This story takes place a few weeks after the bonus story about Betty’s living wake, at the end of Caught, Invertary book 7.
The rumor around the Highlands was that Betty McLeod didn’t have a heart. Some said she’d handed it over to the devil at the same time as she’d sold her soul. Others said that it’d been shattered when her fiancé ran off with her sister. And there were a few who believed she’d never had one to begin with. But the truth was that Betty did indeed have a heart; she was just very careful about who she let into it. After all, there was a limited amount of space.
In saying that, by the time she’d reached her mid-nineties, there were five people firmly entrenched in her wizened old ticker. Lake Benson, her honorary son—as in, it was an honor for him. Jodie Harris, because the woman could wipe the floor with anyone in Invertary and didn’t take crap from anybody. Agnes McBride, formerly Sinclair, who gave Betty a run for her money when it came to being devious. And two little girls called Grace and Lexie Benson, whom she considered her granddaughters—much to the disgust of their mother, Kirsty. Which, as far as Betty was concerned, was a bonus.
It was those two little girls who were keeping Betty company as she sat in her La-Z-Boy armchair in the corner of their father’s security shop on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in spring. The girls had finished school for the day and were hanging out in the shop while their parents worked. Usually, the girls went between their parents’ shops—Lake’s security business and Kirsty’s underwear store, which faced each other on the high street. But that day, their mother was in a meeting with suppliers, and Lake was upstairs on a conference call, which meant Betty had been left to supervise the girls—and the shop.
Oh sure, Lake had told the latest charity case manning the front desk that she was to keep an eye on everything, but Betty knew who was really in charge—her. She was also aware that this was the first time since her “living wake” that she’d been left alone this close to Benson Security’s storeroom. The storeroom that housed the weapons.
It was an opportunity she couldn’t let pass.
Eyeing the woman behind the counter, another mousy misfit Lake had taken pity on, Betty lifted her chin.
“Hey, you, girlie,” she called, making the young woman startle and her granddaughters stop coloring to see what was happening. “Lake wants the girls to have ice cream. You’d best fetch some straight away.”
“Ice cream!” Five-year-old Grace was already on her feet and bouncing around in excitement at the prospect of a sugar fix.
Her more circumspect six-year-old sister, Lexie, eyed Betty thoughtfully, as though trying to work out her angle. Betty knew she shouldn’t have favorites when it came to her girls, but Lexie was definitely an apple from her grandmother’s tree. There wasn’t much that got past that wee one.
The mouse behind the counter blinked at Betty several times before whispering, “Mr. Benson didn’t say anything about ice cream.”
“Ice cream, ice cream, ice cream,” Grace chanted as she ran around the room.
“Aye, well, he mentioned it to me. Now, away ye go and fetch us some.”
The mouse, Betty couldn’t remember her name, cast a nervous glance toward the stairs up to Lake’s office. “Maybe I should check. He was very clear about watching the shop and the…uh…children.”
It didn’t take a genius IQ to deduce that Betty had also been on his list of things to watch.
She shrugged. “You do as you see fit, lassie. I’m no’ sure I’d want to interrupt such an important call over some ice cream, but I’m sure you know best. After all, you’ve been working here a whole month now.” She clasped her hands in her lap and pretended to be fascinated by the pattern on her tartan dress.
“I want ice cream,” Grace said loudly. “Chocolate, and strawberry, and sprinkles, and with a flake, and vanilla…” Her jet-black hair swished about her face as she danced around the room.
“She really wants ice cream,” Lexie told the mouse. “I like ice cream too. My favorite is chocolate chip.”
“I wouldn’t mind a wee cone myself,” Betty said. “But I understand if you feel you cannae go get one for me.” She heaved a weary sigh. “Lexie, love, help yer granny out of her chair. I’m sure I can manage to hobble down to the newsagent and get us some ice cream. Grace, my wee darling, see if you can find Granny’s cane.” She didn’t have a cane, but that didn’t stop Grace from running off to find one. Bless her wee heart.
“Hold on tight, Gran.” Lexie held out her tiny hand. “Daddy will be really upset if you hurt yourself.” Her large brown eyes were so solemn, you’d never know she’d taken it upon herself to join in Betty’s con. Aye, Lexie was definitely her favorite.
“I’ll be careful.” Betty tried to sound vulnerable. “I might be a few years shy of a hundred, but I still have some life in me yet.” She muffled a fake groan as she reached for Lexie’s hand.
“Maybe I could run to the shop,” the mouse said. She gnawed at her bottom lip for a second, working through the dilemma in her tiny head. “It’s only a minute or two from here anyway. Right?”
Betty sank back into the seat. “If you’re sure. I don’t want you getting into trouble, but I’d much appreciate the help, seein’ as my old bones are no’ what they used to be.” Which was utter rubbish. She was just as spry as she’d been at eighty. Maybe even seventy—on a good day.
The mouse took in the wide-eyed, eager faces of the two little girls, then the relief on Betty’s—hopefully—innocent-looking face.
