Friends

25 September 2012

A SUMMER CHILL, CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER SIX

For the benefit of his blistering feet Brian limped up the curb and came to a standstill outside the Flower Patch. 'Footslogging ought to be abolished,' he mumbled as he rocked backwards onto his heels, the only way he knew to relieve the pressure of new boots. If this wasn’t such a backwater village they might consider issuing the station with cars to patrol in.

The sight of Patrick Finnigan loping towards him emphasised the alarming suspicion that his own body was wearing out. He was feeling his age lately, especially since hearing of the vicar's interest in Audrey. He felt woefully antiquated and totally unable to compete against a younger man, temporarily forgetting he was no longer in the running for Audrey's affection.
           
Coming to a halt, Patrick scanned his watch and rubbed his palms down his trousers. He was smartly attired in a brown pinstripe and well-polished shoes, and his tight grey curls positively glistened with a heavy-handed application of oil. His sullen greeting, however, was at variance with his spruce appearance.
           
'Very nice, Paddy. What's the occasion?'
           
Paddy glowered and nodded towards the shop. 'I'm here for an interview,' he said, sounding none too enthralled. 'Eileen's been touting for work. Don't know how she did it but she's managed to con her Ladyship into seeing me. I ask you, can you see me working in there? Honest to God, I'd bunk off if I could get away with it.' He mopped his brow with a cotton handkerchief and again consulted his watch. 'Blimey, it's only ten to. This is going to be the slowest ten minutes of my life!'
           
*******

Dead on the hour, after Paddy had timidly elbowed the door, and pulled a face at the medley of lilting notes that accompanied his entrance, Brian rested his weight on the bow window's wide sill and speculated on the likelihood of Maureen giving him a job. If he was a betting man he'd put a fiver on rejection. In her shoes he'd think twice because of Paddy's criminal antecedents. Eleven months of the year he respected the law like everyone else, then in November he succumbed to misappropriating other people's stuff. The story went that it was on the anniversary of his father's suicide that he shoplifted, by all accounts a subconscious need to punish himself. Brian found that difficult to believe, but what did he know - he wasn't into psychoanalysis.
           
Deep in thought, mulling over Paddy's deep-rooted problem, Brian strolled as far as Settons to purchase his cigarettes. It was only when his fingers touched the door handle that he remembered he'd given up smoking. The realisation brought on a craving so powerful his hands started to shake. The frantic longing to clamp his lips on a cigarette set him ransacking his pockets for the packet of gum he bought yesterday for an emergency such as this. There was one stick left. He slipped off the wrapper and sneaked it into his mouth. It would have to do. Too many people knew about the undertaking to kick the habit and the last thing he wanted was to appear lacking in willpower. The rest of the guys would malign him for breaking the no-smoking pledge and, on top of that, the donations would suffer. And it wasn't worth the hassle of explaining that he had broken his promise so soon.
           
Having decided that the cause must come first, he twisted round so that his back was towards the newsagent's door and chomped the gum with a certain amount of satisfaction. He was well-pleased with his self-control, but the pleasure abated somewhat when he saw Michael Spencer and Gladys marching towards him, their heads bobbing in eager chatter. He glanced sideways in the hope that Paddy would emerge from the shop but the door remained unsympathetically shut and he was denied an excuse to drift. He hankered anew for a cigarette, the thought of conversing with the cranky, womanising Vicar being too much to handle without a comforting weed in his mitt.
           
'Morning, Brian,' hollered Gladys from a distance of fifty yards.
           
Resignedly, Brian wedged the chewing gum on a double molar and waited for them to draw near.
           
Michael welcomed him like an exuberant mongrel. 'Brian,' he cried, showering spittle in all directions. How nice to see you. Yes indeed, splendid. I sincerely hope you're keeping well. Sadly I can't stay to chat, it's my day for visiting the sick. Perhaps we could get together soon for a real chinwag. Yes, an excellent idea, that would be most pleasant. Do forgive me for dashing off.'
           
