Previously in Leeford Village:
Jessica has a plan to teach Peter Redman of the Marina Folk Club a lesson. Edward Palmer has made an offer on a property in Devon for him and Ethel to retire to…and a bungalow three doors down for Clara and George. Now he has to tell Ethel. Mel believes her husband knows about her brief affair with Dr Jeremy Roberts. Peter Redman tells David that he has banned Jessica and Roberta from the Folk Club.
Arjun Bandra taps the gold ring on his middle finger on the desk. Allen Gomez feels insignificant sitting in the high leather chair opposite him. After what seems to Allen a very long time, Arjun finally speaks.
‘I don’t know, Allen. I don’t know whether I can trust you.’
Allen’s throat is dry and his response emerges as a hoarse whisper.
‘You can, Arjun. Please. I really need the money. Want to make a clean break. Want me and Linda to start our life together, debt-free.’
Arjun purses his lips. He reaches for his phone.
‘Jimmy. Come into my office. There’s someone I’d like you to meet.’
Edward hears Ethel moving about in the kitchen. She is humming a tune, always a sign that she is in a good mood. Edward puts the flowers down in the hallway. The debate he has been having with himself has been concluded. He has decided to tell Ethel about Devon first and then ask her to marry him, on the basis that she will be so excited about the prospect of the move, she is bound to accept his proposal.
‘Hello love,’ he says, planting a kiss on her cheek.
‘Oh, Edward. It’s good to have you back. You must be exhausted after that journey.’
Ethel pulls out a chair and Edward sits at the table. Ethel busies herself with making him a ham sandwich.
‘Did you have a good time?’
‘I did, yes,’ says Edward, his voice a couple of tones higher than normal. ‘Have you been okay?’
‘Oh, yes. I’ve had a lovely time. It’s nice to be working in the café without the responsibility of running it.’
Edward nods. Ethel puts his sandwich and a pot of English mustard in front of him. She fills a kettle.
‘Ethel, there’s something I want to tell you.’ Edward twists the lid off the mustard jar.
‘Oh, yes?’ Ethel sits down at the table.
‘You know you’ve always wanted to retire to Devon?’
‘Well, it’s possible now.’
‘Yes. In fact, it’s very likely.’
There’s a click as the kettle reaches boiling point.
‘In fact, I’ve almost bought us a house. Well, a bungalow, actually.’
‘What do you mean, “almost”?’
‘I mean, I’ve put in an offer.’
Edwards notices Ethel’s face has turned pale.
‘I’m sorry, Edward. I don’t understand.’
‘I went to Devon to find us somewhere to live. Now that you’ve sold the café. You do still want to live in Devon, don’t you?’
Ethel gets up and walks over to the sink. She looks out of the window. A cat is sitting on the wall in the backyard. It sees her and jumps down.
She turns to Edward.
‘How could you Edward? Without so much as a by-your-leave?’
‘I thought you’d be pleased,’ says Edward, meekly.
‘Pleased? Pleased that you’ve gone and looked at the place where I am supposed to end my years, without even consulting me? Pleased? I’m…I’m…’
‘Yes. Furious just about sums it up!’
Edward looks down at the sandwich, a sight so welcome a couple of minutes ago, before he suddenly lost his appetite.
‘I suggest you leave, Edward.’
‘Yes. You go to Devon if you want to. I’m staying right here!’
Edward slides back his chair. Ethel turns her back to him.
‘I’m sorry, Ethel,’ he says as he walks into the hallway. He picks up the flowers and puts them down again. Ethel hears the front door click, her cue to burst into tears.
The door of Arjun’s office opens and a man Allen has never seen before stands in the frame.
‘Come in, Jimmy,’ says Arjun, beckoning him with a wave.
Arjun stands next to Allen, who feels he is shrinking by the minute. He looks up at Jimmy, tall and wide, his dyed blonde hair cut into a Mohawk. He has a row of earrings in his left ear. On his neck is a tattoo of a scorpion. Allen’s first thought is how much pain having that tattoo would have involved, followed by his second thought that Jimmy probably wouldn’t have noticed.
‘Allen, this is Jimmy. Jimmy, Allen Gomez,’ says Arjun.
Allen is not sure whether he is expected to stand and shake Jimmy’s hand, but the look Jimmy gives him provides immediate clarification.
‘Allen tells me I can trust him, Jimmy. Do you think I can trust him?’
Jimmy gives a wry smile, exposing a row of surprisingly small teeth.
