Previously in Leeford Village: Clara can’t bring herself to share the problem of the ring, although she is confiding in Ethel over her other problems. Having met the elusive Swedish amnesiac, Doctor Jeremy Roberts is keen to find out if Sergeant Miller knows any more about him. Stephen Miller has been busy with vital work - the mystery of the missing gnomes - and he seems to have accepted Vera’s claim about being ‘framed’. Allen is trying to romantically entrap Sherry, and neither Allen nor Sherry realise that Linda has designs on their launderette boss. Cody, well, he’s just being Cody. He has recently ‘helped out’ Meredith Park and her business by purchasing all fifteen birthday cards in her shop. After being challenged by Agnes, he claims it is a special surprise for her.
‘Stephen, hold on a second.’
'Sorry Doc, in a hurry. Trying to catch up with Allen Gomez. Difficult man to pin down, but it’s the main market day. He’ll be there.’
‘Sorry, but never mind your gnomes. What about our Swedish friend?’
‘Nothing I can do Jeremy, sorry.’
‘What do you mean, nothing you can do?’
‘You know, Jeremy, for a doctor with all those certificates, you have a terrible habit of repeating what people say.’
‘Repeat... well, what do you expect? Is there no trace?’
‘Nothing, apart from the sighting in the cafe. Now, that was strange.’
‘When I popped in to talk to Ethel, she was bleating on about Suptra and that someone wanted to kill him. Crazy talk, I thought, but it was the new customer that intrigued me.’
‘Man or woman?’
‘Man – fits the description of our forgetful Swedish artist.’
‘What was so strange?’
‘He ordered a coffee and cream bun and paid cash, no problem.’
‘What’s so strange about that?’
‘Ethel reckons he had a London accent.’
‘Mr Gomez, do you have a minute?’
‘Sergeant, good to see you.’
‘About these gnomes – any more gone missing?’
‘No, but they wouldn’t, now she knows.’
‘Who knows what, Mr Gomez?’
‘That old bat, the Cleeve woman. She’s being careful now.’
‘Steady now. There seems to be a bit of history between you.’
‘You could say that.’
‘Is it true that you want to take over all the stalls?’
‘How exactly, Mr Gomez?’
‘The old-timers are holding us back. We need a vibrant market, like the one in Brum. I’d have themes, like the German market.’
‘Knackwurst, that sort of thing?’
‘Unless you’re being facetious, yes. German sausage and stuff like that.’
‘Why did you have good old-fashioned British gnomes on your stall then?’
‘Might I suggest we make it known that, if the missing gnomes turn up, we’ll say no more about it? Wouldn’t want the expression “false accusation” to come into play would we, Allen?’
Allen’s eye wanders to the passing figure of one of his launderette girls. Stephen Miller recognises a leer when he sees one and Allen is distracted long enough to be caught off-guard.
‘Deal, Mr Gomez?’
‘OK, if you insist.’
‘Back again, my dear?’
‘Ethel, you’re the only person I can really talk to.’
‘Sit down, I’ll do your usual.’
Ethel gestures towards the stairs, the upstairs part of the cafe is more comfortable and, usually, more private. Most customers prefer to sit downstairs and, when the sun faces south to warm the precinct, they brave the outside tables for their morning cappuccino. Clara finds a spot near the window, hesitates for a moment, then chooses the seat facing the precinct.
‘What is it Clara?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘We’d only been married for two years, a long time ago, before he qualified as a teacher. He was so delighted and proud that he was going to be a dad.’
‘Yes, but at seven months. I was bad enough, but George never really got over it. Then we stopped talking about the baby, as if it never happened.’
‘So why, after all this time, are you so upset? Sorry, that sounds unkind. You know what I mean love.’
‘No, it’s ok Ethel. It’s just George. You know the night of the flood?’
‘George getting stuck and Jeremy saving him?’
‘Yes. Well, before it happened, we chatted at home about this and that. George, bless him, asked me to make sure the boys stayed in their dorms, then he went for a walk.’
‘What happened Clara?’
‘He saw me knitting, you know, that stuff I do for Oxfam, the baby clothes that we put on the dolls.’
