Previously in Leeford Village:
Allen goes with Jimmy to a warehouse, where he sees people making designer handbags. Tricia persuades Linda to speak to sergeant Miller about Allen. Simon and Zack find themselves in the Thornton’s cellar after discovering a chest in the darkness of the Leeford tunnels, and Arjun Bandra wants to speak to David Ward.
After her initial exclamation, Agnes stands in silence, staring at the two dust-covered boys. The reaction of Zack and Simon is to reciprocate. Someone has to break the spell that caused the sudden taciturnity.
‘You…’ Agnes struggles to find the words. ‘How, where?’
‘Hello, Mrs Thornton. Are you okay?’ stutters Zack.
‘Okay, me? How did you get down there?’
‘Long story,’ mutters Simon.
As he speaks, there is a thump of heavy footsteps on the stairs in the flat above.
‘Agnes?’ shouts Cody. ‘Where are you?’
‘Here! In the cellar!’
Cody shuffles through the kitchen at the rear of the shop to be presented with a sight he would never have expected.
‘Agnes! Who’s this? Hang on – Zack and Simon! What are you doing here?’
‘I’ve asked the same question already,’ snaps Agnes, beckoning everyone into the kitchen.
‘I’ll make tea,’ she says. ‘Everyone sit down. I want to know what you pair are up to.’
During the following ten minutes, Zack and Simon have confirmation of what they already thought about the characters of Agnes and Cody. They know Agnes to be the stronger of the two people who run the chip shop; they already know that Cody will dance to any tune that Agnes plays. They certainly know that she will, indeed, get to the bottom of any set of circumstances in which she is placed.
Cody has his turn.
‘Let’s get this straight. You are exploring the Leeford tunnels, get lost, the tunnel roof collapses, and you find yourself in our cellar. Right?’
‘Sort of,’ says Simon, meekly. ‘The room below your cellar, where we found the chest.’
‘Chest, what chest?’ exclaims Cody.
Mel hasn’t waited long for Lucy Stringer to arrive, though long enough to notice that Ethel’s chipped plate has been taken off the wall. Everything changes, she thinks, life moves on. The café is not the same, though we’ve still got Ethel.
‘Hi, Lucy. Ethel, another coffee please.’
‘Only be a minute, love.’
‘What’s new with you, Lucy?’
‘Not much, but did I tell you about the visitor Cody had while he was staying with us?’
Mel smiles. ‘No, do tell.’
Lucy recounts the Amanda Smythe affair and Mel doesn’t have the heart to admit that she’s heard some of the story, and also didn’t want to spoil it for the storyteller by reminding her that Agnes now has Cody firmly in her grasp.
‘All’s well that ends well, eh, Lucy?’
Lucy gives Mel one of her looks, the one that says you’ve also got a tale to tell.
‘Come on then, what’s happening with you, Mel?’
‘If you mean Steve, and, er, Jeremy, it blew up a bit last week.’
‘You remember I told you that he saw me kissing the good doctor on the cheek. Innocent, but a kiss nonetheless.’
‘And?’ enquires Lucy, ready to receive what she calls the juicy bits.
Mel pauses as Ethel delivers the black coffee with one sugar for Lucy.
‘We had a row after EastEnders finished. I think he picked up on some of the Cockney vibes. Spoiling for a fight he was. “Is it still going on with Doctor Jeremy?”, he said.’
‘What did you say?’
‘I told him the truth.’
‘Well, most of it – enough to put our marriage in trouble.’
‘Well, what’s next?’
‘Steve and I have agreed to let it ride for a few weeks. I’ve promised him that it’s over with Jeremy, and Steve needs to decide if he still wants me. I still love him, but he’s shown no interest in me for ages.’
‘Good evening vicar. I didn’t know you attended the Writers’ Group. Looking to beef up your sermons?’
Ted expects an erudite response from a man of such distinction and education. Before John Peterson answers, Ted mentally trawls his word database. Yes, good word that – erudite – I’ll use it tonight. Jessica will be impressed. His train of thought is shattered by what the publican would consider to be a ‘proper blokey’ retort.
‘Nah, just here for the craic.’
