I did go to the hospital the next morning. Overnight my face had become a technicolor nightmare, the canvas of an insane abstract-expressionist whose palette consisted of purple and red. Incipient paranoia was also setting in. Debbie Nash’s words played over and over in my head. Had she really said that? Was I imagining it, or had she also placed some emphasis on my name; Mr. Lyle?
I swallowed three aspirin which did absolutely nothing for the pain, and took myself off to the emergency room where everyone was either a thief or a spy. Utterly blameless individuals though they most likely were - their worst crimes being dodging fares or claiming fraudulently for a new toaster after a burglary; to my paranoid gaze they were all suspect. Devious and shady characters, all bent on the swift execution of some reprehensible scheme.
A doctor set my nose after only a four hour wait, and sent me on my way with a disapproving sneer and a prescription. He assumed I’d been in a bar fight and I let him believe it. I didn’t have the energy to argue. He forced some leaflets into my hand as I was on my way out. I glanced at them briefly. One was entitled Drink Sensibly, the other Get Help for Substance Abuse. I tossed them into the nearest bin and wandered into the hospital car-park where two guys with portable oxygen tanks were having a quiet smoke in their pajamas.
There was another bench, occupied only by an elderly woman who from her attire was a visitor rather than a resident. I was feeling shaky, whether from the ordeal of the bone-setting or from the drugs I didn’t know. I sat down on the other end of the bench. It was cold but sheltered from the wind, tucked behind a strange rock formation that might have been a public sculpture.
“Been in the wars?” she asked. Her voice was sympathetic, her face a mass of comfortable wrinkles. She wore a blue, woolen hat with a bobble on it, a thick old-fashioned coat with a faux fur collar and her gloved hands were resting on a large, shiny black bag that sat proud and upright on her lap.
“Yep,” I said and she tutted.
“What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I entered an amateur boxing competition,” I said and to my surprise she snorted with laughter. Alert blue eyes winked at me through a pair of gold-rimmed glasses.
“I think you’re spinning me a line,” she said. “Oh yes. Amateur boxing competition! Who did you go up against? A kangaroo?”
“Sure, two of them. And believe me, I came off best. Think I got talent-spotted.”
“Well, blood spotted,” she said. “Which is almost the same thing. Congratulations. I was in the wars too. Only I was hit by a car.”
“Well, you look fine,” I said, startled. She didn’t look injured.
“I am fine. Now anyway. I came in for my final check-up today. They weren’t going very fast, but it was enough to knock me down. When you’re on your last legs it doesn’t take much to send you sprawling. Broke my wrist, but you’d never know it would you?” As she spoke she took off one glove and rolled up her sleeve, presenting a skinny wrist for my inspection.
“Great,” I said. “No, you never would.”
“They tell me I won’t have to come again,” she said proudly.
“How did you get knocked down?”
“You really want to hear?” She cocked her head to one side and the bobble on her hat bounced.
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, it was my own stupidity more than anything. I went shopping but I took the wrong glasses. I picked up my reading glasses by mistake so I couldn’t see a thing. I mean they’re fine for reading, but not much else. Anyway, I struggled for a bit, but in the end I decided I had to go back for them. I was trying to choose a present for my grand-daughter you see. This was back in September. And she turned twenty-one so it had to be something a little special. My son told me she might like a necklace. He suggested a shop, because of course I’ve no idea what a young girl would want. Anything I’d like she’d probably hate with a passion. I was in there, studying the necklaces; ugly, clunky things all over with skulls and whatnot, but that’s what she likes apparently and honestly I’ve not seen her wear anything but black and red and lace everywhere since she was thirteen. That’s when I decided I had to go back for my glasses.”
“I came out of the arcade in quite a hurry, stepped off the curb and bang: A car hit me. Well, it was more of a bump. They were only just pulling away. Two businessmen it was, and they were very sorry about it. I don’t know who was more shocked, them or me. Quite comical actually; them peering down at me sitting in the road, looking so scared I suppose they thought I might die on them. They were very considerate anyway, insisted on bringing me to the hospital, and one of them took out his phone and called my son.”
“When was this?” I asked.
“Back in September,” she said. “Takes a long time for old bones to heal. A Mr. Setton and a Mr. Avocado. Well, I’m not sure about the names, especially Avocado. But that’s what I thought when he told me; like the pear. They wrote everything down for me though, in case of the insurance.”
“Mr. Setton,” I said. “It couldn’t have been Sennet, could it?”
“I think it was actually,” her face wrinkled up even more so that she resembled a reject sultana. “Sennet. Not Setton. Ted Sennet. You must know them then? Do you work with them?”
“Not exactly,” I said. “Which one gave you the details?”
“Avocado. I’ve still got them at home in my oddments drawer.”
“How are you fixed for a lift?”
She looked dubious. I suppose I wasn’t a prepossessing sight. Talking with me on a bench was one thing, but getting into a car quite another. I launched into the story. I told her all about Mr. Sennet and how he had disappeared, how I was trying to find a trace of him. How serendipitous it was that I’d met her; how it was tantamount to working against fate not to allow me to take her home so she could give me the information. Her expression changed from suspicion and skepticism to one of intense interest. She revealed that she loved mysteries. The bookshelves in her house groaned with them. She was never happier, she claimed, than when sitting cosily in front of a fire with a cup of tea, a packet of biscuits and a good thriller. It was settled. I took her home.