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Authors: Mike Crowl,Celia Crowl

Mumbersons and The Blood Secret, The (6 page)

BOOK: Mumbersons and The Blood Secret, The
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‘That’d be great,’ said Billy. He eyed the food on their plates. They were certainly making up for being half-starved in the diamond mine. Jerry would have to add some extra items to the grocery bill today. That wouldn’t please him.

 

‘I’m sorry, your mother didn’t come,’ said his grandmother, beginning to make some porridge. ‘Gerard tried to explain what happened, but it was too confusing. Probably too tired from all the driving.’

 

‘Didn’t
want
to explain,’ said her husband, slurping his tea. ‘That’s why he got angry with us. Said it wasn’t our business.’

 

‘Your mother gave him something, though. Gerard said it was very long way to drive to pick up something so useless.’

 

‘What did she give him?’ asked Billy.

 

‘A pack of cards,’ said Mr Mumberson. ‘Madeleine told him to keep it on him at all times. For a door that must be opened.’

 

‘A pack of cards?’

 

‘Your father thought it was nonsense,’ said Mrs Mumberson. ‘As he would.’ She popped some bread in the toaster. ‘Would you like some hot toast as well? If I can stop your grandfather chomping his way through an entire loaf for breakfast alone.’

 

Before Billy could answer, Mr Mumberson, who was in the middle of buttering the last piece on the rack, said to his wife, in what was meant to be a casual tone, ‘Thought Billy and I might take a walk later on.’

 

‘Where to?’ asked his wife.

 

‘Just to look around. Try and make myself familiar with the place again. Things’ll have changed in twenty years.’

 

‘What am I supposed to do while you go off enjoying yourself? Vacuum the house? Wash the windows? Mow the lawns?’

 

Mr Mumberson, always ready for a fight, was about to answer each of these questions. But before he could do so, Olivia and Stevedore burst in the back door.

 

‘Don’t knock, will you,’ said Billy.

 

Olivia announced that she was ready to go and ‘investigate’ the Factory.

 

Mr Mumberson glared at her. ‘You’re not going anywhere near the Factory. Jerry said so. Last night.’

 

Olivia’s face fell. Stevedore flumped in a heap under the table.

 

Mrs Mumberson took Olivia by the shoulders and sat her firmly in a chair. ‘I’m making breakfast,’ she said. ‘I bet you haven’t even eaten yet.’ She returned to stirring the porridge. ‘Don’t worry about the Factory, Olivia. You’re exactly the person I need to help me. Mr Mumberson says he’s going to check out the town with Billy...’

 

‘I’ll go too!’ said Olivia.

 

‘I was going to ask if you’d like to be my official escort instead? You can show me where all the shops are. Not that I’ve got any money.’

 

‘I’ll show you how to use the cellphone first,’ said Olivia. ‘Then if you get lost, we’ll be able to find each other.’

 

‘How will that help?’ said Billy. ‘She doesn’t have a cellphone.’

 

‘Oh,’ said Olivia. ‘I’ll show her anyway. It might come in handy.’

 

‘Breakfast first. Lessons afterwards,’ said Mrs Mumberson.

 

She soon set bowls of porridge in front of Olivia and Billy. She’d opened a tin of sliced peaches, and spooned out several pieces onto each plate. There was sugar if they wanted it, and milk of course. As soon as Olivia had had a second helping she pulled Mrs Mumberson to the table, sat her down, and began to teach her how to use the cellphone. Her instructions were far too complicated. ‘Take it slowly,’ said Mrs Mumberson. ‘Show me the basics first.’

 

Mr Mumberson kept looking at his watch while he finished his second - or maybe it was his third - cup of tea. Meanwhile Billy cleared the table, and washed up the dishes, even though his grandfather indicated to him that he wanted to get moving.

 

‘You could dry the dishes for him, Mumberson,’ said his wife, looking up from the lesson. He sighed loudly, but got up and took a tea towel. ‘Wipe them all. Not just every second one.’

 

They were soon finished. Even Jerry would approve of the cleaning up. ‘All settled then,’ said Mr Mumberson, who was now very keen to get going. He put on his coat (or rather, Jerry’s old one) and said to Billy, ‘We’re off!’ before Mrs Mumberson could object. But Billy first made sure she knew where the spare key to the house was, hooked underneath the outside windowsill of the kitchen, not at all visible to passing burglars.

