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  • Michael Braccia

Leeford Village - Episode 125

Updated: Jun 10

Episode 125: The lion, the postmistress and the café


Previously in Leeford Village:

 

Adam is afraid that Cody is going to do something stupid. Frank Watson submits the census form to the printers but adds another question to the form at the last minute. Harry tells Pippa that he has always loved her, and Linda tells Carlos that she wishes he had never come to England.

 

~

 

The lion roars at his keeper as the raw meat is thrown over the fence into his den. The crowd cheers and claps as the favourite attraction at Banfield Zoo tears the meat apart. There is a gasp as someone shouts, ‘the side gate is open! Watch out, the lion is moving towards it!’

 

The keeper hears what the man has shouted and runs round the side of the enclosure to the gate. As the lion – known to the staff as “Albert” – approaches, the keeper manages to shut the gate and he pulls the spring-loaded bolt across. Eric, the keeper, is puzzled. The general public doesn’t have access to this section, so I don’t think it’s kids mucking about, he thinks, but makes a mental note to check the CCTV footage.

 

Later that night, the general public have been safely locked out of the zoo, and the animals are safely locked in. Eric is on his way home when he notices a gap in the outside fence. He is not concerned that anyone will get in overnight as the pyracantha hedge just inside the fence would do some damage to an intruder stupid enough to climb through. I’ll get maintenance on to that tomorrow, he thinks. There is a skeleton staff of keepers on duty, keeping the security staff company. Paul, a twenty-year-old apprentice, works for Eric and has been given his instructions for the night.

 

‘I didn’t get chance to check the CCTV,’ he had told Paul. ‘Just keep an eye on Albert. He seems a bit rattled at the moment.’

 

Paul does what he usually does on night shifts; he falls asleep reading his Doctor Who magazine. At 6am, he wakes after a bad dream in which he is being chased by a dolphin riding a skateboard fitted with laser guns. But we don’t have any dolphins, he thinks. After a swill at the sink in the staff room and a satisfactory cup of coffee, he decides to do his rounds. Paul collects his clipboard and pen and sets off, starting at the cheetah pen, running through Eric’s instructions in his mind. Okay, we’ve got mom and dad and two cheetah cubs born only last week. A quick count of the others. Right, that’s nine in total. Now for the lions.

 

Albert, due to his recent erratic behaviour, is kept away from the other lions, so Paul leaves him till last. He counts six lions, ticks the relevant box on his audit form, and goes down the path towards Albert’s enclosure (past the ‘strictly staff only’ sign). He can’t see him. ‘What the!’ he shouts, as he spots the open gate and rushes over to it - the same gate that Eric had mentioned.

 

‘For God’s sake, Albert. Where are you?’

 

He notices lion poo outside the gate, and some more, twenty yards away on the main path along which the public walk every day.

 

~

 

 

 

Blissfully unaware of the commotion that is kicking off more than four miles away in Central Banfield, the folk of Leeford Village go about their business. Two hours have passed since Paul the apprentice realised a lion had escaped from his enclosure. After calling in Eric, his boss, who immediately called the police, Paul sits in the office, head in his hands. Eric has already suggested that Paul might like to check out the vacancies in Banfield Job Centre.

 

Banfield Central Police quickly contact all the local stations within a five-mile radius. If the lion has, indeed, broken out of the zoo, it could easily reach one of the outlying areas in the borough in less than an hour. ‘They can run a hundred metres in six seconds,’ Eric the keeper tells the DI put in charge of the case. DI Spratt instructs the Banfield desk sergeant to get everyone to stay inside until the danger has passed. All the local police stations either answer the initial call or return the message promptly. Except for one station – Leeford Village. Sergeant Miller and Constable Carr had spent a joyous evening in The Cross, and the alcohol consumed caused Constable Carr to oversleep. Stephen Miller didn’t fare much better. It is only when a flustered Sally Miller grabs her husband by the shoulders, screaming ‘lion on the loose!’ that he manages to crawl out of bed and into his uniform.

 

‘Orange juice, toast, coffee, Sal?’ he pleads.

‘No time for that, Stephen. You’ve got a job to do!’

 

While all this is happening, three couples are carrying on their current activities, unaware of any problems beyond their personal circumstances. They certainly did not expect any difficulties of the Panthera Leo variety.

 

~

 

Harry knocks on Pippa’s door, just after eight o’clock.

 

‘What are you doing round here so early?’ she asks, folding her dressing gown firmly around her chest. ‘I don’t open till nine.’

 

Harry smiles, and gestures, signalling that he wants to go in.

 

‘Make yourself a cup of tea, Harry. I’ll go and get dressed.’

