Previously in Leeford Village: Amanda’s amorous advance on Cody is rejected, so she has a ‘chat’ with Agnes. Ethel wants to sell the café to David and Tricia Ward, pushing out Allen who wants the business at a knock-down price.
‘Don’t you love me, Cody Thornton!’
‘But I do, and you asked me round for a chat. What is it, Agnes?’
‘Amanda Smythe,’ she says, her eyes fixed on him like lasers.
‘I didn’t let her in!’
‘What do you mean, you didn’t let her in?’
‘She tried to get in and I stopped her.’
‘Cody, I’ve always thought you were useless, but have you lost it completely?’
‘Not with you.’
‘She came round here last night and…’
‘Her usual? Not so hungry, tonight I’ll just have a few chips, and, er, perhaps a bit of cod, and to top it up with a dollop of mushy peas… large.’
‘Something like that.’
‘What did she say, Agnes? I shut the door in her face. Lucky escape if you ask me.’
‘Lucky escape? You shut the door in Meredith’s face, did you? Pull the other one. You’ve been having an affair with that woman since she came to Leeford.’
‘Eh? Meredith? What the hell has Meredith got to do with this? It was Amanda that came round.’
‘What? She told me she saw Meredith Park join you for an evening of entertainment at Chez Cody!’
‘Agnes, you’ve got to believe me… hang on, that’s what Amanda said?’
‘Of course. I turned her down, so she tried to drop me in it with you.’
‘For once, Cody, I believe you. She’s always been a flighty piece, that Amanda Smythe. So, she went for you, did she? Just you wait till I get my hands on her!’
‘Hang on, Agnes, let’s not be hasty. Why don’t you let her think she’s stirred it between us? Teach her a lesson.’
‘Cody, things are already stirred between us.’
‘I’ve told you a thousand times. I have not had an affair with Meredith. I admit I find her attractive…’
‘I’m being honest with you love, but I never did anything about it. She never fancied me. Only Adam. She thinks I’m an overweight, middle-aged man.’
‘Well, you are.’
‘Thanks very much. Anyway, you can’t have forgotten about my Premium Bond win.’
‘Oh yes, I suppose it’s only twenty-five pounds.’
‘No, as a matter of fact, you’re wrong.’
‘Cody, what are you trying to say? Really? Is this going to change everything for us?’
She catches a loose hair at the side of her face and twists it round her forefinger.
‘How much, Cody, how much?’
‘Don’t forget, I’ve only got five hundred pounds’ worth of bonds.’
He looks down to his feet, avoiding her stare.
‘Ok, I won, er, fifty pounds.’
‘Idiot! You gave me the impression you’d had a big win. It was just a sneaky way of getting back in here…’
‘Agnes, hang on…’
‘No, Cody, you make me sick. Get out! Go back to your fisherman’s couch!’
‘Angler’s bed, actually,’ Cody replies, knowing what is coming next.
Edward Palmer has been living with Ethel for six years. He had known Billy, her late husband, and his friendship with Ethel had gradually developed into something more after Billy died. He has not reached the stage of an official on-the-knee proposal, but Ethel is fully aware of the many hints he has dropped. Not just dropped, but rolled up into a ball and catapulted. She loves him but is reluctant to agree to his plan for retirement – a cottage in Devon. ‘Anywhere on the Devon coast,’ he proclaimed. Edward’s idea of an idyllic life by the sea doesn’t square with Ethel’s current plan of selling the business but working for David and Tricia. The irony is not lost on Edward that for years Ethel wanted to move to Benidorm to be with her daughter and grandchildren.
He had seen the property listing on cometodevon.com but decided to take a subtle approach. A holiday in the south-west is one thing, but buying a property is not on Ethel’s radar.
‘Will you miss me, Ethel?’
‘You’ll only be gone for five days. You haven’t been away for years - I’d love to go with you, but with all this going on…’
‘Don’t worry, love, come with me next time. Billy once told me you stayed at Combe Martin and visited Ilfracombe and Lynton and Lynmouth.’
‘Summer of seventy-three. I’d love to see Ilfracombe again. I remember the castle with the dungeons.’
‘We’ll go together one day,’ says Edward, resisting the smile that might risk giving away his intentions.
We will go together, he thinks. To stay. That cottage would be perfect. We can afford it, especially if we get a good price for the café. Sea air, beautiful beaches, peace and quiet…
‘Penny for them, Edward. When are you off?’
‘Ten in the morning.’
‘Bring some nice scones. I’ll sell what we don’t eat,’ she says with a smile.
