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No Time For Sitting Around, Frederick!by Julie Heginbotham
"Isn't it lovely just relaxing out here in the sun," said Bets, looking at the other Find-Outers, all stretched out on garden loungers in Fatty and Bets' garden. "Not a sound to be heard, just the song of the birds."
"And Buster's snoring," said Larry, in lazy tones, glancing at the dog, asleep in his basket, in the shade of a large beech tree.
Fatty and Bets looked at each other and grinned. "He's had a long walk this morning," said Fatty, in amused tones. "We took him around Burnham Beeches."
"I've not been there for a while," said Pip, matter-of-factly. "Mary and I should do really, living as close as we do."
"That's always the way," said Bets. "If you live quite close to a beauty spot, you tend not to use it. Whilst others travel miles."
"Really?" Said Larry, nonchalantly.
"You're getting very sarcastic since you reached eighty," said Daisy, sending her brother a wry smile.
"That's the beauty of being elderly," said Larry, with a grin. "I can say what I like now, and push the supermarket trolley as slow as I like, blocking the lanes."
Everyone laughed. It was a standard joke between them all that some of their friends just strolled along the aisles of the supermarket, blocking the aisles with their trolleys, as they gazed at all the shelves. But the Find-Outers were all in agreement. They hated the weekly supermarket shop and raced around at top speed, not spending a moment longer in the congestion as they needed to.
"Well if this weather stays like this all summer it's going to be heaven," said Fatty, picking up his can of beer and draining the last drops. "Does anyone want another?"
Pip and Larry looked at Fatty and said, "I'll have one." Bets rose from her lounger and asked Daisy if she fancied a tea instead.
"Please," said Daisy, with a smile. "A mug will do. Don't worry about making a pot."
It was whilst they were all sat enjoying their drinks, that Buster's ears pricked up on hearing the side gate opening and closing. "Wonder who this is, disturbing our lazy afternoon?" said Fatty, turning to watch Buster who was now racing down the garden to greet their visitor.
"Hello, Buster," they heard someone say, as Lisa appeared from the side of the house.
"Lisa, hello dear," said Bets, sending the young woman a smile. "Come and join us, we're having a lazy afternoon in the sunshine."
"Hello everyone," said Lisa, looking around at the Find-Outers, a worried expression foremost on her face which didn't go un-noticed.
"What's the matter my dear?" asked Fatty, sitting upright. All the others by this time we're sitting up on the loungers wondering what could be wrong.
"It's Grandmother," she began, in concerned tones, looking beseechingly at them all. "she's missing."
"What exactly do you mean, by missing?" asked Fatty, looking puzzled
"I rang her last night, and there was no answer," began Lisa, looking around at everyone, "so I came over this morning. There was no answer when I rang the bell, so I let myself in, as Grandmother's given me a key. I waited in all morning, and then had the idea of ringing her mobile. I heard it ringing upstairs, so I went up to her room and found the phone on her dressing table, and that's when I discovered her bed hadn't been slept in."
The Find-Outers sent each other questioning glances on hearing Lisa's words, all puzzled as to Hilary's whereabouts.
"She could have gone away on holiday for a few days, and forgotten to mention it to you," said Daisy, the thought just occurring to her.
Lisa shook her head. "She wouldn't forget to tell me. Besides, all her clothes are in the wardrobe. I'm really worried; something has got to have happened. I even rang the hospital to see if she's been admitted but she hasn't."
"Are there any tell tales signs of her suddenly having to leave the house?" asked Fatty, trying to think of what else could have happened.
Lisa was quiet a moment, trying to think, then she said with wide eyes. "The pots were left in the sink to wash. I did then for her when I saw them, oh, and a local paper was on the table with her reading glasses besides it."
"Right," said Fatty, brightly. "So she must have been reading the local paper." He turned to Bets. "Have we got ours, dear?"
Bets nodded, and rose from the lounger, saying. "I'll get it."
Within minutes she was back, spreading it out on the picnic table on the patio, and everyone left their loungers and crowded round to peer over Fatty's shoulder as he slowly turned the pages.
Six pairs of eyes looked up and down each page as Fatty turned over one after the other, before he stopped at a large brightly coloured advert for a circus over in Barker's field, the large black letters of RICARDO'S CIRCUS causing him to pause and think.
"Now that name rings a bell," he said slowly, glancing at Lisa.
"It does with me too," said Daisy and Bets almost together.
"It should do," said Lisa, with wide eyes of excitement as she looked at each of them in turn. "Ricardo is the name of my Mother's father. My Grandfather."
"Of course," said Daisy, in amazement. "Hilary told us about Ricardo from the circus, and how her parents had stopped her seeing him, even though she was expecting his child."
"Panic over then," said Larry, with a shrug of his shoulders, resting back down on the lounger. "That's where she'll have gone."
"But she was out all night," said Lisa, in sharp tones, looking over at Larry.
