Miss Penelope Spenser

 

Her father named her Penelope because her mother was too unwell to protest.

Penelope’s dad was fond of historical heroines, and Odysseus’s wife seemed like a wise and resourceful woman — someone he hoped his daughter would grow up to become. He always thought that Odysseus was a bit of a dick, but he gave him credit for finding his way home. The whole taking a detour so he could hear the Sirens sing seemed reasonable under the circumstances.

Penelope Spenser had her heart broken on two separate occasions — the second time being the most painful.

Her first broken heart was a shared experience. Many young women saw their beautiful young men go off to war, never to return. It didn’t help that she was part of such a vast sisterhood, but it gave her cover for being unmarried.

Death did not play a role in her second heartbreak.

Philip Dunstable promised much, but in the end, he ran away with the daughter of the local cinema owner.

No cover at all, only a heart that would not mend and ongoing embarrassment.

Her grandfather died and left her a cottage and about a thousand pounds a year. Not quite enough money to survive on, but she supplemented it with a bit of sewing and mending — the benefits of a practical education.

Her parents passed away and left her some excellent china wear and a mountain of debts that were only just cleared by selling their house.

Through it all, Penelope was stoic if not actually happy.

She was a quiet person who loved to read and walk and talk to people she knew.

Her garden was full of flowers and weeds and birds and other things that liked weeds and flowers.

I wanted you to know these things because it helps to explain why Willian chose her.

William had a home — if you could call it that. He wasn’t young anymore, and the few years he had left were precious to him. He wanted to spend them with someone who would appreciate his love and devotion. 

He chose Penelope Spenser.

Of course, he didn’t know that was her name. All he knew was that she was friendly and walked most days to the shops and returned with a basket full of delicious aromas. That was most important because William was hungry most of the time.

William had come into the Getts family as a pup, and the young boy had looked after him until he’d been packed off to boarding school. It was lonely without him. The Getts family were not really dog people, and William was barely tolerated. A dog cannot live without love. Love is more important than treats and sausages and water and a warm blanket.

William planned his campaign with military precision.

He knew when she would most likely walk by on her way home.

Her big shopping day was Wednesday, but William had yet to be able to tell the days of the week.

His gambit was a bold one.

Lie in the road and look half dead.

As a plan, it had its drawbacks, and he nearly got run over twice, but finally, Miss Penelope walked by and noticed what looked like a dog in distress — legs in the air, not long for this world.

The ‘lying on the back with the legs in the air’, turned out to be a good ploy because upside down he looked like a different dog to the one she would pet every week on her way home.

“Oh dear. You poor dog. What’s happened to you? Are you lost? Are you hurt?” said Penelope, who tended to ask a lot of questions when things got intense.

William opened one eye and tried to look as pathetic as possible, which was a challenge because he was well fed and a bit plump, it has to be said.

Miss Penelope put her shopping down, and a bread roll fell out. It was all William could do not to leap on it.

He held his nerve, and Miss Penelope held his paw. It was then that he knew that passing up a crusty bread roll was well worth it. Her touch was gentle, and William went all wiggly inside.

“Do you think you can walk? I hope so because I doubt that I could carry you,” said Penelope.

William rolled onto his side and gradually got to his feet. He wobbled a bit just to press the point.

“Good dog,” said Penelope.

“Come,” she said, and William wobbled along beside her and her bag full of goodies until they reached her cottage.

Penelope showed him into the house and laid a blanket on the floor near the fireplace.

“This is a good spot for a tired dog to regain his composure,” she said as she lit the fire and made herself a cup of tea and put away her supplies.

“You might as well have this. I hope you don’t mind that it’s a bit dusty,” Penelope said as she put the crusty bread roll next to him.

She took one of the lovely china bowls that her mother had left her and filled it with water.

“Every dog needs water,” she said, “and when you are feeling better, I’ll look for your owner and give him a good talking too.”

Penelope did go looking for William’s owner, but even though she put up flyers and asked around, the Getts family stayed silent, and their son was sad when he came home from school to find his dog had ‘run away’.

William thought that his young master had gone away never to return, and he did not know of his sadness.

William made a ‘miraculous’ recovery and assumed the duty of keeping Miss Penelope safe and loved.

They read stories together, and William would chase and bring back anything that she threw. He was very good at sitting and rolling over, and he was warm and loved.

William felt badly about deceiving Miss Penelope, but a dog needs love, and Miss Penelope had plenty to share. 