 

He finishes his tea, and polishes off the remnants of the tin of custard creams (a tin adorned with an image of the Clifton Suspension Bridge) before Pippa enters the kitchen, ready for work.

 

‘I’ve come for your answer,’ he says.

‘You haven’t asked me a question,’ Pippa replies.

 

He gives her the smile that he knows she likes.

 

‘You know what I mean,’ he says.

‘Haven’t got time right now. I have a post office to run. Go round to the front of the shop. I’ll get the keys. You can help me set up.’

 

~

 


 

 

Jasmine and Justin have relaxed their arrangements somewhat. With Jasmine telling everyone that their relationship is ‘purely platonic’ – something that Justin can attest to – they now meet in the café in Leeford. They arrive as Ethel is preparing breakfasts for her regulars, none of whom have actually arrived yet.


‘Jasmine, could you do me a favour?’ asks Ethel. ‘I need to see David and Tricia about something. Ten minutes?’

‘No problem, Ethel,’ replies Jasmine. ‘I’ll look after the counter for you.’

 

As Ethel leaves the café, Justin expresses his surprise that there are no other customers. ‘It’s nearly nine o’clock. Where is everybody?’

 

He turns on the radio. Ethel always leaves it set to Radio Two, as Billy had been a big fan of Terry Wogan. The volume defaults to either ‘loud’ or ‘very loud’, but a song plays that Justin loves, so he delays turning it down.

 

~

 

 

Cody hasn’t been home for two days, and Agnes knows that he spends a lot of time in and around the market. Although he was the one who supposedly threw his wife out of the family home, Cody is the absentee from the chip shop and the flat. Agnes crosses the road from Leeford Plaice. Funny, she thinks, only George has set up.

 

‘Hi, Agnes,’ says George. ‘Are you looking for Cody?’

‘Yes, have you seen him?’

‘Just lent him my toilet key. Wait over there. He won’t be long.’

 

As Agnes reaches the toilet, the door opens and Cody stares at her. He starts to speak, but he is interrupted by a blood-curdling scream.

 

‘Christ, that’s George!’ Cody shouts.

‘Help, help!’ screams George. ‘A bloody lion!’

‘What’s he talking about, Cody?’

‘I’ve no idea.’

 

At that, a cough and a splutter via a megaphone can be heard. Stephen Miller has retrieved the almost antique piece of equipment from a box marked ‘Riot gear and miscellaneous items’.

 

‘ATTENTION PLEASE!’ he shouts from the safety of his patrol car, the now wide-awake Constable Carr shaking in the passenger seat.

 

‘A LION HAS ESCAPED FROM BANFIELD ZOO. YOU MUST STAY INSIDE UNTIL HE HAS BEEN CAUGHT.’

 

‘My God, Agnes, a male lion. A man-eater.’ He grabs her arm, drags her into the toilet, and locks the door.

 

Meanwhile, George sprints across the road, reaching the police car just in time. Albert strolls across the market, heading for the café. Ethel has not shut the door.


 

 

Nine o’clock. No customers are waiting to enter the post office. Ethel reaches David and Tricia’s sandwich shop as she hears Stephen Miller repeat his warning message. David telephones Pippa to warn her in case she hasn’t heard. Harry smiles as Pippa pulls him behind the counter and locks the security door.

 

~

 

 

Albert reaches the open café door. Justin is the first to react. He runs towards the counter, leaping it like an Olympic high jumper.

 

‘Open the storeroom door, quick!’ he shouts.

 

The lion bounds into the café, knocking over two tables, plates and cups crashing to the floor. Justin shoves Jasmine into the storeroom. She hasn’t seen the lion as she was facing the grill when Albert entered. They did not hear the police warning. Justin had been enjoying the other ‘Police’ singing Message in a Bottle. As they lock the door, silence eventually falls in the café after one more crashing noise. Albert drags his powerful claw across the counter sending the radio (and everything else) across the floor. Sting stops singing. Albert roars.

 

‘What the hell is going on, Justin?’

‘No joke, Jasmine. It’s a flippin’ lion!’

 

She bursts into tears. ‘Hold me, Justin, hold me.’

 

He obeys her instruction, but not before barricading the door with anything he can find. A table, two chairs, boxes of food, a mop and bucket. ‘That’ll do,’ he says.

 

Jasmine throws her arms around him.

 

‘Oh, Jasmine, I love you so much! I’ll look after you!’

‘I love you too, Justin. Kiss me, please. I think I’ve loved you since we first met.’

‘My darling Jasmine.’

 

Albert roars again,  but they don’t hear him as they slip to the floor, holding each other tighter than any couple in Leeford have ever held each other.


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