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"Exactly how bad can a mid-life crisis get?" #9
CHAPTER 9
By Daily Florence Posted in Grace, Uncategorized on May 22, 2022 0 Comments 25 min read
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CHAPTER 9

Eventually, we ended up on Hollywood Boulevard where we trailed Lion Heart on foot; however, Lion Heart didn’t exactly look as if he was up to no good. Other than stopping briefly for a hotdog, to take a phone call and enjoy a coffee, Lion Heart was acting pretty normal.

‘Maybe he’s just having the morning off?’ Eric said as we huddled behind a tree from a distance.

‘I’m past caring,’ Gladys said as she sat down on the nearest bench. She removed her mask and patted her forehead dry.

‘Well, you had to get dressed up as a ninja in this heat, didn’t you?’ I said.

‘You should have got dressed up like me.’ Eric waved his feather-light, gold kaftan in Gladys’ direction.

‘No. No, you shouldn’t. We agreed to go in disguise, but if that kaftan catches the light then passing planes could mistake you for a runway, Eric. That was a completely stupid idea. Talk about sticking out, honestly, it’s like one thing after another around here.’ I flattened my white ragged dress and let out a disgruntled sigh. After a few seconds, I noticed Gladys staring at me. ‘What?’

‘Grace, you dressed up as Wilma Flintstone.’

‘Well, what else was I … wait … Lion Heart’s moving. Oh, oh, look, he’s going in there.’ I read a sign that hung over the front of a tall, red-brick building that Lion Heart had just entered; the stone steps at the front were full of people walking in and out, taking pictures of themselves and huddling in groups. ‘Lone Ideas Entertainment. What is that place?’

‘It’s one of the big six film studios. Parts of it are open to the public.’

‘Wasn’t Gopzilla a studio executive? Could that be his old workplace?’ Gladys said.

‘You know, I think it was,’ said Eric.

Gladys sprung to a standing position. ‘Move, let’s move.’

‘Oh, now you want to walk fast,’ I said as I ran behind Gladys.

By the time we had all reached the marble foyer of Lone Ideas Entertainment, we couldn’t see Lion Heart anywhere. We carefully studied the open floors of the building that surrounded us in a semi-circle, all the while children and jolly adults bashed into us as they pushed past.

‘There!’ Eric blurted out. ‘There in the glass lift, stopping at the second floor.’

Sure enough, Lion Heart stepped out of the lift on the second floor and took a left. By the time we made it up to the second floor, he was gone, but there was nowhere else for him to go except into one of the boardrooms, which meant we were in luck. For the next five minutes, we all took turns to casually walk back and forth in front of the boardrooms to gather information.

We huddled back in a group to share what we had seen.

‘I saw two women the first time I walked past, and I think I saw a couple of men on my way back,’ I said.

‘I saw a table, two large bay windows and a whiteboard,’ said Eric.

‘Oh for goodness sake, Eric,’ Gladys said. ‘I saw, I saw …’

‘Who, who did you see?’

‘Amos Ames.’

Eric and I froze. ‘You mean the Amos Ames from—’

‘From where?’ Gladys said. ‘Star Wars?’

‘There’s two? I meant the one at the Squirrel Reserve.’

‘I was being sarcastic, Grace. Of course that one, he’s sat near the …’

Suddenly, the door to the boardroom flew open and every hair on our bodies stood on end as we realised what we had done. We had stood directly in front of the door of the boardroom to talk. I kicked Eric as we slowly turned our faces the other way and shuffled towards the railings that overlooked the foyer.

‘Excuse us, folks,’ said one of the women as they exited the room.

Whilst covering our faces, we then watched as Lion Heart, Amos Ames and their associates took the glass lift to the foyer and exited the building.

‘I couldn’t get a clear look at their faces,’ I said, my eyes trailing their bodies as they left.

Gladys shouted from inside the meeting room. ‘Look, look at this!’

‘What the hell, Gladys?’ I shouted back.

