The door of the shed had been locked for years. By now the sneck had rusted over and the hinges were hanging off. Moss had grown around the edges and welded the door to the frame.
Kathy felt an irresistible urge to open the door. She'd tried a few times before and given up but today she was determined. She used a metal bar to prize it open and then pushed. She was surprised how easily it gave way. There was nothing like brute force. But once inside she immediately felt like an interloper, like the guy who had entered the tomb of the pharaohs must have felt. Who was that now?
She must get a grip. This was only a garden shed, after all. Her eyes scanned the interior.There was a sun-lounger, blue and flowery, in seventies style, two fold-up charis and a white table. There was also a spade and a fork, whose handle had fallen off. And there was a plastic bag hanging up, non bio-degradable, so it was still intact. The bag still had the local wine merchant's logo on it.
An image flashed across her mind of a woman sunning herself at a poolside, somewhere in the Mediterranean. The previous owner had obviously been used to foreign holidays and had tried to recreate them in her back garden, wine and all. Only there wasn't really the weather for it in the North of England.
Kathy shut the door quickly. It didn't seem right to pry into someone's private life like this. But the door wouldn't shut now. The best she could do was to prop it up against the casing. Sooner or later she would have to clear the shed, anyway. That would mean hiring a skip or, more likely, trundling it all down to the local council skip, a laborious task when you had to take one item at a time
For the time being she'd clear the garden. It was overgrown and full of rubble. She piled the bits of gutters and downspouts up separately. Metal had a value. Then she made a pile of the branches she'd lopped off the trees. It was too arduous a task to chop them into small pieces. One day she'd have a massive bonfire. Never mind if it did smoke the neighbours out. The leaves could go in the compost but the branches were too big.
What she'd really like now would be a cup of tea and crumpets but there were no crumpets and the milk had run out.There was only peppermint tea and brown bread. All this healthy living. After that, it would be an evening of mindless Saturday night television.
It was later in the evening when the image of the plastic bag hanging in the shed came back to her. Why hadn't she taken a look inside? Some scruple about not prying. There could be no harm in it, surely. The previous owner was long gone. The woman had obviously been partial to the odd drop. Maybe this was where she kept her secret stash. No, that was unlikely. You wouldn't leave the stuff hanging up in a garden shed if you'd bought it. You'd drink it. There must be something else in the bag. But what could it be?
The bag could contain some secret or other. Otherwise, why would it have been locked up in there? It could be anything: a diary, an address book full of telephone numbers, some sort of treasure. Perhaps the woman had had a secret lover who she'd entertained in the garden shed. Her husband had started to suspect something so she'd had to call off the affair. The garden shed had lost its purpose and she'd abandoned it, leaving everything just as it was.
Or the husband had come home one day to find his wife in bed with her lover and in a fit of jealously he'd killed the two of them and hidden the bodies in the garden. No, that was just too gruesome to contemplate.
It was past midnight when Kathy crept out of the house and up the back garden. The steps were slippery due to a heavy night-frost so she had to hang on to the remaining branches to lever herself up. There was no moon. That was a godsend. The neighbour should have gone to bed by now so at least he wouldn't see her clambering up the path in the dark.
It didn't take long to reach the shed. She was surprised to find that the door was ajar. She pushed it open and shone the torch around inside. To her dismay there was nothing where the bag should have been. Someone or something had beaten her to it. She let out a gasp.
The neighbour's light went on in the upstairs' bedroom. A face appeared at the window. She stood perfectly still. She hoped she was out of view. There could be nothing worse than being caught sneaking about in the garden at this time of night, even if it was your own garden. The neighbour was the nosey sort. If he saw her, she would need to find some sort of explanation.
The face disappeared and the light went off. It was hard negotiating her way down the steps again. It may have been her eyes adjusting to the dark that caused her to slip and lose her footing. As she lay there in a heap at the bottom of the steps she noticed something white on the ground. It was the same plastic bag that she had been searching but it had been torn to shreds and its contents were splayed on the floor.
It was clothes pegs. That was what was in the bag. The bag was full of clothes pegs. And directly in front of her was a pair of eyes bearing a glint of disppointment, mirroring her own.