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EPISODE 86 - WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES

by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes

Once the court has fallen silent, the presiding judge continues.

 ‘As I was saying. The police officer, seriously injured in the line of duty, is making good progress. However, we take incidents such as this extremely seriously. I have listened to several accounts of the incident and the testimonies provided by the character witnesses and it would appear that the four men standing in front of me, while certainly being involved in what can be best described as a “fracas”, did not intend to injure the said officer.’

 ‘Quite right, your worshipful honour!’ shouts Vera Cleeve from the gallery.

 The exasperated judge looks to the clerk of the court who calls for silence.

 ‘It is, therefore, my decision that the offences be put on record and that each defendant be bound over to keep the peace for a period of eighteen months.’

 There is a collective cheer from the gallery. The men in the dock look at each other, relief evident in their facial expressions. Except, that is, for Nigel Cleeve, who looks at the floor. The prosecuting barrister attracts the attention of the judge.

 ‘Mr Snape, you have something to add?’ says the judge, impatiently, clearly wishing to go to his lunch.

 Mr Snape, a tall, thin man who might have appeared as a character in a Dickens novel had he been practising in Victorian England walks over to the bench, holding a piece of paper which he thrusts under the Judge’s nose. They mutter together for a while before Mr Snape returns to his seat. The judge clears his throat.

 ‘Messrs Simmons, Allthorpe and Owens, you are free to go. However, following the prosecution counsel’s advice, I would like Mr Nigel Maximus Cleeve to be retained and for him to return to this court after lunch.’

 The judge rises and, with a command from the clerk, so does everyone else.

 ‘What’s that about, Vera?’ asks Mandy, when they are outside. ‘Why have they kept our Nigel?’

Vera grabs Mandy’s arm and they walk quickly away from the crowd waiting to greet the three men who have been released.

 ‘You remember when Nigel was in court for selling uncertified meat?’ says Vera.

‘That was ages ago, mom. He’s done nothing bad since then.’

‘I know, love. But he received a large fine if you remember.’

‘I remember. You had to mortgage the house, didn’t you?’

‘I did. What I didn’t tell you, because you were going through all that stuff with Greg Withall, was that he also received a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.’

Mandy puts her hand to her mouth.

‘All that with Greg was less than two years ago,’ she Mandy, a tremble in her voice.

‘One year, three hundred and sixty-four days, to be precise,’ says Vera, tears forming in her eyes.

‘You mean he will go to prison, Mom?’

Vera holds Mandy’s hands and gives them a squeeze.

‘Let’s hope not, love.’

 ~

 The Leeford Three leave the court and are cheered again by the crowd waiting.

‘To The Cross!’ shouts Jack.

‘Good idea, Jack. I’m gasping for a pint,’ says Jason.

‘I think we owe quite a few people a drink, lads,’ says Nick. ‘Those character testimonies were excellent, even if they were a little, shall we say, “gushing”.’

Jack laughs. ‘They certainly were, Nick. I didn’t recognise myself! I thought Cody was standing for you, Jason.’

‘He was. I wonder why he wasn’t there? And why have they kept Nigel?’

 ~

 Bridgit Peabody and Cody Thornton are standing at the end of a leafy street in a suburb of Leeds. For an hour, they have been focused on Jasmine and Derek’s house but no one has yet to enter or leave.

‘Now, remember what I told you, Cody. Let me do the talking. You just take notes.’

‘Like your secretary?’

‘If you like, yes.’

‘Do you think I look the part?’

Bridgit looks Cody up and down. She frowns.

‘I wouldn’t employ you. You’d have to smarten up a bit. And get a haircut.’

‘I promise I’ll make more of an effort in future. What do you suggest I wear?’

Bridgit sighs.

‘You’re not actually working for me, Cody. We’re only acting the parts.’

Cody puffs out his cheeks.

‘Of course. Sorry, got carried away.’

Bridgit half-smiles, the most reaction Cody has seen from her all day.

‘Do you have your notepad?’

‘Check,’ says Cody, standing to attention.

‘Pen?’

‘Check.’

Bridgit turns towards the house.

‘Okay, let’s move in.’

 ~

 Vera Cleeve is sitting in Billy’s Café, cradling a cup of sweet tea, which Ethel has assured her will calm her nerves.

‘He’s not a bad lad, Ethel. He just can’t help getting involved.’

Ethel finishes wiping one of the tables and sits down next to Vera.

‘Well, he’s stayed out of trouble all this time, Vee. I’m sure the judge will be lenient.’

