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Authors: Catherine Aird

Little Knell

BOOK: Little Knell
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Title Page

Copyright Notice


Chapter One: Spine Broken

Chapter Two: Bumped

Chapter Three: Defective

Chapter Four: Stained

Chapter Five: Faded

Chapter Six: Marked

Chapter Seven: Frayed

Chapter Eight: Scuffed

Chapter Nine: Loose

Chapter Ten: Creased

Chapter Eleven: Torn

Chapter Twelve: Worn

Chapter Thirteen: Spotted

Chapter Fourteen: Used

Chapter Fifteen: Hinge Cracked

Chapter Sixteen: Backstrip Missing

Chapter Seventeen: Corners Blunted

By the same author



For Emily Abbey with love

Chapter One

Spine Broken

‘Wake up there, boy, or you'll have us both over.' Sidney Wetherspoon grasped the lid of an ottoman as it suddenly canted over in the direction of his youthful assistant.

‘Sorry,' said Wayne Goddard sullenly.

‘Easy, now, round the corner,' exhorted Sid, who had begun to puff slightly. ‘Take it gently on the bend.'

Wayne Goddard obediently changed his working pace from slow to dead slow.

‘It wouldn't do for us to break anything. Not here.' The older man took advantage of the pause while he spoke. ‘Even though, me, I'd ten times rather clear a house when someone's died than when they haven't.'

‘I don't like being stood over neither.' The youth sniffed, responding to the thought rather than the statement. ‘Can't stand it, myself. Gives me the willies.'

‘It still wouldn't do for us to be breaking anything here.' Wetherspoon peered round the room. ‘Not in Whimbrel House.'

‘Too right it wouldn't.' Wayne Goddard yawned. He had been sent by the Job Centre on a month's trial to Wetherspoon and Wetherspoon, Furniture Removers Ltd. of Railway Street, Berebury, and deemed it prudent to be polite to his employers. To begin with, anyway.

‘All this stuff here might look like a load of old rope to you, lad…' said Sid Wetherspoon expansively, waving a horny hand round the spacious room which they were now clearing.

‘Smells like it anyway,' muttered Goddard under his breath. ‘Could do with a proper airing, if you ask me.'

‘… but there's them, I can tell you, that think it's valuable enough.'

‘You could have fooled me.' Goddard shrugged his shoulders, his expression managing to convey at one and the same time both total disinterest and considerable scepticism. He certainly wasn't going to admit that he was actually standing in the oddest room he had ever been in during his short life. It was full – completely full – of fusty trophies of travels to out-of-the way places, travels that had clearly taken place a long, long time ago.

‘Very valuable,' insisted Sid, correctly reading the young man's mind. ‘I'm telling you.'

‘What, even that stuffed alligator?' Wayne raised an eyebrow. He had been practising raising one eyebrow as a gesture of disbelief ever since he had seen it done by the manager of the Job Centre who had been listening to Wayne's latest – and completely specious – tale of woe.

‘Even that stuffed alligator.' Having now succeeded in getting his breath back, the older man bent forward and applied himself again to lifting the intricately carved sandalwood ottoman whose great weight had brought about his respiratory distress in the first place.

‘Get away!' said Wayne.

‘I dare say,' said Wetherspoon drily. ‘Now, you just roll your sleeves up and take the other end of this here prize piece and go first and then pitch over there.'

Wayne Goddard applied himself to the sweet-smelling wooden chest but without enthusiasm – and without rolling up his sleeves either.

‘Hey,' shouted Sid Wetherspoon, having successfully negotiated the ottoman round a suit of armour. ‘Use both your hands and watch what you're doing with your end.'

‘I am,' said Goddard untruthfully. Since he was the one of the pair walking backwards, he could perforce do no such thing as look where he was going. While once he wouldn't have hesitated to have said so – with various rich and quite unprintable embellishments – today he held his peace. There had been a glint in the eye under that raised eyebrow at the Job Centre which he hadn't liked. It had betokened a very real willingness to take matters further and cut off his benefits if Goddard, W. G., didn't hold this latest job down.

‘I reckon,' said Wetherspoon, jerking his shoulder in the direction of a long woven silk rug elegantly stretched out against the further wall, ‘that that's worth a pretty penny, too, to someone who really wants it.'

‘You're joking.' Goddard shrugged.

‘To say nothing of that stuffed object in the glass case in the corner,' carried on Sid. ‘Whatever it might be when it's at home.'

‘Looks like a dead duck to me,' opined Wayne, who had never seen a hoopoe – dead or alive – before.

‘Else,' reasoned Sid Wetherspoon realistically, ‘why do you think they've got their solicitor and their chief legatee over here while we do a simple removal job?'

‘Search me,' said Wayne Goddard indifferently.

‘I wouldn't put that past them either,' said Sid sardonically. ‘Not this pair, anyway.'

‘You mean Mr Puckle?' asked Wayne.

‘How come you know Mr Puckle?' asked Sid curiously. He made a mental note to check on the lad's references when he got back to the office. They couldn't be doing with a maverick in the company.

‘I've been around, haven't I?' uttered Wayne, a truculent look coming over his face.

‘So it would seem,' said Sid, conducting a rapid reappraisal of the suitability of Wetherspoon and Wetherspoon's new recruit for a permanent position in the old firm.

