Terrence Humshaw, Deputy Manager of the Muckleford branch of the Oxford and Dunham Bank, key holder and resident of the parish of Fekenham, was a bit surprised when he turned round first thing on a clear Monday morning in November to discover a bearded Santa standing beside him. He had nothing against Santa but hadn’t been expecting to see one so soon before Yuletide.
“Morning!” said Terry all charm and goodwill.
“Morning,” said Santa.
Terry dug deep into his pocket from which he produced one key then another. The first was a formidable Yale while the second was a hefty Chubb. His thoughts were of coffee and of cake. He had woken late and only had the chance to sip at a drink before leaving home.
Terrence was a little startled to see another Santa standing on his left. He was unaware of modern trends so therefore didn’t know if it was now a custom to have two Santa’s in November.
“Hello!” said Terry, good naturedly.
“Hello,” said the second Santa.
Slotting the large Yale key into the corresponding lock Terry did the same with the robust Chubb. He was somewhat shocked to see yet another Santa, a third, dressed in customary red standing beside the first.
“Good day,” said Terry, thinking how life had changed since he was a boy.
“Good day,” replied Santa number three.
With two of the locks now open all that was left for Terry to do was to turn the door handle then walk into the branch. His first job every day was to put the kettle on. Belinda Warthatch liked a cup of tea and a currant bun first thing. Terry liked to oblige. The truth was he really fancied the knickers off Belinda but was too scared of his wife and her uncanny ability with a rolling pin to dare mention it. Terry was stupefied when yet another Santa, a fourth appeared at this side next to number two.
“Greetings!” spluttered Terry.
“Inside,” returned Santa number four.
“Pardon?” replied a perplexed Terry.
“Inside, now!” said the least polite of the four Father Christmases and just to underline the urgency of his request pressed a sawn-off shotgun against Terry’s nose. Obviously such a request is hard to refuse, therefore, having made some improper bottom burp noises, for which he swiftly apologised, Terry led the out-of-season Saint Nicks into the bank.
The inside of the branch was of Victorian vintage with arched windows between which were similarly-shaped mirrors. Terrence could see his reflection and that of the Chris Cringle with a shotgun who in turn was followed by three doppelgangers in red with white whiskers. The three had no weapons he could see but all carried large sacks across their shoulders. To Terry’s mind the five of them looked like a surreal version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, accepting that there were only four and all of average height.
“Open the safe,” demanded the vulgar Santa, prodding Terry in the back with the shotgun.
“I don’t have that key,” said Terrence, a trifle too smugly for his own good.
“Really,” growled the man through a surfeit of white beard, “and just who does?”
“Belinda Warthatch, and by the sound of it that’s her now.”
Belinda entered the bank like a fluorescent mushroom. Upon her head she wore a huge red beret that was so large it cast a shadow over her shoulders. Beneath this she had on a bright yellow overcoat that had neither shape nor form but simply ran down from her torso to her feet in a straight line. Her court shoes were of forest green. She looked to all intents and purposes as though she were a woodland fungus.
Without looking up Belinda cried out.
“Good morning Terry! I hope you have got a steam up as I am ready to be stuffed by your currant bun.”
This coded message was of course part of the morning ritual that was performed each and every working day when Belinda greeted her colleague as she teased him about the early morning cup of tea and the cake she so looked forward to. Of course the four Santas’ interpretation carried another layer of meaning, one that was far more risqué.
The obnoxious Santa who was obviously the leader of the gang, for gang they were, called out to the blissfully unaware Belinda.
“Cut the verbal foreplay and get over here with the key.”
Belinda looked up and was horrified to see Terrence surrounded by four Father Christmas’s.
“It’s a little early in the season to be dressed as Santa isn’t it?” she reasoned amiably, thinking the men before her were involved in some charitable event.
“It’s a new season,” replied rude Santa.
“Really?” said a bemused Belinda.
“Yes, we call it the silly season. Now get your fat arse over here now.”
At this point he thrust his sawn off shotgun in the female bank clerk’s direction. Belinda, upon seeing the man’s large weapon shrieked, her legs buckled, her eyes rolled about a bit in their sockets like marbles in a sink, then she swooned. Fortunately, Terrence grabbed hold of her by the elbow to support her.
“Who are these men Terry?” she asked reasonably enough.
“Bank robbers my dear.”
