Chinese Whispers

Mrs Dooley and Mrs Pooley

There was gossip in the wind at Mottram when Mrs Pooley flicked a crumb off a painted rose on her porcelain high-tea stand, narrowly missing Mrs Dooley’s good ear. It was the only remnant of Mrs Dooley’s excellent Victoria sponge, recently deceased. The flying crumb seen through Mrs Dooley’s jam-jar glasses looked like a passing comet as she ducked giving it an unnecessarily wide berth. Her companion stifled a smirk. They could have tried to manage without each other, but in truth it was love.

As the last of the old tea settled in their cups, Mrs Pooley’s ample bottom sank into the faded armchair under the mantelpiece as if she was taking a mighty weight off her feet, which indeed she was. Other people spread their weight around with offspring whilst Mrs Pooley kept it close by on her hips and thighs. Mrs Dooley faced her from the kitchen table, the murky sun catching an ugly painted face. She actually had sunk ships.

Mrs Pooley and Mrs Dooley attended Our Lady of the Sanctimonious church together every Sunday morning and consulted together every Sunday afternoon. The Lord listened on at both events with equal exasperation. Now they had retired, seen off husbands to the grave and ostracised distant relatives, they made their own best audience of two.

At their weekly summit, when they deigned to discuss the village welfare, the world was dealt their collective wisdom. This wisdom, rolled in a ball, could be lost down the crack between sofa cushions or between the annals of history. Both had an equally low regard for the other’s intellect and enjoyed misleading themselves in a fug of cigarette smoke.

On this particularly juicy spring morning, with rain lashing down onto the Derbyshire valley, making sheep look like melting snowmen and swelling children’s puddles, Mrs Dooley continued the conversation begun at the doorstep over an hour before. Familiarity had lead to a marriage-like pattern of conversation.
‘And what did she say next?’
‘She said, “Forty-five thousand, eight hundred and fifty eight pounds, six pence”’, confirmed Mrs Pooley.
‘No!’ said Mrs Dooley.
‘Yes!’ agreed Mrs Pooley.
‘Noooooo’, checked Mrs Dooley at length.
‘Yeeeees’ said Mrs Pooley, a negative of her friend.

It went on like this for a while until they paused to contemplate, light cigarettes, raise an eyebrow and itch a saggy breast. Mrs Dooley finally decided she needed more reassurance after her tea was fully drained through flappy lips, and Mrs Pooley had returned from the loo.
‘Forty-five thousand, eight hundred and fifty eight pounds, you say?’
‘And six pence’.
‘And six pence’.
‘Well where from?’
‘That’s what I said. I said to her “Where did that come from then?”’
‘And what did she say?’
‘And she said “In the wardrobe by his shoes”’.
‘By his shoes?!’
‘By. His. Shoes’. A knowing wink followed, belying Mrs Pooley’s self-satisfaction at her early points advantage. Compelled to capitalise she continued:
‘I found it odd too. I mean, if you’ve got forty-whatever thousand pounds and you don’t tell your wife about it, would you keep it at the back of your wardrobe by your shoes? No, what you’d do is put it somewhere safe, I mean really safe. Not just the loft or the garage, and definitely not in the wardrobe by your shoes. Somewhere really safe like hiding it on the moors.’
‘The moors?’
‘Yeah. The moors. That’s what I’d do. If I had forty thousand pounds I’d take it to the moors and hide it. Cover it up and make sure the rain couldn’t do it damage. Then I’d take it bit by bit and use it so that no one knew where it came from. Not like them robbers that go all flash and buy a Rolls Royce when they live somewhere rough. No, I’d use it for different things, like I might buy new tights when the old ones were just starting to wear out. I might say I was going to visit my sister, you know Annie, and then instead I’d go off somewhere exotic, not hot mind because that would just give the game away with a tan, no, I’d go somewhere like Norway. I could do that for a while I could. It’d take a bit of time to get through forty thousand pounds that way.’
‘That was just an example of somewhere I could go. Just somewhere.’

