Previously in Leeford Village: Agnes’ clandestine life as a kiss-o-gram is revealed when Cody opens the chest in the cellar. John and Ted attend an AA meeting. Jason Owens continues preparatory work for his novel and is not short of content! The Owens brothers are organising a trip to the seaside.
Zack and Simon are sitting in the cellar of the vicarage, once the rehearsal room for their ill-fated band.
‘Priceless, absolutely priceless!’ Zack bursts into a fit of laughter.
‘The look on Cody’s face!’ Simon slaps the floor and rolls on his side.
When the two boys have composed themselves, they take stock of what they have just witnessed.
‘What do you think all that’s about?’ asks Simon, wiping his eyes.
‘Weird stuff, that’s for certain,’ replies Zack.
‘I don’t think Cody knew anything about it.’
Zack nods in agreement. ‘Agnes must have a double life? Chip fryer by day, stripper by night.’
‘No, that can’t be it. Cody would know.’ Simon sounds doubtful.
Zack shrugs. ‘S’pose. Maybe she slips out late at night. Those clubs in Birmingham are open twenty-four hours.’
Simon frowns. ‘You know about them, do you? You, a vicar’s son! So, what’s Agnes like then? Personally, I can’t imagine her gyrating around a pole.’
‘Oh, don’t! And I don’t go to those clubs.’
Simon falls silent.
‘What’s up?’ asks Zack.
‘I’m just thinking. Whatever Agnes does, she does it in secret, right?’
‘So, she doesn’t want anyone to know about her alternative life.’
‘I guess not. Where’s this going Simon?’
‘Only us two and Agnes know?’
‘Not, quite. Cody probably knows by now, but we’re just guessing.’
‘Yes, but what we saw in the chest means that there’s something weird going on.’
‘It’s certainly not normal.’
‘So, whatever it is, it’s not something Agnes would want anyone to know about.’
‘Well, I think our silence is worth a bag of free chips every week for the rest of our lives, don’t you?’
‘Yes, I like it. I like it a lot!’
‘You. A vicar’s son!’
Ted Coleman answers his phone. It’s John Peterson.
‘Hello, John. What can I do for you?’ Ted is unusually bright this morning, having had a good night’s sleep.
‘I’ve been thinking, Ted. I’m not an alcoholic.’
‘Oh? Go on.’
‘As soon as I said the words to the group last night, it was like they were coming out of someone else’s mouth. It felt so wrong.’
Ted sighs. ‘John, denial is what keeps us away from getting help. You’ve taken the first step and that’s the biggest. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but at least you’ve started the journey towards your recovery.’
‘But I don’t think I need to recover. At least, not from alcohol. This is a recent thing, Ted. It’s just a matter of me gaining some perspective on my life. I don’t think I need help.’
‘That’s what everyone says at first. Then they realise that being at the meetings has so many benefits. There’s so much support out there for the likes of us.’
‘I know that, Ted. But, in my case, I think I’ve just replaced one kind of spirit in my life with another. I think talking to the bishop might be more beneficial to me.’
‘Well, they’ve certainly done a good job, Lucy.’ Frank Watson stands with his hands on his hips surveying the work the Council has completed, filling in the sinkhole and underpinning the foundations of the Stringers’ home.
‘I can’t argue with you there, Frank. And it’s good to be home again.’
Frank nods, sagely.
‘I’m glad you feel that way, Lucy. Some people never want to go back once their home has been damaged.’
‘We love it here, Frank. It’s just right for Adam and me. For the time being, at least.’
‘For the time being? What do you mean?’
‘Well, you know. The clock’s ticking and both Adam and I want children. This place would be too small if they should come along.’
Frank purses his lips and leans back a little. ‘Well, you’d better start thinking about how to live in a small space, then.’
‘No, Frank. We’d definitely move if we had kids, however much we love the place.’
Frank shakes his head.
‘You won’t move, Lucy. You’ll never sell this house now. I’m glad you love it because you, Adam and your future offspring will be living in it for life.’
‘It goes so much slower, fully loaded,’ says Jimmy Sanjay as the van crawls up a steep hill. The smell of burning clutch reaches the back of Allen’s throat and makes him feel instantly sick, not that he has been feeling particularly well since they left the warehouse. He needs sleep, but surges of adrenalin are keeping him wide awake.
