When noon came, the residents responded as Walter had hoped. Dawn, Scruffy and Scruffy’s six-pack of Allium’s all made their way towards number five and were each greeted with a sour glance from Walter who led them inside. Nora turned up soon after. They waited a short while in poorly orchestrated silence for Joe’s arrival but Walter was anxious to start.
“I’ll get straight to the point. One of you here has betrayed me.” Walter began.
“You what?” said Dawn.
“François! Someone has taken François.”
“You mean that pathetic toy of yours?” chuckled Scruffy. Walter’s dog growled at him.
“I mean, Mr Snogheart, my priceless artefact from my travels in Ublivia! My most valued possession, my life, my… my love! All four of you, including that unsavoury being from next door, are suspects.”
“Oh Heavens!” replied Dawn.
“So let’s get right down to it, shall we? Steven, it is clear that you are still holding a grudge against me for the measures I took against our mole problem.”
“Poor little buggers”
“Moreover, you are ignorant of the societal norms we all hold dear, though I don’t suppose you know what that means.”
“What? I was not!” Scruffy retorted, largely unaware of both his location, and the spittle that just vacated his mouth.
“Dawn, I know you see a lot more in art than many and while your tastes – if your creations are anything to go by – aren’t quite as sophisticated as mine, I’m sure you might know somebody who might be after it.”
“Well I’ll be!” Dawn said, but Walter continued.
“Nora, you’re a self-confessed kleptomaniac and that Joe… Well he’s avoided this meeting all together. And that is highly suspicious! Scruffy, where were you yesterday morning?”
“As per usually, I was at the café. Oh an’ I saw Nora go by with quite a face on ‘er” replied Scruffy.
“How dare you!” said Nora, borrowing the dog’s bark “Suggesting such a bloody thing! I’d been at work all morning! But, but Scruffy was spitting insults about you, Walter!”
“It couldn’a’been me, Wulter, it couldn’a… couldn’a been me! The ‘ole bleedin’ village knows I can’t sneak about for nothin’ after a few pints. Why don’t you ask ‘er?” Scruffy lazily flopped his arm in the rough direction of Dawn Peters. “She…er… she…woah…” His eyes glazed over, finding a deeper meaning to life in the ever expanding eyes of the dribbling dog.
“Erm… well?” Walter questioned Dawn.
“Surely you’re not serious? What would he know? Lord knows I wouldn’t steal! By the word of God himself, I’m no sinner. It must have been Joe! All those secrets. That ridiculous get up. It isn’t right! He’s up to something, I tell you. You can’t trust a man who doesn’t dress as God intended! ‘No socks, no service’ as our John used to say! The heathen! Why, I bet he took your lawnmower last winter too, Nora.”
“I lost two pennies and a guinea-pig as well that winter. It was a cold and lonely Christmas without Martin by my side. I tried CPR, I tried the mini-guinea defibrillator but his little heart just couldn’t take any more. It’s a miserable old life… Oh Martin, if only you could see the grass now! Your little legs would be lost in it…”
“See! In the name of the Lord, let’s execute the bastard!”
“Yeah!” Screamed Scruffy, throwing his final, half full can across the room. “Wait…what?”
Walter left the room, leaving the two present residents, and the semi-present Scruffy to get riled up while he weighed up his options.
A few minutes passed before Walter returned, hunting rifle in hand like back in Ublivia.
“To Joe’s!” commanded Walter. His dog ran out before him to dig his paws into the earth. They all followed Walter through the door and collided on the hippo-hide door-mat. Joe was standing a few metres in front of the house with a pistol in his hand. The residents hung, paralysed in the doorway. Walter held his rifle tight, Dawn clutched at her crucifix and Scruffy grabbed for a beer that wasn’t there. Joe lifted the gun and turned it, pointing into his mouth.
“I-I’m sorry” whispered Joe. He squeezed the trigger. A small, white pellet came out the barrel. It refreshed his gums. It was a novelty mint dispenser.
“I’m sorry I’m late. I’ve got to tell you something. I saw who took François. It was-” but before he could finish, Walter’s dog ran by them with something in his mouth… It was François.
There was a momentary air of vinegar as an almost comatose Scruffy Snogheart slipped into a black pudding and treacle sandwich. It was spring. He loved this time of year; there was an ever more endearing sense of joy within the village. He was Steven Jeffery Snogheart where legalities were concerned, but with his mouldering, misbuttoned shirt and fragrant lack of self-respect, he had acquired the nickname ‘Scruffy’ within the neighbourhood. He had sat outside the same café behind his house on the edge of Crooked Close every morning of every year since he had been able to walk there, missing only a couple of occasions for reasons he simply couldn’t remember. Though it must be said, he couldn’t remember half the occasions in which he did attend, either. Scruffy was known to host a many a pint of Allium’s Garlic Pale Ale and would rarely regret indulging in the half-eaten sandwich scraps from the previous day. Wiping the crumbs from his beard, he took a breath of the cool morning air and let out a long, contented sigh. By this time, Scruffy was very drunk.
It was his nose hairs that first noticed the familiar haze of a local woman waddling in his direction.
“How do, Scruffy?” said Nora Clarke, a stout woman who had recently moved into the village cradling a supposed doctorate.
Scruffy mumbled something in a mild gibberish.
“Nice day for it anyhow” Nora said, and while she half-heartedly attempted to veer away, he cleared his throat and announced “my name’s W-Wulter Ben-den-gendigo! And I love myself! I just care about… about… ha! I don’t care about moles! Listen to my… all my stories ‘bout affffreecah… pfffffff-f-f-f-f-f… ” … Mornings are very much left to the individual in Plimpton.
The five residents of Crooked Close were all going about their own alleged morning routines.
