a note for Simon and had it sent through their internal mail system to his office.

“Happier now?” he asked.

“Yes, even if your plan fails, they can’t get their money back.”

“My plans never fail.”

“They could just shoot us down in the street,” I complained and shivered in the unseasonable cold.

“If they did, they’d have to get past the two snipers who’ve been covering us ever since we got out of the car.”

“I can’t see them.”

“If you can, their training has been wasted.”

“How do they know where we’re going?”

“Duh,” he said, then I realised he knew exactly where we were going before he picked me up. I blushed.

“Watch out for the big black BMW, the one in need of a paint job—that will have pissed him off almost as much as emptying his piggy bank.”

“Doesn’t he have another car?”

“Undoubtedly, probably another similar one or a suitably large Mercedes in which to carry his ego.”

“And driving round in a Porsche isn’t?”

“You were rather glad of its acceleration a little while ago if I recall.”

“My little Mercedes is quite nippy.”

“Enough to outrun six litres of V12 BMW?”

“There are speed limits you know?” It was a dumb thing to say seeing as I’d ignored them to escape our pursuers.

“I’ll let you think about that for a moment,” he said, then smirked when I blushed.

“Is his car bulletproof?”

“I have no idea, we’ll find out in a minute.”

“How do you know that?” I looked at him being able to predict so many of these things. He nodded up the road and double-parked at the roadside maybe two hundred yards away was a large black BMW with its engine running, the exhaust was clearly visible in the cold and relatively still air.

“Don’cha just wish you were sat in the Porsche right now?” he said quietly.

“We could run for it,” I suggested, ever the optimist.

He felt inside his jacket and adjusted something.

“What’s that?” I asked knowing what it was.

“This here is a Smith and Wesson 500 magnum, even more powerful than Dirty Harry’s most powerful handgun. It’ll stop an elk, so a rat shouldn’t be too much trouble, should it?”

“What’s that he’s holding out of the window?” I asked, noticing it wasn’t a shotgun or a handgun.

“It looks like a Mac 10 with silencer.”

“Whatever that is?”

“Just let’s say it can put a thousand holes in you in a minute.”

“A trifle excessive if you ask me.”

“I’ll remember to later—when I say run, get the fuck out of here.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

I looked up the street and the car started to move slowly towards us.

“Go—GO,” he shouted and pushed me away as he walked towards the centre of the road. I froze for a second then did as I was told—ran like fuck.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1191

I didn’t actually see what happened, except little glimpses of the action in windows as I passed. I took the advice from Jim to run like a rabbit, and sprinted away as fast as I could on rather rubbery legs. Moments later, I heard like a pattering noise followed by ricochets and glass shattering. Then a boom, followed few seconds later by another boom, then another. The sound of tyres screaming, another boom and crash. One more boom and then a loud bang which shattered glass in windows all round me and endangered me as much as the bullets had.

I stopped and turned round. The scene before me was of total devastation. Most of the windows in the buildings on the street were broken, and there was glass everywhere. A large car had smashed into a building and exploded, setting the building alight. I looked for Jim and it took me a moment to see him, he was lying in the middle of the road with two men holding rifles standing over him.

I ran towards the three of them, hoping they were his friends from the Marines. One saw me coming, picked up the handgun and made off into a building. The other waited until I got to them. “Good man the major,” then ran off as his friend had done.

I looked down at Jim, he was hit about three times, in the leg, chest and abdomen. The blood was pooling in the road about him. Sirens and footsteps sounded all round me. I felt for a pulse, but he had none. Common sense told me I should have legged it like his two colleagues, but it has never been my driving force, which might explain why I have such an interesting life.

I knelt with my hands on either side of his head. “Okay, Jim, ignore the noise just focus on me. I suspect you might be in a strange place, possibly even a dark one. Listen to my voice, look for the light—a blue one—come towards it, let my voice and the light guide you back to me. C’mon, Jim, get your arse back here and now.

Someone threw a coat over him while I continued talking him back to his body, I felt his chances were quite slim. Although I was pouring the light into him it felt as if it was falling into a bottomless pit.

I kept at my task. A fire engine arrived and had to negotiate its way past us, then another came and they began fighting the fire. Water began to run everywhere.

Two paramedics came up to me, “Where’s the light coming from?” asked one of them. “C’mon, luv, out the way, let’s see if we can help your friend—though judging by the blood, it don’t look good.”

I glared at him and yelled like a banshee—they both stepped back and someone called them to assist another who’d been hurt by the glass—did I tell you it was everywhere?

I felt Jim start to breathe and poured more energy into him. Another ambulance arrived and this time I got up and let them take over. They put up a drip and slapped on a couple of dressings to slow the bleeding, although I knew the wounds were much smaller than they’d been initially.

I picked up my bag and walked away—thankfully in all the confusion no one challenged me, despite the fact I had blood on my trousers and shoes. I walked back to the Porsche and got in—then I burst into tears and for several minutes cried and sobbed. I wiped my eyes, grateful that I hadn’t worn any makeup, and started the car.

It took me a little while to find my way back to the motorway and once there I drove as fast as the speed limit permitted. No one tried to stop me although I saw several police cars during my journey.

I got home, pulled into the drive and continued until I got to the empty garage which had previously held a sit and ride lawnmower amongst other things. Simon had cleared it with the intention of putting his Jaguar in there. I parked the Porsche in there instead.

Simon, Tom and Trish came out to see who’d driven in. “Where’s Jim?” asked Si.

“He got shot, the gangsters got him.”

“He’s dead?”

“He wasn’t when I left him, but the London hospitals may have finished the job by now—he was hit three times.”

“Three times?” Simon gasped, “You’re okay?”

“Yeah, he pushed me away and dealt with the attack himself.”

“What happened?”

“We went to a bank and were walking down the road when this big limo which was waiting for us, came at us firing some sort of machine gun. Jim stood there and fired back, with this huge handgun thing he had. I was busy running the other way. He must have hit the driver or something because the car swerved into a building and exploded.”

“Bloody hell,” said Trish, “I always miss out on the action.”

“Ye’re supposd tae be a lassie, no a commando,” her grandfather chastised her.

“Aww, Gramps, I’m sure I coulda helped.”

“Sure ye cood, gettin’ thae way.”

Trish gave me a hug and I noticed the rest of the brood emerging from the house.

“I s’pose tae polis’ll be alang tae speak wi’ ye presently?”

“I don’t care, Daddy, I’ll tell them what I saw—nothing.”

“Is that blood?” asked Jenny looking at my trousers.

“Yes, Jim’s blood.”

“C’mon, go and change and I’ll pop them in the wash for you.”

By the time the police arrived, I’d showered and dressed, had a cup of tea and even dried my hair. My clothes were drying in the tumble drier along with some of the children’s that Jenny had used to make up the load. The stains looked as if they had washed out from the black material.

The woman Inspector accompanied by a colleague from the Met force sat in my lounge drinking my tea and asking me questions.

“What happened?” asked the man.

“I didn’t see it, Jim pushed me away and told me to run. I did.”

“What happened to his gun?”

“I didn’t know he had one, I didn’t see it.”

“Someone shot the driver and the passenger with a very large calibre weapon, literally blew them in half.”

“I didn’t see it, sorry, I was too busy trying to dodge bullets and glass.”

“You drove his car?”

“Yes, I wanted to get home—I was scared.”

“You left the scene of an incident even though you knew the police wanted to talk to you?”

“I left because I was scared, so would you be if someone had tried to machine gun you.”

“I’d have stayed to speak to the police,” said the sexist twit from London.

“Before or after you changed your trousers—because believe me, you’d have crapped yourself.” I snapped back at him, and I saw the woman Inspector smirk.

“I’ve been involved in incidents where firearms have been used, you know?” he tried to assert himself and his now damaged ego.

“So have I, and I still get frightened, because anyone who isn’t is either already dead or brain damaged.”

“So you don’t know who was involved?”

“When we drove up to London, a big black car tried to ram us on the motorway, I presume it was the same one which tried to run us down or shoot us afterwards.”

“How did they know where you were?”

“How do I know? You’re the detective.”

“Witnesses say they saw you come out of a bank?”