This reception drove Brian to silently impugn the man's superficiality, savagely reckoning that if he wore a studded collar he'd do for Crufts. However, apart from making Brian cringe, the effusive welcome served to console him for it made him realise that never in a century of eternal summers would Audrey succour up to him, not for religion, not for fellowship, and certainly not for sex. Feeling extraordinarily smug, he fixed an artificial smile in place and saluted. 'Don't worry, Michael,' he said. 'We've all got our work cut out.'
           
Michael nodded. Thrusting his head forward, he hurried off like a walker in a race. Brian watched him go, marvelling at the way his hat defied gravity and remained perched upon his head.
           
'You don't like him much, do you?' observed Gladys.
           
Preferring not to discuss his opinion of Michael, Brian ignored the question and challenged her instead about being absent from work.
           
Gladys pretended to be indignant but at length disclosed that she was shopping for the House, which was her way of describing her job … the ‘House’ representing the Dingle-Jones family as well as their abode. Craning her neck to verify that they were alone, she bent towards Brian and whispered, 'Heard about Liz Tomlin's latest attempt to die?'
           
'Gladys!'
           
She straightened and tossed her head. 'Well! I get annoyed with the woman distressing her family like she does. Once I can understand, once is forgivable, her problem is she doesn't know when to stop. Mark my words, time'll come when she'll go too far.' Her tirade concluded, Gladys produced a shopping list. 'I must press on. If I get this done quickly I can take a few minutes to call on Doris.'
           
As she finished speaking the florist's door music sounded and Maureen appeared with Paddy. Gladys waved, but muttered under her breath. 'Oh gawd, now she'll be wanting her lunch. Doris'll have to wait.' Without more ado she waltzed off, her skirt billowing to reveal a slender pair of black-stockinged ankles.
           
Brian grinned. One of these days she would lift off like a balloon, and he hoped he would be around to see it.

*******

Patrick hummed a doleful tune as he ambled along, which Brian took as evidence that the interview had been unsuccessful, but without warning Paddy leaped from the ground and punched the air, whooping, 'I got it.' Then he grabbed Brian's waist and danced him round, to the amazement of Tom Setton who could see the unusual activity from his window.
           
'Well done, mate,' Brian said when he'd anchored his size elevens to the pavement. 'Eileen will be overjoyed.'
           
'Never imagined there was so much to the flower business. I thought I'd learned everything there was to know in my Dad's garden. The missus said if I can master the common flower names to start with she'll teach me the Latin ones.' Paddy paused to slip off his jacket. 'I'll stink if I don't take this off,' he said as he bundled the coat under his arm. 'She wanted to know about Dad and the way he died. It came as a shock, I can tell you. Apparently Eileen did a waterworks job when she pleaded for work. Apparently she confessed all. I didn't mince about. I gave her the story straight. You know what she said?'
           
Brian shook his head.
           
'She said I could have the job providing I kept both hands out of the till. You could have knocked me down with a blade of grass.' Paddy attempted a lumbering pas de deux. 'Cripes, Brian, I'm that chuffed.'
           
Whatever his earlier doubts Brian was instilled with similar enthusiasm. He landed a playful punch on Paddy's arm and hooted, 'Good on ya, fella.'
           
'Come and have a celebration pint,' urged Paddy.
           
'Can't, old man. Not on duty. Sarge would throw a fit.'
           
'Second house then?'
           
'Sure thing.'
           
*******

Brian returned to the station at noon to discover Chris Beresford shouting down the phone, demanding that the person at the other end stop being such a stupid arsehole and FIND OUT. Judging that it might be as well not even to raise an eyebrow, Brian dropped his helmet on the desk and proceeded to pour a mug of coffee.
           
Chris covered the mouthpiece. 'Do you know where I might locate Arnie Trevors?'
           
'Why, Sarge, what's wrong?'
           
'Susan's dead. Heart attack.' Chris removed his hand and bellowed 'YES' to the individual on the phone.
           
At first Brian thought the Sarge was play-acting, that this was some kind of ghoulish farce, but one look at his solemn countenance told him the information was true. He was stunned. It only seemed five minutes since Jane was expressing concern, and Arnie was proclaiming that Susan's suffering was indigestion.
           
