Episode 11: Arson? Really? by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes
Previously in Leeford Village: Jeremy Roberts becomes the hero of the night of the great flood, and many think he deserves some sort of recognition. Clara Dennis, deeply troubled about her husband’s health, still has the ring and Suptra’s problem on her mind. Jessica Townley is devastated by the fire at her hairdressers’ business. Cody has admitted to hearing the dance music in Meredith’s shop, hoping he hasn’t aroused his wife’s suspicions. He has no idea, however, where his son has been spending his time. Allen Gomez thinks he is on his way to meet 17-year-old Sherry, but Linda Cross has a surprise in store for him.
‘I’ll now hand over to Mr Frank Watson, leader of our parish council and very well known in the village. Mr Frank Watson!’
The children, well-versed and rehearsed for these occasions, provide Frank with the appropriate welcome. Some of the children look across to their parents, who, seated amongst the staff, seem oddly out of place. Zack Peterson rarely attempts eye contact with his father who always supplies the blessing at Morning Prayer on Friday mornings, and, for some reason, Zack tends to look slightly embarrassed. His friends don’t help, sometimes wearing their shirts back-to-front to imitate the presence of a dog collar. The Reverend John Peterson, a ‘proper’ parish priest according to Frank. He has never attempted to define ‘proper’, but Frank and many of his age-group in Leeford appreciate a vicar who will visit the elderly in the local care home, who will visit Banfield General on a regular basis and a man who doesn’t exclusively reserve his Christian ways for the Sunday morning pulpit.
Unable to look straight at his father, Zack does, however, share a glance with seventeen-year-old Clare Adams, whose parents Steve and Mel are also awkwardly perched on the decidedly uncomfortable wooden chairs usually provided only for staff at the side of the assembly hall. Frank steps forward.
‘Thank you, Mrs Windrush. Thank you, children. I would like to welcome the parents who have taken time out of their busy schedules to attend this important occasion.’
He beckons to someone at the side of the stage and continues.
‘I would like to ask Doctor Jeremy Roberts to join me on stage.’
As Jeremy makes his way up the five well-worn steps, both Nita Sangra and Mandy Cleeve, teachers in Spring Hill Junior and Senior respectively, appear from behind the curtain, Nita holding the award and Mandy carrying a huge bouquet.
‘Welcome Doctor Roberts. Everyone in the hall is aware of the bravery and dedication you demonstrated a few weeks ago when you saved the life of one of our respected village citizens, Mr George Dennis. Unfortunately, Mr Dennis is unable to attend today, but his wife, Clara, is with us.’
Another round of applause and Frank concludes the presentation.
‘Without further ado, I am proud to present Doctor Roberts with this special award – the Freedom of Leeford Village, the highest accolade we can bestow. Many congratulations, and thank you again on behalf of Mr and Mrs Dennis and the village of Leeford.’
Frank, Jeremy, and Jenny Windrush complete their speeches, thanks and counter-thanks, while Zack and Clare continue their tennis match of glance and counter-glance. Romance isn’t dead, thinks Steve Adams, grinning at his wife, but reserves a careful half-grimace for his daughter just to make sure she understands: I’m your Dad – watch yourself. Zack also gets the message.
It is also Spring Hill School Prize Giving Day. Ted and Sally Coleman are present as the proudest parents in the hall as their daughter Gayle, only six-years-old, receives a special award for ‘perseverance and hard work’. Holly Cleeve, Vera’s eight-year-old granddaughter, is called up to receive the ‘Junior Writer of the Year Award’. Her 500-word short story about missing gnomes wowed the judges (the head of the English Department and Jenny Windrush) but perplexed many who had the opportunity to read the text as it appeared to put Nanny Cleeve in the frame for many of the crimes for which she had recently been accused.
Festivities, awards and applause concluded, Jenny Windrush ushers the children from the hall, giving parents and teachers the opportunity to compare notes. Jeremy makes his escape, complete with his ‘Freedom of Leeford’ award and his wife, Amanda, but not before he makes it clear to the audience that a number of individuals deserve credit for what they did for George that night.
