Previously in Leeford Village: Agnes sets off for the wholesalers, leaving Cody to fire up the fryers, but he has other plans. Nita asks Ethel why her uncle seems so happy. She’s never seen him like this before. While Nita is in the coffee shop, Suptra phones her, relaying a very confusing version of events culminating in Suptra telling his niece he has been arrested for trying to sell a stolen ring. Meredith finally tells Cody who she is seeing - his son, Adam. Linda meets Allen when he is expecting the younger sister, Sherry, but she persuades Allen to go with her to get some food and ‘make the morning of it’. Jessica realises who might have placed the incendiary device.
‘Don’t you remember, Nick?’
‘Not with you yet, love.’
‘That girl, the one with the big hair.’
‘That’s what you used to say, you know, sixties-style, beehive.’
‘Good God, Jess, you mean...’
Sergeant Stephen Miller feels honour-bound to regain control of the interview. This is the problem dealing with friends and neighbours, he thinks.
‘I only know one Gail in this village – Gail Perkins who works at Burry's?’
‘That’s her,’ says Jessica.
Constable Gary Carr, taking notes and trying to be the efficient policeman, attempts a way in, ignoring the Morse-like glare from his boss. It isn’t the first time that PC Carr has misjudged the tone of an interview and his superior’s grip on proceedings.
‘What’s she got to do with you?’
‘She worked for me for a while – started about three years ago, part-time.’
‘Hairdresser?’ Stephen jumps back in, with a wave of his right hand to Gary, who reluctantly slumps back into note-taking. It’s not like this in the movies, he thinks.
‘No. More on the till really, but we did let her wash clients’ hair occasionally, and we discussed an apprenticeship. I told her she’d have to sweep up, make the tea and be prepared to go to Banfield College for at least two years.’
‘Did you fall out over this?’ asks Stephen.
‘Christ Jess, I remember now,’ interrupts Nick.
‘You might as well tell Stephen and Gary the story. I’ll make all us a cup of tea.’
‘If you know the details, Nick, start from the beginning.’
Nick relays what he remembers about Gail Perkins.
‘She seemed a nice enough girl, early thirties. In fact, whenever I pop into Burry's, she’s always polite with me – as recent as last week.’
‘She’s worked at Burry's Chemists for two years – since she left the salon.’
‘She left under a cloud, would you say?’
‘Dispute about the work, or over pay?’
‘Not at all – nothing to do with her work. Staff at Jessica’s salon get a discount when they get their hair done. 25% is the standard discount; half-price if you let an apprentice work on you.’
‘Carry on,’ says Stephen.
‘Jessica had done Gail’s hair a couple of times. Gail goes to sixties-style dances and she likes her hair done up, you know, a bit like Cilla did in the Beatles era, or maybe that singer, er, Dusty Springfield?’
‘Got it. Complicated hairdo, got to get it right,’ interjects Gary, trying to be helpful, but another stare from Stephen sends him back to his note-taking.
‘Anyway,’ continues Nick, ‘on this occasion, Jess was away from the shop for some reason. One of the girls was in charge, and Gail wanted her hair done. This time she wanted it bleached blond with blue streaks for some reason. Anyway, one of the apprentices, second year at Banfield College, quite a promising hairdresser, started on Gail’s hair.
‘Here’s the thing. Jess wasn’t there. Her deputy had popped out for half an hour and the young kid started mixing the stuff to colour Gail’s hair.’
‘I think I can see what’s coming.’
‘Well, yes, there was a mix-up with the bleach. It’s a combination of hydrogen peroxide and ammonia, then they apply the dye.’
‘Did it burn her, or what?’
‘Sort of, but the thing is it not only ruined her hair, she lost most of it from the back of her head.’
‘Crikey, was it fixable?’
‘No, she ended up in hospital – skin grafts, all sorts.’
‘Is she ok now?’
‘If you can call wearing a wig, “OK”’.
‘How come I haven’t heard about this,’ asks Stephen.