"Well she is a grown woman," he returned, lazily. "She can come and go as she pleases."
"Well I'm worried," said Lisa, turning back to Fatty. "I think we should all go over to Barker's field and find out if she's there."
"And if she is, what do we say?" put in Pip, with a raised brow. "Sorry to disturb your cosy little love nest, but..."
"Don't be so facetious," Lisa interrupted him, angrily. "This is serious, I'm worried about her."
Bets sympathized. "Look Lisa, let's just wait a while longer and see if she comes home."
Lisa looked around at the others. "Don't worry, I'll go over and find her myself. You're all obviously too busy lazing around to care."
"Hang on, Lisa," said Fatty, in firm tones. "Don't be like that. We are all retired and entitled to relax occasionally."
Lisa shrugged. "Sorry to have bothered you all. Being a friend of hers I thought you'd all be concerned."
"We are," said Bets, softly. "And we know how worried you're feeling. But I think if Hilary has gone over to find Ricardo, they'll have a lot of catching up to do." She smiled at Lisa, trying to calm her anxiety.
Lisa smiled weakly. "Maybe, but I'll have to go over and see if I can find her."
"In that case, we'll all come," said Daisy, rising to her feet and beckoning the others to follow suit.
"Okay, okay," said Fatty, in exasperated tones, and speaking quietly to himself, but just loud enough for the others to hear and grin. "No time for sitting around Frederick, there's a mystery to solve."
* * *
Barkers Field was a hive of industry with the circus folk practising their arts on any spare piece of ground. One or two dogs came up to them with a low growl, and Fatty was glad they'd left Buster at home snoozing away the afternoon. Someone came up and approached them saying, that if they wanted to buy tickets for the circus that evening, the booking tent was just at the entrance.
"We're actually looking for someone," said Fatty, politely. "Ricardo. Do you know where we'll find him?"
The youngish man before them looked around at them all, clearly wondering what on earth a bunch of pensioners wanted with Ricardo. "Depends on which Ricardo you want," he said, casually, with a shrug of his shoulders. "There's Ricardo my Father, or Ricardo my Grandfather."
Fatty smiled, trying to resist the urge to put this young man clearly in his place. "I think it's your grandfather we need to see," he finished, firmly.
With a nod of indication, the young man, said. "He's over there in the caravan nearest the hedge," before strolling off, with hands thrust firmly in the pockets of his torn jeans.
"Untidy lout," snapped Lisa, coming out from behind Larry, where she'd been keeping out of the way.
"I don't know what you were hiding for," said Larry, sternly at her. "We're only here because of you, anyway."
"Not just because of me," said Lisa, defensively, "but to try and find your friend, Hilary."
"I've just had a thought," said Daisy, slowly. "If that young man said Ricardo was his grandfather, then he's got to be related to you, Lisa."
"Oh, yes," came the chorus from grinning faces.
"Okay, there's no need to rub it in," said Lisa, good-naturedly.
"That must be the caravan," said Fatty, with a nod of his head, looking over at a very elegant looking caravan, edged with brightly polished chrome.
"What shall we do?" said Bets, quietly to the others, as they stopped before the caravan. "I feel a bit awkward now that we're here. What if Hilary isn't here?"
"There's one way of finding out," said Daisy, taking the initiative and knocking on the door, casting a glance at the eagerly awaiting faces of the other Find-Outers.
The door was opened by Hilary herself, who seemed surprised to see Daisy standing before her and the others close by. Her eyes came to rest on Lisa, and Daisy could have sworn she saw a sadness cross Hilary's face. "What are you all doing here?" she asked, vaguely.
Lisa came forward. "I was worried about you. You've been out all night. I had to call on Frederick to see if he knew where you were."
Hilary's glance swept over their faces and came to rest on Fatty's. "You really are a detective, aren't you?"
"As Lisa's said," he began, with a small smile, "she was worried about you."
"Well there's no need," Hilary returned, softly. "As you can see, I'm fine, so you may as well all go back home."
"Do we take it that you've finally met up with Ricardo?" asked Daisy, with a smile, not being put off now they'd found Hilary's whereabouts.
Hilary pulled the door behind her as she stepped forward. "Yes, and we've a lot to talk about and discuss," she whispered to everyone. "Many years have passed since we last met, and that's all I can say at the moment."
"Can't I meet my Grandfather now that I'm here?" asked Lisa, raising a questioning brow.
"He's sleeping," came the surprised reply, "and I'm not going to disturb him."
"Why are you being so secretive?" said Lisa, wondering what on earth was going on and having no intention of leaving without finding out exactly who her grandfather was.
Bets stepped forward and gently pulled on Lisa's arm. "Hilary will tell us everything when she gets home."
Lisa looked at her grandmother appealingly. "Is there something I should know?"
Hilary looked at Lisa with tears springing to her eyes, and the others walked closer wondering what it could possibly be that seemed to be upsetting Hilary so.
