Authors: Christina Jones
Tags: #Fiction, #General
‘Guess there’s no need for us to hang around any more,’ Carmel said to Biff, having made short shrift of yomping over the icy ruts. ‘No bodies to be patched and despatched?’
‘None,’ Biff replaced her glasses. ‘Thanks for turning up though.’
‘No sweat,’ Carmel smiled then grinned at Lulu. ‘I should have known you’d be mixed up in this. Shay said you were an animal activist.’
‘Well, I don’t fire-bomb labs or things like that,’ Lulu bristled, ‘but I do try to help animals as much a possible. They don’t have a voice, do they? They need someone …’
Carmel looked slightly sceptical. ‘Well, yeah, guess so. You’re brave to get involved with something you believe in. So many people just pay lip service.’ She grinned a bit more. ‘I’ll send Shay your love over the two-way, shall I?’
‘What? Why? Isn’t he with you?’ Lulu peered towards the ambulance. ‘I thought you were always together on your shifts?’
‘Usually but not always. He’s out on motorway patrol tonight. I’m paired with Augusta for local shouts like this one.’
Carmel waved towards the ambulance. Neon-clad Augusta, whose massive shoulders and wild curls seemed to take up most of the passenger seat, waved back.
Lulu decided not to join in the waving. She suddenly felt quite despondent that Shay hadn’t been there to witness her moment of glory tonight. Especially after the ferrets-berets débâcle. She actually felt quite despondent that Shay wasn’t there, full stop. The relationship, despite the apple magic, really wasn’t progressing very quickly at all. She’d have to sneak another look at Granny Westward’s recipes and find something to speed things up a bit.
Carmel scrunched away towards the ambulance again, swung herself up behind the steering wheel into the tiny gap left by the huge Augusta and, for one so small, manhandled the vehicle with surprising dexterity back along the track.
‘Well, I don’t know about you ladies, but I could do with a warm,’ Hedley said, huffing on his hands. ‘What say we all go back to the pub and have a snifter to cheer ourselves up and celebrate a job well done?’
‘Not for me, thanks,’ Lu said. ‘I just want to go home.’
Just when she really needed someone to talk to, the house was empty. Still feeling shaky, Lulu turned the fire up to the hilt, switched on the television, and most of the lights, and headed for the kitchen to make herself some coffee.
‘Blimey …’ she looked at the heaps of papers strewn across the kitchen table, at the laptop, and the haphazard post-it notes. Mitzi had clearly returned from the village hall and gone out again. Quickly. Lu smiled. Probably with Joel. At least the Sahmain apple magic seemed to have worked well for them. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? Inadvertently, Mitzi and Joel had got it exactly right on Halloween.
Richard and Judy squirmed happily from the washing basket and wove figures of eight round Lu’s legs until she fed them. Idly forking tuna chunks into their bowls, she read Mitzi’s notes. There were several recipes, a party plan, something bizarre to do with the Baby Boomers and
for heaven’s sake, jottings about a Christmas Fayre, and a rather odd list of ingredients which could be for Doll and Brett’s wedding feast.
‘Your mum,’ Lulu said to Richard and Judy as she placed their dishes on the floor, ‘has taken the phrase “get a life” to whole new heights.’
It was actually rather dispiriting to think that Mitzi was forging ahead with this new life, and that Doll and boring Brett were now teetering on the cusp of changing their lives for ever.
Slopping water on to her coffee granules with one hand and burrowing under through Mitzi’s notes with the other, Lulu eventually uncovered Granny Westward’s book.
‘Hah!’ She grinned triumphantly at Richard and Judy who were far too involved with their tuna chunks to care. ‘Now let’s see what I can concoct to get myself a life and a man. Mum’s not the only one in this family who can dabble.’
And tucking the book under her arm she headed for the living room.
Curled on the sofa, with the television softly babbling in the background, the fire and the coffee both warmed her as the puppy farm horrors started to recede slightly. At least the poor little things would be at the RSPCA kennels by now and being fed and cosseted. She’d ring first thing in the morning and see how they were doing.