“Yes, my family own one, I called in a branch to try and speak with my husband to tell him I might be out all day, as Jim was taking me to lunch.”

“I see, you weren’t having an affair with Mr Beck, were you?”

I burst out laughing, “No, you moron, gay men don’t do with women, do they?”

“He’s gay?” the copper seemed quite taken aback.

“Yeah, so what?”

“One of my sergeants will be disappointed,” he sighed.

“I think I was, but I employed him for help in getting this gang off my back. He did a very good job, but might have paid a very high price for it.”

“Who helped him round up all the gangsters?”

“How would I know? He told me to stay indoors and keep the family in as well.”

“I get a feeling that you’re not telling me the complete truth, Lady Cameron.”

“I got the impression you were devoid of any feelings save for male superiority.” At this jibe, the woman Inspector snorted and had to pretend she was sneezing.

“If I think you’ve been withholding evidence, I shall be back with a warrant.”

“If you do, you’ll meet my charming but extremely efficient barrister, who seems to bring about more early retirements than government policy does.”

“Was that a threat?”

“From you? Yes it could have been—can I list that as police brutality? I have a witness, or is it more sexist twaddle?”

“We may need to speak with you again, Lady Cameron,” said the woman Inspector, her eyes sparkling.

“But of course, Inspector.” They left, her smirking and him fuming at my impertinence. Impertinence indeed—he’s lucky I talk to the lower classes, next time it might be through the butler—now where’s he gone, Jeeves?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1192

I found out which hospital was catering to Jim’s needs—Charing Cross—where they have the gender clinic, though I doubt he would need those services. I sent flowers and fruit, although I doubt he’d be eating very much for a while—I then had a very schoolgirl moment, imagining food falling out the hole in his abdomen and him wondering why he was losing weight.

It was a couple of days later before I was able to visit him. He was lying in bed reading the Guardian. “Six across, is ‘Pygmy Hippo.’

“I thought it was Pygmy shrew, no wonder it wouldn’t fit. What are you doing here?”

“It’s taken me two hours of trudging through snow and ice to get here, if that’s your attitude I’ll do the reverse journey.” I set to walk out of the door.

“Okay, you can stay, but I had to tell ’em real men don’t do flowers.”

“Rejection number two, perhaps I’d better go home and pick my nose or darn the cat’s bum.” I rose again.

“I told you you could stay, isn’t that enough, do I have to be hospitable as well?”

“Mr Beck, when I got home the other day, I found some ten thousand pounds in my bag. Who put it there?”

“I thought it had been nicked—some bastard took my car—can you believe it?”

“As you were in possession of the money, how did it get into my bag?”

“You stole it?” he paused; “Um—it was apported. I give up how did it get into your bag?”

“Because you put it there, you dopey twit, but I did steal your car—it was a bit far to walk back to Portsmouth especially after that sort of send off and my trousers and shoes covered in your blood.”

“Yeah, someone said about my blood—yet I wasn’t anaemic and they can’t make out where I bled. They said it looked like I’d been wearing a bulletproof vest because I had three deep bruises.”

“Three bruises eh? I had more than that from kneeling down trying to keep you warm before the paramedics got there.”

“I can’t remember much about it—but I had this funny dream, which felt so real.”

“What dream was that then?”

“Well I felt I was floating out of my body and I could see you kneeling down by me and this stunning blue light which was passing between us, it was like a laser too bright to look at directly. I could see blood in the road all round me but I was drifting further and further away like I was an escaped helium balloon rising higher and higher into the air and you faded almost from view. Then I heard your aristocratic voice telling me to get my arse back down there or you’d kick it—or something like that, and the next thing I know I have this awful pain right through me and I’m in the back of an ambulance on my way here.”

“Must have banged your head when you went down,” I suggested.

“Those stories about the angel of Portsmouth are true aren’t they?”

“What the pub—spit and sawdust place—probably?”

“Be serious for a moment—I met the angel, didn’t I?”

“Did you, I dunno do I? It was you who claim to have met her, not I.”

“Can you convey my thanks to her—I owe her my life.”

“If I see her I will, we tend to operate in different social circles.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, however, if thanks are on the agenda, then I’d like it minuted that you definitely saved me by holding up the car and subsequently despatching it while I ran for cover.”

“Did I, I can’t remember—does that mean I can charge a bonus?”

“You weren’t that good, Clint Eastwood would have walked away from the scene, you needed a stretcher.”

“His is smaller.”

“I beg your pardon?” I said my eyes nearly falling out.

“His gun—his magnum, I mean.”

“Phew for a moment there I thought you’d destroyed the sexual fantasies of millions of women worldwide.”

“And a few gay men, his films are quite popular you know.”

“If ever I meet him, I’ll tell him that.”

“He might not appreciate it.”

“He’s pretty tough, I’m sure he’ll be able to cope.”

“Yeah, maybe. So where’s the Porsche?”

“Outside, I’ve driven about ten thousand miles in it since you gave me the keys. The kids love it for the school run and all the other mothers are envious. I shall be using it tonight to do a talk.”

“A talk?”

“Yeah, for school funds—I’m doing a talk about making documentaries about dormice. Actually, all they want to see are the out-takes, with me falling into a stream and so on.”

“The only time I ever wanted to be a dormouse was when I saw that one abseil down your cleavage—nice and warm and dark down there I expect.”

“You’re going to get gay men a bad name,” I joked.

“Yeah, it’s only you that has this affect on me, maybe it’s that bloody angel woman—she’s played with me ’ormones, cured me of being a pouf. It’s a miracle I tell you.”

“She couldn’t get all the bullshit out though, could she?”

He smirked, “I guess not,” he said blushing.

“I have to go, let me know if you need anything.”

“I need you to visit ten times a day or as directed.”

“Jim, I have six children and a banker to look after.”

“Plus my bloody Porsche.”

“Yes, that as well.”

“You take good care of her, she’s almost as blue blooded as you.”

I laughed, “Yep, a blue blooded peasant, that’s me.”

I offered my hand and he took it and stroked it with his fingers then pulled it to his lips and kissed it. “If was straight, I’d loved to have met you before Simon did.”

“I’m only here because of Simon.”

He sent you—now I am broken hearted.”

“No, I didn’t mean that—I mean, if Stella, his sister hadn’t knocked me off my bike during a thunderstorm—oh, forget it, it’s a long story and I have to go. If you’d been a straight man and I’d met you before I met Simon, you’d have frightened the shit out of me. You still do, it’s part of your attractiveness.”

“That’s me, Jim Beck—the human laxative—no situation too binding. Is that what you really think?”

“I have to go, Jim. You’re a lovely man and I’m grateful for your help—but you’re not really my type—too dangerous. Bye.” I pecked him on the cheek and pulled my hand away before he could grab it and kiss me properly—because I had no idea what might have happened after that. I dashed out of his room with tears streaming down my face.

I took a cab to the station and took the train back home and while I sat pretending to read my paper, I mentally ran through a mantra of, ‘I’m happily married to Simon and we love each other.’

The Daily Dormouse Part 1193

“How was Mr Wonderful?” asked Simon, when I got home.

“Wonderful,” I said dreamily, just to see his reaction but he’d got wise to me and rolled his eyes.

“I thought you said he was a fair—he wasn’t interested in women?”

“He isn’t—not even in me.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing, why?”

“Well you said that as if you felt there was.”

“No the opposite, even sexy, wonderful, big arsed me can’t interest him in women.”

“Hmm, by the way talking of that arse,” he nodded at my derrière.

“Yes, what about it?” I felt some alarm—was there something wrong with my huge backside?

“We had a call from the grocer.”

“Grocer? We don’t have a grocer,” now I felt somewhat bemused.

“Anyway, the grocer phoned asking you not to sit on the bacon slicer because they were getting behind with their orders.”

“Simon, that is soooo old, and even more corny. Talk about a bum joke,” I shook my head in partial disbelief that he’d be using material that was old when I was a kid.

I asked him to order a takeaway because I had to do the talk to the school that evening. “Anyone for pizza?” he yelled and was practically trampled in the rush. I didn’t think my cooking was actually that bad but perhaps I was wrong.