"Maybe it's time we left," said Fatty, gently, putting a hand onto Lisa's shoulder. He looked at Hilary sensing the news was not good.
Hilary glanced around at the concerned faces of her friends and then back at her own granddaughter. She had to know at some point and Hilary knew Lisa was not one to be put off. Taking a deep breath and swallowing the lump in her throat she said softly, "Ricardo is dying, Lisa. His time now is limited to just days."
* * *
It was a rather forlorn group of Find-Outers who made their way back to the White House. Lisa had stayed behind, as Hilary had said she may as well meet her long lost grandfather whilst she still could.
"I still keep thinking about what Hilary said to us," said Bets, softly, as they neared the house. "She looked so sad when she said, that, after all this time they'd finally met with much to say and now it turns out that they have little time in which to say everything they want to."
"Yes, a sober thought," said Daisy, with a nod of her head. "How cruel life can be sometimes."
"None of us know what's round the corner of life," said Pip, in serious tones. "You just have to grab the opportunities whilst you can, and get on with things."
"They've got a lot to say to each other," said Larry. "I just hope for Hilary's sake there's enough time."
"It's so sad that her suddenly found happiness is going to be so short lived," said Bets, with a sigh. "After all this time, and so many wasted years." Bets shook her head. "Hilary told me she'd always loved him. And now that she's found him..." Bets left the words in the air.
"I think we all need a drink," said Fatty, opening the gate for them all to walk through. "I'm sure we'll know soon enough from Hilary or Lisa how the talks have gone. I just hope that the doctors are wrong, and that the days he has left turn into weeks."
The others nodded silently, and walked into the White House to be greeted by an excited Buster.
* * *
"I can't believe you've made such a request," said Fatty, in astonishment, looking at Hilary and Lisa between them. "Have you both lost your marbles?"
They were sitting around Bets and Fatty's large kitchen table, with the other Find-Outers, who were just as astonished as Fatty at Hilary and Lisa's request, when they'd called around the following morning.
Lisa looked at the little group, appealingly and reiterated her words. "Look, I know it's an unusual request, Frederick, but it means so much to my Grandfather and I'm not asking you to do the deed, only for you to drive me there so I can do the rest."
"Look, let's just go over this one more time," said Larry, trying to grasp the situation. "You want Fatty to drive you over to Sheepsale tomorrow night, so you can break into a house which is owned by your grandfather's younger brother, and steal the family heirloom, which is a gold plate, studded with rubies."
"Yes," said Lisa, in exasperated tones. "I told you, the plate should have been handed to Ricardo when their father died, as he was the first son to have a child, my Mother. But because he hadn't married Hilary and his younger brother, Carlos was married and his wife was expecting their first born, he took the plate from their father, telling him that Ricardo had agreed to him having the plate instead of Ricardo."
"There had been a row about it all," Hilary interrupted Lisa, "all because Ricardo couldn't marry me and didn't even know where I was at the time. Their father had told them to sort it out amongst themselves and that he would hand the plate over when they'd sorted it. But Carlos went to his father and lied, saying that Ricardo had agreed that Carlos should take the heirloom and so he was handed the plate when their father died, which is the custom for this family. The keeper has to hand the plate over on death to his or her eldest born and so on."
"But why didn't Ricardo just take it back from his brother?" asked Daisy, in puzzlement.
"They had a blazing row and went their separate ways," said Hilary. "Ricardo always knew from the family where Carlos was when travelling with his own circus, but he handed his business over to his own family some years back and now lives in Sheepsale."
"So now that Ricardo is dying from his cancer, he wants to give you this heirloom as is the family tradition, for you to hand it over to Alison, the first born child of yours and Ricardos," said Bets, looking at Hilary.
"That's right," she nodded, with a smile. "He won't die peacefully until he's secured the family's rights."
"So all I'm asking, Frederick, is for you to drive me over to Sheepsale, so I can break into Carlos's house tomorrow night and take back what is rightfully Mother's," said Lisa.
"Well that seems like a reasonable request," said Pip, looking at Fatty with a grin.
"I'm an ex-commander of police," said Fatty, in exasperated tones. "I can't go along with such a ridiculous plight.
"Lisa's not asking you to break into the house, Fatty," said Bets, looking at him with excited eyes, "she just wants you to drive her over there as she's no car at present."
Fatty looked at her in astonishment. "Bets, you of all people don't think I could possibly be responsible for driving Lisa over to Sheepsale knowing she was about to break into someone's house. The idea is preposterous!"
"Don't be so stuffy, Fatty," said Daisy, in lazy tones. "What harm could it do? Think about it this way. The plate has already been acquired illegally by lies and deceit. All Lisa wants to do is to return it to the rightful owner. Now what is wrong with that?
"Her breaking into a house," returned Fatty, firmly, with a glare at Daisy.
"I may not have to break in," said Lisa. "I may find an opened window."
Fatty looked at Lisa with a firm glare. "Don't be so flippant, this is serious."
