Murky Windows

By Sylva Fae

Moira paused with the key in the lock and checked the time on her phone—15:47. She glanced around to make sure none of the neighbours were watching. This was a memorable moment and she wanted to wait for a ‘nice’ time. She giggled at her own silliness, but still waited. 15:59—mentally counting down the seconds, she turned the doorknob…. 16:00—and open.

The grime of neglect was the only thing to dull Moira’s spirits as she threw open the door of their new home. The action caused a flurry of activity, as spiders scurried back into cobwebby corners and dust motes sparkled in the beam of sunlight through the stone doorway. She smiled at the quirky little cottage with its wonky wooden beams and uneven plaster walls. A good clean, and maybe a fresh lick of paint was all it needed to return to its former glory.

Moira skirted around the packing boxes and bits of furniture the movers had left. Smiling again, she noted her meticulous labelling had not been in vain. The furniture, though shoved randomly to the side of each room, was at least in the rooms she had planned. It would save her a lot of trouble, meaning she could clean, and unpack everything before the family moved in.

Mac often laughed at her obsessive behaviour—what she called ‘meticulous’, he lovingly called her OCDness. At the beginning of the relationship it was a battle, his mess versus her need for order. His persistent lateness versus her need to be on time. They’d both compromised as the years went by, but there were certain things Moira wouldn’t budge on, and this was one of them. She knew it would’ve driven her mad to clean and unpack, if the family were there tramping dust through and randomly opening boxes.

Most people would be daunted by the prospect of unpacking a family home unaided, but Moira was secretly thrilled to have a week to do everything her way. Besides, they had one week of the lease left on the old place, and the kids still had a week of school before the summer holidays started. Mac and the kids were equally excited to spend a week on camp beds in the living room of the now empty old house, and no doubt they would be living off take-aways for every meal. Mac had kept behind just a few basics to keep them going until he locked up the old house for good.

Moira got out her list, another one of her OCDnesses that Mac loved to poke fun at. She had worked out a plan of action, the optimum order of unpacking, and the first on the list was the kettle. She walked through the living room to the kitchen at the back. It overlooked the garden through a big window and a glass-paned door. She quickly located the right box, and retrieved the kettle, her favourite mug, coffee and teaspoons. She’d bought fresh milk and food at the supermarket on the way. She made the coffee and ticked off the first item on the list.

Peering through the grimy window to the garden beyond, she mused that getting a window cleaner might have to be bumped further up her list of tasks. The rooms would look so much brighter with sparkling clean windows. It was too big a task for her to master, she made a mental note to ask a neighbour who the local window cleaner was. In a small village like this, it made sense to use a local business and would help them fit in.

Moira carried her coffee upstairs. Her next task was to get the master bedroom sorted. All she really needed was her bed made, and her toiletries unpacked, then she could settle in for an early night with her book. It would mean she could be up fresh and early the next day to make a proper start on the rest of the cottage. Moira worked tirelessly, stopping only for a quick bite to eat, until she had the bedroom more or less straight. It had been harder work than she thought to wrestle a king-size mattress into place. Finally, she tossed her dusty clothes in the wash basket and flopped down onto the bed exhausted. She checked the time 21:21 precisely—perfect! The rest could be sorted tomorrow.

The alarm went off at 07:00, Moira hit the snooze button and buried her face in the pillow. Beep beep beep. 07:07, she sat up and turned off the alarm. She missed the familiar ribbing from Mac—“seven minutes past? Why can’t you just snooze your alarm in five minute intervals like normal people?” Moira grinned, she liked even numbers, repetitive patterns and especially palindromic numbers. Mac thought she was nuts—she didn’t care!

It should have been lighter at this time of day. Moira wandered over to the window, admiring the new curtains she’d hung the day before, as she swooshed them open. This room looked out over the garden too, or it would do if the windows weren’t so grubby. She made another mental note to book a window cleaner. It was such a shame to have this view obscured by mildew and dust. In fact, the upstairs windows seemed worse than the downstairs ones.

The excitement of creating a home from the piles of boxes spurred Moira on. During a quick breakfast and a coffee she reviewed the list and ticked off last night’s completed tasks. Today, she would tackle the kitchen, but first, a trip to the local shop for fresh milk and a few other essentials.