‘I think you can, boss.’
‘There we are then, Allen. Jimmy thinks I can trust you. And he’s a very good judge of character, aren’t you Jimmy?’
Allen’s phone buzzes. It’s Linda wondering where he has got to, he thinks. He lets it buzz until it stops.
‘What do you want me to do, Arjun?’ he asks.
‘I want you to assist Jimmy with a few deliveries. That’s all. It’s easy work. Too easy, in fact, considering what I’m paying you. Jimmy needs a mate and I’m sure you’ll get on very well together. Do you think so, Jimmy?’
Jimmy looks down at Allen.
‘Like a house on fire, boss.’
Allen gulps. Suddenly, paying off the debt is the last of his worries.
‘So, Allen. If you’d like to follow Jimmy, he’ll fill you in.’
‘Fill me in?’ said Allen, his voice a barely audible squeak.
‘Yes, on the details. Oh, I see, you thought I meant…haha! Jimmy, he thought I meant…’
Jimmy roars with laughter for a few seconds and then stops suddenly.
He signals to Allen to follow him.
‘Thanks, Arjun. I won’t let you down,’ says Allen, getting up to follow his new ‘mate’.
‘No, Allen, you won’t,’ says Arjun, looking towards Jimmy.
‘Hele Bay.’ Clara pours Edward a large glass of port. He takes a sip. It makes him feel a little better.
‘Hele Bay. Have you heard of it, George?’
George looks up from his paper.
‘Oh, yes. Bombed it a couple of times.’
Clara shakes her head. Over the past few weeks, George has become fixated on the Second World War, coming home from the library with piles of thick books detailing every battle. He was only a child when the war ended, but he did three years’ National Service and Clara thinks that it’s his time spent on operations in the Middle East that have surfaced in his mind recently.
‘It’s a lovely place, Clara,’ says Edward, ‘lots of coastal walks, if that’s your thing. And the bungalow itself is in a lovely spot. It has a small, well-established garden and the beach is a couple of hundred yards at the end of a lane.’
‘It sounds perfect, Edward. Can’t wait to see the brochure,’ says Clara.
‘Yes, they were sending it straight away so it might be here tomorrow. Of course, we can withdraw the offer, it the bungalow doesn’t suit you.’ Edward takes another sip of port.
‘I’m sure it will, love. And thank you for taking the time to search for us. I bet Ethel is excited.’
‘Ah, well, let’s just say that her response has not been as positive as yours.’
‘Oh? Is it the place she doesn’t like the sound of, or the bungalow?’
‘All of it. I thought she’d be pleased, but I’m afraid she is quite the opposite.’ He takes a longer sip of port, then another, then drinks the rest of the glass down in one gulp. ‘Quite the opposite.’
Jessica’s phone rings. It’s David Ward.
‘Hi, Jess. I’ve been talking to Peter Redman, about the events at the Marina.’
‘Oh, yes. I take it he’s apologised?’
‘Er, not quite.’
‘What do you mean, “not quite”?’
‘I mean he has rescinded his ban on those who were there. I think he realises he was being a little hasty.’
‘Well, it’ll be a long time before I go back there, David.’
‘Actually, Jess, it will.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, when I say, “those that were there”, I mean those that were there except you and Roberta. He’s banned both of you. For life.’
There is silence on the other end of the phone.
‘Jessica? Are you there?’
David hears the click of the call being ended.
‘Well, well,’ he says.
Allen follows Jimmy into a warehouse at the back of the building. It’s piled high with plain boxes arranged neatly on pallets. A forklift truck is parked at one end of the warehouse and two white, unmarked vans at the other.
‘I need you here at three in the morning,’ says Jimmy. ‘We leave at four-thirty, after we’ve loaded.’
Allen nods. ‘Where are we going?’
The look Jimmy gives him lets him know that he is to ask no questions.
‘It’s good of Arjun to give me this opportunity. I’ll do whatever he wants me to do.’
‘Arjun? He’s an idiot. He hasn’t got a clue. It’s not him you’re working for, Gomez. It’s me. He pays you, that’s all.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘You will, Gomez. You’ll soon understand.’
Jessica scrolls down her contacts. She presses the dial button. The answerphone at the other end is about to cut in when she hears a voice.
‘Hello, Ted Coleman.’
‘Ted. It’s Jessica Townley.’
‘Oh, hello, Jess. What can I do for you?’
‘Are you free for a chat, in about half an hour? I’ll come over to The Cross.’