"You're getting this out of all proportion, Fatty," said Bets, lightly. "I think it's a reasonable request for righteousness and if you won't drive Lisa over to Sheepsale, I will."
Fatty looked at Bets as if he couldn't believe what he'd just heard her say. "You will not!" he returned, firmly.
"Then I will," said Larry, suddenly, looking around at the group with a smile. "Why not? The plate was stolen in the first place. All Lisa is doing is getting it back, at the request of her dying grandfather. That's good enough for me."
"Good for you, Larry," said Daisy, with a nod of her head. "Let's just think about it. What have we done nearly all our lives? Helped solved mysteries as children so the bad guys were locked up and the innocent helped. Fatty here has put away many a criminal and worked for justice. Larry has helped people legally who've been wronged. Pip has taught children right from wrong, and Bets has helped the sick. What Lisa is asking is for justice, something we all agree on. So it's nothing out of the ordinary for us. In fact, I'll go with you both," finished Daisy, with a slight nod of satisfaction.
"So will I," said Pip. "That plate belongs in the right hands, not the wrong hands."
"In that case, I'll come along too," said Bets, firmly, sending Fatty a defiant look. "I could do with a bit of excitement in my life, for a change."
Fatty looked around at everyone as if they were on another planet. "We've all had nothing but excitement, since I moved back to Peterswood. Only this year, Bets you were left stranded on a cliff face. We've been held at gunpoint by William Goon. Isn't that enough excitement?"
"Yes, and it's what makes us feel alive," said Daisy, with a smile. "In fact, I think we should hire ourselves out as private detectives. Think of the possible cases we could get."
"I think you've all been on the loopy juice," said Fatty, with a slight shrug.
"Come on Frederick, come with us tomorrow night," said Lisa, with a bright smile. "You won't be breaking the law, think of it as fulfilling a dying man's last request. Why only the other week on the T.V. Chief Inspector Barnaby knew who a particular thief was in this episode and he let her go because she promised to give everything back," finished off Lisa, with conviction in her voice.
"Oh yes, that was Midsomer Murders," began Daisy, with a smile. "That was a really good episode I thought. One of the best."
Fatty shook his head slowly in exasperation. "That's just a drama on T.V. It's not real life, its entertainment."
"But the principle's the same," shrugged Larry, lightly.
Fatty fell silent and the others all looked at him with baited breath. He was still their leader, and whatever he decided on they knew they would have to go along with his decision. Fatty looked around the table at his friends and in the eyes of his greatest friend and lover. He gave a small smile and with a slight nod of his head said. "I've a feeling I'm going to regret this. Okay, you all win. What's the plan?"
Lisa jumped up with a shout of glee and rushed to Fatty, putting her arms around his neck and kissing his head. The others laughed at his flushed face as he tried to look as nonchalant as possible. Buster started to bark, wanting to join in with the excitement that had suddenly risen.
"Right, listen up everyone," began Lisa, sitting back at the table and putting on a serious expression. The others grew closer at the table, suddenly feeling a thrill of excitement rushing through their veins at the thought of tomorrow evening. "This is what we'll do..."
* * *
The following afternoon, Fatty drove Lisa and Bets over to Sheepsale, as Lisa needed to see exactly where the house was that belonged to Carlos, and she was hoping to stop and call on the pretext of some excuse, not yet thought of.
As they drove slowly passed the detached house, set back from a long driveway, Lisa was thrilled to see a For Sale noticed erected in the front garden with the name and phone number of the estate agent.
"Perfect," she said, pulling out her mobile phone from her bag. "What better way to have a look inside and with any luck I might be able to locate exactly where this gold plate is kept."
Fatty pulled into a small lay-by just a few hundred yards passed the house. Fortunately the house was the last but one out of the village and the lane from then on was quiet and peaceful.
Before Fatty could speak, Lisa was speaking to the agent and asking whether she could see the house at that precise moment, only having just drove past and spotting the sign. Fatty and Bets couldn't help but raise their brows with a slight sigh as they heard Lisa telling the agent the house was just what she was looking for.
At the end of the conversation, she sat back in the seat with a contented smile. "The agent is just ringing the home owner and will call me back immediately."
"I love looking inside houses," said Bets, with a smile.
Fatty looked at Bets with a small shake of his head, and turning to look at Lisa sitting in the back said. "So if Carlos is in and we look around the house, what story are we going to give?"
"I would have thought a great detective like you, Frederick, would be able to come up with a great excuse." She said, with a grin before continuing. "How about you both are my grandparents and are paying for the deposit. The rest of the money I'll be arranging as a mortgage."
"In all fairness, I would have thought a single person as yourself could ill afford a place like this," said Bets.
"Maybe, but no one's going to ask, are they?" she said, with a wicked smile. Just then her mobile played a lively tune and Lisa answered it, her face lighting up as she gave a thumbs up at Fatty and Bets, who had both turned towards her when the phone rang.