For something to do while he waited for Chris to finish on the phone, he poured a beaker of steaming coffee and carried it to the sergeant's desk.
           
'Cretin,' barked Chris, slamming the receiver down. 'I thought they were supposed to be intelligent in Redhampton. It takes them hours to dig out answers to simple questions.'
           
'What did you want to know?'
           
'Nearest cattle auction. From all accounts that's where Arnie's gone.'
           
'Arnie? You mean he doesn't know?'
           
'Not yet he doesn't. See, Susan was found in the kitchen by our friendly vagrant. He rang here, not knowing Arnie's whereabouts. Knew he was at an auction. But which one, for God's sake.' Chris slurped his coffee and drummed his fingers on the desk. The instant the phone rang he seized the receiver and banged it to his ear. 'Beresford. Right. That the only one? Thanks.' He mouthed ‘Dunkley’ at Brian.
           
Grabbing his helmet, Brian signalled that he was on his way and belted out of the building to where the Escort was parked.

*******

The worst part of Brian's occupation was the helplessness he felt when breaking tragic news to unsuspecting families. There was no painless way of notifying a wife that her husband had died of a heart attack or a mother that her child was killed by a car. Sometimes the grief lingered for ages. In bygone days Audrey nursed the misery out of him by substituting his burden of grief for the enjoyable onus of fulfilling her smouldering needs. And by God he needed her now.
           
*******

It was late when he felt able to leave Arnold. Susan's sister and her husband were with him and Martin Down had installed himself in the loft so as to be in easy reach if required. There wasn't a lot Brian could do. Arnie was best left with family.
           
Motoring disconsolately along the deserted lane, Brian got to thinking about Audrey's recipe for curing the blues. His mouth automatically formed a sucking pose. 'Sweet Jesus,' he muttered, unprepared for the turmoil in his stomach or melancholia's tendrils crowding his breathing space. Perspiration oozed from his pores in a burning desire to lose himself in the fleshy delights of Audrey's bosom.
           
Overwhelmed by the intensity of his emotion, he wound down the window to let in some air, driving on, taking a right turn at the crossroads and shooting up the lane leading to Arbor Road, drawn there like a pin to a magnet. He parked the car at a spot where he could view Audrey's house without causing offence and sat there for half an hour. His behaviour was bewildering. Why, after so many years, was he hungry for her? If he saw signs of life, would he knock on her door? Was he courageous enough to risk inflaming her wrath? Should he take a gamble? He dreaded to think what she'd throw at him if he did. In the end, he resisted the impulse and fired the engine.
           
He headed towards the green, disturbed by the prospect of spending the evening in an empty and depressing house. There was, of course, Paddy's invitation to join him in the pub, but after the last few mournful hours he wasn't disposed to drinking; on the other hand, an hour's relaxation might remove the sudden obsession over Audrey. Bearing in mind, too, that Paddy would be disappointed if he failed to appear, he decided to make the effort.

*******
He drove home first to leave the car in the garage. It was no use drinking and driving and being done for it. The state he was in alcohol would seriously impair his judgement and an excess was likely to make him lachrymose. He had been known to cry like a baby after swigging ale in a despondent condition. Twice. Both times following the disintegration of a relationship.
           
He drew up at the house and jumped out, noting that the low gate at the end of the front path was swinging on its hinges. That meant someone had been in. He tried to think who. It couldn't have been Gladys, it wasn't her day, and the postman brought a fistful of bills prior to him leaving for work. He closed the gate, forcing home the reluctant catch, and went to open the garage doors. As he reversed the car in, it struck him that there were few visitors to his abode, which didn't say much for his standing in life. The boys rarely inflicted themselves upon him and most of his mates were merely drinking partners. Since Audrey, he hadn't felt disposed to establishing long term friendships.
           
Securing the padlock, he pocketed the key and debated about going inside to check the letterbox, but decided against it. All would be revealed in its own good time.

*******

Brian sat in his shirtsleeves nursing a large whisky, his civvy jacket in a heap on the floor. There was no sign of Paddy and the promised tipple. He was whacked after the exhausting high-speed trek. His feet hurt, his back ached; if he'd had any sense he'd have changed his boots. When Paddy arrived he would accept a drink to be sociable, then get off. He wouldn't return the favour. The sooner he soaked his bruised feet in the bath the better.

