Much Dithering in Little Botheringham – 4

‘Much Dithering in Little Botheringham’ is an everyday tale of village life and vampires, from Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook.

Wednesday lunchtime meant a meeting of the committee of the Ladies’ Association and even more than the usual amount of irritatingly halfwitted ‘ideas’ to attract ‘new blood’. Em had, in the end, just vetoed the lot – which hadn’t done much for her personal popularity, but at least it headed off any of the possible complications that any sort of blood would bring to the equation.
However, the meeting had ended with a bucketload of bitchiness and backbiting, and Em actually felt tired enough that Agnes’ Parthian shot on leaving had made more impression than it would have done on a better day.
“Anyway Emmeline Vanderbilt, we aren’t quorate any more. How can we be a seven when there are only six of us? It’s been more than a year since Florence passed. And you’ve yet to do your duty.”
Em had replied with a spectacularly rude gesture she would probably regret if she thought about it. So she drove home deliberately thinking only about the dilatoriness of the council in the matter of the bats in the belfry. It was, she thought, time for a ‘gentle reminder’.
But when she got to her house there was a far more pressing problem blocking the driveway. It was her supermarket delivery. On the wrong day. At the wrong time. The delivery driver, who knew her of old, cringed as the Citroen missed the back of his van by about three centimetres.
Em leapt from the driving seat like a scalded cat. “You are here today because?”
“Because I’m delivering your groceries.” he essayed a smile that sort of slid off his face as Em placed her hands on her skinny hips.
“I can see that. But why today?”
“Somebody cocked up?” the driver hazarded.
“Indeed somebody did. And it wasn’t me.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t. Will I take this lot away then?”
“What? And have the next available delivery slot be three weeks Thursday at five am? No. Bring it in and I’ll check it off my list.”
The driver winced but began unloading. By the time he had the second box out of the van Em had in front of her incontrovertible proof he should’ve been at her house at eight am. Tomorrow. She ground her teeth and went straight for live chat. 
“You might as well put the kettle on as you are going nowhere until I get this sorted.”
The driver shrunk even further into his skin, making him look like a pissed-off tortoise, but he moved the kettle onto the hot plate before stoically carrying on with his unloading. When he finished, Em handed him a printed list.
“You want to check my delivery for me, while I explain to Morag in Edinburgh why it’s not acceptable to move my delivery slot without telling me. Oh and make a pot of tea while you are at it.”
Being aware that he wasn’t going to get away before Em was satisfied, he obliged. Once the  tea was properly brewed, he poured two mugs, handing one to his ‘hostess’ and burying his own nose in the other before getting on with checking the goods against the order.
He had just about finished his check when Em gave a satisfied chuckle. “I thought she’d see it my way in the end. Now. How much of the delivery is wrong?”
The driver indicated a neat pile at the end of the table.
“That much.”
“And how much of that is sensible replacement?”
“Ummm. About none.”
“Right, scoot it this way and grab yourself a biscuit. Brown tin on the dresser.”
He grabbed the tin and sat down, morosely eating ginger biscuits while he tried to calculate how far behind this little fracas was likely to have made him. He reckoned it’d be the best part of two hours before he escaped and his mind’s eye saw the darts match and a buxom barmaid he very much admired disappearing over the horizon. He sighed gustily and Em flicked a hand at him. He subsided into injured silence, whilst Em carried on castigating the unfortunate Morag.
Twenty-five minutes later she sat back in her chair.
“Are you still here, man?”
“Until you move your car from behind the van here is where I’ll remain.”
“Oh yes. I’d forgotten that.”
He knew she wasn’t the type of female to forget anything, but he also understood that anything other than absolute obedience wasn’t going to get him released to finish his deliveries in time to at least get a pint before last orders. This being the case he ducked his head.
“Am I taking this lot back?” He indicated the pile of incorrect goods with a thumb.