A van driver presses his palm firmly into the centre of the steering wheel to give the jaywalker on Market Street the maximum effect of the horn. The jaywalker we can identify as Cody Thornton, resident fish and chip expert and reputed Lothario. After his undeserved spousal tongue-lashing within the confines of the local piscatorial and fried potato establishment, he staggers from Leeford Plaice to find himself in the middle of the road, three yards from safety and, ironically, less than ten yards from Park’s Cards and Gifts - this location the last thing on Cody’s mind as he returns the glare of the pharmaceutical delivery driver who is guilty only of reacting to the idiot apparently attempting to top-up the national accident statistics.
Having survived a near-death experience, he stumbles along Market Street, past David and Tricia’s sandwich shop, Frank Reed’s hardware emporium, turning right into Green Lane and steadies himself as he turns right at the junction into Green Crescent. He is immediately presented with the sight of a gathering of locals, most of whom are gesticulating and shouting. As he nears the front garden of the Stringer residence, he is met by one P.C. Gary Carr, recently the recipient of a severe reprimand (and reprieve) from his betters.
‘Can’t go in there, Cody. It’s at the back, but for all we know, the whole lot could go.’
‘Sorry, can’t talk now, get behind the barrier with the others.’
‘Barrier?’ replies Cody, still confused.
‘Cody!’ shouts Nick Allthorpe.
‘Nick, what’s going on?’
‘Huge sinkhole in Adam and Lucy’s back garden. We’ve all been evacuated. Of course, you’re staying with them, aren’t you?’
‘Who’s been evacuated?’
‘Apart from the Stringer household and that quiet bloke next door, all the flats opposite - that’s me and Jessica, Gary, Roy Cohen, Percy Lloyd, Jason Owens and Frank Reed.’
‘Exactly. Jessica’s setting up emergency camp beds at the centre. Jason’s helping her. We’re in the same boat, but we do have set procedures for emergencies. You know - fire, flood, and, er, sinkholes.’
‘Really?’ says Cody.
‘Well, no, we didn’t think of sinkholes. Well, you don’t, do you?’
‘You seem remarkably calm under the circumstances.’
Nick smiles, strokes a few stray hairs from his eyes, and coughs.
‘It’s all rather exciting to be honest. Poor old Adam and Lucy, though.’
‘Where are they?’
‘They don’t know yet. We think they’re travelling home from work. Stephen’s on his way to take charge. Gary’s got the helm for now. You know what he’s like, but at least Frank isn’t here, thank God. Revels in it, does Gary, even though he can’t get into his own flat.’
Cody sees someone waving to him from the other end of the crescent. Frank Watson’s daughter, Megan, beckons him. Both the house where she lives with her father, and her neighbours, Suptra and Nita’s house, appear to be in the safe zone.
‘Cody! Come over here!’
He knows Megan vaguely – well enough to know she’s nothing like her Dad.
‘What happened, Megan?’
‘Less than an hour ago, there was a rumble – like thunder – and the Stringer’s apple tree disappeared. Apparently.’
‘Yes, no one’s hurt, although they haven’t found the Stringer cat yet.’
‘Oh dear,’ says Cody.
‘Come in and have a cup of tea. Dad’s away at a health and safety conference in Birmingham till tomorrow night. I’m glad he’s not at home.’
‘Come on Cody, what would Dad be doing now?’
‘I see what you mean. Taking over?’
‘Yes. I think he sees himself as the local sheriff. Stephen’s in charge of this kind of stuff really, but F. Watson esq holds the power!’
‘But he’s your Dad.’
‘And I know only too well how he treats people. Anyway, make yourself comfortable.’
He scans the room he is entering for the first time. Certificates on the wall, a few paintings – originals he thinks – and a single photograph. A pretty young woman looking remarkably like Megan.
‘That’s Mom. Beautiful, wasn’t she?’
‘She’s just like you.’
‘Oh, Cody, darling.’
‘Megan, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean, you know, I can’t. We can’t…’
She smiles, teasing him.
‘Listen. Before we get started…’
‘Started?’ he asks, panic in his voice.
‘Sorting out sleeping arrangements.’
There is a pause, then Cody lets out a breath.
‘I’m in enough trouble as it is. I’d better go.’
‘Go where? No need for you to slum it at the centre. Stay in the spare room, and before you say anything - you’ve got nothing to worry about, but we’ve all heard about your escapades.’
‘We all heard about “Jolene” at the fête.’
‘What did you mean I’ve got nothing to worry about?’
‘I’ll be straight with you, Cody. I’m not interested in men or any kind of romantic relationship. I do think we could be friends, though.’
‘Do you know what, Megan, you’re right. We could be friends. No agenda, no problems, just a friendship. Where did you say I was sleeping tonight?’