There was barely a static pair of net curtains along the whole street on the day that the police came to visit Miss Timmins. Nobody wanted to appear nosy, but they also did not want to miss out on anything that might form the basis of a succulent little nugget of scandal for some future discourse. Not that it was likely with Miss Timmins. I’m not sure that anybody actually knew her age. She looked about ninety with her straight, grey hair scraped up into a bun on the top of her head and the blue gingham housecoat which, as far as anybody could see, she never took off except for her weekly trips to the church hall beetle drive, when she wore a threadbare old cardigan over a paisley blouse of such florid hues that the bus driver insisted that she sit on the top deck for the journey home. It was rumoured that she had first worn the blouse in the sixties when, as legend had it, she had auditioned for Pan’s People, but had not got the role on account of being far too quick for Jimmy Savile. Others claimed to have seen the blouse before, in an episode of The Avengers on ‘girl behind ray gun’, whilst yet more claimed that it had once been a hotel bedspread.
In fact, what little was actually known about her had been smuggled, illicitly, out of her little terraced home by such visitors who had dared to brave the gloom and stifling heat of the spinster’s house. She had a photograph album that she kept on the table in her dingy little lounge and those that claimed they had dared to peak into it when she left the room to brew tea in the kitchen, reported that she certainly had a dancer’s body as a young woman. Unfortunately it was accompanied by the boxer’s face that continued to lower out from under her hairnet today. Whilst she had, as a young woman, a body that turned heads, it was accompanied by a face that did a similar thing to stomachs.
Vera Timmins was a woman who deplored ‘frilly’: the crinoline lady that sat astride her toilet roll was void of all fripperies and not even her paper doilies were allowed lacy edges. Those unfortunate enough to overlook her washing line reported that her underwear was never more (or less) than strictly functional. In fact some claimed that if you looked really hard, you could still see the Utility Mark stamped onto the waist band of her more-than-ample knickers. She was a thin woman and yet she somehow managed to wear nether garments that could house a pack of cub scouts. Truth be told, there were few, outside of the vicar (who could often be heard offering up the fervent prayer that it might never happen again) who were ever invited into her home. Mary Maguire was one such and perhaps the most willing to discuss the contents of Miss Timmins photograph album. It was her firm opinion that Vera had been spurned by a man in her youth – the album, she claimed, was filled with roughly torn half-photographs, some of which revealed a distinctly male-looking hand nestling on her waist – and from that moment on had decided to make herself as unattractive to the opposite sex as she possibly could. In that one respect she had been supremely successful.
No man had been allowed to cross her threshold in living memory. The rent man, the milk man and the grocer’s boy all picked up their monies in envelopes left by the gate. She had an elderly tom cat, but that had not been allowed under her roof until the vet had removed its undercarriage. It had grown fat and lazy, but to its credit, it still managed to spray on the cushions whenever she wasn’t looking. So it was with a seismic level of surprise that the assembled net twitchers of the whole street watched her beckon the two young male policemen into her home. None could tear their eyes away. Most felt it a nailed-on certainty that the unfortunate uniformed fodder would never be seen again.
This opinion had solidified amongst those still fit enough to be standing with gimlet eye to gossamer crack when, some two hours later, they were still to reappear. Most had given up. Some had already been on the phone to Mary, but such was the intensity of her vigil, she would not be drawn away from the window to speak and as Ted, her husband, had taken her mobile to the match having left his own in the compost tub with his spare socks at the allotments, she could not both speak into the ancient handset that hung in the hall and maintain eye-contact on the front door at number thirteen. They would all just have to sit it out. She would be quick enough to report when anything happened.
In fact she missed the actual moment when the police van arrived to take the lachrymose old maid away, owing to the fact that she had, over the first fifteen years of her marriage, been on the outside of fifteen children and was not within reach of anything on which to squat in her hour of need, but, undaunted, she was outside speaking to the constable who had remained at the door even before Mrs Timmins had dragged her second leg into the constabulary vehicle. He was, of course, not supposed to pass on the information, but she knew his mother so what was the point of keeping quiet? He would have to tell his mother what he had been up to if he wanted to be fed and it was certain that half of the Bingo Club would then know about it within the hour. What harm could it do?
“It was a romance scam,” Mary Maguire told the assembled throng some time later.
“Oh, poor soul,” cooed Mrs Rodgers who, in the excitement, quite forgot that her teeth were still in the glass in the bathroom and covered Mrs Maguire’s spectacles with a fine dusting of PG Tips and simnel cake* . “She never seemed the kind did she?”
“To be looking for romance. I mean, if we’re honest, she didn’t really seem to have much time for men at all, let alone be lured by one pretending to want to share her life. Did he get much from her?”
“Certainly not money. I think you misunderstand,” said Mrs Maguire, a thin smile creasing the scar where she had once been bitten by a parakeet in a Morecambe bar. “She’s been passing herself off as a forty year old male property developer. Apparently she’d been using half of an old photograph from her photo album for a profile picture, until somebody clicked that it was actually Patrick McNee without the bowler…”
*Which my spellchecker insists should be ‘semen cake’. Clearly it does not know Mrs Rodgers.