I submitted this story to the 2017 Exeter Story Competition, sadly not a winner but fun to write nonetheless!
Dorothy carefully picked up her binoculars, raised them to her eyes and positioned them perfectly through the gap in the net curtains. Her self-contained flat, being situated on the second floor of Willow Tree Retirement Home, provided her with a perfect view. Within less than a minute her eyes widened and she smiled. Everything comes to those who wait she thought, an expression she was thinking fairly often nowadays. Replacing the binoculars on her side table she reached for a leather bound notebook, located the correct page and meticulously made notes. She sighed contentedly, it was going to be a good day.
Amanda breathed heavily through gritted teeth. The traffic was typical for half past eight on a weekday and she was cursing herself for indulging in an extra twenty minutes in bed, she was now paying the price and would yet again be late for work. She had hoped to negotiate leaving early as she really should visit her mother. She felt guilty for not going more often but she always felt rushed and honestly she had reached the point that she barely knew what to say to her. Her mother was permanently distracted, picking up those blasted binoculars every five minutes and writing in that notebook that looked like something out of the ark. Amanda had never been able to catch a glimpse inside that notebook although she recalled asking, just the once.
“What’s this then Mum, keeping a diary?”
Dorothy had snapped her notebook closed as Amanda had attempted to glance over her shoulder, “No love, just keeping track.”
Amanda smiled, she was not overly concerned, she had little enthusiasm for the habits of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Wrens and what other species of birds her mother seemed wholly obsessed with. She tapped the steering wheel impatiently. It did trouble her that the relationship between her mother and herself continued to widen the older they got but life was like that, Amanda thought dismissively, she was dealing with day to day realities her Mother was cocooned in her home and still in a time warp.
Dorothy checked the clock and decided a second cup of tea was in order although she was reluctant to move. She felt cosy in her little sitting room although Amanda, on her rare visits, would often joke that it looked like an explosion in a florists. What was it she said? ... Oh yes, “Even Cath Kidston would struggle with this amount of flowers”.
Mismatched floral cushions and throws adorned Dorothy’s floral sofa and armchairs. A china floral clock ticked on the mantelpiece and Dorothy always used a floral cup and saucer. The only non-floral adornments were the paintings that Amanda had bought for her, all of birds. She wondered if they were actually worth something as they were all signed with little numbers so she suspected they were originals. It was the sort of thing Amanda would do, she had to have the best, such a fussy girl. Her taste in men was a testament to that, none of them were up to par, if they put a foot wrong they were shown the door. No tolerance, the younger generation just did not work at things nowadays. Dorothy straightened herself in her armchair and raised the binoculars again. Timing was critical, if she nipped into her kitchen to pop the kettle on she might not catch a glimpse of him returning. He was a fine specimen, always plumping out his chest commanding attention. She would wait another half hour, just in case, it would be worth it.
Amanda eased the clutch in and out as the traffic continued to crawl along. She glanced at herself in the rear view mirror, her hair had not cooperated this morning and she could also now see that her roots needed doing again. Forty eight and single was not how she had planned her life but the perfect man had always seemed to elude her. It wasn’t for the want of trying, she had tried blind dates, speed dating, dating apps but they all turned out to be either married or worse. She had been fortunate with her job, personal assistant to the managing director of Brightwork Construction Company. For a local placement she was earning a very good wage, enough to pay for her riverside apartment and the occasional holiday too. In fact she was going to look into flights today, possibly the Dominion Republic, she had heard it was beautiful. Another reason she really ought to visit her mother to explain that she will be away for a few weeks.
Dorothy heard the doorbell and tutted loudly. Now was not a good time at all, there was so much activity and she was midway through logging everything into her notebook. She had even missed lunch with the amount of activity that had already taken place. Reluctantly she placed her binoculars on the side table, clasped her walking stick to enable her to stand and manoeuvred herself to the front door. Conscientiously she shouted out beforehand.
“Who is it? What do you want?”
A deep male voice replied. “Dotty, it’s okay, it’s me Mike and Geoff is with me”.
Dorothy smiled and opened the door widely. “I didn’t think you were visiting until the end of the week, lovely to see you both.” She ushered the two men in, handed the larger of the two men her binoculars and the other her notebook. She then headed to the kitchen to put the kettle on.
“Any cake?” the men chorused.
“Of course, lemon drizzle this week.” Dorothy began placing everything onto a floral tray, good job Mr Clark had got some bits in for her.
Amanda clicked the mouse to confirm payment to ‘Sun Seekers Holidays’, two weeks in the Dominion Republic, special rate for singles, all-inclusive and the added bonus of a boat trip to Saona Island. She allowed herself to drift off into a daydream of sunshine, bathing aboard a beautiful boat and possibly meeting the man of her dreams.
“Any chance of getting that quote out today? The one for the supermarket in Bungay?”
Amanda snapped back to reality and nodded “Absolutely, it’s next on my list” and added “Can’t wait!” under her breath. This was reality.
Dorothy had just set the tray of tea and cake down upon the coffee table and the doorbell rang again.
