“Are you having a coronary?”
Small pieces of Albert’s scone flew over the table cloth.
“What, dear?” Albert spluttered, dabbing at the spewed crumbs with his napkin whilst reluctantly looking away from the buxom young lady at the adjoining table.
“Your eyes are bulging.”
“Are they? But there’s nothing wrong with me. I was just thinking about…strawberries.”
“Yes…this is fine strawberry jam indeed. The best I’ve ever had!”
Martha sighed. Albert was so predictable. He could home in like a pigeon on any pair of breasts over a 36c. She’d never quite forgiven him for that moment at Brighton beach in 1965 when, after a whole day drooling like a rabid dog over Doris Fleming’s bosom, Doris had slapped him across the choppers.
Albert’s obsession was humiliating, but at least it allowed Martha to focus on her own projects. Currently, her interest was solving mysteries. Detective work was very rewarding and she was becoming quite skilled at it. She’d already returned several lost gloves, found a stray poodle and reported several incidents of suspicious looking cars. She’d even witnessed
Doris shoplifting at the chemists and, perhaps, taken
rather too much delight in getting her arrested.
It was important for detectives to look innocuous, thought Martha. However, she was simply not going to wear a silly tweed hat like Miss Marple. Her grey beret was infinitely better. She pulled it down further; it looked rather fetching with her matching grey mackintosh. She could almost be a secret agent.
“Are you having a stroke, Martha?”
“You’re pulling some very strange faces. You keep raising one eyebrow and twitching your mouth.”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Albert! I was just thinking…what a lovely day it is for our anniversary coach trip!”
“Yes…and you’re right, this jam is delicious. It must be made homemade. It’s as good as Lucy Avery’s preserve which won first prize at the WI in
“Ah…Lucy. It’s twenty years since she passed on. Damn fine woman. Excellent strawberries…I mean strawberry jam.”
Martha gazed over the restaurant veranda at the nearby park and surroundings whilst smiling at yet another of Albert’s verbal faux pas. He’d never make a secret agent. She could imagine him being interrogated like Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. He’d submit at the merest mention of dental floss let alone a drill:
Oh God, not the floss. Anything but the floss! I’ll tell you everything. My name is Albert. I have a wife, three children, seven grandchildren, two goldfish and I like women’s breasts… and underwear…
“Look over there!”
“What?” Martha coloured. She’d been so busy fantasising she’d forgotten to be observant. All the best detectives were observant.
“There’s a youth climbing through that factory window!”
“Oh yes! I see him. Let’s go down and see what he’s up to!”
“Don’t be silly, dear. Let’s call the police.”
Albert emptied his pockets looking for his phone: wallet, handkerchief, indigestion tablets, penknife, a bottle of pills, an old tobacco tin containing his Fisherman’s Friends, the new compact camera the boys had bought for their anniversary and which he had no idea how to use…but no phone. Where was it? Maybe he’d left it…
“Oh stop wasting time Albert! I’ve got my phone so let’s get down there. We can get a proper description.”
“I’m not going. It’s police work. You’re just obsessed with spying.”
“You are. Every bloody night it’s Agatha Christie or Murder, She Wrote. If I have to see Angela Lansbury feigning surprise one more time I’m going to top myself. And stop dressing like Miss Marple!”
“I don’t dress like Miss Marple! And I’m not spying, I’m merely observing.”
“So that’s what you call peeping between curtains and looking through keyholes.”
“Oh yes you do.”
“I don’t! Anyway, how dare you ridicule me when for the last forty years I’ve put up with you eyeing every pair of breasts within a ten mile radius!”
“Oh yes you do.”
“You do! And I’m going down there whether you like it or not.”
Martha got up and marched down the steps from the veranda towards the factory. Damn her, thought Albert, pocketing his belongings and hurrying after her. She was still as infuriating as the day he’d met her at the local Am Dram auditions and he’d been cast as Lord Fancourt Babberley in Charley’s Aunt and she as his love interest. Three months she’d played coy both on and off the stage and it hadn’t been until the after-show party that he’d finally planted a proper smacker.