Em showed two rows of excellent teeth in a wolfish grin. “No. You’re leaving them. I’m just not paying for them. Now. Where’s my cold stuff?”
“Fridge and freezer. I don’t like to see waste.”
“Oh. Thank you.” Em looked at the unprepossessing driver whose uniform fleece and steel-toe-capped boots only served to emphasise his skinny wrinkled frame. She felt unusual stirrings of guilt and scrabbled in her handbag for a tip. She rooted out a twenty and shoved it at him. 
“Here. Get yourself a pint  and a pasty.”
She whisked out of the kitchen and was backing the Citroen out of the drive by the time he managed to gather his scattered wits…
Once he was gone, Em found herself unaccountably depressed and not even the prospect of a battle of wills with the laodicean council employee tasked with the collection of data on protected species offered any prospect of joy. She was just wondering whether or not to phone Agnes and offer an olive branch when the cheerful pipping of a car horn lifted her from her lethargy. 
It was Agnes.
Of course it was.
Agnes and a box of fresh doughnuts. Dumping the doughnuts on the table Em’s oldest friend pulled the kettle onto the hot plate.
“Sorry Em. I was bang out of order.”
“Me too. I’m just a bit out of sorts right now. And I’m not entirely sure why.”
“Me too and me neither.”
“There’s something isn’t there?”
“Yes. There is. Ruby says she has been feeling irritable in her skin ever since this vicar came to the parish. Reckons there is something not right about him.”
“What? Even more not right than being very well aware that he’s wet dream material for every impressionable female for miles around? And not above making use of it!”
“Apparently. And she is very far from being an imaginative type. If it had been Petunia…”
“Indeed.”
Em became aware of a thought that had been itching away in the back of her head for days. Maybe Erasmus would help. But she kept that thought to herself as Agnes wasn’t really a bat person. Instead of giving voice to a very nebulous idea she helped herself to a large jam doughnut and made two tall mugs of the special tea that she and her sisters used to sustain themselves.
An hour later Agnes set off home and Em felt very much better. So much so that she reached out a hand for the phone intending to sort out the council once and for all. But before she could pick it up it uttered its shrill command for her attention. Leaving it to ring five times she looked at the number and for a moment she thought it was Florence Maybush calling her from beyond the grave. Em mentally admonished herself before picking up the receiver in a not entirely steady hand.
“Em Vanderbilt speaking.”
The voice at the other end of the line was fussy and wispy and bore traces of London hidden under its careful middle-class modulation.
“Good afternoon Ms Vanderbilt, my name is Virginia Cropper and I have recently moved into Maybush Cottage.”
That explained the number and Em felt a surge of relief. She injected cautious bonhomie into her voice.
“Welcome to Little Botheringham, Mrs Cropper.”
There was a verbal buzzing noise from the phone.
“I’m sorry?”
“I said ‘Mzzz’. I’m not married. Well, not anymore and even when I was I wasn’t Mrs. Cropper that’s my… Oh well, I’m sure you aren’t interested in all that. I’m wittering. Don’t mind me.”
Em was glad she was on the phone and her smile wouldn’t show.
“Then welcome to Little Botheringham, Ms. Cropper,” she corrected.
“Oh. Thank you. It seems a beautiful place and I’m sure I’m settling in well. I was calling because I understand that you are the person to speak to about joining the Ladies’ Society.”
A small voice in Em’s head laughed sardonically at the thought of another ‘lady’ from that address, but she kept her voice neutral.
“New members are always welcome. Our next meeting is on the first of the month in the village hall at seven pm. Just pop along and I’ll be delighted to sign you up.”
“Oh. Right. Thank you.”
“We will look forward to seeing you.”
Em put the phone down and suppressed an inward sigh. This female didn’t sound a bit her sort, but the society needed new membership. Consigning the woman to the back of her mind Em geared herself up for an enjoyable verbal punch-up with the county council as represented by the dragon who woman-ed the switchboard and the lazy sods in animal protection.

Part 5 of Much Dithering in Little Botheringham by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook, will be here next week.

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