Six Months Earlier…
Em scowled at the knitting pattern. How was any right-thinking person supposed to make head or tail of such a load of gibberish? Screwing up the photocopied sheet she lobbed it into the fire. The wool and the knitting sticks barely escaped the same fate.
“Vanderbilts don’t knit,” she said firmly before going to the kitchen and picking up the phone. She dialled three digits.
“Agnes. How are you getting on with the knitting?”
She listened intently for a moment then laughed a deep belly laugh.
“I’m rather glad it isn’t just me. Do we know anybody who can knit?”
She listened some more.
“You can’t be serious. Arnold the gravedigger is a competitive knitter?”
The tinny voice at the other end of the line gabbled on and on. Em listened patiently for a while before gently replacing the receiver in its cradle. Agnes wouldn’t even know she had gone.
It was a bright sort of a spring day, and in theory ideal for cycling. But Em had never been one for uselessly expending energy. She carefully closed the wood burner, patted Erasmus on his head as he swung from his favourite beam and picked up the car keys in one hand.
Bowling down the badly-maintained tarmac she couldn’t help noticing the ‘sold’ sign on what had been Florence Maybush’s cottage until the meddlesome old bat got herself run over by a tractor she was stalking with the speed gun she had ordered from Amazon.
Her family had no need of a tumbledown thatched monstrosity that squatted at the end of a huge and totally undomesticated garden. Consequently, they had been delighted to accept an offer from the local builder, only to descend into foetid sulks when that canny individual obtained planning permission for ten neat little homes on the garden. Rumour had it that when the houses were built and sold at a tidy profit, old Fred Maybush ground his teeth so hard he went through a new set of dentures.
Once the Maybush estate was all sold, the builder turned his attention to the cottage, gutting it and carefully rebuilding it so it was even more inconveniently twee than it had ever been. If now weathertight and electrically sound. He then put it on the market at a ridiculously elevated price.
It sold in three days.
Rumour had it that the buyer was a ‘lifestyle blogger’ from London, who was running away from her menopause. Em ground her teeth at the very thought.
But for now she dismissed the whole Maybush situation as being something to deal with later and concentrated on piloting her piss-yellow Citroen Dyan around the potholes and up the rutted lane to the house Arnold shared with his mother.
Em knocked and the old lady came to the door. Her forehead creased in an unwelcoming frown and her hands made various signs against enchantment, but she bobbed a sort of a curtsey.
“Come you right in mistress.”
Em went right on in but showed her teeth to the cringing woman.
“It’s all right you silly old bat, I’ve come to talk to Arnold about knitting.”
“Got a week to spare, have you?”
Arnold came into the cramped hallway, just about filling it with his muscular bulk.
“Go and put the kettle on Ma.”
She went, and he ushered Em into a spotlessly clean sitting room where a small fire burned in the gleaming hearth. The cat that lounged on the hearth rug took one look at Em and ran, hissing and spitting from the room. Em sat down.
“They tell me you are something of a knitter.”
He grinned. “You could say that.”
“And do you knit to commission?”
“Not normally. But I could be persuaded.”
Em was normally wary of being asked for favours, but Arnold had always seemed as stolid and unimaginative as a block wall so she guessed his wants would be as mundane as his face.
“It’s the bats. The ones in the belfry. They hate the vicar, which is fair enough. Everybody hates the vicar. But not everybody is having a dirty protest by crapping all over the church. Only it ain’t the vicar who has to clean up after them. It’s me.”
“Oh. Right. I see. But why now?”
“He reckons he’s getting the exterminator in.”
“Stupid little man. He could go to prison for that. The bats are a protected species.”
“Yeah. He knows that but he reckons nobody will find out what he’s up to.”
“I’ll speak to the council, and get Erasmus to have a word with the bats. Will that do you?”
“That seems more than fair. Now what do you want knitting?”
He raised his fair brows. “A toy?’
“Yes.” Em said snippily. “A toy. For the agricultural show. The basket of crafts. Great Snoringham Ladies have won it so often they are thinking of just giving them the trophy. And we can’t have that now. Can we?”
He smiled a slow smile of complete understanding.
“No. We can’t. Is there a specific pattern?”
Em dragged a piece of crumpled paper out of her cardigan pocket. “Doesn’t seem to be, just says a knitted toy of between six and twelve inches in height.”
“Oh well. Come you into my knitting room and we’ll see what I have.”
Two hours later, and sick to the back teeth of knitting, Em left the cottage with a bulging carrier bag in her hand.
Driving home, she was amused to see a large removal lorry trying to reverse into Maybush Cottage. It was being directed by a wispy looking female dressed in what looked to Em to be rather a lot of unconnected bits of hand-printed cotton. She also appeared to have beads around her ankles. Em made a disgusted noise in her throat and went home to phone the council about bats.