The woman who died a lot, p.1
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       The Woman Who Died a Lot, p.1

         Part #7 of Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
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The Woman Who Died a Lot


  Jasper Fforde

  The Woman Who Died

  a Lot

  Also by Jasper Fforde

  The Thursday Next Series

  FIRST AMONG SEQUELS

  SOMETHING ROTTEN

  LOST IN A GOOD BOOK

  THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS

  THE EYRE AFFAIR

  THE GREAT SAMUEL PEPYS FIASCO

  ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING

  The Nursery Crimes Series

  THE BIG OVER EASY

  THE FOURTH BEAR

  The Last Dragonslayer Series

  THE LAST DRAGONSLAYER

  THE SONG OF THE QUARKBEAST

  SHADES OF GREY

  About the author

  Jasper Fforde traded a varied career in the film industry for staring out of the window and chewing the end of a pencil. He lives and works in Wales and has a passion for aviation. Find out more at www.jasperfforde.com

  Author’s Note:

  This book has been bundled with Special Features including:

  The Making of . . . wordamentary, deleted scenes, alternative endings and much more.

  To access all these free bonus features, log on to:

  www.jasperfforde.com/features.html and follow the onscreen instructions.

  THE WOMAN WHO DIED A LOT

  Jasper Fforde

  www.hodder.co.uk

  First published in Great Britain in 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton

  An Hachette UK company

  Copyright © Jasper Fforde 2012

  The right of Jasper Fforde to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

  A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

  Ebook ISBN 978 1 444 70933 9

  Hardback ISBN 978 0 340 96311 1

  Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

  338 Euston Road

  London NW1 3BH

  www.hodder.co.uk

  To all the librarians

  that have ever been

  ever will be

  are now

  this book is respectfully dedicated

  Contents

  1. Monday: Swindon

  2. Monday: Phoebe Smalls

  3. Monday: SpecOps

  4. Monday: Shrink to Fit

  5. Monday: Braxton Hicks

  6. Monday: TJ-Maxx

  7. Monday: Tuesday

  8. Monday: Friday

  9. Monday: The Madeupion

  10. Monday: The Wingco

  11. Monday: Evening

  12. Tuesday: Library

  13. Tuesday: Next Thursday

  14. Tuesday: I’m Back

  15. Tuesday: The Finis

  16. Tuesday: Tuesday

  17. Tuesday: The Sisterhood

  18. Tuesday: Smalls

  19. Tuesday: Home

  20. Tuesday: The Destiny Aware

  21. Wednesday: Library

  22. Wednesday: Goliath

  23. Wednesday: Adelphi

  24. Wednesday: Blyton

  25. Wednesday: Smite Solutions

  26. Wednesday: Wroughton

  27. Wednesday: Kemble Timepark

  28. Wednesday: The Manchild

  29. Wednesday: Dodo Buffer

  30. Thursday: Budget

  31. Thursday: Finisterre

  32. Thursday: MadCon2004

  33. Thursday: Gavin Watkins

  34. Thursday: Evening

  35. Thursday: Aornis

  36. Friday: Morning

  37. Friday: The Righteous Man

  38. Friday: The Smiting

  39. Friday: Destiny

  40. Monday: End

  Acknowledgments

  1.

  Monday: Swindon

  The Special Operations Network was formed in 1928 to handle policing duties considered too specialized to be tackled by the regular force. Despite considerable success in the many varied areas of expertise in which SpecOps operated, all but three of the thirty-six divisions were disbanded in the winter of 1991–92, allegedly due to budgetary cutbacks. By 2004 it was realized that this had been a bad move, and plans were drawn up to re-form the service.

  Millon de Floss, A Short History of SpecOps

  Everything comes to an end. A good bottle of wine, a summer’s day, a long-running sitcom, one’s life, and eventually our species. The question for many of us is not that everything will come to an end but when. And can we do anything vaguely useful until it does?

