Authors: Gillian Larkin
Tags: #cozy mystery, #ghost story, #haunted, #women sleuth, #cozy murder mystery, #british murder mystery
they’d hurry up, if she didn’t get what she wanted soon she’d be
standing in a puddle of her own saliva.
her. “Ready to go? What are you looking at?” Frankie turned his
head. “You’ve got to be kidding! Are you sure you’re not
Grace stared at
the vending machine. In a voice full of awe she said, “But Frankie,
look. They’ve got Flamingo sweets. I think I can see strawberry
Frankie let out
a laugh. “Flamingo sweets! I haven’t had them in years. Get some if
you want but hurry up, I’ll meet you outside.”
over, “I’m ready to start, see you out there.” He went into a back
room closely followed by his assistant.
the office door and left, leaving Grace on her own. Grace felt the
pull of the vending machine. Without taking her eyes off the
machine she rummaged in her handbag for her purse. She moved
forward and allowed a dribble to run freely down her chin. She knew
what was causing this experience and she was more than happy to go
along with it.
She surveyed the
eye-catching contents on display. It wasn’t a matter of which
sweets to buy, it was a matter of how many packets she could fit in
She checked her
purse, she had plenty of coins. She noted with approval that the
machine also took credit cards.
Grace made her
choice. Her face was almost touching the glass as the first packet
dropped down into the tray below. She snatched the packet up and
ripped the top open. She sighed with pure happiness as the first
strawberry bomb landed in her mouth. The sweetness of the
strawberry sugar coating made her tongue tingle. She waited as long
as she possibly could then she bit into the bomb. The sweetest,
tangiest strawberry juice shot out of the bomb and slipped down her
throat. Grace leant against the vending machine, she couldn’t
remember strawberry bombs ever tasting so sweet.
She ate another
bomb whilst she bought more sweets. Her handbag bulged as she
finally felt able to walk away.
heavy weight of her bag, Grace felt light as she made her way over
to Frankie, as if all her troubles had floated away. What was in
the sweets to make her feel this way? Or was she being influenced
by something else?
when he saw her. “You look like the cat who’s got the cream. I can
smell the strawberry on your breath. How many packets did you
Grace pulled her
handbag closer. “Just a few. I got something for you.”
Frankie took the
outstretched packet, his eyes lit up. “Banana fizzles! I love
these! Thanks, Grace.”
Aren’t you going to have one now?”
I’ll wait til we get home.” Frankie shoved the packet in his
his willpower. She was glad she didn’t have any, she took another
strawberry bomb out and put it where it belonged – straight into
made his way through the crowd of people waiting in front of the
lockers. Grace heard murmurs from the other bidders.
it really him?”
is, I saw him on TV last night, on that American show.”
That’s a tan, a proper tan, from the sun.”
I didn’t know a proper tan was orange.”
Frankie gave a
snort of derision. “Have you heard that lot? Star-struck, that’s
what they are. They’re not used to dealing with famous people, not
like me. It’s embarrassing, look at their faces.”
Grace didn’t say
anything, she merely raised an eyebrow and carried on
voice boomed out. “Good morning, folks, and what a beautiful
morning it is. It’s great to see so many of you here, old faces and
new faces.” Sylvester threw a wink at Frankie. Grace noticed the
silly look on Frankie’s face. One of these days she would bring a
mirror to the auction so Frankie could see exactly what he looked
like in front of Sylvester.
The great man
continued, “We’re going to open up the first locker, you get thirty
seconds to look inside. Do not go in, if you do I will throw you
out! And yes, I have been working out, you don’t want to mess with
me. This is a cash auction, no credit, no IOUs and no paying me
next week. If you don’t have the money then don’t bid! Are we
ready? Let’s get the first locker open!”
There was a
cheer from the crowd. As always, it was Frankie who cheered the
Grace felt a
thrill of excitement as the first locker door was lifted. It wasn’t
for the same reasons as everyone else. She didn’t care about the
contents, she cared about the ghosts that might be inside the
caught as she looked inside the first locker.
There was a
ghost. And another. And another.
contained old-fashioned desks, they were lined up and facing the
door. Grace smiled as she looked at the ghosts of women sitting
behind each desk. They were tapping away on ghost typewriters. By
their hairstyles and clothes Grace guessed they were from the late
1930s or early 1940s. They were happily chattering away as their
hands flew across the keys. Grace tipped her head to the side to
hear them better.
you going out with Reggie tonight?” one of them asked.
A younger one
nodded. “He’s taking me to the picture house.”
Don’t let him take you to the back seat! You know what
happens on the back seat!” the other one cackled.
certainly don’t know what happens on the back seat, Irene Watkins!
I’m not as common as you!”
“That’s not what I’ve heard!”
were drowned out as Sylvester started the bidding.
Grace looked at
Frankie. “Are you going to bid?”
He shook his
head. “They’re too bulky for our shop and I don’t think I could
sell them online, they look too old. I’m not sure if there will be
anything suitable here for us today. I wanted to get a feel for it
though, see what the commercial side of locker auctions is
Grace turned her
attention back to the ghosts inside the locker. Did any of them
need her help? It had always been obvious before to her who needed
help, she could tell by looking at them. She didn’t feel anything
coming from these women, although she would love to talk to them,
find out what their lives had been like. Were any of them still
began to pull down the locker door. Grace caught the last part of
the women’s conversations, they were talking about the trouble in
Germany. Grace heard one of them say, “There won’t be another war,
not after last time.”
