EPISODE 29 - THE LEEFORD FACTOR
by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes
Frank Watson clears his throat and taps a gold-plated fountain pen on the table, making Ethel jump. Conversations cease immediately and all eyes focus on the Chair at the head of the table, which pleases Frank.
‘Firstly, we’ll take a roll-call.’
‘A roll-call?’ laughs Cody. ‘There’s only seven of us. Can’t we just get on with it? I’ve got a chip shop to open!’
Frank ignores the remark, calling the names of each Parish Council member in turn and, in turn, each member responds with a ‘here.’ Frank puts a tick against each name on his list.
‘Good,’ says Frank, clicking the top on his pen, ‘all present.’
He straightens the military tie he wears for Parish Council meetings, which, unbeknown to those present was bought from a second-hand shop in 1978.
‘As you are aware, this is an extraordinary meeting, convened with the intention to plan the Leeford Village fête, this coming July. If anyone has any other matters, please leave them until the next scheduled meeting.’
‘Which will be an un-extraordinary meeting,’ chimes in Ken Taylor, a man of few words unless someone mentions EU Agricultural Policy, about which he has many strong opinions.
‘Though sometimes extraordinary things can happen during un-extraordinary meetings, Ken,’ says Stephen Miller. Ken nods and looks at Ethel, as if for confirmation. In the absence of any considered response, Ethel nods back.
‘Gentlemen, please!’ There is a note of irritation in Frank’s voice. ‘Now, unless anyone has any strong objections, the date for the fête is July 10th.’
‘Why that date, Frank?’ asks Amanda Roberts, not a bona fide Council member, but given special dispensation to deputise for her husband, Jeremy, whose on-call duties clash with the timing of the meeting, much to the annoyance of the Chair, but to the great amusement of Cody who loves a rule being broken, particularly if it is one of Frank’s.
‘I have my reasons, which will become apparent. Any objections to July 10th?’
No-one objects. Frank removes the cap of his pen, writes down and circles the date.
‘Firstly, we need to form a fête sub-committee, with each member having specific responsibilities.’ He produces a list with a task written against each name.
‘Fait accompli is it then, Frank?’ says Cody, reaching over and grabbing the list. The pun is lost on the rest of the group.
‘Let’s see. Catering - Ethel. Makes sense. Stalls – Ken. OK, Ken does work on the market. Security – Stephen, yes, logical. Publicity – Amanda. You are mellowing, Frank! Entertainment – Reverend Peterson. You OK with that, John? Didn’t have you down as a performer, myself.’
Cody winks at Reverend Peterson. Frank makes to take the list from Cody, but Cody snatches it away.
‘Hold on, Frank. Cody – flowers? FLOWERS?’
‘Er, yes, Cody. I’m afraid it was the only job left. By flowers, I mean all decorations; bunting, flags, that kind of thing. Making the area look aesthetically pleasing.’
Cody is speechless. The others reasonably successfully suppress their smiles.
‘I thought maybe your Agnes could help,’ says Frank. ‘And perhaps young Meredith, from the gift shop. Her place always looks lovely and I thought with her being your Adam’s girlfriend…’
‘No!’ Cody slams his hand down on the table. Ethel jumps again.
‘I’m sorry, Frank. I’m not doing it. You’ll have to find someone else.’
Frank is about to fire a verbal tirade at Cody, when Ethel says quietly, ‘we could do the catering together, Cody. It’s too much for me and I could use your expertise.’
‘Thank you, Ethel. I’d gladly work with you. That makes far more sense.’ He casts a disparaging look at Frank tapping his pen on the table.
‘Very well,’ he writes Cody’s name against catering.
‘I’ll ask Clara if she can do the flowers, Frank,’ says Ethel.
Sherry turns and creeps quietly down the stairs. A man. Nothing wrong with that, but why the secrecy? The evening must have been planned; her sister is not the type to pick up a casual lover and bring him back home. No, this is someone who has been on the scene for a while, someone Linda has been seeing behind her sister’s back. These thoughts race through Sherry’s mind as she picks up the shoes (a nice pair of brogues - this guy has some taste, she thinks) and takes them into the kitchen. She switches on the kettle and takes a mug out of the overhead cupboard, dislodging the mug next to it which falls onto the tiled floor with a crash and cracks into several pieces. Almost immediately there is a bang on the floor above, followed by the sound of footsteps making their way across Linda’s bedroom. Sherry looks at the broken cup on the floor, then looks at the shoes on the kitchen table and smiles.
