Previously in Leeford Village: Clara has offered Suptra a way to pay off his debt, so he can visit India safely with his niece. Jessica has received a report suggesting the fire at the hairdressers may have been caused deliberately. Cody receives a message to meet Meredith, the subject of his infatuation.
‘I’m off to the wholesaler. I’ll leave you to open up, Cody.’
Agnes’s voice trails off as she bustles down the hallway, through the kitchen to the back yard.
‘OK, dear!’ shouts Cody, but Agnes is driving out of the yard.
The wholesalers. A fifteen-minute drive, fifteen minutes to buy stock and load the car, maybe twenty if she decides to have a look around, then fifteen to drive back. Forty-five to fifty minutes, plenty of time to see Meredith and get back in time to fire up the chip fryers before Agnes returns.
‘Have you seen my uncle today, Ethel?’
Nita sips froth off the top of her coffee, leaving a foamy moustache above her bright red lipstick. Ethel offloads a second heaped spoonful of sugar into her tea. She is about to tell Nita about her moustache when Nita contorts her bottom lip to clear it away.
‘No, love. He hasn’t been in at all today. Strange for him.’
‘Hmm, that’s not the only thing that’s strange. This morning, he was up at the crack of dawn, singing his head off. He made breakfast, which he never does and talked about going to India as soon as he has sorted out some business. Has he spoken to you about this?’
Ethel waves to Clara, passing by the window.
‘No, he was his usual reserved self yesterday.’
‘Hmm, I don’t know, then. But he’s been really miserable lately, so seeing him happy is something, I suppose.’
Cody looks out of the bedroom window. Meredith’s shop is open. He takes the note out of his back pocket and looks at it for the fifth time that day. The paper smells of her perfume and he inhales the scent deeply. We need to talk. It says it, as clear as day. There is no doubt in Cody’s mind; this is a turning point in his life. He has considered the implications of leaving Agnes, Adam and the fish and chip shop, but when you are hopelessly in love, what can you do? Agnes will just have to accept their marriage is over. It’s been a good one, mostly, but all good things come to an end, don’t they? And Adam, well, he has little to do with him now, apart from providing board and lodging when one of his many relationships has broken down. No, it’s time to move on and this is the first step.
Nita takes out her purse and hands a five pound note over to Ethel.
‘If you see my uncle, can you try to find out why he’s so happy? I know that sounds strange, but happy is not his natural state!’ They both laugh.
Ethel takes the change out of the till and goes to hand it to Nita, just as Nita’s phone rings.
‘Ah, it’s my uncle. I can ask him myself.’
Nita greets Suptra in Urdu, but almost immediately her expression changes and she holds her hand up to her face.
‘You’ve been…how?...why?...a ring?...where did you get?...what are they saying?...yes, yes, uncle. I’ll be there as soon as I can!’
Nita drops her phone onto the counter and looks wide-eyed at Ethel.
‘What on earth’s happened, Nita?’ asks Ethel, worrying Nita might collapse at any moment.
‘It’s my uncle. He’s at the police station. They’ve arrested him!’
Ethel is now as wide-eyed as Nita.
‘He’s been arrested? What’s he done?’
Nita shakes her head. ‘It can’t be true, it can’t be. There has to be a mistake.’
Ethel grabs Nita’s shaking hand.
‘Whatever it is, we can sort it out. What’s he done?’
‘He’s been arrested for trying to sell a stolen ring!’
Cody, his sizeable stomach churning crosses the road to Meredith’s shop. He pauses outside, takes a deep breath and pushes open the door. Meredith is serving a customer, wrapping a gift in pink tissue paper, around which she ties a red ribbon.
‘That’s lovely, Meredith. You are so good, thank you.’
The customer pays Meredith and leaves the shop.
Meredith tidies the counter and looks up at Cody.
‘How are you, Cody? I heard you’d had a bit of an accident?’
Cody feels a twinge in his lower back.
‘Oh, it’s nothing. Just exercising, you know. I like to keep in shape.’
Meredith resists the temptation to look down at Cody’s prominent gut, the result of years of drinking beer and eating the day’s fish and chip shop left-overs.
Cody wants to get straight to the point.
‘What is it you wanted to see me about, Meredith?’
Meredith steps from behind the counter. Cody feels a tightness in his chest. He puts out an arm, but Meredith walks straight past him and turns the OPEN sign around.
‘This won’t take long, but it’s best no-one comes in for a few minutes,’ says Meredith.
Cody gulps and feels a trickle of sweat coursing down his forehead. He pulls out a handkerchief and wipes it across his head and face.