“Wait for me!” called Albert, eventually catching up with Martha hiding behind a wall.
“You could’ve waited. I could die being this short of breath.”
“You get short of breath every time you see a picture of Oprah Winfrey.”
“You’re a heartless woman at times, Martha.”
Martha ignored Albert’s pitiful look and peered round the wall.
“The door’s ajar. He must’ve opened it ready for a quick getaway. Let’s go in and see what he’s doing.”
“No way. He might be a druggie.”
“Look, dear,” said Albert, lowering his voice. “I don’t want to end my days knifed by a teenage hoodlum. I want to die in my own bed.”
“Hallucinating about vast breasts I suppose,” Martha whispered under her breath.
“What? Speak louder. You know my hearing’s not so good.”
“I said ruminating about last requests. You want to die ruminating about last requests.”
“Yes, yes. Last requests. A double scotch perhaps. Maybe a cigar.”
“Oh whatever, Albert. Now get out that camera, we’re going in! Let’s get some pictures.”
“I can’t work that camera!”
“Well, figure it out. The boys said it was ready to use. Now follow me.”
Martha silently pulled the door open and tiptoed inside. Albert followed, fumbling with the camera. Once inside, they were surrounded by numerous rails of clothing. Martha grabbed Albert’s arm and pulled him in between some garments so they were hidden from sight.
“I can’t see him,” whispered Martha. “But I can hear movement from beyond that door.”
“Oh my God!”
Martha looked at Albert. His face was as red as a plum tomato, sweat glistening on his forehead.
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s…a…basque,” whimpered Albert.
On the clothing rails hung ladies underwear of every conceivable type. Every size, material and colour possible. And right at this very moment Albert’s nose was planted between two giant double D cups of a black leather basque.
Martha looked at Albert’s tortured face; it was like he was still a drooling adolescent. Would he ever get over his obsession with breasts? She’d inscribe on his gravestone; “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Only she would know the real meaning. And
“Oh grow up, Albert! Now get out the camera!”
Martha peeked back through the clothing just as the youth appeared in the room. He began ransacking desks, pulling out drawers and tipping them out. He unplugged some phones and a laptop computer, pausing briefly to admire them, and then shoved them in a holdall. Martha gestured to Albert for the camera. But he was still turning it over in his hands, looking bewildered.
“It’s not working!” Albert whispered.
“Oh for goodness sake - I’d better phone the police then,” said Martha irritably, opening her bag for her phone. But it wasn't there. She looked again.
“It’s not here!”
“Are you sure?”
“I put it in this morning. But now it’s gone!”
“You mean you forgot it. I told you your memory was going! Now look what a mess we’re in.”
“Nothing‘s wrong with my memory!”
“Your memory’s kaput. And your mind is going. The first stage of Alzheimers is believing you’re a spy you know.”
“What rubbish! Anyway, you can hardly talk. Where’s your phone then?”
Albert wiped his sleeve across his brow, his heart beating furiously. The excitement was all too much for him.
“I don’t care where it is. I’m dying!”
Martha peeked back through the clothes again.
“He’s gone into another office. Let’s get out of here and sort you out, you silly old codger.”
Martha crept out of the building, pulling Albert by the sleeve. Outside, Albert gasped for breath, his chest heaving with exertion.
“Look, there’s a bench opposite. Let’s get you seated,” said Martha.
“Give me my pills!”
“For heaven’s sake, Albert, you’ve just seen a few pairs of knickers. Now get over it!” Martha handed him the bottle she’d extracted from his pocket. “Besides, these pills are just for cholesterol.”
“Look, there’s your man,” mumbled Albert, stuffing the pills in his mouth.The youth was outside the factory adjusting his bags.
“I’ve an idea,” whispered Martha.
“Oh dear God,” groaned Albert.
“Just stay calm and play along. Remember your am dram days."
“Oh dear God,” groaned Albert again.
