Previously in Leeford Village:
Ted and Jessica hatch a plan to avenge Peter Redman for banning Jessica from the Marina Folk Club. But the story they have concocted turns into reality when Jessica goes into labour. Pippa reports that Allen Gomez has gone missing after a night-time excursion with ‘Jimmy’. Edward proposes to Ethel, who has told Clara that she will give the possibility of a move to Devon ‘some thought’.
‘Linda, you need to calm down. Here, sip some tea.’
David Ward hands Linda a mug of tea. He wishes his wife was here to deal with this. Pacifying distraught women is not his métier. Linda takes the cup. She is still shaking as much as when she came into his house fifteen minutes ago, and David worries that some of the tea is about to spill over the sides onto the recently purchased white Draylon sofa.
‘So, let me get this right,’ he says, sitting next to Linda. ‘Allen went out to meet Arjun Bandra a couple of days ago and you haven’t seen him since.’
Linda confirms this. David is relieved to see that she has imbibed enough tea, so that even the shakiest shake only raises the tea level to just below the rim of the mug.
‘He sent me this text.’ Linda puts the mug down precariously on the arm of the sofa. David transfers it to the glass coffee table. Linda taps on her phone and hands it to him. He reads the text aloud:
‘Gone to do a job with Jimmy. All good. Don’t tell anyone. Who’s Jimmy?’ he asks.
Linda shrugs. ‘I don’t know. He must be something to do with Arjun.’
‘And did Allen say why he was going to see Arjun?’
Linda gives David a cold stare through her tears.
‘Because he wants to earn enough to pay off the money he owes you. To get your respect.’
David clears his throat.
‘I see. Have you told Sergeant Miller?’
‘Of course not. Allen said, “don’t tell anyone”.’
‘I know, Linda. But you can tell the police, surely?’
‘No. I don’t want them involved. Arjun is a dangerous man.’
‘But you’ve told me, Linda. Does anyone else know?’
‘Ethel? Good grief! Well, I have a responsibility to tell the police.’
Linda is feeling more composed. Her thoughts are becoming clearer. No police. She knows how the Leeford police operate and it is unlikely they would find a missing cat without messing up, let alone a missing Allen Gomez.
‘No, David,’ she says, ‘you have a responsibility to find my Allen.’
Edward has been on his knees in front of Ethel for the best part of five minutes. He is beginning to doubt that his proposal will be accepted, but his immediate concern is whether he will be able to get up from this position.
Ethel appears to have gone into some kind of reverie, half-smiling but in a detached way that unnerves him. If he was a betting man, he would say the odds of a ‘yes’ from Ethel were just about even.
‘Well?’ he prompts, holding up the ring box. Ethel puts her finger o the top of the ring. The single diamond catches the sunlight coming through the window. It’s beautiful, she thinks. But not as beautiful as the ring she currently wears on the fourth finger of her left hand, the ring Billy bought, the ring that signifies their journey together, from nothing to successful café owners, the ring that has seen them through good and bad, poor and rich, the ring that she kisses every morning when she wakes. She sighs and closes the lid on the box. A ‘yes’ from Ethel has suddenly become a rank outsider, Edward realises. It might have even fallen at the first fence.
‘That’s a ‘no’ then?’ He leans on the edge of Ethel’s chair and heaves himself up with great effort. He lumbers over to the sofa and sits down heavily.
‘I’m sorry, Edward. I just can’t.’
‘Can’t marry me? Or live in Devon with me?’
Ethel twists Billy’s ring on her finger.
‘Both,’ she says after what seems to Edward a long pause during which there still existed the possibility that she would at least take one of the options offered to her.
‘Stay here, in Leeford, Edward. We get on so well and we enjoy each other’s company. It would be silly to live apart, rattling around in our separate homes.’
Edward puts the ring box in his jacket pocket. He feels humiliated.
‘No, Ethel. I have been spurned. Rejected. It will take me a long time to recover from this and I feel Devon will be an appropriate location in which to recover. If I can ever recover.’
‘What are you laughing at?’ he says, looking increasingly more hurt.
‘You, you silly pudding. You sound like someone out of a Brontë novel.’
Despite himself, Edward finds it hard to suppress a giggle.
‘I do, don’t I?’
Ethel moves to the sofa and sits beside him.
‘Edward. I love you, you know that. I just can’t marry you. And, as far as moving to Devon goes, it’s a lovely idea, but I’m happy here. I have my friends, my new job and this house, which I love.’