The local shop was a bakery/newsagent/supermarket/post office combined. With a cash machine outside too, there was everything she needed within walking distance. Moira noted the time taken to walk there—two minutes and thirty-two seconds precisely. It certainly beat the half hour round trek in traffic to the supermarket at their last home in Stockport. Alder Green was such a pretty little place. The shop and the pub opposite were the same black and white style as the cottages that surrounded the village green. Farther down the road, the school was a more modern building, but it had been painted to blend in. She could hear the chatter of the children in the playground—08:45—they would soon be going into lessons.

Moira became aware of the glances from other shoppers, as she browsed round the veggies aisle. She smiled back and caught the eye of the lady nearest to her.

“You’re new here—Arthur’s place?” said the woman, when she realised she’d been caught staring.

Moira must have looked confused….

“Number 3. Arthur Ryder used to live there.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Moira replied. “Yes, we’ve just moved into number 3. Well, I have, I’m getting everything sorted for when the family move in next week. I’m Moira.”

The lady introduced herself as Gladys from number 7, and proceeded to fill Moira in on the local gossip. Other locals drifted round once Gladys had started, and soon, Moira felt she knew the life histories of most of the village. Gladys seemed particularly proud to be the first to talk to her.

“I wonder if you can give me the name of the local window cleaner,” Moira addressed the gaggle of women.

“Billy Dobbs,” they said in unison.

“Yeah, everyone in Alder Green uses Billy. We have a lovely, safe village and we want to keep it that way.” Gladys explained. The other ladies nodded and murmured their agreement.

It seemed a strange answer but Moira mused she hadn’t got used to village ways yet. After answering questions about her children and where they used to live, Moira finally managed to politely prise herself away. Gladys promised to send Billy along, and warned that she’d likely get a visit from Hatty—whoever she was.

Moira smiled as she scurried home with her purchases. It had taken rather longer than she’d planned, but it was good to suss out some of the village characters. She made a quick coffee then got on with the list. Next job—the kitchen.

Moira worked methodically, ticking off chores as she completed them. It pleased her to see the cottage slowly being transformed. As she hung curtains in the front room, a face popped up, beaming from the other side of the grimy glass.

“Billy, Billy Dobbs, window cleaner…” the man shouted and waved a bucket.

Moira quickly opened the door and introduced herself to the rather aged man—he looked to be close to retiring from the window cleaning business. He was small and wiry with leathery skin, no doubt from working outside, and his wide grin revealed a few gaps between his nicotine-stained teeth. Billy gave her his business card—a handwritten scrawl photocopied onto regular paper and cut down to roughly business card size, and he agreed to get to work straight away. 

Moira left Billy to it and got back on with the curtains. She’d just finished hanging the second set when there was a knock on the door. Billy stood there smiling, bucket in hand and one wet trouser leg. Moira really hoped it was water and tried not to look.

“That was quick! How much do I owe you?”

Billy beamed. “Fastest cleaner in the village!” he said proudly. “A fiver’ll do it. Thanks, love.”

Moira handed over a five pound note, thanked him and carried on. As she was hanging the third curtain, she realised she hadn’t seen or heard him clean any of the windows of the room she was in. A quick look round the downstairs rooms, she saw the results of Billy’s efforts—the grime had been pushed around with a damp cloth leaving a few clean smears between the grubby bits. She ran upstairs to check, expecting the same shoddy work, but found the windows no different than before. Thinking about it, she didn’t recall seeing a ladder when she was handing over her money.

If anything, the windows looked worse than before. Grabbing the scrawled business card, she started to tap the mobile number into her phone, then stopped. Her initial anger at having paid for such a shoddy job, half a shoddy job even, was replaced with the acceptance that this was village life. What was expected and acceptable in Stockport was very different here. It was probably better to just organise a proper cleaner, she mused. There was no need to berate Billy and risk antagonising the village folk. A quick search found a company in the next village and soon she had a booking for the following day.

The next morning, brought a stream of visitors. First off was Gladys, armed with a tray of scones. Moira invited her in, apologising about the mess. Clearing a few boxes off the sofa, she made room for her nosy neighbour to sit down, while she made coffee.

“I see Billy’s been,” Gladys shouted through to the kitchen.

