Friends

18 September 2012

A SUMMER CHILL, CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER FIVE

No longer did Audrey assume the calls were random misdials. Somebody was deliberately trying to scare her. And succeeding. And the impact on her normal level-headedness was harrowing. It had been on her mind all morning and she had formed the opinion that the calls were being made by someone with a grudge. But who? And why? What satisfaction was there in ringing up and not speaking? At the back of her mind lurked the belief that it might be one of those titular friends who had harangued her years ago with righteous condemnation owing to her single parent status. But they'd got over that now. Hadn't they?
           
It had been a tremendous struggle to recover from last night's call. She wasn't fully restored, but barring a kind of restlessness which she put down to reaction she was beginning to gain control. She fancied indulging in something outrageous to lift herself out of her unsettled temper so at midday she opted to change routine and go out to lunch instead of scoffing sandwiches in the shop with Carol. The change would do her good. Furthermore, it was probably an appropriate day to buy the yellow sweatshirt she'd been dreaming of for weeks.

*******

Audrey emerged from Smart's dress shop with a new lightness in her step; not quite in the mood for Eileen Finnigan, who was studying her reflection in the window, but in a more decisive frame of mind than first thing.
           
Unaware that she had an audience, Eileen undid the belt of her biscuit-coloured shift and let it slip away, then peered at the glass to check the effect. She jumped when she heard Audrey's greeting and bustled through an unnecessary explanation. 'I'm going to the Copper Kettle,' she said, 'and I clean forgot to change my clothes.'
           
With considerable effort, Audrey stopped herself from raising her eyebrows in despair. 'That's where I'm going,' she stated and proposed they went together.

*******

The coffee-house was situated in a room off the bakery. It was owned by sandy haired Charlie Pott, whose name doubtlessly inspired him to christen it the Copper Kettle. Audrey and Eileen pushed through the crowded room, dodging an assortment of shopping bags crammed into gaps between tables. The drone of conversation merged with the clatter of cups, belching filter machines, and the repeated clunk of the kitchen door as it swung to. They reached an empty table where an unfamiliar waitress hovered with her order pad ready.
           
'Yes?'
           
Hating to be rushed, Audrey snapped, 'Give me a chance to sit down.' She quickly apologised when she saw the girl's dejection. The poor thing was probably petrified; new jobs were always an ordeal. After poring over the main meals menu and finding nothing to tempt her, Audrey chose simple crab sandwiches on account of the low fat content, and decaffeinated coffee, then ruined it by ordering chocolate eclairs. She passed the menu to Eileen who elected to have the same minus the cakes.
           
Audrey inhaled the aroma of fresh coffee. She enjoyed coming here. The quality of food was on a par with any posh venue in Redhampton. The surroundings were charming. The ceiling was decked with an assembly of dried flowers and a collection of suspended butterflies. Rose pink gingham tablecloths provided a base for similarly coloured paper napkins and condiment trays, ceramic posy bowls and pots of sugar crystals. It gave the illusion of summer even on the darkest day.
           
'I had to come out today,' Eileen said, wearing a fearful expression as if it was an unheard of thing to do. 'Paddy's driving me mad with his interfering. He's too much sometimes. He tried to teach me how to iron shirts this morning. You should've seen him sulk when I told him to mind his own business.'
           
Audrey withered the waitress with a stern glare for slapping the plates down and causing the sandwiches to slide. She had a lot to learn, she thought, removing a slice of tomato from the top of the bread. To her gratification the coffee pot and cups were positioned on the table with newly acquired decorum; this time she offered the girl a pleased smile.
           
Eileen pointed to Audrey's ├ęclair. 'I suppose you know that's worth roughly two hundred and thirty calories. I daren't eat them.'
           
'I wouldn't have thought there was any need for you to worry,' Audrey said, taking a sandwich. Observing Eileen pat her greying hair in unmistakable pleasure, she felt distinctly warm inside and was glad she'd seen fit to tell an untruth.
           
'Did I ever tell you about our Barbara?'
           
Audrey couldn't remember having an in-depth conversation on any subject, let alone one concerning her family. All dealings with the Finnigans had been of a superficial nature and everything she knew about them she had gleaned from casual shop conversations and Gladys and Brian.
           
'She's a dreadful flirt. I don't know how to deal with her sometimes.'
           
'It's part of growing up.'
           
