A cat, a turtle, and a Pineapple walk into a cottage…. That’s it. That’s the punch line of my life choices.
“Well, here we are.” Motts closed the solid wooden front door to her new cottage, leaning back against it and releasing a pent-up sigh. She opened her bluish-grey eyes to stare at all the boxes, plastic bins, and bags. “Bugger. You’ve no one to blame but yourself for this, Pineapple Mottley.”
Pineapple Meg Mottley had been so named because her mother had craved nothing but the tropical fruit during her one and only pregnancy. There’d only been one issue. No one ever called her Pineapple; her uncle had nicknamed her Motts as an infant, and it stuck.
The plaintive cry came from behind one of the boxes. Motts moved quickly to lift up her precious cat. Cactus was a tortoiseshell Sphynx cat; she’d found the poor dear at a shelter and fallen head-over-sneakers in love. He buried his head in her shoulder-length brown hair, purring his little heart out.
She stroked the suede-like downy fuzz covering his wrinkly body. “What are we going to do about this mess? Want to help me unpack? No?”
What have I gotten myself into?
When her auntie Daisy had passed away, Motts had taken the inherited cottage as a sign. London had always been overwhelming to her senses. Polperro was a much quieter place with a slower pace suited for her autistic needs.
She loved Polperro. Her parents were both originally from Cornwall. A lot of her family lived in the area, as did her ex-girlfriend.
Despite having spent many a holiday with family at the cottage, Motts found herself overwhelmed by the sudden change. This was a terrible idea. I should’ve sold the house. I am such a silly fool.
Take a few deep breaths.
Match Cactus’s purring.
You’re going to be okay.
“Ahh!” She jumped when a rapid knocking on the door jolted her. “For goodness sake.”
“Motts? You okay?”
She spun around and yanked the door open to find the welcome sight of her ex-girlfriend, Pravina Griffin, and Vina’s twin brother, Nish. “I’m….”
How do I finish the sentence?
In the middle of the biggest mistake I’ve ever made?
Just slightly overcome by irrational fear?
Nish moved forward to take Cactus from her arms while Vina led her inside. “Amma is bringing over supper. She wanted to let the sambar simmer a little longer. She even made your favourite kind of rice.”
The Griffin twins took after their Tamil mother, Leena, who’d been a Bollywood star before falling in love with Cadan Griffin, a Cornish-Indian cricket player. They’d settled in Polperro to run a coffee shop and bakery. Griffin Brews had been around for thirty-plus years, and now their children managed it, allowing their parents to retire early.
Leena and Cadan had welcomed Motts with open arms even before she’d briefly dated their daughter. Motts and Vina had realised over the years that their close bond felt more like that of siblings. They’d dumped each other but remained the best of friends, where they’d started in the first place.
“Let’s talk about something less daunting than unpacking. How goes the dating life? Did you fill out a dating profile on the site I emailed you?” Vina plucked Moss, Motts’s turtle, out of his travel terrarium. “Well?”
“No, I didn’t. There’s no box to check for asexual, biromantic autistic.” Motts gently took Moss to return her to a safer place. “No touching the turtle.”
A cat, a turtle, and a stranger face off in the garden. The stranger blinks first. Right. The joke still needs some work.
“Do you always let your turtle and cat out in the garden together?”
“They’re friends. They like to gossip.” Motts set her trowel to one side and got to her feet. She dusted the grass and dirt off her knees. “They both need fresh air and sun in moderation. Are you lost?”
The man didn’t seem lost despite having popped up beside the back fence around her garden. He looked like a police officer. Though not quite as broad-shouldered, he stood as tall as Teo Herceg, the detective inspector she’d met in April and had been dating for over a month.
“I’m hoping to speak with Pineapple Mottley.” He sounded like a policeman. His suit, while nice, appeared rumpled from driving; his short grey hair, however, was gelled and styled perfectly. “I’m Detective Inspector Dempsey Byrne with the Metropolitan Police’s cold case unit.”
“Cold case?” Motts’s heart stuttered in her chest. She rubbed her fingers together nervously. “Jenny. You’re here about Jenny.”
Jenny Cleverly had been her lone best friend through her early childhood. Motts had stumbled across Jenny’s lifeless body on her way home from primary school while walking through a park, hidden behind a hedge. She still had nightmares about finding her.
