Previously in Leeford Village: A brawl breaks out in the coach on the way to Weston, instigated by Steve Adams striking out at Suptra Singh, both of whom are later to be found enjoying a reconciliatory coffee at the service station. During a break for the call of nature at the side of the road, the coach is stolen. Eventually, the lads from The Cross arrive in Weston and are about to embark on a pub crawl, before Jeremy Roberts reminds them that they are to meet Edward Palmer, somewhere along the seafront.
‘Look, lads. I think we’d better give this up as a bad job.’ Cody has one more look up and down the esplanade. ‘Edward could be anywhere.’
There’s a general murmur of agreement from the posse that has been following Cody, in close quarters, for the past twenty minutes.
‘Good drinking time this is,’ says a clearly disgruntled Gary Carr.
Jack Simmons rubs his stomach.
‘We won’t have time for our fish suppers at this rate.’
Cody makes a decision.
‘That’s it. He’s not here. What’s the name of that first pub, Zack?’
Zack consults his list. ‘George and Dragon.’
He pulls out his phone and taps the screen. He looks to his left.
‘And, luckily for us, there it is!’
There’s a collective cheer as the group makes its way towards the pub.
Just as they are about to file through the door, they hear a familiar voice in the distance.
‘Hey, there! Cody! Jeremy! David!’
The group turns to see a red-faced and breathless Edward Palmer running towards them. A few seconds later he is leaning heavily on Jeremy Roberts’ shoulder.
‘I’m sorry I’m late,’ Edwards gasps, ‘I had to take a phone call from an old aunt.’ He stands erect and gulps in a draught of sea air.
‘We were just about to start, Edward,’ says Gary, his hand on The George’s door handle.
‘Start?’ says Edward. ‘Start what?’
Gary looks confused. ‘A pint here, a pint there, you know.’
‘And then, fish and chips,’ says Jack, hopefully.
Edward shakes his head. ‘Oh, no, no, no. You can do that anywhere. I’ve planned our day and it certainly will not involve copious amounts of alcohol.’
‘What do you mean?’ asks Nick Allthorpe, on behalf of the others thinking the same question.
Edward smiles. ‘Weston-Super-Mare, which means “on the sea” in the original Latin, is a cultural feast. There’s so much to see here.’
‘Like what?’ asks Simon, doubtfully.
Edward pulls a folder out of his briefcase and issues sheets of paper to the men.
‘Our itinerary. We’ll begin with a walk around Grove Park, beautiful this time of year. Then we’ll have a visit to the museum.’
Allen Gomez looks at Jason Owens as if to say, ‘is he kidding?’
Edward continues. ‘I’ve booked afternoon tea in the town and then…’ here, Ted Coleman detects a squeak of excitement in Edwards’s voice, ‘…I have a group ticket to see Ibsen’s The Cherry Orchard at the Blakehay Theatre.’
He waits for some reaction from the group standing open-mouthed.
‘I thought you’d be pleased,’ says an enthusiastic Edward. ‘Let’s go then. Park first.’
The group, too stunned to object, follow Edward in a procession along the seafront.
Agnes arrives home. Her son, Adam, is dropping a couple of haddock, dripping with batter, into the fryer.
‘Hello, Mum. Everything okay?’ he asks.
Agnes lifts a basket of chips from the oil, inspects it and then puts it back into the sizzling fat.
‘Fine, love,’ she says.
‘Well, tell me all about it later. I’m off out.’ Adam unties a batter-stained apron and throws it into the corner, a manoeuvre that would normally elicit an admonition from his mother.
‘You go. I’ll take over,’ says his mother, much to Adam’s surprise.
He kisses Agnes on the cheek as he goes past her and out of the door.
Agnes strokes her brow. Adam. She hadn’t considered Adam in all this. Adam now has a half-sister he doesn’t know about. She feels suddenly sick. She switches off the fryers and turns the sign on the door to closed.
Edward’s posse is strung out along the seafront, with Edward at the front, striding out briskly. He has decided that Doug Taylor and Roy Cohen are to accompany him at the front of the line and is regaling them with stories of his life since moving to the Southwest. At the back of the line, Nigel Cleeve whispers to Jason Owens, in front of him.
‘Don’t look round,’ urges Nigel. Jason promptly faces forward and falls back in step.
‘I’m going to peel off in twenty strides. I’ll turn and run back to The George. You can then tell Steve, in front of you, that you’re doing the same. That way, by the time we reach the park, Edward will be on his own and we’ll be supping our first of the day. Nod, if you understand.’