"That's lovely, many thanks," she finished off, closing the phone. She smiled at the eager faces of Fatty and Bets. "The home owner is in and will show us around himself. So let's go. And remember," she added, pausing before opening the car door, "you're both my grandparents."
"I'm sure you won't let us forget," said Fatty, wryly.
They all walked the short distance to the house and down the long drive, even before they approached the front door; it was opened by an elderly gent, with dark hair, despite his age. Lisa instantly could see the resemblance between Carlos and her grandfather. She smiled brightly and held out her hand for Carlos to shake.
"So good of you to let us see the house at such short notice," she smiled, sweetly. "My Grandmother and Grandfather," she said, glancing their way, and watching Carlos shake their hands in return. "They're kindly giving me the deposit for a house."
Carlos smiled with a slight nod. "Where would you be without generous grandparents? Please come in."
They all walked into the large hall way, and were immediately met by a large Alsatian dog that came running up to meet them. He stopped before them and growled slowly and quietly deep within his throat.
"Friends, Bruno," said Carlos, patting the dogs head. Immediately his tail was wagging and Lisa let the dog sniff her hands and then made a great fuss of him. If this dog was going to be on guard this evening, she wanted him on her side, she thought quietly to herself.
She glanced at Fatty with a smile. "Isn't he lovely," she said, hugging the dog's neck – then to Carlos said, "My Grandparents have a lovely black Scottie called Buster."
"Dogs give us such pleasure," said Carlos, with a smile. "They make a lovely member of the family. Anyway, please, let me show you around."
"Thank you," said Lisa. "Come on Bruno, you can come too."
Fatty cast a sly glance at Bets – as both knew the reason why Lisa was keen to have the dog on her side.
Carlos was a good guide and showed them all over the house. When they entered the lounge which over looked a large rear garden, they all spotted a display cabinet over by the window and didn't miss the gold plate sitting proudly on a stand towards the back of the glass shelving. Lisa moved over to the window, seeming to be admiring the view but catching glimpses of the gold plate and the glass cabinet that didn't appear to be locked.
"Isn't the view just wonderful," she said to Carlos, "and such a large garden. I bet Bruno will miss this when you move."
Carlos nodded, but didn't give away any future plans of where they intended to move. "I'm sure Bruno will be happy wherever we live, as long as he is with his family."
Leaving the lounge they explored the upstairs, and from a double landing was another small flight of stairs. "This leads to a small loft room, which I had converted about five years ago," began Carlos, leading the way up the stairs. "We don't use it much now apart from storage. But the view from up here is breathtaking."
They all crowded into the large loft room, and Bets looked around admiringly at so much space. "Could we convert our loft?" she said to Fatty, in soft tones.
"It's quite a task," said Fatty. "Did you have to have joists put in?" He asked Carlos.
Carlos nodded. "Yes. The planning department and architect said we had to. It was quite a job, but as you can see, it's made a lovely room and can be used as a bedroom."
Lisa went over to a large sky-light window and looked out, admiring the view for miles which was towards the back of the house. "May I open the window?" She asked Carlos.
"Of course," came back the answer. "I should open it more often as it gets really hot up here, but as I say, we don't use this room now as we should do."
Bruno came over to Lisa and stood on his hind legs with his front paws on the sill, seemingly to be admiring the view with Lisa. She stroked the dogs head, turning to the others with a smile. "Isn't he just gorgeous?" She whispered in Bruno's ear. "Quite a view, Bruno." The large dog licked her hand and she ruffled his neck. "Come on, Bruno, show me your garden."
The others smiled at one another as Lisa spoke to the dog. Carlos's face beamed at such admiration for his dog, and Fatty felt a tinge of guilt race through his veins at the reason why Lisa was making such a fuss of him.
They left the loft room and went down the small set of stairs. At the bottom Lisa said, "Oh, sorry I forgot to close the window. I'll just pop back and do it."
"Please don't trouble yourself," said Carlos, generously. "I can do that later."
"It's no trouble," said Lisa, with a smile. "I opened it and it will save you going back up the stairs." She turned and ascended the set of small stairs and once in the room went over to the large window. She closed it too gently, so that from the door way it looked as if the window was locked, but she left just enough of a lever so that she could open it and get through this window later that night, as she'd already planned that this was going to be her entrance in. Then when she got out the same way, she could push it to and make sure it was locked. That way no one would be the wiser as to how an intruder had entered the house and taken away the gold plate.
Fatty had sent Bets a slight glance, as he had guessed what Lisa's intention had been. Once again, the feelings of guilt flooded his veins and he felt most uncomfortable at the thought of Lisa's intentions for that evening. It was then that he made up his mind to dissuade her from her plans.
The last viewing was of the large rear garden, and Bruno was running around excitedly bringing his ball to them all in turn, and chasing after it when it was thrown. Lisa looked up at the rear of the house spotting the easily climbable drainpipe at the side, going right up to the roof, where she could then climb and reach the sky-light window. It all looked so easy.