With patience rapidly wearing thin, the leader of the Yuletide gang spoke up with irritable vowels.
“Will you two lovebirds either give it a rest or get a room but, before you do, kindly open the safe.”
Having been told to ‘give it a rest’ then instructed to ‘get a room’ only to be called ‘lovebirds’ was the ammonium carbonate stimulus that brought Belinda back to her senses.
“Lovebirds? How dare you? Mister Humshaw and I are just good colleagues.”
The big, bad and rather ill-mannered Saint Nick waved the shotgun in the bank teller’s general direction.
“And if you don’t open that ruddy safe you will soon be both perforated colleagues. Now then, get a move on.”
Terry patted Belinda gently on the small of her back.
“Best do as he says my dear; we don’t want him spoiling your lovely new overcoat do we?”
Belinda shook herself down in the way a chicken does when it is about to either lay an egg or evacuate its bowels. From the hand bag she had been gripping in fear of her life she produced a long, black key that had a curled and aged tag affixed to it. On the tag, just in case no one knew what it was for, was the legend:
KEY. Belinda, holding herself as
upright as she could, then opened the manager’s door. She was followed by Terry
and the gang of festive fiends. She then walked around the front counter where
the tills were then through another door at the back which revealed a large safe.
The safe was the same height as an average man.
“Open it,” said the grumpy gangster.
“Give me a chance,” replied Belinda as she slotted the key into the lock.
The key creaked before clunking a bit then Terry stepped forward and pushed down hard on the door handle. The safe opened, revealing bags of coins along with a hoard of notes all counted and bundled up.
“Look at that!” said Santa number one.
“Smashing!” said Santa number two.
“A king’s Ransom,” said number three.
“Shut up and start filling your sacks,” said sour face Santa.
Ten minutes later the sacks were filled, the job was done, the heist complete, now all they, the renegades in red, had to do was get away. First though was the matter of the two members of the bank staff to deal with.
“Right then,” instructed the leader of the gang, “we need to get out of here fast before the manager or any other bank workers turn up. Tie them both up quick as you can.”
With the vocal protestations of Belinda ringing loudly in their ears the other three did as their boss told them. Belinda’s ankle length coat and skirt were hoisted up high above her head revealing not only her voluminous knickers, the ones that previously Terry had fancied seeing her in, but also the fact that Belinda was rather hirsute; in fact hirsute doesn’t do justice for the mass of hair that covered the good lady’s thighs – think donkey in mid-winter, sheep at shearing time. Her skirt was then firmly tied above her head and her large beret replaced roughly on the area of her head.
Terry suffered a less demeaning form of bondage even though his trousers were pulled around his ankles and his hands tied behind his back. Both Belinda and Terrence were then left hidden from sight behind the bank counter.
As the gang of four Santa’s left, the leader thought it fitting to say goodbye.
“Season’s felicitations! Ho, ho, ho!”
It was now mid-November and as the Muckleford Bank was being robbed so the Spiegelie Zirkus started to pack away the big top, herd the animals into their cages and make ready to move on. There was of course a degree of regret, mostly on the part of the local children but the village folk too were sad to see them leave.
“We’ll be back next year,” confirmed the bearded lady to Ethel Blowvalve.
The Roma people worked hard that morning, starting early and well before the four Santa Clauses had even arrived in Muckleford, and by ten, just as the police, were arriving at the scene of the crime, so they moved off.
They left in far more subdued way than when they arrived. There was no announcement, no sound of a calliope being played, just the squeal of tyre tread as it passed over concrete. By ten thirty all sign of the circus was gone. All that remained to remind the villagers there had been a circus here at all was the curious round circle where the big top had stood, leaving in its place a dried circle of dead grass. There were other barren bits which the caravans and trailers had covered along with the cages where the animals were housed but that was all. The circus felt like it had been a fleeting dream that fades with the coming of dawn.
As the bank was being robbed and after the circus had left so Flora Gusset made her move for she too felt it time to move on. She paid Mrs Micklethwaite the full amount due, said goodbye to the Bentwhistle’s whom she liked and also the vicar then she too drove off, her little pink bubble car bravely taking to the road again, climbing up before cruising down the hills that run through Fekenham.
She had not said where she was going for she had told no one her destination. She sucked on one of her cigars, puffing smoke like a train out of the open car window. The day was blustery, winter was chasing the tail of November while December awaited with tradition and a chill to freeze the marrow.