For Walter Cartermain Bendengo this was going to be a most eventful day. Every morning for thirty-two years he had followed his routine of pulling his trousers up over his belly button, lifting his prized possession from its glass cabinet and removing every perceivable imperfection (save one small speck of something he referred to only as ‘the canteen medal’). Walter had often assured his neighbours that this was an ancient artefact from Ublivia, worth a billion Ublivian dollars, though to all who saw it, it seemed no more than the sort of cheap children’s toy that you might find in an extra-large Christmas cracker. The figure of his obsession was a well-dressed humanoid statuette that he had dubbed ‘François’, whose sole irregularity was the flower he had for a head. So for Walter, the day began no differently to usual. He began with the dusting, followed on with the polishing and finally, placing François in the safety of the nearby work surface ‘to breathe’, Walter headed on out into the back garden for his daily rifle drill.
At number two, local artist and part-time preacher Dawn Peters was in her art studio happily rendering the glorious golden hues of her latest work – ‘The Sodomy of the Sheep’. Just as she finished shading the final yearling, she turned to the mantelpiece. On it sat a professional picture of a man with his arm round a crocodile in a suit. Both beings looked equally bemused by the experience. She could see her reflection in the glass frame; she hunted down the hairs that strayed from the flock, and guided them back into place. Next to the photograph was a clock, and next to the clock was an urn. For the clock, she had no time, but to the urn she licked her lips and blew the ghost of a sloppy kiss. There was of course no such response on behalf of the urn, and Dawn responded accordingly, stabbing her paintbrush through the misshapen eyeball of a lamb before snapping the easel and throwing the canvas out of the room. Moments later she could be found apologising to both the urn, and her God, as she recollected the scattered fragments of her studio.
Nora Gregory Clarke had been returning home from ‘work’ when she passed Scruffy at the café. She had been refused entry to the doctor’s surgery once again. It seemed there was a connection between Nora’s huge teddy bear collection and the surgery’s depleting supply of cotton wool. She hadn’t been in Plimpton long, but already the Neighbourhood Watch had a variety of nicknames for her. In fact ‘Her’ was one of them. It was the sudden disappearance of her distant relations, the Walton sisters that allowed for her arrival, and despite them leaving all their possessions in the care of Nora, she soon found space for all her own things in assorted nooks, crannies and hidey-holes. It was out of one of these hidey-holes that the screams for ‘more’ first came. What exactly the voices from the dark wanted ‘more’ of remains a big mystery in Plimpton, and even now they scream. Nora has often claimed it to be the mating call of a particular species of moth that has infested her loft, but the neighbouring residents are still to be convinced. That morning, upon returning from the surgery, she set about ironing all her paper plates and stacking them in the nearest space available. She dug out her stethoscope, removed a slipper and, placing the cold metal on its toe, she blew deep inside to test the volume of the noise, and to therefore work out how thin they have become from frequent use. With her paper plates readied for reuse, and her slippers assessed, she headed outside to prepare the garden for an invite-only luxury tea party with her favourite teddies, Ms Fluffstuff and Dead Ted.
Next door – number four – the conspicuous being, Joe, who could often be found wearing stick-on facial hair was just waking up. He opened the net curtains just far enough to peep through and watch Walter Bendengo’s dog shifting the dirt between their houses. Joe put on his tights, his maternity dress and his dressing gown and proceeded downstairs to get himself some breakfast.
Later that morning, when he returned to take his prized, polished possession back to its cabinet, Walter discovered that all that was left of François was a small smear of polish on the work-top. His trousers sank back down to his waistline. Walter was devastated. His heart had caught the express route to his mouth and he could taste the haemoglobin. It was like he’d lost a child. Immediately he began jumping to conclusions and blaming anyone and everyone that had ever set eyes on François. He even sent four carrier pigeons with tear stained scribbled words to contacts of his in Ublivia. A fifth carrier pigeon was sent out to the Neighbourhood Watch, and a sixth to the local police department.
It was the Neighbourhood Watch who responded first, sending a basket of assorted tinned goods along with a note reading ‘We see your struggle, we see everything’ followed in very small letters by the words ‘P.S. We didn’t see who took François’.
The next party to respond was the Plimpton Police Constabulary who sent an officer to get more information from Walter. She arrived promptly with nothing more than a notepad, and appeared to be wholeheartedly taking note of all the information Walter was conveying to her. However, it would become apparent to anyone who saw her notepad that all she had ever done in such a situation was write the next in her collection of ‘Poochie Love Songs’; this one was for Walter’s dog.
It wasn’t long after the police officer left that Walter realised he was going to have to take matters into his own hands. He had narrowed his list of potential suspects down to the only four individuals who knew of François, and could have gotten easy access: Steven Snogheart, Dawn Peters, Nora Clarke and Joe from number four. That afternoon, each of the four suspects received a cut of boar skin parchment accommodating the words ‘NUMBER FIVE, TOMORROW AT NOON’, written in pigs blood. The only suspect to react was an inebriated Scruffy Snogheart who had just returned from the café. Even so his response was no more than a mere mumbling of “Fruity Nora.”
 While the exact exchange rate is widely contested, by Walter’s calculations it is likely to be about the same value as a backstage pass to a concert of Marxist chickens counting their money. Of course, the exact value of such a thing as that is also widely contested.
 Her other works have such titles as ‘God Looks on Ye in Misery’, ‘Flossing the Nooks of the Cross’ and, from her private collection, ‘Wetting the Cat’s Ear’.
 Whether he was merely showing off his flamboyant costume collection or concealing a much belated puberty, his behaviour was undoubtedly the lifeblood of many a local curtain-twitcher.
 The whereabouts of the can of polish still remains a mystery.
Check out part #2 at https://stevenokey.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/a-thief-in-plimpton-2/