I did an online order for Waitrose to deliver tomorrow, ordering a chicken for the weekend. I went to wash and change for my talk that evening. When I got downstairs the rest of them were stuffing their faces with pizzas—I don’t even like the smell of them. I grabbed a Mars bar and a bottle of water and picking up my laptop bag checked the necessary DVD was in there.

“I’ll be home as soon as I can, be good for Daddy and Jenny.” They all laughed as if they knew something I didn’t. “Behave you lot,” I scolded, which made them giggle even more. I left, deciding I would drive the Porsche today—probably for the last time.

I got it out of the garage and drove off to the school. I’d forgotten about the power and nearly accelerated through the fence. I pulled out into the traffic and headed towards Portsmouth City Centre and the convent. By the time I got there, I felt comfortable driving the mean machine—perhaps I had been too hasty with the Audi TT, still, I should get my own car back soon.

I parked the car in the playground and walked into the school, which was already buzzing—some of the teachers and students had come in early—just to hear me talk. What are they—mad?

The headmistress met me and delivered me to the stage where I set up the DVD of out-takes and tested their machine—it worked fine. I had never seen so many chairs laid out in that hall—I’m sure it contravened fire regulations—there had to be over two hundred seats, possibly even three.

“How many are you expecting?” I asked Sister Maria.

“Oh it’s a complete sell out and I could have sold them twice over, the governors wondered if perhaps we could do a second talk to allow those who couldn’t get tickets a chance to hear you.”

“Goodness, I don’t know—I mean it’s going to be old very quickly.”

“Please consider it, Lady Cameron, it would make a significant number of people very happy if you did.”

And a larger number if I didn’t, I thought to myself. “I’ll see, let’s get tonight’s over first, shall we?”

She smiled disarmingly and I hated myself for almost weakening there and then. The equipment sorted, I went and sat backstage to compose myself and think how I’d start tonight’s delight. I knew how I’d end it, like I did the film a plea for the dormouse and conservation of habitats.

I heard the place filling up, the noise was like a huge swarm of bees accompanied by scrapes and squeaks of chairs being moved. The air was full of expectancy and I felt very anxious that I’d fail to deliver the goods. The material was good, it was my delivery that worried me.

“Ready?” said Sister Maria and she held out her hand for me to shake and then to walk through the curtain with her. As we emerged there was a loud burst of applause which only stopped when Sister Maria raised her hand to quieten them.

“It gives me tremendous pleasure to present Lady Catherine Cameron who is going to talk to us about her experiences in film making. Some of you will remember the talk she did at the annual speech day earlier this year, which is one of the highlights of my time at this school. It was appreciated so much by those who were here that the board of governors almost demanded she return and talk to us again. We could have sold each seat twice and I have asked her to come and repeat tonight’s presentation for those who couldn’t get tickets today.

“Please welcome, ecologist, university teacher, researcher, film maker and mother to six children—Lady Catherine Cameron.” The noise was deafening and I hadn’t done anything yet except stand there. Oh shit.

I looked behind me then poked my head through the curtain. “Is everything all right?” asked Sister Maria.

“Yes, it’s fine—I just wondered who came on behind us and got all that applause.” A ripple of laughter ran through the audience—they were in a good mood and willing to be entertained by very old jokes—but not the bacon slicer one.

“Headmistress, governors and staff, pupils and parents, ladies and gentlemen and anyone else I might have overlooked—thanks for inviting me back—usually, the only time I come back is to apologise.” They laughed again—they really wanted this to work and it did.

I talked for about fifteen minutes, described the clips, which were displayed by an index on the screen for me, so I could talk without notes; each heading prompting its own mini history which I dressed up, made humorous I hoped and told them. I showed some clips then repeated the formula. I did this for an hour and no one moved.

“You can see some of the hazards of film making, which at the time weren’t always quite as funny as they seem tonight. However, I do get asked why I made a film about such a boring and irrelevant creature like the dormouse. The answer is simple yet complex. I did it because I love dormice—they are some of the cutest critters about. They are gentle, no bother to anyone—unless you want to develop or interfere with a site upon which they live—they harm no one, nor do any economic damage. They are vulnerable and practically defenceless with a way of life which is so easily damaged by human activity. They are shy, nocturnal, tree living anachronisms only just hanging on to existence in this country which is on the edge of their range.

“They are protected in law, because they are seen as threatened as are their habitats. Twenty or thirty years ago we knew very little about them—today, we know increasing amounts and because they are so well monitored on a number of sites, we’re learning a great deal about not only them, but the habitats and the other creatures which share the habitat.

“Dormice are lucky that they are cute and shy and relatively low density animals—I suspect that’s why they have got protection compared to some other animals like harvest mice which are also endangered. But as well, we have to remember that these wonderful creatures, with their fascinating life history are also indicators of how healthy our countryside is, which ultimately means how healthy our planet is.

“We all know how damaged the earth, the only planet we know for certain has evolved complex and sophisticated life forms in the universe. There are probably others, but we don’t know that for certain—yet, and possibly never will. So we need to rejoice in our uniqueness and protect and conserve this amazing orbiting piece of rock instead of attempting to exploit it for pure material gain and overpopulating it. Economists talk about economic growth as the panacea for all our financial woes: I would urge caution. The planet is a finite resource and we don’t know if we’ll ever find a way of moving elsewhere if we mess this one up. Some suggest it’s already too late—I don’t think so, but we are approaching a tipping point and we need to look to conserve habitats, environments, ecosystems before we lose them altogether. Extinction is forever and I’m not convinced cloning will prove a remedy for that in the foreseeable future if at all. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

“I hope you’ve enjoyed my presentation, please do think how you can help our children to enjoy the company of dormice and other threatened species and ecosystems and for them to be able to pass them on to their children. We are the stewards of this planet, let’s act responsibly and fulfil that duty. Thank you.”

The hall erupted and people began to stand up and applaud, the headmistress came and shook my hand and the applause kept coming. After two or three minutes she hushed the audience.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen, follow that as they say. I don’t think so. However we have a custom of asking someone to propose a vote of thanks, and tonight I’m calling upon a relatively junior student to propose that vote. Would Miss Tricia Watts please stand up—off you go, girl.”

I nearly fell off the stage when the diminutive figure rose—I didn’t even know she was here, she should have been in bed by now—no wonder Simon and the others were laughing when I left.

“Mummy, that was very good—you falling in the stream was very funny, so was the wood mouse running up your trouser leg, I hope he didn’t bite. On behalf of the school, thank you for doing this talk—oh and me and the others, love you very much—you’re the best mummy in the world.” She sat down and the place erupted with applause again, this time for her.

Then, when Meems came on stage with a bouquet nearly as large as she was I lost it and the tears came. I accepted the flowers and hugged her. Then Trish came up on the stage followed by Livvie, Julie, Danny, Billie, Simon and Tom. It felt more like, This is your life than a school talk. Simon hugged me and we stood together as a family which only a week ago people were trying to destroy—were we an endangered species deserving protection? It made me think for a moment.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1194

When we got home, Stella and Jenny asked how it had gone at the school. Julie was effusive in her praise, especially of Trish’s vote of thanks. “Yeah, Mummy was pretty good, she made ’em laugh all right, but Trish’s vote of thanks stopped ’em dead. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

“I gave Mummy da fwowes,” declared Meems, muscling in on the act.

“Yes, and you presented them beautifully,” I said, ruffling her hair. “So who dressed this lot?” I asked indicating the three younger girls, who were smartly turned out including their hair.

“That was a joint effort, Julie and Jenny dressed them and I did their hair,” admitted Stella—“The problem was we couldn’t start until you’d left. We were also so glad you took the Porsche, if you’d taken the Mondeo, they’d have had to take two cars to get them all there.”

“I told you I was going to impress—the irony is, I do a talk on ecology and turn up in a gas guzzler, with acceleration like a jet fighter.”

“Did anyone see you driving Jim’s car?”

“Only the headmistress, mind you, I had a fight on my hands about who was going to ride home in it with me.”

“I see,” said Stella surveying my brood, “Who won?”

“Simon,” I said, and Stella looked very strangely at me. “So who drove the Mondeo?”

“Trish,” I said—the look on her face was priceless.

“But she can’t—that’s illegal—you’re joking.” When we all burst out laughing she nearly hit me.