  In the case of a good bottle of wine, probably not much— although the very act of consumption might make one believe otherwise. A well-lazed summer’s day should not expect too much of itself either, and sitcoms never die. They simply move to a zombielike existence in rerun heaven. Of the remaining two—the end of one’s life and that of our species—regular subscribers to my exploits will recall that I had seen myself die a few years back, and, given my past record, it would be probable that much useful work would be done between then and now. As to the end of our species, the possibility of annihilation was quite real, well documented, and went by the unimaginative title of Asteroid HR-6984. Whether the human race managed to figure out a worthwhile function for itself in the thirty-seven years until possible collision was dependent upon one’s level of optimism.

  But it wasn’t all bad news. In fact, due to a foible of human nature that denies us the ability to focus on more than one threat at a time, the asteroid was barely news at all. HR-6984’s convenient lack of urgency and its current likelihood of hitting the earth at only around 34 percent had relegated it well past such front-page news as the stupidity surplus and the current round of fiery cleansings by an angry deity. Instead the hurtling lump of space debris was consigned to pop-culture damnation on page twelve: Sandwiched somewhere between guinea-pig accessorizing and the apparently relevant eating habits of noncelebrities.

  My take on it was this: A 34 percent chance that something might happen was also a 66 percent chance it wouldn’t happen, and, given the rocky road our species had traveled to get here in the first place, these were considerably better odds than we’d seen so far. As for finding a collective purpose for ourselves in what might potentially be the last thirty-seven years of our existence, I was always struck by the paradox that while collective purpose might be at best unknowable and at worst irrelevant, individual purpose was of considerable importance.

  But I’m getting ahead of myself. The events described here occurred during a busier-than-usual week in the late summer of 2004. A week that began with a trip into Swindon in order to find myself a job and ended with a pillar of cleansing fire descending from the heavens, a rethink on the Wessex Library Service operating budget, and my son shooting Gavin Watkins dead. The last one was a serious downer—especially for Gavin. It’s a long story, and with a few twists and turns that take a bit of figuring. What the hell. We’ll just run the story in real time as it happened and worry about the logic afterward. My name is Thursday Next. You’ll probably have heard of me as “the one who improved the ending of Jane Eyre,” but even if you haven’t, it doesn’t matter. You’ll know me well enough soon enough.

  So there we were—my husband, Landen, and I, sitting in the comfort of a Skyrail car, glid
ing effortlessly above the North Wessex countryside on the Newbury-Hungerford-Swindon monorail. We’d boarded at Aldbourne, where we now lived, and the car was almost empty. We weren’t talking about Asteroid HR-6984, nor about the stupidity surplus or Landen’s latest book, Dogs Who Wonder Why Their Owners Think They Know When They Are Coming Home Because We Dogs Don’t Really but Agree It Might Appear as If We Do. We weren’t even talking about other issues of the day, such as pissed-off deities, Phoebe Smalls, the movie of Bonzo the Wonder Hound, Synthetic Thursdays or the ongoing “Brains kept alive in jars” ethical debate in New Splicer magazine. No, we were talking about our daughter Jenny and why I needed a tattoo to remind me she was somewhat less than I imagined, or indeed every bit as I imagined.

  “I never thought I’d get a second,” I said, staring at the scarlet rawness on the back of my hand.

  “I’m amazed you even got the first,” said Landen.

  “It was on a drunken night in Sevastopol,” I replied wistfully, “a week off the troopship and still without an ounce of combat experience or sense.”

  “Happy days,” said Landen, “to have experienced the camaraderie before the loss.”

  He gave me a half smile, and I knew precisely what he meant. Before the ziiip of a round heralded a near miss, the Crimea had seemed like nothing more than a bit of a lark.

  “The brigade tattoo was one of those bonding moments,” I said, “like agreeing to box Corporal Dwight for a kilo of best beluga caviar.”

  He chuckled.

