EPISODE 32 - LET'S BE FRANK
by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes
‘Which one are you joining then, Cody?’ asks Jack, as he pushes back his chair to join the queue at the bar.
‘Don’t know yet.’
Aware that Meredith has joined the Leeford Writers’ Group, and taking into account his distinct lack of interest and talent in any area of literacy, Cody is leaning towards the Readers’ Group. He hasn’t read a novel in ten years, only dipping into Top Gear Magazine when Agnes isn’t around to nag him into yet another chore. There is another reason for his indecision. Recent events have not dulled his yearning for the owner of Park’s Cards (renamed from the original Meredith’s Cards), but realisation has not only dawned but has smacked him squarely on the nose; Meredith doesn’t fancy him, simple as that. He knows it, but the conscience sitting on his left shoulder is still dragging the pieces across the board in the chess game it is having with his right-shoulder conscience. Cody not only ‘does’ conscience, he is paranoid, jealous (at one point, of his son, Adam), unsettled in his daily life and typically middle-aged. This, in the sense that the co-owner of ‘Leeford Plaice’ no longer has the desire or the energy – Cody would say the ‘oomph’ – to continue running a fish and chip shop.
As Jack saunters off for liquid supplies, Cody thinks back to the weekend – when he had browsed his Oxford English for just the right word to complete the Sun crossword. Brushing past the letter ‘O’, having already decided he had no ‘oomph’ left, he reached for the drinks cabinet after discovering the true meaning of ‘oomph’: ‘the quality of being exciting, energetic (ok so far, he mused) and sexually attractive’. That’s it, he thought, the dictionary is right. No wonder I’m getting nowhere with Mere...’
‘What planet are you on?’ said Agnes
‘Customers in the shop, Cody. You said you’d be five minutes.’
He wants more. He still loves Agnes, the mother of his child, his life partner, business partner, possibly his best friend, but he wants more. He wants what he can’t have. Meredith.
‘Ground control to Major Tom, commencing countdown.’
‘Where did you go just then, Cody?’ enquires Jack.
‘Just day dreaming.’
‘Well daydream your gob round this pint then.’
‘Well?’ says Jack.
‘Readers or writers? Jessica’s running both clubs at the Community Centre. Tuesday evening for writers, Wednesday for readers.’
‘Think I’ll join the writers.’
‘I’m sure we could sort something out, Sherry. I’ll have a word with the lads. Would you be prepared to work on any stall at short notice?’
‘I’m very grateful, Jason – thought you’d have enough on your plate. How is George?’
‘No change. They say he’s stable, and breathing on his own now. You know how it is, though, tubes everywhere.’
‘He needs fluids as he can’t take food himself, apart from antibiotics and other drugs.’
‘You sound like you’ve been through this, Sherry.’
‘An aunt of mine. In a coma for two months.’
‘Oh, she’s fine now. Nearly eighty. When she recovered, she went to live in Jamaica with her two cousins. Anyway, Jason, must dash. Send my love to George, you know, when he wakes up.’
‘I’ll speak to the lads this afternoon - see which stalls need some help.’
As Sherry walks away, waving to Jason, he calls out, ‘I’ll see Allen in the cafe at lunchtime. His stall is always busy.’
The double-take took less than two seconds to register in Sherry’s brain. No, I don’t want to help Allen with his stall, thank you very much, she thinks. I’ve just quit my job because of him. Come to think of it, have I? Must write my notice letter. Linda wants me to give it another go. I don’t know.
‘No, Jason, leave it for now, but thank you so much. Please don’t mention it to Allen or the others just yet. Give me a couple of days. I’ll get back to you.’
‘What’s with the old briefcase, Frank?’ enquires Nick.
‘What? Oh that, it was my grandfather’s. Found it in the loft yesterday. Nothing special.’
‘You seem pre-occupied.’
‘No, not really. Busy, you know,’ replies Frank.
‘What can I do for you?’ asks Nick.
‘Could you let Jessica know that I’m interested in her new groups?’