“I got to ride home in it, Auntie Stella,” beamed Danny.

“Yeah, ’snot fair,” said Trish and the other girls nodded agreement.

“But you got to do the vote of thanks, and embarrass your mother in front of hundreds,” smiled Stella.

“I s’pose so,” said Trish, although I’m not sure at the tender age of six, she really appreciated the opportunity she’d been given. If she remembers it at sixteen, she’ll see what she had—a chance to steal my thunder completely, backed up by Meems.

I let them have some cereal and a drink then sent them off to bed. I had a sandwich and a cuppa, which I hoped would stop the growling noises in my tummy. I went up and settled the children down, while Julie compared notes on my performance with Tom and Si. After settling Danny down, he was so pleased I’d let him drive with me, I announced to Simon that I fancied a glass of wine.

“Red or white?” he asked heading for the wine store in the larder.

“If I have white, Julie can have a drop as well.”

“Oh wow, Mummy, you are on a high tonight.”

“Yeah, hence the wine—it might help to ground me.”

She came over and hugged me, “I love you, Mummy,” she said and rested her head on my shoulder.

“I love you too, sweetheart.” I gave her a squeeze and she sighed, then let go and went and sat down.

“What was all that about?” hissed Stella as she helped unload the dishwasher and put the dishes away.

“Sometimes things trigger actions or reactions. Tonight she became a big sister again, sharing her love with the other kids and receiving some back. I think it reminded her she’s part of a family—she was just checking.”

“Oh, okay—I just wondered, it seems odd seeing someone who’s about ten years your junior calling you mummy—doesn’t it feel odd?”

“It did at first, but you get used to things.”

“Yes I suppose you do, Puddin’ is calling me Mamma, that makes me go all gooey.”

“I always thought they said dada first.”

“I wish Des had been here to see her.”

“Me too, I suspect it might have been the making of him.” She looked rather sad so we hugged just as Simon arrived with two bottles of wine. He gave us a funny look, that usually would be accompanied by, ‘Women—huh.”

I left him to open the bottles which although not chilled were pretty bloody cold—the larder is built onto an outside wall on two sides and stays cool even in summer, which is what it was designed for, keeping food cool in the days long before refrigerators had been invented. In country houses, the gentry often had an ice house to which lumps of ice would be taken to keep food cold in summer.

We drank the two bottles of wine between us—none of us were going anywhere the next morning and all it meant was we each had two. Julie was glowing after the second one, so was I—my tolerance or lack of it, of alcohol is legend in the house. Simon reckons that Meems would stay sober longer.

It’s not my fault, I seem to absorb it very quickly and it goes straight to my head upon which I start being sick. Tonight that didn’t happen, my supper must have slowed it down just enough, mind you I zonked when I got to bed and slept right through until a hand was shaking my shoulder.

“Whaa—what is it—oh hello, sweety-pie.” I cracked open an eye.

“It’s snowed, Mummy, may we go and play in it?”

I heard Simon groan from behind me. “Hmm, I don’t know it sounds as if there might be a yeti about.”

“Wossat, Mummy?” I was delighted to realise Trish didn’t know everything—yet.

“Go and look it up on the Internet.”

“How d’you spell it?” she asked.

“Y-E-T-I.”

“May we go and play then?”

“Not until you’ve had a proper breakfast.”

“All right,” she skipped off and I got up aware that the room had an unusually light feel about it. When I pulled back the curtains, it had snowed, though hardly enough to do much with.

I did get them to eat before they went out; when they did they built a rather small snowman in the orchard.

I was watching them from the kitchen window. Simon put his arms about my waist and kissed the back of my neck. “What d’ya want for your birthday?” he asked quietly.

“A Porsche,” I said and he laughed. I didn’t join him.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Yet you turned down the Audi.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“It’s a bit expensive—I hate to mention we are going through a rough time at the moment.”

“Yes I know—but you asked what I’d like—that’s what I’d like, but I’d settle for a nice dinner somewhere, just the two of us.”

“Okay, I’ll sort it.”

“Thank you.” Just then the baby woke up again and I had to go and feed her. I told her it was my birthday soon but she wasn’t very impressed. That’s the problem with babies, they’re too young to deceive or impress with either goods or cleverness.

I’d told her all about my triumph the night before and she fell asleep—honestly—she has a genius for a mother and she ignores me—impressed—oh yeah, but like Simon it’s more with my breasts than my brains.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1195

The week went by very quickly, in between taking the girls to school, feeding the baby and visiting Jim or being visited by the police myself, I seemed always busy.

The police weren’t entirely happy with my story but the only bit of video they had of it tended to agree with what I’d told them. Amazingly, Jim wasn’t in the video at all so they weren’t asking him about carrying a hand size field gun in his pocket. If he had been seen, they’d have arrested him for possession of a handgun, which are illegal in the UK – especially one designed to shoot Sarah Palin or was that a Moose—either way, they’re both large stupid creatures: one being a giant deer the other being a contestant on reality TV—are ’Mericans really dumb enough to let her run for the presidency—don’t answer that.

“Which bank did you go into?” asked the police.

“A branch of High Street, my father-in-law owns them, my husband works for them—I sent him a message, through their internal system.”

“Why couldn’t you phone?”

“I tried, he wasn’t answering, nor was his secretary.”

“What about email?”

“I did that as well, from my Blackberry.”

“Do you always try this hard to communicate with him?”

“Depends upon the message, I don’t go to London very often and I have a young family.”

“Given you’re transsexual, how did you manage that?” The detective from Scotland Yard had done some homework.

“I find that remark offensive,” said my lawyer.

“No, that’s okay, I’ll answer it. I fostered several children whom we have since adopted, the youngest being a few months old and I’m still breastfeeding.” I emphasised the last part. The copper’s eyes nearly popped out as he got his brain round it.

“So was your husband gonna breastfeed it for you?” responded the copper.

I could see Andrea Bright’s leg twitching. “That’s the second offensive remark, one more and we withdraw our assistance.”

“Fine, I’ll arrest her.”

“Fine, we’ll take you to court for wrongful arrest—it would be a pity to increase the level of unemployed but I’ll make an exception for you.”

“Are you threatening me, lady?”

“No, I’m pointing out the consequences of your actions, which are at best offensive if not transphobic. Lady Cameron is here of her own volition and is answering your questions reasonably, I expect some courtesy from you in reciprocation for hers.”

“I wanna know why it was so important she talk to her husband, ’specially when she’s got a bloody nanny at home—don’t she do anythin’?”

“Jenny is a very good nanny and I’d already spoken to her. You must understand that having five children under seven is very hard work even for a professional nanny.”

“So why didn’t you just go home?”

“I take it you don’t have any children, detective inspector?”

“No—I ain’t married.”

“Ah, I’d heard that some gay men don’t like transsexuals.” Two can play at insults.

“I’m not gay—that’s bloody good coming from you—I suppose you had your dick cut off so you wouldn’t seem such a fairy?”

“That does it. This interview is over, I’m taking my client away.”

“If you do I’ll arrest him.”

Andrea went ballistic, “What sort of arsehole are you, apart from being so full of shit you smell. My client is female, legally and in all other respects, you have an obligation to respect her as such.”

“Do I, is that just because she can afford big shot barristers like you?”

“No, because it’s the law, dummy. I have recorded this interview, I shall be sending a copy to your superiors as well as the Police Complaints Authority. I hope you enjoy being back on the beat.”

Andrea took my arm and we walked out of the police station, once we got clear I asked her, “Do you really think they’d arrest me?”

“Only if they’re stupid.”

“Did you really record the interview?”

“Oh yes, I don’t believe anyone these days unless I can prove it. He was just a typical dickhead who thought he was big shot because he can bully people.”

“The police have beaten me up before.”

“Have they now? When was that?”

“Oh a while ago, back in Portsmouth.”

“Not this lot then?”

“No.”

“Pity, we could have made more of it. I find it all so disgraceful—you’re female, your birth certificate says so. Okay, you can’t have children, but then neither can my sister and she’s spent a fortune on IVF treatment, they’re opting for a surrogate pregnancy now.”

“I’m sorry, it must be awful for her.”

“But you know how she feels?”

“No, I can’t say that can I? I can empathise with her, but that’s all.”