“Er, yes…. He’s not, er, very professional is he?” said Moira trying to think of the best way to describe the redistribution of grime.

Gladys chuckled as Moira handed her a coffee. “No, our Billy isn’t what he used to be. But we all use him for the good of the village.”

“But aren’t you bothered about paying for this?” she replied gesturing towards a particularly mucky corner of window.

“Now, you’ve got to understand that village ways are different to the big city where you come from.”

Moira would hardly call Stockport a big city, but by comparison, it was pretty huge. She shrugged. She decided not to mention Squeaky Kleen who were due to call later in the day.

Next to call was Mr Potts, bearing a punnet of freshly picked raspberries from his allotment, and an invitation to visit any time. He politely refused the offer to come in, explaining that his runner beans needed trimming. Moira was secretly relieved he wouldn’t be tramping muddy wellies across her newly swept floor.

Moira was beginning to think she’d never get through the day’s chores when she heard a third knock at the door. Expecting the window cleaners, she rushed down, but was confronted by an elderly woman, all dressed up as if she was off to some posh function. Moira could see behind the lavishly applied make up, that she’d been an attractive woman in her youth. Now, she just looked gaudy against the quaint old cottages.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance. Harriet Dobbs, church secretary and neighbourhood watch,” she said in an overly posh accent that almost hid the country twang.

Moira smiled back kindly, held open the door and swept her arm back welcoming in her guest. It seemed village life included having a nosy round the houses of all newcomers.

With polite introductions made, Harriet plumped the cushion and settled herself down on the sofa.

“I’d like to welcome you to Alder Green. My husband and I have lived here since we were married, and I know everything there is to know about the village and its residents.” Harriet sat back, nibbled a scone, then brushed the crumbs from her tweed skirt.

Moira managed to suppress a giggle. She bet that Harriet was the local busybody. She started to reply but Harriet continued.

“My William is the manager of a thriving business, that serves the whole of Alder Green…”

“Oh…” started Moira, only to be cut off again.

“And my boys, they’re such good boys you know, they both have jobs in Stockport!”

Moira nodded. It seemed Harriet wasn’t interested in a two-way conversation.

“They’re in the Handiwork and Removals business, you know. Such good boys to their mama. Every day without fail, they go off working hard, then home on the last train in time for tea. They never miss a home-cooked meal.”

Moira listened to the stream of accomplishments of Darren and Barry and was relieved when Harriet drained the last sip of coffee.

“Well, I haven’t time to sit chatting all day. Will we be seeing you in church on Sunday?”

“Er, I’m not sure… I mean, I have a lot to do at the moment….” Moira faltered, not wanting to explain that the only time she entered a church was for weddings or funerals.

“Of course, I understand. I shall call back at six-thirty tomorrow after choir practice then, and give you details of all the services you can attend.”

Completely bamboozled, Moira thanked Harriet and saw her to the door. As she watched the old busybody bustle back towards the shop, a van pulled up outside and stopped—Squeaky Kleen emblazoned along the side. At least one job would get done today, Moira mused as she watched the young man unload a ladder, squeegees and sponges from the back of the van. Already she could tell it was clearly a more professional outfit than Billy and his mucky bucket.

Moira’s phone beeped—it was a short video clip from Mac that showed the children snuggled down in sleeping bags, watching something on the laptop. Amber and Olli seemed thrilled with the experience, but it gave her a pang of loneliness. Although she’d had a stream of visitors, it wasn’t the same as spending time with her family and she missed the kids. It was also a beautiful day, so Moira decided to ditch the chores for the rest of the day and go for a wander instead. She wanted to suss out the train times, hoping that she could meet the children after school and take them out for tea.

Old habits ingrained, Moira checked the time. Six minutes later she arrived at the train station on the other side of the school. Well, it wasn’t much more than a platform with a shed really. A quick check of the timetable revealed that although she had plenty of time to do the 28-minute journey there, the last train back from Stockport would leave at 17:00—not really enough time for her to take the kids out for tea if she picked them up at 15:30. She decided to take the car instead, that way she wouldn’t be rushing.