  “You were mad. Dwight was a serious bruiser.”

  “I know that now,” I replied, “but give me credit for the attempt.”

  Lance Corporal Betty “Basher” Dwight remained unbeaten in twenty-seven kickboxing bouts, thirteen of them against men. She was to become a loyal companion and friend, but not beyond my eighteen months of active service. Basher stayed in the Crimea, and I don’t mean to open a bar or something.

  That first tattoo had been inked the night of my fight with Dwight and had actually been quite useful. Clearly not that drunk, I’d asked the tattooist to add my blood and tissue grouping to the brigade motif, a simple act that had saved my life at least twice. The boxing bout was not so successful. I hit the canvas ten seconds into the third after a punishing couple of rounds—my nose is still a bit bent, even today—and the unit had to go without caviar on their blinis for a month.

  My second tattoo was done only two weeks ago, just after I’d turned fifty-four. It was of a purely practical nature and, unlike the first, which was etched unobtrusively on my upper arm, was on the back of my hand for all to see, especially me. It was at my family’s request, too—an attempt to remind myself that my second daughter, Jenny, wasn’t real at all but a troublesome mindworm foisted on me by a vengeful adversary.

  “Did it have to go on my hand?” I said to Landen as the Skyrail car docked at Clary-Lamarr Travelport, Swindon’s main hub.

  “It has to be somewhere you’ll have a chance of seeing it. The constant reminding might help you get over her.”

  I stared at it again in order to keep the thoughts in my head as long as possible. Now that we were talking about Jenny’s nonexistence, everything seemed fine, but I knew also that these moments were fleeting. In a few minutes, all knowledge of the mindworm would be gone and I’d be fretting over Jenny again. Where she was, how she was, and why the teachers called Landen when I came to school to pick her up.

  “Do you think it will?”

  “I’m hoping yes but thinking no,” replied Landen in a typically stoical manner. “The only person who can fix your Jenny problem is the person who infected you with the mindworm: Aornis.”

  This might seem strange until you realize that Aornis is a mnemonomorph—someone who can manipulate memories. She could rob a bank and no one would remember she’d been there. Besides, trying to capture someone who can manipulate memories is like trying to sweep a partial vacuum into a bell jar using only a yard broom. But we could make inquiries about her, and that was another reason we were in Swindon.

  I grunted resignedly and then, after a short and oddly treacly pause, wondered what I was grunting resignedly about.

  We drifted down the escalators from the south entrance of Clary-Lamarr and stepped onto the large concourse outside, which was dominated by the thirty-foot-high bronze statue of Lola Vavoom. We had missed the rush hour, and only latecomers and shoppers were walking out of the travelport.

  “What were we just talking about?” I asked.

  “Stuff,” replied Landen vaguely, taking a deep breath. “You know, I’m not sure I’m going to get used to living out of town. To me, grass is simply a transitional phase for turning sunlight into milk.”

  “You’re changing the subject,” I replied suspiciously.

  “I do that sometimes.”

  “You do, don’t you?”

  But Landen was right. He wasn’t really a country dweller.

  “After a few months, you’ll be wondering how you lived anywhere else.”

  “Perhaps.”

  We’d moved out of Swindon four months before, not long after I’d been discharged from the hospital. The main reason was that our daughter Tuesday needed more room to experiment, but an equally good reason was security. I had more enemies than was considered healthy for the peaceful family life I had half promised myself, and a country home was more easily defended— from enemies on either side of the printed page.

  “I think the city council is taking the threat of a smiting a bit lightly, don’t you?” I asked, as aside from a few billboards outlining the possibility that the Almighty would lay the center of Swindon to waste in an all-consuming fire next Friday, little seemed to be going on.

  “Joffy said the cathedral received a leaflet slipped under the west door,” murmured Landen. “It was called Vengeful Cleansing by a Wrathful Deity and You.”

  “Helpful?