As the kettle whistled loudly for the next brew, Mrs Pooley thought about a Norwegian man. She particularly remembered his big nose and the fact he was very tall. It was while she remembered kissing him by the pier, wondering again with curiosity about the swelling in his trousers that was pushing against her navel, that she nodded and stirred the spoonful of sugar Mrs Dooley had just dropped in her cup. Mrs Dooley laughed and poured fresh tea over the spoon methodically circulating in sugary thin air.

As Mrs Dooley poured, she continued wondering: ‘But how did she say she came by it?’
‘She didn’t. She just said she opened that bag, saw the money, counted it quickly and then went numb like a dead hedgehog. Then she asked herself all the things you would – Where’s it from? Why is it here? What do I do now?’

At this impasse she was exhausted. Mrs Pooley was still lingering on an old kiss, a fulsome crotch and a new conundrum. To give some indication she thought the matter should rest for a while as she gathered her wits she said “It’s scary when you think about it”. She hope this would end matters but Mrs Dooley, still hungry for the conversation, drew her only card and played it, adding absent-mindedly “Just what I was about to say. It would be scary and I’m sure she was scared too. So scared in fact, I believe when she found it she put it all back, right by the shoes in the back of the cupboard. Too scared to talk she said.’
‘But what then? What happened next?’ said Mrs Pooley as they both stared out of the window for inspiration.

Mrs Dooley and Mr Snatch

Mr Snatch did not thank his father for his name on two accounts. Firstly, Mr Snatch was actually stolen for a bet from the back garden of a lady in Glossop by Mr Snatch senior. When his ‘father’ sobered up and tried to return the infant, he discovered the mother hanging from the staircase by her dressing gown cord. He could not explain the incident to the police or give back the child. When Mr Snatch junior was told his own story, at first he mistook it for an elaborate joke. It wasn’t.

Secondly, giving the child his own name was incredibly cruel as Mr Snatch had to go to school by law. He was the unfortunate child that did not need a nickname. His actual name was offensive enough to warrant humiliation. He considered it a blessing at first when he moved from Master to Mr Snatch, but the joy was short -lived. When he was a sixteen year old with problems losing his virginity, the constant question “Have you had any, Snatch?” would follow him home on many occasions.

Taking this unusual history into account, Mr Snatch was quite unusually assured in his thoughts. He embraced brevity and disliked gossipers in equal measure. Sadly, Mr Snatch was the best source of gossip in town as his desire to reach the truth often outstripped his access to the facts. Consequently, he often made things up. Added to this, when interrogated about his theories he was often so tight-lipped through shame he gave the distinct impression there was more than he was letting on, which there was not. Whether this trait was born from his own difficult history, it would take an overpaid couch expert to tell.

Nevertheless, when Mrs Pooley had seen off Mrs Dooley, it was Mrs Snatch she went to see. Her mind was working overtime and Mr Snatch could just set her straight or at the very least fuel her fervent suspicions.

Mrs Dooley and Mr Snatch

After repeating the earlier conversation with Mrs Pooley to Mr Snatch, Mrs Dooley became more and more frustrated by her lack of progress:
“She wasn’t saying she took it to the moors, just that it was a good idea! When you come to think of it, it would be safe up there. All you would need to do is line up a tree, walk a few feet away, make another marker with your hand to the nearest road, mark the spot and start digging. That way you’d have two things that wouldn’t change with the seasons, like move or anything. The road and the tree just out there. Then you could find it in winter and no one would know.”
Mr Snatch considered this logical notion and it woke something in him: “Well, you know what I have just considered? If things have happened as you say there is a strong chance he only just got the money when she found it. Like minutes before. No sane person would think it was safe by his shoes, especially when his wife doesn’t work. It’s just not right. Perhaps it was the only place he could think of at short notice.”
“Perhaps not Mr Snatch, perhaps not.”
“I know that smile Mary. Perhaps not what?”
“Oh Mr Snatch, you’re a poet and you don’t know it!” She laughed like a girl.
“What poet?”
“Never mind. Perhaps what I mean by my smile is that he wanted her to find it. Like I said, no sane person would think that by his shoes would keep it hidden forever.”
“Not by his shoes.”
“No not by his shoes at all. Perhaps in his mind putting it by his shoes was the same as putting it in her lap while she was watching television and saying “There you go my love – forty-five thousand, eight hundred and fifty eight pounds and six pence. Ask me where I got it.”
“And what would he do that for?”
“Now there is the question Mr Snatch. There is the question we’d all like the answer to.”

