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BOOK: B006ITK0AW EBOK
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Morgana said, ‘Tell us what happened, Victoria, in the order it happened.’

‘I made the video with David. Twenty years ago a man died of a heart attack from laughing so much while he was watching it. David and I broke up even though we loved each other. The video turned up at the house a few weeks ago. David tried to enrol his daughter in the school a few weeks later. And then I started getting the letters.’

‘You think David’s still in love with you? He’s invented a daughter and come back to claim you, and sending those letters is his way of doing it?’ Morgana asked.

‘We don’t know for sure that David Devereux sent those letters,’ said Emily.

A man whose face had been covered in silver face paint came up to Victoria. His limbs were encased in silver-sprayed cardboard, and he was wearing a small silver triangular hat. His costume was a boiler suit and a pair of Wellington boots. These had also been sprayed with silver paint. He said to Victoria, ‘Midori just phoned. She’s ill. She can’t make it.’

‘You see?’ wailed Victoria. ‘More bad luck!’

‘I don’t think it’s anything to do with the video,’ said the Tin Man. ‘She’s at home. She can’t have seen it. Tummy trouble, she said.’ And then, to Emily, ‘Hello. I’m Graham.’

‘Graham knows about the video?’ asked Emily.

‘Yes,’ said Victoria. ‘I had to tell him I’d brought it into the school. I think if you don’t tell employees about this sort of thing – potential hazards in the workplace – you can get in trouble. Health and Safety.’

‘I doubt the video
is
dangerous, Victoria,’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘Would it help dispel the myth if we were to watch it?’

‘The video has disappeared,’ said Victoria. ‘It’s out in the wild, so to speak, and now anyone could just pick it up and watch it, unawares.’

‘Anyone with a VHS video player,’ said Emily.

‘Precious has disappeared,’ Victoria continued. ‘Dizzy has disappeared. Mr. Barrymore is still here. I wish he would disappear – I’d make him disappear myself if I could, though not until after he has fixed my electrics. As for Dizzy, he’s what you might call a “bodger”, but he does get things done in the end, and I do need to find him.’

‘Seema said she might be able to fix the wiring,’ said Emily. ‘Shall I find her and ask her to do it?’

‘I wish I could leave everything to Seema. Isn’t she marvellous? But she’s doing the induction with the parents. Emily, do you think you could have a look for Precious? You like dogs – can you see if you can coax her out? She’s an evil-looking bulldog with a very low undercarriage. She stinks. Her name’s Precious. Have you got a sausage or something to tempt her with when you find her?’

Emily did not. She thought she might not go and look for Precious. She said, ‘I already met the dog, remember?’

‘Oh, yes. I’m so stressed. I’m getting confused about things. Thank goodness you’re here, Ems.’

Morgana said, ‘What a shame I don’t write mysteries, I could be noting all this down. It only really gets interesting for me when the love interest crops up. Can you do anything about that, Victoria?’

Just then, as if waiting for his cue – he was an actor, after all – the most handsome man Emily had ever seen walked through the door, accompanied by a small, beautiful, caramel-coloured child. It was David Devereux and Dolly. Dolly had long, curly hair that sprang out from her head as though someone had opened it to try to understand the workings and hadn’t been able to fit everything back in again. David had eyes, hands, lips, teeth, a smile, a chest, a waist, long legs and strong arms – just like any other man, really. But the way they had all been put together seemed so much more appealing.

‘Oh, Muriel,’ said Morgana Blakely. ‘Here’s your answer, if you ever ask yourself why we agree to do these things – you’ve got your self-fulfilling prophesy video conundrum. And I’ve got this.’

‘Hello, Victoria,’ said David. They greeted each other like former lovers who still cared about each other, which is to say, they held hands and looked into each other’s eyes, strange, tender expressions on their faces, as though they weren’t sure whether they ought to say sorry about something.

‘Emily,’ Victoria said eventually, ‘this is David. Would you mind looking after him? And Dolly, do you want to come with me and find some of the other children? One of the teachers will show you around. You can see how you like the place.’

‘Victoria!’ called David before she had gone too far. ‘Did you ever have children?’