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Illustration Credit: Anita Jeram 

Dossier

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The manila folder arrived with the morning mail and Mr Albertson — not his real name — expected the mail to be on his desk when he arrived — around 10:30 am.
His secretary didn’t particularly like her job, but she didn’t hate it either — her feelings, as she expressed them to her girlfriends over wine on a Friday evening, in the pub just off the High Street, were of a banal kind of acceptance — “Until something better comes along, or when Mr Right gets off his fat rear end (she rarely used bad language) and asks me to marry him.” Fortunately for her, ‘Mr Right’ was sitting at the other end of the bar watching her — every Friday night for the past two months. When she suddenly stopped coming on a Friday night after work, he went looking for her. Her sudden absence was the ‘spur to courage’ that he had needed.
As it happened, several manila folders were being delivered on this morning, but Mr Albertson — not his birth name — was the first to open his.
The silver and gold letter opener — a present from his mistress — cut through the thick yellow paper and when he tipped the envelope, a copy of the first page of his dossier fell out. On the bottom of the page were the words ‘ONLY THE FIRST PAGE’. A smaller piece of paper labelled ‘instructions’ fell to the floor. Mr Albertson — not the name he was born with or used during his collaboration with the enemy — picked up the piece of paper and read it carefully. He sat quietly for a moment in his government office with the pleasant view and shiny wood panelled walls. His next move was to press the intercom button and tell his secretary he was not to be disturbed and could she get him an outside line. The phone went click as she connected him and he dialled the number. The phone on the other end answered and a man said, ‘Hello’.
“They’ve found us,” said Mr Albertson. “I knew this day would come. Did you get an envelope?”
“Yes,” said the voice on the line. “What are you going to do?”
“I haven’t decided yet. I might pay them. I haven’t decided.”
Mr Albertson hung up the phone, reached into the top drawer of his desk, opened the chamber on his revolver. Satisfied that it was loaded, he put his keys and his watch on the desk, emptied the considerable contents of his wallet into a white envelope and wrote his secretary’s name on it with the words, “Don’t believe everything they will say about me.”
He had practised this move many times in his head, but now that the moment had come, he couldn’t decide — under the chin, on the temple or in the mouth.
The bang made Mr Albertson’s secretary jump. Several thoughts ran through her head as she sat in her chair. She didn’t think she was the kind of person who would sit in a chair after hearing an enormous bang, but apparently, she was.
The fog in her brain cleared and she rushed into her boss’s office. There was a lot of blood, and some of it mixed with what looked like sticky grey matter was sliding down the walls — Mr Albertson had gone for the ‘in the mouth’ option.
The secretary didn’t scream, she just stared. Mr Alberston was her first dead body. The blood-spattered envelope caught her eye, and she scooped it up and put it in her desk before she called for help.

In other parts of Paris and a few provincial centres, the activity was less dramatic.
Many large yellow envelopes were opened, many shocked expressions were given, many decisions were made, but only Mr Alberston, who had changed his name to hide his past collaboration, decided to take the fatal way out.
The amounts asked for were not large, but they were to be regular. The thinking behind the amounts asked was to make it easy for the person being blackmailed to see reason.
Some letters did not contain a ‘request’ for money. Instead, there was the strong suggestion that Farr and Dent should not be pursued lest the file falls into the wrong hands. These notes were delivered to those who had State resources and who were not frightened to use them to deadly ends — never poke the tiger.

The plan was well thought out and well executed. The result was a modest amount of constant income mixed with a bit of breathing room for the deadly Canadians.

You might think that one or two of the people who received the yellow envelopes would have tried their luck — called their bluff. That had been thought out as well.

That same morning, the most prominent newspapers in France ran the story of a bunch of wartime enemy dossiers being found, implicating several high ranking public servants and two successful industrialists. The President promised that there would be a full inquiry and “Anyone found wanting will be punished to the extent of the law.”
The enquiry did go ahead, but mysteriously, all those accused had been able to flee the country before capture. Another enquiry was ordered to investigate how this could happen.

~oOo~

When Daisy arrived home that night, there was a yellow envelope under her door.
Her little dog had chewed on the corner after it was pushed through, but the message inside was untouched.
“The piper has been paid. Just like old times — we work well together. Until the next adventure, keep your eyes open Daisy and thank you.
Judy and Christian.”

Wallpaper

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Michael wasn’t happy about changing restaurants.

“Why?” he asked.

“I hate the wallpaper,” I said.

Michael looked at me as though I had taken leave of my senses. It was all I could come up with at short notice. It worked for Oscar Wilde — people thought he was witty, but it wasn’t doing me any favours.

“They don’t have any wallpaper,” he said.

“In the ladies room.”

“You haven’t been to the ladies room; we just got here.”

“Trust me. I can’t dine at an establishment that has substandard wallpaper in the loo — I have standards!”

