Previously in Leeford Village: Cody and Bridgit Peabody visit Derek Grendel to be told that Jasmine and Kim have left. Jessica tells Peter Redman that she has booked Long-haired Reginald to play at the Leeford Folk Festival. Steve and Mel have a reconciliation. The six-a-side football team practise their (questionable) techniques in preparation for the Football Skills Demonstration at the fête. The list of stalls has been posted on the Community Centre notice board.
‘Jack, it’s John Peterson.’
‘Hello, reverend. What can I do for you?’
‘I want to talk about the… (John looks behind him to check whether Hilda is in earshot) … Find the Helmet Competition.’
There’s a pause on the other end of the phone, followed by a weak cough.
‘Look Jack,’ says John, sotto voce to be certain he won’t be heard, ‘I don’t doubt that you have everything under control, but you do know under which flag the helmet is hidden, don’t you?’
Another pause, slightly longer this time, followed by an audible swallow.
‘Yes. Of course,’ says Jack, surprising himself with his own certainty.
‘Thought so. I had a moment’s panic there. Visions of us digging up the whole lawn, that sort of thing.’
‘That won’t be necessary, rev.’
‘Good man. Listen. Since I’m excluded from entry, as the helmet is on my patch so to speak, can you tell me where it is hidden? Just so I know.’
If this was a face-to-face call, John would see beads of sweat coursing down Jack’s cheeks.
‘It’s hidden…in the ground,’ offers Jack.
John laughs. ‘Good one, Jack. But, where exactly?’
‘Thereabouts? What does that mean?’
‘What it means. Thereabouts.’
‘That doesn’t make much sense. Whereabouts?’
John takes the phone into the kitchen and looks out on the lawn.
‘Now, Jack. I’m looking out of my window at the lawn. Can you give me some reference points, so I can locate the correct flag?’
There’s a long silence.
‘Are you there, Jack?’
‘Come on now. I promise I won’t tell a soul. I’m a man of the cloth, after all.’
Jack finally speaks.
‘There’s a large oak tree at the bottom of the garden.’
‘Yes, I can see that.’
‘The helmet is thereabouts.’
John grits his teeth.
‘And is there another reference point?’
‘What do you mean, “there was”?’
‘There was a rosebush. On the left-hand side of the lawn.’
John looks to the left side of the lawn, a raised border replete with colourful irises and proudly erect alliums. It’s now John’s turn to be silent.
‘The helmet is buried at the point where the two lines from the tree and the rosebush intersect,’ continues Jack.
‘The rosebush of which there is no longer a trace,’ says John, beginning to sound worried.
‘Yes, that one. The helmet is thereabouts.’
John’s face reddens. ‘If you say “thereabouts” once more, I’ll…’
‘John!’ The voice is Hilda’s. ‘Are you threatening a parishioner?’
John covers the mouthpiece.
‘Do you remember where that old rosebush was that we dug up months ago?’
Hilda looks out of the window. She points in the general direction of the border.
‘It was over there. Or thereabouts!’
Jason Owens opens the file marked Dennis family and spreads a collection of press cuttings across the table in front of him. He picks up the smallest cutting, the paper browned with age, showing a headshot of a man wearing a German officer’s hat. He looks closely at the picture, as he has done several times over the years. He then picks up a photograph taken at The Cross twenty years ago. There are several people in the photograph sitting around a table in the bar, an array of drinks distributed among them and a plate of sandwiches in the middle. He recognises Frank Reed and Ethel, who is sitting next to her husband, Billy. There is a couple next to them whom he does not recognise, and a young lad of whom he has a vague memory. At one end of the table sit Clara and George Dennis. George was still headmaster at the school at that time and Clara was matron there. Jason places the photograph of the German officer next to the picture of George. Both have a birthmark above the left eye, in the same place. Over the years, Jason has vacillated over not only whether the pictures are of the same man, but if they are, what to do about it. He had torn the cutting out of the newspaper which he had been reading on a train on the way to White Hart Lane to watch Wolves play Spurs in the second leg of the UEFA Cup final in 1972. He was ten years old at the time and his father had won tickets at work to take him and his brother, George. The ten-year-old Jason resolved to track down the wanted man, then, once they were back at home, he hid the cutting between the pages of a Blue Peter annual – and promptly forgot all about it. Ten years ago, while clearing out the attic, he came across the book and the cutting fell out of it. Immediately he saw the similarity between the officer and George Dennis, which he had not noticed as a boy. Now, with George and Clara living in Cornwall, it’s time to reveal who George
really is. He has one more look at the picture. ‘Definitely,’ he says to himself. He picks up his pen and writes: Leeford Village – Chapter Ten: The Secret Life of George Dennis.
