Episode 82: The Man Protesteth Too Much
Previously in Leeford Village:
The lads arrive back from Weston in the early hours and form two bypass protest groups. Doug and Ray, after a rocky journey in the 1950s coach, arrive in time to join them. Agnes has told Sally that she has a daughter.
The barrage of abuse hurled at the protestors sitting in the middle of the road outside The Cross is something for which none of the men is prepared. Many of those inconvenienced are good customers of Ted’s and Cody’s and, quietly, each begins to calculate the potential loss of income. David Ward, to this point an upstanding pillar of the community and ersatz leader of the group in the absence of Frank Watson, stands at the side of the road, a scarf covering his face, shouting out instructions to the team in an accent somewhere between Geordie and Welsh, in the hope that he will not be identified. How he wishes Frank Watson would magically appear and relieve him of his duties. He says as much to Ken, who reminds him that Frank has taken his bat and ball home and is unlikely to play ever again. A few of the locals join the protest and soon the numbers swell to a couple of dozen. Sergeant Miller pulls up in his car with a couple of uniformed officers from Banfield police station. He wearily surveys the situation. After a conversation with his two oppos, he puts on his hat and fluorescent yellow jacket and walks over to George, standing in the middle of the road, remonstrating with a disgruntled car driver.
‘Alright, sir. Can you tell me who is in charge of this protest?’
‘You know who’s in charge, we’ve…’
Ted kicks George on the back of his leg.
‘Oh, I see. Erm, David Ward. Over there.’
Sergeant Miller, flanked by the two stern officers, approaches David.
‘Hello, Sergeant.’ There’s a nervous tremor in David’s voice.
‘Mr Ward. I understand you are in charge.’
‘Well, I, well, only because I...’
‘Then, in that case, I would request that you order your protestors to cease immediately.’
‘Cease? Are we breaking any laws?’
‘You’re blocking a thoroughfare. There’s a chance that you, or others, may face arrest.’
David suddenly finds his own voice again.
‘Now listen here, Stephen…’
‘Sergeant Miller, if you please.’
‘Sergeant Miller. Under Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, we have a right to peaceful protest.’
Sergeant Miller strokes his chin.
‘Is this a planned protest?’ he asks.
‘Yes. Definitely. Planned,’ says David, confidence in his innocence growing.
‘Then, as the organiser, you should have given six days’ notice to the police.’
‘Six days. We only finalised the plan on the way back from Weston last night. And we told…’
David looks down at the pavement below him, wishing it to swallow him up.
‘Who did you tell, Mr Ward,’ asks Sergeant Miller again, guessing the answer.
A smirk crosses the faces of the two officers. They wink at each other knowingly – PC Carr’s reputation goes before him in Banfield Police Station.
Sergeant Miller sighs.
‘You may protest peacefully. But you may not block the traffic. You’re causing havoc and Leeford cannot have havoc. Understand?’
David nods his assent. ‘I’ll have a word.’
Sergeant Miller walks back to the car, shaking his head.
Agnes sits at the kitchen table cradling a cup of coffee. She considered going to the protest, to take her mind off things, but couldn’t summon the enthusiasm. It was good to offload on Sally, but it doesn’t alleviate her dread of having to tell Cody about Jasmine and the money. She replays the conversation with Derek and Jasmine in her mind, once more. It has kept her awake all night, up to the point when Cody phoned to tell her he was going straight to the protest site and requesting mid-morning bacon sandwiches. He was so excited, so pleased to be doing something for the community. A good man, she decides. A good man that will understand, perhaps. But Jasmine’s existence is not something that can be accepted in the same way that her past life as a strip-o-gram was. There was an element of the bizarre in that, which Cody still teases her about. No, this is much more serious. She is roused from her reverie by the phone ringing. Her first thought is that Cody and the rest of the team are probably wanting the sandwiches – as sincere as their protest is, they will still be concerned about their empty stomachs.
‘Hello, love,’ she says, trying to sound as chirpy as she usually is in the morning.
‘It’s Derek, Agnes.’
‘Oh.’ Agnes sits upright.
‘Is Cody there?’
‘No, he’s at a…out.’
‘Have you told him yet?’
There’s a long pause from Agnes. ‘It’s been difficult, he’s been away and now he’s…’
‘I don’t want to hear any more excuses. You’ve had time enough.’
‘I will tell him, tonight. Later today, even. When he gets home.’
