Previously in Leeford Village:
Edward makes up his mind to move to Devon. Zack and Simon are exploring the tunnel under Leeford when they discover a storeroom and an old Thornton’s Chippy sign. But what is in the dust-covered chest? Has Simon’s phone battery run out? Above ground, the pavement has been cordoned off after collapsing into the tunnel.
Allen Gomez follows Jimmy Sanjay into the dimly lit warehouse. Jimmy and the man who greeted them outside walk a few paces ahead. They are talking quietly and the man is gesticulating nervously. The only words Allen hears clearly are from Jimmy: ‘he’s kosher…he won’t squeal…I can take care of him…’ For the first time, Allen feels afraid. At the far side of the warehouse, Allen can make out two rows of pallet racking. Most of the bays are empty, just a few pallets stacked with boxes taking up space at one end.
The man turns his head to look at Allen, but keeps walking. Jimmy places a reassuring hand on his shoulder. They reach the end of the warehouse and Jimmy and the man pull open a sliding door. The sight that greets Allen is not what he expected: row after row of clattering machinery, manned by sullen-looking operatives. Certainly nothing to do with beer.
Nita Sangra is flicking through today’s newspaper. One of the changes David Ward has made to Billy’s is to install a rack near the counter replete with a selection of the day’s newspapers (‘to keep the customers in for longer,’ he told Ethel, who never had a problem keeping customers inside the café for far longer than they necessarily intended). Ethel is desperate to talk to Nita, but she is engrossed in an article, barely noticing the cup she brings to her lips then puts it down again without taking a sip. Ethel sighs. Following the meeting with Clara and Edward, she had tried again to persuade Edward to stay. But his mind is made up; in a week, he will be heading down to Devon. Will he ever come back to Leeford for a visit? Will she visit him? Both scenarios appear unlikely and Edward’s coolness towards her during the past few days has convinced Ethel that their relationship has run its course. She steps from behind the counter and walks over to Nita.
‘Did you know Jessica had her baby?’
‘Mmm?’ mumbles Nita, without looking up.
‘A boy. Thomas. Very nearly delivered by Frank Watson.’
‘Mmm. That’s good.’
‘They are both doing well.’
‘Yeeess. That’s nice.’
‘Well, I’ll leave you to your paper.’
‘Mmm. Frank. Nice name.’
Ethel resists the urge to snatch the newspaper away from Nita. Was selling the café such a good idea? It does mean she has money in the bank, so the answer must be ‘yes,’ she thinks. But, working in the café now it is owned by the Wards? Maybe not such a good idea. She feels guilty about charging three pounds for a cup of coffee that is the same cup (without the froth) that she sold before for a pound less. She’s also noticed a change in clientele. Fewer locals, more professionals on their way to work. The place certainly looks very impressive with its sacks of coffee beans arranged on a shelf above the counter and the subdued lighting (how does anyone manage to read a newspaper in this light, she thinks, looking over at Nita), but there is something missing - a heart and soul. She wishes she had sold the café to Allen and Linda.
‘So, if he’s not in Munich, where is he?’
Linda is on the phone to Tricia Ward.
‘I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation, Linda.’
‘I can’t think of one, Trish. I don’t know what to do.’
‘Maybe, if you just wait, he’ll contact you again and explain everything.’
‘Wait? I’m going out of my mind with worry! Is David there?’
‘David?’ Tricia looks at her husband who shakes his head furiously. He’s already had a taste of operating in Allen Gomez’s world and, however much he is concerned about Linda, distancing himself is his preferred option.
‘Er, no,’ says Tricia, unconvincingly. ‘He’s gone to…’ (she looks at David, who mouths something indistinct) ‘…his mother’s house. In France.’ David holds up his hands. Tricia shrugs her shoulders.
‘France?’ exclaims Linda.
‘Yes. David’s mother is…French. She’s not been feeling too good lately.’
David puts his head into his hands.
‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ says Linda. A wave of guilt comes over Tricia.
‘Linda, if you think Allen is involved in something, er, sinister, why don’t you speak to Stephen Miller?’
‘Yeah. I will,’ says Linda. ‘Thanks Tricia. Just talking to you has helped. And I hope David’s mother gets better.’
‘I’m sure she will,’ says Tricia.
‘What did you tell her that for?’ asks David as soon as he is sure the call has ended.
‘I didn’t know what to say. Anyway, what were you mouthing to me?’