Suptra and Ethel are sitting in Billy’s café.
‘So, you left Edward a message and he hasn’t responded.’
Ethel takes a sip of tea.
‘Two days ago.’
Suptra nods his head.
‘Do you think he will?’
Ethel shrugs and tips another spoonful of sugar into her cup.
Suptra tips his head to the right.
‘Roy and Doug say he looks well.’
‘I’m glad to hear it.’
She looks down at her cup.
‘Did they say if he mentioned me?’ she asks, hopefully.
Suptra shakes his head.
‘Well, why should he?’ says Ethel. ‘I was the one who let him down.’
Suptra narrows his brow.
‘Not so. He could’ve stayed, just as easily as you could have gone.’
‘I led him on, Suptra. Poor man. He had this dream of Clara and George and he and I being neighbours, living out our years by the coast. I destroyed that for him.’
‘We all have dreams. I have had many. Not that any of them has ever amounted to anything.’
Ethel looks up, suddenly interested.
‘Oh? Do tell!’
‘No,’ says Suptra, more sternly than intended. ‘It’s no use dwelling on what might have been. It’s the right now that we must take care of.’
‘You’re right. Edward is settled and I must accept that. I do miss him though.’
Suptra places his hand on top of Ethel’s.
‘You’re a good woman. Edward is missing out.’
Ethel withdraws her hand.
‘Oh, get off with you, Suptra Singh. Are you flirting with me?’
Suptra sits back in his chair and roars with laughter.
‘At my age? Certainly not. Any dreams in that direction faded a long time ago!’
Ethel laughs, too. She picks up their cups and takes them into the kitchen.
She looks at the clock. Five minutes to closing time.
She is removing her apron when the bell on the door clangs.
‘I’m sorry, we’re just about to close,’ she shouts, hanging her apron on a hook on the kitchen door.
‘Oh, that’s a shame. I have been thinking about your legendary cheese scones all day,’ says a man’s voice.
Ethel is rooted to the spot.
‘Well, I’ll just have to go and have my tea elsewhere,’ says the man.
Ethel smooths down her dress and walks into the café.
‘Hello, Edward,’ she says.
‘Hello, Ethel. Any chance of an out-of-hours cheese scone?’
Suptra slips by the two of them, winking at Ethel as he leaves.
John and Hilda Peterson are on their hands and knees tapping the ground next to each flag mounted on top of a small pile of earth.
‘This is hopeless, John. He buried the helmet ages ago. He’s no idea where it is,’ says Hilda, standing up laboriously.
‘If only we could remember where that rosebush was,’ says John, casting his eyes along the border for the umpteenth time.
Hilda walks over to a clump of irises.
‘It was hereabouts.’
‘Well, that’s closer than “thereabouts”, I suppose,’ says John, resigning himself to the fact that a good part of the vicarage garden will have to be excavated. He stands and wipes his brow.
‘How many tickets has Jack sold?’ asks Hilda.
‘Thirty, he says. And there are…’
‘Thirty flags. So, we have to go ahead with the competition. Or give everyone their money back, tomorrow.’
John gets down on his hands and knees.
‘What are you doing, John?’ asks an exasperated Hilda.
‘Tapping. Hilda. Tapping.’