Previously in Leeford Village:
David Ward tries to calm a worried Linda, who not only tells him that Allen has gone missing, but also that David is partly responsible. Ethel finally turns down Edward’s proposal, but asks him to stay with her in Leeford. Ted, Peter and a pregnant Jessica are in Frank’s car – without any mobile phones - on the way to the hospital in Birmingham. As Sally relays the latest news to the regulars at the Cross, she is told about the roadworks on the Birmingham Road and decides to dial 999.
It is often the way in life that we, as vulnerable human beings, tend to succumb to perturbation. A feeling of anxiety hits us; we panic when we really have no need or it is, at the very least, not helpful. The act of panicking, even descending into hysteria, does nothing to improve one’s current situation. A sense of inner calm, clear thinking, making a logical appraisal of where we are, what we are doing, even who we are, can get us through most things. Some people, however, either do not possess this adroitness – the ability to calmly pick one’s way through the mire of the obstacles that life throws in our direction, or else they simply struggle in specific circumstances.
Frank Watson is one of those people who, whilst usually a calm, businesslike character, is prone to panic under certain circumstances. Now, to be fair to Frank, he has suffered in the past and has spent many an angst-ridden night unable to sleep; too many reminders of the past. Put simply, what makes him panic is impending childbirth. Jessica may not be a close friend, but Frank is, essentially, a decent human being, and he is worried. Very worried. Trouble is, Ted and Peter are not helping. Three men in a car with a lady going into labour, and not one of them considered taking her to the hospital geographically in the vicinity of Leeford Village. Namely, Banfield General. Panic has set in, taken its toll, and caused three intelligent men, none of whom thought to pick up a mobile phone during their exodus from the Cross pub, to experience trepidation and disquiet.
Fortunately for our three friends, one of them (Ted Coleman) has a wife with sufficient intelligence and calmness.
‘They are on the Birmingham Road between Leeford Village and the City, probably stuck in traffic because of the roadworks. They are in a silver Mercedes driven by Mr Frank Watson.’
‘Thank you, madam. If you could stay on the line – give my colleague your details and we’ll try to track them down on roadside CCTV.’
A few minutes pass, and the operator returns.
‘Yes, we’ve got them. An air ambulance is already on the way.’
‘Where will they take her?’
‘Banfield General Maternity Unit.’
As David Ward engages third gear, accelerating past Leeford Church, heading for the Birmingham Road, Linda arrives back at home. As she opens the door, the words ‘only me…’ escape from her lips. She fills the kettle, tears falling onto the kitchen work surface as she reaches for her favourite Wallace and Gromit cup and saucer – next to it, Allen’s ‘Shaun The Sheep’ mug. She fears that it will never be used again. She can’t face cooking – not just for herself – so she takes a plate with two digestives into the living room to accompany her tea. She flinches as her mobile phone vibrates in unison with the special ring that Allen has set up for her. Three, four, five rings before she steels herself to pick up. A number she does not recognise.
‘Is that really you?’ she says, as the phone visibly shakes in her hand.
‘I’m so sorry about this. I lost my phone on the way over and I’ve just bought a new pay-as-you-go. Are you alright?’
‘Yes, well, okay I suppose, but what happened to you?’
‘Got involved in that job with Jimmy, and, well, it got a bit out of hand.’
‘Allen, what on earth have you got yourself into?’
‘Don’t worry, love, it’s not as bad as it sounds.’
David arrives at Arjun’s office, determined to sort the Allen situation once and for all.
‘I’ve come to see Mr Bandra.’
‘Do you have an appointment?’ says the girl (who looks about thirteen) sitting behind an unnecessarily huge desk.
‘No, but it’s very important.’
‘One moment please.’
David is almost hopping from one foot to another, and the feeling that he needs the toilet reminds him of those many occasions waiting to see Mr Simpkins outside the Blowers Green Primary Headmaster’s office. He is out of his comfort zone and regrets that he allowed Linda to talk him into this. The door behind the reception desk opens. Arjun Bandra steps forward to shake his hand.