Finally, they left saying goodbye to Carlos, and thanking him for showing them around his home. He was just saying that if they wanted another look around anytime just to get in touch once more with the agent and he'd be happy to give a second viewing, when his phone rang, and so thanking him once more they left leaving him to answer his call.
Once in the car, Fatty turned to Lisa. "I've changed my mind," he said, firmly. "I can't agree to this plan of yours. Carlos was a very nice person. I can't let you break into his home."
Bets looked at Fatty, and felt the same. "I agree, Lisa," she said, quietly. "I don't think it's right."
Lisa frowned at them both. "Look, I know how you're both feeling. Carlos funnily enough, is a very nice person. I didn't think I'd like my Grandfather's brother, for what he had done, but I did like him a lot. But I have to get that plate back. I've given my promise to a dying man and I won't go back on my word."
* * *
That evening at the White House a lively discussion was in place with Lisa and the other Find-Outers, who had been told of the afternoons visit to Sheepsale.
"I must admit," began Larry, evasively, "that I'm beginning to have doubts about this break in myself now."
"I won't be breaking in," Lisa returned. "I've left the sky-light window unlocked. When I leave I'll close it too behind me so that it will lock, and then no one will be the wiser of how I got in."
"It all seemed so exciting when we were discussing this yesterday," said Pip. "But now, I'm not so sure myself."
"Well I'll be going whether or not you drive me there," said Lisa, in firm tones. "Grandmother can't come – she's with Ricardo who's taken a turn for the worse. So I'm not going to change my mind now."
Daisy looked at Lisa. "I'll still come with you, but of course I can't drive."
Lisa turned appealing eyes on Bets, then on Fatty. "I've got to do it for the sake of the family. I only want you to drive me there."
Buster went up to Fatty and licked his hand. He looked down at his dog, sitting by his side and fondled his ears. This was against everything he'd worked for, and yet on the other hand he could see that it was for a family honour that Lisa wanted to take back the plate.
He nodded his head slowly, and glanced at Bets. "Okay, I'll drive you there, and wait in the lay-by where we were parked this afternoon. But if for any reason we're spotted or a police car drives by, then I'm off and you'll be left to your own devices."
Lisa brightened up. "It will work like clockwork," she said, with a bright smile. "I know where the plate is kept, and I know how to get in. I've even got some dog biscuits for Bruno, so that he won't make a sound."
"They're not poisoned, are they?" suddenly said Pip, with wide eyes.
"Of course not!" snapped Lisa. "As if I'd harm such a lovely dog as Bruno. Honestly, what are you thinking of?"
"Pardon me," said Pip, sounding hurt. "I only asked."
Daisy grinned at Pip's look of indignation. "What time will we all be leaving?"
"I thought just after midnight," said Lisa, looking around at the others.
Fatty and Bets nodded. "That's fine," said Bets. "What about you others?"
"If its okay by you, I'll cry off," said Larry. "I like my bed too much to go out on a midnight adventure."
"Same with me," said Pip. "Besides, Mary would ask where I was going at that time of the night, and I wouldn't like to tell her an untruth."
"I'll still come," said Daisy. "Paul is away visiting his son and daughter in Essex. Will you pick me up on the way?"
Fatty nodded. "And no dressing in dark clothes and a balaclava," he teased Daisy. "All we'll be doing is sitting in the car and waiting."
"Spoil sport," said Daisy, with a grin. "I was hoping to be Lisa's partner in crime."
Bets grinned and Fatty shook his head in exasperation. "I think you playing Miss Marple on stage has gone to your head."
Daisy laughed, mischievously. "Eat your heart out Margaret Rutherford."
* * *
Fatty pulled the car into the lay-by he'd parked in earlier that day and switched off the engine. Turning to look at Lisa, who was dressed in all black, he said. "You've got fifteen minutes. Any later and I won't be here."
"Don't worry," she whispered, opening the car door, "I'll be back in 10." As quick as lightning she shot off into the darkness, the only light coming from a half moon.
Bets looked at Fatty and smiled. "Stop worrying. Who is going to drive by on a lonely country lane at this time of night?"
"I'd like to have gone with her," said Daisy, leaning forward from the back seat. "I could have caught the plate if she wanted to throw it down to me."
"Oh yes, and have Bruno bark the place down," whispered Fatty, with a slight shake of his head. "Lisa made friends with the dog so he wouldn't bark."
"That's true," said Daisy, with a shrug, sitting back in the seat. "I wonder if she's in yet."
Lisa was inside the house, having easily climbed the outside and gaining entry through the unlocked sky-light. Quietly she made her way down the stairs, meeting Bruno on the landing, who hadn't growled as he'd remembered her from that day. Lisa stroked his head and gave him one of the biscuits, before making her way into the lounge and heading over to the display cabinet.