‘You do realise that I have to stay out of sight now, for at least a few days. And since when has my mother been French? I hope Linda never meets her.’
Tricia bites her bottom lip. ‘Well, French and Scots accents are…similar?’
David groans. ‘Anyway, what’s the latest on Allen?’
‘He told Linda he was in Munich. But Linda found his passport, so he can’t have left the country. She’s really worried about him, David.’
David nods. ‘Me too. After meeting Arjun Bandra. I think there is something sinister going on.’
‘Do you think we should have a word with Stephen and PC Carr?’
David ponders Tricia’s suggestion.
‘I think this might be a job too big for the Dynamic Duo.’
Simon and Zack stand frozen in the darkness.
‘What do we do now?’ asks Zack, his voice barely audible.
‘I don’t know.’ Zack detects a catch in Simon’s voice.
‘You’re scared, aren’t you?’ asks Zack.
‘Yes. Just like you’ve been ever since we went into the culvert.’
‘You noticed?’ Zack laughs, despite himself.
Simon tries to open the chest, but it is stuck fast.
‘It must be locked. I wonder what’s in it?’
‘If it’s locked, Si, then someone must have locked it.’
‘Wow, Zack. You’re a genius.’
‘No need to be sarcastic. Whoever did lock it would not have gone out of this room the way we came in, would they? There must be a door.’
‘Now, you truly are a genius.’
Knowing Simon is as scared as he is, Zack finds a new confidence and takes control.
‘You feel your way around the wall clockwise and I’ll do the same anti-clockwise.’
They both move tentatively around the wall, stumbling over unseen rocks and debris.
After a couple of minutes, Simon shouts: ‘A door!’
‘How far around are you, Si?’
‘No idea. If you just keep going, you’ll get to me.’
Simon turns the knob on the door. It opens towards him. Beyond the door, dimly lit from light seeping through another door above is a flight of steep concrete steps. The light penetrates into what the boys now know to be a cellar and Simon can see Zack edging around the wall towards him.
They stand at the bottom of the steps.
‘What about the chest?’ asks Zack.
‘We can’t do anything about that now. Let’s just get out.’
Simon climbs the stairs. Zack follows him, glancing behind at the chest.
The door at the top of the stairs is locked.
Simon knocks on it.
‘What are you doing? Zack’s voice is a hoarse whisper.
‘Someone’s going to have to let us out,’ says Simon, knocking loudly.
He hears footsteps approaching on the other side and braces himself to greet whoever is about to open the door.
A key turns the lock. Simon takes a step back, knocking Zack off balance.
‘Careful, you idiot!’
The door opens. It is not clear who is the most surprised: Agnes Thornton, faced with two boys covered from head to toe in dust or the two boys encountering Agnes Thornton in nightdress and slippers.
‘What the…?’ the three of them exclaim in unison.
Allen, Jimmy and the man who met them walk past the rows of machines.
‘Keep your eyes ahead,’ warns Jimmy, but Allen has already spotted the piles of designer handbags stacked in crates at the end of each production line. The men arrive at an office overlooking the factory floor. The man shuts the door, but the clatter of
machinery can still be heard. He stands in front of Allen and stares at him for an uncomfortably long time.
‘You’ve seen nothing, right? Just do what you have to do and don’t get involved.’ The man has a London accent. He is thin and pale and there are beads of sweat on his forehead.
The man continues to stare at Allen.
‘Leave him alone, Stan,’ says Jimmy. ‘I’ve told you. He’s good. Aren’t you, Allen?’
Allen nods, though he is not sure what Jimmy means by ‘good’ exactly.
‘He’d better be,’ says Stan turning to Jimmy, ‘for your sake.’
Arjun Bandra taps his pen on the desk. He has the feeling that something’s not right. Although he is a junior partner in Jimmy’s business, he’s never quite known what it is Jimmy does when he disappears for days. He’s grateful for the wad of cash Jimmy hands him after one of his excursions, but Jimmy’s reluctance to discuss the work, other than telling him it’s ‘import and export’ has always made him nervous. #
Even though there are those who always suspect Arjun of criminal activity, he has always prided himself on running a straight business. A little secretive, perhaps and maybe the books do not represent his finances wholly accurately, but he is a fair employer and supplier. No, something is not right. He picks up the phone and dials the number he had scribbled down on his blotter a couple of days earlier.
‘Is that David Ward? This is Arjun Bandra. We need to talk.’