It was Thursday. Which meant macaroni cheese and the post office.
Pension day was always busy at our little charity shop. No sooner did they have cash in their hands than the old dears were frittering it away on china poodles and big frilly pants. And the women were no better. It could get quite hazardous at times, especially if we had a new jigsaw in.
I was even more anxious than usual as I walked to the shop, mulling over the mess I’d somehow managed to get myself into over the last few days. As much as I never wanted to set eyes on Mr Grey again, I just couldn’t seem to get him out of my mind. Not that I'd learned anything more in the tea room except that he was a fussy eater and, judging by the carrier bag I'd mistakenly acquired, a bit of a DIY enthusiast. Although Betty informed me they had a very different use for cable ties and duct tape at the Stalybridge Swingers Society, so goodness only knows what he had in mind . . .
Quite a crowd had built up behind the riot barrier when I arrived at the shop. Jean was guarding the door, staring hard at her watch, even more stone-faced than usual.
“You’d best get in before this lot run amok!” she said, without looking up. “Heaven only knows where Betty's got to.”
I nodded and took my place behind the counter just as Betty stumbled in, carrying a large ginger cat with a frown exactly like Jean’s.
"I found him in the back yard," she gasped, trying to stop the animal wriggling out of her tiny arms. “I think he's lost, poor thing."
Jean gave her one of her stares before yelling "Only six pensioners in the shop at a time!” as the unruly rabble spilled through the door, shopping bags whirling, walking sticks thrusting and wrinkled hands snatching anything in sight. It was worse than ever this week! What with all the weird and wonderful items Betty had found in that box Mr Grey had brought in, the shop was well and truly abuzz. As were several of the items.
I stood resolutely at my post, with Betty’s pussy inches from my face. Amid the chaos, out of the corner of my eye, I could just make out the small writing on its collar. Engraved above its address, in bold capitals, was the name FLUFFY.
I couldn’t believe it, Mr Grey's cat! Now what was I going to do? I couldn’t take him back - he already suspected me of being a cat-napper, and that was before I stole his shopping! But I couldn’t bear the thought of Betty meeting him either. Not with five husbands under her belt and an advanced degree in speed dating. Without another thought, I found myself grabbing Fluffy and the carrier bag and shooting out of the door, leaving Betty flabbergasted and Jean pinned to the wall by a mobility scooter.
My heart was in my mouth when I finally reached 50 Anastasia Terrace. I stared at the unimposing red brick building with a bottle green door and the words ‘The Shades’ hand-painted on a wooden sign above the doorbell. With the cat wriggling wildly in one hand, I took a deep breath and pressed the bell with the other. I waited for some moments but nobody came.
Where on earth had he got to? I listened for the sound of purring but instead heard an entirely different noise. From behind the blacked out windows of the shed came a sound I shall never forget as long as I live . . .
CONTINUED NEXT THURSDAY