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Welcome to Stepping Out’s own interactive Whodunnit written by a carer who thought it would be fun to create a story in which the heroes were carers and the people they care for – as they already are in the real world for getting through the challenges of every day. Please do send Ruth any feedback via hallosteppingout@gmail.com  – and indeed any thoughts, incidents or experiences that she might be able to weave into the plot. A couple of our walkers have already contributed to Chapter 1 – you know who you are – and Ruth is very grateful.  

Book by Ruth Blackmore

This is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents in this book are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Chapter 1

His grubby little nostrils were inches from her face. She hated to think what pestilence was up there. His teeth, plaqued as an archeological find, were bared. She wondered if he would actually bite her. His acne was volcanic. She hasn’t been this close to such gruesome teenage topography since Brian Butler had surprised her in the gym cupboard at school. So this is what a mugging felt like. 

Her wheelchair was grinding and straining under the pressure of the confrontation. Above the electric squeal and the smell – of what? Burning? Fear? –  she could hear an ominous choking sound. Good, she thought, 

“Right, you little thug,” she hissed slowly and distinctly, ramming her walking stick more deeply into his carotid as her trusty wheelchair continued to pin him against the wall.

“If I don’t get my handbag back, you and your little gang of hooligans will be hunted down and – the police would be pussycats compared to my own security force.”

Even through the pain, he plainly scoffed at this assertion from a visibly ancient lady, more fossil than human, bumbling around on a motorised chair.

“Plus,” she added, “I’ve just nicked your phone. Which means all your contacts will soon know-” she paused in theory for emphasis, in fact to pant for breath – strangulation was taxing – “you’ve been…beaten up by…. a pensioner.”

He gargled something.

“Was that an affirmative?”

“Whaaa?”

“Was that a yes?”

“Yaaaarrrgh”

She understood the risks in relaxing her grip. He could knife her or cosh her or send her to hell in innumerable imaginative ways. But gazing into those red-rimmed eyes, brimming not with hate but alarm she honestly didn’t think he had the guts. How old was he? Thirteen, fourteen tops. Skinny with it. She could talk. If he did stab her, he’d have to get through layers of fleece to find the rackety skeleton within. Saved by thermal underwear. 

So she removed the walking stick from his throat and reversed her wheelchair an inch. He was off.  He moved with the furtive whip of a ferret and was gone.

With calm deliberation & a satisfied smile she set her chariot to forward mode and pottered sedately in the direction of the Bowls Club where she was looking forward to causing a sensation.

*

Aurora was procrastinating in the car park. It was first day-itus. Anxious at the best of times, this kind of “Hallo, my name’s Aurora” introductory meeting (always accompanied by guffaws from the audience and loud mutterings from the more uninhibited members along the lines of “What kind of name is that FFS!” ) took a terrible toll. So she was stuffing sweet wrappers in her glove compartment and pulling out old parking tickets from beneath the driving seat while doing her breathing exercises. Five-and-a-half in….Five-and-a-half out. Mouth closed. It wasn’t working actually. She realised she was holding her breath instead and about to faint.

Someone banged on the window. She jumped as though electrified.

“Are you the new one? they mouthed through the glass.

“Er, yes, I am,” she mouthed back.

“Are you coming in then. We want the tea served.”

“Oh yes,”she compensated gaily. “Here I come.” She opened the door, grasped a large holdall and clipboard, smiled winningly, and strode towards what she strongly suspected would be her doom.

Inside the clubhouse, awaiting her arrival, a large group of people had assembled. They were noticeably varied. You couldn’t pin a label on them. So not Bowls Club members then? Maybe but only if the club had cast its net wide enough to include people with a so-called disability, people of fantastic glamour, older people, younger people, people in wheelchairs, people with dementia, people without dementia but who joked they had as an insurance policy for not getting it, cheerful people, kind people, lonely people, depressed people, ill people, exhausted people, devoted couples, warring couples, merely sparring couples and some people a cocktail of all/most of the above. To which Aurora now added one more variety. The terrified.

“What kind of name is that, for f….” said Lawrence loudly, upon her hesitant introduction.

“SSSSSH” interposed Maureen who genuinely wanted to hear what this new nitwit had to say, especially about the departed (in job not life, sad to say) Maggie who had been driven out in disgrace over the Bernadette incident.

“So” began Aurora brightly “I’m here today as your replacement for – well, your new Carers’ Liaison Officer and I’ve got here” she reached into her holdall and held up a limp banner on which the letters “ WO….B….BLY” could be discerned. 

Silence.

“What about what happened to Bernadette?” cried a member of the audience. The majority of the group swivelled round to stare at Bernadette with sympathy, meaning or frank nosiness. The remainder, who couldn’t swivel for physical or mental reasons, stayed put.

Aurora had been trained for this moment.

“So we’re all looking forward…to, well, moving forward….and…” Not very well trained, it turned out.

“Told to put her cup of tea down & shove off – the very week her husband died!”

“Didn’t qualify as a carer anymore because they person she cared for had gone.”

“Corporate cruelty.”

“Wouldn’t treat an animal like that.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mimi, it’s not like animals have care homes.”

“They have kennels!” 

“I think we’re going down a rabbit hole here”.

“There’s a wire haired terrier – I’ve seen it in the High Street – drinks Earl Grey tea out of a saucer.”

“What the hell….?”

To be fair to her, Aurora spotted her chance. 