“Excuse me!” Martha shouted, waving furiously. The youth tensed, looking as if he might run off.
“Excuse me!” shouted Martha again in her most distressed voice and waving her handbag. “Could you please help us?”
The youth still looked reluctant to help so Martha began to sway on her feet. Sullenly, he crossed the road towards them.
“I’m so sorry to trouble you,” whimpered Martha. “I can see you’re busy. Moving house?”
“Um…yeah. That’s right,” the youth mumbled. “Moving in with my girlfriend.”
“Oh, how delightful. You lucky young people. My husband and I have been together for forty years. In fact, it’s forty years today.” Martha took the youth aside and continued; “My husband’s not feeling so well today though. It’s his weak heart. Would you mind taking a photo of us? You know, just in case…it’d be such a shame not to have a memento of our special day.”
“I dunno.” The youth shifted his bags around impatiently. “I've got things to do.”
“Oh please, please. I’d be so grateful,” begged Martha, casting a concerned look at Albert and giving him a wink.
“I really ain’t got time, granny.”
Martha winked desperately at Albert. As the youth turned away it finally clicked with Albert what Martha was up to and he started to cough and splutter.
“Oh no! I think he’s having an attack!” howled Martha after the youth.
“I can’t breathe!” cried Albert, clutching his chest and rolling his head from side to side.
The youth hesitated, looking back towards them.
“Oh please help,” sobbed Martha. “Can you help him while I call the police?”
“You don’t want the police,” said the youth alarmed and walking back. “You want an ambulance. Look, I’ll take that photo and maybe he’ll calm down.”
“Oh you sweet, sweet boy,” said Martha, pretending to wipe away her tears and turning back to Albert. “This lovely young man is going to take a photo of us. Have you got your camera, dear?”
“No idea how it works,” gasped Albert dramatically, enjoying the ruse.
“No worries, guv. Got one of these myself.”
“Oh my goodness, I don’t think you’ll manage that tiny camera with those leather gloves you’ve got on,” said Martha.
“Yeah, you’re right,” replied the youth, slipping off his gloves and handing them to Martha, who took her seat beside Albert. They held hands and smiled innocently. The youth looked down at the camera, flicked a couple of buttons and took a photo.
“Oh my goodness, that was so simple,” said Martha, rising from her seat. “You are so clever. My husband has been trying to figure it out all day!”
“Easy when you know how,” said the youth. “Here, you just open the shutter. Turn to “auto,” focus and shoot. It does it all for you.”
“You mean like this?” Martha grabbed the camera from the youth’s hands, placed it up to her eye and started taking photos…of Albert, the sky, the factory and finally the youth. She laughed delightedly. “This is amazing! We must take lots and lots of pictures of our special day, my dear. And thank you so much, young man, for helping us. You’re so very, very kind.”
“No worries,” said the youth, accepting his gloves back from Martha and picking up his bags. “He looks okay now.”
“Thanks to you!” said Martha. “Have a lovely day with your girlfriend!”
The youth walked off.
“You deceptive cow,” said Albert.
“Yes, I was rather good, wasn’t I?” replied Martha.
“Hmm. Bloody brilliant actually.”
“Yes, I’ve his photo and his fingerprints. Miss Marple couldn’t have done better!”
“I suppose not,” Albert grinned. “And I’m feeling much better. Let’s find a police station and then get back to the coach.”
“Yes, let’s go.”
They linked arms and headed back to the restaurant in amicable silence.
“Look what I’ve got,” said Albert after a few minutes, pulling a lacy bra out of his pocket.
“Albert, you’ve stolen it!” gasped Martha.
“Call it a reward. Besides, no one will miss it. It’s tiny.”
“What size is it?”
“That’s my size.”
“You old devil.”
“I can’t wait to get home,” replied Albert. “Because you know what they say?”
“You can never keep a good man down.”
Albert winked and put the bra back in his pocket.
(And yes I have been watching too much Miss Marple.)
(And yes I have been watching too much Miss Marple.)