‘Yes, it is hot in here, isn’t it? Let’s go through to the back room.’
Cody’s head is spinning now and he struggles to put one foot in front of the other as he follows Meredith through a narrow passageway into a large airy room, which Meredith uses as both a stock room and a kitchen.
‘Are you OK, Cody?’ She asks, pulling out a chair for him to sit on.
‘Yes, yes, yes. It’s just back pain, you know. It makes me, well, you know.’ He pulls out his handkerchief and wipes away more sweat.
Meredith opens a window.
‘Cody. I have a delicate question to ask you and I want an honest answer.’
Cody composes himself and sits upright.
‘Yes!’ he thinks. Whatever the question, the answer is ‘yes’!
‘Do you think an age gap is a problem in a relationship?’
Cody clears his throat.
‘Well, I, I suppose, it depends if, well, no Meredith, no. No, if two people are in love, then the age gap does not matter at all.’
Meredith nods. ‘I’m glad you think that way, Cody. I have always thought of you as a wise man.’
Cody will take ‘wise man’, for now, though something a little more romantic would have been preferable.
Meredith continues. ‘You see, Cody. I have fallen hopelessly in love. It’s come straight out of the blue. In the past couple of weeks, really.’
‘Oh, Meredith. I’m so glad. I’ve done the same.’
‘You have? So, you’ll know what a wonderful, yet confusing thing it is?
‘Yes. But it is something that cannot be resisted. You have to give in to it Meredith. Give in to it!’
Meredith smiles and touches Cody’s arm, sending a shockwave through his body.
‘The trouble is, I really worry what Agnes will say.’
Cody thinks about this. What will Agnes say? A lot, probably. Yes, she’ll have a lot to say and it will be important to make sure all the windows are closed when she says it. The prospect of facing Agnes causes another sweat.
‘Well, my dear. Agnes is a practical woman. No, that’s not the word. Though she is, practical. Pragmatic. That’s the word. Anyway, she’ll understand. Eventually.’
Meredith walks over to the sink and gazes wistfully out of the window.
‘Then there’s the age difference. I’m so much older and I think that might be a problem, not now, but later on.’
‘Older? Sorry, did you say older?’ Cody furrows his brow which causes a little sweat to spray onto the table in front of him.
‘Yes, Adam is, what, ten years younger?’
‘Yes. How old is he exactly?’
‘Adam? My Adam?’
‘Yes. Who did you think I was talking about? I thought he’d told you we are seeing each other.’
Cody goes to stand, but feels faint and sits down again, heavily.
Meredith turns from the window.
‘Oh my God, Cody. Are you OK?’
He stands again, turns and walks slowly back into the shop, holding onto the wall and an assortment of shop fittings, Meredith guiding him with her hand on his back.
‘Do you want me to call Agnes? Or Adam?
Cody places one foot heavily in front of the other and in another few steps, he is standing by the front door.
‘I’m sorry, Mere…I just have to…the fish fryer, you know…Agnes…’
Meredith opens the door and Cody staggers into the street, shielding his eyes from the blinding sunlight.
‘So, let me get this straight, Stephen. You think someone deliberately set fire to Jessica’s hairdressers. With a bomb?’
Sergeant Miller looks at his colleague. ‘Well, a small incendiary device, Nick, rather than a bomb, per se.’
‘A bomb by another name,’ says Jessica.
Stephen taps his pen on the desk. ‘So, the questions are, how did it get there and who put it there?’
Jessica and Nick look at each other. Ever since they received the letter, they have been wracking their brains to think who would have done such a thing.
‘We don’t know,’ says Nick. Jessica gives a confirmatory shake of the head.
‘Does anyone have a grudge against you? Do you owe any debts?’ Stephen Miller is beginning to feel uncomfortable asking his friends such personal questions.
Nick and Jessica chorus ‘no’.
Stephen turns to Jessica. ‘Have you had anyone in acting strangely, or out of character?’
Jessica thinks for a moment.
‘No, not that I can think of.’
Sergeant Miller’s colleague, Gary Carr, who has not spoken until now asks, ‘any disgruntled employees? Have you sacked anyone, recently?’
‘No, the girls have been there for a couple of years now. Perfectly happy, I think.’
‘And before them?’
‘Before them, there was … oh, no, it couldn’t be her. It couldn’t be.’
‘Who, Jessica?’ asks Stephen leaning forward. Nick looks at Jessica.
‘No, it couldn’t be. Oh my God, Nick!’
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