The lassie nodded and reached for her jacket. “Yes, I’m sure I can run to the shop for ice cream. As long as you promise that none of you will leave while I’m gone, okay?”
“Cross my heart,” Betty said solemnly. Although she didn’t make the gesture because she wasn’t entirely sure where the stone-sized organ was located these days. “I’m no’ going anywhere, lassie, and I’ll make sure the bairns stay where you left them too.”
The young woman glanced back at the stairs to Lake’s office again before nodding. “Okay then, what flavor do you want?”
Betty made a show of thinking hard about her answer when, really, she didn’t give a flying fig about ice cream. In the end, she ordered what she assumed would take the longest to fetch. “I’ll have a three-scoop cone: chocolate, vanilla, and rum. Dipped in chocolate and with a flake. Grace will have three scoops an’ all, any flavors, but she’ll want sprinkles. And Lexie?”
Lexie turned her serious little face up to the woman. “I like the little tubs. I want chocolate chip with butterscotch sauce and two spoons.”
“Two spoons?” the woman asked.
Lexie nodded. “I always drop one.”
“Um, okay, eh, wouldn’t it be easier if I just grabbed some Magnums from their freezer?”
Three sets of shoulders slumped.
Betty let her head rest on the back of the seat and her eyes close. “Whatever you can manage. We don’t want to be a bother, do we, girls? Don’t worry, though, if I feel a bit more with it tomorrow, I’ll get your cones then.”
“No, it’s fine,” the mouse hurried to say. “I’ll get them now. Just don’t touch anything until I get back.”
“Dinnae fash,” Betty said. “We’ll be very well behaved. Won’t we girls?”
There was a chorus of agreement before the door closed on Lake’s latest receptionist.
As soon as she was out of sight, Betty launched herself from her chair. Which took some doing. Those chairs weren’t designed for wee round women with short legs. One of these days, she’d get around to having an ejector button built in, to give her a bit of momentum getting out of the damn thing.
“Satan,” Lexie said, “are you being naughty?”
“Shh,” Grace hissed. “Mummy says we’re not to call Gran that.”
“It’s okay.” Betty rounded the counter and nabbed the key to the back room before tottering off in that direction. “I’ve been called worse, and anyway, I feel I’ve grown into the title.”
“What are we doing?” Lexie followed close at Betty’s back; no doubt worried she’d miss out on something.
“Getting back my property,” Betty said. Although, she supposed that technically it was still Lake’s, seeing as she’d borrowed it from him to begin with. But that was semantics. A woman shouldn’t be without protection—from condoms to Tasers, it was her God-given right to be ready for anything.
“What property?” Lexie slipped her hand into Betty’s, and that wizened old heart of hers clenched tight.
“My favorite Tasers.” Aye, plural. The bampots had confiscated all of them after she’d used them on Grunt during her wake.
“What’s Tasers?” Lexie asked once Betty entered the four-digit code into the panel beside the door and opened the storeroom, using the key she’d pilfered. The mouse needed to hide the code better an’ all.
“People use them for defending themselves.” Or, for knocking out huge Americans so they could take a peek under his kilt.
“Do you hit people with it? Mummy says we shouldn’t hit anybody. But Daddy’s teaching me how to fight.” Her little frown could melt the iciest heart, and Betty made a mental note to teach her how to make the most of it in the future. A girl needed to use all the weapons in her arsenal if she wanted to get ahead in this world. “I asked Daddy how I can fight without hitting, and he said if somebody hurts me, I can hit back.” She looked so woeful Betty almost laughed. “I don’t want to get hit first.”
“Aye, I’ve always thought it was better to be the first one to strike.”
“With a toaster?”
“Taser. But a toaster’ll do in a pinch. Especially if it’s plugged in and there’s water involved. Although, I’m sure you could clobber somebody over the head with it an’ all.”
“When is Molly coming back with ice cream? I want my ice cream,” Grace said.
Molly! That was the name of the latest mouse. At least she was a step up from the last one. He’d taken one look at Betty, burst into tears, and run from the shop. Literally. As though his backside were on fire. He quit his job by sending a mobile phone message to Lake. The youth of today had no backbone whatsoever—something she planned to remedy in the two wee bairns beside her. Aye, there was nothing so satisfying as molding young minds.
“Where’s the ice cream?” Grace said. “It’s taking sooooooooo long.”
“She’ll be back soon enough,” Betty said. Which meant they had to get a wiggle on.
Waddling into the stockroom, she let out a stream of curses. That bloody Lake Benson. He’d moved all the new Tasers to the top shelf—well out of her reach. “We need a ladder,” she said in disgust.
When she turned back around to go find one, Grace and Lexie were staring at her with their mouths hanging open.
“What?” Betty demanded. She didn’t have time for this. It only took so long to buy ice cream.
Grace stretched out her arm and pointed at Betty. “You said bad words.”
“Lots of bad words,” Lexie agreed.