Carefully turning the fragile yellowing pages, Lu scanned the recipes. Ah – this one looked interesting. Star Spangles. She peered at the spiky writing. According to Granny Westward, Star Spangles, when eaten immediately after cooking, along with the appropriate incantation, not only increased psychic powers and gave you amazing forces of astral persuasion, but also brought everlasting good luck. Sounded exactly what she needed. The only problem being that the main ingredient was something called ‘badiana’. Where the heck was she going to get hold of that at this time of night? In Hazy Hassocks? Big Sava, even on a late-night opening, weren’t likely to have early twentieth-century magical herbs on special offer, were they? And the only other likely place – Herbie’s Healthfoods – would
have been closed for hours.
Bugger. Lulu sighed in exasperation and riffled through the book again. There didn’t seem to be any sort of substitute available, and none of the other recipes offered exactly what she was looking for. Maybe Herbie would still be open or stocktaking or something.
Determined not to be beaten until all stones were unturned, she flicked through Mitzi’s address book and dialled Herbie’s number.
After a minute of incessant ringing and just as she was about to hang up, Herbie answered.
‘Um – hello. Sorry to bother you, and I know it’s late. It’s Lu, Mitzi Blessing’s daughter, I wondered if you could help me—’
‘If your mother has unleashed something nasty, then no,’ Herbie said cheerfully. ‘I’ve warned her about tinkering with magical herbs. In the hands of an amateur they can be lethal.’
‘Er – no she hasn’t. Unleashed anything that is. It’s just that I’ve found this recipe and it needs a special herb and I wondered …’
Herbie inhaled noisily and giggled a bit. Lulu frowned. God! These old hippies never changed.
‘So what is it then?’ Herbie chuckled, his voice now slightly slurred. ‘What noxious toxin are you Blessings planning to inflict on the village this time?’
‘It’s for personal use only,’ Lu said indignantly. ‘It’s called badiana. I don’t suppose you—’
‘No I don’t, but luckily for you I’m pretty sure your ma has got some in her cupboard. Left over from her Halloween party. She used them as a decoration. Saw them myself. At least, I think I did. Don’t think I was hallucinating.’
‘Really?’ Lulu perked up, then remembered that Herbie was definitely stoned both now and at the party and possibly not to be relied upon. ‘Why? Did you sell it to her?’
‘Nope,’ Herbie bellowed with laughter. ‘You can get it
at any supermarket these days. People use it all the time since those poncey telly chefs started making it a must-have back in the nineties. It’s star anise.’
Lulu frowned. ‘What those little, orange, papery, Chinese lantern thingys, you mean?’
‘That’s the little devils,’ Herbie giggled. ‘The seeds have been used in traditional medicine for years and years – long before the poncey telly chefs got hold of them and—’
‘Right, thanks,’ Lu broke in before Herbie could go on full rerun. ‘And – um – sorry to have disturbed you.’
‘No problem,’ Herbie inhaled again and rattled the phone clearly trying to align receiver and cradle. ‘It’s cool, man.’
As he eventually managed to disconnect, Lulu shook her head again at the appalling behaviour of the older generation. Still, stoned or not, Herbie had been more than helpful, and if there was miraculously some star anise left in the kitchen she could concoct the Star Spangles in no time. Smiling to herself, with Granny’s book under her arm, she headed back to the kitchen.
To her delight, not only was there a bag of rather withered star anise in the larder, but all the other ingredients – eggs and sugar and cream – were also available. Star Spangles, it seemed, were sort of meringues using the badiana seeds. The star-shaped outer casings were to be kept intact to be used afterwards. Turning the oven on and removing the cream from Richard and Judy, Lu set to work, easing the seeds carefully from the little papery shells, careful, as per Granny’s instructions, not to damage them.
After a bit of a problem separating the egg whites from the yolks, much to Richard and Judy’s delight, the mixture was eventually whisked into stiff peaks, spooned into what Lulu imagined Granny meant by patty tins, and popped into the oven.
‘There,’ Lu said happily to the eggy cats, ‘easy-peasy or what? And they only take ten minutes to cook – then I have to eat them while they’re still warm and say aloud what it
is I want to happen – oh, and I have to hold the starry bit in the palm of one hand at the same time of course. So, Shay had better watch out …’
Richard and Judy, losing interest now the eggs had disappeared and the whipped cream was out of reach, gave her a disdainful stare and rippled silkily back into the washing basket to begin reciprocal grooming.
Ten minutes passed irritatingly slowly, but eventually Lulu had a tray filled with nicely risen, crispy, golden-tipped meringues. The anise seeds gave them a bit of a pockmarked look but she was sure it wouldn’t spoil the flavour, especially not when sandwiched together with a good inch of cream.