There was plenty of time before she’d need to leave, so Moira ambled back around the other side of the Green. The route took her past a garage and then the allotments. She waved at Mr Potts over the canes of sweet peas. He waved back and shouted her over. Pleasantries aside, and a request to call him Albert, he proudly gave a tour of his patch. Albert picked a plump pod of peas and handed it to Moira.

“I hear you met our Batty Hatty,” Albert said with a chuckle.

“Hatty? Oh, do you mean Harriet Dobbs?”

“Yep, Hatty Dobbs, wife of Billy and local nosy parker!” Albert carried on wandering down the rows of crops as he chatted, occasionally picking a ripe raspberry or strawberry for Moira to sample.

“Ah, I see. Yes, I had the official visit from Hatty and the lecture about her two angelic sons.”

“Bah! Angelic? Baz and Daz are, and have always been, thieving little gits.” Albert shook his head. “They caused no end of trouble in the village…trashed my shed, trampled all over my lettuces…. Not to mention the break-ins!”

“Really?” Moira replied in surprise. The village seemed like such a quiet place to live.

“Yep, the gits used to be part of the family window cleaning business, but ‘coincidentally’, stuff went missing every time they cleaned. Not too bright those two. Didn’t take long for PC Davison to make the connection.”

“But everyone still uses Billy…and he’s….” Moira faltered.

“He’s useless!” Albert finished for her. “It seems that the only ones blinkered to Baz and Daz’s antisocial activities, are Billy and Hatty. And we’re happy to keep it that way for the good of the village.”

“I don’t understand. I mean, why would you continue using Billy, and how did PC Davison stop them? Why does everyone keep saying, ‘for the good of the village’?” Moira was trying to keep up with village ways but it seemed a strange setup.

“Well, Baz and Daz have little respect for anyone, but they’re terrified of upsetting their dear mama,” Albert chucked. “I suspect it’s more they don’t want to lose their cushy lifestyle—Old Hatty dotes on that pair and thinks the sun shines out of their…well, you get the picture.”

“I think I’m beginning to but it still doesn’t explain why they’re suddenly working in Stockport, and Billy is continuing to smear grime around the village windows, ” Moira replied.

“Well, PC Davison had a little chat…. The stolen goods miraculously appeared in the church office for Hatty to find—she revelled in the glory of having solved the problem by praying for the thief to repent.”

Moira giggled, she could just imagine the self-righteous old bat crowing to all who’d listen.

“Baz and Daz were told to clear off and get jobs elsewhere, in return for keeping their mum none the wiser. Everyone in the village knows apart from the Dobbs’.”

“OK…but isn’t that just moving the problem elsewhere?”

Albert shrugged. “It works for the village and we’ve been relatively crime-free ever since.”

“But what about Billy?” Moira asked, still slightly confused about the vagaries of village life.

“Well, at first Billy was against the idea of the boys leaving the family business. We all convinced him that he could manage on his own without the boys. He carried on for a bit but after he fell from the ladder, Hatty banned him from using it again, and Billy always does as Hatty says. He was going to bring the boys back into the business again so we had a village meeting. We all agreed that paying Billy to do half a job, was better than the alternative. Unfortunately, he got worse with age—it comes to us all.”

“Ah, I see,” Moira said pondering the strange situation. It seemed she still had a lot to learn about village ways. It was an odd way to deal with thieves but if it kept harmony in the village, it suited her fine.

Moira said her goodbyes and made her way home. She was greeted by the Squeaky Kleen guys who were just packing the last bits into the van. Feeling slightly guilty, Moira admired her shiny, clean windows. The whole house looked brighter and better for a thorough clean. It spurred her on to get a few jobs done before she drove back to Stockport to pick up the children.

At exactly 15:25, Moira stood outside the school gates waiting for the bell to go. The five minutes felt like an eternity but it was worth the wait to see the grins on Amber and Olli’s faces. Moira drove them to the local pub, where they would meet Mac. It was a great family pub with a big garden outside, which meant the kids could play while the food was on order—that’s if they stopped talking long enough to breathe. The way they were babbling, it felt like they’d been apart for several weeks.

Eventually, exhausted from filling in their mum about their adventures camping in the old house, the children ran off to the climbing frames. Moira was just studying the menu, when Mac arrived. She hugged her husband and proceeded to tell him everything about the strange quirks of village life. Seeing his bemused grin, Moira realised she was babbling just as much as the kids had.