Victoria turned, Dolly’s hand in hers. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Three sons.’

She turned, and they walked away. Sunlight streamed from the tall windows along the corridor and dripped coppery highlights into Victoria’s plaits and Dolly’s liquorice-coloured curly hair: a woman dressed as a child from a story about a tornado-induced dream holding onto the hand of a child who was so beautiful Emily thought she looked as though she’d be able to create tornadoes and stories of her own one day.

‘Emily!’ whispered Dr. Muriel, interrupting Emily’s reverie. ‘I wanted to ask you about these letters Victoria’s been receiving. We can’t do it now. Shall we try to find a moment?’

‘Seema could probably show you one,’ Emily said. ‘They’ve been coming to Victoria’s house, but apparently one arrived at the school this morning.’

‘Indeed? That’s most interesting.’ She turned to Morgana and indicated that they should head upstairs to the office. ‘Shall we?’

‘Must we?’ said Morgana. She gave a little wave to Emily and David, and she took Dr. Muriel’s arm as they walked up the stairs.

‘Nice place,’ said David to Emily. ‘How long have you been working here?’

‘About an hour.’

David laughed as though it was the cleverest thing anyone had ever said to him. Somewhere in the background, as more and more students arrived to take part in the show, Emily heard the sound of children’s joyful voices, as though they had heard David laughing and wanted to join in. Emily was surrounded by an orchestra of happy sounds. It was all a bit disconcerting, but there was one thing she was sure of: it wasn’t David who had sent those poison pen letters.

‘Can I do anything useful?’ asked David. It seemed a rhetorical question – what couldn’t he do, with that smile? But Emily rallied and said, ‘A dog’s gone missing. You could help me find her.’

‘I don’t know much about dogs.’

Emily thought of her dog Jessie, her lovely old Golden Retriever who had died. She still missed Jessie and had thought her heart would break when she watched Jessie slip away, enfeebled by illness at the end. She said, ‘Sometimes I think I know too much.’

‘Come on, then! We’ll make a great team. You don’t mind if I keep my mobile on? I’m expecting a call from LA. They’re probably not up and about this time of the morning. But you never know: the city that never sleeps.’

‘Isn’t that New York?’

David laughed again. ‘There you go. Another thing you know more about than I do. We’ll make a great team.’

Seema came bustling by, white trousers gleaming, floral top flowing. She was carrying a packet of dog biscuits and Dizzy’s screwdriver. ‘David!’ she said. ‘What an honour to meet you. I loved your work in
Spies Like Us
’. She smiled. She looked vivacious. Emily felt unaccountably jealous. Seema said, ‘Emily, do you want a Bonio?’

Emily said, ‘I’m trying to give them up.’

David laughed (again) and took the packet of dog biscuits. ‘Good thinking. Seema, is it? Did I talk to you on the phone about enrolling Dolly? Don’t worry, we’ll find your dog.’

‘It isn’t my dog!’ said Seema, horrified, as though he’d said ‘Don’t worry, we’ll find your Nazi memorabilia.’ Emily didn’t much trust people who didn’t like dogs. People who didn’t know much about dogs were OK, of course. But there’s nothing admirable about someone who tips over into active dislike. ‘Our handyman’s gone missing,’ Seema continued. ‘Black dude, blue overalls, dreads. If you see him…?’

David put his hand, almost, on Emily’s waist as he escorted her out of the room. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said to Seema. ‘If we see him, we’ll send him your way.’

‘I’m doing the induction for the new parents,’ Seema said. ‘Most of them are here now. I do hope you’ll join us, David.’

‘Yeah, I will. Not sure if this place is quite right for Dolly, yet.’

Seema gasped in anguish and put one hand to her face as though he had slapped her.

‘Kidding!’ he said. ‘I’m kidding, Seema. It’s a great place. Any questions, though, I might as well ask Emily.’

Seema gave Emily a look of general disdain – so it was impossible to know whether she disapproved of Emily spending time with David or whether she simply felt that Emily couldn’t be trusted to answer any questions about the school correctly (in which assessment she was, after all, perfectly correct). Then she bustled off again.

