It was mid-afternoon and the village shop was agog. Word had got around about the karaoke night, and Imogen was able to provide those who hadn’t seen it for themselves with an eye-witness account.
“Sheila was building up to her big finale and then it all stopped working. Such a shame – it had been a great night. Craig and I left soon after,” she added, in that way a girl with a new boyfriend can’t resist dropping his name casually into her conversation.
They’d had a look round for Cally and Tim, but with no sign of them had guessed they, too, had called it a night. They hadn’t reckoned on them still being in confab behind the karaoke machine.
Sheila herself came in while Imogen was explaining, and when she finished, added her own contribution.
“So that’s another incident we can add to our catalogue of little mysteries.”
Imogen and a number of the ladies expressed puzzlement, and Sheila was aghast.
“You mean you don’t know about this? I thought everyone did.”
She recalled, though, that it had been news to Ged, too. Quickly she recapped all of the strange recent happenings – all, she pointed out, basically noise complaints.
“The children playing?” one lady echoed, and there was much tutting and shaking of heads. “Who would be so mean as to complain about children playing in their own school playground?”
“Well, it wasn’t so much the playing as the musical accompaniment, to be exact,” Sheila conceded. “But even so . . .”
Quite a crowd had gathered as those customers who had been served lingered to hear more.
Imogen shook her head, musing on it as she rang a small pile of purchases through the till.
“My neighbour – Mr Meldrum, you know him? Lovely chap. Deaf as a post. But he had a hearing aid fitted recently and he says it’s driving him nuts. He’s even been complaining about Chap’s barking, though it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be, thank goodness!
“Anyway,” she went on, chatting now to her next customer, though everyone else was listening, too, “Mr Meldrum reckons he was better off without the hearing aid. People can be funny about noise,” she finished, just as Tim reached the front of the queue and placed a family-sized bar of chocolate on the counter.
Cally was at his side – they’d just been for a quick lunch during which he’d checked, as he’d promised he would, that the computer was still working. Wordlessly they looked at Imogen, and then at each other, the penny dropping simultaneously.
“Do you think . . .?” Cally began, just as Sheila met her gaze between the heads of the crowd.
“You don’t suppose . . .?”
Cally was shaking her head doubtfully.
“Surely not. I did hear he’s not been the same since his wife died,” she said, “but even so, he’s such a nice man.”
There was a snort from elsewhere in the crowd, and a stocky woman elbowed her way through.
“Don’t you believe it! Well, I’m not saying he’s not nice, but he was a real tearaway when he was a lad. I was at school with him and I remember him always being up to no good. Nothing serious, mind – just mischief.”
“Brown plaid dressing-gown,” Cally muttered, remembering what she’d seen, and Imogen stared at her.
“How did you know that? I’ve seen it hanging on the washing line. It’s the kind my grandad used to wear.”
Tim pursed his lips and looked back and forth between Cally and Sheila.
“I’m no detective, but that would seem to clinch it,” he said. “The question is, what do we do about it?”