“Spoken like a real woman. Look I have to be in court in an hour, if you get any more problems with them, let me know immediately and I’ll come and spring you.”

“Thank you, Andrea, you’re very kind.”

“Simon is an old friend, but kind I’m not—he’ll be getting a suitably large account for this morning.”

“I’m going to see Jim, they should be letting him home soon.”

“Oh your partner in crime?”

“Yes, he’s the only reason I’m not lying in a mortuary somewhere riddled with bullets.”

“Yes, I saw your statement—horrifying that gangsters can get their hands on machine guns. However, I suspect that he wasn’t unarmed himself.”

“I didn’t see a gun.”

“No of course not.”

“I’m not lying, I didn’t see one.”

That doesn’t mean he didn’t have one or that you knew about it—knowledge before or after the fact. The car was riddled with bullet holes too and the occupants had been shot before being toasted.”

“I think there must have been some sort of gang war going on, bullets were zinging everywhere.”

“And you just happened upon it?”

“Not quite, we’d managed to have arrested quite a few of the gang, the big cheese was after us which we knew from the attempt on the way up.”

“Why were they after you and Julie before?”

“I didn’t stop to ask them, they didn’t look much like good conversationalists.”

“You can tell me, I am your barrister.”

“I don’t know,” I lied, the fewer people who knew about the keys the better, however, I needed to know what to do with the five million in my deposit box. I needed to speak with Jim. We parted, her off to court, me to Charing Cross Hospital.

It’s a huge general hospital on Fulham Palace Road, I was very glad I hadn’t had to go there for my treatment, but I did see one of the gender patients, at least I thought it was one, a female to male—short, broad hipped and lots of straggly facial hair, small hands and feet. They got out of the lift a floor before mine so I was left to contemplate what I’d say to Jim about things and the police being unpleasant.

I walked into the ward and asked if I could go and see him—it wasn’t officially visiting time. “He’s not here, he was discharged this morning.”

“Oh, he didn’t let me know.” As the nurse was making apologetic noises my phone peeped with a text.

“Maybe that’s him now, he wasn’t expecting you until visiting time.”

“Perhaps.” I dug in my bag and pulled out my phone.

‘We hve UR li’l frend, U hve our munny. Will be in touch.’

I felt my whole body begin to tremble—it wasn’t over.

“Are you all right, my dear, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost?” I heard from some distance away as I slumped to the floor still clutching my Blackberry.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1196

I was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall and felt like throwing up. As if anticipating my need, the nurse produced one of those papier mâché bowls and up came my breakfast. I had a drink of water and she helped me up.

“Do you get many fainting fits?”

“No, I think I probably ate someone who disagreed with me.”

Someone? You don’t mean something?”

“I might, I must get home.” Somehow, I managed to pull myself up and stand on initially wobbly legs, but as I started to walk, they felt stronger. I had things to do.

By the time I was back in the fresh air, I felt much better. I called Henry.

“My favourite daughter-in-law, what can I do for you?”

I ignored the double entendre. “The bad guys have got James.”

“James—James who?”

“James Beck, you know the investigator you recommended?”

“Which bad guys are they?”

“The South Bank Show, I believe he called them.”

“Oh did he now? A nasty lot by all accounts. Where are you—I can hear traffic.”

“Outside Charing Cross.”

“Get on a train then.”

“Hospital.”

“In Fulham, okay, get a cab I’ll meet you at…” I flagged down a taxi and he took me to my rendezvous with Henry. He was driving his A6 Audi, and boy could that shift.

He navigated us through London and before long we were belting down the M3. Neither of us spoke for maybe half an hour, my head still felt a bit fuzzy and he was concentrating on driving like fury.

He pulled up at Fleet services and he made me tell him the whole story.

“So Julie acquired these keys, got herself abducted, then you get her back and Jim helps you arrest half the bad guys when they attack your home. You work out where the safety deposit is and help yourselves to five million pounds of bonds and cash. No wonder they’re pissed, I think I would be too.”

I showed him the message. “I’m scared, Henry.”

“It could be a bluff, have you tried ringing Jim?”

“That came from his mobile, the only number I have for him.”

“It could be from an opportunist.”

“How would they know about the money?”

“Word gets out.”

“But I thought we’d got them all?”

“They’re like dandelions, complete eradication or they regrow and they have five million reasons to do so.”

“I thought they’d think the money was lost, exploded in the crash.”

“Cathy, grow up will you? They would know it was taken from the bank by a man and a woman, they’d have your descriptions and it would be all over the town by teatime. You’ll have a bounty on you.”

“What? That’s so unfair.” I griped, and my Blackberry peeped.

Bring da munny 2 Eastleigh services, 11.00hrs 2moro, 2 swap 4 lover boy.

“That seems fairly straightforward.”

“How do I know they aren’t lying?” I asked Henry.

“You don’t, plus the fact that he could well be dead by now.”

“Thanks, that really makes me feel better.”

“I’m not going to pull punches with you, Cathy, this stuff should have been given to the police to deal with.”

“I know, but they weren’t being very nice to me or Jim.”

“In what way?”

“They picked up on his being gay and me being transsexual.”

“I thought you’d be used to dealing with that by now.”

“It still hurts.”

“Cathy, it happens—deal with it and move on—let’s face it unless you could actually give birth, you couldn’t do much more to be accepted as female, could you?”

“I dunno,” I shrugged.

“You have six kids who love you like crazy, plus a crazy husband who loves you too, what else have you got to prove? You’re a beautiful young woman, accept it and get on with life.”

“So what do I do about this demand?”

“Where’s the stuff?”

“In your bank.”

“Okay, have you got the key?”

“I sent it to Simon.”

“Simon—are you crazy?”

“Why?”

“He’ll lose the bloody thing. When he was eleven, he passed his Eleven Plus exam. I was so pleased I bought him a brand new bike. By lunch time the same day, he’d lost it.”

“Lost it?”

“Yes, he went into a shop and when he came out it was gone.”

“Didn’t he have a lock on it?”

“Yes, round his seat post, but the bike wasn’t locked to anything. I refused to buy him another one, he had to earn it.”

“Oh, I thought that as a banker Simon would be trustworthy.”

“Yes he is, he’s just careless.”

“Oh poo,” I sent him a text. He had the key in his hand.

“Tell him to give it to his secretary now, we’ll collect it from her.” I did as I was told. An hour and a half later we were in Portsmouth at Simon’s office and in possession of the key.

Henry took it with him and he dashed back off to London. He would come to the house tonight with the bonds.

Simon took me home and after a drink and a snack, I had a short nap and went to collect the girls. I didn’t tell them Grampa Henry was visiting in case he was late. He arrived at seven and they all made a huge fuss of him.

I got most of the children in bed by nine and after their excitement with Henry, they were asleep by ten. Henry decided to stay over and had brought a case with him. He also had an aluminium attaché case, in which I presumed were the bonds and money.

After Julie and Danny were in bed, there was a light rap on the back door. My heart nearly stopped. Henry nodded that it was okay to open it. When I did two men in army fatigues stood there, in the dark with sunglasses on.

“Cathy, these are some friends of Jim who will be offering back up tomorrow.”

“Oh, do come in,” I invited.

They walked in and over a cuppa, we discussed our plans for tomorrow. All I was told was that once they had the case and we had Jim, I wasn’t to do anything stupid, just give them the case and take Jim back to my car—I was to use his Porsche.

Henry showed them the case, and the bonds and the money. They were busy counting stuff and looking at the bonds when he asked me to check the Porsche was locked safely in the garage. I thought it was an odd request but I complied to keep him happy. It was there and with a full tank of gas, I’d refuelled it after the talk the other night—okay, I wanted to have another go in it, and driving it to the supermarket and back was fun—got loads of stares—all of them envious.

I didn’t sleep very well, Henry took the girls to school and they loved it. I ran Danny to his—he always seems to miss out and he was glowing with pride when I drove right into the school car park before letting him out, several boys came up to speak with him before I drove off.

Then I drove home. Henry was waiting for me with the briefcase. “Where are Tweedledum and Tweedledee?” I asked.

“They’ve been on site since about midnight.”

“Aren’t they likely to be seen and the police called?”

