Previously in Leeford Village: Agnes encounters Simon and Zack emerging from her cellar, and Cody expresses his surprise when they mention the chest they have found there. Mel discusses her marital problems with Lucy. Revd Peterson and Ted Coleman have had a few too many and David Ward realises Allen Gomez is in trouble.
Jimmy Sanjay and Allen Gomez sit at a desk opposite the man known to Allen only as ‘Stan’.
‘Can I get you something to drink?’ Stan offers.
Jimmy waves a hand dismissively.
‘No, thank you, Stan. We’ve got a long journey and bladders aren’t what they used to be at my age.’ He laughs at his own quip, but Allen senses a nervousness in his voice.
‘Fair enough,’ says Stan, ‘let’s get down to business.’
He drums his fingers on the desk and casts a glance at Allen.
‘You sure about him, Jimmy?’
Jimmy punches Allen playfully on the arm.
‘Of course. I wouldn’t have brought him otherwise. You won’t breathe a word, will you Allen?’
Allen tries to say ‘no’ but the word remains lodged in the back of his throat. He shakes his head.
Stan regards Allen for what to Allen is an uncomfortably long time before turning to Jimmy.
‘The order’s ready. You got the money?’
Jimmy reaches down and picks up a carrier bag. He puts it on the desk in front of Stan.
‘Five and a half grand. As agreed.’
Stan takes the bag and looks inside.
‘Aren’t you going to count it?’ asks Jimmy.
Stan shakes his head. ‘I trust you, Jimmy. And you’ll soon know about it if it’s not all there.’
Jimmy laughs. ‘For sure I will,’ he says, looking at Allen, whose face has turned paler as the conversation has progressed.
Stan rises and Jimmy and Allen do the same. Stan offers his hand to Jimmy, who shakes it enthusiastically. He hesitates for a moment, then offers the same hand to Allen. Allen wipes the sweat off his own hand on the back of his jeans and takes Stan’s hand. Stan holds Allen in his grip and Allen receives the message loud and clear.
‘You know where to go, Jimmy. I won’t come with you,’ says Stan moving to the other side of the desk and opening the door. The sound of machinery outside the office drowns out the next exchange between Jimmy and Stan.
As Jimmy and Allen walk back towards the warehouse where they came in, Allen feels faint.
‘I don’t think I can do this, Jimmy. This is out of my league.’ He takes a gulp of air, heavy with the stench of oil and leather from the machines. It hits the back of his throat.
‘Too late, Allen. Way too late,’ says Jimmy, quickening his pace.
Helen Peterson places two large mugs of thick black coffee in front of John and Ted, who look sheepishly at each other.
‘Before you ask, Ted, I’ve phoned Sally.’ Helen’s tone reminds Ted of the time he sat in the headmistress’s office when he was fourteen after he had been caught selling cigarettes purloined from behind the bar in his parents’ pub to other pupils. ‘I’ve phoned your father,’ Mrs Wilson said, and Ted cursed her under his breath. The punishment then was severe. Ted is not sure what punishment Sally might mete out when he gets home.
Ted nods. It makes his head throb. It’s been a few years since he had a hangover. He had reached the point in his drinking when he no longer considered himself drunk and his drinking was just to keep him on an even keel. At least, that was what he kept telling himself.
John takes a sip of coffee. He is aware of Helen standing in the corner of the kitchen, arms folded in disapproval. The two reprobates finish their coffees in silence. Ted gets up to leave and has to steady himself against the back of the chair.
‘I’ll be off then. Thank you, Sally. For the coffee.’
‘Watch how you go, Ted,’ says Sally, her voice softer now. ‘I mean it.’
When she hears the front door close, she sits down next to her husband.
‘What’s going on John? I’ve never known you do this before.’
John sighs. ‘I’m sorry, love. I’ve never gone this far before.’
‘Well, let’s just chalk it down to experience, eh? A one-off. I bet Ted led you to it.’ Helen pats his arm then rests it there. Her touch is gentle, but gives John no comfort.
John bites his bottom lip. ‘I’m afraid you are wrong with both your assertions.’
Helen removes her hand.
‘It was me that led Ted. And my drinking isn’t a one-off. It’s been brewing for a while, if you’ll excuse the pun.’
‘I don’t understand, John.’
‘I thought it would help at first, but it’s only made things worse.’
‘Worse? What things? What are you talking about?’
‘I think I’ve lost my faith, Helen. And I don’t know how to deal with that.’
Sergeant Stephen Miller flicks open his notebook.
‘From the beginning, David, if you will,’ he says, licking the end of a pencil.
