Previously in Leeford Village: Cecil Blameworthy, Frank Watson’s solicitor arrives at The Cross to meet Frank and David Ward to discuss the legalities of peaceful protest. Agnes’ daughter, Jasmine, reveals that she and her husband, Derek, need £20k for IVF treatment. The ladies arrive for the trip to Weston, but leave immediately, their scheme completed.
‘Yes, driver, let’s waste no more time,’ says Cody, still reeling from what has just taken place.
There’s a collective cheer from the rest of the men on the half-filled coach. However, the coach remains on the car park, the engine switched off.
‘I said, now we can go, driver,’ Cody moves to the front and sits in the seat opposite the driver.
The driver sits motionless.
Cody looks around at the others, who have stopped cheering and are looking back at him, expectantly.
Cody leans over towards the driver.
‘Now we can go,’ he says, dragging out each word as if the driver is hard of hearing.
The driver, a man whose bulky frame stretches every fibre of his Walton’s Coach Company uniform, sucks his teeth.
‘We could go if I had all the money owing for this trip.’
‘I’m sorry?’ says Cody.
‘Well, at the moment, we are twelve times fifteen pounds short. I’m no mathematician, history was more my thing, but I make that, let’s see, one hundred and eighty pounds still owing.’
‘One hundred and eighty!’ shouts Ken Taylor from the back, giving his best impression of darts commentator Tony Green. Zack, too young to remember Mr Green, looks at him perplexed.
Cody scratches his head.
‘Well, technically, yes, there is some money owing. But you saw what happened. It’s hardly our fault the pot is a bit light.’
‘Well,’ says the driver, popping a mint into his mouth, ‘there are two options as I see it.’
‘Go on,’ says Cody, with an air of weary resignation.
‘Option one is that you pay the one hundred and eighty pounds, and we all have a nice day out in Weston.’
‘And option two?’
‘I take you to Gloucester, which, pro rata is about as far as we can go with what you have paid.’
‘Gloucester?’ comes a shout in unison from the back.
‘Or Oxford. Or we could go north to Nottingham,’ says the immovable driver.
Cody looks back at the men and shrugs his shoulders.
‘Well, lads. Looks like we each must stump up a further five, no, seven isn’t it, or is it…’
‘Eight pounds and fifty-seven pence,’ interjects the driver. ‘Plus, my tip.’
‘Your tip?’ There is anger in Cody’s voice, but, after a look from the driver, he quickly understands where the power currently lies.
‘Of course. Your tip.’
The driver nods.
‘So, lads, how about we stump up another tenner each?’
The driver coughs.
He coughs again.
‘Fifteen and that’s it,’ says Cody, wishing he had left the coach at the same time as the women.
Zack and Simon shake their heads.
‘That’s all we’ve got between us,’ says Simon.
‘Yeah,’ agrees Zack, ‘and that’s for fish and chips.’
‘I’ll cover Zack and Simon,’ says John Peterson. ‘Now, can we get going?’
The rest of the men dig into their pockets and begrudgingly produce the money. Cody counts it and hands it even more begrudgingly to the driver, who spits on his hands, counts it again and starts the engine. There is a relieved cheer from the rest of the men.
‘I do feel a little sorry for them,’ says Tricia Ward biting into a bacon sandwich.
‘I don’t,’ says Vera, ‘we needed to teach them a lesson.’
Sally Coleman agrees with Vera. ‘They certainly won’t do it again. The looks on their faces were worth the five pounds deposit alone!’
The women laugh.
‘Okay,’ says Tricia, ‘perhaps they did deserve it. I do hope they have a good time though.’
Vera nods. ‘I suppose.’
Half an hour later, the door swings open and Frank Watson enters The Cross. He stops halfway across the floor of the lounge when he is met with thirteen pairs of female eyes.
‘Sorry, I didn’t know this was a ladies’ event. Excuse me.’
He turns to go but is stopped in his tracks by Vera Cleeve’s voice.
‘Don’t go Frank. Come and join us.’
‘Vera?’ whispers Jessica Townley loud enough for Frank to hear.
‘It’s okay,’ says Frank, ‘I’ll go now. I must feed the cat, anyway.’
Vera strides across the floor, grabs Frank’s hand and spins him round.
‘Come over here, Frank. Everyone is welcome at our party. Right girls?’
The ladies raise cups of tea, glasses of wine, bacon sandwiches and whatever else they are holding in their hands.
Frank smiles a nervous smile, as Vera drags him over to the bar.
‘Can’t you use the NHS?’ asks Agnes once she has got over the shock of Jasmine’s and Derek’s request.
‘No, we’ve tried that route,’ says Derek.
‘I’m too old, you see,’ says Jasmine.