Ted perceives a noticeable sway in John’s gait as he makes his way to this seat at the back of the room.
‘Are you okay, Reverend?’
‘Oh, do call me John. My friends call me – hic – John.’
‘Would you like me to get you home?’
‘Let’s get some penmanship under our belts first - eh, Ted?’
‘If you say so, John.’
‘David, please call me Arjun.’
‘Arjun, we seem to have got off on the wrong foot.’
‘A strange expression. I came over to England at the age of ten, and have spoken English all my life, but I still can’t get used to some to the idioms you use here.’
‘Maybe,’ says David, smiling, ‘but I have to say you speak English beautifully.’
‘My mother and father were both doctors. They funded a private education for me in India, then a private school in Gloucester, then I did business studies at Bristol University. I had a lot of posh friends.’
‘I’m not interviewing you, Arjun. Anyway, you wanted to see me.’
Arjun points to an armchair next to his desk and takes his place in his favourite office chair.
‘I think we can work together, David. I have grave concerns about my business partner…’
‘Your senior partner, Jimmy?’ interrupts David.
‘Yes, he holds 70% of the partnership, although my co-ownership of the launderette in Leeford is separate – thankfully. My problem is that he does his own thing, which is alright, but the past six months he has been involved in new deals – new contracts from which I have been excluded.’
‘And you think that Allen has been dragged into one of these deals?’
‘If we work together, we can help him, and each other. I take it that Allen is a close friend, and you are worried about him?’
David draws breath before answering, remembering the strained relationship he has with Allen, the issue of the loan, and the fraught conversations with Linda.
‘His partner is very worried. He told Linda that he was in Munich, but he didn’t take his passport.’
Arjun rubs his chin, looks down, then smiles at David. ‘They never left the country, I can tell you that.’
He stands up and walks round the desk to face David.
‘It is in both of our interests to find out what is going on. First priority – get your friend Allen out of there. I wouldn’t say that Jimmy is dangerous, but his associates have, shall I say, a reputation.’
‘Then what?’ says David.
‘Do what I say – get Allen back to his girlfriend. We need a serious chat with that young man.’
‘How do I know you’re not playing me, Arjun? You are Jimmy’s business partner.’
‘I’m sure you will be asking Sergeant Stephen Miller to check me out…’
David leaves Arjun’s office, drives far enough down the road to be out of sight and stops to phone Tricia.
‘Any more from Linda, love?’
‘What, about Allen?’
‘Yes, he could be in trouble. Don’t say anything to Linda, but do me a favour. Speak to Stephen and ask him to pop round tonight. We need a word.’
At the break, Ted thinks it best to get the Reverend John Peterson safely home. He makes some excuse to Jessica while cooing at the baby. She should have called him Ted, he thinks.
‘And how are you, Jessica? Are you coping?’
‘Great, thanks Ted. Nick is a wonderful dad. He was busy tonight, so I brought Thomas with me.’
‘Educational for the young lad,’ says Ted.
Jessica gives him one of her looks.
'Anyway, must get off. As I said, the vicar’s not feeling well. Goodnight.’
Arriving at the vicarage is an achievement. But John isn’t finished for the evening. Not just yet.
‘Quick snifter before you saunter off home to the beautiful Sally?’
‘No thanks, John - haven’t had a drink in months.’
‘I’ve seen you, Ted. I don’t visit the Cross that often, as you know, but you’re always hiding from Sally behind that pillar, glass in hand.’
‘Just to test the barrel, John. Just to test the barrel.’
They arrive in John’s study, an empty glass in evidence on his desk – used a few times before the evening’s literary soirée, or so it seems to Ted.
‘Just one, Ted. Just one won’t hurt. We’re friends, aren’t we?’
‘Just one for the road, or should I say medicinal purposes?’
Just one becomes two, then three, and four. Sally is waiting in the apartment above the pub, checking that it really is past midnight. Where is he? she thinks. No answer from Ted’s mobile. Then the phone rings. It’s Helen Peterson.
‘I’m so sorry. I had no idea what they were up to. I’ve put Ted in a camp bed in John’s study.’
‘What happened?’ enquires Sally.
‘They both sort of… passed out.’