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  • Michael Braccia

Leeford Village - episode 126

Episode 126: Ethel for lunch


Previously in Leeford Village:

 

Albert the lion escapes from Banfield Zoo. Meanwhile, Justin and Jasmine declare their love for each other, whilst barricaded in the storeroom, as Albert prowls around Billy’s Café. Cody and Agnes, escaping to the market toilet, face a potentially awkward moment. George has joined Sergeant Miller and PC Carr in the police car.

 

Cody and Agnes shift positions in the toilet cubicle, with Cody taking the seat and Agnes standing with her back to the door.

‘Is this a metaphor for our marriage, Agnes?’ asks Cody, a tremble in his voice that is as much to do with facing Agnes as the fact that a lion might be waiting for them outside.

‘What do you mean?’ whispers Agnes.

Cody flushes the toilet. ‘Going down the pan.’

‘Shh,’ says Agnes putting a finger to her lips. ‘He might hear us.’

Cody shrugs.

‘I couldn’t care less. He can eat me for dinner as far as I’m concerned.’

‘Typical,’ says Agnes, more loudly. ‘What about me? I’m not prepared to be lion food.’

Cody leans forward with his head in his hands.

‘Why, Agnes? Why did you never tell me?’

Agnes puts her hand on Cody’s head. She notices how his hair is thinning but thinks it best not to mention the fact.

‘Oh, Cody. Believe me, many times I have been so close. Then I see you and Adam together, how you get on so well, despite all your disagreements and I have never been able to bring myself to tell you. If it hadn’t been for Daniel’s grandmother, you would never have known.’

Cody looks up.

‘And would that have been a good thing?’

Agnes goes to kneel down next to Cody, but the gap between the toilet pan and the door is tight and she decides against it.

‘Look, Cody. None of this is ideal. But you have to understand why neither I nor Daniel told you. And, you are forgetting that this has come as much of a shock to Adam as it has to you.’

Cody nods. ‘Yes. Poor lad.’

‘Poor lad, maybe. However, unlike you, he’s dealing with it. He says he’s going to sell the villa and put the money towards his wedding. And, as far as he’s concerned, you are his one and only father. He’s never liked Daniel Windrush. As far as Adam is concerned, nothing has changed.’

Cody adjusts his position on the seat.

‘Let me have some time, Agnes. There’s a lot to consider. I won’t make it hard for you and Adam. We’ll all talk about what to do next. Just give me a couple of days to mull things over, eh?’

Agnes half-smiles.

‘Okay, love. But I think it might be better if you thought about it somewhere other than here. I don’t know about you, but the smell of disinfectant is getting right up my nose.’

Cody laughs.

‘This is not a question I’d ever thought I’d ask, but do you think the lion has gone?’

Agnes opens the cubicle door.

‘No!’ says Cody in a hoarse whisper.

Agnes moves along the row of sinks, towards the entrance. She pushes the main door gently and it opens with a creak. She waits a few seconds then steps outside. The market is deserted.

‘All clear, Cody!’ she shouts. ‘You can come out now!’

 

~

 

Frank Watson has been up all night worrying about the potential merger of Leeford with Bordsley. He’d tried to sleep, drinking copious amounts of Horlicks that only resulted in his having to go to the toilet several more times than usual. He’d counted sheep, counted from one hundred to one backwards, counted Pi to thirty decimal places (a skill he learnt at school) and even tried meditating, sitting cross-legged on the floor until his legs went numb and he became concerned about developing deep vein thrombosis.

Eventually, he had resorted to playing loud music through his headphones, so as not to disturb the neighbours. Wagner’s Ring Cycle was never going to soothe him to sleep, but it did take his mind away from the horror of the possible merger for a few hours. Realising it was mid-morning he had removed the headphones, a full minute after Sergeant Miller had driven past his house warning of a lion on the loose in the village.

 

Frank hasn’t eaten anything since the previous midday and decided that one of Ethel’s legendary bacon and eggs sandwiches would go down nicely. He puts on his coat and hat and steps out onto the street. He checks his watch.

Strange, he thinks, never seen the street empty at this time of day. He walks the short walk to the precinct. No one in the market, but the stalls are still full of wares. He walks past the flower shop, the music shop and the butcher’s. No one inside any of them. He stops outside the laundrette and peers through the locked door. No one. A strange feeling comes over him, which he will never be able to explain. I’m totally alone, he says to himself. Am I the only person left on earth? Is Radio 4 still on? He thinks about his daughter, Megan. Did she go to work this morning? He goes next door to Billy’s. He pushes the door. It’s open, but there is no one inside. ‘Hello?’ he says, tentatively, stepping over the threshold and shutting the door behind him. ‘Ethel?’

