Previously in Leeford Village: Frank wants confirmation of the booking for the fête committee, Zack wants to win the Pound Challenge, and Allen has received texts from both Sherry and Linda - one to meet him on Tuesday, the other on Wednesday.
‘Nick, glad I caught you.’
‘What is it Frank? I’ve got a meeting in half an hour.’
‘A few weeks ago, we talked about grasping the nettle by the horns. You never got back to me.’
‘The village fête. Jessica was quite rude to me; talked about beating a hasty retreat.’
‘Yes, I remember you being sarcastic.’
‘I was not.’
‘Look Frank, we’ve never seen eye-to-eye, but I’ve always thought of you as an honest chap. It may have been sarcasm, but you did say that we should stay out of the way when the committee meets.’
‘Ok, ok, let’s call a truce,’ offers Frank.
‘Well, do you still want the room?’
‘Fourteenth of next month. 10.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m.’
‘Suits me. Diary’s clear that day.’
‘By the way, Nick, what is wrong with your girlfriend? Not the business of the fire, is it?’
‘Don’t start that again. No, really, is she alright? She’s been sniffy with me a couple of times this week.’
‘If you must know, we think it was arson.’
‘Can’t be, can it?’
‘Looks like it.’
‘It’s being looked into and it’s for the police to decide what happens next. Please don’t repeat any of this. I know what you’re like.’
‘You’ve insulted me now, Nick, but I’ll let it go. We have to work together, don’t we?’
‘You mean you want me on the committee?'
‘Oh no, sorry, you misunderstood. You still don’t qualify, do you? Your role is to provide the room and refreshments.’
Zack is ready this time. Jack Simmons and his Pound Challenge, he thinks. Who does he think he’s kidding? Let’s see if we can make it more interesting.
‘Hi Zack, who’s this then?’ enquires George Owens.
'This is Clare, a friend from school.’
‘Playing truant then?’ he says, smiling.
‘No, study period. We’re supposed to be in the library.’
‘What brings you to the market then? Looking for a bike?’
‘You looking after Jack’s stall as well? Didn’t know you were into clothes and toys.’
‘Cheeky monkey. Dental appointment. Covering while he’s away.’
‘Look George, any chance of a quick chat with you and the lads?’
‘Jack’s Pound Challenge is tonight. I thought we might spice it up a bit.’
‘Sounds interesting – I’ve give Ken a shout, and I think Cody is around here somewhere. Buying cards, I think.’
Clare gazes at Zack, impressed that he can deal with anyone. Even Mom and Dad like him, she thinks. It’s his eyes, clear and blue – they sparkle when he talks. I’m so lucky…
‘Penny for them love,’ says Ken, unwittingly breaking the spell.
‘Oh, I’m admiring this Raleigh Pioneer on George’s stall.’
‘The Hybrid?’ jumps in the store holder.
‘To you darling, £260 – normally £295’
Clare has no intention of buying a bike, but tries to clear her thoughts.
‘What’s up,’ says Cody, leaning on Ken’s shoulder.
‘Young Zack wants a few words.’
‘Thanks for your time lads. You all know about tonight at the Cross. We could do one over Jack if you’re interested.’
‘I’m always interested,’ quips Cody.
‘Why don’t we throw the challenge back at our friend Mr. Simmons?’
‘Tell us more, Zack.’
‘We up the ante. Say we offer him a stake of £3 each, and get him to pay out £6 for each winning answer.’
‘What’s the point in that?’
‘That’s just the start. He’s a gambler is Jack. I reckon there’ll be at least fifteen to twenty people in the pub tonight who will have a go. That’s at least £45 in Jack’s kitty to start with. Why don’t we tell him he can make ten quid clear profit, minimum, if he offers a prize of £35 for anyone who gets all four answers right?’
‘How do you know it’s four quotes?’
'I saw him yesterday and asked him.’
‘What’s the split then,’ asks George.
‘Me and Clare are both in, aren’t we?’ looking to his girlfriend for support. She nods, and Zack continues.
‘That’s five of us – me, Clare, you George, Cody and Ken. Five-way split, £7 each.’
‘Not much in it for us, is there? And, anyway, we’ve got to get the answers right. We’ve never done that well before,’ declares Ken, puffing his chest out as if to emphasize his seniority.
‘That’s where I come in. I can find anything on my Smartphone in seconds. The money’s not the thing, and don’t forget, we get Jack to commit to £6 for each correct answer as well. That’s £59 in total. He’ll be out of pocket, and we’ll have a bit of fun.’
