Friday, 29 August 2014

HELP! My neighbour's missing

...or is he just down at the allotment? These days, you can't be too careful, says a worried VG Lee

6.58am: Tommy Thomson, elder statesman of my feline world, sits in the bedroom doorway and fixes me with his one good eye. ‘Come on slowcoach! Breakfast time.’

I don my brocade dressing gown – which ideally should be accessorised with a cravat, leather slippers and a briar pipe – before peering out of the window. I watch the top of my neighbour Ted’s head disappearing into his sentry box of a greenhouse. Strange. Ted rarely seizes the day before mid-morning.

Downstairs in the kitchen, I switch on Radio 4. The newsreader is telling me that one person goes missing every two minutes, which makes me again think of Ted. There have been several inexplicable absences recently when he has claimed to be in the reference library looking up celebrity gardener Monty Don’s opinion on purple sprouting broccoli but has actually been spotted (by me) coming out of a house in the next road.

I telephone Ted. No reply. Try again. Nothing. I begin to worry – well, just a little – he is an octogenarian after all.

‘Ted,’ I bark over his answerphone message. ‘I know you’re there. Pick up!’

Ted doesn’t pick up.

I peer through venetian blinds to check that his car is parked outside. It is. Make a mental note that if I ever win The Lottery (which is unlikely as I never buy a lottery ticket) to change impossible-to-clean venetians for stylish oatmeal linen blinds throughout.

Go in garden and look over the communal wall. Greenhouse empty. Kitchen door closed. No sign of Ted tending his racks of bonsai-ed trees of the British Isles.

7.05am: Take mobile phone from dressing-gown pocket and do what I generally do when on horns of dilemma: ring Deirdre.

‘Deirdre, Ted’s disappeared!’

‘Is he lying on the floor of his greenhouse?’ she asks.

‘His greenhouse is far too narrow to facilitate collapsing. All he could do was lean at a slight angle.’ 

‘Perhaps he’s gone to the corner shop for milk. I’ll check.’

Deirdre lives opposite the corner shop. I hear her opening her front door and then a few minutes later, distant shouting, ‘Ted! Are you over by the yoghurt?’

Do not hear response but after 30 seconds there is the sound of her returning footsteps. ‘No sign of him,’ she pants. ‘I’ll be round in five. We’d better check his house.’

7.14am: Fully dressed and carrying Ted’s spare keys, I meet her on his front step and ring the doorbell. Deirdre winces at electronic rendition of Oranges And Lemons. Novelty doorbells are just one of her particular dislikes.

I press my face against the glass door panel but can see very little due to etched floral motif.

‘While we’re pussyfooting about, Ted could be fighting off intruders,’ she says.

I am not keen to help Ted fight off intruders but feel that Deirdre is more than a match for anyone, so I unlock the door only to see my own Tommy Thomson hurriedly exiting Ted’s kitchen. He licks his lips and looks apologetic.

‘I’ll have a word with you later,’ I tell TT ’s buttocks and back legs as they disappear through the cat flap.

Ted not in kitchen or front room, although a mug of coffee is cooling on the arm of his sofa. We proceed upstairs. Nobody – also no body – in spare room. Return to landing and approach Ted’s bedroom door.

I tap circumspectly. Silence. I turn to Deirdre. ‘Do you want to go in first?’

‘No,’ she answers firmly. ‘You are Ted’s neighbour.’

Feel inclined to point out that Deirdre has recently been meeting Ted for tea and gateau without including me in the excursion, but feel this isn’t the best moment.

There is no sign of Ted in his bedroom, but it has been a long time since I’d seen a candlewick counterpane. I pat it gingerly, imagining Ted’s body lying flattened and concealed beneath. ‘Check the cupboards,’ Deirdre instructs.

No sign of him in his cupboards. I even check the laundry basket.

Deirdre knocks on the bathroom door. ‘Ted, I’m coming in.’

She pushes the door open. A towel lies on the floor. There are soap bubbles around the bath plug and a pair of pyjamas is neatly folded on the lavatory seat. It is like a scene from the Marie Celeste, although in descriptions of Marie Celeste, I don’t believe bathrooms got much of a mention.

‘He’s not been long out of that bath,’ Inspector Deirdre observes.

7.40am: We are on Ted’s allotment. We look in places that Ted wouldn’t even fit: behind the bench, under the bench, inside his runner-bean wigwam. In the distance we hear laughter.

Deirdre says grimly, ‘There’s something unseemly about laughter before 8am.’ Then she slaps her knee. ‘Come on. We didn’t look in the loft. Men love mucking about in lofts and sheds.’

7.55am: Deirdre is mounting Ted’s loft ladder. ‘Hold it steady,’ she shouts down at me.

‘Deirdre, shouldn’t we just ring Missing Persons?’

‘What the devil’s GOING ON?’

Ted is behind me on the stairs brandishing his home-whittled walking stick as if it was a cudgel.

Deirdre pauses halfway up the ladder. ‘More to the point, where have you been?’

‘I was on the allotment.’

‘We checked your allotment.’

Ted looks sheepish. ‘I didn’t say I was on my allotment. Alma called for me at seven.’

‘Alma?’ Deirdre and I chorus.

‘Woman from the next road. You should have seen the size of her kumquats.’ Deirdre joins us on the landing. ‘And was that Alma we could hear laughing immoderately?’

‘Could have been. She seemed to find me rather entertaining.’

‘Don’t we all?’ Deirdre countered acidly.

‘The next time you go walk about, you’re on your own.’

‘Well, not necessarily…’ Ted waxed an invisible moustache.

Always You, Edina, by VG Lee, is published by Ward Wood Publishing, priced £9.99.


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