“Cathy, they’re snipers, no one will see them and if it goes pear shaped at least we have some back up. These guys could put a full clip in someone’s head before he could blink.”

“Why?”

“How would I know?—I’m a banker not a soldier.”

“Oh so you are—how silly of me to forget.” I felt in a strange mood. Simon had gone to work despite his wanting to be involved. “What about your time with the SIS, Henry?”

“Eh?”

“The Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6—I’m not quite as stupid as you think I am.”

“Okay, I’m not squeaky clean, but that’s all you get.”

“For now.”

“Full stop.”

“No wonder you knew Jim.”

“Cathy, we have to go—now stick to the plan.”

“Where are you going to be?”

“In my own car, just watching.”

I hugged him, “Thanks, Henry, you’re wonderful pa-in-law.”

“I know,” he sniggered, “but having a wonderful daughter-in-law brings out the best in me.”

We set off for our cars, me carrying the heavier than it looked case plus my always heavier than it looked handbag, with kitchen sink attachment.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1197

I was waiting at Eastleigh Services on the M27 between Southampton and Portsmouth by half past ten. I’d done one drop before when I rescued Julie. I was parked conspicuously—let’s face it, in a Porsche Boxster it’s hard not to be conspicuous.

It was bitingly cold and I kept the engine running so the aircon still worked—aircon in a convertible? I wonder if it works when the roof is down. I watched a delivery van park near the services building and two men in boiler suits took a large package into the concourse. Apart from that and the comings and goings of Joe Public and his friends and family, nothing seemed to be happening.

At 10.59 my phone peeped indicating a text. My heart thumped in my chest as I picked up my phone, which lay on the seat beside me.

U beta hve da munny. In da bin by da entrance get da bag. Put da munny in da bag. Will be in tuch.

I got out of the car, slipping the phone into my jacket pocket—a leather and fleece bomber jacket Simon had given me for Christmas. I could feel the cold of the air through the jeans I wore and on my hands as I pulled on my leather gloves. My trainers slipped a little on the frosty surface of the car park.

It only took a minute or two to cross the car park and reach the two bins by the entrance to the building. In the second, I found a cheap black rucksack and pulled it out, careful not to scatter much litter as I did so. I shook it clean and walked back to my car.

I sat back inside and put the case on the seat and transferred the money and bonds into the bag. Then sat and waited. My phone rang. It was Henry.

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. They told me to transfer the money and bonds into the bag they left in the bin.”

“Nothing else?”

“No not yet, they said they’d be in touch.”

“They’re still sussing us out, I expect. When things happen, it’ll happen fast, just watch out and be very careful.”

“I will, d’you think this is a set up—I mean will they hand over Jim?”

“I have no idea, if they do he might be dead.”

“Oh God, don’t say that.” My tummy flipped as I worried about the man who’d saved my life.

A large motorbike drove in and the two riders dismounted and wandered into the concourse. For a moment I did wonder if that was our pick up but they seemed just normal punters. Could Jim be in the boot of any one of the cars in the car park?

The delivery men got back into their van and drove off. My phone peeped.

Walk down da slip rd 2 da Mway. Hold da bag in ur hand.

Astonished at this request, I got out of my car and locked it. God it was cold, the wind was rising a little and it seemed to go straight through my clothes and into my bones. As I walked, I saw the motorcyclists get back on their bike and head off to the petrol area. For a moment, I wondered again if it was them, but they seemed ordinary. I walked past the fuel area and towards the exit road. A couple of cars and a truck came past, the truck hooting at me and pointing at the ‘no pedestrians’ sign. I walked on.

The motorcycle roared past me and then stopped. The man on the back shouted, “No pedestrians, are you blind?”

I walked on towards him. He got off and pointed at the sign, then suddenly grabbed the bag and pushed me over in one move. Before I could do anything, he was back on the bike and they roared off down the motorway, towards Southampton. I was so cross with myself. I got myself up and saw an envelope with my name on it lying on the grass. I tore it open and inside it said, ‘In da gents’ I began to run back to the car park dialling Henry as I went. He met me at the gents’ toilet, and ignoring all protocols followed him in. I got one or two bemused looks as we pushed against the closet doors. The last one swung open and sat on the loo wrapped from head to foot in duct tape was Jim. It was pretty obvious he had nothing on underneath and there was bow tied round his neck.

Henry ripped the tape from his mouth, “Are you okay?”

“I’ll live, have you got a drink?” I rushed off to get him some water.

When I ran back Henry had hoisted him over his shoulder and was carrying him back to his car. I followed him back with the water. Once we got him seated, I held the bottle for him to drink.

“Let’s get you back to Cathy’s place and get this mess off you.”

“What about the money?” I gasped.

“It’s all fake.”

“But that means they’ll be back again.”

“They might.” Said Henry in a very matter of fact way.

“What about my children? This is going to really piss them off.”

“Your children?”

“No, giving the gang fake money is really going to piss off the gang.”

“It’s all being tracked.”

“I thought the tracker was in the case?” I offered, not really sure of anything anymore.

“No, the bonds have little transmitters in the stamps on them, the batteries are in the wraps on the bundles of cash.”

“Crikey, how very James Bond.”

“Bloody amateur,” said Henry tersely.

“I’m going to follow a hunch, see you later.” I jumped into the Porsche and within a minute or so was flying up the motorway. The motorbike would leave even this baby behind, but if they went very fast they’d be asking for the police to take notice.

A few miles further on, I saw the white delivery van, and the bloke was closing up the back of it. It was one of those with a lift on the back. Why had he stopped?

I slowed right down and it came past me, only there weren’t just two men in it, there were four. Unfortunately, the Porsche is not the least obtrusive of cars for shadowing, so I made a note of the number, and called the police on my handsfree.

“I hope I’m not wasting your time, but there’s a large van acting very suspiciously on the motorway coming from Eastleigh into Southampton. I think it might be carrying drugs or illegal immigrants.” I gave the number and shadowed the van from a discreet distance.

Ten minutes later a police Jaguar came whooshing past and pulled them over. I stopped a hundred yards behind. Suddenly one of the policemen was holding his hands in the air. I called 999 and reported it.

The back of the van opened and the motorbike was lowered to the road, and the two riders donned their leathers and shot off, this time I followed. I could hear sirens behind me, which I suspected were police going to the aid of their colleagues. I called them again and told them to stop the large BMW motorbike which was being followed by the Porsche, they’d come from the van and were perhaps armed. I saw the helicopter, flashed my lights at them and watched as they followed the motorbike.

I knew as soon as we got close to Southampton I’d lose them in traffic. A helicopter was something able to cope with evasive suspects in traffic. I turned off at the next junction and drove back on the non-motorway to home, in case the police were waiting for me on the M27.

I was anxious to learn how Jim was, but restrained myself and drove very carefully, putting the car back in the garage when I got home. I could see Henry’s car still in the drive, and I wondered what I’d see when I got indoors.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1198

The back door was locked which was a little unusual while we were about. I walked back to the front door and used my key to unlock the door, which creaked a little indicative of a need for some lubrication. I closed it as quietly as I could, the ancient oak still did a wonderful job in keeping the house and the outside world apart, and although it was probably a couple of hundred years old and weighed half a ton, it was in very good condition. Hardwoods like oak don’t suffer from things like woodworm anything like as much as softer pines.

I was tempted to call out but didn’t. We had pissed off the gang again and unless they were all under lock and key, there might be further unwelcome interactions with them. I’d also heard of chief bandits running their empires from prison cells, perhaps not quite as Noel Coward did in The (”You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”) Italian Job; but you get the idea.

I stood still for a moment, and all I could hear was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the lounge. I walked further into the house and voices were coming from upstairs. I crept up the stairs walking on the edges of the steps to try and avoid any creaking from them. I paused to listen and heard Jim’s voice yelling in pain. I cursed myself for not having brought a weapon with me.

I wondered what had happened to Henry, Stella and Jenny. Perhaps they were all prisoners while Jim was tortured. I heard him yell and swear and I cringed. I don’t do pain well if at all, and others suffering makes me feel sick.

I crept to the top of the stairs and the screams—okay yells, were coming from the bathroom, I paused outside the door readying myself to kick and punch as hard as I could. The door opened and I swung a wild punch at—Henry? Thankfully he ducked and I missed.