Once inside though, Eric and I realised exactly what she was talking about. On the whiteboard was a hand-drawn plan of the lodge and the Squirrel Reserve, with red lines marking where the lodge will be extended—right over the Squirrel Reserve.

‘Well, that’s it over, isn’t it?’ said Gladys. ‘Amos was telling the truth and High Mistress Breeze was lying. Amos must have cracked and given the land back to High Mistress Breeze.’

Eric buried his face in his hands and sat down. ‘So it was High Mistress Breeze who was stealing squirrels all along. I just never thought she would do that.’

Gladys nodded through her ninja mask.

‘You know what?’ I said. ‘I’m not taking this—all this way to see the Squirrel Reserve and she destroys it. I know she owns the land, but those poor squirrels. How could she?’ I clenched my fists and stood up. ‘Come on, we have someone I need to have a word with.’

‘Where are we going?’ Eric shouted as I bounded out of the room.

‘To give High Mistress Breeze a piece of my mind. That aura of hers better watch out.’

The whole of the journey back to the lodge, my mind whirred. Destroying a Squirrel Reserve had to be one of the worst things anyone could do in my book, but as we pulled into the carpark of the lodge we noticed that the place was packed out. The front of the lodge was swarming with reporters, cameras and police. We changed out of our costumes in the minivan, pushed our way past the crowds and made our way over to the foyer where all of the guests were sat around whispering to each other.

‘What’s happening?’ Eric said to Felicity who was stood by the front desk.

‘It’s High Mistress Breeze. She’s missing.’

‘No way. Since when?’

‘Since last night,’ Poet interrupted. ‘Can you believe it? She never turned up to this morning’s meditation session. One of the staff called the police. It’s so unlike her. They phoned Lion Heart but he said he’d not seen her since last night.’

‘But we just—’

Eric butted in before I could finish my sentence. ‘We can’t believe it. Can we, Grace?’

I stepped back. ‘No, no, that’s terrible. I can’t believe it.’

‘Well,’ said Felicity, ‘the police will be questioning us all soon, so get ready. I wonder if she’s—’

‘Been kidnapped like the rest of them?’ I said.

‘Exactly. That’s what everyone is wondering. The media have got a hold of it now too and it’s big news. First Gopzilla, then Donna, the squirrels and now High Mistress Breeze. It’s made the nationals.’

Eric led Gladys and me away by the hand into the corner of the foyer. ‘See you all soon,’ he shouted back before leaning in and whispering to us. ‘We can’t tell anyone.’ Eric said. ‘Grace has a stuffed squirrel and squirrels are going missing. Try explaining that.’

I held my bag close to my chest. ‘Mr Nutty McNutnut. That does look bad. We can’t say anything, Gladys. Imagine if they took him away from me?’

‘Hang on,’ Gladys said, ‘so Lion Heart doesn’t see his wife since last night and then we see him at a meeting in Gopzilla’s workplace with Amos Ames. It’s not like he looked concerned that his wife was missing. If that was the staff phoning to say that High Mistress Breeze was missing, when he took that phone call on Hollywood Boulevard, he hardly looked bothered, did he? Maybe it’s not High Mistress Breeze at all, maybe it’s her slimy husband who’s up to no good. Maybe he’s working with Amos and they’ve kidnapped High Mistress Breeze. We should say something to the police. This is huge.’

‘How can we explain following him dressed as a gold umpa lumpa, a ninja and Wilma Flintstone. We can’t. That’s ridiculous,’ said Eric.

‘Please, Gladys, please … we will solve the mystery ourselves. Just don’t tell the police.’

* * *

After hours of questioning by the police, Eric, Gladys and I all met on the rustic bench in the Zen garden that evening. Outside the lodge, the carpark continued to swarm with reporters, all eager to gather information on High Mistress Breeze and her missing guests.

‘This is crazy,’ said Eric as he rubbed his forehead. ‘I hope High Mistress Breeze is okay. Who would take her?’

Gladys turned to Eric. ‘Or she ran away.’