Apart from Cody’s outburst, Frank is pleased with how the meeting has progressed so far. The other Councillors accept their roles with enthusiasm, putting forward several ideas. Amanda reminds Frank that he had already asked her husband, Jeremy, to run the tombola and Ethel is certain that several of the villagers would be happy to help.
‘So, just the entertainment left to think about, Reverend. Any initial thoughts.’
‘Well, I have to say Frank that my job is embarrassingly easy.’
Frank frowns. ‘I think the church choir might be a bit too, how can I put this…’
‘Religious?’ offers Cody, now recovered from the thought of working with Meredith.
John laughs. ‘That’s not what I had in mind, Frank. No, the obvious choice is my Zack’s band.’
‘Yes,’ agrees Cody. ‘My Adam’s in that band. He says they are really good, though he would say that, I suppose.’
‘No, he’s right. I’ve heard them and they are very accomplished. In fact, the other day they played one of my favourites, though it did seem to cause a brief parting of the ways.’
Frank shakes his head.
‘Sorry, Reverend. Cody, it’s not going to happen.’
‘What do you mean, Frank?’
‘Nepotism, Reverend. Nepotism.’
Cody rolls his eyes. ‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ he says, followed by, ‘sorry John.’
‘You might roll your eyes, Cody, but there are several entertainers that might put themselves forward. If they find they have been overlooked in favour of one, two actually, of the Council’s relatives then our integrity might be called into doubt.’
‘Who did you have in mind, Frank?’ says Stephen, looking forward to how this latest turn of events will unfold, despite still being preoccupied during most of the meeting with the whereabouts of his missing PC.
‘Well, there’s Ronnie Arizona, the country and western singer. He used to play all over the Midlands, though, come to think of it I haven’t seen him for a while.’
‘I buried him a fortnight ago, Frank,’ says John, solemnly.
‘Oh dear. Poor man. Well, what about the brother and sister that play the banjos? They’re still around. I heard them playing that tune from that film, you know, Deliveroo.’
Amanda laughs. ‘You mean Deliverance.’
‘Right. Well, that’s only a couple of examples of local artistes and I’m sure there are many more. We have to give everyone the chance to participate. Do you agree? Stephen? Ethel? Ken?’
Ken looks up suddenly as if awoken from a dream.
‘Never mind, Ken,’ laughs Cody.
‘We’ll hold auditions!’ suggests Stephen. ‘The winner, or winners get to be star billing at the fête.’
‘Like the X Factor!’ says Ethel, excitedly.
The others agree with Stephen’s proposal. Even Frank, to the surprise of Cody, who cannot remember the last time Frank agreed with any suggestion not put forward by Frank himself.
‘We’ll need judges,’ says Amanda.
‘Well, obviously I’ll be chair of the judges,’ says Frank, before anyone else has a chance to speak.
‘Obviously,’ says Cody under his breath.
‘You’d make a good Simon Cowell, Frank,’ says Amanda. ‘I can see you know. Trousers pulled up to your navel, white shirt unbuttoned to show a mass of chest hair. You’ll have the ladies swooning!’
Even Ken lets out a burst of laughter at this, despite having no idea who Simon Cowell is.
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ Frank shuffles nervously.
‘I’ll need a couple of assistants.’
‘Don’t look at me, Frank,’ says Ethel, ‘I’m going to be busy catering, with Cody. And, I’m no Cheryl whatshername!’
‘Oh, I don’t know, Ethel.’ Cody winks at Ethel and she throws her pencil at him.
‘We’re all going to be fully occupied. And I can’t be on the panel. Nepotism and all that,’ says John.
‘Well, who then?’ asks Frank.
‘Nick and Jessica. They’re young, on trend, and probably available.’
Frank shakes his head. ‘No, no, no. They’re not on the Council, though goodness knows how many times Nick Allthorpe has badgered me over the years.’
‘It’s not exactly a Council position, being on a panel of judges, is it?’ says Cody.
‘I suppose not, it’s just that…’
‘Just nothing,’ interjects Cody. ‘You don’t like Nick, but that shouldn’t stop you working with him. And you can’t think of anyone else, can you Frank?’
‘That’s sorted them. Now, can I go and open my chip shop? This meeting’s costing me money!’
Sherry sits on the floor at the end of the hallway, opposite the front door. She is correct in assuming that the man will emerge from the bedroom and quietly pad down the stairs. She is also correct that when he finds his shoes are not where he left them, he will scratch his head and turn to go back up the stairs. And, when he does turn, he will see Sherry holding up a shoe in each hand.
‘Looking for these, Mr Gomez?’