The conclusions of the draft report of the fire investigator were, to say the least, inconclusive; ‘Electrical Fault’ the essence of his findings. However, after more detailed forensic analysis, and a correction to an incredible oversight by the fire department, Jessica Townley receives a letter clearly marked ‘cc: Banfield Police, S&G Insurance’.
The contents cause her to go straight to Nick’s office at the community centre.
‘We’ve only just re-opened and they send me this. The press is bound to get hold of it.’
‘Try not to worry, Jess, but I have to say - arson? Really?’
‘Look what it says, Nick. “A small incendiary device timed to take effect in the early hours of the morning. A crude device, the sort of thing that could be made in a school science lab or an enthusiast’s shed.” What is that supposed to mean. Kids?’
‘Don’t know, Jess. We’ll have to wait till Tuesday. That’s when they want to see you.’
Cody picks up the envelope, feeling a tingle down his spine. It had been pushed through the letter-box before they opened for business. His instinct draws him quickly to the conclusion that the note is from Meredith, most likely the cause of the tingle, although the fear of Agnes getting to the envelope first is as likely a reason as any for tingles, or any other sensation related to the fear of being caught in the act. Cody would love to be in an act in which to get caught, and hopes that the contents of the envelope will initiate the duet he has been dreaming of.
Just a quick note to see if you are ok. I was really worried about you when I heard you were injured. Hope it’s not too serious. Give me a ring when you have a chance, or pop into the shop later. We need to talk anyway.
It doesn’t occur to Cody, semi-blinded by romantic possibilities, how Meredith found out about his dance-related injury. He has one thought in his mind.
‘She wants me.’
‘We now have the results of the scan. George, do you understand what I’m saying?’
The consultant places his hand on George’s arm and smiles. George is not distressed; he’s met Doctor Sloan a number of times. A friendly face, kind words. Two nurses are sitting at the back of the room. Clara recognises Jill. Dr Sloan turns to Clara.
‘Mrs Dennis, could I see you outside for a moment?’
Jill follows them out into the corridor. The other nurse stays with George. Dr Sloan points towards a collection of chairs in the deserted corridor.
‘You know that George has dementia, don’t you Clara?’
‘I’ve known for a while, doctor. What can you do?’
‘There is no cure for vascular dementia, but we can hold back the development of symptoms for a while, maybe a year or so.’
‘Yes, and you will need a lot of help. I’ll refer you to Banfield Social Services. There is no need for you to cope with this on your own.’
‘I won’t lie to you Allen. Listen, can we go somewhere and talk?’
‘Hope you’re not messing me about, Linda.’
‘I know you’ve got all day. You were expecting to go to the Botanical Gardens. I really need to talk to you - what if we picked up some stuff to eat from Taylor’s shop and make the morning of it?’
‘Allen, let’s just get in the car.’
At 23, 6 years Sherry’s senior, she has dealt with men like Allen before. Linda knows that he has always fancied her younger sister, but she wants him. Not a market day, the butcher’s shop closed, so the whole Taylor family are serving in a busy farm shop on the Kidderminster Road. Violet, not a woman to mince her words, approaches Linda in the fruit aisle. Completing the squeeze test on a kiwi, her favourite fruit, Linda pauses for the inevitable question.
‘Are you and Allen seeing each other then?’
‘Not really Vi.’
‘Ok, I’ll take your word for it.’
Allen, oblivious to the exchange between the women, is studying the array of English and Australian wines on display.
‘Somerset vine, last year’s. Nice and fruity,’ offers Ken.
‘The bottle you’re holding. You’re miles away, aren’t you?’
‘Sorry Ken, I’ll have this one.’
‘Do you want to wait till your friend has got the food for your picnic?’
‘What do you know about that?’
‘I don’t call my dear wife Radar Vi for nothing,’ says Ken, grinning and winking towards his son who is talking a great interest in developments.
‘Got the food Allen - drinks sorted?’ asks Linda.
‘Yes, I’ll pay.’
Doug can barely contain a muffled snort that had originated as a giggle. He’s seen Allen in action at the Cross, but this, he thinks, is different. She’s got him on the hook. Of course, the Taylors have no idea about the scheme Linda has concocted.