“Oh my goodness, Piccadilly Circus in here today.” She exclaimed.
“We should go, we’ve got what we came for.” Geoff replied gruffly.
“Are you sure? I would say go out the back way but actually I don’t seem to have one. Not like it is in films is it!” Dorothy laughed.
The two gentleman laughed and hugged Dorothy. “You’re a legend, don’t forget it.” They both quickly took a glug of tea and grabbed a slice of cake and winked.
Dorothy opened the door to allow her gentlemen friends to leave and to accept her visitor. She was expecting it would be Mr Clark from down the corridor but was surprised to see Amanda.
“Oh this is a surprise.” Dorothy announced.
Amanda surveyed the gentleman leaving and eyed her mother suspiciously. She continued to stare at them as they sauntered down the corridor eating cake. “Who are they? Are they the police, they look like police?” she said with rushed intrigue.
Dorothy patted her daughter’s arm, “Of course they are dear, I know, they have a sort of look about them don’t they?” She responded quite matter-of-factly.
Amanda walked into the living room realising she was in a daze from this encounter and then rounded on her mother immediately.
“What’s going on? You didn’t ring them for something silly did you? They’re busy people you know, they don’t have time to respond to silly whims.”
Dorothy smiled tolerantly at her daughter. “No dear, they are my friends. Would you like tea? I’ve got lemon drizzle cake.”
Amanda scoffed ignoring her mother’s offer, “Oh yeah and they just come round for tea each week!”
“Actually they do and for my Intel.” Dorothy smiled a little smugly at her daughter now. She realised for a very long time she was actually enjoying herself.
“What? You mean you have information for them?” Amanda was all but spluttering the words out to her mother.
“I do, it’s amazing what you can see from this window especially as it overlooks that farm.” She waved her arm in the direction of the window and the farm buildings beyond. Continuing she said, “The barn has been converted into a repair garage and there’s been a lot of comings and goings.”
Amanda fell into an armchair. “Are you telling me you are a grass Mother?” her voice was very high pitched now.
“No dear, well maybe. I’ll put the kettle on and I’m sure I’ve got some chocolate Digestives somewhere if you don’t fancy lemon drizzle, I know it’s not really you’re favourite.”
Amanda felt like someone had reached inside her brain and given it a good shake. Was this really happening? Her dull flowery bird watching mother in cahoots with the police? And now to top it all cool as a cucumber offering her tea and lemon drizzle cake?
Dorothy returned. She placed the floral tray on the coffee table and without any preamble announced,
“I was never quite sure if it was amphetamines or cocaine, higher street value on the cocaine you know, anyway did not take me long to figure out they were using the repair garage as a front.”
Amanda was part way through taking a sip of tea and coughed loudly. She couldn’t quite form any words, the moment was surreal.
“When you start seeing the same car come in for repair week after week you know that it has gone beyond bad luck, if you had that much wrong with a car you would scrap it wouldn’t you. So I watched and lo and behold yes, I would see him place something in the glove compartment, make a call and someone would come by and collect it. And then there were the deliveries too.”
Finally Amanda found her voice, “Mum you could have been in so much danger, imagine if they had seen you watching. These people are bad, seriously bad!”
“He would have to prove it, I mean look at all the bird boxes those nice policemen have put up for me, I could have always said I was watching those. I mean, that’s what you thought didn’t you?”
Amanda nodded but then thought about the notebook and her mind started to tick. “So not bird watching, but you’ve been logging drug deliveries in that notebook! That could have got you into serious trouble, imagine if they found it?”
Dorothy smiled and opened up the book for Amanda to view for the very first time. Inside it was carefully mapped out in columns. Each column had a heading ‘Great Tit’, ‘Blue Tit’, ‘Chaffinch’ and below each one activities listed as ‘feeding’ ‘returned to nest’.
“Codenames and code words?” Amanda enquired incredulously.
Dorothy nodded. “Yes but the police would call by each week to take a statement to substantiate everything. I admit two men turning up each week did put Mr Clark along the corridor into a dither but I reassured him they were my nephews. I even received flowers on occasions.”
“From Mr Clark?” Amanda squeaked.
“No dear, Mike and Geoff – my policemen.”
Amanda kept her head low staring at her mother’s notebook not quite being able to process all this information. She focused on the columns and the beautiful handwriting. The curly script she had always taken for granted written in birthday and Christmas cards. She then tried to recall the last time she had given her mother flowers. Snapping her from her thoughts Dorothy announced,
“Apparently I’m invaluable,” according to the police that is.
Amanda felt a wave of guilt engulf her and she reached out to hug her mother.
“You’re precious to me Mum”. And then with a wave of spontaneity,
“How do you fancy a holiday to the Dominion Republic?”
“Thank you dear but you go, get some rest I know you work too hard and besides I’m moving.”
“Moving? Moving where?”
“Only just outside Bungay, nice little retirement home but with the possibility of a counterfeit ring being set up in a guest house opposite.”
Dorothy tapped her nose, “keep it under your hat though!”