“I’m going to cross you off my Christmas card list, young lady.”

“I could hear the yells of pain from Jim, I wasn’t sure who was doing what to him.”

“Stella is taking off the tape, if you remember he was swathed in the stuff. Alas it’s also giving him a Brazilian, and I don’t think he’s too happy about it.”

I winced, “No, I shouldn’t think he is. Shall I make us all a nice cuppa?”

“Where did you dash off to?” asked Henry.

“I followed the motorbike.”

“It was long gone, wasn’t it?”

“It would have been if they’d gone on by themselves, but that white delivery van was obviously the one that was used to get Jim into the building, presumably in a box or sack or some other container. Then it set off ahead of the bike. However, I had a hunch that they would try and hide the bike and what better method than in the back of a lorry. It also gave the riders somewhere to take off their leathers.”

“You didn’t catch them did you?”

“The police did, I called them and told them I thought there was illegal immigrants on board. They were stopped and the bikers took off again so I phoned ahead for the police to stop them, there was also a possibility of firearms at the lorry, so I advised the police and they were all over the place like a rash. The helicopter was following the bikers, so I hope they got them.”

“Unless they went into an underground car park or something similar.”

“The equipment they have these days is amazing and it will still pick up infra-red through one layer of concrete, besides by then, the police on the ground will be closing in too and blocking all the exits.”

“Okay, my daughter-in-law is a regular genius.”

“Thank you kind sir, recognition at last.” I did a mock curtsey. Jim yelled again and we both sniggered. “Poor bugger,” I said and Henry nodded.

“I’m making tea, how long are you going to be?” I called through to the bathroom.

“Nearly finished his waxing—about ten minutes,” Stella laughed back, “You did say full body, didn’t you Jim?” He squealed like a rat in a trap and I ran downstairs.

They emerged about ten or twelve minutes later, Jim looking red and sore in the places not covered by Simon’s bathrobe. He acknowledged me.

“How did they manage to catch you, I thought you were very aware of risk?” I asked the awkward question first.”

“I hailed a cab, it was one of theirs. Two men got in beside me holding guns. Discretion became the better part of valour.”

“When I was a kid,” interjected Stella, “I could never understand what it had to do with velvet curtains.”

We all looked at her, but it was Henry who voiced the collective, “Eh?”

“Well, you know, discretion is the better part of velour,” she explained and we all groaned.

“The only joke there, Stella, is why you find it funny,” I suggested. She poked out her tongue at me and blew a raspberry. Stella is always so mature in her behaviour, like a good cheese.

I poured the teas and as we drank them, I brought the others up to date. Jim was quite impressed by the actions of a mere woman and said so. Stella came alongside me and suggested he was hung like a horse, my glare showed that I wasn’t the appropriate person to tell that to. She fawned over him unaware that he would be resistant to her charms.

The local plod arrived and spoiled the party. They wanted to know this and that and we gave statements, while we were doing so Henry made a phone call. One of the copper’s mobiles went off and after answering it, they were a bit more circumspect and withdrew after just my statement and that of Jim, who suggested he was taken prisoner for a ransom, which the bank paid in fake money and bonds.

We both showed feigned surprise when the police suggested it was the same gang we’d been battling the week before. After they left, I asked Henry who he’d called. He shrugged, but when I persisted he shrugged again and said, “The Home Secretary, who else?”

“You have friends in low places,” I said quietly.

“Absolutely, remember I am a banker, so we know all the demons in hell and the most vile sort of monster, a cabinet minister who will have sold their soul long since in their craving for power.”

“A Faustian pact.”

“Yes, but this time the devil is the junior partner in wickedness.”

“I’d never thought of it that way round,” I admitted.

“Oh yes, politicians could teach Old Nick, quite a few tricks in despicableness and veniality.”

“Damn, I have to go and get the girls,” I said looking at my watch.

“I’ll go and get them, you see if you find a few of Simon’s things to fit Major Beck before I return with them. I don’t want them seeing naked bodies, it might give them the wrong idea.” With that, he picked up his keys and went to get them.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1199

I went up to our bedroom and pulled a few of Simon’s clothes I thought might fit Jim. He was taller and slimmer than Simon, however, I knew Si had one or two things he found tight and which wouldn’t be much too short for him to wear.

In the end, he wore a pair of Simon’s jeans which were too tight for Si, a shirt and pullover, some socks, underpants and a pair of sandals as his feet were a size bigger than Simon’s. The jeans weren’t much too short, because Simon had always worn them a little too long in the leg—they dated from a period before he lived with me, because I’d have shortened them whereas Stella let him walk on the hems.

While I was making some tea, and the bread machine was churning out the next loaf, Jim got chatting with Julie. “Where did you find those keys?”

“I dunno do I?”

“You don’t know or you don’t remember?” he asked her.

“Yeah, I don’t.”

I didn’t know whether she was being genuinely dumb or if she was just feeling pissed off with him.

“Okay, where could you have picked them up?”

“How do I know? I can’t sodding remember, got it?” With that, she upped and stamped off to her room. I heard her thumping up the stairs and slamming her bedroom door.

“Did I do something wrong?” asked Jim, as I placed a cup of tea before him.

“Probably, I take it you’re not especially familiar with teenage girls?”

“Apart from a sister, no and she’s in her twenties now. We were both away at school so I was spared the worst excesses.”

“So as a gay man, you didn’t have any adolescent issues?”

“Oh boy, don’t go there—I had so many hang-ups I was worse than a box of drawing pins.”

I had to think momentarily as to the relationship between drawing pins and hang-ups, it was obviously to do with hanging things up on walls.

“You don’t consider Julie might as well, besides which the shock of her attack seems to have removed any memory she might have had of events prior to and of the whole thing. She gets very frustrated wondering if she’s brain damaged or something.”

“Is she?”

“No, of course not—she’s just an excitable adolescent.”

“I’d have thought girls have it easier than boys—adolescence I mean.”

“I don’t think so, each have their own issues and they obviously affect individuals differently.”

“So how was your experience being a transgender person?”

“Awful.”

“Even as Lady Macbeth?”

“Yes including that.”

“I’ll bet you were as good as your reviews.”

“Well unless you have some sort of time machine, you’ll never know.”

“Didn’t someone film it?”

“Oh yeah, MGM out bid the BBC for the pure delight of seeing me ponce about in a long dress, saying, ‘Out damned spot, out I say.’ It would have been shortlisted for the Oscars, but only for screenplay. Unfortunately Mr William Shakespeare couldn’t collect his prize in person owing to him being dead for three hundred years.”

“Don’t get so defensive, in my school they used to film all the drama shows on 8mm film, it was always dreadful but at least it was a permanent record and also used for reviewing performances by the director.”

“Oh shit, there was one boy whose dad had one of those cameras, he might well have filmed it. I think Suggs was one of the one of the attendants killed by Macbeth when he killed Duncan. I hated him, he kept touching my bum whenever I walked past him in that tight bloody dress, during rehearsals that is.”

“I thought the killing was done offstage.”

“Oh he played several bit parts, a soldier here, a steward there, and maybe even donated body parts for the eye of newt stuff.”

“Cathy, you are so funny. I so wish I’d met you before Simon had.”

“I thought we’d agreed that we had little in common in those terms.”

“Other than being attracted to good looking men?” he quipped.

I blushed, “I have my Simon, I don’t need to look at anyone else.”

“I saw you window shopping, Cathy.”

“So? You keep saying about fancying me, but that must be because you know of my past. I’d be of little or no interest to a gay man, would I?”

“Maybe I’m not exclusively gay?”

“Like that’s of interest to me?”

“Well it was worth a try,” he muttered, “fab cuppa,” he said a moment later.

“That definitely recommends me, then.”

“It’s important, I’m British, remember?”

“So?”

“Hush, I’m playing for time.”

“Time to do what?” I glanced at the wall clock in the kitchen, “Henry’s taking his time. I’ll bet he’s taken them for an ice-cream.”

“It’s bloody freezing out there.”

“When did that stop children eating ice-cream?”

“How would I know, you’re the young woman who lived in a shoe…”

“I’m glad you modified that, or I’d have had to kill you.”