Jason nods and, in a few more strides, finds himself at the back of the column.
‘Psst, Steve. Don’t turn round…’
The ladies’ day in The Cross is petering out and Sally Coleman collects empty, half-empty, and still-nearly-full glasses from the tables. A few have already gone home, but there’s still a group sitting around the bar, poking at the leftover food, and taking the occasional sip of drink. Frank Watson feels as though he has been taken hostage and wonders if he’ll be released soon. Every time he gets up to go, Vera drawls ‘siddown Frankie-boy’, an instruction which Frank has been unable to disobey all day, it coming from such a formidable force. He leans on the table and wonders if there is a helpline he can ring, to extricate him from his situation. He is fully aware of the law regarding holding people against their will and has already pictured himself in court.
‘So, let me get this straight, Mr Watson,’ the judge would begin, ‘you were held in The Cross for the best part of a day, completely against your will?’
‘By how many assailants?’
‘And what weaponry was used to keep you there? Guns. knives, bondage?’
‘Er, Vera Cleeve, m’lud.’
It would never stand, he concluded.
Just as he begins considering tunnelling under the carpet, the door is opened by Agnes Thornton, standing in floods of tears. Vera greets her and leads her to the bar. Frank sees this as his chance and, with the speed of a young gazelle, springs from his seat, sprints across the lounge and pushes through the door into the car park. His yell of ‘freedom!’ can be heard throughout Leeford.
Back in the pub, Vera and the rest of the ladies are gathered around Agnes. Agnes tries to speak, but her sobs are preventing her from making any sense.
‘Come on, love,’ says Sally, taking charge. ‘Let’s go into the back room. I’ll put the kettle on.’
At the entrance to Grove Park, Edward comes to an abrupt halt. He turns around smartly to address the others, but there are no others to be seen, apart from Doug and Roy, who look at each other and shrug.
‘Well, I ask you! You do your best to give people a good time and this is how they repay you.’
Edward is crestfallen.
‘Maybe they are still on their way,’ offers Doug. ‘I mean, you do walk very fast, Edward.’
Roy agrees that might be a possibility.
Edwards drops his gaze.
‘No. I’m afraid my idea of fun is not the same as most people’s. I’ve never been, how does one say it, one of the lads. I’m not surprised they’ve abandoned me.’
Doug looks at Roy and Roy at Doug. Doug nods backwards, suggesting they make a run for it. Roy shakes his head.
Edwards stares into the distance.
‘Well, Edward,’ says Roy, ‘Doug and I are still here. We’d love to accompany you, if that’s okay.’
Doug, unseen by Edward, shakes his head, furiously.
‘Oh, Roy. I’m touched. Would you really? The park, the afternoon tea and the play?’
‘All of it, Edward.’
‘You too, Doug?’ asks Edward, a broad smile on his lips.
Doug coughs. ‘Of course. Love to.’
‘Splendid!’ says Edward breaking into a stride. ‘Off we go!’
The coach leaves Weston an hour later than scheduled, but the driver is sympathetic to the passengers and cheerily welcomes them on board.
‘Good time, lads?’ he asks, pulling out of the coach park.
There is a loud cheer from the back and the men talk boisterously for the first few miles, before falling silent, each with their own memories of the day out. Some are sleeping, some just looking out of the window. Zack and Simon have plugged in their earbuds and are already in a different world. Nigel and Allen are playing cards on the back seat.
‘Do you play bridge, Al?’ asks Nigel.
‘Haven’t played for a while, but I’ll have a go,’ says Allen, his voice slurred.
Nigel shuffles the cards.
‘We need four, though. Tell you what, Doug Taylor is always up for a game. I’ll ask him and maybe someone else can join us. I’ll get Doug.’
Nigel walks the length of the coach, past the sleepers, the window watchers, and the music listeners. He reaches the front seat, in which Cody is slumped against the window. Nigel frowns. He walks the length of the coach once more, carefully looking at each occupied seat. Then he goes back to the front. He taps Cody on the shoulder. Cody wakes with a jump.
‘Cody,’ says Nigel in a hoarse whisper, ‘Doug’s not on the coach.’
Cody sits up. ‘I did a roll call. Didn’t I?’
Nigel shakes his head. ‘You said you couldn’t be bothered, or words to that effect.’
‘He was with us, wasn’t he?’
‘No. He must have stayed with Edward.’
‘Oh, no! Is Roy on?’
Nigel scans the seats. He shakes his head.
‘Nigel. We’ve left them in Weston!'
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For more information visit the authors at michaelbraccia.co.uk and jonmarkes.com