Previously in Leeford Village: Clara and George have left the village in order for George to receive therapeutic treatment. Ethel is tasked with looking after their house while the estate agent arranges the sale. Frank tells Sergeant Miller that a Banfield bypass is being planned, which will involve changes to the Leeford Village layout. The bishop has given Revd. Peterson six weeks to reconsider his resignation application. Jessica and Peter are on good terms once more, and Jessica has asked Peter to be MC at the upcoming Folk Festival she is planning.
‘You’re looking like you’ve got the world on your shoulders, Ethel,’ says Vera Cleeve tucking into her second croissant. She licks a dab of butter from the corner of her mouth.
‘Want to talk about it?’
Ethel finishes rearranging the day’s cake display and sits opposite Vera, who scoops up a handful of pastry crumbs from the table, dropping them onto her plate.
‘Messy things, these croissants. I think I might go back to bacon sarnies,’ she says.
‘It’s Clara, Vera,’ says Ethel, suddenly.
Vera rubs her hands together to dislodge the last of the pastry. Ethel passes her a serviette.
‘Yes. I’m afraid she’s gone.’
‘Gone? Oh, I’m so sorry. I always thought it would be George that would go first, you know, with his illness and…’
‘She hasn’t died, Vera. She’s left the village.’
‘Oh, I see,’ says Vera, looking relieved. ‘When?’
‘A couple of days ago. She left me a note. George is going to receive some kind of treatment.’
‘Well, that’s good, isn’t it?’
Ethel nods. ‘Oh, yes. It’ll do the both of them good. I’ll miss her, though. We’ve been friends for years.’
Vera reaches across the table and holds Ethel’s hand.
‘You’ve always got me, Ethel, you know that.’
Ethel withdraws her hand and wipes a blob of transferred jam onto a serviette.
‘I know that love. Anyway, what’s this I hear about you going on the men’s coach trip to Weston?’
Vera throws her head back and laughs.
‘I’m not, but they think I am. It’s hilarious. I’m just winding them up.’
‘But someone said you’d paid your twenty pounds.’
‘I have. It’s worth it just to see the looks on their faces.’
‘Oh, Vera, only you could do that!’ Ethel joins in with Vera’s laughter.
‘Mum’s the word though, Ethel, eh? I’m going to milk this to the end!’
Ethel taps the side of her nose.
Vera leans forward and squints.
‘Ethel, you’ve got a bit of butter on your nose.’
Simon knocks on the door of the vicarage. It’s Zack who answers.
‘Hi, mate. You come to see Dad?’
‘Yeah. Do you know what it’s about?’
Simon walks past Zack into the long hallway.
‘No, he won’t tell me. He just said to message you to see if you could come over. What’s been going on with you two?’
‘So, it’s like that is it. Can’t tell your best mate?’
‘Sorry. I will, but not yet.’
‘You’d better go in and see Dad then. I’ll wait out here and forever wonder.’
Simon smiles. ‘That’s what good mates do.’
He knocks on John Peterson’s study door.
Simon opens the door gingerly and goes inside. Zack pus his ear to the door, but it’s heavy oak and he can’t hear more than the drone of his father’s sonorous voice.
‘Sit down, Simon. Thank you for coming.’
Simon sits at the edge of the chair. Last time he was in this room he was full of confidence, but all that has ebbed away.
‘Don’t look so worried. I just want a chat.’
Simon relaxes a little, while John continues.
‘I’ve been giving serious thought to what you said the other day and I’ve decided to act upon it.’
Simon lets out a sigh of relief.
‘That’s great. I knew you would.’
‘Yes. I’ve been in touch with the bishop and he understands the situation. He’s good like that. That’s why he’s a bishop, I suppose.’ John gives a little laugh, echoed nervously by Simon.
‘To cut a long story short, I’ve arranged for you to attend a week-long introductory course at St Philip’s Cathedral in Birmingham. It’s quite intensive, but you’ll learn a lot about what it means to be ordained. Following that, there’ll be two years of training, during which you’ll work with the incumbent vicar. It’ll be mostly lighting candles and serving teas at first, but after a while you would be able to take communion. You are confirmed, aren’t you?’
Simon shifts in his seat. He had stopped listening after ‘introductory course’ when a feeling of panic rose up into his chest.
‘Confirmed. You have to be confirmed to take communion. Never mind if you’re not, we can soon arrange confirmation classes.’