The crowd moved
on to the second locker. Grace felt a fluttering in her stomach, it
was one of apprehension. The locker door opened.
took in the scene. She closed her eyes.
look, not at this.
She heard voices
again, the same female voices from before. They weren’t chattering,
they were barely talking above a whisper. Grace forced her eyes
open. What if one of the ghosts needed her help? She had to look,
no matter how much terror she was feeling.
“Look at that table, Grace. I think I’ve seen something like it
before. Do you remember those war programmes that Dad made us
watch? That’s like one of those tables in a munitions factory, the
ones that women worked at during the war. I can see boxes of bullet
shells on it, is that even legal? I think there’s some sort of
uniform at the back of the locker.”
Grace looked to
where he was pointing. “Yes, I think you’re right about the table.
That looks like a white overcoat at the back. The women wore those,
they weren’t allowed to wear any metal in case it set off a spark.
They had to wear rubber boots too.”
She felt Frankie
looking at her. He said, “Why are you crying? It’s only a
Grace wiped a
tear away. “I know, it makes me sad to think of women having to do
such dangerous work.”
his fingers. “I’ve just remembered! There was a munitions factory
in Leeds, it was on that programme. It had to be kept secret so the
Germans wouldn’t bomb it. Do you remember that bit about the
women’s skin turning yellow? Something to do with the gun powder. I
wonder if that table is from that factory in Leeds, that would be
her lips together, she didn’t trust herself to speak. She watched
the scene in front of her.
The same women
who had been in the previous locker were now standing at either
side of the table. Grace’s eyes narrowed as the table began to
shimmer. She soon realised what was happening. The ghost of a table
was hovering slightly above the real one and the women were closer
to this one. Grace shook her head, she’d never seen a ghost table
before. She turned her attention back to the women. They were
wearing long white coats and rubber boots. There was a long line of
shiny metal shells in front of them on the table. Some of the women
were filling the shells up, others were carefully putting the tops
on and twisting them. There wasn’t a trace of the previous
happiness on their yellow faces, only concentration and the
occasional flicker of fear.
One of the
younger women fumbled with a shell and dropped it on the table. Her
face wasn’t as yellow as the others, Grace suspected she was new to
the job. The women seemed to stop breathing as they watched the
shell roll across the table.
A harsh voice
shot out, “For goodness sake, Sally, watch what you’re doing!
You’ll have us all blown to smithereens.”
the speaker as Irene Watkins, the one who had been cackling and
making jokes earlier.
his fingers again, making Grace jump. “Didn’t that factory in Leeds
have an explosion? One of the shell filling rooms blew up I think.
I can’t remember why now.”
In a quiet voice
Grace said, “One of the women twisted the lid on a shell too
harshly. The room exploded. Over thirty women were
“That’s right, I’d forgotten how obsessed you are with
Grace wished she
wasn’t obsessed, she wished she didn’t care about the past. And
most of all she wished that Irene Watkins would watch what she was
doing! Irene was too busy glaring at that younger woman at the end
of the table, she was too busy glaring to see what she herself was
doing with that shell top.
Grace felt the
explosion coming before it actually happened. In slow motion Irene
turned her eyes back to the shell in her hand, her mouth dropped
open in an ‘O’ of shock. The other women were oblivious. Grace saw
the spark coming out of the shell, she saw the room lighting up.
She couldn’t bear it, she turned away but still heard the muted
boom of an explosion.
There was an
eerie silence. Grace knew she had to turn back, to see if any
ghosts needed her help. But what if she saw the carnage of the
explosion? She wasn’t prepared to see that.
She took a deep
breath and turned round to face the storage locker. She saw what
the other bidders saw: a long table, no ghosts.
“You’ve gone a funny colour. You’d better lay off the sweets. I
don’t want you throwing up on me, these boots are new.”
nodded, she didn’t feel like eating any more sweets. She
desperately wanted to go home, her heart was aching from the sight
of those unfortunate women meeting their deaths.
couldn’t. She knew there was a ghost who needed her help, she knew
the ghost was in one of these lockers.
They moved on to
the next locker. Grace warily looked at it.
The ghost that
needed her help.
The ghost was an
older woman, probably in her early sixties. She had short white
hair cut in a modern, slightly spiky, style. She was wearing a long
flared out dress. Grace narrowed her eyes as she studied the dress.
Yep, those were definitely strawberries on the woman’s dress.
Grace’s mouth lifted as she noticed the shoes that the ghost was
wearing, they were the same red as the strawberries on her dress
and they had a juicy-looking strawberry embroidered on the top part
of each shoe.
The woman was
sitting on an old-fashioned wooden chair that had been placed near
the front of the storage locker. There was a pattern on the chair
but Grace couldn’t see if fully.
The woman had a
sad and lost look on her face. Grace had seen that look on other
ghosts’ faces before. The woman blinked as she looked out into the
crowd of bidders. She scanned across them and stopped when she came
to Grace. Grace offered her a small smile. The woman jumped up and
moved forward. She looked as if she was going to walk out of the
storage unit. Grace winced as the woman collided into an invisible
wall, the force pushed her backwards.