front door and he and his mother headed for number 3. They were almost at the gate of Penwurt before Oz saw, out of the corner of his eye, a tall ladder leaning up against the gable end. He stopped to look up at it. Tim Perkins was at the very top, scooping out some disgusting-looking muck from the guttering and throwing it down to the ground in damp, dark, splattering mounds. The noise it made as it hit the ground was gross.
âThat looks like fun,â Oz yelled.
Tim slowly swivelled his head to look down without relinquishing his one-handed, white-knuckled grip on the iron bracket that held the guttering firmly to the house. He did not look as if he was enjoying himself.
âNot to be recommended after a late night on the town,â he shouted, and then added cheerily, âStill, someoneâs got to do it.â
Oz saw that Tim wore a belt around his waist studded with screwdrivers, a clipped-on measuring tape and a host of other impressive-looking tools. He certainly looked like he knew what he was doing.
Outside number 3, the Halloween decorations were still up, even though the pumpkins were looking the worse for wear after last nightâs early frost. When Oz glanced back at Penwurt, he saw that Tim had moved around to the old block but was still up the ladder.
âIs he getting paid for doing that?â he asked his mum.
âNo,â she said, clearly delighted. âFantastic, isnât it? Heâs so helpful. I said Iâd make him a casserole this week and he seemed very happy with that.â
Oz made a face. âHe didnât look very happy up that ladder just now. Do you think heâs all there?â
âWell, you know what they say about gift horsesâyou never look them in the mouth, whether theyâre all there or otherwise,â Mrs. Chambers said without looking back. When they reached the front door of number 3, she turned to Oz. âYou ready for this?â
âYeah,â Oz said, and watched his mother press the doorbell. A moment later, a man with a startlingly orange tan opened the door. His face immediately split into a broad grin and Oz quickly lost count of the number of sparkling teeth on show in his generous mouth.
âGwen and Oscar. Welcome, welcome.â Theo Fanshaw pulled Mrs. Chambers across the threshold and Oz followed in a fallout cloud of powerful aftershave. âLeticia, Gwen and Oscar are here,â he yelled at no one in particular, before adding in a quieter voice, âSo glad you could come. Especially you, Oscar. Sydney and Savannah have been looking forward to it all day. Theyâre desperate for company so that they can escape from us old fogies.â He snorted a laugh.
From a door in the hallway, an equally orange-complexioned woman with very thin arms appeared. She was wearing something very sparkly. Mrs. Fanshaw grabbed Mrs. Chambers and kissed the air on either side of her cheeks.
âMaavellous to see you both. Now, Gwen, some champagne with a smidgen of cassis, or would you prefer buckâs fizz?â
Oz watched as his mother was led away towards a room that buzzed with conversation. She threw Oz one nervous, over-the-shoulder glance, to which he responded with a reassuring smile and a low thumbs-up. A door opened and Oz glimpsed a room full of people, including Lorenzo Heeps, who was laughing uproariously at someoneâs joke as he smoothed a stray, inky strand of hair back in place.
âThe girls are upstairs in their suite,â Mr. Fanshaw said. âThey have refreshments waiting for you.â He beamed and made Oz wish heâd brought his sunglasses. âYou know your way, donât you?â Mr. Fanshaw walked towards the door to the party, leaving Oz alone in the hall.
As he mounted the stairs, Oz studied the interior of number 3. It was full of polished furniture, which looked old and expensive. The paint gleamed and the chandeliers glittered. The paintings on the wall all