Clare giggles at Zack’s ingenuity and the way he can control men twice, three times his age - and those eyes. Can’t wait to get back home with him, she muses. Mom and Dad are out…’
‘She’s off again – love’s young dream. Thinking about that Hybrid again, young Clare?’ jokes George.
‘Are you all in lads?’
‘Should be a giggle,’ answers George.
‘I’m in,’ from Ken.
Just a ‘yep’ from Cody and they disperse as they spot Jack turning the corner by the Cross, holding his mouth with a grimace that can be seen from thirty yards.
‘Right; everybody ready?’
Zack’s forecast was correct – the pub is packed. Always a buzz on Pound Challenge night.
‘How many tonight Jack?’ enquires Ted.
‘Two – got a sore mouth. Want to keep it basic and short tonight.’
‘What? You can’t do that – you promised four. Do you know four quotes or are you losing the plot?’
‘Yeh, a promise is a promise,’ shouts George, from the back of the room.
‘Ok, ok, four it is.’
Ken, Cody and George approach Jack, putting Zack’s proposition to him, leaving Zack and Clare out of it. They are his mates – he listens to them.
‘It’s a deal. Sounds great. I like a challenge – and the chance to make a few quid.’
‘Order, order!’ shouts Ted.
Someone mutters to Zack about under-age drinkers.
‘Yes, we’re seventeen and drinking J2O, alright?’
The complainant silenced, Ted sets the ground rules and prepares the quotation gladiators for battle.
‘Let’s have some hush. Pound Challenge, folks. Three pounds each at the counter and don’t forget to order more drinks after, to either celebrate or drown your sorrows! Thank you.’
‘Typical publican,’ mutters someone in the crowd, probably Frank.
‘Right lads and, erm, lasses, let’s get started. I’ll give you all four quotes. You can write them down and then you’ve got two minutes.’
The meeting at the market had concluded with the agreement that Zack would give George all the answers, but Cody, Ken, Clare and Zack would each go forward with their individual solutions.
‘Here we go - Number One, an easy one to start:
“It’s freezing and snowing in New York – we need global warming.”
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
“Didn’t I help it? I just took it back, is all. Awful tired now, boss. Dog tired.”’
Zack has the answers in under ninety seconds.
‘George – go and get your six quid. It’s Donald Trump. Clare, number two is Walt Disney. Cody, you have number three – Nelson Mandela. I’ll take four.’
‘What the hell was four?’
‘The character John Coffey, in the film The Green Mile. I knew it anyway.’
The first two individual prizes are taken, then Frank Watson calls for attention.
‘What’s going on, Frank?’ demands Ted.
‘Cheating, that’s what’s going on.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Ask young Zack to bring his Smartphone to the front. I remember Ian Beale doing this scam in Eastenders years ago. Sorry, Jack, but you’ve been stitched up.’
Tuesday 4.30 p.m.
One thing you can say about Sherry – she’s rarely late. Linda will claim that her sister possesses many attributes, tardiness not being one of them. They have an early tea together, both offering the other their own spurious version of their plans for the evening. Sherry wants to make sure that her older sister is nowhere near Leeford Library at the time she’s meeting Allen.
‘I’m meeting some old college mates in East Banfield. Where are you off to?’
‘Me? Oh, popping into Wolverhampton – the club shop has a sale. They’re open till eight.’
‘Good. Get me one of those tee-shirts.’
‘You know, the one with the Mexican flag and the number nine. No more than a tenner.’
‘If they’ve got them.’
‘Who are these mates?’
‘You never got to know my friends at Banfield College, did you?’
‘S’pose not. Anyway, got to get ready.’
‘Bags me the bathroom first.’
Tuesday 5.45 p.m.
Linda is on her way. In traffic, it’s about twenty minutes from North Banfield to Wolverhampton. Sherry had left the flat fifteen minutes before her and is in position, aware of the camera. They’ve had a lot of vandalism in the car park shared with the doctor’s surgery. She’s knows where to stand, just out of the camera’s line of sight, but she can’t see the entrance to the car park from there. He won’t be here till after six, she thinks. I’ll hear the car passing down the side of the library. Oh my God, Allen Gomez. He’s gorgeous and he fancies me. He picked me, not Linda. She hears the car. It’s 5.55 p.m. He’s early. It stops at the corner of the building, a few yards before the right turn. The door slams. Footsteps. He’s coming. The evening shadow is thrown across the corner into the centre of the camera’s invisible beam. Sherry catches her breath, expectant. She looks up.
Sherry can’t contain herself.
‘What the hell are you doing here?’
Linda has a sudden thought and checks her phone. Should be Wednesday 6.00 p.m.
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