‘Where are we going, Jimmy?’ he asks, his voice weak.
‘Portsmouth. Ever been to Portsmouth before?’ asks Jimmy, as if taking a child to the seaside for the first time.
Allen shakes his head.
Jimmy continues. ‘When we get there, we load the goods into a small warehouse by the docks. We collect payment and then that’s our job done.’
‘Then we go home?’ asks Allen, hopefully.
Jimmy laughs. ‘Then we go home.’
‘What happens to the stuff we offload?’
Jimmy frowns. ‘Don’t know really. I’ve never asked. The less you ask in this game, the less you know and that’s better for everyone. I suppose it gets shipped abroad. I was on holiday once in Tenerife and I’m sure I saw some handbags on a market stall I’d delivered not a week before. High price too, not far off the real thing. That’s where the money is made, Allen. The likes of us only get a small part of it. It’s a good earner, but the real money is at the end of the line.’
Allen feels for the phone in his pocket. He thinks about Linda sitting at home, not knowing where he is. His stomach churns.
‘What’s up?’ asks Jimmy.
‘Nothing. But I think you’d better take someone else with you next time. I’m really not good at this type of thing.’
‘This type of thing?’ repeats Jimmy, mockingly. ‘It’s just business. You’re a businessman, Allen. I thought this sort of thing would be right up your street.’
Allen makes no comment. He looks out of the side window into the blackness which, right now, symbolises his life. They pass a road junction, out of which a car emerges. Its headlights are reflected in the side mirror and dazzle Allen for a moment. He looks away but can see stars in front of his eyes. He really does need to sleep. The car overtakes them and speeds ahead. Allen looks in the mirror once more and sees two more cars, drawing closer. Jimmy is looking in the mirror on his side of the van. He drums his fingers on the steering wheel.
‘What’s wrong, Jimmy?’ asks Allen, looking at Jimmy and then into the mirror. The car in front is slowing down, its brake lights glowing bright red. Jimmy hits the accelerator.
Allen braces himself. ‘Jimmy, slow down!’ he shouts as the bright red lights seem to fill the windscreen.
Suddenly, Jimmy swerves and passes the car. The van rocks from side to side as the load shifts in the back. They are driving on the wrong side of the road. The car catches up with them and the red lights are replaced by flashing blue.
‘Stop, Jimmy. Stop!’ screams Allen. The car pulls in front. The two cars behind are now also flashing their blue lights. One of them undertakes the van and moves onto the wrong side of the road. Jimmy thumps the steering wheel and lets out a barrage of expletives. Much to Allen’s relief, he slows down and the van eventually comes to a stop. Allen jumps out and is immediately pinned to the ground. He sees Jimmy running into an area of woodland, but he only makes a few meters before three policemen tackle him and he falls heavily. Allen hears the click of handcuffs and one of the police warning him that any evidence…before blacking out.
John Peterson is in his study preparing his Sunday sermon. He looks at the words he has written, but they are as if they have been written by another’s hand. Only a month ago he had so many plans for the church. Now, they all seem futile and he can’t remember how he felt when he was making them. Certainly not like this. He goes to the kitchen and takes a bottle of unopened white wine from the fridge. He rummages in a draw for a corkscrew. It’s not there and he searches for it in the rest of the kitchen. He picks up the bottle and stares at it until he begins to feel dizzy. ‘I’m not an alcoholic,’ he says, out loud. ‘I’m John and I’m not an alcoholic.’ He puts the wine back in the fridge and goes back to his study.
His mind is suddenly clearer now than it has been for a long time. He picks up his pen and begins to write, the words flowing effortlessly. When he has finished, he reads through what he has written. ‘Perfect,’ he thinks, ‘just the right tone.’ He picks up a new sheet of paper, writes his name and address on the right side, then pauses. The word Reverend does not seem right. How can he call himself that, knowing what he is about to do?
He takes another sheet of paper. This time he writes plain John Peterson above his address. He takes a deep breath, then begins the letter.
‘Dear Bishop Michael,
It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to tender my resignation…’