‘Oh, she will be pleased.’
Frank did not pick up on the sarcasm.
‘Thanks, Nick. Tell her I’ll join both groups.’
‘With pleasure, Frank,’ knowing that Jessica would not be that pleased.
As Frank opens the main door and makes his way down the slope towards his car, Nick feels that he has encountered a different Frank Watson; a man not presenting his usual bluster, pomposity and sarcasm, although Nick is convinced that Frank doesn’t mean to be sarcastic. It’s just the way he is. Now, Jessica, on the other hand...
He watches him through the main window of the Community Centre, noticing how carefully he opens the side door opposite the driver’s seat and places the briefcase on the passenger seat. Carried out with a good deal of deference, thinks Nick.
‘Penny for them,’ says Suptra, passing Nick’s mid-morning mocha to him, as Frank drives away, heading towards East Banfield and the local archives office.
‘Black coffee please, Ethel.’
‘Black? Not your usual, then?’
‘I need the caffeine kick and I want it as hot as possible,‘ replies Jason.
‘How is he?’
‘I’ve just been explaining to young Sherry – George is still in a coma. I feel so guilty.’
‘What did the police say to you at the hospital?’
‘Well, they’re not pressing charges. At least not yet. They want to talk to George when he wakes up.’
‘What difference will that make, Jason? They believed you, didn’t they? It was an accident, and we all know that you love your brother. You’d never hurt him.’
‘That’s the thing, Ethel, I have hurt him. I nearly killed him.’
Simon Brown doesn’t venture into Birmingham very often, but the Facebook posting he’d read on the Yamaha page entices him into the city. He used to play acoustic guitar, but always struggled with the more difficult chords. His parents suggested piano lessons, and after initial doubts he soon took to the new instrument in his life. He plays piano at home, but the portable Yamaha keyboard is his favourite. However, he dreams of owning a Roland RD-2000 stage piano, in parallel with Simon’s literary hero, Harry Potter, who craved for a Nimbus-2000 broomstick. As these thoughts flow, he arrives at the shop. A poster in the window grabs his attention:
Keyboard players and guitarists wanted for auditions. The Dive, Digbeth
He notes the number but decides to have a walk down to the club. He’s heard of ‘The Dive’. It’s been going for years, he thinks. Didn’t UB40 once play there?
Turning the corner at the end of Digbeth High Street, not fifty yards from the club, he stops and instinctively steps into a shop doorway. He can see Ziggy standing outside the entrance of the club. He is shaking hands with a man whose suit suggests a certain level of authority. Dark glasses and a cigar add to the image.
‘He’s shaking hands with the manager,’ he says to himself, receiving odd looks from the lady inside the wool shop whose doorway Simon has occupied. ‘What’s he up to?’
As Ziggy walks down the hill, away from the club, presumably to the bus station, Simon approaches the entrance. As he did at the Yamaha shop, he spots a poster attached to the main door.
‘Bass guitarist required – apply to the manager, The Dive, on behalf of The Kingsnakes.’
‘What the?’ Simon exclaims out loud, as the man he assumes to be the manager approaches.
‘We’ve been watching you on CCTV for a few minutes. Can we help you?’
‘No, er, sorry, bit of a mix up. Someone told me you needed a keyboard player. Sorry.’
Wait till Zack hears about this, thinks Simon.
Greg Withall is trouble. Ten years in Wandsworth for grievous bodily harm, assault and drug trafficking, and he’s back. Impeccable behaviour has given him the maximum discount, and he’s out on licence for the next eighteen months. People in Leeford Village know Greg. He used to drink in the Cross. Heavily. And, he’s Mandy Cleeve’s first husband. She is fully aware that he is due out, but no one in the Cleeve family know that he has arrived in the village. When Vera had a close call over her gnome-trading, she begged Stephen Miller to leave Mandy out of it, and told Stephen ‘she’s got enough problems’. Vera knows how worried Mandy is about what Greg might do, and also how her husband, Nigel, might react.