There is no response. He walks over to the counter and peers over it.

‘Ethel? It’s Frank Watson. Are you there?’

Then he hears what can only be described as a loud, weary grunt coming from the opposite end of the café. He looks towards where the noise has come from. One of the tables moves slightly. He stoops down and peers sideways. ‘Ethel?’

As he is about to move towards the table, the lion slips between two chairs, knocking them over in the process.

‘A lion,’ says Frank, surprisingly calmly. Then, less calmly, ‘Oh my God! A lion!’

Albert stands and stares at Frank, who is rooted to the spot.

‘Now, now,’ he says, ‘nice lion.’

Albert shakes his mane. Frank backs off towards the door, maintaining eye contact with the lion. He backs into a chair and sends it crashing to the floor. It is then that Frank notices a lady’s discarded shoe near the counter. The discovery causes him to pause for a few seconds but, eventually, he reaches the door, turns quickly and jumps out onto the street, closing the door behind him. Albert pads around in a circle then sits down on the floor.

Frank reaches for his phone. He calls Sergeant Miller on his direct line. The call is answered immediately.

‘Frank, I can’t talk now. We have an emergency. There’s a lion on the loose. Stay inside and don’t…’

Frank interrupts.

‘Stephen. The lion. It’s in Billys. I’ve just, er, met him.’

‘Met him?’

‘Yes. I’m safe, but you need to get the zoo people round here right now.’

Frank looks through the door towards the counter and the solitary shoe, lying on its side.

‘And, Stephen. I’m afraid the lion has eaten Ethel.’

 

~

 

Inside the café storeroom, Jasmine and Justin are still lying on the floor in each other’s arms.

‘Did you hear that?’ whispers Jasmine.

‘Yes,’ confirms Justin. ‘The voice – it sounded like Frank Watson’s.’

‘Frank Watson. The guy on the council?’

‘Yes. The chair, actually.’

‘Do you think he’s okay?’

Justin listens for a while.

‘I can’t hear anything. He must have left.’

‘Oh, thank goodness,’ says Jasmine pulling Justin closer.

‘Unless…’ says Justin.

‘Unless, what? Oh, no, you don’t mean…’

 

~

It only takes a few minutes for the police car to arrive outside Billy’s.

‘Stay here, George,’ says PC Carr to his passenger. ‘Let me and the sarge deal with this.’ Sergeant Miller nods his agreement and they both get out of the car. Frank Watson is standing on the pavement and greets them.

‘Where is he, Frank?’ asks Sergeant Miller. The three men peer through the window. Frank points to the table from which Albert emerged a few minutes earlier.

‘He came from under that table. I can’t see him now.’

PC Carr asks, ‘Did you confront him?’

Frank raises himself to his full height. ‘I certainly did.’

‘What did you say to him?’ asks PC Carr.

‘Well, I said, “nice…to see you”. Then I said “look here, young man. My name’s Frank Watson and I’m chair of Leeford Parish Council. I don’t know how you got in here, but you are going to have to leave, immediately.’

PC Carr looks at Frank, admiringly. ‘Were you afraid?’

‘Afraid? Certainly not. I am a man who refuses to be afraid. You see, lions smell fear and attack. When he confronted me, he found that he was up against an equal. Therefore, he left me alone and I was able to make my exit.’

‘Wow,’ says PC Carr.

Sergeant Miller digs PC Carr in the ribs.

‘Eh?’ says the constable. Sergeant Miller shakes his head. ‘Oh, right,’ says PC Carr.

‘So, Frank,’ says the sergeant. If your theory is right, Ethel must have been very afraid.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Before Albert ate her.’

Frank strokes his chin.

‘Yes, I can imagine she was. I can’t believe we are having this conversation. What a terrible thing to happen.’

The three men continue to peer through the window, but there is no sign of Albert.

‘Where are those zookeepers?’ asks PC Carr. ‘They should be here by now.’

‘There’s Ethel’s shoe,’ says Frank, pointing towards the counter.

The two policemen shift their gaze.

‘A stiletto,’ says PC Carr.

‘Hmm,’ says Sergeant Miller. ‘Not a style of footwear I would usually associate with Ethel. Would you, Frank?’

Frank thinks for a moment.

‘You’re right, Stephen. Ethel is more a flat shoe type of lady, maybe with a small heel on occasion’

‘I agree,’ says PC Carr.

‘Well, that’s good,’ says Frank, involuntarily clapping his hands. Then, he grabs PC Carr’s arm.

‘But, if the lion hasn’t eaten Ethel, who has he eaten?’


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