‘I need to talk to Dr. Muriel before we go looking for Precious,’ Emily said to David, leading the way up the stairs to the office. ‘She and Morgana have been looking at a weird letter that arrived here for Victoria this morning.’

David didn’t react – at least, he didn’t react the way someone would react if they were responsible for sending the letter. He said, ‘Is there anything about this place that isn’t a little bit weird?’

When they got to the office, they saw that Dr. Muriel and Morgana had made themselves comfortable. They were drinking tea and chatting earnestly. There was a very large oval dish of sandwiches on the desk beside them, its cling film cover partially pulled back and several of the sandwiches missing.

‘Where is Seema?’ asked Dr. Muriel. ‘The sandwich shop just delivered these. I think we need to fend for ourselves rather than get faint with hunger. Emily, you’ve been here all day, haven’t you? I know it’s barely midday, but if you don’t eat now, it will be four o’clock before the show’s over. You’ll be hungry if you don’t eat a couple of sandwiches now.’

‘I think we need to do something to help Victoria,’ Dr. Muriel said. ‘Poor woman is in meltdown.’

‘I wish Piers were here,’ said Morgana. ‘But he’s so often working on weekends.’

‘Is Piers her husband?’ asked David. ‘Matinees are a killer. Is he in a show in town?’

‘He’s not an actor. I’m not quite sure what he does exactly. He’s in the civil service.’

‘Is he?’ David looked interested. ‘Is that a euphemism? I met a few ex-MI6 for that TV series I was in. Their families would have said something similar.’

Morgana paused before answering. She could have been pausing for effect, counting in her head,
one morgana blakely, two morgana blakely, three morgana blakely
before responding. Or there might have been something in what David said. ‘Darling,’ Morgana said eventually, ‘I simply have no idea what Piers does. It’s worthy but boring. Not the stuff of romantic heroes – or action heroes – I’m afraid.’

‘Talking of action heroes,’ David said, ‘I hear the handyman’s missing. I’ll go and look for him. Where would he be?’

‘Let me think,’ said Morgana, ‘I’ve been here often enough… Yes! He’s got a shed round the back of the playground where he keeps his tools, next to the landlord’s place. You could try there.’

David went off in search of Dizzy.

Morgana said, ‘I think I’ll go and see if Victoria needs help pacifying the non-prizewinning parents. I’ll offer to send off a few signed books, that usually helps. If things get really fractious, I might have to agree to judge an under-sixteens flash fiction writing competition or something. Remember that time, a few years ago, Muriel, when we thought we’d have to get up and sing a song to calm everyone down?’

‘I’m not sure it would have had a calming effect,’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘Everything seems much more under control here today. I doubt we’ll feel called upon to participate in the performance.’

‘You will come and join me soon, won’t you?’ said Morgana. ‘The show will be starting any minute. Don’t let me take my place on that stage all alone. Some of the numbers would seem interminably long if they weren’t punctuated by your derisive snorting, cheering things along.’

When Morgana had gone, Dr. Muriel got up and closed the door. She said, ‘I had a look at that letter. Curious, don’t you think?’

‘What does it say?

Dr. Muriel took a note that had been written in blue biro on blue stationery from her pocket and showed it to Emily before putting it back in her pocket again.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

OR MUST IT NOT?

STOP IT, VICKY

OR BE STOPPED

‘It seems to be a threat to disrupt the show, but it doesn’t make much sense,’ Emily said. ‘There’s no consistency or clarity about what they want her to do, even if she were inclined to follow their directions. It’s as if sending the notes is more important than the threats they contain. The first note seemed to be a threat to tell Piers, then to tell everyone, then to tell people at the school. Maybe the sender just wants to frighten her rather than get her to do anything. It seems to be a bluff, doesn’t it? I mean, we’ve all got secrets.’

‘Interesting! And very perceptive. Here’s another curious thing: Why would someone send a letter here all of a sudden when they had been sending them to her house?’

‘Victoria thinks David sent them.’

‘Do you?’

BOOK: B006ITK0AW EBOK
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