Previously in Leeford Village: Cody writes a love poem - Agnes is not convinced it’s for her. Unfortunately, Cody doesn’t seem to know the colour of his wife’s eyes. Gary follows Gail to London where she meets Martin Frobisher, but the wrong man is arrested. Allen and Linda appear to convince Sherry to go to L.A. Ethel sees Greg Withall at the butcher’s shop and Nigel tells her that Mandy must not know that he’s back. The Parish Council Committee meeting is due to start. In Frank’s absence, the Committee must decide who is allocated which stall for the upcoming fête.
Six weeks to go. Six weeks after Leeford Parish Council finally reveals the identities of the allocated stallholders to the world, the festivities of the first ever Leeford Village Fête will begin. Celebrations for some, devastation for others. They do tend to take it rather seriously in the village. Months of planning, arguing, lobbying, cajoling, lunching and bribing have now come to an end.
Frank Watson, in particular, has sampled the best that Banfield’s restaurants can supply, tasted Italy’s finest offerings from Marchesi di Barolo to Aziende Agricola Valentini. Not for Sergeant Stephen Miller. No, he is impervious to the attempts by stallholder applicants to sway him in their direction. No Charbroiled Kobe Fillet for Stephen, nor a Macaroon Haute Couture. Indeed, he plays a straight bat, and Frank’s absence from the current Parish Council Committee meeting not only fills him with a new sense of importance and responsibility, it also furnishes the local police sergeant with a spring in his step.
Also, there are six weeks in which successful applicants - having received the wonderful news of their acceptance to Frank’s inner circle of stallholders - have to work with him to organise and prepare their respective stalls.
‘Are you sure you’re ready for this, Stephen?’
‘Of course I am.’
‘You have my proxy vote?’
‘Yes, Frank. All in the file.’
‘You’ll not let the Thorntons get the book stall?’
‘Frank, we’ve talked about this. There are seven committee members at the meeting. It will be decided by a simple majority. Whatever they vote for, it stands. You know that. Integrity, Frank. Integrity.’
‘Are you saying I don’t have any?’
‘Won’t you be late for your appointment, Frank? Where did you say you were going?’
‘Never mind that, but don’t let me down, Stephen.’
‘Ok, so you’ve proved you’re a copper, but a suspended copper. What’s going on?’
Gary pauses, lifts the hot cup of coffee to his lips and sips gently, his gaze lowered to avoid eye contact until he’s ready.
‘Smithson. Sergeant Smithson,’ interrupts his interrogator.
‘Sergeant Smithson. You must understand. I got myself in a tangle. A complete mess.’
‘Figures. Been there. Was she the one in the cafe?’
‘Yes, but you’ve blown my chance sorting this by arresting me.’
‘Not so fast, Gary. We called in to the station earlier and checked you out. My guv’nor has spoken to Sergeant Miller in Lee...’
‘Yes, well, we’ve spoken to him. Seems your story checks out.’
‘I can go then?’
‘No. We’re holding you on suspicion of assisting a felon. Anything you say may be...’
‘All right, Sergeant. I know the drill,’ jumps in Gary.
‘I’ve just had about enough. I don’t care about myself anymore, but Gail Perkins and Martin Frobisher?’
‘Don’t worry about them. They were followed from the cafe to a flat in Ossulston Street near the Shaw Theatre off the Euston Road. We’ve got ‘em, Gary, we’ve got ‘em.’
‘Have they said anything?’
‘Full confession. Frobisher resisted at first, but Ms Perkins told us everything. Put a good word in for you as well.’
‘What happens now, Sergeant?’
‘Your gaffer is coming down to pick you up. You’ve been bailed. Could be career over, but your actions prove your intentions were honourable. You might avoid jail.’
For a few moments, words escape him. He doesn’t care anymore what happens to him. Gary has done the right thing.
‘There’s a call for you, PC Carr.’
The telephone is passed to him across the interview desk.
‘Gary, it’s me,’ says Stephen.
‘You’ve been a right berk, haven’t you?’
‘I’ll look after you, mate, whatever happens.’
‘You’re lucky you were allowed in, Ken.’
Leaning over the wall at Taylor’s Farm, only half a mile from the turning to Leeford Village on the Kidderminster Road, Frank takes time to admire the view in both directions as he sees Ken approaching. To the East, behind the farm boundary, he takes in the imposing array of English Oaks, Beech and Sweet Chestnut trees, reminding him of his childhood fascination with flora and fauna. Ribbonwood, Seringa, Cypress, Jarrah, Whitebeam - he would study and memorise them all, much to the disdain of his industrious father but eliciting an equal measure of veneration from his doting mother.
To the West, the land that sweeps away across the country villages of Quatt, Neenton, Munslow into the Welsh border towns, past Kerry and Staylittle to the coastline and the Irish Sea.
‘Everyone keeps telling me how busy you are,’ barks Ken.