'She's nineteen! And she doesn't just mess around with boys. She goes for anyone in trousers. She even tried it on with her Dad. Promiscuous, she was, even then.' Eileen gave her chin a frenzied rub. Her voice faltered. 'He stopped kissing her when she was fourteen 'cause she kept shoving her tongue in his mouth.'
           
Audrey tried and failed to conjure up an image of Barbara Finnigan forcing her tongue between Paddy's dry lips. Promiscuous was a mite strong for a girl of fourteen. Regardless of what Eileen said, at face value she would have described Barbara as more of a flibbertigibbet, which shows how little one learns from mankind's external display.
           
In need of distraction, Audrey collared the waitress who had just deposited a tray of tea at the next table. Retrieving her pencil from behind her ear the girl waited to scribble Audrey's requirement on her pad. Audrey found herself wondering what lay beneath her fresh faced, innocent surface.
           
'Did you want something?' the girl asked.
           
Audrey ordered ├ęclairs for them both, stemming a possible objection by laying a hand on Eileen's arm. 'We all deserve an occasional fragment of illicit happiness,' she said.

'I'm glad I bumped into you,' Eileen said, brushing crumbs off her skirt. 'I've asked everybody else. I would've rung only the phone bill's going to be steep enough with Paddy and our Barbara using it day and night.' She poured coffee into plain white cups and passed one to Audrey. Lowering her head, she continued in an undertone. 'Do you know anyone who might give Paddy a job?'
           
It was admirable of Eileen to make the effort on behalf of her husband though Audrey doubted if Paddy could equal her boldness. Jobs were short in Fieldmoor, except for cleaning work which was not Paddy's forte. She eyed the posies as she sipped her coffee and thought of Maureen's shop. There was a job there but she couldn't imagine Paddy working in a flower shop. It was too classy an establishment and Paddy Finnigan lacked the finesse to work in such a place. But who was she to pass judgement? Despite her reservations she reminded Eileen of the vacancy and suggested an early approach to Maureen.
           
'I couldn't ask her.'
           
'Why not, she won't bite.'
           
'I don't like to be a nuisance.'
           
'I could go with you.'
           
'Would you mind? I don't know her all that well.'
           
'We'll go this evening. I'll ring first. What time shall I say? Six?'
           
'That's fine. Ooh, I am excited. I've never been inside the House. Is it nice?'
           
'Wait and see.'

*******

Carol Benjamin laughed when Audrey reported her encounter with Eileen. 'I can't believe you recommended him for Erick Jacobson's old job. What experience has Patrick had of shop work? Come to that, how trustworthy is he these days?'
           
Audrey started to unfold the new sweatshirt. 'It was no good keeping it secret. She'd have found out sooner or later.' She held the garment in the air. 'D'you like this?'
           
'Wow! That's a knock-out colour. Where'd you get it?'
           
'Smarts. It was the last one.'
           
'You jammy beggar. You wouldn't have had a look in if I'd spotted it. My Alan's partial to yellow. He says it gives my skin more of a chocolaty look.' She fluttered her eyelids. 'He loves chocolate as well.'
           
'Your Alan's partial to anything that symbolises sex.'
           
'I know. Great, isn't it?'         

*******

Eileen gawked when the maid responded to Audrey's ring, a real maid in a black uniform with a white cap and frilly apron. 'It's like the films,' she whispered, smoothing her dress to her hips as they followed the girl down a portrait-filled corridor to the library where they were to wait.
           
Browsing round the splendid red and gold room, Eileen walked the length of the packed bookshelves with her head tilted in order to scan the titles. She bypassed an elegant Regency chaise-longue to get to an onyx table, intent on inspecting an array of framed photographs. She whistled. 'Here's one of Queen Victoria. D'you think they're related to royalty?'
           
At that moment Maureen entered, her wavy hair bouncing, her willowy figure displayed to advantage in a turquoise suit tailored in cashmere and silk. Picking up the frame, she explained, 'The photographer gave this to my grandfather as a keepsake. It is a good shot. I particularly like the enigmatic smile.' She reinstated the picture. 'Now, what can I do for you?'
           
Audrey prodded her colleague.
           
Swallowing hard, Eileen pounced in with her request. In her uncomplicated manner, she pleaded, 'Can my Paddy have the job in your shop?'
           
