Previously in Leeford Village: Upset that Ziggy called Clare ‘Babe’, Zack tells the band he has written a new song, but his mother spoils it for him – with the truth – and he quits the band. The losing football team – an understatement, as even the ref had lost count – meet up in the Cross, and Ted is suitably embarrassed. Ethel, Cody and Sheri plan to visit Howard Smithson to find out more about ‘Leeford Day’. Vera is at the police station and Stephen Miller is determined to finally get to the bottom of the gnome mystery.
‘What do you mean, Bobby Robson?’
‘That quote from Jack, you know, the other team were better than us and all that rubbish.’
‘I worry about you sometimes, Cody. Anyway, my shout – pint, was it?’
‘Please. Did you notice those three empty units in the precinct, George?’
‘Couldn’t miss it mate. The workmen made hell of a racket the first day.’
‘Any idea what’s going on?’
‘For once, I do. The one at the end is a new estate agent, and the unit two down from Billy’s
Cafe is going to be an opticians. You will never guess what the name is.’
‘How do you know the name if the workmen have only just started?’
‘Saw them carry the sign through to the back. It’ll go up when they’ve finished. Had a chat with the lads.’
‘Put me out of my misery then, George.’
‘Wait for it, Cody. It’s a lady optician, apparently, and her name is Clare Una Clearly.’
‘So?’ says Cody, having already downed half of his pint.
‘The sign that will be over the door will have, in large letters, her surname preceded by her initials. Got it, Cody?’
‘Not with you, mate. “Clearly”, preceded by “C U”.’
‘There you go,’ says George as he sees the light switch on in Cody’s eyes.
‘You’re joking, aren’t you? C U Clearly?’
‘You’re hard work you are, Cody, and it’s your round.’
‘Sorry mate, got to go. Agnes has an appointment.’
‘Not with the new optician?’ quips George.
Cody makes it back in time for Agnes to brush past him, coat in hand.
‘Just three for you to serve.’
Next in line, Mike Charles is waiting relatively patiently. He turns to Lee Morgan.
‘A new fish and chip shop is opening on our estate, which is more convenient, so you might not see me for a while. I have to give it a try.’
‘Of course, you do. This place is handy for me as it’s on my way home from work.’
Lee looks beyond Mike to address the owner of Leeford Plaice who has heard every word.
‘Can you put a haddock on for me, Cody?’
‘Where is she, Stephen?’
‘We’ve only got two, and the other one’s full of that delivery of toilet rolls.’
‘Can I see her?’
‘Nigel, she was a bit agitated when we took her in, but I need to get to the bottom of all this.’
‘What’s your problem with a few gnomes?’
‘A few? Anyway, Nigel, it’s your house and she’s your Mom. What do you know about it?’
‘Not my business. I keep well out of it.’
‘As I say, it’s your house, your garden. If a crime has been committed, you’re implicated.’
‘Up here on the left. Rosewood Nursing Home.’
‘Cody, will they let us all in, or are there visiting restrictions?’
‘No idea, Ethel, but we’re about to find out.’
Sheri, sitting in the back of Cody’s 2005 Corsa, taps him on the shoulder and points to the Mercedes pulling into the car park ahead of them. Unfortunately for Cody, it’s Frank Watson, who takes the only remaining space. The frustrated Corsa driver mutters something unrepeatable under his breath. He also muses over the way Frank seems to turn up at places in a different car every time. Bully for him, Cody mutters, you might have three cars, but I’m happy with mine.
‘I’ll drop you here and find a space up the road.’
As Cody drives away, Frank beckons to Ethel and Sheri to follow him to the main entrance.
‘They usually let me straight through. Don’t even have to sign the book.’
‘What’s the benefit in that?’ Ethel whispers to Sheri.
‘Next thing you know, he won’t be carrying any money and he’ll be taking holidays at Balmoral.’
Sheri suppresses a giggle and smiles, as Frank ushers his co-visitors into the lift. All but one of the residents have reservations on the next available room on the ground floor. Most of them want a room on the ground floor, but much of the space is taken up by the dining room, offices and the TV room. Nonetheless, they would prefer not to be upstairs. The exception is Howard Smithson, described by F Watson esq as their ‘visitee’, yielding a pained expression from Ethel and a movement of the shoulders from Sheri.