Sampling the neat whisky, he thought longingly of a tub of steamy foam and was reminded of the last sight he had of Arnie, when the quietly grieving man had seen him off the premises looking so wretchedly bereft as he stood on the threshold of the dwelling, one hand resting on the tin bath that hung on the outside wall. What would he do now? What had he to look forward to now that Susan had gone?
           
'Brian looks glum?' remarked Peter from the bar.
           
Ron Pearce hauled up Brian's coat and dumped it on a nearby chair. He crashed down beside him, sending a wash of beer up the side of his pint glass. 'What's wrong with you then?'
           
'I was thinking about poor Susan Trevors.'
           
'What's up with her?'
           
'She's dead.'
           
'Bleedin' hell,' voiced Peter. 'When was this?'
           
'This morning.'
           
'Poor woman,' said Ron. 'D'you know who did it?'
           
'Did what?'
           
Ron's face turned an appetising shade of red. 'Er, how did she die?
           
'Heart attack.' Brian's forehead puckered. 'Christ! I do believe you thought she'd been killed?'
           
'No! Well ... I suppose I did.' Ron sheepishly strove to redeem himself. 'I must be watching too much telly.'
           
In response to Norman's request for a full account, Brian swivelled his chair to face the crowd. He outlined the facts and ended by pointing out how helpful and efficient Martin Down had been.
           
'Who's this Martin you keep referring to?' asked Ron.
           
'He's the tramp you folks've been bothered about.'
           
'Pardon me,' said Peter, moving round the bar. 'What was he doing there?'
           
Brian explained that Arnie had let him camp out on his land.
           
'Good thing as it happens,' proclaimed Ron, raising his glass. He went on to ask how Arnie had taken it.
           
'He put on a brave face. He's the sort to mourn in private. He told me that Susan suffered with indigestion. Some indigestion, it was her heart all along. Just shows you, Chris is right when he quotes: Get a pain, get it sussed.'
           
At that point the door flew open and Bill Mountford rushed in, scarlet-faced and gasping, lobbing his tracksuit jacket across a stool as if its weight was responsible for his breathless condition. He pitched himself at the bar and panted to Peter, 'Give me a long, cold pint. As cold as you can make it.'
           
Bill took to jogging when Ellen complained about his paunch and lack of stamina. In the beginning he endeavoured to mobilise his friends to join him in his fitness campaign, but there were no takers. To a man, the chaps insisted they kept themselves fit by wallowing in strenuous bedroom escapades.
           
'What are you doing to yourself, William?' enquired Norman as he emerged from the gents. 'Your face is practically puce.'
           
Bill nearly choked. 'Puce,' he spluttered. 'Puce!'
           
Collecting the glass he'd left on the bar, Norman amicably retorted, 'I meant to say you looked rather overheated.'
           
Bill would not be pacified. 'You know the definition of puce? I'll tell you the definition of puce. It's purple-brown, the colour of fleas.'
           
'Steady on, Bill,' cautioned Brian. 'There's no need for that.'
           
The rebuke seemed to knock Bill's padding out of true. The high colour drained from his cheeks, his shoulders sagged and his head drooped. He kept it that way while the other occupants of the saloon deliberated over Susan and the kindly tramp. The blow-up, though, had aroused Brian's curiosity and he tried to fathom why a normally even-tempered guy should get so heated over such a trivial detail?
           
Ron Pearce plucked dog hairs from his navy blue blazer. 'You forget, Norm, that Bill is a crossword zealot, an absolute wizard with words.'
           
'I will choose my words more carefully in future,' Norman said as he yanked his polka-dot cravat straight. The action demonstrated that the verbal contretemps had severely dented his composure. However, he was not one to dwell on extraneous matters so he went on to say that, if anyone was interested, he had a revelation to impart.
           
The group waited for him to continue, all except Bill who was studying a spot by his feet, his own face now blotchy with remorse.
           
Having won their complete attention, Norman bided his time, eddied the brandy in his glass, inhaling the fumes as if wholly unaware that the bunch were agog with expectancy.
           
