• Michael Braccia

Leeford Village Episode 56: 'Into the darkness'


Previously in Leeford Village:


The air ambulance takes Jessica to Banfield Maternity unit. Allen makes contact with Linda and explains he is working for Jimmy in his ‘new European beers’ trade. Jason Owens reveals to his brother, George, that he is at long last writing his book – about Leeford and its characters. Zack and Simon go to look at the tunnel Simon believes leads under Leeford into Market Street.


~


‘Allen’s called and says he’s doing some work for Jimmy. In Munich. Something to do with beer.’

Linda sounds relieved, thinks David Ward. Something in Arjun Bandra’s tone earlier suggested he was not telling the whole truth. David is beginning to wish he had never mentioned Allen’s debt.

‘Actually, I went to see Arjun, earlier and he said more or less the same,’ he says.

‘Thank you, David. I think he’ll be back home soon – with a crate of free beer, hopefully!’

‘Hmm, yes. Let me know when he returns.’

While Allen and David have had their issues, David does not want Allen to come to any harm.

~

Edward sits in an armchair in Clara and George’s lounge. Clara and Ethel are sitting on the sofa opposite, with George looking slightly crushed between them. Edward has flashbacks to the Viva examination he was subjected to when he submitted his PhD in the nineteen seventies, during which a panel of examiners grilled him on his thesis: Industrial Heritage and The Issue of Social Mobility in Late Victorian Britain, a dry subject, even by his standards. He has often wondered whether his thesis has ever been cited by subsequent academics, but the day he was awarded his doctorate was the day his father collapsed and died, leaving him the family business. No-one in the village, or anywhere else for that matter, knows he is Dr Edward Palmer – not even Ethel.

‘Now, Edward. I think it’s time we all put our cards on the table,’ says Clara.

George begins to say something, then has second thoughts.

Edward coughs and straightens his tie. He addresses Ethel first.

‘I was always under the impression that you, Ethel, wanted to move away from the village, once you had sold the café. So, I had in mind this place in Devon. I know you originally said Benidorm, but I really don’t think that would have suited me, er, you, us, I mean. Too hot. Way too hot.’

Ethel remains expressionless. Edward turns his attention to Clara.

‘When I told you about my plan, Clara, you said to look for a property near the one I had in mind for Ethel and me, somewhere for you and George to move to.’

‘Are we moving, old girl?’ asks George, looking expectantly at Clara.

‘No, love. We’re not moving and neither is Ethel.’

Edward looks down at his shiny brown brogues.

‘Edward. We know what you did was with the very best intentions. But, to just go and make offers, without consulting us first, that was a step too far.’

‘I know that now, Clara. I just thought that, while I was down there, I could get it all done and dusted.’

‘Good man!’ says George, to everyone’s surprise. ‘Efficient. I like that in a man. I think you are the best candidate for the job, so far.’

Clara smiles. ‘I suppose it does look like we are interviewing you for a position, Edward.’

‘The fact is,’ says Ethel, ‘neither of us wants to move now. Clara only wanted to go to Devon because I was, and now I don’t. I love my new job in the café and I have to say, I love Leeford.’

Edward nods his head, thoughtfully.

‘I see. Well, in that case, I suppose there’s only one thing I have to do.’

‘I’m sure estate agents are used to people changing their minds all the time. They’ll soon put the bungalows back on the market,’ says Ethel.

Edward looks at her for what is an uncomfortably long time.

‘That’s not what I had in mind, Ethel. You might not want to move to Devon, but I do. I’m transferring my deposit this morning. I’m leaving.’

~


‘It’s a boy!’ Sally calls to Ted Coleman, who is connecting a line from one of the pumps to a fresh barrel of ale.

‘Oh, wonderful! So, it all turned out alright in the end?’

‘Yes. No thanks to you three. What on earth were you doing driving to Birmingham when Banfield has a fully functioning maternity unit? The paramedics must have thought you were barmy!’

Ted smiles. ‘Well, no harm done and we had a bit of an adventure. And it was great to see Frank Watson flustered. I think he had visions of having to deliver the baby in the back of the car. Did Nick say what Jessica called the boy?’

‘Thomas. After Jess’s grandfather.’

‘Oh.’ Ted lowers his head.

‘What’s wrong with that?’ asks Sally.

‘I thought she might have called him Ted.’