Shining her small torch onto the cabinet door she opened it quietly and looked at the shelf where the plate stood. At first, she just stood and stared at the vacant spot where the plate had been. The black stand was still there but no plate sitting on it. Taking a deep breath she looked at all the other shelves, but found no plate. Disappointment swept through her, and she glanced quickly at her wrist watch. Bruno was now at her side, sniffing her pocket where he'd detected a few more biscuits. Lisa handed him one and thought quickly. Where could the plate be? Did Carlos lock it away somewhere before retiring for the night? She glanced at the pictures on the wall and went over to move then slightly looking for a wall safe. But to no avail. Damn, she thought. Now where do I look? If I take much longer Frederick will drive away.
Quietly she made her way into two other rooms and checked out the wall pictures, but found nothing. Glancing at her watch she knew time wasn't on her side. There was nothing for it; she had to give up the search. Giving Bruno one last biscuit she made her way quietly back up the stairs and up to the loft room. Before climbing down the drain pipe, she made sure the sky-light window was pushed to and heard the lock click into place. As quietly as she came, and just as quickly, she raced back to the lay-by where the car was waiting.
Feeling most annoyed she opened the rear door and flopped into the seat next to Daisy, almost breathless as though she'd just run a marathon. Bets and Fatty turned to look and her and knew from her expression that something was wrong.
"What's happened?" asked Bets, urgently. "Is someone chasing you?"
Lisa shook her head. "Worse. The plate wasn't there. And there wasn't time for me to search the house for it."
"Oh, no," said Daisy, with concern.
"So all this has been a waste of time," said Fatty, wryly.
"If only I'd had a bit longer. I can't even go back as I've locked the sky-light window." Lisa sat back in the seat with a frown, feeling devastated that her plans had come to nothing.
"Well I for one am pleased you didn't succeed," said Fatty, starting up the engine. "Now let's get back."
It was a quiet group that wound their way back through the lanes and back to Peterswood. Fatty said he'd drop Lisa off at her grandmother's house, but she'd asked him to drop her at Barker's Field. "Grandmother will be there," she said. "And I may as well tell her how I've failed in my quest."
"Don't feel bad, Lisa," said Daisy, in sympathetic tones. "Your intention was good and you tried your best."
Lisa gave Daisy a small smile. "I somehow doubt that my Grandmother will see it that way."
"Of course she will," said Bets, with conviction, turning to look at Lisa. "It wasn't your fault the plate wasn't to be found."
Lisa gave a slight nod. As far as she was concerned she'd made her dying grandfather a promise and failed. Glancing out of the window into the darkness she could see they'd arrived at Barker's Field. One or two lights were still shining out from some of the caravans.
"Will you be okay?" asked Fatty, as Lisa got out of the car and came up against the opened driver's window.
"Yes," said Lisa, quietly. "I've got my torch anyway. Goodnight all, and thanks again Frederick for driving me over there. I'm just sorry it appears to have been for nothing."
Fatty smiled. "We'll speak tomorrow."
Everyone said a quiet 'goodnight', and watched Lisa going through the five bar gate and closing it behind her. Putting the car into gear, Fatty set off once more, firstly to drop off Daisy, and then back home; where he knew an eagerly waiting Buster would greet them both with enthusiasm. Even though Bets and Daisy had quite enjoyed their night trip, Fatty had been wracked with guilt the whole time he'd been waiting for Lisa, knowing full well that he'd condoned her uninvited entry into the house, something his long time instincts were flagging up as completely unacceptable.
* * *
The following afternoon, Fatty, Bets and Daisy, were telling Larry and Pip all about Lisa's failed attempt of getting back the gold plate.
"She was really gutted about it all last night," finished Daisy. "I felt really sorry for her. She kept saying she'd let her grandfather down."
"I guess it just wasn't meant to be," said Pip, with a shrug.
"I wonder how Hilary took the news last night, after we'd dropped Lisa at Ricardo's caravan?" said Bets, glancing at them all.
"I guess we're just about to find out," said Larry, indicating with a nod at seeing Lisa passing by the kitchen window. A knocking came at the back door, and Buster rushed over to greet the visitor. Lisa entered, saying hello to everyone, and stoked Busters head.
"Come and sit down, dear," said Bets, pouring out a cup of tea for Lisa, noticing the young woman's downhearted expression.
"Thanks," said Lisa, sitting at the large kitchen table. "I've got some sad news. Grandfather died this morning."
"I'm so sorry my dear," said Fatty, stretching out his hand to pat Lisa's. Everyone said the same, and Bets gave her a hug.
"When did he pass away?" she asked, softly.
"Ten past eleven." She looked around at everyone, holding back her tears that were threatening to fall. "He looked peaceful. I don't think he was in any discomfort. We were all with him. Myself, Grandmother, Mother and most of Ricardo's family. They've been very nice to us considering we're all from Ricardo's past. And of course they did know Mother, because she stayed with them all many years ago, as you all know."
"When will the funeral be held?" asked Daisy, gently.
