For the benefit of his blistering feet
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
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 Patrick
Finnigan 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
Coming to a halt,
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. '
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
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
and Michael Spencer 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.
hollered Gladys from a distance of
wedged the chewing gum on a double molar and waited for them to draw near.
This reception drove
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.'
'You don't like him much, do you?' observed
Preferring not to discuss his opinion of
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
and whispered, 'Heard about 's latest attempt to die?' Liz
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 .'
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. 'll have to wait.' Without more ado
she waltzed off, her skirt billowing to reveal a slender pair of
black-stockinged ankles. Doris
'Well done, mate,'
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?'
'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,
I'm that chuffed.'
Whatever his earlier doubts
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?'
'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
to finish on the phone, he poured a beaker of steaming coffee and carried it to
the sergeant's desk.
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.'
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,
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
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. Arnold
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.
'I was thinking about poor
.' Susan Trevors
'What's up with her?'
'Bleedin' hell,' voiced
'When was this?'
'Poor woman,' said
'D'you know who did it?'
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
's request for a full
account, Norman 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.
you keep referring to?' asked Ron.
'He's the tramp you folks've been bothered about.'
'Pardon me,' said
moving round the bar. 'What was he doing there?'
'Good thing as it happens,' proclaimed
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
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 Mountford
'What are you doing to yourself,
as he emerged from the gents. 'Your face is practically puce.' Norman
Collecting the glass he'd left on the bar,
amicably retorted, 'I meant to say you looked rather overheated.' Norman
cautioned Brian. 'There's no need for
The rebuke seemed to knock
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?
'I will choose my words more carefully in future,'
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. Norman
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,
bided his time, eddied the brandy in his glass, inhaling the fumes as if wholly
unaware that the bunch were agog with expectancy. Norman
'Come on, Guv,' blurted
'What's the tale?'
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: ' Norman 's
got a job,' he promptly angled his head to assess the reaction. Patrick Finnigan
'What!' That was
'Who in the world would give him a bloody job? He's never out of bloody jail.' Ron Pearce
, pressing the rim of
his glass against his bottom lip, 'it was my wife.' Norman
A moth's beating wings could have been heard in the protracted silence. Without a word,
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.
Hearing footsteps behind he curved round to see who it was. He identified the hurrying figure as
who was motioning him to wait. Against Bill Mountford 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.
'You're best bet is to resign,'
'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)