‘What possible reason would she have to do that?’

Gladys twiddled her fingers. ‘Maybe she’s done something wrong? Maybe she couldn’t take the pressure? Maybe Donna was the final straw and she buckled? I don’t know. We should find out though.’

‘How?’

‘Well, we should start with that Lone Ideas Entertainment place. That’s where Lion Heart was. You know what,’ Gladys said. ‘I think I might just have a plan that Columbo would be proud of …’

Ten minutes later, Gladys had refined her plan and the final part of Operation Squirrel was set in stone. ‘If that doesn’t do it then I don’t know what will,’ Gladys said as she finished pacing the floor and sat back down.

I wasn’t really sure if I liked Gladys’ plan one little bit, it seemed like an awful lot of work considering. But there was one thing I was absolutely sure of: now it wasn’t just about saving the Squirrel Reserve—the life of Mr Nutty McNutnut was compromised and I sure as hell wasn’t letting anything happen to him.

‘Agreed,’ said Eric. ‘Oh, and when we finally work it all out, we should so do the Columbo reveal on your leaving party.’

‘Leaving party?’

‘Yes, the final night before a guest leaves, we all gather in the gratitude room for a party. Everyone is expected to get up and do a poem or a song or something like that to say their goodbyes.’

‘Oh, I can do my poem then,’ Gladys said. ‘I’ve already been working on it. And Grace, you can play the piano.’ Gladys turned to Eric. ‘Her mother taught her to play the piano and she is incredi—’

‘No! No, I will not. I will do the Columbo reveal. I’m not doing that.’

Eric leant in. ‘I can do the Columbo reveal, why don’t—’

‘Don’t even think about mentioning it again! You bang a gong, I will do the reveal.’

***

‘Hello, I’m here for my interview for the job of Hollywood Executive Producer.’

‘And your name?’

‘Powers. Miss A. Powers.’

‘I’m sorry, Madam. Are you sure you have the right place? I don’t seem to have—’

‘I’m sorry. Am I sure I have the right place? My whole life has been spent trying to get a job here. I finally get an interview and you tell me that you’ve messed up?’ I raised my voice. ‘You’ve messed up what could potentially be the best day of my life. How could you?’

‘Em, em, Madam, please calm down, I’m sure there’s been a mistake. Oh look, there has, please take a seat in our waiting room and someone will be with you shortly.’

I sniggered as I took a seat on a giant, squishy hand in the waiting room that I presumed had to be a couch, although no one else was sat on it. All around me sat a waiting room full of bland faces, wearing sharp suits, with chiselled haircuts and edgy smiles. It was hard to tell them apart. They were obviously local which meant I was well and truly outnumbered by a bunch of native, high-flying executives. Interviews were my thing though; I wasn’t letting them put me off.

‘Miss Powers, would you like to follow me?’ The receptionist led me through some double doors and into a large conference room where five executives sat in a straight line. I flattened my blue crushed velvet two-piece suit, puffed out my frilly white shirt and pushed my black-framed glasses back up my face as I approached. I could practically feel the steely glares of the executives as they inspected every inch of my attire. My interview went like this:

Executives: ‘Miss Powers, we don’t seem to have your résumé …’

My mind: ‘Lie, lie, lie.’

Me: ‘You have a truly terrible receptionist.’ *Shoots receptionist a cold stare*

Receptionist: *Looks to floor*

Executives: ‘Why do you want to work here?’

My mind: ‘Oh shit, I thought they would ask for a power word. You’ve gotta lie. Remember, if you can get a job as a delivery driver with no licence then you can get one anywhere. Lie, lie, lie.’

Me: *Posh voice* ‘Well, Sir, I deeply resonate with Lone Ideas Entertainment’s core values, as an Oxford graduate of ’99 with honours. Having been raised on films such as The Lone Cleaner, Gone with The Bins and Citizen Drain, I felt compelled to add value to the entertainment industry and join a company such as yourselves.’

My mind: ‘Nice one.’