Mr Snatch and Mrs Pooley

“And when she found it on the moors, how did she get there?” It was a question that had been puzzling Mrs Pooley since talking to Mrs Dooley. They had almost met when respectively entering and leaving Mr Snatch’s house, but had actually missed each other by a few minutes.
“Well, some have said it wasn’t him that put it there but her. The story about his shoes just doesn’t make sense if you think on it a while. If you don’t want the money found you sure as hell don’t put it in your wife’s shoes, and you surer than hell don’t discuss it in front of the telly. No, I tell you, no. What you do is start with a lie that gets bigger and bigger and bigger until the one part doesn’t match up with the other and you’ve got a round peg and a square circle. That’s what they all say and this time I think they’re right.” Mr Snatch had put his inconsiderable powers of analysis to the situation.
“So what you’re saying is that you couldn’t bet me that he doesn’t know anything about it. If that’s what you’re saying then I just don’t believe you. She found it on the moors, I think we all know that by now, and he…er…he knew all along”. Mrs Dooley did not sound confident. It was, at last, Mr Snatch’s turn to be impatient.
“Have you been listening to me Charlotte? She found the money it seems, or obtained it I gather, and then buried it on the moors without telling him at all. Where she got it from no one knows but he definitely knows. I mean, in her shoes? Even he isn’t that stupid.”

The station

“I’ve told you this already” said Mr Gawsworth. The room had a hanging light, one desk, four chairs, two occupied by Mr and Mrs Gawsworth, one by DCI Delph and one by WPC Dobcross. It was still raining outside and smelled of intrigue indoors.
“Please tell me again” said DCI Delph.
“I put some money on an accumulator. Last Saturday it paid out. It’s as simple as that” explained Mr Gawsworth.
“How much?” asked WPC Dobcross.
“Forty-five thousand, eight hundred and fifty eight pounds, six pence.”
“And where did you put these winnings Mr Gawsworth, because I don’t mind saying that yours is only one of several stories I’ve heard today.” The DCI sounded tired.
“OK. I’ll tell you again. I won the bet – all four winners of the football leagues – and I went out for a drink. One drink became two, two became four and so on. By the time I came home I was more than a little drunk. I climbed in the wardrobe when I was looking for the loo. When I got in I decided it would be fun to see how dark it was so I shut the door. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I stuffed the cash in the bottom of the wardrobe on top of my feet because the wife’s coat was shoving me to the back. I don’t know how long I was there, but it seemed like only a few seconds later that Alice opened the cupboard to look for some shoes. She didn’t know I’d come home as I’d sneaked upstairs to try and sober up alone, so I didn’t want to move when she opened the door in case I gave her the fright of her life.
‘So I stood there and watched her take the money off my feet and count it on the bed. Then she put it all back. I waited for her to take the rubbish out to the garden and I shot downstairs and pretended to come in the front door with a bang. I said I’d been out with friends from work for a birthday to explain being drunk, but she just took me upstairs and showed me the money. You and the WPC turned up a few minutes later. It’s all been horrible. I’m still drunk for god sake! I was going to make it a nice surprise but I knew I’d be in battle for being drunk. Seems I didn’t know the half of it.”
The DCI looked fed-up with the whole affair. “Could this be true Ms Gawsworth?” he lazily asked.
“Maybe” she said.
“OK then. I’m going to leave you two alone for a while to sort it out. When I come back, I don’t mind letting you go if you can sing from the same songsheet Mr Gawsworth”. The inspectors stood up and left the room.

Mrs & Mr Gawsworth

“Funny how stories get muddled isn’t it John?” whispered Mrs Gawsworth.
“Not very. Just don’t let slip about the rest of the money and we’re in the clear. We’re home and dry then, you hear? Home and dry. I told you the village was right when we moved here. They’ve done their part. Let’s just do ours”. Mr Gawsworth gently bent forward and kissed Alice on the forehead with dry, boozy lips.
“OK John” said Alice.

Chinese Whispers

Vincent Smith

Bristol, United Kingdom

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Espionage, intrigue and gossip in a tea-sodden Derbyshire town.

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