I’m pretty sure I stamped my foot.

I hadn’t known Michael long enough to pull this kind of stunt and not damage our relationship, but the alternative was letting my husband see me with a strange man while I was supposed to be twisting myself into unusual shapes in a quest for enlightenment at yoga class.

Michael and I walked for a few minutes and found another eatery that looked cozy.

“I love this place. Let’s eat here,” I said.

“Are you sure? Wouldn’t you like to check the restrooms?”

“No need — black tiles, lots of mirrors, no problem.” I gave him my biggest smile, and it worked.

Dinner went well, and we made another date, so my assignment went well. Barry wouldn’t have been happy if I had stuffed it up, he puts in a lot of preparation before he sends me out on a job.

“Seduce this bloke and get close to him. No ‘one night stand’, you need to be around him a lot. I’ll give you more details once you’ve hooked him,” said Barry with a mouth full of tuna sandwich.

You may disagree with my chosen lifestyle, and I’m sure that many people would agree with you, but one thing you could not say was that I was in this life for anything other than the excitement and the money. There’s plenty of sex and the sex with my husband has moved to another level since my new life began. He loves the new me. “I don’t know what happened to you, but I don’t want to jinx it by asking too many questions.”

The sex in this job is merely a means to an end.

I feel foolish saying this, but I thought we were fine — boring, ordinary and fine. Sex is constant and delicious. No signs that anything was wrong. Two wonderful boys and a domestic set up that most people would kill for.

What went wrong?

Who is this woman, and why was he with her in that restaurant?

The brief view I had of them both said that he isn’t bedding her — not yet. He’s trying his luck. She hasn’t given him the green light.

Why is she out with a married man — my married man?

I will find out — nothing is more important.

Michael can wait. He likes me, so I have some time.

I need Barry, and I never thought I would hear myself say that. Barry knows everyone worth knowing.

“So what can I do for you, sweet cheeks?” said Barry.

“You have no idea how sweet my cheeks are Barry,” I said.

“True, but I live in hope.”

“Assume that my bottom is spectacular and shift your attention to my problem.”

“Which is?”

“My husband has a girlfriend.”

“Okay. I didn’t see that coming. Do you want them both killed? I know a bloke who does a discount for doubles.”

“Let’s start with information before we progress to bloodshed.”

“We could do that. What do you want to know?” Barry was showing concern, and I found it unsettling.

“Who is she. How did he meet her and what does she want?” I said.

“Got it. I’ll get in touch when I’ve got something. How much do you want to spend? The bloke I have in mind is the best. He’s expensive, and he’s available right now.”

“How many shoeboxes full of money does he charge? I’ve got a wardrobe full of them.”

“I’ll take that as a yes,” said Barry.

Barry got up from the table and disappeared into a back room, and I did something I have not done in all the time I have been meeting Barry at the Rising Sun Hotel — I went to the bar. Usually, I can’t wait to get out of the place, but today I wanted a drink.

“Do you have something that will make me feel better, Boris?” I asked.

Boris gave me the only facial expression he owned.

“Do you need remember or forget?” asked Boris, and I was impressed by his question — that pretty much covered it; remember or forget.

“Forget, I think Boris. Tomorrow is soon enough for remembering.”

Boris gave me a tall glass of sticky liquid approaching the colour of honey mixed with diesel fuel. I drained it and asked for another. I don’t remember much after that.

When I awoke, it was morning, but I wasn’t sure of which day. I was in a small room that smelled of dust, beer and leather. The furniture was sparse, the door was open and considering Barry’s reputation, I checked my panties to see if I’d been interfered with. As far as I could tell, I was unmolested.

Boris appeared with a cup of tea and a couple of painkillers.

“You drink, take these, you feel better soon. I put you to bed. No look at your bum. Boris a gentleman.”

“Thank you, Boris. I’ve never done that before,” I said. Boris nodded and left me to my misery.

Apart from my headache, my biggest concern was what I was going to tell my husband.

When I stumbled back to my car, it had a parking ticket — no surprise there.

My panic went for nothing because my husband had not made it home that night either. Mother and father absent from the family home and neither of our boys noticed — teenagers!

“I’m sorry about last night. I had a few and crashed at a mates’ place. I hope you weren’t too worried?” said my husband as he appeared, somewhat sheepishly at dinner that night.

I was relieved and surprised that I was off the hook and it took me a moment to adjust.

“You could have rung,” I said with a touch of annoyance.

“Phone went flat, and I was too pissed to think straight — I am sorry.”

“You are forgiven, and your dinner is in the oven,” I said, and my mind began to wonder whose bed he slept in while I was asleep in a dusty little room at the Rising Sun Hotel.