David tells Stephen how Allen has become involved with Jimmy Sanjay and how he told Linda that he was in Germany, delivering craft beers.
‘And Linda discovered his passport, which means he still has to be in the country?’
‘Exactly,’ confirms David.
‘And Arjun verifies this?’
‘And Arjun thinks that Allen might be in trouble?’
‘Not exactly, but Jimmy Sanjay has, how did he put it, “dangerous associates”.’
Stephen writes this down.
‘And you and Arjun think we need to get Allen out of a potentially dangerous situation?’
Stephen writes this down, too. He chews the end of his pencil for a moment.
‘And how do you suggest we do this?’ he asks, tapping the pencil against the notebook.
David looks thoughtful. ‘Well, I think we must alert all police forces to be on the lookout for…hang on, Stephen, isn’t this supposed to be your area of expertise?’
Stephen purses his lips. ‘Yes, I suppose it is. But no crime has been committed, has it?’
David frowns. ‘Well, no, not as far as I know. But surely your aim is to prevent crimes, as well as solving them once they have occurred, isn’t it?’
‘I suppose. But all we have at the moment is two men travelling somewhere in a van. Nothing worthy of investigation in that.’
David scratches his head.
‘But Allen is clearly in trouble. He’s had to lie about going abroad, so something’s not right.’
Stephen draws a doodle of a penguin on the top of his notebook. Not bad, he thinks, quite lifelike.
‘This is the situation. Allen has lied to Linda, his girlfriend. He’s probably up to something that he doesn’t want her to know about. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?’ he winks at David.
‘No, Stephen. We haven’t “all been there”!’ David feels himself going red in the face.
‘Look. When you have more concrete information, give me a call and we’ll have another chat. Nice to talk to you. Must be going.’
‘Going? I suppose you have more pressing matters like dishing out a few parking tickets, or, or, or, catching cyclists with no lights on their bikes, or, or…’
‘Now, now. There’s no need for that. Remember you’re speaking to an officer of the law.’
With this, Stephen tucks his notebook into his top pocket and heads for the door.
‘I’ll see myself out,’ he says.
David remains in his chair, gripping the arms angrily.
‘Incredible!’ he shouts, ‘absolutely incredible!’
Outside, Stephen sits in his car. He needs to compose himself before driving away. Jimmy Sanjay. The mere thought of the name makes him shiver. Yes, Allen Gomez is in trouble. But there is nothing Stephen can, or will do about it.
Simon and Zack lead Cody down the cellar steps.
‘Are you coming, Agnes?’ shouts Cody, turning his head.
‘I’ll stay up here,’ she says, her voice unusually quiet.
The dampness of the cellar permeates the air and Cody starts coughing. In Cody’s torchlight, the cellar is much larger than Simon and Zack thought when they first entered through the tunnel. Lain on the floor are a couple of broken wooden chairs, a deflated football and a stack of unused polystyrene chip cartons. Against the wall opposite the steps is the chest. The sign that covered the chest is on the floor, where Zack and Simon have thrown it.
‘Well, well. Dad’s old sign,’ says Cody. ‘I remember this from when I was a kid. It was the only thing we kept from Dad’s old place. I’d forgotten all about it.’
‘Haven’t you ever been down here, Cody?’ asks Zack.
‘Not since we first moved from our first chippy on East Banfield Road,’ says Cody. ‘We used to keep some stock in here, but that was years ago. It’s too damp.’
Cody wipes a layer of dust from the lid.
‘I thought we threw this out when we moved in. I’ve no idea how it got down here.’
He tries to lift the lid but it is stuck fast.
‘Look,’ says Simon, ‘it’s padlocked.’
‘Right, you two stay here. I’ll fetch a crowbar.’
Cody disappears up the steps.
‘What do you think is in it?’ asks Zack.
‘Could be a body,’ says Simon, ‘or old man Thornton’s hidden treasure.’
‘Si, look at this!’ Zack holds the padlock.
‘A padlock. And?’ says Simon.
‘A shiny new padlock. Much newer than this chest, I’d say,’ says Zack, excitedly.
‘Wow, you’re right. And Cody says he hasn’t been down here since he was a kid. Weird.’
‘Well. someone has,’ says Zack, just as Cody is coming back down the steps, crowbar in hand.
It takes a while, but eventually Cody, with Zack’s help, manages to break the shackle. The padlock drops to the floor.
‘Right,’ says Cody, ‘here goes.’
The lid of the chest opens surprisingly easily.
Six eyes peer inside.
Cody steps back.
‘Agnes!’ he shouts, towards the open door. ‘Come and explain this!’