The family ate well, then Amber and Olli, begged to go back and play with the new friends they’d made. Moira sighed and sipped her drink as she watched the daredevil pair leaping from the climbing frame—it wouldn’t be long before they were all back together in the new cottage.

Moira’s phone beeped. 17:57, she noted as she checked the message, then cried out in dismay.

“What’s the matter?” Mac asked. He took the phone from Moira and studied the photo which filled the screen.

Moira’s anti-theft software on her laptop (the laptop that should have been sitting on her desk) had sent a blurry photo of the person who was currently inputting the wrong code. Although it was hard to tell who it was, it was definitely not Moira, and that was definitely not her floral wallpaper in the background.

“Damn! Looks like I’m going to have to head straight back. I’ll ring PC Davison en route.”

“Do you want me to come with you?” Mac queried, concerned. “I can follow you in my car….”

“No, you get the kids home. There’s no need to worry them. If I can’t sort it, I’ll secure the house and drive back here.”

With regret, Moira hugged her family and set off on the journey home. PC Davison agreed to meet her at the house.

Moira’s heart sunk as she surveyed the damage. The back door had been kicked in, and the kitchen trashed. PC Davison appeared as she was gingerly stepping over her smashed coffee jar. Together, they followed footprints in the coffee granules. The living room was just as bad as the kitchen but a quick scout round showed that no other rooms had been touched, and the only thing that seemed to be missing was her laptop.

Moira righted the sofa and slumped down, inviting PC Davison to join her.

“So, what’s the village procedure for dealing with this?” Moira said with a defeated sigh.

“Well, it’s strange, we haven’t had a break-in like this in years. I’m supposed to be retiring next week—just typical we get trouble now of all times. We’ve got some hotshot from Stockport taking over—PC Mo Smith I think his name is—I’ll take down your details now but I guess it’ll be him dealing with it.”

Moira grinned, despite the situation, it was an amusing turn of events that brought PC Davison to her house.

While PC Davison got out his notepad, Moira found the photo on her phone and held it out to him. “Whoever it was tried unsuccessfully to unlock my laptop.”

“Well I’ll be damned!” Davison shook his head. “That looks like Baz Dobbs, and if he was here his brother wouldn’t have been too far away. I’ll be having a little chat with the Dobbs brothers. Right, let’s get your details, then we’ll sort it. I wonder what set those two off thieving again….”

The sun shone through the sparkling clean windows and caused PC Davison to squint as he wrote the date and time on the top of the page. He glanced at the window and a moment of revelation flashed across his eyes.

“Our Billy didn’t do that, did he?”

Moira shifted uncomfortably, “Er no, he did attempt to do them but, well, I wasn’t happy so I got another company to do them properly.”

“I think we’ve uncovered the reason why you got the Dobbs treatment. Those two are very protective of their dad. OK, let’s get these details down and I’ll go have a chat.”

“Moira, Moira Smith, but Mo to my colleagues in Stockport,” she grinned. “Would you mind if I dealt with this? It seems I still have some learning to do about village ways.”

PC Davision chuckled. “Of course, it’d be my pleasure. How do you want to play this?”

“On your way back, call at the Dobbs residence and suggest the boys pop round to see me, I have an idea that might be mutually beneficial.”

Baz and Daz Dobbs reluctantly knocked on the front door, just seven minutes later. Moira invited them in making a show of stepping over the upended boxes. “So, it seems somebody has trashed my house and nicked my laptop.”

“Nowt to do with us, lady,” one of the pair snapped.

“Well, here’s what I think: you got back from work, nipped home to hear your mum gossiping about how the newcomer had got someone else in to clean the windows. So you popped right over to rearrange the furniture and help yourselves to a new laptop. Am I close?”

“Wasn’t us and you can’t prove nothin’,” the other of the pair said.

“Well, that’s where you’re wrong.” Moira turned her phone around, displaying the blurry photo.

“Bah, you can’t tell who it is from that pic. Besides, couldn’t have been us, we was working in Stockport.”

“Yeah, not long been back. No proof, not our problem,” the second Dobbs brother chipped in. They both turned to leave.