‘Mr Bandra. Thank you for seeing me. I’m David Ward, an acquaintance of Allen Gomez.’
‘Ah, yes, Allen. Nice fellow. Haven’t seen him for a few days.’
‘Do you know where he is?’
‘Not exactly, Mr Ward, but he is working with Jimmy Sanjay, an associate of mine.’
‘This Jimmy character - can we trust him?’
‘Of course, but what are you implying, David? Can I call you David?’
Disarmed, David replies, ‘yes, er, I suppose…’
‘I do hope you’re not suggesting we have involved Allen in something illegal or… dangerous.’
‘Well, no, but…’
‘I’m relieved to hear it. Anyway, Jimmy is working independently. I have no idea where they are. Sorry, but I am terribly busy. Advika will see you out.’
‘Allen, what do you mean it’s not as bad as it sounds?’
‘The work, it’s not illegal. Well, not really.’
‘Import and export. That sort of thing.’
‘It’s not drugs, is it?’ she asks.
‘No! How could you think I would be involved in such a thing?’
‘Sorry love, but I’ve been so worried. Hang on, Allen, what did you mean when you said you lost your phone “on the way over”?’
‘Yes, but on the way over where?’
‘What? Where are you?’
‘Munich? What the hell for?’
‘The beer festival. Jimmy trades in new European beers, and he runs a club in Birmingham. Arjun is a junior partner.’
At the Leeford fête, when the villagers saw George Owens for the first time since the accident, Jason believed that he had, at last, got his brother back. However, it would be fair to say that things could have been described as cool – if not icy – for a few weeks after that. Initially, Jason began to think that the expression ‘blood is thicker than water’ did not apply to the Owens clan. Fortunately for both of them, the brotherly love that once held them together was eventually restored. An unspoken agreement to put the past behind them sealed the new start to their relationship. Jason had almost lost his brother and George nearly lost his life, so a thirty-six-year feud over a girl has been finally put to bed.
‘Sixty, eh?’ George snarls.
‘I resemble that remark,’ jokes Jason.
‘Well, what are you going to do?’
‘What, a party, do you mean? Not my style, George.’
‘No, I mean about Spendfields, and your book.’
‘Oh, yes, I might carry on for another year or so. Depends how it goes.’
‘You mean if you get published?’
Jason has always wanted to write a novel, but life – and work – tends to get in the way. He has run a small care business, an employment agency, and once had a disastrous experience after investing in a transport business. Into his fifties, he decided to abandon the hurly-burly of business and started working as a till assistant at Spendfields in Leeford. His impending birthday gave him the spur to finally start the project that has gnawed away at him for many years.
‘What’s it about, anyway?’ enquires George.
‘You,’ snaps Jason, smiling.
‘Not just you, George, but all the people in Leeford. I’ll change all the names and move the location to a sleepy village in Cornwall. Nice setting by the sea.’
‘Romantic old git, aren’t you?’
‘Love you too, brother.’
Zack and Simon, kicking their heels until university places are allocated, have very different approaches to life, career, everything. Zack’s thoughts when waking up in a morning are of guitar riffs, words for a new song, the potential for life as a rock star, and, of course, his future life with Clare. Simon Brown, his friend throughout their time at Spring Hill, has a more studious approach, and an inquisitive nature.
‘Where is it, Simon?’
‘You know the entrance to the culvert…’ Simon replies, until Zack butts in.
‘The one that flooded by the Cross where George Dennis nearly drowned?’
‘That’s the one. Just inside, about ten feet in. On the right-hand side, there’s an opening, covered over with brambles and stuff.’
‘What were you doing there?’
‘A-level project. You know, the environment, waterways and such like.’
‘Get you. I suppose that’s what you’ll study at uni. Doing music and history doesn’t get me looking down drains. Unlike you, Simon.’
‘I’m serious. Anyway, it’s not a drain, you berk. I only had a quick look, but I reckon the tunnel runs under the East Banfield Road right into Market Street, cutting across the corner by the Oxfam shop.’
‘Where do you think it leads?’ says Zack.
‘Shall we have a look?’