Paternoster Tales: Chapter 26

Pigeon poop and dinner

Agatha … Little Agatha, or Young Agatha if you like … has been missing for almost 36 hours. But this chapter isn’t about her. Not yet – maybe chapter 27. Or 28. She’s fine. Or … hmm … I am led to believe that she’s fine; so I choose to think that she is. But I haven’t seen her. And until I do, I can’t be sure – can I? Lucretia says she’s seen her. Lucretia is in a LOT of trouble. She seems to have forgotten that people are suffering. And that it’s all her fault. Agatha’s mother is suffering the most – a toxic mix of fear and remorse. She can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t even remember her address when someone asks. She’s called everyone who knows Little Agatha. Old Agatha and her posse of friends are still searching the parks and streets and gardens. But so far they have found no trace of the little girl. No clues. As time ticks by their concern expands and pushes against the glass walls holding it in. There is a quiet, secluded place they haven’t looked. I need – somehow – to ensure they do. Patrick might help …

Patrick.

Patrick and Mungo. Who were sitting on a groundsheet, as their shadows lengthened, drinking tea and sharing cake with their new friends.

I never really explained who these friends were. There are many reasons for being homeless in London. About as many reasons as there are homeless people. A few choose to be, because life on the streets is easier than the torment and fights in the place they once called home. Most, though, are there because they have no-where else to be. Perhaps they lost all their money. Perhaps they never had any money. Perhaps their families live too far away and travelling to them would be impossible. Perhaps they are so totally alone that they have become invisible. Invisible until we fall over them or notice their kindness to an old man and his dog.

I’m not going to pretend these new friends were a butcher, a baker and a candle-stick maker – no, that would be silly and untrue. They were an art student, a thief, and a candle-stick maker. Actually, she trained as a carpenter and cabinet-maker, but she has made candle-sticks in the past. Her name is Alice and she had assumed the role of mother to the little gaggle in the square.

Do you remember that I told you Paternoster would break his own ‘law’ again? The one where waifs tread lightly into the lives of the living and perhaps change history just a little bit. Well …

… and you haven’t forgotten the judge?

And his fondness for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. No? …aah …  you knew about his huge appreciation for all things breakfasty; well, now you know that it extends to lunch and dinner too.

Paternoster needed the judge to meet Patrick. Properly meet him, in a getting-to-know-all-about-him-and-in-knowing-him-to-feel-compelled-to-do-something-to-help-him sort of a way.

On three nights a week, the judge ate dinner at the same breakfast restaurant, at the same table, served by the same waiter who knew to bring him some sparkling wine, followed by a glass of claret and a steak and salad, without bothering with the menu. The judge would sit and eat and read his papers for the next day. No-one ever joined him. No-one interrupted him. The bill was presented and paid without a word being said. But not today. Paternoster needed today to be different.

So … and this is where you discover that Paternoster can be very wicked. What I mean is … I have to remember he might read this … what I mean is clever and naughty all at the same time. If you startle a pigeon, it poops. If you entice a pigeon onto a chair and startle it, it poops on the chair. If you squeeze the pigeon – gently of course! – while startling it, the poop is like an accident with a cupcake icing-nozzle and rises in decreasing, swirling whorls above the surface of the chair. Do this to several pigeons on several chairs and you create an area where it is impossible to sit cleanly.

The restaurant had promised Patrick dinner. For free. And the chef had prepared a ‘leeeetle some-sing’ for Mungo. The only un-pooped on seat was the one opposite the judge. Paternoster’s plan to have them sit together had worked. Now he had to make them talk.

Dogs are very, very good at making people talk. Especially when coaxed into being especially adorable by the best efforts of a persistent, rule-breaking waif.

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