~

Zack and Simon stand at the entrance to the culvert. Zack’s earlier enthusiasm for exploring the tunnel Simon discovered on his school field trip deserts him.

‘It’s dark in there, Si. I’m not sure we should be going in.’

Simon laughs. ‘Scared, are we?’

‘No,’ says Zack, unconvincingly, ‘I just don’t think it’s safe.’

‘I’ll go first,’ offers Simon. ‘You can hold my hand if you like!’

Zack punches Simon on the arm. Simon laughs again.

‘We don’t have a torch,’ says Zack.

Simon waves his phone in front of him.

‘It has a great torch. I used it last time. Come on.’

Simon walks into the entrance of the culvert, stooping so as not to hit his head on the concrete supporting lintel.

‘I think we should have helmets on, Simon,’ mumbles Zack, following close behind.

‘Oh, listen to Mr Health and Safety. We’ll be fine.’

About ten feet in, as Simon had suggested, there is a hole about one and a half metres in diameter. He tramples over a weave of brambles that have grown in the moisture just inside the culvert. He shines his torch into the blackness. There is only more blackness.

‘This is the tunnel, Zack.’

Zack feels a chill on his back. He is about to find a third reason why they should not enter the tunnel when Simon drops to his knees and begins crawling along the damp floor, the light from the torch on his phone illuminating no more than a couple of metres in front of him. Zack has no option but to follow. As terrified as he is, he is also curious and keen to ensure that if Simon does discover a tunnel under Leeford, then he is part of that discovery, too. After a couple of minutes, during which the boys crawl along in silence, Simon stops. ‘Look, Zack. The tunnel forks here. This must have been an old drainage tunnel at one time. We need to decide which fork to take.’

Zack looks behind him, but can no longer see the light of the entrance. His preferred option is to exit the tunnel and go home. But Simon is keen to continue.

‘I’m trying to imagine looking down on Leeford at this point. I reckon that if we go right, we’ll be heading towards the centre. What do you think?’

Zack grunts his agreement, though he is not imagining Leeford from above. He is imagining sitting in his music room, strumming his guitar, Clare at his side.

‘Okay, Zack. Right it is. Here we go!’

~

Jimmy and Allen are sitting in the cab of Jimmy’s lorry. The engine is switched off and it is cold.

‘So, what did you tell her, exactly?’ asks Jimmy.

‘I told her what you told me. That we’re delivering beer.’ Allen pulls his coat tighter around him.

‘And was she happy with that explanation?’

Allen nods. ‘Yes. She seemed to be.’

‘Good.’ Jimmy taps the steering wheel. ‘And where did you tell her we were?’

‘Munich. I said we came over on the ferry.’

‘Munich? Why did you say that?’

‘You told me to say that we were somewhere a long way from Leeford.’

Jimmy sighs.

‘Not another country, you berk!’

‘Sorry, Jimmy. I had to think quick. And with us carrying European beers and Germans being beer drinkers, I put two and two together and came up with…’

‘Munich. I know. Well, it does buy us more time, I suppose.’

Allen looks at the warehouse outside which they are parked.

‘Is this where we’re offloading?’ he asks.

Jimmy responds with a nod. He drums out a heavy beat on the steering wheel. In his side mirror, he sees a car approaching, its lights switched off. It swings in front of the lorry. Two men climb out and one of them inserts a key into the lock of a door at the side of the warehouse. The other man beckons Jimmy, then goes inside.

‘Come on, Allen. And keep your mouth shut,’ says Jimmy, jumping down from the cab.

~

Linda is annoyed with herself for binge-watching a whole series of Love You Forever, until well past midnight. She drags herself up the stairs to the bedroom, switching off all the lights behind her. Climbing into bed, she wonders what Allen will be doing in Munich. She begins to compose a text, then remembers he said he’d lost his phone on the way over on the ferry. Although she was drifting off in front of the TV earlier, she is finding it difficult to fall asleep. She decides to read a book and remembers Allen telling her about how good the book is that he is reading at the moment. She switches on a lamp, rolls over to Allen’s side of the bed and reaches down to open the bedside cupboard. She pulls out the book and notices a few other items in the cupboard. Curiosity gets the better of her and she leans over to get a better look. There is a phone charger, a pair of headphones, a couple of well-thumbed paperbacks and there, at the back of a shelf, Allen’s passport.


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