‘It was kept quiet, and it wasn’t a police matter. She was understandably embarrassed by having a huge bald patch at the back of her head.’
‘Right. What did she do? Was she angry, did she make threats?’
‘That’s the strange thing – no. She just handed in her notice and we had a solicitor’s letter claiming compensation against Jessica’s business insurance.’
‘Bloody hell – did Jessica pay it?’
‘Yes, I did,’ says Jessica, handing mugs of tea to Stephen and Gary; ‘it was our responsibility. My responsibility. The poor kid. I would have asked for more.’
‘But you think she’s the one who might have caused the fire?’
‘I wouldn’t have done,’ replies Jessica, seemingly taking over from her partner, ‘but she’s well qualified for where she works now.’
‘Why?’ queries Stephen.
‘Gail had been to university, but came to us because she couldn’t find a job locally at the time that suited her qualifications.’
‘What was her degree in?’
Jessica hesitates, looks straight into Stephen’s eyes and replies: ‘Chemistry.’
‘You are enjoying yourself, aren’t you?’
Linda reaches over, touching his knee. A light touch that, if Allen was travelling on the bus or the metro he would not have noticed. Not an accidental touch, a brush of the knee, so slight, so delicate, a tingle courses through him.
‘You were saying, Allen?’
‘Linda, what do you expect of me?’
‘You’ve not mentioned Sherry once.’
‘I ... well, it’s all so unexpected.’
This time Linda knows she can take it further. She places her hand on his chest, pushing him to the ground. They both ignore the stray sandwich that is wedged between his back and the damp grass that has escaped the cover of the blanket Linda had covertly smuggled into the car. She caresses his face with both hands, slowly, agonizingly slowly, running her fingers down his cheeks and then kisses her own index finger and places it onto his lips. She moves closer, Allen completely submissive, totally under her spell. Her lips meet his, and for the first time he makes his own move, grasping her shoulders and pulling her down towards him, sealing the embrace.
‘No further Allen, just kiss me.’
‘Linda, I never realised.’
‘I knew you fancied my kid sister, but I’ve always wanted you.’
‘Oh God, Linda, I can’t believe this is happening.’
‘Just hold me. Just hold me.’
‘I have the feeling, Gary, that we’re going to be busy the next few days.’
‘You mean following up the Gail Perkins thing?’
‘We’ve got Suptra Singh in the cells at Banfield.’
‘Are they taking it on Sarge?’
‘No, it’s our case. I think he’ll talk to me. Not said a lot so far, apart from a garbled call to his niece.’
‘Shall I come with you?’
‘No, you get off to the chemists and ask Gail to meet both of us at the station tomorrow morning.’
‘No, keep it local Gary; we’ll see her in Leeford.’
Stephen immediately sets off for Banfield. No more than a ten-minute drive, even in traffic. He uses the time to formulate his questions. At the station, he finds Suptra in a more talkative mood than Stephen’s Banfield colleagues had described.
‘Are you going to tell me what happened?’
‘I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.’
‘Do you trust me Suptra? We’ve been friends for a few years now.’
‘I do, but I’m finding this all very confusing.’
‘Frightening as well, I imagine.’
‘Yes, and I feel ashamed. But what have I actually done wrong?’
‘Let me be the judge of that Suptra, but you must tell me everything – from the start.’
Suptra recounts the day when Clara went to see him at the community centre.
‘So, she knew about your problem with the gang in India, the money you owe and all that.’
‘Yes, I think Ethel and Clara confide in each other about everything.’
‘Never mind that, let’s focus. Tell me exactly what she said about where the ring came from. Word for word, if you can remember.’
‘When my Mother died she left the estate to me and my two sisters. It was all split three ways, but she also left us all something to remember her by. Martha had her Wedgwood figurines, Dorothy her books, and Mother left me this ring.’
‘So, she claims that the ring came from her mother?’
‘That’s what she said.’
‘Ok Suptra, you can go home now, but there are strict conditions - talk to no one about this, and have NO contact with Clara.’
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