'Come on, Guv,' blurted Peter. 'What's the tale?'
           
Very slowly, Norman arched his head and stared at the ceiling so that when he spoke he croaked like a man with an inflamed throat, but the second he uttered the words: 'Patrick Finnigan's got a job,' he promptly angled his head to assess the reaction.
           
'What!' That was Ron Pearce. 'Who in the world would give him a bloody job? He's never out of bloody jail.'
           
'Actually,' said Norman, pressing the rim of his glass against his bottom lip, 'it was my wife.'
           
A moth's beating wings could have been heard in the protracted silence. Without a word, Brian collected his jacket and decamped, thanking the Lord there weren't too many days like this one. He had come for a jar with Paddy but in the event he was glad the man had stayed away. There would be all kinds of ructions if he knew what bitchy things were being expressed behind his back. Let him never find out, eh, God? Even a part-time felon doesn't deserve such animosity.

*******

Brian yawned as he trudged along the road. Yawning was something he was doing a lot of lately. He sensibly dismissed the idea of taking a bath in favour of crashing into bed and slumbering his cares away. His smarting toes would keep until morning, sleep was much more important.
           
Hearing footsteps behind he curved round to see who it was. He identified the hurrying figure as Bill Mountford, who was motioning him to wait. Against Brian's finer judgement, urgent repose being uppermost on his mind and the only thing at that moment he wanted to do, he slowed his steps until Bill caught up and they walked together to the Green.
           
Bill apologised for his childish outburst, offering tiredness as the reason. Altogether too flaked for a full-scale discussion, Brian sarcastically suggested he tried sleeping at night, but Bill alleged that the blame for his fatigue was entirely due to work, shortage of staff, and an incompetent boss who couldn't organise an office if his life depended on it. The overtime was destroying his home life, murdering his appetite, and smothering his desire for intimacy. It was little wonder Ellen got peeved.
           
'You're best bet is to resign,' Brian said.
           
'I might not secure another post.'
           
'That's rubbish. Redhampton's a sizable town. You're bound to find something with your qualifications. Browse through the vacancies in the Mail. Start now.'
           
They slowed their steps at the corner of Ardenrose Road and, before crossing the Green towards his home, Bill stroked his chin and said, 'Maybe I will.' Then he winked at Brian and added, 'The very thought of resigning makes me feel randy.'
           
'Ellen will no doubt be pleased to hear that.'

(to be continued)


9 comments:

Brian Miller said...

ha. your characters are so rich and you fill them with emotion that muddies the water on figuring out the mystery---which is good...it keeps us guessing and waiting...all that to say you really develop the characters nicely in this...

Valerie said...

Thanks, Brian. I did try to muddy the water and hoped it worked. It's only by readers' comments that I know it has.

DeniseinVA said...

Brilliant!!! Thanks for another great chapter Valerie.

Ron said...

As Brian shared (and who I always agree with)...

" your characters are so rich and you fill them with emotion that muddies the water on figuring out the mystery---which is good...it keeps us guessing and waiting.."

Yes, you do!

'Poor woman,' said Ron. 'D'you know who did it?' 'Did what?'

Now THAT got me thinking, "Um...why would he say that?"

Perhaps, the caller?

Can't wait to read your next chapter!

Well done, dear lady!
X

Valerie said...

Hey Ron, this was exactly my intention. By creating a large 'cast' of villagers I was able to feed in suspicious incidents or lines.. Of course, I will never tell if you're right :O)

faye said...

Flawless ... simnply fantastic
the way your characters are developed.

waiting on Chapter 7

Lea said...

Another "page-turner"!! :)

HermanTurnip said...

'The very thought of resigning makes me feel randy.'

'Ellen will no doubt be pleased to hear that.'

Heh....Ellen sure does seem to live for bad news ;-)

This is a great read. A bit depressing at times, but one fun story so far! Lost post this time. Had to take a break mid-story to grab a drink. Loving it, though! Amazing descriptors throughout!

Valerie said...

Hi Herman, yes it was rather a long chapter. Shorter ones in future.