017 Orders From Above: Episode 17 ‘sweet charity’

To read from the first episode click here: Episode 1

toffees for ep 17.jpg

Gabe was in a very good mood, because today Nick was going to begin the process of tempting Violet Cattermole from being a rich, mean old lady into becoming a rich, generous old lady. He’d hummed all the way through breakfast, causing Nick to growl at him at a couple of times, and he’d taken great satisfaction in reminding Nick that he had to learn how to appreciate the Seven Virtues, not denigrate them. “You seem to forget, brother, that you must put the old Lucifer behind you and remember that you are returning to the hierarchy as a reformed archangel.”

“Fsst!” or something like it had been the sour reply as Nick had stalked away.

There had been a light rain shower during the night, but the day had dawned dry and bright. They spotted Violet sitting on the bench on the green, the flowerpot hat on her head and a large bag of toffees at her side. She was chewing furiously while she monitored the goings-on in the neighbourhood.

“Now, Nick,” whispered Gabe as they approached, “All you need to do is to entice her in the nicest and politest possible way to give you one of her sweets. I’ll show you how it’s done, okay?”

They sat down on the bench, one either side of Violet. With a ‘tut’ of irritation she snatched up her toffees before Nick could squash them. She eyeballed them both with her most haughty expression, but Gabe responded with a hearty, “Good morning, Miss Cattermole. Lovely day!”

“What do you want?” she snapped, false teeth clacking.

Gabe pointed to the colourful bag she clutched on her lap and said in the politest of tones, “I love toffees, may I have one?”

“No, you may not.”

“Well that’s rather mean,” Nick grinned, and before she had time to slap his hand away, had grabbed a few toffees from the packet.  “Mint, nope. Butter, nope. Ah, treacle, that’s more like it!” He removed the red wrapper, popped the sweet into his mouth, and started chomping noisily. “Mmm, delicious.” That was followed by a liquorice and then a rum & raisin, the wrappings carelessly dropped to the grass at his feet.

“Nick!” hissed Gabe, “Pick up your litter! And that’s not temptation, that’s force!”

Nick, making no move to pick up the wrappings, just laughed, “Yeah, but I’ve got a toffee and you haven’t.” He waved a green-wrapped sweet in the air, “Want this mint one?” Gabe huffily refused, so Nick nudged Violet and said, “See it all from here, do you?”

The old lady pursed her lips like a drawstring bag and a malicious gleam came into her black, piggy eyes. “That I do. Lived here all my life, and I’ve watched people arrive, born in the village or come from elsewhere, and I’ve seen them go, either to pastures new or to the graveyard in a coffin. Way back I saw young Jack Heavysides sneak out of his father’s pub to pay a visit to Carmen Watson, as she was then, who was obviously not as pious as she made herself out to be. Always said she wanted to be a nun but she became Mrs. Heavysides quick enough, because there was a baby on the way. Said it was premature when it arrived a month early!”

“Naughty Carmen,” drawled Nick. “Who else did you spy on?”

“I watched Gwen Brown set her cap at Glen Perkins, brazen as you please and she had him marching him up the aisle within a year. And now there’s that Debbie Perkins, nothing but a wayward teenager whose legs are obscenely long and skirts far too short.”

“Ooh,” said Nick, “Spiteful little cat, aren’t you! What about Lorelei Dove over there, what do you think of her?”

“Nick,” hissed Gabe, “Stop it.”

“Oh, I’m sure Violet is more than happy to talk.” He nudged her again, “Right, Violet?”

“The hussy has a new boyfriend.” Violet pointed to Lorelei’s tiny cottage opposite. “Stays overnight he does, and I know full well there’s only one bedroom over there. And sometimes she doesn’t come home at night, and there’s no need to guess where she goes. Puts a little case in her car, and off she goes with a silly grin on her freckled face.” She was glassy eyed now, as if in a trance.

“That’s enough, Nick! Let’s start again, and do it properly this time.” Gabe touched Violet’s arm. “Good morning, Miss Cattermole. Lovely day!”