Audrey shrank inside as she sank onto a high backed chair, wishing Eileen had expanded the question, and reeling alternatives to herself. Maureen's silent study of Eileen made her edgy and she shifted uneasily on the seat, trying to view Eileen through Maureen's eyes: a bonny woman with scrubbed, cherub-like rosy cheeks, wearing an outdated dress that did nothing for her abundant shape.
           
Maureen withdrew a soft case from her jacket pocket and extracted a pair of diamante trimmed spectacles. Still contemplating Eileen, she began to polish them with a lace edged handkerchief.
           
Eileen flushed under the scrutiny, while Audrey fervently wished Maureen would get on with it and free them from these crucifying tenterhooks.
           
Eventually, as she laid the glasses in front of the photographs, Maureen delivered her reply. 'The departure of my friend Erick created a post which I am finding it difficult to fill. He was a wonderful man, energetic, obliging, and devoted to duty. It will be a formidable task obtaining a suitable replacement. His successor must be dependable and honest for I shall require him to tend my miniature emporium when I am otherwise engaged.'
           
In that case we may as well go, thought Audrey, positive now that Paddy's record would stand against him.
           
However, Eileen held fast and courageously unfolded the reason for Paddy's compulsion to steal … always on the anniversary of his father's death. Small tears trickled down her cheeks. 'How can he pick himself up if no-one' gives him a chance? It wasn't his fault his father gassed himself, but he's the one being punished.'
           
Maureen instantly went to her and used her handkerchief to dab her cheeks. 'Go home,' she said gently. 'Ask your husband to visit the shop tomorrow, ten o'clock sharp.'
           
Eileen clasped her hands. Her mouth opened and closed and she transferred weight from one foot to the other the way children do. Maureen's faint giggle broke the spell and Eileen cried, 'Thank you, thank you. Oh, thank you!'
           
Eager for her to get matters sorted, Audrey seized Eileen's elbow and propelled her towards the door, imploring her to go and inform Paddy. As they went out she called over her shoulder, 'You're a brick, Maureen.' Turning to close the door, she captured Maureen's contented expression. By heck, she thought, she's flattered, and prayed it augured well for Eileen's man. When Maureen's cheerful 'Goodnight' sailed after them, she was convinced of it.

*******

It was eight o'clock when Audrey arrived home and the phone was ringing. She turned the key in the lock and hurried in, letting the door crash to behind her. Flicking the light switch, she went to grab the receiver, and froze the moment her fingers touched it.
           
It was one of those bizarre calls. She knew it, and her hunches were mostly reliable. She drew back, reluctant even to stand close. How could she be so sure? It might be Matty on the line? If she was certain ...
           
Suddenly undecided, she clicked off the light. The hall was plunged into semi-darkness. She released the breath she'd been holding, feeling stupid yet relieved that she could no longer be seen.
           
The shrill ringing persisted.
           
If only she'd remembered to turn on the answering machine.
           
She wanted to run to escape the noise but the persistent sonorous tones grazed her nerves and she snatched up the receiver.
           
'I know what you're doing,' whispered the voice.
           
She stiffened, clenching her eyes tight, gripping the table for support.
           
The dialling tone welled forth.
           
Even that was menacing.


(to be continued)

7 comments:

Brian Miller said...

ha i love the subtlety with which you build...the young girl promiscuous, the we all need moments of illicit pleasure...and all back to her own caller....hmm....smiles.

Valerie said...

Thanks, Brian. I hope it's beginning to make sense...lol.

Ron said...

'I know what you're doing,' whispered the voice.

Valerie, that gave me chills!

As I was reading this chapter, I started to wonder if the caller was male or female; assuming all along it was male. But as you introduced the character of Barbara, I thought, "Hmmm...could it possibly be her?"

Great chapter! Love the way you build suspense! Looking forward to chapter 6!

Have a terrific Tuesday...X

Valerie said...

Whoopee. Oooh Ron, I'm so pleased to read your comment. It means that my intention to keep readers guessing is WORKING. I always try to solve a mystery when I'm reading; sometimes I get it right, sometimes I'm wrong, but it's fun to try.

Montanagirl said...

Ooooh, I have goosebumps! Reminds of that movie: "I know Who You Are and I saw What You Did" or some such. Frightening! Good work, Val!

Lea said...

"I know what you're doing.." Hmmm.... you left me hanging!

Good job, Valerie. This story should be a movie someday! :)

DeniseinVA said...

I have some catching up to do here. I love your writing Valerie.