Executives: ‘Our core values are what’s important to us. We are delighted that you brought them up. Where are you from, Miss Powers?’

Me: ‘Britain.’

Executives: *Let out a sigh* ‘Ahh, that makes sense. Now, tell us, the Queen, have you met her?’

My mind: ‘Lie …’

Me: ‘Funny story, actually …’ *Five minutes later* ‘… so it turned out that we were all related. The Queen found this so funny over afternoon tea at Buckingham Palace, when we finally met. Whatta day that was.’

Executives: *Delighted faces* ‘Fascinating, absolutely fascinating.’

My mind: ‘Dude, you are on fire.’

Executives: ‘Now, final question, do tell us, if you could sum up yourself in one word, what would it be?’

My mind: *Straightens short, red wig* ‘OMG, this is it, you were born for this, do it.’

Me: *Points finger at executives and shouts* ‘SEXY.’

Executives: *Confused look*

My mind: ‘No, you idiot. Remember the nightclub. You have to be cool. COOL. Think cool, for f-sake think of something COOL.’

Me: ‘Nope, em, em, TERMINATOR, nope, em, SYLVESTER STALLONE, nope, em, AL PACHINO, nope, em …’

Executives: *Confused look*

My mind: ‘COOL, THINK OF SOMETHING BLOODY COOL.’

Me: ‘PETER GRIFFIN?’

Executives: *Point in my direction* ‘HIRED.’

My mind: ‘What the flippin’ fuck?’

Me: *Jumping up and down and flapping hands* ‘Oh my, lovely jubbly!’

I was in.

The following day, the crap receptionist showed me to my top-notch office overlooking Hollywood Boulevard and it was magnificent. I ran my hands over the black, silky desk as I sank into my leather Ox chair with a high back. On the desk sat an exquisite red telephone, and all around me an endless array of high-tech devices for my entertainment. Aside from the ugly, hairless cat with a black tag that read “Mr Squiggles”, I would say that I rather liked my surroundings, despite the black on black colour scheme which was not to my taste. Not quite The Smokin’ Haggis Café, of course, but it would certainly do. I pulled out my squirrel pad and got straight to work.

Whilst I was gathering intelligence on Lone Ideas Entertainment, Gladys was tasked with infiltrating the Squirrel Reserve. Owing to the fact this whole Operation Squirrel was her wretched idea, I had rather presumed she was taking things a lot more seriously than she was, but little did I know she was about to fall at the first hurdle.

Looking back, I suppose Gladys’ first issue was that she got dressed too nicely; I mean, she was supposed to be undercover. Same could be said for James Bond really. I reckon if he had turned up looking in dire need of a good wash a bit more often than he did, then he wouldn’t have got himself in half the trouble. Needless to say, not wearing her string vest or Mickey Mouse shorts would have been a smart move on Gladys’ part.

Unbeknownst to me, Gladys had strolled into the Squirrel Reserve looking a million dollars, and the first person she met was Amos flippin’ Ames, the smoothest cowboy this side of the Yosemite.

‘Howdy, Gladys. To what do we owe this pleasure?’

‘Grace is spending some time in Hollywood, so I thought I would spend a little time here.’ Gladys flicked her hair.

‘Well now, how about I show you around?’

And that was basically it—not that I was any the wiser at that point.

That night, Gladys and I lay in our hammocks and we chatted about how our day had gone.

‘I am cream-crackered,’ I said as I snuggled into my hammock. ‘I swear, I didn’t realise that talking could be so exhausting. Talk, talk, talk … telesales was easier than this.’

‘Oh, em, yes, me too, Grace.’

‘Really, what did you do all day?’

‘Oh, well, you know, squirrel spotting, cleaning the reserve, the usual, manual stuff.’

‘Squirrel spotting, that’s my dream, oh, why couldn’t I have done that? You want to swap—’

‘NO.’

‘All right, grumpy.’

‘No, I mean, no, we can’t, there’s no way I could be a Hollywood executive, that’s all.’