Edward looks around the room.
‘Yours and Billy’s house, eh. Ethel? Is Billy the reason you don’t want to marry me?’
‘You must understand, Edward.’
‘I’m sure I will, Ethel. One day. You’ll miss Clara, though.’
‘Well, yes. She’s definitely moving to Devon. The purchase on her bungalow is going through.’
Sally Coleman replaces the receiver on the phone behind the bar. ‘Nick’s on his way to the hospital,’ she says, to a relieved lunchtime gathering of regulars, who have heard about Jessica’s situation on the very efficient Leeford grapevine.
‘Who’s gone with her, Sally? asks Jack Simmons, handing over his empty glass for a refill.
‘Ted and Peter Redman. They’ve gone in Frank’s car.’
Jack roars with laughter. ‘She’s in safe hands then! Haha!’
‘They’re only taking her to the hospital, Jack. Not delivering the baby.’
‘Let’s hope not. Fancy. The first sight you see on entering the world is Frank Watson’s miserable mug. Enough to scar a child for life!’
‘Well, I’m sure it won’t come to that Jack. The hospital is only twenty minutes away. They’ll be there by now.’
Jack sips the foamy head from his beer and smacks his lips.
‘Twenty minutes if they’ve finished the roadworks on the Birmingham Road. I got caught there for nearly an hour and a quarter yesterday. Crawled for three miles. Good job I put petrol in before I set out, otherwise I’d have been stuck…Sally, what’s wrong? You’ve gone extremely pale.’
Clara’s phone rings.
‘You sound a bit grumpy, considering.’
‘Considering…well, I presume Edward has asked you?’
‘To marry me? Yes. You knew?’
‘Er, yes. He mentioned it to me.’
‘You said “yes”, of course?’
‘I said, “no”, actually.’
There is silence on the other end of the phone.
‘I also said “no” to moving to Devon, which I gather you have made up your mind about.’
‘Yes, Edward says the purchase is going through.’
‘Stop responding to my statements with a question.’
‘Sorry, Ethel. But this is news to me. I only received the brochure from the estate agent this morning. I’m still considering.’
‘But, according to Edward it’s a done deal. You and George are moving.’
‘Not a done deal at all, Ethel. I think you need to speak to Edward. It looks like he’s been using me to get you to change your mind.’
‘Has no one got a phone?’ An angry Peter Redman is living up to his surname.
‘You haven’t,’ says Frank Watson, not wishing to be spoken to in such a way.
Ted Coleman shakes his head.
‘Left it in the bar.’
‘And I don’t have one. Never had,’ says Frank, with an air of righteousness, masking the real reason for not having a phone – that no one would call him if he had.
Peter turns to Jessica, her face contorted with pain. She shakes her head. ‘Handbag. In the pub.’
‘Oh, God,’ says Peter rubbing his brow.
‘Look, Peter. I’m sure the traffic will clear in a minute or two. We’ve just passed a sign for roadworks in two miles.’
‘Two miles! We’re not even in the roadworks, yet!’
‘Stop panicking. You’re not helping Jess. We’ve got plenty of time. Babies don’t just pop out, they take a while,’ says Ted, surprised by his own calmness.
‘Oh, you’d know, would you? Delivered many babies, have you?’ Peter opens the window on his side of the car. He leans out and takes in a blast of exhaust-fume-filled air. He closes the window.
‘Anyway,’ says Ted, winking at Frank, ‘Franky here used to be a boy scout. He’s bound to have a pocketknife on him and I bet he got his knot tying badge.’
‘Not “Franky” please,’ says Frank, quietly. Then, more loudly so Peter can hear in the back of the car, ‘my grandfather kept sheep. I was always up at his farm at lambing time when I was a child. I’ve pulled out many a breach in my time. Tug them by the legs, that’s the trick. And then you shove some straw up their nose. Or was that the calves?’
Ted laughs. ‘I think we’d better leave it to the medics, Frank.’
Jessica takes a few short breaths. ‘Frank, medics, whoever. Just get me to the hospital!’
Sally calls Ted to tell him about the roadworks. She hears his phone ringing by the side of the till.
She shouts from behind the bar. ‘Anyone know Frank Watson’s number? Peter Redman’s? Jessica Townley’s?’
There is a collective shake of heads at the mention of each name.
Sally calls 999.
‘Three men and a woman in labour…I’m not sure what make the car is…I don’t know exactly where…somewhere on the road between Leeford and Birmingham!’