Not only does Howard like the ‘view’ from his second-floor vantage point, a panorama sweeping majestically across the West Banfield Trading Estate, the scene jostling with day-to-day images of dustcarts, dog-walkers (thankfully picking up what has been left behind, so to speak), and a legion of other ineffable vistas, but also he rarely ventures downstairs. His meals are taken to his room, there is a second TV room on his floor, and in the event of fire (the main reason for the predilection of the majority towards the lowest floor), the staff are well-drilled, and the fire escape is accessible at both ends of the building. Most of the guests are fairly mobile and, in the last test, everyone was out in a record time of four minutes, twenty-eight seconds. Frank Watson, for some reason, has all this information at his fingertips. They enter the room. He’s awake, and, luckily, in good form.
‘Hello, Frank. Lovely to see you. Brought some friends?’
‘We’ve got some questions for you, Howard.’
The visit concludes within thirty minutes, and the four villagers (Cody managed to park eventually) have extracted what they need to know. They now have the official date for ‘Leeford Day’. Their diaries and notebooks, and in Frank’s case a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, set up by his daughter who actually knows how to operate one) are suddenly kept busy. However, Frank’s best Parker is soon thrust into action onto a standard notepad.
‘We’ll inform everyone, and I’ll get Nick Allthorpe to book the Community Centre for the day.’
‘Couldn’t it be combined with the fête, Frank?’ enquires Cody.
‘No, it’s a separate event, and I want to see the activities being weather-proofed, safely under cover.’
This time, surreptitious glances between Ethel and Cody, but Sheri’s shoulders are still kept busy with a slight upward movement, both hands palm upwards.
‘Your son’s waiting for you outside, Vera.’
‘Why have you brought him here?’
‘It’s Nigel’s house. You live there, and he must know what you’ve been up to, but he denies
‘Your point, Stephen?’
He forgives the use of his first name. This is too important to focus on formalities.
‘My point, Vera, is that whatever you have been doing, your son could be held responsible.’
‘Leave him alone. It’s all down to me.’
‘I set up a Gnome Exchange.’
‘We use eBay to buy and sell gnomes, but some people like to swap them - change the image of their garden to a specific style, and I topped up the stock from gardens in Leeford and the surrounding areas.’
‘Good grief, Vera. So, all that about Allen Gomez, and he was right all along, and I warned him off.’
‘Yes, but I still don’t like him.’
‘Not the point. I’ll have to take advice about this, but you will be charged with something. You’ve stolen gnomes to order, haven’t you?’
‘I’m so sorry, Stephen. You’ve always tried to help me and I’ve let you down.’
‘What I don’t understand is why Nigel and Mandy did nothing to stop you.’
‘You really should leave Mandy out of this. She’s got enough problems.’
‘No, her husband from her first marriage is back on the scene. He’s trouble.’
‘Ok, but what about Nigel. It makes no sense that he hasn’t intervened. Gnomes all over the house and the garden - hundreds of the damn things.’
‘I, er, sort of blackmailed him.’
‘Your own son?’
‘I was desperate.’
‘What’s he done that’s so serious he would give in? Or at least look the other way.’
‘I threatened him with the Food Safety Agency. Let’s just say not all of the meat he buys is from certified sources. Not good for a butcher’s reputation.’
‘I don’t believe this. It gets worse. You’re going to need a solicitor. I’m busy in court tomorrow, so I’m going to trust both of you. Go home and stay put in the house. I’ll organise the duty solicitor and call you in a couple of days.
A knock at the door causes him to pause. Sally, Stephen’s wife, opens the door carefully and beckons him into the corridor.
‘What is it, Sal? I’m busy with Vera.’
‘You do realise I’ve taken the day off work to help you with phones and admin while Gary is sorting out the Gail Perkins case for tomorrow’s trial?’
‘I appreciate that, love, but what’s the problem?’
‘I can’t find him.’
‘What do you mean, you can’t find him?’
‘You asked me to phone him for an update on Gail’s case. You know he took some things for Gail to the prison, don’t you?’
‘Er, no, not really, but so what?’
‘The last time anyone remembers seeing him, Gary was leaving the prison with a woman who was wearing a female warden’s uniform.’
‘He’s been out with a few of the girls who work there. What are you saying, Sally?’
‘He’s gone missing. Not only that, Gail has escaped. They found a female prison warden in her underwear, bound and gagged. Gail used her uniform, helped by Gary, it seems.’
‘My God!’ shouts Stephen.
‘They’ve eloped, haven’t they, Sal?’
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