  “Not really. A few tips for a safe evacuation when the order is given—covering the windows with brown paper, hiding under tables, mumbling— that sort of thing. I’m not sure they’re taking the threat seriously.”

  “It was serious enough for Oswestry,” I replied, recalling the first of the nine random smitings that had been undertaken around the globe by a clearly disgruntled deity, eager to show His wayward creations the error of their ways.

  “Perhaps so, but that was the first time, and no one believed that it would happen. If they’d evacuated the town, all would have been fine and only the buildings destroyed.”

  “I suppose so. Did they ever decide whether it was ethical for those turned to pillars of salt to be ground up for use as winter road grit?”

  “I don’t know. Probably not.” He looked at his watch. “What time are you meeting with Braxton?”

  “As soon as I’ve had the psychological evaluation.”

  “I thought you’d have to be a bit nuts to want to run SO-27,” mused Landen.

  “Undoubtedly,” I replied, “but it’s not so much a question of how mad applications for the job might be as the style of madness. Obsessive drive is probably good, speaking in tongues and shouting at the walls less so.”

  “Do you think Phoebe Smalls has the requisite loopiness to get the job?”

  Detective Smalls, it should be noted, was the only other person who could realistically lead the re-formed Literary Detectives division. She was good, but then so was I.

  I thought for a moment. “Perhaps. She applied for the job, after all—no-one would do that unless a little bit odd.”

  “She hasn’t got your experience,” said Landen. “Running SO-27 isn’t for tenderfoots.”

  “But she’s got the youth,” I replied, “and her health.”

  “Phoebe Smalls might look a sound bet on paper,” he replied, “but when weird comes knocking, gray hairs count. Braxton knows this. Besides, the boss need never leave the office. Consign the running around to the young pups.”

  He smiled at me, but he knew I wasn’t happy. I ha
d yet to walk without a stick, or pain. My broken femur had knit badly in the two weeks before I was found following my accident, and it had to be broken and reset with pins, which is never satisfactory. I wasn’t particularly worried; running is overrated anyway, and sport only makes you sweaty and smug and wears out the knees. Besides, Landen had been missing his leg above the knee for longer than he hadn’t, and he was fine. In fact, since he had a left limp and I had a right one, if we walked side by side, it apparently looked quite comical. I told Tuesday we were her “cute cripple parents,” and she retorted that “cripple” wasn’t really a polite term, and I told her that since my leg got mashed, I could define myself in any way I chose. In answer to that, she huffed, glared and then pouted, as teenagers are wont to do.

  “She’s right,” Landen had remarked when I told him. He’d lost his leg to a land mine in the Crimea almost three decades before and referred to himself as either a “deconstructed bipedalist” or, more simply, “a man unjustly overcharged for socks.” “Will you be okay?” he asked now.

  “I’m fine,” I told him, “with a stick to lean on and four Dizuperadol patches.”

  “Four?” said Landen. “Are you sure that’s wise?”

  “It’s the only thing that seems to have any lasting effect. Slow and constant release—double thickness, too.”

  I’d recently moved to the more effective stick-on patches rather than Dizuperadol taken orally. The patches seemed to work for longer, and I’d been prescribed the double-strength ones. Sometimes it felt like I had a waffle stuck to my bum. They were effective, but there were side effects.

  “How’s the vision?” asked Landen.

  “In focus more often than it’s not. And that’s good, right?”

  “A Zen dog dreams of a medium-size bone.”

  “Actually, there is one thing you could do. Can you put my all phone in my right pocket so I can get it out?”

  Landen did as I asked. I’d been working on the grip of my left hand, but it was slow going. The damage to my hand had been caused by the taxi’s indicator stalk as it passed through my forearm during the vehicle’s sudden stop in the swamp, and it had caused all sorts of mayhem on the way. The stalk broke off when it hit my jaw. These days I used it as a tea stirrer. The stalk, that is, not my jaw.

 

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