‘Jasmine needs the money today, Agnes. We’ve booked the hospital and they won’t proceed until they receive the funds. Do you understand?’
‘There’s no “but”. If we miss this opportunity, there won’t be another. Do you know how many families are waiting for this treatment?’
Agnes is about to say she doesn’t before Derek continues.
‘Is the money in a joint account?’
‘Yes,’ says Agnes, feebly.
‘Then it shouldn’t be a problem to transfer it. I’ve given you the bank details. Do it this morning and we can pay it over to the hospital today and begin the process.’
Tears form in Agnes’ eyes. She wishes Cody were here right now instead of outside The Cross on some stupid protest. She would tell him everything.
‘Can I speak to Jasmine?’ she asks.
‘I’m afraid you can’t. She’s too upset about you not wanting to help us.’
Agnes jumps in.
‘I do want to help you, Derek. It’s the least I can do. Give me this morning and I’ll speak to Cody.’
‘Do it now Agnes. For the sake of Jasmine’s peace of mind.’
Derek ends the call.
Agnes sits with the phone in her hand.
At Banfield Town Hall, a crowd has gathered to watch the protestors, most of whom are enjoying their moment in the spotlight. Earlier, Councillor Sotherby appeared on the Town Hall steps for a moment, then withdrew when Allen Gomez accused him of bribery, in a loud voice that everyone could hear. The police are mingling with the crowd, in case it gets unruly, though at this time in the morning, most people have not yet had their skinny latte and croissant and civil disruption is unlikely, hence the presence of only three officers. PC Carr was originally part of the police detail, but withdrew at short notice, citing a pounding headache and has been switched to office duties for the day.
Frank Reed is enjoying his role as de facto leader of Team B and has, on several occasions, raised himself onto a beer crate, dropped off by the coach driver, Driver, earlier in the morning, to address the crowd. There were times when his speech faltered as he realised that he wasn’t in possession of any of the facts, other than there is a plan to build a bypass around Leeford that would impact on local businesses and, like David Ward in the other team, was regretting spurning Frank Watson, who will have every tiny detail of the plan logged away in the filing system of his mind.
A car emblazoned with the logo of Banfield Radio pulls up in front of the crowd and a reporter steps out, microphone in hand, just as Frank Reed is winding up his latest speech. The reporter pushes through the crowd. Frank sees her coming and feels his legs go wobbly. He looks in the crowd for Ted, who was so brilliant last time they were on the radio together, then remembers he is in the other team.
He hears the reporter say, ‘I’m outside the Town Hall with the leader of the protest group, Mr Frank Reed.’ She thrusts the microphone under Frank’s chin.
‘Mr Reed, could you tell our listeners what the protest is about.’
Frank’s mouth goes dry. The words will not come.
‘Mr Reed, if you could say something – into the microphone.’ She prods it further forward until Frank’s lips are in full contact.
As she is about to repeat her request, Frank is saved from potential embarrassment by a shout from the crowd.
‘On the roof!’
At this, all eyes turn upwards to the ornately tiled roof on which a figure is perched holding up a STOP THE BYPASS banner. The figure is wearing a balaclava, at odds with the rest of his outfit, which comprises a smart woollen coat and a pair of neatly pressed worsted trousers. There are gasps from the crowd as the figure rises, straddling the black Victorian ridge tiles. The crowd fall silent and the reporter whispers enthusiastically into her microphone. The police have grouped together and are scratching their heads.
The figure shouts.
‘This bypass will be an abomination! It will remove the heart and soul from our community! It has to stop, now!’
Simon and Zack look at each other.
‘I know that voice,’ says Simon.
‘Me, too!’ says Zack.
‘Frank Watson!’ they shout together.
Frank Watson shifts his position.
‘And, in addition, the whole council, and particularly John Sotherby, are the most…’ No one gets to hear Frank’s accusation as he loses his footing and with a scream vanishes down the side of the roof. The ‘Whoa!’ from the crowd is possibly loud enough to be heard in Leeford. The police rush round to the side of the building, followed by the protestors and the reporter screaming into her microphone.
Back at the Cross, Cody receives a message on his phone.
‘Bacon sandwiches on the way, mate?’ asks Ted, feeling famished.
Cody looks at the message.
‘No, Ted. It’s the bank confirming the transfer of twenty thousand pounds from my account.’