As usual, unless it’s raining or Beattie has forced her feet into a pair of court shoes, we took the route home along the sea front. I thought the walk would do me good and if you hit the promenade at the right angle Biddermouth On Sea is actually quite attractive. If you hit it at the wrong angle you’ll probably get mugged. Like all seaside towns and most of the inhabitants it has seen better days. But then that was what drew me there in the first place; that and my old friend Olive Mannering.
Olive had discovered that it was the sort of place where a woman with a secret could disappear. Granted I didn’t have as many secrets as her but I had enough. Then again perhaps Olive didn’t have as many as she thought either. Getting herself on the covers of most of the Sunday papers had seen to that. Not that they charged the archbishop in the end but the damage was done. I think he got off quite lightly considering she claimed he’d been wearing his mitre at the time. Still, after all those years of running and hiding, living in grubby little bedsits under assumed names and over fish and chip shops and Indian takeaways Biddermouth On Sea was a place we both felt that we could finally call home.
But for how much longer, I wondered? This business with Jean was stirring up old memories. The Dead and I had been uneasy bedfellows and I had no wish to be dragged back into that world.
‘It’s probably indigestion’ said Beattie.
‘What is?’ I asked wondering if I’d missed something important.
‘You’ she replied,’ you’ve been in a funny mood since you ate that soup. What was it? Carrot and lentil? Whatever next? If the Lord had meant us to eat pulses we’d have been born in Africa. What you need Maureen is a good dose of Andrews Liver salts when we get home. ‘
‘Probably,’ I said although by now my head was beginning to throb and I knew carrot and lentil soup was the least of my problems. A martyr to trapped wind and indigestion herself Beattie saw no reason why anybody else should be any different. The fact that all her problems stemmed from eating large quantities of chutney and wearing pre-decimalisation foundation garments never seemed to enter her head.
The further we walked along the seafront the colder the wind became although according to matron freezing to death would do me the power of good. I wasn’t so sure now. It didn’t feel right. And it had nothing to do with excess stomach acid. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something or somebody flit from the cover of one shelter to another. What we needed was to hide, and hide quickly.
I thought that feigning an interest in stately homes was a stroke of genius as I pushed Beattie into the local tourist information office. If it was Jean Shank’s ghost that was following us we should have been pretty safe in there. The words ‘Jean’ and ‘culture’ had never sat well together in my opinion. Politically she may have been as bigoted as Beattie but even I had to admit that my neighbour’s Maria Callas was one up on Jean’s collection of James Last albums. Beattie may have called them ‘arias’ and I may have called them ‘noise’ but there was a Maria Callas wig in my catalogue for £65.00 so she must have had something going for her despite sounding like a cat in mangle.
As it happened I should have just kept walking. Despite being numbed by the cold wind, my jaw almost hit the floor. There, right in front of us was an enormous poster advertising the forthcoming coming attraction at the Town Hall Theatre.
‘Doris Morris, Celebrity Medium and Clairvoyant to the Stars presents ‘The Above and Beyond’ tour.’
‘Beyond the Pale if you ask me’ snorted Beattie. ‘I mean how can she call herself a celebrity medium? For a start it’s all hogwash. As I always say ‘once you’re gone you are gone.’ Full stop. End of story. But I mean to say Maureen one interview with Lorraine Kelly and a picture with a weather girl is not my idea of celebrity anything. And just look at the size of her. She makes Peggy look positively svelte!’
Whilst it’s true that Doris Morris was what my ex-husband Archie would have called a ‘hefty piece’ it is also true to say that Beattie wasn’t exactly on the small side herself. Despite only being five foot two inches tall and rigorously corseted she still manages to make most reasonable sized rooms feel small. Beattie Hathaway was not so much a fine figure of a woman as a monolith in gabardine. In fact she was a standing stone dedicated to the art of the all in one foundation garment.
It was also true, as they say in America, that Doris Morris and I had history. At one point, after I’d left the fun fair, after Archie had been exposed as a bigamist and before I ended up doing three years at Her Majesties Pleasure and the twins were taken into care, Doris, Olive and I had all been highly successful mediums on the Spiritualist circuit. But some things were best kept hidden and I was determined to keep it that way. The less I saw of Doris Morris the better. Fortunately for once Beattie was on my side, but as usual for very different reasons.
‘Well one thing’s certain we won’t be paying good money to see that load of old tosh,’ she said, ‘Of course what can you expect when people vote for a LibDem council? Now when the Tories were in power the Town Hall Theatre used to put on some lovely musicals. Even you would have understood them. But look what we got last Christmas; some girl who played a corpse in ‘Casualty’ trying to be Cinderella.’ She blushed a bit and well she might! According to Beattie she never watches programmes like that.
‘I tell you Maureen it’s all bare thighs and more rubbish like this! No wonder this town has become a haven of illegal immigrants. You mark my words Maureen by the time we get to the next election we’ll all be smoking guano!’
’Ganja’, I said, but she shot me one of those famous ‘I happen to know’ looks and I thought ‘well you can smoke bird droppings if you want and tried to deflect her with a leaflet about coach trips to the Cotswolds.
‘Yes all very nice’ she said then looked nervously at her watch. ‘You know I don’t like being out after dark since than man was caught exposing himself in the shopping arcade.’
She tried to tighten her scarf around her neck but then that’s another curious thing about Beattie. Not only doesn’t she have a waist she doesn’t have a neck either. Her head sits straight on her shoulders. Had she possessed a more amenable expression she would be a dead ringer for one of those Russian dolls. But as it is with no neck and everything subjugated by Playtex she often just looks like an angry skittle on the run from a bowling alley.
As soon as we ventured outside I could tell all was not well. Whatever it was that had been following us was still there and that could only mean one thing. The psychic powers that had got me into so much trouble in the past had to be coming back. Maybe they had never really gone? Perhaps the shock of Archie’s bigamy, losing the twins and three years in prison for fraudulent clairvoyance had simply pushed them to one side. Either way I suddenly found myself having to think about a lot of things I didn’t want to think about for the rest of the way home.
Hardly surprising then that I was quiet was it? Not that silence ever stops Beattie having a conversation. She is like nature. She abhors a vacuum. When she is talking to you and you don’t reply she is quite happy to imagine your answers and use them against you later. So by the time we’d reached the hut where the deckchair attendant was arrested for interfering with young boys she had ticked off everything that was right about that afternoon’s funeral. Then she worked systematically backwards to refute each point with something unpleasant.
Yes it had been a lovely spread but Peggy’s children had obviously been brought up not knowing that gluttony was one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The tea had been refreshing but whatever possessed people like that to think they could drink Earl Grey? It was very touching when the grandchildren sang ‘Lord of the Dance’ but a pity they hadn’t bothered to learn all the words. And finally it was nice to see all the men in suits but had nobody told them white socks belonged in a gymnasium?
‘But a eulogy Maureen, I ask you! When did people like Peggy Braithwaite start warranting eulogies? All she ever did was get herself banned from Weight Watchers and spawn that God forsaken brood! Still’ she added momentarily coming to berth alongside the promenade railings,’ at least they tried which is more than can be said for that Shanks rabble.’
Then she let out a shriek and felt the back of her head.
‘Who threw that stone?’