‘You and your mystery appointments.’
‘Excuse me, what’s that to do with you?’
‘Pardon me, Councillor Watson, but you seemed preoccupied. No offence intended.’
‘That’s alright then. Anyway, what can I do for you?’
‘Just taking in the air and the view. I must say, Ken, you live in a beautiful spot.’
‘When I’ve got time to appreciate it. Too flaming busy to think about the view.’
‘How are your cucumbers doing?’
‘You trying to be funny, Frank?’
‘Look, I’ve accepted your application. Can you let it go? You’re in the competition - your cucumbers will be on the stall. Okay?’
‘Sorry, Frank. Let’s call a truce.’
Keen to do well in the ‘Leeford Best Cucumber’ competition, he quickly realises that antagonising the Chief Judge would not thrust him into the fast lane of success.
‘Do you want to have a look?’
‘Oh no, that would be unethical. I can’t look at them till judging day.’
‘Don’t you mean Judgement Day, Frank?’
‘Thought I’d catch you in here.’
‘Greg. What do you want now?’
‘If you weren’t being so friendly, Nigel, I’d think you didn’t like me.’
‘My friends are in the bar. They’ll be expecting me any minute.’
‘Perhaps you could tell them you’ve had a little too much to drink.’
‘Please, Greg - if you’ve got something to say...’
‘Not so fast, butcher man. Oh, and by the way, I know all about your dodgy dealings with that meat wholesaler in Coventry. Naughty. If the Food Standards Agency got to know...’
‘All right. What do you want?’
‘I like to be fair. I gave you two weeks. Let’s make it six. I’ve got to go away for a while, but I’ll be back on the day of your silly little village fête. Bring the money then. Cash. In a briefcase. I’ll settle for thirty grand.’
‘No “buts” Nigel. The day of the fête. Okay?’
‘Good start, Roy.’
‘I know it doesn’t look much, but on the packet it says four to six weeks to grow them from seed.’
‘Where did you get them from?’ enquires Percy.
‘Actually Amazon, or one of those companies that just use Amazon? Not official, you know.’
‘Well, you don’t always know what you’re getting, do you? Do you have the packet?’
'In the bin at the back of the shed.’
Intrigued, Percy whistles as he shuffles round the small, slabbed path that Roy has made. Tripping twice on the uneven surface, he curses Roy under his breath as he finds the bin.
‘What have we here?’ he says to himself.
‘He hasn’t read that properly,’ he muses.
The leaflet included with the seeds proclaims:
LAST YEAR YOU GREW MARROWS. THANK YOU FOR YOUR BUSINESS. WE ALSO SELL CUCUMBER SEEDS BUT WHY NOT TRY COURGETTES?
ONLY TAKES 4 - 6 WEEKS. YOU’LL LOVE ‘EM.
‘Courgette. Blimey,’ mutters Percy, sniggering, as he makes his way back to the red and green-striped deck chair and a heavily-sugared hot brew that Roy has prepared.
‘Did you find it?’
‘Yes. Lovely. You should have a good crop.’
‘Hello there, young William! Don’t see you in here very often.’
‘Morning, Ted. I knew you were the man to see. Tell me about the cucumber competition.’
‘Well, I’m in it myself. What do you want to know?’
‘How do I join, and who else is entering?’
‘Frank’s in charge, but he’s left some forms on the bar with all the information you need. Is your Dad entering?’
‘Too busy with his sermons.’
‘What about that brother of yours?’
‘I give up on him sometimes. Makes a dreadful racket, quits the band, re-joins, sacks everyone and now the audition is due.’
‘What’s he going to do?’
‘Who knows, Ted, who knows. Anyway, thanks for the info. Who else did you say was in the cucumber competition?’
‘So far, there’s me, Ken, Roy, Percy, George, with Clara, Edward, Suptra and Vera.’
‘Bit of competition for you this year then, Ted, eh?’
‘No problem. Last year’s marrow was a disaster, but I know my cucumbers. Talking of cucumbers - Percy, pint is it?’
‘Thanks Ted. Hey, you’ll never believe what I’ve just seen.’
The Committee, led by Stephen Miller, is more relaxed than usual. No one mentions Frank. Conclusions are reached after minimal discussion - just left for Stephen to read out the results of the votes to decide who will run each stall.
‘In no particular order:
Pound Challenge - Jack Simmons
Book stall - Cody and Agnes
Cake stall - Ethel and Clara
Leeford’s Best Cucumber - Frank Watson
Tombola – Dr Jeremy
Soft drinks and nibbles - Ted and Sally
Chuck the sponge - Nick and Jessica
Home-made cards - Meredith and Adam
Pies and pasties - Nigel and Mandy
Coconut shy - Jason
‘Stephen, you said there were fifteen stalls. You’ve listed ten.’
‘Still space for five more if anyone expresses an interest in something different.’