‘I suppose so. So, did you find anything out yet?’

‘No, I spoke to Amos for a little bit, not long, mainly helping out with the tidying up. I will try again tomorrow. How about you?’

‘Nothing much, just spent the day phoning people, introducing myself, arranging lunch dates. Got a load of scripts on my desk but I don’t think I can really be bothered with that.’

‘How about the staff? Anything?’

‘Oh, they’re such a bunch of flakes, honestly, Gladys, you’d hate them. I’m not really sure anyone does any work. The girl on reception has a desk full of crystals which she says brings her inner peace, and she kept trying to read my tarot cards so I threw them back in her face. There’s a sign in the main office that says “Rest and Be Grateful”, and I swear my secretary is half hippy. I even caught the receptionist burning sage in the ladies’ toilet which she said got rid of ghosts but I literally don’t know how stupid she thinks I am.’

‘What about Gopzilla. Anything on him?’

‘Not really, but he definitely worked there. I asked some of the staff but they all said they had no idea. At first, I thought the receptionist was going to tell me all about him when I questioned her, but then realised she was reading my bloody tea leaves. I will break into the HR office tomorrow and find out more. Oh, did you invite Amos and everyone at the Squirrel Reserve to our leaving party?’

‘Yes, and Eric invited everyone here.’

I folded my hands behind my head and rested back. ‘No pressure, right? We really don’t have long to work this out, do we?’

‘Right, I’m sure we will though. Tomorrow’s the day.’

‘Bring it on.’

***

The following evening, as we lay in our hammocks, Gladys and I mulled over our day.

‘So, how did it go at the Squirrel Reserve?’

‘It was okay.’

‘Okay? Gladys, what did you find out about everyone? You were supposed to be finding stuff out.’

‘Well, I found out Amos accidentally ran over a squirrel on his bike when he was ten. Ever since then he’s been haunted by—’

‘Anything worth knowing that might help Operation Squirrel?’

‘Probably not.’

‘Okay, well I managed to infiltrate the HR department, although there was only one person working in there, it was pretty quiet. I told the woman I was Feng Shuing her office before taking a quick peek into the cabinets when she wasn’t looking. Here’s the weird thing … all of Gopzilla’s files were missing.’

‘So nothing then?’

‘Apart from non-stop lunch meetings, not a sausage.’

‘So nothing that would help Operation Squirrel, then?’

‘No, but tomorrow’s the day.’

‘Right, tomorrow’s the day.’

***

The following night, as we lay in our hammocks, Gladys and I mulled over our day.

‘So, how did it go at the Squirrel Reserve?’

‘It was okay.’

‘Okay, Gladys, what did you find out?’

‘Well, I found out that Amos once got the lead role in a Western film, called Cowboys and Shop Assistants. He took me to the cinema and we watched it together. He was amazing, I can’t—’

‘So you found out nothing, then?’

‘Well, when you put it like that.’

‘Honestly, Gladys, you’re going to need to try harder. Well, I found out what Gopzilla looked like.’

‘And?’

‘Slim. Dark hair.’

‘And?’

‘And that’s all I got.’

‘Who told you that?’

‘The receptionist.’

‘The receptionist? Did she actually say that she’s seen him?’

‘Oh yes, she said she saw him quite clearly.’

‘So that’s all you found out? And you’re having a go at me?’

‘Well, at least I tried. Watching films … honestly, Gladys.’

‘Me? And where did you have lunch today?’

‘So, I had two lunches at this amazing restaurant where it’s is so posh that celebrities come in and spoon feed you. Oh, but I did read a whole script for one of the meetings. It was a terrible screenplay though and I didn’t hold back telling Arnie I thought so too.’

‘Right, tomorrow’s the day, okay?’

‘Definitely, tomorrow’s the day.’

***

The following night, as we lay in our hammocks, Gladys and I mulled over our day.

‘So, how did it go at the Squirrel Reserve?’

‘So, so.’

‘Okay. Not again, Gladys, what did you find out?’