“Okay…you see, I’m a bit of a stickler for time. The last train arrived in at 17:28—let’s call it 17:30. It takes three and a half minutes to walk from the station to the shop, and I gather you live a couple of doors down from it. Assume five minutes of listening to your mum moan about other window cleaners taking over, then two and a half minutes walk to my house. You following this, boys? That takes us to 17:41. Let’s say six minutes to boot the door in, another six to trash two rooms, two and a half minutes to walk home, and a minute and a half to sneak the laptop past your mother and into your bedroom. That takes us to 17:57—the time stamp on the photograph of your ugly mug.”

“Yer still just guessing. Can’t prove nothing,” Ugly Mug said shrugging. His brother didn’t look too sure though.

“Hmmm, I guess you’re right. Sorry to have troubled you boys. I guess I’ll just have to walk back with you and ask our village neighbourhood watch if she recognises who has this rather distinctive floral wallpaper—what do you reckon?”

“OK, OK…. There’s no need to bring our mum into this,” the boy from the photo shot back, a look of panic spreading across his face.

Moira grinned back at the two white faces. “Here’s what’s going to happen: first off, you boys help the neighbourhood watch scheme and ‘find’ my missing laptop. Once it’s returned, I’ll give PC Davison a call and ask him to forget about filing the report. Then tomorrow morning, you’ll appear here with a new jar of coffee, a coffee pot and some tools to fix a busted door. Consider it community service.”

One of the brothers nodded, but the other didn’t seem to grasp the situation.

“Why should we? We’ve got work tomorrow.”

“Well, it just so happens that your lovely mother is calling round here at six-thirty, after choir practise. It would be an awful shame to have to explain to her how my house came to be in such disarray, now wouldn’t it? I think two strong lads like you could easily get that door fixed before my visitor arrives.”

The lads sped off and were back in under five minutes with the laptop. Moira grinned as she phoned PC Davison—she was getting used to village ways. She then rang to say goodnight to the children and once they’d gone back to watching TV, she filled Mac in on the Dobbs situation. Mac was uneasy leaving her there alone but Moira assured him all was fine.

The following day, Baz and Daz appeared bright and early, bringing a battered tool box and a jar of coffee. They seemed resigned to their fate, and even managed a cheeky grin. Moira left them to it while she cleaned up the mess they’d made—she didn’t trust them to do it to her standards.

At 12:30—the start of Mac’s lunch break, Moira’s phone beeped signalling a text, but before she could check it, the phone rang—Mac!

“Hi Mo, how’s it going with those two scallywags?”

“OK. Actually, they’re doing a great job of the door. And so far they’re being respectful,” Moira replied.

“That’s good. Look, I was thinking last night that the image on your text looked vaguely familiar. I’ve sent you some pics—have a look and see what you think.”

Moira put the call on hold while she looked at the text from Mac—several grainy CCTV stills showed two lads, with caps pulled down to hide their faces. At first glance it was difficult to ID them, but a quick look out of the window confirmed that the Dobbs brothers ‘coincidentally’ had the same caps and jackets. Not conclusive evidence but she’d bet that the handiwork and removals business the boys did in Stockport, included breaking in and removing goods from shops like the one the CCTV image was taken from. Moira resumed the call.

“I think your hunch is correct, but there’s not enough there to stand up in court. Leave it with me, I have an idea that might solve a few problems and make both our jobs easier.”

Moira booted up her laptop and set to work. It was worth putting in a bit of an effort to make her plan work. Finally, she connected the printer, sent her work to print, and put the kettle on. She made a quick call to PC Davison and he promised to call round in five minutes. Just enough time to brew a pot of tea and put out a plate of biscuits.

At 17:30, Moira called the Dobbs boys in for a break. They looked a little shocked to see PC Davison already sat on the sofa nibbling a digestive biscuit, but they accepted a cup of tea and sat down.

“Firstly boys, I’d like to thank you for a job well done. You have some decent skills when it comes to handiwork,” Moira started.

Both Dobbs brothers grinned, and relaxed back with their tea.

“But that brings me onto your other ‘handiwork’ business…. You see, we have two problems we need to solve if we’re all to live happily in this village. But first perhaps I should formally introduce myself – PC Moira Smith, and I’m soon to be taking over from PC Davison here.”