 

Soon after, he and his granddad set off towards the shopping mall. Billy didn’t need to be told that Mr Mumberson wanted to go straight to the jeweller’s to get money for his diamonds. When they arrived at the shop, Mr Adiblo was unlocking the grill over his windows. Being only as tall as Billy, he had to use a long pole to push the grill up out of the way. He gave them the sort of smile that indicated he didn’t think they’d be buying anything from
his
shop. It didn’t help that Mr Mumberson looked as though he was wearing someone else’s clothes - which he was, mostly - and that his boots were battered and had holes in them. He’d tried to clean them up, but even after being cleaned, the scratches and dents and ingrained marks remained.

 

Billy and his grandfather followed the man into the shop. Spotlights and overhead lighting made the jewellery, watches and clocks sparkle and glitter and twinkle all around them. ‘Can I help you with anything today?’ asked the jeweller, with a look that said he thought it was unlikely.

‘Yes, you can,’ said Mr Mumberson. He drew out a handkerchief - Billy noticed it was clean, so his grandfather must have borrowed one of Jerry’s. ‘Sorry, I didn’t have anything more suitable to carry these in...’ He spread out the handkerchief on the glass counter.

Mr Adiblo’s eyes opened wide. ‘My goodness. Where did you get these?’ He peered at the dozen or so diamonds sitting in front of him. ‘They look to be excellent examples of their kind. And uncut as well.’ He opened a small cupboard behind him and took out a loupe, a tiny round magnifying glass that he held to his right eye by lowering his eyebrow and squeezing up his cheek. ‘Remarkable. Such wonderful quality.’

‘They came into my...er...possession recently,’ said Mr Mumberson, ‘I can’t go into details. I’m not able to...ah...reveal my source.’

‘How curious,’ said Adiblo, glancing up with his un-louped eye. ‘Curious indeed.’ He was fascinated by the diamonds, and picked up one after another with a pair of padded tweezers. ‘These are worth a good deal of money. A great deal.’

‘That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,’ said Mr Mumberson. ‘I’d like to sell them.’

Billy thought the jeweller jumped, as though someone under the counter had given him a kick.

‘Sell them?’ he said. ‘Sell them. Hmm.’ The diamonds continued to hold his attention, hypnotising him. ‘Beautiful. Magnificent,’ he said under his breath.

Mr Mumberson became impatient. ‘Are you interested in purchasing them, or not? I can take them somewhere else, you know. ’

‘Of course, of course. Yes, of course I’m interested.’ Adiblo reached under the counter and pulled out a pocket-sized box lined with green velvet. He carefully emptied the diamonds into the box one at a time, closed the lid, and fixed the tiny clasp. ‘I would have to arrange finance, naturally, and that may take a few days.’

Mr Mumberson took back his handkerchief and folded it neatly. ‘How many days?’ he asked, his face tight.

‘Oh, enough to verify their provenance, of course.’

‘Their what?’

‘Their provenance - their place of origin.’

‘Are you trying to tell me that you think they’re stolen?’ asked Mr Mumberson, leaning over the counter towards the little man and looking surprisingly fierce.

The jeweller took a step back, unintentionally dropping the loupe out of his eye and managing to catch it with his right hand. ‘Of course not. I wouldn’t dare to assume such a thing. But it’s most unusual for uncut diamonds to turn up out of the blue. Normally, as jewellers, we would purchase
cut
diamonds, you understand, or diamonds that have been fitted into jewellery.’

Mr Mumberson continued to lean towards him and spoke to him as though Adiblo was a trifle deaf. ‘I would like to sell these diamonds. If you want to buy them then tell me what day I can come back for my money. Or else return them to me, and I will find another jeweller.’

‘That won’t be easy, not in Skittleton,’ said the jeweller, tersely. ‘You’ve come to the only place in town that would even think of dealing with the purchase of uncut diamonds.’

‘Fine,’ said Mr Mumberson, standing up straight again, which only emphasised how short the jeweller was. ‘What day will I return?’

Mr Adiblo took a notebook from under the counter and wrote down something that Billy couldn’t read upside down
.
It looked like he was filling in time rather than working anything out. ‘Shall we say, Wednesday?’

‘I’d sooner it was earlier than that. Is that the best you can do?’

‘I’m afraid so.’ Again that sickly smile. The jeweller knew he had the upper hand. ‘Now, I’ll need your name, your address, your phone number.’ He held his pen at the ready. ‘And some identification.’

Mr Mumberson’s face went pale. ‘Identification?’