"It's all going to be sorted out today, I think. I left them all discussing what Ricardo's wishes were."
"Larry and I have been told about last night," began Pip. "I'm sorry about the plate."
"Yes, the plate," said Lisa, suddenly forcing a smile. "It's in Mother's hands now, just where it should be."
Everyone looked at Lisa with puzzled raised brows. "What do you mean?" asked Fatty.
"Apparently yesterday evening, Carlos turned up at Ricardo's caravan. The family had phoned him and told him that his brother was dying and that it was maybe time for old grievances to be buried. That was the call, when we were just leaving yesterday afternoon. Carlos must have had a change of heart and he brought with him the gold plate. Which explains why I couldn't find it."
"But why didn't Hilary phone to tell you all this?" Said Fatty, thinking it would have saved not only the trip over to Sheepsale, but the stressful time he'd had in the car whilst waiting for Lisa's return.
"Grandmother didn't have her phone with her. And with everyone being so overjoyed at the brother's reunion, it just slipped her mind."
"Well I'm glad that it's all worked out," said Daisy, with a smile.
"I'm just off over to see Carlos," said Lisa, looking a little guilty. "I feel it only right to tell him of what I did last night, and that I appreciate the fact that my Mother now has the plate."
"But he'll recognise you from yesterday's house viewing," said Fatty, looking a little alarmed. The thought suddenly occurring that he and Bets had been involved in that little charade.
Lisa lowered her eyes slightly before facing Fatty. "I know," she said, weakly. "But I have to come clean about that too. And besides, he'll only recognise me at the funeral. So I'd rather explain now." Lisa watched Fatty's face change to one of alarm. "Don't worry," she continued, looking between him and Bets. "I'll explain the whole idea was mine and that I had put two of my closest friends in a terrible position whilst doing so. I won't mention that you drove me over there last night."
"I knew I shouldn't have agreed to such a ludicrous venture," said Fatty, with a small frown. "Especially as everything has turned out for the best now."
"But Lisa wasn't to know that Fatty," said Bets, in soothing tones. "Both she and Hilary wanted Ricardo to die peacefully knowing he'd fulfilled his own wishes about the gold plate."
Lisa sent Bets a grateful smile.
"True, no real harm done, Fatty," said Larry, cheerfully. "Any chance of another cuppa, Bets?"
Daisy threw her brother a small frown, and Bets sent him a grin. "Yes, we'll all have one." She rose to put the water on to boil. "You stay and have another one before you go, Lisa. Bit of Dutch courage."
"Thanks, Bets," she returned. "I think I'm going to need it."
* * *
A few days later, whilst Fatty, Bets, Larry and Pip were relaxing on loungers in the rear garden of the White House, enjoying the hot sunshine, and Buster sleeping soundly under his favourite tree, the sounds of the side gate opening and closing, sent everyone glancing to see who was entering, and Buster waking from his sleep rushed down the garden path to see who their visitor was.
"Hello, Buster," said Daisy, stoking the Scottie's head. "It's only me; you can get back to your snooze now, under the tree."
Satisfied Buster raced back to his basket and everyone greeted Daisy warmly, not missing a handful of leaflets she appeared to be carrying.
"And what have you got for us today?" said Larry, in lazy tones.
Daisy beamed around at everyone, sitting down on one of the soft chairs, handing Bets some of the leaflets, who passed them on to the others.
"The Little Theatre that's being refurbished with lottery money will be ready in another couple of weeks, and they're having a 'champagne opening' to celebrate."
"Oh, lovely," said Bets, in excited tones. "We'll go to that. It's been lovely to watch the rebuild of that lovely 'Little Theatre'. I'm so pleased it wasn't pulled down as was thought years back. I remember the campaign you told us about to keep it as a listed building, Daisy."
Daisy nodded. Over the years the Little Theatre had fallen into disrepair, and was at one point going to be demolished, but with a campaign from the people of Peterwood and surrounding villages, it was reprieved and given a new lease of life from Lottery funding.
"Remember how we solved the mystery of the Pantomime Cat," said Pip, with a smile. "Boysie, played the cat. A simple minded fellow if I remember rightly."
"Yes, a long time ago now," said Larry, with a gentle shake of his head. "I'm glad the Little Theatre is going to open once more."
Fatty was looking at the leaflet Bets had handed him. "It says they're going to get some of the original casts down for the grand opening."
"Yes, I've read that bit," said Daisy, with a smile. "I wonder who'll come along? Let's face it – they've had many actors over the years playing at the Little Theatre."
"It would be lovely if they managed to find the actors that were involved in the mystery we solved," said Bets, with wide eyes.
"I should imagine that's quite a task," said Fatty, with a grin. "They'll all be older than we are."
"Well at least now we'll have the Little Theatre open again, so we can go to all the stage productions that they put on," said Bets, firmly. "We've all got to support it."
"Lovely," said Fatty, with a wryly grin, and in a tone that was far from excited. "I can hardly wait..."
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