Meanwhile, up at the Platz, things were hardly going smoothly either. Having seen the young adults off on their jaunt, the old adults, as Charlie had come to fondly call that select group, had gathered at Freudesheim, one amongst them missing. To tell the story completely, it is necessary to go back a few hours, long before the council of war had been formed, to when Charlie had just finished scrubbing the mark off the end of John's nose and had waved off her brood with a heavy heart.
They were getting old now, she reflected sadly, and Millie would soon have left the nest, followed closely by her brothers. This was hardly out of the ordinary, in fact she was rather looking forwards to it if she was being honest, it just made her feel so terribly old. She had the new baby on the way had she been inclined to mope about the lack of children in the house, it was just that the knowledge of Millie's growing up was making her feel, well, old. It didn't feel that long ago that they'd come to the Platz and she'd been a young woman, just starting out on the path of motherhood and scared rigid by it all. Now she knew how her own mother must have felt when Millie was born; thinking of Alice, however, simply made her shiver to trace the ravages of time through the generations of the family.
Not that she was given much time to mope, for at that moment Poppy came running up to inform her in gleeful tones that daddy and Mary-Lou were having a furious argument and wouldn't she come, it was so funny. Reprimanding Poppy half-heartedly for saying such a thing – when in truth, she'd probably have said the same herself – she followed them inside, intending to pour oil on troubled waters.
“I will not be treated like this!” shrieked Mary-Lou, as Charlie came upon the scene. “I spent more time here than you ever did, and Joey would not be pleased at me being thrown out unceremoniously like this!”
“Children, upstairs,” ordered Charlie hastily, in a tone that brooked no argument – though the three younger girls quickly decided that 'upstairs' could technically justify sitting on the stairs themselves and eavesdropping this way. Then, turning to Mary-Lou, and guessing at the problem, she said quite calmly, “I think that Joey would have been more horrified at the idea of you bringing certain substances into the house and around the children.”
“Well, I wouldn't want to stay, anyway!” she declared. “I have business to deal with in this country and then I shall be gone, today. But you'll regret doing this, you and everyone else, mark my words.”
She left in a tempest of fury, even slamming the door behind herself, leaving Charles and Charlie staring at each other. At first they looked horrified, but then Charlie happened to catch Charles' eye, and she burst into a peal of laughter quickly followed by a bellow from her husband. The mirth, once it came, was hard to shake, the memory of Mary-Lou drawing herself up to her full height and trying to look imposing just too much, and it was debatable how long they would have gone on had another person not arrived on the scene.
“Pull yourself together,” demanded David sharply, and the shock of his voice promptly brought the two adults to their senses. “You're needed. I've just seen Gus and she's off on another mad adventure of hers. Honestly, that woman, she'll be in jail or dead or both by the time she's fifty.”
“I'm sorry,” gasped Charles, simply trying to catch his breath. “It was just – well, we've dealt with Mary-Lou, that's all.”
“That woman!” barked David, so sharply that the two adults – and the three children still listening gleefully just above – jumped. “Honestly. We heard you and that – that woman. Gus and I had come over to see if we could help, and we were in the garden when you were arguing. And that's why Gus has gone after her.”
“Who?” asked Charlie blankly. “Why?”
“Mary-Lou,” explained David, as if talking to a small child. “Because she's kidnapped Hilda.”
“But – but,” tried Charlie weakly, but words were beyond her. Instead, she turned to her husband, who turned to David, who explained in a long-suffering tone of voice,
“We heard what Mary-Lou said, about everyone being sorry. Well, knowing she was smuggling drugs, Gus has got it into her head that Mary-Lou must have kidnapped Hilda for some purpose as well, and she's tracking her as we speak. I wouldn't have bothered following her, frankly, she will get herself into these messes, but as her husband I suppose I must and -”
“It's always better to have two people,” said Charles tactfully, recognising that David was trying to ask for help. “Especially where Augusta seems to be concerned.”
This provoked an explosion of language so strong that David was still blustering at the offence to his other half as they left the house to try and follow where she was going. Ludicrous as it all was, Charles had to admit that he wouldn't have wanted to cross Mary-Lou in that mood – and he only hoped that Augusta wouldn't, either.