The Mysterious Disappearance of Marsha Boden
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Let’s dive straight in to continue the story, which is nearing a conclusion.
A mist was rising like steam from the fields tucked into the nape of the Shropshire hills behind Little Twichen, as the sun warmed the earth from a bright, clear sky on a beautiful autumnal day.
Miss Moorcroft was adapting to life back home after her fall. She hated using the zimmer frame that the hospital had insisted she take home with her and couldn’t wait to be rid of it. She was from an era of post-war Britain when you squared your shoulders and got on with it. No whining or showing any signs of weakness. “Keep calm and carry on” was instilled into her and as a Land Army girl working in the fields harvesting crops to keep the country going, a busted ankle and a gashed head were small fry.
The worst thing about the zimmer frame was having to negotiate her way through the narrow doorways of her rickety old cottage and up and down the numerous well-worn steps. Everything seemed to take twice as long and even feeding Kitty and Katty took forever as she ambled back and forth in the kitchen like a slow-motion pin-ball machine, ricocheting from one side to the other, as she forgot to get a knife from the drawer to scrape every last morsel of Whiskas cat food from the pouches and kept having to retrace her steps. Eventually, she got the job done but had to sit down on one of the hard wooden kitchen chairs to catch her breath.
When she looked up and out through the kitchen window, she noticed in the distance a dog running across the field at Dovecote Farm. It looked like a Golden Retriever. She wanted desperately to grab her binoculars to confirm the sighting but couldn’t bring herself to shuffle to the other end of the kitchen to find them; she was feeling wiped out after the exertion of feeding the cats. She berated herself for being so weak and justified her decision by thinking that by the time she located the binoculars and found her fast-moving target, it would probably have disappeared out of view. She felt much better about her inaction to see what was going on out in Little Twichen. Which reminded her, she really must try and arrange some kind of a thank-you gift for Kate Bursford, who had not only had a wasted journey to the hospital that day but who had called in almost every single day on her way to and from the school to see if she needed anything.
As if on cue, there was a tap at the front door and Kate’s voice calling. “Helena! Hello! It’s only me.” She appeared in the doorway of the drab kitchen immaculately turned out, not a hair out of place, beautifully made up and looking as elegant as ever.
“Hey, are you alright? You look a bit pale,” she observed, peeling off her camel-coloured winter coat. “You haven’t been overdoing things, have you?”
Miss Moorcroft smiled. “No, I have not,” she responded in her posh, upper-class voice. “I fed the cats, dear, that’s all. Just feeling a bit tired. Nothing to worry about. Now, how about I make you a nice cup of tea?”
“No way! You stay right there and I’ll put the kettle on.” Kate laid her coat across the back of a chair and set her bag down on the floor before setting to work.
Despite the difference in age and background, the two women had become good friends and Kate’s kindness had touched Miss Moorcroft deeply. “Kate, dear” she began tentatively. “I would like to repay your kindness…”
“Helena, there’s absolutely no need whatsoever,” Kate interjected filling the old kettle from the ancient tap. “I’m just being a good neighbour and friend. Really, there’s no need.”
“Well, that’s as may be but I’ve been thinking. You and the boys need to get some fun back into your lives after, well, after everything that’s happened.” Kate had opened up to Miss Moorcroft about Zelda and the plot they had reserved at Meadowbank after drinking a few glasses of sherry one Friday evening, when the boys were at Kate’s parents for a sleepover.
“So, I was thinking – and I haven’t booked it yet because I wanted to check the dates with you – about booking a private carriage on the Santa Express train in Shrewsbury. Apparently, there are reindeer, elves and all sorts. Christmas lights and…”
“Oh, Helena! That’s a great idea. The boys would love it. I can’t think of anything nicer to do with them this year, you know…being the first Christmas…” Her eyes welled up and Miss Moorcroft stood up and stepped away from the zimmer frame and Kate instinctively held her because she knew that the old lady wanted to comfort her and besides, she didn't want her to topple over. As Kate hugged the old woman’s bony frame, Miss Moorcroft wrapped her arms around her in a loose hug and Kate caught a waft of stale urine and mothballs. Miss Moorcroft luxuriated in Kate’s crisp, clean smell and expensive perfume which was the most intoxicating combination.
“Well, that’s settled then,” Miss Moorcroft announced as she lowered herself slowly back down onto the chair. I will telephone later to make the booking for you and the boys.”
“On one condition,” Kate instructed, looking at her sternly.
Helena was confused. Was this young woman about to put a condition on a very expensive gift that she was offering her?
“I will only let you book it for us if you agree to come too.”
Miss Moorcroft’s face was a picture. She hadn’t, in her wildest dreams, thought about going on a train to see a load of people dressed up in silly costumes with hundreds of screaming children.
“Oh, Kate. I couldn’t. Really. Besides, isn’t it for children? Not old biddies like me.”
“On the contrary. You’ll love it!” Kate enthused.
Miss Moorcroft instantly regretted her foolish idea. What the hell was she thinking?
Kate put a cup of strong tea on the table in front of her friend, together with a plateful of custard cream biscuits. “Now, tuck in and I don’t want to hear another word. The boys would love it if you joined us.”
Miss Moorcroft dunked a biscuit into her tea and decided she would book four tickets and a private carriage, but was already formulating an idea of how to get out of the trip.
Ann Jones prided herself on her meticulous bookkeeping skills and wondered why Marsha Boden hadn’t helped her husband out more in the family business, but on reflection, she realised that she hated helping her husband, Tom, with his. It was good to get away from the maelstrom which overtook the lives of those who ran businesses, which was no mean feat. There was always something to do, plan or chase up and nothing was ever straightforward. As glamorous as it had sounded when Tom told family and friends all those years ago that he was ‘starting up his own business’, neither of them could have foreseen how tough it was going to get at times, nor how phenomenally successful it would become over time.
It was nearing the end of the day and she was thinking of winding down when she found an invoice for a cremation and a name that she couldn’t reconcile from her records. She began to doubt herself and had probably missed it due to screen blindness or just being overly tired. It had been a very long and extremely busy day in the office. She would go through the records again tomorrow with a fresh pair of eyes.
Time to go home for a nice, long hot soak in the bath followed by a large glass of Merlot to unwind. Tom always brought the most succulent steaks home on a Friday and delighted in cooking them to perfection and serving them up to his ungrateful wife. But he loved her unconditionally and would do anything for her. Absolutely anything.
Lucy had one last loose end to tie up. Driving a little too fast in her haste to reach Ashcroft’s before they closed, she hadn’t seen the beautiful cock pheasant strut out into the road and, distracted by instructing Siri to ‘call Ashcroft’s’ she swerved violently but couldn’t avoid a collision. A flurry of feathers followed the loud thump as she collided with the game bird and then a muffled thud as she ran over it turned her stomach. She stopped the car but as she was on a blind bend known locally as Fiddlers Elbow, she realised that she was in danger of being shunted from behind by an approaching car or worse still, one of the many juggernauts that fly along this narrow country lane into Mudlowe. Steeling herself, she drove on not risking an inspection of the damage to her car, which could be significant.
Thankfully, there was no signal and her call to Ashcroft’s had failed to connect. Unbeknown to her, Alex was the only person in the office at that late hour of the day and he was the last person she should speak to.
To be continued.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Rosy’s Ramblings is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.