She stooped, lifting the hem of her pink velour dressing gown to protect it from the dampness of the doorstep, and picked up the morning’s delivery of a pint of milk. A piece of paper was stuck to its base.
“This week’s bill, I suppose,” she thought as she casually peeled it from the bottom of the cold bottle. Stepping back into the warmth of her lounge, she turned the paper over—
‘You had it coming … I’ve got your cat! Tell no one about this but for your fluffy little feline to be returned unscathed (i.e. — with fur!) you must take £5 00 to the waste bin outside the village shop at 22 00hrs tonight. Go there alone and then return home immediately to await further instruction.’
She stumbled to her armchair and fell into it. With her heart racing, she ran her fingers through her as-yet-uncombed grey hair and read the scrawled note again.
She felt sick.
Tiddles — her beautiful blue Persian cat — her sole companion– Where was he–? Who had kidnapped him—? Why—–?
Oh, ‘Why?’ was obvious —- to fleece her of the meagre savings of her pension. Who could be so cruel? ‘Tiddles—-where are you?’
As she tried to wash and dress, these thoughts tormented her mind.
Her daughter-in-law phoned.
“I’m going into town if you’d like a lift—-”
With a quiver to her voice, she accepted.
“Well, I only need to go to the Bank—-”
On the way she let Sophia chatter away as she sat preoccupied with worry. She couldn’t bear the thought of Tiddles being bald —- she had to push that image away—–
Two hours later, she was home counting the notes—-
“….four-hundred-and-sixty, eighty, five-hundred!”
She wrapped the bundle in a British Heart Foundation carrier bag.
The hours passed slowly. Morning turned to afternoon, afternoon to evening — Tiddles’ saucer of milk remaining untouched and yellowing as each hour went by—- The hands of the clock played mind games with her until a quarter to ten arrived and she found herself struggling into her gaberdine coat, lifting its collar and making her way in the dark, drizzly air to the village store.
Furtively, she deposited the bag of money in the otherwise empty, freshly lined with black plastic, bin—–
Then she slunk into the shadows at the side of the building—
Within minutes a slight figure came into her view.
She watched as the silhouette rummaged in the bin, pulling out her package —- and tossing it aside!
“Where’s my bloody fiver?” she heard him exclaim—-
Bartholomew! The ten year old boy from next door!
She crept up behind him, pulling a crumpled five pound note, her change from yesterday’s grocery shopping, from her pocket.
“Is this what you’re wanting?” she asked.
“……..” His mouth opened and shut but no sound came out.
“Why, Bartholomew? —- Where is Tiddles?”
“Hes—- he’s —- in—– our shed—– he’s okay —–” he stammered tearfully.
Then— “It’s my Mum’s birthday tomorrow and I wanted to buy her a cake —- but I didn’t know how to get some money—-”
Nancy tenderly put an arm around his shaking shoulders.
“Oh, Bart! Don’t you ever, ever do anything like that again. If you’d knocked my door and told me the story, I’d have helped you —- but not by giving you the five hundred pounds you asked for!”
“—-but I didn’t ask for £500—-”
She pulled the well-read note from her other pocket and looked at it again under the brash glare of the street lamp—–and then she noticed the decimal point!
“Come on home,” she soothed—-“Tell you what; if you promise never to do something so horrid ever again, I’ll bake a cake for you in the morning and you can come round and ice it for your Mum.”
As they turned to make their way down the hill, the lad bent down and picked up the discarded red and white carrier bagged parcel —
“I’ll just chuck this back in the bin—-”
“Actually,” said Nancy, “I’ll take that—-” 😉