Living up in Adeje, Shirley was seen only rarely at Mas e Menos. Lizzie came up with a hatful of info supplied by Maeve Catchpole.
"Shirley takes water samples, she's a chemist, you know. You should see her kitchen!"
"What about her kitchen?"
"Maeve says it's like a lab, funny smells and bloopy noises. Seems there's something funny about the water. Maybe it's poisoned. She says they found dead birds in the fenced reservoir. Maybe they're not saying anything to prevent panic. Maybe the whole island is infected."
- "Actually, I think Shirley is into wine-making, nothing sinister. Well, Shirley makes her own clothes - I'd like to get into that - shops for shoes in Santa Cruz, she has two cats, has two children, the boy is doing research at Cambridge, the girl was at Nottingham University and is now a chemist at Boots. Peter has a garden shed and a greenhouse for tomatoes and a tame raven - and they have a phone."
"You got all this through Maeve Catchpole?"
"Yep. Now she's got an interesting history. Her husband was a petty officer in the navy and then they ran a fish and chip shop and they were in a rifle club. She's a widow now and has lived here for twelve years. She wants to know if I would like to buy her sewing machine."
"Who is this Maeve Catchpole?"
"A friend of Shirley Uffington. Now, she thinks that Peter works for Interpol, watching for known suspects who carry drugs over from Santa Cruz to a secret cove near Garachico. They've got a phone, did you know? They are abut ten years older than we are."
At this stage in our venture a telephone was still among the unwanted Left in London items, admittedly closer to the wire than hitherto and about to enter the wishful thinking stage.
However, phone or no phone, one of Smiley's people or not, Peter knows things about things, a sort of deeper perspective than one would find in, say, a holiday visitor. He has the resonance of a permanent resident. He even has a garden shed. People with sheds are settled people.
It took us some time to get to Shirley ; eventually an invitation to lunch brought her to our door with flowers and a bottle of port. A tiny radiant lady of Indian origin she offered herself through the door with a polite bow. "Yes, Peter will be away for three days, a conference at La Laguna. He couldn't be bothered to drive back home so they gave him a room in residence... I love your apartment... Could I ask - why the stones?... Ah seven! Gosh! I do hope they don't visit all together! Yes, Peter did retire early. Took on a contract with some environmental science people to work on seismic pollution. Some of the water galleries carry a lot of carbon dioxide - and sulphur. The farmers put sulphur round the roots of the vines to discourage the lizards. They eat the grapes, you know. And now the sulphur is getting into the drinking water. But the major problem is the gas. It's the Pure and Applied Physics people who set this thing up... Actually his group are monitoring the levels of CO2 in water boreholes. Teide is a very loose conglomerate, there is evidence of earth shifting. Over time, a number of earth slides have dumped into the sea. A shift is often announced by a rise in CO2 level in the boreholes... We're getting one now. Peter is reporting in...
"Well, Teide's not actually dead, it's dormant. Teide's last eruption was in 1909. He doesn't talk about it very much. The subject scares people. Well, apparently we can measure the tilt as the earth moves slowly towards the sea."
"Yes, tilt. Don't look so alarmed, Lizzie. You'll have time to get your washing in!" Shirley's light-hearted giggle took the weight from the subject. "He inspects these tilt chambers to see how much they've moved. This year abortion becomes legal in Spain - and that's more likely to cause an earth tremor than anything Teide can do. Seriously safe - until the next time!"
"Until the next time - how reassuring!"
"These movements occur over thousands of years, dear people, and we are not really sure how earth mechanisms work and while ever they remains unclear we can't draw even tentative conclusions. However, it is quite clear that large volcanic mountains are subject to gravitational flattening and plastic movement, so you get vertical shortening and volume-preserving lengthening in the horizontal plane. We do have to remember, dear people, that El Teide is the third largest volcano on earth so there's a lot of deadweight to shift... Love your tapenade."
With Spanish country bread, the sort you cut off in hunks, and lovely salty butter and a dense discussion on home cooking, Lizzie, who does not find friends easily and is by nature lugubrious, has found a fit companion in Shirley. I'm wondering how we can fit a sewing machine into our oncosts.
"And then - there's why doesn't Maeve Catchpole know about all this. She's supposed to be a friend to Shirley?"
"Sweet Prince, Maeve knows, but she likes a bit of romance. She reads a lot."