Simon feels suddenly sick.
‘Simon? Are you alright, son? You’re looking a little pale. You do still want to be ordained, don’t you?’
Simon swallows hard. His next utterance emerges as a squeak
‘No. I just wanted to…I mean I thought if I…’ He continues in this way until a broad smile breaks out across John Peterson’s face.
‘That’s enough, Simon. I’ve been very cruel and you don’t deserve it! Not after you’ve been single-handedly responsible for me withdrawing my resignation.’
‘I was having you on, my boy,’ says John Peterson, looking both pleased and guilty at the same time. ‘I’m sorry if I took it too far. I got carried away.’
Simon manages a nervous smile.
‘Wow, I thought you really believed I wanted to be ordained! I was wondering how to get out of it.’
John laughs. ‘Simon, you pointed out to me exactly why I am a vicar. I think I’d forgotten.’
‘So, you’re staying?’
‘Yes. I definitely am a vicar. And always will be!’
Simon claps involuntarily and feels immediately silly.
‘That’s great. You’re an ace vicar. And, anyway, I could never have done those courses.’
‘Well, it would have meant a great deal of sacrifice on your part, that’s for sure.’
Simon laughs loudly.
‘It’s not that, Revd Peterson,’
‘Oh? What is it then?’
Allen Gomez stands outside the Ward’s front door. His palms are sweating and he rubs them down the side of his jeans. He takes a deep breath and rings the doorbell. After what seems to him an extraordinarily long time, the door is opened by David.
‘Right, now we have confirmed who we are, you’d best come in.’
Allen steps into the hallway. It smells of fresh linen.
‘Come through to the lounge,’ commands David, ushering Allen down the hall.
‘Have a seat.’
Allen sinks into one of the Ward’s highly expensive velour armchairs.
‘Thanks. I’ll have a…actually, no. No, thanks.’
David pours himself a whisky and sits on the sofa opposite Allen.
There is an uncomfortable silence. Allen coughs and makes the first move.
‘I want to know how I can repay the money I owe you.’
David runs his finger around the rim of the glass.
‘It’s a lot of money, Allen.’
‘I know. And I want to pay back every penny.’
‘Hmm.’ David takes a gulp of whisky.
‘I know how you shouldn’t pay it back.’
Allen raises his eyebrows, questioningly.
‘You shouldn’t get involved with dodgy characters like Jimmy Sanjay.’
Allen lowers his gaze.
‘I know. Big mistake. I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.’
David’s voice softens a little.
‘I know. I suppose you were only doing what you thought was the right thing.’
‘I was. I thought it was an easy way to make money. To get me out of debt.’
David smiles and takes another drink of whisky.
‘There’s no easy way to make money, Allen.’
Allen nods in agreement.
‘Look. This goes against all my principles, Allen, but how about we forget about the debt. Wipe the slate clean.’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Yes. That money’s been gone a long time now and I’ve got along without it.’
A huge grin breaks out on Allen’s face.
‘David, you’re a good mate, you know that.’
David puts his hand out, as if stopping traffic.
‘I’m not your mate. Let’s get that clear. I’m just tired of chasing you for money.’
‘Okay. Whatever. Thank you.’
‘Now, if you don’t mind, there’s somewhere I have to go.’
They both stand and shake hands.
‘Not another word about it, Allen.’
‘Not another word, David.’
Frank Watson knows for certain that none of the other parish councillors will be spending time this evening polishing their brogues and ironing their shirt in preparation for the meeting about to take place. An ‘extraordinary meeting’, as he had called it in the emails circulated to the councillors with the equivalent of a three-line whip to attend. None of the others will have spent twenty minutes selecting the correct tie for the occasion. A black tie? Too sombre, already admitting defeat. A yellow tie? Too jolly, not in keeping with the seriousness of the task at hand. A red tie? Perfect. Powerful, just the right colour for going into battle, for rallying the troops, for stamping his leadership all over the operation. Yes, a red tie it has to be. He ties a Windsor knot – a full one, not a half one – and pulls it up to his crisp white collar. He trims a stray hair that has emerged from his nostril. He puts on his blazer and brushes down his slacks. Say what they like about Frank Watson, he thinks, they can never say he is not the very model of sartorial elegance. He picks up his briefcase from a chair in the hallway, positions a trilby on his head and marches out of the door to the most important parish council meeting he has ever had the honour to chair.