“OK,” she yelled, as loudly as her retiring nature would allow, “I’ve bought the cakes and let’s get the tea on”.

The meeting disintegrated into cheery sub-groups alive with chat and anticipation. 

*

It was during this lull of tinkling tea cups and rumble of munching that both doors were suddenly flung open and Christie blasted in on four wheels waving her walking stick and shouting: “Just call me Boudicea, I’ve just seen off the Barbarians.”

There was an immediate stunned silence, broken by Leonard, calmly putting down his almond slice and saying “Well, where to begin unpicking that historically.” Parkinson’s had barely dented his grip on the Roman lectures he used to deliver for the U3A. 

“Yes, she’s changed her name,” cottoned on Mimi, a rare occurrence.

“Boudicca!” said . “And she saw off the Romans, not the Barbarians, until she didn’t.”

“Well I did!” countered Christie unfazed and proceeded to regale her variously rapt or disbelieving audience with the tale of the Walking Stick Battle of Hollyhock Hill. Her listeners became stuck at various points, like broken branches swept into eddys along a fast-flowing river.

“A mugging  – in Blythe!”

Along that footpath – up to the church!”

That wheelchair battery will be done for, mark my words.”

“My nephew’s got terrible acne.” 

“He didn’t breathe on you did he. You’ll have to get tested.”

At this last interjection the crowd noticeably recoiled from the story-teller so Aurora, stunned though she was, stepped into the breach.

“Well hallo, Christie is it? I’m so pleased to meet you – I’m your new – 

“So I see,” said Christie dauntingly. 

“Would you like a cup of tea.

“Not really. Shot of tequila maybe. Since I’m seem to be in bandito mode.” She grinned. 

Leonard sighed. “Wrong continent, wrong millennium…” he confided to his wife.

She smiled and laid a consoling hand on his arm.

*

“Is it always like this?” asked Aurora some time later of the woman who’d just rescued her from the crockery cupboard. 

“Oh yes, it either doesn’t catch properly & swings open or catches too much and traps people,” Mumtaz said . “I keep an eye on people who go in when I can – just in case.”

“No, not the cupboard. I meant are these hub meetings always like this? I must say I have found today quite a baptism.” Of infernal hellfire and brimstone, she didn’t say. 

Dimly, she was aware of a violent screech of brakes outside on the High Street.

A number of people paused, concentrated on thin air for the moment like dogs sensing a cat in the neighbourhood and bafflingly concluded: “Here’s Joe.” Nothing happened for a while and then  a door swung open and a broad smile, affiliated to sideburns, lit up the room. 

“HI Joe. Awlright mate,” was the gist of the mass response. No-one mentioned the brakes.

“How did they know?” Aurora asked Mumtaz.

“Oh it was the zebra crossing,” An answer which didn’t help. 

She introduced herself to Joe instead when he had cleared his welcome party and she could see why he was popular. Kindly and brimming with enthusiasm, she could feel his very presence lowering her blood pressure. He helped her put up the banner which, somewhat overstating the case, read: Welcome to Wonderful, Beautiful Blythe-on-Sea Carers Hub. He exuded benevolent authority. 

You planning on organising any talks this year for us?” he asked.

She had no idea. 

“Oh yes,” she lied. What on? She could do with Anxiety in the Workplace or How to Grow Your Own Cannabis herself.

“Well, I’ve always done the dementia awareness talk if you need it.” Joe offered.

This was useful on two fronts. One she had her first talk sorted and two, she could start filling in her mental spreadsheet which explained to her who people were and why they were there. She could now confidently insert  ‘Joe – carer to someone with dementia’ as a reasonable guess. It was rude to ask outright. You had to see people as they were not stuff them into pigeonholes. (That was Rule 2 of her training. Rule 1 was Don’t Take Them Anywhere Because It’s Way Too Much Trouble. )

“No Emma yet?” he asked her, looking round.

Who? she was going to ask but then realised there had been an undercurrent murmur of “Where’s Emma” for sometime. 

“No, I haven’t been introduced to her. How would I recognise her.” 

“Can’t miss her. She’s smartest lady you’ll ever meet. Never a hair out of place. Not a gobby word out of order – not like the rest of us. And she turns up like clockwork — Mimi you heard from Emma? 

“No I was just saying….” The Emma murmur went mainstream.  

*

Aurora looked furtively at her watch. About 10 minutes to go. Her worst fears had largely been realised. She was sad specimen who had no business hurtling into the lives of people who needed considerably more bright-eyed usefulness than she possessed. She knew she should bar these negative thoughts and tell her mirror every morning she was beautiful. But her mirror was inclined to be sceptical on that subject if not downright mocking. Either way, her breathing exercises were not the answer and she couldn’t afford a therapist.

“Thank you so much for being here,” said Mumtaz at that moment. “You’re a breath of lovely sea area after You Know Who.”

Aurora wanted to cry. But she was forestalled by the final shock interruption of the day, one that would go down as the ultimate showstopper.

A grey-faced and stricken individual, male, fell through the door and stood as though stunned before the crowd, breathing heavily and absently wiping red (oh no, no, no, thought Aurora) something thick and wet from his hands to his shirt.

No-one said a word. 

“It’s Emma…” he gasped with a desperate effort.

“She’s just been shot in the head in the high street.”

We look forward to sharing the next chapter with you!

                                                                             

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