Authors: Jenny Twist
MANTEQUERO BOOK 2
By Jenny Twist
Jenny Twist, Copyrigh
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Editor: Emily Eva Editing
Cover Art: Novel Prevue
Cloke, without whom this book would never have happened.
. In the south of Spain at the beginning of the twentieth century, village people still believed in this particular fabulous beast. Sometimes they called it a mantequero, and sometimes a sacamantecas; it was a monster which looked like a man, but which lived in wild places and fed on human manteca or fat . . .
The mid-morning bell rang and suddenly the corridor was filled with the sound of banging doors and running feet. One small figure was running so fast he ran straight into Alison with such force it took her breath away and very nearly knocked her over. Taking the child by the shoulders and holding him at arm’s-length, she said, “Tyson Higgins, how often do I have to tell you – Walk, don't run.”
“Yes, Miss. Sorry, Miss.”
The child gave a terrified glance over his shoulder and Alison followed the direction of his gaze just in time to catch Benson and Phelps, the school bullies, skidding to a halt half-way down the corridor.
“Were they chasing you?” Alison searched Tyson's face anxiously, but he just pressed his lips together and shook his head. “If they're bullying you, you should tell a teacher and we can do something about it.”
“Yes, Miss – I mean no, Miss.”
She looked up as Benson and Phelps drew level, Phelps shooting a truly venomous look at Higgins as he passed.
“All right then.” She let the child go and rubbed her stomach, which was still aching from the impact. “But don't forget.”
“No, Miss. Thanks, Miss.”
Tyson shot off in the opposite direction to that taken by the two bullies and Alison watched him go with troubled eyes.
Poor little bugger
, she thought. What chance did he have? And what was the point of telling a teacher? You could maybe protect them while they were in the school, but what about after school? All the bullies had to do was wait round the corner and pounce on him on his way home. And why, for God's sake, did parents give their children names like Tyson? she wondered. They were doomed to turn out little and thin with National Health glasses and a runny nose. Tyson's nose ran so continually that the snot had worn grooves in his upper lip.
Alison sighed and made her way to her own class. First day back after the holidays was always the worst.
There was pandemonium as she opened the door and she heard Miss Blacker's voice quite clearly in her head –
Never leave a class alone for more than two minutes!
With a groan, she made her way to her desk and tapped her pencil on the surface. There was instant silence as all the faces turned towards her.
Thank you, Miss Blacker,
she thought as she pinned a bright smile on her face and said, “Good morning 3B.”
In Alison's opinion Miss Blacker was the best teacher that ever lived and breathed. She had taught her more about teaching in the few months she had been at Graystones than she had learnt in the whole three years of her education degree. The pencil trick was one of them. It always got their attention, although it played merry hell with the lead in the pencils.
Alison wanted to
Miss Blacker. She assiduously followed all her advice and she copied everything she did.
Miss Blacker made a point of coming in at least half an hour before classes began in order, she said, to get herself in the right frame of mind. Alison had done the same from her second week onwards. They often sat together, the only two teachers in the staff room, in companionable silence, both working on their lesson plans. Or they would discuss teaching issues, usually Alison's issues, usually solved by Miss Blacker. Miss Blacker would have known what to do about Tyson, Alison thought, as she got her class re-arranging the classroom to look like a restaurant – another of Miss Blacker's suggestions – don't just read from the text books, get them to act it out.
Might be a bit tricky next week, though,
she thought. Next week's text was a day at the zoo.
Oh, I don't know, though,
she thought, remembering how they were behaving when she first walked in.
They might be naturals.
But Miss Blacker hadn't been in the staff room this morning. It was the first time since Alison had started at the school that Miss Blacker hadn't been there and her absence had left her feeling vaguely worried. She wasn't there at lunchtime either and when Alison asked around nobody seemed to know why.
“The Weasel is hopping mad,” the Head of Department remarked. “Apparently she didn't let anyone know and he had to organise the supply teacher at the last minute.”
Alison chewed her bottom lip. That wasn't like Miss Blacker. Not like her at all. Miss Blacker was exceptionally well-organised. Her feeling of disquiet deepened. Miss Blacker lived alone. She could be ill. Too ill to get to the phone.
“Has anyone called her?”
“Well, I imagine the Weasel has,” said the Head of Department crossly. “It really is too bad of her. We've got the O levels coming up and it's not fair on the kids to leave them with a supply teacher.”
Alison drew in a shocked breath. Miss Blacker could be lying in a coma or worse and all anyone could think about was the inconvenience!
should have been Head of Department, anyway. She'd been teaching years longer than the vile Mrs Dulwich and was a thousand times better than her. That's what happened when you were fat. Nobody took you seriously. At least not adults. The children adored Miss Blacker. Frowning, Alison left the staff room and made her way to the Secretary's office.
She stood for a moment staring at the notice on the Secretary’s door. It said ‘SECRETARYS OFFICE’. Then she knocked politely at the door. “Come in!” The voice sounded weary and harassed.
Miss Harding was a middle-aged spinster. She was thin and dried-up and wore a habitual air of disappointment. “Yes. What can I do for you, Miss … er?” “Metcalfe,” Alison supplied. “I was enquiring about Miss Blacker.”
Miss Harding looked vaguely round the room as if she thought Miss Blacker might be lurking in one of the corners. “Yes?”
“Well, she didn’t come in today and I wondered if something was wrong.” Alison found herself shifting from one foot to another. Miss Harding hadn’t asked her to sit down and she was beginning to feel like a pupil who had been sent to the headmaster’s room to be punished for something.
Miss Harding gave Alison a long hard stare over the top of her glasses. “And what business is it of yours?”
