An extract from Jackdaw Court by Jane Jago.
Friday morning came rather too soon for me. Charlie went to work whistling his tuneless whistle, and I rather hoped for a quiet day. I went into work for an hour then sloped off home. Feeling a bit bruised and blue, I called Mum, who was only too easily persuaded into a girlie lunch and a spot of therapeutic shopping. Spending far too much money had its usual calming effect, and by the time we got back to my place, Mum was so flustered that I couldn’t help giggling.
“Look Mum” I said in my most reasonable tones. “I’ve made so much in bonuses in the last year that I would be never be able to spend it if you didn’t help.”
She looked at me searchingly, then shrugged and grinned like a schoolgirl.
“If you are sure. But. Three hundred pounds for a pair of boots.”
“They are very nice boots” I said “and they could have been made to go with the coat Dad bought you for Christmas.”
“They could” she grinned. “And that body warmer will stop Tomasz from looking like a vagrant in the cold weather.”
I laughed. “Nothing can stop Dad from looking like a vagrant. It’s one of his biggest talents.”
She aimed a playful blow at me, and I noticed my answering machine blinking away at me. I idly pushed the button. It was a message from Uncle Sid. It was several messages from Uncle Sid. I looked at Mum.
“I guess I better call him.”
“You had. He sounds a bit desperate.”
I called the number and Sid picked up immediately.
“Alysson. Thank goodness. Have you looked in your mail box today?”
“Do me a favour. Don’t. We think you have a letter bomb.”
“Oh. Smegg. What should I do?”
“Nothing. I’m on my way. With some people who know about these things. We will be with you in under an hour.”
“Okay. Will you have eaten?”
“Right. How many of you?”
“Four. See you soon.”
And he cut the connection.
I turned to Mum, to find her sitting at the kitchen table white-faced and shaking.
I went and put my arms around her.
“It’s okay Mum. I have guardian angels.”
She put her hands around my face and I smiled at her.
“Oh Aly. What have you gotten yourself into?”
“I dunno. Mum. I’ve done nowt. I just seem to have arrived on some people’s radar. Charlie says it’s my face.”
She laughed. “Will you promise me that you’ll be careful?”
“Oh. I will. Now do you want to help me cater for a crowd of huge men?”
“Only if me and your dad are welcome too.”
I knew that was coming and although I would have preferred to send her as far away from danger as possible I knew I couldn’t do that. I nodded my agreement.
“Okay then. What you got?”
“There’s a chicken in the fridge, and some packs of breast in the freezer. I’m thinking of a massive curry.”
“Yeah. That’d do it.”
We worked side by side for an hour and when two enormous casserole dishes were in the oven, we grinned at each other in a satisfied manner. Mum went upstairs to call Dad and I was just having a large glass of water when my doorbell buzzed. I looked at the screen to see Sid, two other huge thugs, and a skinny little man with a tool box. I went downstairs. Sid gave me a brief hug and introduced Joe, Billy and Mack.
“Where is your letter box” the little guy called Mack asked.
“It’s over there.”
I pointed to the rank of boxes on the other side of the courtyard.
“Good. Gimme the key.”
“There isn’t a key. It’s a number. 4970.”
“Okay. Now you go back indoors and leave us to deal.”
I turned to leave, but spotted Georgios Christopoulos and a couple of his henchmen approaching purposefully. Sid gave me a little shove.
“Go inside. I’ll deal with your Greek friend.”
Nothing loath I buggered off as fast as I could go. I found Mum standing in the big window of the family room, watching with worried eyes. I went and stood beside her as Sid spoke briefly to Mr C before Mack went and opened my letter box. He took out a small pile of mail and examined each item with some care. He gave all but two bits to Sid, who stood back respectfully. The leathery little man took some sort of a scope out of his toolbox and ran it over the letters. He frowned and shrugged. Then he took out an old fashioned stethoscope. He handed yet one more piece of mail to Sid. Then he carefully carried the last envelope over to the corner of the courtyard where two big buttressed walls surrounded a gnarled crab apple tree. He put the packet down on the floor and went to the undistinguished van in which they had arrived. He put on a thickly padded vest and a businesslike visored helmet before picking up a pair of long-handled tools. He used the tools to carefully open the package. For a moment I thought it was all a storm in a teacup. But it wasn’t. The explosion, when it came, sounded shockingly loud in the quiet afternoon air.
Mum squeaked and jumped.
“Oh” she said. “Oh Aly. Oh why would anybody want to do a thing like that to you?”
“You hush now” I replied firmly. “We don’t know nothing yet. But Uncle Sid will tell us. Just so long as you don’t go flapping.”
She thought about that one for a minute, then nodded.
“You’re right. I have to stiffen my spine.”
“Okay. You stay here and practice. I’m going down to see precisely WTS.”
She opened her mouth then thought better of whatever she had been going to say.