‘Okay,’ Lu said to herself. ‘One bite, then I’ll say my bit and – oh, yes, balance these in my hand …’
It was fortunate, she thought, that she was alone. The meringues were crumbly and extremely hot, the cream was melted and dripping, the empty star anise cases were fiddly little suckers, and her incantation came out in a sort of gurgled roar as she hopped around the kitchen fanning her mouth.
The intended ‘Please let Shay really, really fall in love with me, and not be able to live without me, and let him realise Carmel is – um – okay, cute, but cute is temporary and commitment is forever – if that doesn’t sound too Ricki Lake – and – um – oh, right, that we were meant for one another and let it happen soon – like – er – now, if that’s not too greedy – oh, and yes, let all the puppies be okay and let the puppy farming stop and – well, just let me be as happy as Mum and Doll are, please …’ emerged as a mumbled, glottal jumble accompanied by a spray of meringue crumbs.
Gulping down the last of the very sickly Star Spangles and feeling rather strange, Lulu cast a look round the disgusting mess in the kitchen and decided that sitting by the fire for a while before clearing up might be a good idea, at least until her stomach settled down a bit. She also hoped
that the powers which received the incantation would be able to pick the bones out of her mumbo-jumbo.
The television was still whispering to itself, and rather unsteadily Lu flicked through the channels. How long would she have to wait to know if the Star Spangles had done their business? That was one area where Granny Westward was never clear: the time span between cause and effect.The local newsreader, glossy haired and lipped, was looking serious and saying something about ‘news just in’. Lu slumped on to the sofa then immediately rocketed to her feet.
‘Ambulance taking motorway RTA victim to hospital involved in pileup … Emergency services on the scene … No news about further casualties … More as soon as we hear … Over to our man on the spot …’
And then some gruesome scenes of motorway carnage, with an ambulance skewed across the road, several worried policemen, a lot of gridlocked motorway traffic and a fat reporter looking suitably sombre.
‘Nooooo!’ Lu screamed. ‘No! No! No!’
God, it was all her fault! The Star Spangle magic had made Shay lose concentration and now he was probably dead – and she’d never see him again and she’d never ever be able to live with herself and … oh shit!
There was someone at the door.
Whimpering, Lu staggered into the hall. It was probably Lav and Lob. They’d have seen the programme, or maybe they’d already been told what had happened as Shay’s landladies and had come to break the appalling news.
With shaking hands, she eventually pulled the door open.
‘Hi,’ Shay grinned at her. ‘I didn’t wake you up, did I?’
Lu stared at him, unable to say anything at all. Was this a Demi Moore/Patrick Swayze,
moment? Had his spirit drifted to her, drawn by the Star Spangle incantation? Did he not realise he’d just been killed?
‘Lu?’ Shay peered at her. ‘Are you okay?’
She shook her head. ‘You’ve had an accident. I’ve just
seen it on the news. You – you – oh—’
‘Hey,’ he stepped into the hall and pulled her into his arms. ‘Hey, come on angel. What on earth is wrong with you?’
She was vaguely aware that his green paramedic uniform felt warm and that somewhere she could feel his heart beating. Maybe he was still alive. Taking a deep breath, realising that she was still totally incoherent, she babbled into his chest.
‘Okay.’ He pushed her braids and beads away from her face and kicked the front door closed behind him. ‘I think I get the drift. Come on … come and sit down.’
He led her back into the living room. The crash scenes were still being played out on the television screen.
‘There,’ he said comfortably. ‘See. Not me. One of our crews, yes, but no one badly hurt. We’ve all been told from our central control. Walking wounded only. Minor injuries. The telly always makes a drama out of a crisis. Yes, I was working on the motorway tonight but my shift ended half an hour ago.’ He looked down at her and stroked her face. ‘It’s okay Lu, honestly. I’m fine. And you’ve just answered a question I was going to ask.’
‘I have?’ Lulu muttered, wishing that he’d keep holding her and stroking her and looking at her like that for ever and ever.
He nodded. ‘Carmel called me and let me know how ballsy you were about the puppy thing tonight. I was so bloody proud of you. I’d intended to come round as soon as my shift ended anyway – but just a few moments ago I had this really strong feeling that you needed me – I had to see you straight away. Had to ask you … Needed to – um – well, oh sod it – I had to know … to find out if you feel the same way …’