Alison almost gasped at the rudeness of the remark. She sat down in the chair opposite Miss Harding’s desk and leant her chin on her hands. “She is a colleague and a friend. If she is ill I would like to know.”
Miss Harding gave an exaggerated sigh. “I am afraid I am unable to divulge that
Alison stared back at her, unbelieving. “You are unable to divulge that information? Why, for goodness’ sake? What do you think I’m going to do with it?”
Miss Harding shifted slightly in her seat, a dull blush creeping up her neck. “I am unable to divulge that information because I don’t know,” she said.
Alison’s eyes widened with surprise. “But surely she must have telephoned.”
Miss Harding shook her head. “As far as I know there has been no contact.”
“But hasn’t anyone gone round to her house to see if she’s all right? She lives alone. She could have collapsed or fallen down the stairs. She could be dying of food poisoning –” Alison broke off, unable for the moment to think of any other possible fates Miss Blacker may have suffered.
Miss Harding shook her head again and stood up, a clear invitation for Alison to do the same. She ignored it.
“So you’re saying a valued and so far impeccably reliable member of staff fails to return after the holiday and nobody does anything about it? Has anyone even tried to call her?”
Blushing furiously, and looking mulishly defensive, Miss Harding refused to meet Alison’s eye. “As far as I know there has been no contact. If you wish to pursue this I suggest you speak to Mr Wesley.” And she actually turned her back on Alison and began fussing with the files in the cabinet.
“Oh, I shall.” Alison got up and swept grandly out of the room. She stopped at the door and looked back. “Oh, and by the way, there’s no apostrophe in your sign.”
Miss Harding spun round again. “What?”
“Your sign – Secretary’s Office – there’s no apostrophe.”
“Miss Harding stared at the door. “Does it matter?” she said wearily.
“I would have thought it DID matter,” Alison said sententiously. “After all, this IS a school.”
And she marched down the corridor feeling immensely pleased with herself.
Mr Wesley, aka the Weasel, had an office at the opposite end of the corridor. The notice on the door simply said ‘HEADMASTER’. No points to be scored there then. She knocked briskly.
“Come in.” The Weasel had a high nasal voice, exactly appropriate for a weasel. He even looked like a weasel with his long, narrow head and long, thin, pink-tipped nose.
“Yes? What can I do for you, Miss – er?”
“Metcalfe,” said Alison. “I was wondering about Miss Blacker. How is she?”
The Weasel raised his eyebrows in a patronising manner. “I don’t see how that is any concern of yours.”
“She is a friend and colleague,” said Alison patiently, aware she would have to go through the whole rigmarole again, “and I am concerned that she hasn’t come in to work.”
“Well, I can’t help you there,” Mr Wesley stood up and spread his hands on the desk. “Miss Blacker has not seen fit to inform us of the reason for her absence.”
Alison felt rage brimming up inside her but fought it down and went on sweetly. “That’s not very like her, is it? Has she ever done this before?”
Mr Wesley glared at her. “Miss – er –”
“Er – yes. I fail to see why you feel so concerned.”
“Because she doesn’t do that. She
has time off. She
lets you know if there’s a problem. She doesn’t . . .” To her horror, Alison felt tears welling up in her eyes. She took a deep breath. “I just want to know if anyone has tried to contact her.”
“Well, naturally,” Mr Wesley looked down his long nose at Alison as if she were
something mildly interesting that had just crawled out from under a stone. “We telephoned her home.”
“And there was no reply.”
Alison’s hand flew up to her mouth.
“My God! I
something had happened to her. Have you been round to her house?”
“Miss – er - this is a school, not a care home. We can’t go chasing after members of staff who lack the manners to inform us of their absence.”
Alison stood up, cheeks flaming. “For goodness’ sake! This is completely out of character. Stop talking about her as if she’s playing truant. It’s obvious something is seriously wrong. If you can’t be bothered to send someone round, give me her address and
go.” She felt her hands clenching into fists and pressed them hard against her sides, glaring back at Mr Wesley, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
“I don’t think that would be appropriate,” said the Weasel, turning away from her and consulting a large chart on the wall. “You can rest assured the school will take the necessary action.”
Alison bit her lip and turned to go. She was afraid to speak for fear of bursting into tears.
She hoped he fell down the stairs and nobody discovered his body till three weeks later when it began to smell.
She just had time to grab a sandwich before the afternoon lessons. Nothing could be done until school finished at four.
From time to time during the afternoon she thought about Miss Blacker. The problem tugged at her mind at unexpected moments and she felt as if she couldn’t possibly concentrate and
the day would be never-ending. But when the four o’ clock bell finally came it took her by surprise. She had become so engrossed in teaching she had actually succeeded in forgetting all about it. Now the anxiety came roaring back. She felt as if time was of the essence. It was imperative she find Miss Blacker and make sure she was all right before something dreadful and irrevocable happened.
She handed out homework assignments to the class, gathered up her books for marking, stuffed them in her briefcase and left the room, heading at a dangerous pace for the staff room.
There were far more Blackers in the telephone directory than she had imagined, but only twelve of them had the initial J. She rang them all. Seven went to answer machine, four rang and rang with no reply, and the one that answered said there was no June Blacker at that address.
Feeling defeated, she slumped down in the chair staring at the page in the directory as if something there would inspire her. It did. She remembered that Miss Blacker said she lived near the library and looked closely at the addresses to see whether she recognised any of the street names as being near the library. She didn’t.
Alison was a great reader of detective novels and she sat for a moment trying to remember what the procedure was for tracing missing persons. The first thing they did, surely, was look for them in the electoral rolls. She didn’t know for certain, but she thought there might possibly be a copy kept at the library itself.