When Mrs Micklethwaite went to tidy her guest’s room she was not so much surprised as mortified to discover the woollen effigies that remained there. She hadn’t seen quite so many before even though she had seen one or two. On closer inspection she could see that the knitted dollies were in fact facsimile copies of all the villagers, of Ethel and Ruth, of the vicar and his French bit of stuff, of the Brigadier, of Lupini and Arthur, of Verity and Ralph, in fact each and every one who lived in Fekenham.
Mrs Micklethwaite found this all a bit disconcerting. It brought to mind the way black people who lived in the Caribbean performed their voodoo. It was indeed very much like black magic and that thought made Mrs Micklethwaite uneasy. She made up her mind to visit the priest to see if he could do a bit of exorcism just like he had with the Brigadier’s Ghost. Well, it was a thought.
When Cyril arrived at the Muckleford branch of the Oxford and Dunham Bank it was to an awful hullabaloo. The branch only had a staff of six, including the manager, Royston Nettle and his personal secretary Gladys Pewterpot, who seemed to be in a state of shock as were the two younger members of staff but it was Belinda Warthatch that was making all the din.
“They molested me they did. They had their hands up my skirt and they were perishing cold too. I have never been so affronted in all my days. And that one with the malicious intent in his eye was the worst. He flashed his weapon in my face he did. Bloody long thing it was too.”
Cyril did all he could to calm them down but when he was told of the amount they had stolen he immediately called Winchester CID
“This calls for the boys in suits t’deal with. Poor old Mrs. Warthatch, she must have had such a shock.”
“Not as much of a shock as I got when they hauled her skirt over her head,” protested Terrence Humshaw.
“Big bloomers?” asked Cyril.
“Yes, but it weren’t her bloomers that scared me, it was the legs on her that did me in.”
“Shapely were they?” sniggered the police sergeant.
“Hairy more like. I thought she had a nest of ferrets living up her legs.”
“Honest to Moses, thick with hair like a grizzly bear. Awful it was, enough to put me off female legs for life.”
From this point in, Cyril did what was required of him. He did his best to pacify the nearly-hysterical Belinda, comfort poor old Terry after his considerable shock and mollify Royston Nettle for the loss of the half a million pounds that had been stolen from his safe.
Within the hour, Detective Inspector Adam Lazarus arrived accompanied by Detective Sergeant Debbie Sundae. The Inspector was a handsome man with blond hair that fell in curtains across his forehead. His features were fine with a strong jaw and well-defined chin. He wore a fawn coloured raincoat that flapped as he walked.
Debbie Sundae was everything a man could dream of: a Latin-looking lovely with dark brown eyes, auburn, wavy hair, a figure that whispered seduction, hips that played a rumba as she moved and the shapeliest of legs. So shapely were they that Cyril was willing to bet anyone a fiver that if Terrence Humshaw was given full sight of them it would cure his recent terror of female hairy legs for these were smooth, smooth and long.
“Sergeant Updike? I am DI Lazarus, looks like we have a major crime here on our hands. No one injured I take it?”
“I think Mister Humshaw might be a bit strawmatised but no one apart from him poor devil?”
“What happened to him?”
“He got a peek at Belinda’s hirsute legs.”
“Yes, well, right. I think I should interview all the witnesses so can we set that up please, maybe in the manager’s office.”
“Right away sir.”
Lazarus turned to his number two, Debbie Sundae.
“Debbie, you take the women, okay? Both Mrs. Warthatch and Mrs. Pewterpot. You fine with that?”
Some hours later, having dismissed four of the staff as they had next to nothing to offer in terms of the robbery, a weary Inspector Lazarus and Sergeant Sundae finally finished with Humshaw and Warthatch respectively.
“Odd one this sir.”
“Four men all dressed as Santa in November? Bloody weird if you ask me. We need to extend the investigation though to include any villages and their residents in the surrounding areas. I don’t think it is but it could be a local gang.”
“What about putting out wanted posters sir?”
“Saying has anyone seen these men all of whom are dressed as Santa Clause? You can try it if you want but I think the Super may not want to dip into his budget for that. Also, I hear there has been a circus in the area of late, we need to have words with them too.”
“I’ll get onto it now sir. What about the local team, do you want to involve them?”“Absolutely, we are going to need all the hands we can get to help with this one.”
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.