“What do you want?” she snapped.

“A toffee would be nice,” said Nick.

“Then go and buy your own, young man. I’m a pensioner, you know!” She clutched her bag of toffees to her chest and tried to shrink away from the brothers.

But for the next hour they kept her there, held tight between them, while they chattered about everything from the narrow confines of village life to the political situation in Brazil. Nick kept asking for a toffee, and Violet kept refusing, not daring to open the bag to take any for herself in case it was taken as an invitation.

Gabe could see that what Nick really wanted to do was wrestle the bag from the old lady and scoff the lot. He wasn’t even trying to come up with another way in to tempt Violet to niceness.

Nick eventually came up with, “See much of your sister?”

Gabe shook his head with a warning, thinking that this was not a good opening gambit.

Violet sucked in her breath and fixed Nick with furious eyes, “What’s me and Hilda got to do with you?”

Nick shrugged. “I just wondered. I mean, you’ve got your nice house and all this money, thanks to us, and she doesn’t, so it stands to reason that you might like to help her out.”

“I’ll have you know, you cheeky devil, that my sister’s house is far larger than mine!”

“Oh sure,” Nick drawled, highly amused at being called a cheeky devil, “But I bet yours doesn’t have a leaking roof, rotting floorboards and heating so ancient it gave up the ghost years ago.”

This was met with a furious intake of breath and Gabe watched in alarm as Violet’s face turned a mottled purple with indignation.

“Excuse me,” he muttered, “I just need a word with my brother.” He scooped up the discarded wrappings, grabbed Nick’s arm and pulled him away.

“Nick, you’re going about this all wrong! You’re not tempting her to do a good deed, you’re just annoying her.”

“I know, isn’t it fun! She’s such a splendid woman!” He looked back over his shoulder at her and sighed. “I like her just the way she is.”

“Of course you do, but I must remind you, brother, of your mission. It’s Charity, Nick, and only Charity. And all you have do is get a toffee given to you willingly. Now let’s try again.”

Nick’s lip curled as he went back to the bench and sat down, lightly touching Violet’s arm before saying with a false joviality, “Good morning, Miss Cattermole. Lovely day!”

“What do you want?” Violet snapped.

“A toffee would be nice,” he replied.

“Then go to the shop and buy some. I’m not a charity, you know!”

Gabe frowned at the irony of her choice of words. This was obviously going to take a lot longer than they’d thought. “Let’s go, Nick.”

They traipsed back to the mill and sat at the breakfast bar in the kitchen, coffee and cake in front of them.

“All you had to do was get Violet to give you a single toffee. But no, you had to steal a handful and then get her all worked up about her sister. Now we’ve got to think of something else.”

“Bad habits are hard to break, bro.”

“It doesn’t bother me, Nick.” He gave a careless shrug, trying not to show any sign that he was actually delighted at Nick’s mess up. But Gabe was an angel and angels did not renege on their promises. And this particular Promise, one with a capital P, simply could not be avoided for long. He knew he had a duty to remind Nick of what was at stake, but he couldn’t bring himself to look his brother in the eye as he muttered, “After all, it just means I get to stay in Heaven longer.”

That made Nick sit up. “Blast it, you’re right! I hadn’t considered that!” He hopped off the stool and paced the floor. “All right, Gabe, while I work out my next move you can take your turn. All you have to do is tempt Lorelei Dove into having something loaded with calories. She was a greedy girl once who ate half a dozen cakes a day, so it should be easy. One mouthful of chocolate cake or whatever should trigger Gluttony, and then I’ll make sure I sort out our delicious Violet Cattermole. Such a shame to have to meddle with such a glorious sourpuss, but it has to be done!”

Gabe sighed. Why oh why did he have to be so honest all the time? Why couldn’t he have kept silent and let Nick just bumble along, getting it wrong? Now, he was sure, his brother would not make the same mistake again, and the time was creeping ever nearer when he, sweet and gentle Gabriel, would have to accept the horrid, evil mantle of Hell.

~~~~~~~

Next episode: ‘gluttony’

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