7:55am. Rhodri wasn’t due back into the station until the following day but often he preferred to spend the time in the comforting and familiar surroundings of his office. His only friends were his work colleagues and although he thought the world of his land lady Mrs Gladstone, she had a terrible habit of capturing him and reciting all the ailments that have troubled her during the last few days. Her medical problems appeared to have the ability to move up and down her body. One day, she would be suffering from painful gums, the second a sore neck, the third, a bad back and so on until the malady had reached her feet whereupon it would repeat the process of rising again. As things went, she was actually quite fit and very active. She was a slim 56 year old and stood a dainty 5ft 2ins, 5ft 6ins when her tinted auburn hair was pilled high on her head in the latest beehive style. She insisted in wearing the latest fashion as well, which inevitably involved tight trousers and ankle socks.Advertisement
Mrs Gladstone became Mrs Gladstone when the plain Norma Riley married the dashing Captain Gladstone of the King’s Hussars. They were madly in love and if nature had been given a chance to perform its most wonderful trick they probably would have produced many little Gladstones but Adolf Hitler threw a spanner in the works and the good Captain was blown to pieces during the North African Campaign. The official telegram read ‘lost in combat’ but Gunner Clipper Bailey saw the Captain’s tank explode into tiny fragments when it got in between the starting and finishing points of a German 88mm shell. After that Mrs Gladstone never remarried but used the inheritance from the family estate and the army pension to provide food and lodgings for Rhodri, Mrs Fremantle and Odd George, who by his very actions was rarely ever seen but often heard.
Rhodri’s plan was to sneak past the door of the ever present Mrs Gladstone and escape without harm. Like a well planned military mission, Rhodri gathered his weekly washing and pushed it silently into two used pillow cases. His dirty bedding wrapped up the pillow cases and the whole lot was secured with a large bow on the top. Like gathering up pieces of broken glass, he collected his keys and tiptoed towards the well oiled door. Silently through the door and carefully down the stairs he went, remembering to distribute his weight evenly and avoid step number twelve, the one that creaked. His plan may well have worked had he remembered about step number nine which had developed a noisy crunching sound since Odd George dropped something very heavy on it two weeks ago. The wood creaked and like a coiled trapdoor spider she sprung forth.
“Oh it’s you Rhodri. How was your Sister Gwen and the young un? I expect all the better for having you with them for a the day. Is this your laundry? I’ll have it done in a jiffy.” She briefly paused for breath as she took hold of his stiff white collar and neatly adjusted it so it fell in perfect symmetry with his dark green tie. “Look at the state of you, your shoulders need a good brushing, hair and heaven knows what is hanging around your collar.” The insistent Mrs Gladstone took hold of Rhodri’s right arm and with her free hand, dragged both man and laundry into her lair.
The room had a lot of wood in it. Wooden floors, wooden chairs, a wooden sideboard, a wooden table, letter racks, plate racks, hat stands, a dresser, a bureau, a cake stand, all polished regularly with beeswax. On the basis of insect productivity, several thousand bees used their labours to provide Mrs Gladstone with enough wax for a daily two hour polish.
She pushed Rhodri into a waiting chair. “Now you take your jacket off and I’ll give it a brush up and steam.”
“I really haven’t got the time Mrs Gladstone.” Her captive pleaded.
Oblivious to his words she scurried into the kitchen. “I saw your Sergeant friend the other day. What’s his name? Oh yes, Sergeant Fowler.”
“That’s Fleur, Mrs Gladstone.” He sighed.
“Yes that’s what I said, Sergeant Fowler.” She jabbered. “Now what was I going to tell you? Oh yes! He was on his way to play football or something.”
“It’s rugby Mrs Gladstone.” He mumbled hopelessly.
“He’d just popped into Millers the Butchers for a couple of slices of corned beef and I was going to get some pressed tongue when he told me you’re not due back until the 6th.” She re-appeared at the kitchen door like a wide eyed puppet. “That’s why I made a couple of dumplings to drop into your dinner tonight.” She tottered over and began to tug at his jacket. “They’ll stick to your ribs they will and fatten you up a little.”
Rhodri realised the cause was lost and sank into a state of semi-consciousness as she busied herself, pulling, pushing, brushing, steaming. He wearily sat for almost 4 hours which involved 3 cups of tea, a slice of apple pie, one and a half beef paste sandwiches and a piece of ginger parkin; the latter would have normally sent Rodders into ecstasy but this time it merely acted as a mild anaesthetic used to stave off the more graphic details of Mrs Gladstone’s many surgical happenings. Finally after lunch, Rhodri managed to make his escape buy insisting his library book had to be returned before 2pm.
Missed chapter one? Catch up with the rest of the novel here.