The unsolved crime had haunted Motts. She’d developed an obsessive curiosity about cold cases as a result. And at least once a year, she searched online to see if anyone had been arrested for Jenny’s murder.
“Motts.” She had a sudden sense of déjà vu; she’d had a similar conversation with Teo in April. He’d been investigating the murder of a Rhona Walters, who’d been buried in the garden behind her cottage. It had been an auspicious start to her life in Polperro. “Cactus.”
Her beloved Sphynx cat had leapt onto the fence and then over to the detective’s shoulder. Detective Inspector Byrne didn’t bat an eyelid. He simply reached up to pat Cactus on his head.
Well, he certainly approves of the random strange man intruding on our afternoon.
Intruding inspector intrudes introspectively.
Not my best alliteration.
“I don’t often see a flowerless garden.” He glanced slowly around at her rows of fruits and herbs. “None at all?”
“My allergies try to drown me if I’m around them for too long.” Motts kept flowers far away from her cottage. Real ones, in any case. She made and sold origami and quilled floral arrangements as part of her small business, Hollyhock Folded Blooms. “Why don’t you come in for tea? Cold case curiosities can converse comfortably.”
Don’t frighten the fancy London detective with your peculiarities.
The judgmental voice in her head sounded suspiciously like her mum, who meant well but couldn’t always relate to Motts’s more unique traits. She didn’t understand her wayward autistic and asexual daughter. Motts had given up trying to fit into neurotypical moulds.
I am who I am.
Alliterations and all.
Oh, fun accidental alliterations are the best.
“I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“Wouldn’t you?” Motts stared blankly at the man, unable to decide if he was being polite or not. “You drove from London. At least a five-hour drive on a good day. Tea isn’t imposing. Sleeping in my garden and trampling the herbs would be.”
“I should probably rescue her from the deluge.” Motts went to answer the door. She didn’t know what to say. “Hello.”
That was normal, right?
“Can you find my mum?” her visitor blurted. “Please?”
That was definitely not normal.
Motts blinked a few times, trying to process the question shouted at her. “Pardon?”
“I should’ve called, shouldn’t I?” She shoved damp hair out of her face. “Mikey said you’re autistic and might appreciate a warning. I’ve just…. I’m desperate to find Mum. No one believes she’s gone missing.”
“I’m not the police.” Motts flinched when a crack of thunder crashed overhead. “Okay. Come inside. Everything makes more sense with a mug of tea. Mind the cat, he adopts strangers. Let me find you a towel.”
Motts waved her inside and pointed to the curious cat who’d come to investigate. “Cactus. Not prickly, mostly fuzzy. The kitchen’s down there. I’ll be a moment.”
Why would Mikey give her my name?
Mikey O’Connell had been the grandson of a woman found floating in the sea in June. Motts had discovered his brother and mum were behind the horrific murder. They’d stayed in touch after the investigation.
Grabbing a towel from the upstairs bathroom, Motts returned to the kitchen. She put the kettle on, grabbed two mismatched mugs, and dropped two slices of bread in the toaster. Everything would hopefully make more sense after breakfast.
“Here.” Motts offered the towel to her.
“Your auntie and my mum are great friends. I’m Paisley. Petunia Lee’s my mum.” She sat in the chair near the fire to dry off. Her whole body seemed to be shaking. “She works at one of the breweries near Looe. Her boyfriend said she left him a note saying she went on holiday.”
“But?” Motts opted for one of the non-caffeinated teas her friend Vina had brought over for her. A lovely blackcurrant-flavoured one that reminded her strongly of Ribena. “Could she be on holiday?”
“Mum’s not one to travel. I can’t remember the last time she took a trip anywhere.” Paisley began to towel dry her hair. She gratefully accepted the second one Motts handed to her. “She wouldn’t go without telling me.”
“Have you tried calling her? What about the police?” Motts wasn’t sure how she could help. “I’m not a detective. I make origami bouquets and quilling art for a living. Don’t think I’m the best first choice.”
“The police said she’s an adult. She can do what she wants.” Paisley huffed in irritation. She wrapped the second towel around herself. “Mikey said you’re great at solving mysteries.”
Mikey’s a liar.
And never invited to the cottage ever again.