‘Yes, you must be…’ begins Agnes.
‘Touching forty. Go on, say it,’ says Jasmine, her smile tinged with sadness.
‘I had you so young, didn’t I love? It seems so, so long ago now. A different time altogether…’
‘So,’ says Derek abruptly, attracting a hard stare from Jasmine, which Agnes does not see, ‘are you going to give us the money, or not?’
Agnes is taken aback. ‘It’s a lot of money, Derek. I’m not sure that I, that is Cody and I can…’
Derek slaps his hands down on the arms of the chair.
‘Well, if you want to blow the opportunity to make up for the hurt you’ve caused over the years, then so be it. I think you’d better leave.’
Agnes looks at Jasmine and Jasmine looks at Derek.
Derek sighs. ‘I’m sorry, Agnes, it’s just such an emotive subject and we are so desperate to have our own child.’
Agnes lowers her gaze to the floor.
‘I’ll speak to Cody. He’s just…well, let’s say there might be some money available, though he’s already going to have a shock when I tell him about Jasmine and Kim.’
Derek smiles a thin-lipped smile.
‘Good. We’ll wait to hear from you. If you could act as soon as possible. Jasmine’s biological clock is ticking, you know.’
‘I’ll be off then,’ says Agnes, picking up her bag. ‘It’s been lovely meeting all of you.’
‘You, too, Agnes,’ says Derek, rising slightly from his seat.
Jasmine accompanies Agnes to the door.
‘I’m sorry about Derek. He gets a little impatient at times. He’s a bit hot-headed.’
Agnes takes hold of Jasmine’s hand.
‘He doesn’t…you know, everything is alright between you, isn’t it?’ she asks, almost in a whisper. Jasmine smiles. ‘He loves me to bits. And Kim couldn’t wish for a better stepfather. And no, he doesn’t coerce me, if that’s what you are asking.’
‘Coerce? I was asking if he hit you,’ says Agnes.
Jasmine shakes her head. She kisses Agnes on the cheek.
‘I’m so glad you’re going to be in my life. Our lives.’
‘Me too, love, me too.’ Agnes touches Jasmine on the cheek and turns to leave.
Jasmine watches Agnes walk down the path and along the road. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. The air is thick with Agnes’ perfume and Jasmine feels a longing so intense it makes her cry. She closes the door and wipes her eyes. When she returns to the lounge, Derek is switching through the channels of the TV. She grabs the controller from his hands and throws it down on the floor.
‘What the hell was that about?’ she says, her body leaning into Derek, who recoils.
‘You know what. You nearly blew it, didn’t you?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘It was a situation that needed delicacy, not your ham-fisted approach. Oh, my God, you could have wrecked the whole thing!’
Derek shrugs and picks up the TV controller.
‘Well, I didn’t. And she completely fell for the IVF story, didn’t she? Genius!’
Jasmine backs away. She holds her hands up to her face.
‘Yes, she did,’ she sobs, running up the stairs.
The coach is half an hour into its journey. The men have recovered from having to dig into their pockets and there’s easy banter flowing around. Cody has given up staring daggers at the driver and has joined the men at the rear half of the coach. Ted Coleman is sitting quietly, looking out the window. Cody stands behind him, turns to the men and puts his fingers to his lips. The rest of the men cease their talk. Cody coughs.
‘It’s a bit warm in here, lads. Makes one thirsty, doesn’t it.’
‘Terribly thirsty,’ says Frank Reed.
‘A man could die of thirst on this coach,’ says Jack Simmons.
‘I think I must have swallowed some sandpaper this morning,’ says Steve Adams.
‘At least, being this thirsty, we won’t need to stop to go to the loo,’ says Nigel Cleeve.
Ted Coleman stares resolutely out of the window.
‘We’d better stop at the next layby, so we don’t crate an obstruction,’ says Gary Carr.
‘We’ll certainly need to stop if we meet a bottleneck,’ says Doug Taylor, looking around for approval of his pun.
‘Good job the weather’s turned mild. It was bitter this morning, when I walked the dog,’ offers Roy Cohen, receiving a round of applause.
‘Oh, Ted, for goodness’ sake! When are we going to pull over and get the beers out of the boot?’ says Cody, leaning over the back of Ted’s seat.
‘Boot?’ queries John Peterson. ‘Is it called a boot on a coach, Cody?’
‘I don’t care, John. I just know that there’s a few bottles in there with my name on and I want them! I’ll ask the driver to stop at the next garage.’ Cody steps out into the aisle.
‘There’s no point,’ says Ted, finally, sotto voce.
Cody turns. ‘What do you mean, Ted?’
‘I forgot to put the crates on. They must be still in the car park.’