“Oh man! If we’d known you was a copper….” Baz started, then groaned.

PC Davison chuckled, he was clearly loving seeing the boys squirm.

“So, the first problem is your dad’s business—it’s not really working, is it? The villagers are being kind because they like your dad, but to be fair, he’s getting a bit past the window cleaning job, isn’t he?”

Baz shrugged, but Daz nodded in resigned agreement.

“But he loves going round the village chatting to folk, and it keeps him from driving our mum mad,” Daz said sadly.

“I figured as much, so I’ve taken the liberty of updating his business to give him a role more suited to his abilities.” Moira grabbed the stack of glossy sheets from the printer and handed a copy to each brother, and one to PC Davison. The stylish flyer read:

Dobbs and Sons

Window Cleaning and Handiwork 

“But what about…” PC Davison started, and nodded over to the brothers.

Moira cut him off with a wave and a wink, “I’ve got that covered.”

“And sons?” Daz queried. “We can’t, we’ve got jobs in Stockport….”

“I’ll come to that issue in a minute,” Moira replied.

PC Davison leant forward, a confused but interested look on his face.

Moira said, ”So, here’s how I see the business developing…. Your dad takes on a managerial role, meeting the customers, taking bookings for jobs, collecting the money etc. That keeps him happy, and more importantly, away from my windows with his grubby rag! Meanwhile, you two talented lads do a proper job of cleaning windows, plus any other odd jobs people may need doing. The people of Alder Green get the job they’ve paid for, and your dad oversees your work to ensure no ‘additional jobs’ are undertaken.”

“I’m not sure about that, not after the trouble last time,” PC Davison interjected.

“Oh come now PC Davison, these lads are now reformed characters, ready to do an honest day’s work—aren’t you lads?”

“Course! Dead trustworthy, we are. But I’m gonna have to say no, ‘cos we already got jobs in Stockport,” said Daz.

“I’m glad you mentioned Stockport,” Moira said with a grin. “I’m sorry to inform you that your current occupation is no longer an option. As of today you are both unemployed.”

“Eh? What ya’ saying? We got jobs,” said Daz, and Baz nodded in agreement.

Moira turned on her phone and flicked to the CCTV pictures. She showed it to PC Davison but deliberately held it out of sight of the lads.

Davison tutted and shook his head.

Moira said, ”It seems you two have been naughty boys in Stockport. And my husband, Sergeant Mac Smith is wondering if I can help ID these two shoplifters caught on camera, numerous times. So, we get to our second problem…. My husband wants to wrap up this case before he moves house at the weekend, and if these thieves were to retire and take on respectable work instead….”

“So what you’re saying is that we do the cleaning job for our dad, or you’ll dob us in to hubby?” said Daz.

“Yeah, she’s blackmailing us. We could have you done for that, and we got a witness,” Baz blurted out.

“Will you shut up and listen for once, Baz!” Daz said, cuffing his brother around the side of his head. “We could do serious time for them supermarket jobs.”

“Thank you for confirming my suspicions that you were the two caught on camera,” said Moira. “Sergeant Smith is waiting for me to ring back with an answer. We have two options: you continue in your current line of work, the villagers switch to a better window cleaning business, and I have to do my duty as the local copper and dob you in, or, we all agree that the past is best left in the past and you move on to new, respectable careers. I will personally recommend your handiwork skills. PC Davison, you’ll have a chat with the villagers about the new arrangements—won’t you?”

“Of course, it’d be my pleasure to do this last task before I retire. You can count on me to make it right with the village. I should say though, that if anything should go missing, or as much as a bean is trampled on in the allotment, this agreement is void.” PC Davison gave the boys a stern look, then settled back with another biscuit.

“I agree. So, what’s it to be?” asked Moira.

“Can we think about it?” Baz asked.

“What’s there to think about, you numbskull,” Daz snapped. “She’s got us whichever way you look at it.”

Moira checked her watch—17:58. “Sure you can think about it. It’s nearly six o’clock and your mum will be here in half an hour. What shall we tell her? Her darling boys, saviours of the family business? Or her thieving sons, a disgrace to the family name, soon to be doing time?Moira paused. “The clock is ticking….”

The End

Time after Time: and other stories

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