Adiblo looked at him, perhaps wondering if Mr Mumberson didn’t understand the word. ‘Yes, identification. It’s perfectly normal when someone brings in anything they want to sell. You realise that we sometimes have some very unsavoury types trying to sell things that they have...stolen.’ When he said the word
unsavoury
his nose twitched, as though he had remembered a certain smell one of the unsavoury types had left behind.

‘Stolen,’ repeated Mr Mumberson. He’d gone from pale to grey. He glanced at Billy out of the corner of his eye, swallowed, cleared his throat. ‘These aren’t stolen. But I do have a problem with identification. I’ve only been back in the...er...country for a few days. My...passport has been mislaid...and my driver’s licence needs to be renewed...’

Billy looked at him, astonished. This wasn’t unnoticed by the jeweller. ‘Excuse me, Mr...’

‘Mumberson.’

‘Mr Mumberson, I must say I’m puzzled about your situation. However,’ he added, with a glance at his secondhand clothing, ‘I can see that you’re in some difficulties, and I’m not a hard man.’ He smiled his sickly smile again. Billy was beginning to hate it. ‘Why don’t you leave the diamonds with me until Wednesday, as we suggested, and I’ll see what I can do to purchase them from you?’ He wrote down Mr Mumberson’s name on his pad. Billy noticed that he spelt it wrongly. ‘I assume you do have an address, Mr Mumberson?’

‘Of course. It’s...’ He stopped, his mind a blank. After twenty years he’d forgotten where he lived.

‘It’s all right,’ said Billy, ‘This is my grandfather. He lives with us. And so does my grandmother.’ Mr Mumberson gave him a relieved look. ‘They’ve been away for twenty years. In a horrible country. They’ve been...’ He stopped, realising that telling the jeweller his grandparents had been imprisoned by a witch probably wasn’t a good idea. ‘...they’ve been treated very badly. It’s very hard for them to talk about it.’ He glanced at his grandfather. ‘They’re only just starting to feel better.’

‘I see,’ said the jeweller. His face, however, said that he didn’t believe a word of it.

‘Our address is sixty-nine Fivefold St,’ said Billy, trying to move things on again. He gave the telephone number as well, and Adiblo noted it all down.

‘Very well then, Mr Mumberson,’ he said, ‘we’ll see you on Wednesday.’

‘Thank you.’ Mr Mumberson was about to leave with Billy when he stopped and said, ‘We came past your shop late last night. It was locked up. But someone was moving around inside. In the dark.’

Now it was the jeweller’s turn to go pale. ‘You saw someone? In the shop?’ His hand, which was still holding the box containing the precious diamonds, shook slightly. ‘Ah, good. Thank you for telling me.’

‘We thought it might have been a burglar,’ said Billy.

The man stared at him without speaking for a moment, then finally said, ‘No. No burglaries here. No.’

He stared vaguely at them a little longer, then suddenly, without a word, bundled them out of the shop. He shut the door behind them, muttering, ‘Good day.’

 

They looked back, surprised at his unfriendly behaviour. Through the window they saw him pick up the phone. But his hand was shaking and he seemed to be having trouble trying to dial the number. He glanced up, saw them standing outside, dropped the phone on its cradle, and rushed out the back of the shop.

 

Chapter 7 - The reconnaissance

 

When Mr Mumberson and Billy got home they found Jerry and the next door neighbour, Mr Khafoops, sitting in the kitchen having coffee. Jerry looked very tired. Mrs Mumberson, who’d been baking, was now doing the dishes, and Olivia was drying them, not very successfully. They’d decided not to go to town after all.

 

Without even greeting Billy, Jerry said to him, ‘I’ve been over to the Factory with Mahid. No one’s ever heard of a security guard called Lavitch. Sure you got his name right?’

 

‘Yes,’ said Billy. He slumped in a chair. ‘What was he doing at the Factory if he doesn’t work there?’

 

Jerry shrugged and ignored his question. ‘The dark-haired woman could have been any one of the Triple W Sisters. They all look pretty much alike. I don’t understand why one of them would do anything to a kid.’

 

Mr Khafoops nodded in agreement. ‘No. It’s only their staff they treat badly.’

 

‘Morning shift cancelled today, I hear.’

 

‘Cancelled.’ Mr Khafoops shook his head.

 

‘Restructuring,’ said Jerry, as though it was a dirty word.

 

‘Restructuring!’ Mr Khafoops pulled his large stomach in and folded his arms across it as best he could.

 

‘Middle management are always the first to go.’

 

Billy interrupted. ‘You must have seen the broken skylight in the Sick Bay, Dad. You must have.’

BOOK: Mumbersons and The Blood Secret, The
12.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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