‘That one's called Simon,' Wayne informed him. ‘He's from that lot with offices down by the bridge. You know, Puckle, Puckle and Nunnery.' He sniffed. ‘Not that you'd know it from their brass plate. You can't read it any more. Worn out by polishing.'

‘Old established.' Sid nodded. The firm of Wetherspoon and Wetherspoon had begun with a horse and cart in Sid's grandfather's day which made the removal men johnnys-come-lately in comparison with the law practice. ‘Always been around here in Berebury, the Puckles.'

‘And always making money out of other people's misfortunes,' added Wayne Goddard bitterly, wiping a watery eye.

‘Well…' Sid took the opportunity to lower the ottoman to the floor once more while he considered this.

Wayne wrinkled up his nose. ‘That's all that solicitors do, isn't it? Prey on the unlucky.'

‘They'll be making money all right here at Whimbrel House,' said Sid Wetherspoon, deciding not to enquire too closely into how Wayne Goddard had come to know so much about the members of the local legal profession at his tender age.

‘I'll bet.' Goddard seconded this warmly.

‘They do say,' went on Sid profoundly, ‘that some rain falls in every life though I couldn't tell you about the misfortune bit, I'm sure.' He screwed up his face in an effort of recollection. ‘I must say I've never heard of old Colonel Caversham having had more than his fair share of trouble in this world.'

‘Lucky sod him, then,' said Goddard, making it quite clear that he thought he'd already had his own mede of difficulties.

‘The only trouble the colonel had,' said Sid doggedly, ‘was in dying. From all accounts he took his time about that.'

Goddard pointed across the room. ‘Bet those two vultures over there didn't lose interest. Not nohow.'

‘No,' agreed Sid fairly. ‘They stuck around all right, and when the old boy did die at last they gave us all this work.'

‘But,' admitted Goddard, who was not interested in anyone who was old let alone dead, still gazing across the big room, ‘I don't know who the guy with Mr Puckle is. The geezer in the dark blue jacket and brown moccasins…'

‘That,' said Sid Wetherspoon impressively, ‘is our Mr Marcus Fixby-Smith.'

‘And who's he when he comes out from under all that hair?'

Wetherspoon looked across at the man with the middling flowing locks and then back at Wayne's skinhead haircut and decided he didn't greatly care for either style. ‘Mr Fixby-Smith over there is the Curator of the Greatorex Museum in Granary Row.'

‘Can't afford a good barber, I suppose.' Wayne's glance travelled appraisingly over the other man, taking in with a certain contempt the expensive grey woollen polo-neck jumper and well-cut blue denim jeans the curator was wearing.

‘I expect he likes that floppy fringe,' said Sid slyly. ‘Keeps his head warm.'

‘He's out of touch, that's all,' said Wayne Goddard loftily. He himself was wearing a dark green Puffa jacket over a long-sleeved grubby white T-shirt.

‘Is he now? Well, I never…' Sid had already noticed that Wayne's T-shirt was sporting a motif which had struck him as vaguely obscene. It was accompanied by blue shell-suit trousers and a pair of old trainers which might once have been white. If so, it was a long time ago.

‘Doesn't he know,' remarked Wayne largely, ‘that all that gear is right out now?'

‘Don't suppose so,' said his new employer equably. ‘Museums aren't what you might call up to date.'

‘Marked down everywhere, those clothes.'

Neither Sidney Wetherspoon nor Marcus Fixby-Smith would have ever credited the total retail price of Wayne's current outfit. The manager of the Job Centre, though, knew what it would have cost down to the last penny – in the unlikely event, that is, of its having been bought over the counter for real money.

‘You don't say,' murmured Sid, who didn't ever buy new clothes until his wife made him.

‘So what's that man doing here with Mr Puckle, then?' asked Wayne Goddard. He had cottoned on very quickly to the fact that his new employer preferred standing and talking to lifting heavy furniture.

So did Wayne.

‘Making sure that he gets his pound of flesh from the colonel's leavings, I expect,' said Wetherspoon, ‘seeing as how the museum's been left all the non-literary artefacts in the colonel's unsecured estate.'

‘What's unsecured estate?' asked Wayne alertly.

‘Not what you think, my boy,' retorted Sid. ‘It means what the colonel could leave as he wanted to. Not tied up for his heirs and successors.'

‘Who gets the rest then?'

‘You may well ask,' said Sid enigmatically. ‘The other thing that pair over there are doing,' he added without heat, ‘is making quite sure that we don't get any of this unsecured stuff either.'

‘Wouldn't have thought you'd have wanted any of it anyway,' said Wayne Goddard, unwittingly at one and the same time sealing his own long-term future in the removal trade and making more work for the manager of the Berebury Job Centre. ‘Looks like a real load of old tat to me.'

‘It's all souvenirs of primitive places,' said Sid, casting an appraising glance at the various spots on Wayne's anatomy where his skin had been pierced for the suspension of gold ornaments, ‘where the natives stuck rings into their noses and ears. They didn't know any better, of course,' he added with a straight face. ‘Not being civilized like us.'

The irony passed Goddard by. ‘You'd never get anyone to buy any of this rubbish off you if you did half-inch it…'

BOOK: Little Knell
9.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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