‘What did he say?’
‘He asked me when the baby is due. Our baby.’
‘Oh my God, Clara!’ Tears are forming in Ethel’s eyes.
‘I told him there is no baby. He looked so sad; it broke my heart.’
Ethel sighs and reaches across, gently touching Clara’s hand. Clara lets her tears flow and grips Ethel’s arm with her other hand.
‘I – I love him so much Ethel, and I feel that I’m losing him.’
Edward Palmer, Ethel’s partner in life, mounts the last step to reach the upstairs section of Billy’s Cafe, just as the two women embrace.
‘Oh my, I’m sorry,’ stutters Edward.
‘It’s alright love, we’re just a bit upset about something.’
‘I’ll leave you to it. See you at home tonight. Nice to see you Clara.’
The man grasps his second pint. No problem with having four or five tonight, he mutters to himself - I’ve got a room for the night and the Scirocco is safely tucked away in the car park. People go on about company car drivers, but I love that car and it deserves to be looked after.
‘Another one after that?’ enquires Cody.
‘Don’t mind if I do. The wife’s not here so I’m off the leash. How’s your little woman treating you?’
‘She’s wonderful. Sounds corny, but it’s the stuff dreams are made of.’
‘What, like Ross Poldark and Demelza, only a twenty-first century version?’
‘Goes a bit deeper than that, and I don’t have the shape to go shirtless in a field of barley.’
‘Almost poetic. But what’s she like?’
‘Oh, a smile that would melt the heart of a Russian oligarch. The way her bottom lip juts out ever so slightly and the thing she does tilting her head when she looks at me, and in such a cheeky, saucy way.’
‘Go on, tell me more.’
‘Dark brown hair, curled below the line of her ears. It tumbles onto her shoulders and wisps about as she talks or turns her head. She wears glasses – reminds me of a sexy librarian - but they bring out her lovely deep blue eyes that add to that cheeky smile. She thinks her nose is too big, or too long, but I think it gives her a royal look, you know, like Princess Di.’
‘She is, with a personality to match. I’m so lucky to know her.’
‘You know, Cody, on reflection, I won’t have that third pint. I’m off early in the morning. Next stop Crewe, then a new customer in Leeds. Never stops. Fascinating talking to you, mate, and it’s been nice to meet someone new. I haven’t stayed in this village for some years. Nice to hear the lovely things you’ve said about your wife...’
‘Hang on. My wife?’ Cody snaps back to accompany his double-take.
‘Your little woman, the love of your life?’
‘Oh no, mate, that’s Agnes. I wasn’t talking about... I was...’ He leaves his sentence hanging. Even Cody is too sensible to completely open up to a fellow drinker - even a total stranger.
‘Hello Allen, always a pleasure.’
‘Yes, well, is Sherry around?’
‘Dental appointment. Remember?’
‘Yeah – can you give her a message?’
‘She’s always wanted to go to the Botanical Gardens at Birmingham. Thought we’d make a day of it. Tell her I’ll pick her up at your place at ten, Sunday morning.’
‘No problem, Anything else?’
‘No, that’s it, thanks. See you Linda.’
‘Yes, you will,’ she says as he walks away from the Launderette.
Linda has no intention of passing on any such message to her beloved sister. Within an hour she is on the phone to Gomez.
‘Allen. Linda. Sherry couldn’t call you; dental thing, you know. Slight change of plan - she’ll meet you at ten on Sunday, but it will have to be here, at the launderette.’
She had anticipated the query.
‘Our least favourite uncle is paying a visit. Coming here is perfect for getting out of the way. I’d do exactly the same in her position.’
‘Ok, ten it is, at the launderette. Thanks Linda, you’re a gem.’
‘See you Allen...’
Sunday morning, and Sherry knows nothing of the arrangement. There is no visiting uncle, and Sherry is having a well-deserved lie-in.
‘Where are you off to Lin?’
‘Wouldn’t you like to know?’
‘Got to be a fella.’
‘Could be, Shez, could be.’
Catch up on episodes here:
For more details visit www.michaelbraccia.co.uk