“As if…” he laughed.

“I have my moments, ask Simon.”

“Oh I shall—I suppose you kill him then bring him back to life so you can kill him again?”

“Damn, you’ve worked out my secret.”

“Lady Cameron, you are an open book.”

“Hi, Mum, cannave a biscuit?” asked Danny, walking into the kitchen and dumping his schoolbag next to the fridge while he poured himself a glass of fruit juice.

“I suppose so, don’t eat them all.”

“I won’t—where’re the girls?”

“Grampa Henry went to get them, he’s probably taken them for an ice-cream.”

“Bloody girls, always get more than me.”

“That isn’t true, Danny—you’re late tonight.”

“Traffic is worse than ever, any more of these custard creams—I love ’em.”

“You know where they’re kept.”

“Can I watch the telly?”

“Don’t forget you’ll have homework to do.”

“I won’t.” He scampered off to the lounge.

“Is he the only boy amongst that brood of girls?”

“I’m afraid so, why?”

“He must find it hard going at times.”

“We try to make sure he gets plenty of attention.”

“I admit he doesn’t look too neglected.”

“Providing he gets to play football every week, he’s as good as gold. Mind you, Trish is a good footballer, but she hates it.”

“How can she be good at it if she hates it?”

“You tell me.”

“Perhaps she takes after her mum—doing things she doesn’t like but is good at.”

“Like what—washing up?”

“Possibly, though I was thinking more in terms of the Ninja Cameron.”

“Who?”

“You forget that I have access to sources you don’t. I know about all sorts of episodes in your life which if half the plod read before engaging you in any form of combat, would surrender without a fight.”

“You’ve been reading too many of those Special Forces fictions by Andy McNabb.”

“No I haven’t, I’ve been reading police records.”

“Oh.”

“See, you know what I’m talking about, Maid Marion.”

“Exaggerations.”

“Some are signed statements.”

“By liars I expect.”

“Signed by Catherine Watts.”

“Definitely then.” I looked at the clock, “Where is Henry with my girls?”

“Perhaps his car has broken down?”

“He has a phone.”

“Muuum?”

“Ye-e-e-essss, Danny?”

“Come an’ see this.”

“I’m busy.”

“It’s important.”

“I’m sure it is.”

He came trotting into the kitchen, “There’s been a terrorist bomb in the town centre.”

“What?” both Jim and I exclaimed together, before dashing into the lounge.

The Daily Dormouse

Part Dodecacentenary (1200)

‘There is chaos in the centre of Portsmouth after a suspicious package was found inside Marks and Spencer’s store. Police have confirmed that a coded message was phoned through to the local paper which contained enough authenticity for a full-scale evacuation to be started, which is playing havoc with the late night shopping on this the first Thursday in December.

The stores are very upset with all the money they’re losing, customers are annoyed which combined with the cold weather and general air of gloom pervading the country, is making the people of Portsmouth and surrounding area very depressed and to cap it all, it’s snowing—Merry Christmas.’

The reporter spoke to someone from the police, the fire service, the bomb disposal service and some shoppers. Their opinions varied significantly. The police and fire service were delighted that no one had been hurt or killed although one or two persons had been taken to hospital suffering from shock or had been trampled in the occasional panic which had happened now and again.

“Right, where are Henry and the girls?”

“Have you tried phoning them?” asked Jim.

“Why haven’t they phoned me?” I asked to no one in particular. Danny looked shifty and avoided eye contact. “You know something don’t you?” He wriggled some more and kept his gaze low, sneaking the occasional glance at my face. “C’mon, spit it out.”

“I promised not to tell you.”

“Promised who?”

“All of them?”

“Grampa Henry as well?”

“Yes,” he nodded.

“Promised them what? Look, Danny, this could be important.”

“Okay—they went to get you a birthday present.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s your birthday tomorrow.”

“I told them not to worry about presents.”

“I’ll bet you don’t say that to Simon,” said Jim.

“No I told him I wanted a Porsche.”

“I hope you told him a Spyder.”

“Would prefer a dormouse, not into arachnids.”

“Cathy, it’s the most expensive Porsche ever built.”

“Nah, I’d be happy with a run of the mill one like yours or the 911.”

“Run of the mill—we’re talking Porsche here, not a Ford Fiesta.”

“I’m only joking, I told him I’d settle for a nice dinner—but if it snows, I’ll be lucky to go anywhere. Maybe I should learn to ski instead or get a bike with snow tyres on it.”

“How often would you get to ride it?”

“About as often as I would a Porsche.”

He laughed.

“Could Gramps buy you a Porsche, Mummy, he is pretty rich?”

“No darling, he was more likely in Marks and Sparks than a car dealership.”

I went out to the kitchen and phoned the girl’s mobiles one after the other, but apparently there was no signal.

“I can’t get a signal for the mobiles,” I sighed.

“God no, after Madrid, where they used mobile phones to set off the bombs, they switch off the masts to stop terrorists doing it while the bomb disposal people are working on it.”

“That would be an adrenalin rush job for you?” I teased Jim.

“No thanks, I helped to clear a field of mines once—that had me changing my underpants about twice a minute. So bombs—no thanks, I prefer a more calculated risk. Mind you they say women make good bomb and mine disposal people, smaller hands, delicate touch, more sensitive to change—ever thought about it, Cathy?”

“Oh yeah, for a millisecond—no way—making bread is about as dangerous as I like things to get.”

A newsflash came up on the screen and we all stood transfixed by the picture we saw. ‘News is coming in of a second package found outside a bank in the town centre…’

“Simon’s office is higher up that building,” I gasped.

“I thought he worked in London?”

“Not since November, he moved the office down here to see more of his wife and children.”

“Does he?”

“Now and again.” The television flashed again.

‘Reports are coming in that a number of people are stuck in the building above the bank and that some sort of incendiary device has been activated on the ground or first floor. We don’t know if the explosive device has been deactivated yet.’

“Shit, if that goes off as well, it’ll blow the fire right up through the building and over to adjacent ones.” Jim looked very worried.

‘It is thought there may be some children in this building, though we’re waiting for it to be verified, if there are it makes things even more serious.’

“The way that fire is taking hold, they look pretty serious already.” Jim wasn’t reassuring me.

“I need to get down there.” I felt sick with worry and the lack of information.

“Could the girls be in there?” asked Jim.

“They could be, Henry might have gone to collect Simon.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” Danny said before I could interrogate him. “D’you think they’ll be all right, Mummy?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart,” he put his arm round my waist and squeezed me tightly to him and I put my arm round his shoulder.

A helicopter appeared over the building and the downdraught was attempting to stop the fire climbing up the office block. It was also lowering someone down to the roof.

“Are they going to try and airlift them off the roof?” asked Danny.

“I don’t know if they’d have time to do that, it’s a very time consuming method. I presume they can’t land a chopper on top of the roof?” Jim answered one question and posed another. I just stood and watched with a growing sense of despair filling my solar plexus and slowly spreading all over me.

“There are radio masts on the roof which would stop it, there’s a whole network of cables and masts up there, Simon did tell me what they were for, but I’ve forgotten.” I was too upset to think about trivia now.

“So they can’t. If that bomb goes off…”

“Jim, please, I’m worried sick enough without you speculating on what may or may not happen.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault—it’s my bloody birthday, that’s the problem—my fucking parents.” I blushed when I realised I’d sworn in front of a bemused Danny.

“I expect they were,” said Jim and Danny sniggered—I blushed nearly as red as the flames on the television.

I didn’t seem able to drag myself or my gaze away from the screen as the cameras watched the drama unfolding. I felt the same sort of horror and helplessness when I saw the newsreel of the attack on the World Trade Centre. I felt physically sick, worrying if my children were in the building or not, and naturally the same about Simon—but Simon was an adult, he’d be able to take care of himself—he’s a resourceful adult—well Trish will look after them, please God.

The flames were spreading up the building. “Simon will be miffed,” I said as a stupid thought assailed me.

“Why?” asked Jim.

“He’s got his best tie on today.”

“Yeah, ’course,” said Jim shaking his head.

Then we heard a loud bang and the television went blank, switching to show a studio where people were rushing about like headless chickens—I really lost it and rushed off to be sick.

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