‘Something interesting.’

‘Did it have anything to do with one of the other staff at the Squirrel Reserve by any chance?’

‘No, but I found out that Amos Ames can play the harp.’ Gladys gripped her chest. ‘Grace, it was the most beautiful thing ever. The squirrels gathered and the music flowed through the—’

‘So you found out nothing, then?’

‘Well, when you put it like that. How about you, then?’

‘I tried searching for the two women that we saw in the meeting room, you know, the ones who were with Amos and Lion Heart. After about an hour though, I realised that I didn’t know what they looked like and gave up.’

‘Is that it?’

‘Then I spent the whole day on surveillance—’

‘Surveillance in a restaurant by any chance?’

‘Yes, but I did give the green light to a sixty-million-dollar film which starts production this Autumn.’

‘What’s it called?’

‘Stuck in The Cellar. It’s a suspense thriller about—’

‘Don’t tell me, Grace. Being stuck in a cellar. ‘

‘How did you know? Fine. Tomorrow’s the day, though, right?’

‘It better be, we’ve only got two days left before the leaving party. We need some answers. Oh, how about Eric? Did you see him today?’

‘Briefly. He’s not had any luck with the rest of the guests. He says the place is just swarming with reporters. Scotty and Anna McHappy are driving him up the wall. He’s been trapped into giving them marriage advice.’

***

The following night, as we lay in our hammocks, Gladys and I mulled over our day.

‘So, how did it go at the Squirrel Reserve?’

‘It was okay.’

‘Okay, Gladys, please tell me you actually found something out. Tomorrow is our last day and it’s the leaving party in the evening. We’re not about to pull it together Columbo-style if we don’t have any information.’

‘Fine, I do, I do. Just give me a minute to think.’

I sat up and watched as Gladys tapped her fingers and stared at the ceiling. ‘Come on then, out with it.’

‘Fine, Amos—’

‘Amos again? Gladys what the hell—’

‘Listen, will you. Amos once ended up in hospital after a dodgy kebab and he said he thinks that ghosts are real because he saw his life flash before him.’

‘Gladys, you have got to be kidding me. I know ghosts are real. That is what we have been arguing about all along, that was my point. Now you’re just telling me …’

I gripped my head as I realised. ‘You’ve not been undertaking Operation Squirrel at all, have you? You’ve been off gallivanting with the enemy: Amos Ames.’

‘So what … so what if I have? He’s not the enemy, anyway, he’s just under suspicion, that’s all.’

‘So what? Gladys, I went and got a real job as a Hollywood executive because of you. This was your idea, and now you’re saying … wait, are you saying you’ve fallen in love with Amos or something?’

Gladys crossed her arms. ‘I wouldn’t exactly say that …’

‘How could you, Gladys? I’ve been working really hard and you’ve basically compromised the whole operation. He could be in on the whole thing, remember. That’s what you said. What about the squirrels? They’re the ones who will suffer. Mr Nutty McNutnut too—what if he’s confiscated from me?’

‘Oh, come on, Grace. You’re taking this a bit far, don’t you …’

I flung my blanket over my head and turned away from Gladys. ‘Forget it, Gladys. I will solve the mystery alone. You know, I’m starting to think maybe you were right all along. Maybe it was Amos. Maybe there isn’t such a thing as—’

‘That’s enough. You don’t know him, Grace.’

‘Fine, then tomorrow’s the day, isn’t it?’

‘Fine.’

That night I barely slept. I couldn’t believe the cheek of Gladys. I’d been working my arse off to gather information and the whole time she was smooching with the enemy. There was no way I was losing this one though. Playing piano on my leaving performance was not an option; my Columbo speech was going to be epic.


GRACE – CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 | CHAPTER 2 | CHAPTER 3 | CHAPTER 4 | CHAPTER 5 | CHAPTER 6 | CHAPTER 7 | CHAPTER 8 | CHAPTER 9 | CHAPTER 10 | CHAPTER 11


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