“Are you sure I wasn’t just talking French?” she asked hopefully.
“Well then, let’s keep this between the three of us. Sometimes old people forget what words they’re supposed to say, and the wrong ones come out. I’m sure that’s what happened.”
Lexie rolled her eyes dramatically, clearly not buying any of it.
Grace was a tad more gullible. “I say the wrong word all the time. Yesterday I called the calculator a phone.”
“Aye, it was just like that,” Betty said. “Now, help me find a ladder; my stun gun’s on the top shelf.”
“I can get it.” Lexie eyed the shelf. “Mummy says I’m a monkey ’cause I climb so good.”
“You sure?” There was a counter under the shelves. She supposed the kid could stand on that. But she was still awful wee. “I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“I’m sure. This is easy. I climb higher stuff at school.” Then, like a goat scaling the craggy face of a cliff, she was up on the counter and climbing the shelves like a ladder.
“Mind you hold on tight,” Betty said with pride.
“I can see up your skirt,” Grace said. “Those are my pants. Mummy gave you the wrong ones. The dinosaurs are mine.”
“Can we worry about her knickers later?” Betty said, her eyes on Lexie. “I want two of the smaller Tasers.” They were easier to hide about her person. “And my old yellow stun gun. It’s big and has my name written on it in black felt-tip pen. Is it up there?”
Lexie moved some things around. “Is this it?” She held up the stun gun that had taken Grunt-the-giant down at her wake.
“That’s the one. It has sentimental value. Now come on down from there before we’re caught.”
Lexie hesitated. “Can I have a Taser too?”
Betty considered it. On the one hand, it would do the girl good to be armed. On the other hand, she’d probably use it on her sister. “No, but you can have this instead.” She grabbed an air horn from the shelf behind her. “It’s pink. You can put your stickers on it.”
“Is it a gun?” Lexie said eagerly.
“No, but it makes a loud noise.”
“Loud enough to scare off bad people?”
“And make their ears bleed.”
“Wow,” Lexie said with reverence.
“Can I have one too?” Grace said.
“Aye.” Betty handed her a purple one. “But don’t use it in here, it’ll just make your father come down to see what’s happening.” And she didn’t want that!
Betty watched Lexie carefully as she climbed back down, standing close in case she fell. She wouldn’t be able to catch the girl, but she could probably break her fall—and her own hips while she did it. But when it came to her granddaughter, she was willing to make the sacrifice.
“Here.” Lexie handed over the Tasers.
Betty took the two smaller ones. “You hold on to the big one for a minute while I stash these.” She shoved one down her cleavage, then hiked up the back of her tartan dress and wedged the other one into the back of her knickers. It wasn’t comfortable, but she’d manage until she got home. “Right, let’s go.”
She locked up and led the way back into the shop, in a hurry to get the key back before it was missed. But, of course, she’d taken too long.
“Ice cream!” Grace shouted and ran for mouse, who’d just stepped into the shop—through the door that the girls’ mother held open for her.
“Oh, hell,” Betty muttered.
The smiles on the faces of the two women froze when the scene in front of them registered. Betty was holding the storeroom keys. Lexie had a Taser and an air horn in her hands, and Grace…well, Grace had dumped her air horn and was reaching for her ice cream.
“Yay!” Grace skipped over to the corner of her room with her cone and dug right in. The world was dead to her now.
“Is that a stun gun?” Kirsty demanded, her voice heading further into dog whistle territory with each word. “You let my daughter play with a stun gun?” Her face was as red as her famous hair, and her eyes were ablaze. These signs did not bode well for Betty.
She waved a dismissive hand as she followed Lexie over to the mouse and the ice cream. “Don’t get your knickers in a twist. It’s no’ even charged. It’s been sitting in the stockroom for weeks. Look.” Betty took the stun gun from Lexie, switched it on, and pressed it to the mouse.
There was a sizzle and a pop. Mouse started to shake, and a strange hiss came from her mouth. For a split second, every muscle in her body seemed to tense, and then she fell forward onto the floor. Crushing the ice cream beneath her.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Betty said, studying the stun gun. “It’s working after all.”
Kirsty gaped at her, then at the woman on the floor. “Look what you’ve done!”
“Aye,” Betty said. “There’s no rescuing that ice cream now.”
“The woman’s unconscious,” Kirsty snapped as she crouched beside the mouse.
“It’s okay, Mummy,” Lexie said. “I can wake her up.”
And then she set off the air horn.
It was at this point Betty decided it was time to go home.
“Here.” She thrust the stun gun at Kirsty. “It’ll just be confiscated anyway.”
She stepped over the downed woman and grabbed her handbag—all too aware of the footsteps rushing down the stairs. “See you tomorrow, girls,” she called to the bairns before heading out the door.
By the time Lake set foot inside the shop, Betty was heading to the newsagent—to get herself a replacement ice cream cone—her two new stun guns tucked securely into her underwear. With a grin at the sparkling blue loch, she considered the day a success.