Vera takes a sip of tea.

‘It’s not down to him, I don’t think. He’s breached his conditions. That’s all there is to it.’

Ethel nods. Her mind is only half paying attention to Vera. The other half is wondering why Edward has not returned her call. She regrets not telling him the reason for the call, but it would have been so difficult to explain on the phone. While Ethel’s mind is wandering, Vera is reeling off Nigel’s history of encounters with the police, all minor, resulting in no more than a fine at most.

 ‘So, you see, Ethel. The only thing they can do is put him away.’

 Ethel nods again.

 ‘Have you been listening to me?’ asks Vera.

 Ethel shakes her head.

 ‘Sorry, Vera. I’ve a lot on my mind at the moment.’

 Vera is suddenly interested in the possibility of gossip.

 ‘Oh?’

 ‘Yes. Nothing I want to talk about, right now, if you don’t mind.’

 ‘Of course. When you are ready, just come and tell me. You know I’m the soul of discretion.’

 Ethel coughs.

 ‘While I think about it, have you any idea why Cody Thornton would want to hire a private detective?’

~

 John Peterson is at the kitchen sink washing the dinner plates. He surveys his normally manicured lawn, now peppered with a random series of earth mounds, each marked with a flag, as if a community of moles have been marking their territory. His wife, Hilda, is at the table, doing the vicarage accounts.

 ‘I wish I’d never let Jack loose with this nonsense, Hilda. Look at my lawn.’

 ‘Terrible,’ says Hilda, absently.

 ‘I mean, he could have just put flags in, without having to dig holes everywhere, couldn’t he?’

 ‘He could’ve.’ Hilda enters a figure into the calculator.

 ‘It’ll take years to get the lawn back to how it was. It was like the eighteenth green at Sunningdale before Simmons arrived with his trowel.’

 ‘Yes, it’s a very sunny day.’

 ‘What?’

‘You said it’s a very sunny day, didn’t you?’

 ‘No, I said Sunningdale.’

 ‘Oh, darn it!’ Hilda taps the calculator, furiously.

 ‘What’s the matter, love?’

 ‘The matter is you, John. Can’t you just be quiet while I concentrate? Going on about Sunny D, or whatever you were chuntering.’

 ‘Sun-ning-dale,’ says John, pronouncing each syllable.

 Hilda taps more figures into the calculator.

 ‘What are you on about?’

 ‘My lawn!’

 Hilda presses the ‘cancel’ button. She removes her spectacles and places them down on the table.

 ‘I’m sorry, Hilda, but I’m very upset about it.’

 ‘I'm upset about my husband, the vicar, associating with people who have been bound over to keep the peace, but I don't keep going on about it.’

 John looks at the floor, a crimson hue spreading from his neck to his face.

 ‘Anyway,’ continues Hilda, ‘it’ll be over soon, and it should be a good money raiser.’

 ‘Yes,’ says John, his face returning to its normal colouring, ‘it’ll be one of the highlights of the fête.’

 Hilda joins him looking out the window.

 ‘So, where is the helmet buried?’

 ‘I don’t know. Jac

Hilda smiles.

 ‘Does Jack know? I mean, it was a while since he buried it.’

 ‘Of course he’ll know, Hilda. Won’t he?’

 Hilda shrugs her shoulders.

~

 Bridgit, with Cody following a few steps behind, holding his pen and notepad as if they are precious objects, walks up the path to the house.

‘Are you sure we should be doing this?’ he asks.

‘I shall invoice you whether we do it or not,’ says Bridgit, knocking on the door.

 ~

 Vera trudges wearily home. There has been no word from Nigel, and she can only imagine that he is languishing in the corner of a bare cell, hungry and cold. For the past two years, she has managed to keep him on the straight and narrow and now he is locked away, all for the sake of a stupid protest. ‘They’ll build it anyway,’ she had said to Nigel when he first mentioned the protest. How she wishes she had stopped him. She turns the key in the front door. There is a pool of light seeping across the hallway from under the front room door. When she opens the door, Nigel is sitting in his armchair, watching a football match on the TV, a six-pack at his feet. He’s munching his way through a giant bag of nachos.

‘Nigel? How did…’

Nigel finishes a mouthful of nachos and takes a swig of beer from a can.

‘When they added up the number of days since my sentence, they forgot to take into account the two days I was on remand. My two years expired before I was arrested. I’m a free man!’

Vera throws her arms around Nigel, crushing his bag of crisps.

‘Get off!’ he shouts and they both laugh uncontrollably.

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