Bruno says ‘I can’t believe she threatened to murder you as well.’
I say ‘It was a figure of speech.’
It’s the Monday morning meeting. The three of us at Macey’s Lodge. Perched awkwardly on kitchen chairs. It’s hard to know quite how to sit. Bruno mimics Christine Keeler. Legs astride. Back-to-front. Lester looks uneasy. Shifting in his seat. He leans back absent-mindedly. The front legs lift off the ground. The back looks set to snap. Wooden spokes like spillikins. He ought to have a proper chair. Adjustable back; swivel seat.
Lester says ‘So what’ve we got for Wednesday?’
We both look at him blankly.
He clarifies his question.
‘So what are we going to present to the community at our forthcoming public consultation event?’
I say ‘It’s hard to know how to play it.’
‘Didn’t we have this discussion on Friday?’
‘We did. And if you remember we decided we needed clarification on St Peter’s admissions policy to establish whether or not we’re dependent on getting access to the north.’
‘So,’ says Lester. ‘What’s the story?’
Bruno’s ready with his answer. ‘They measure the journey, not the distance as the crow flies. They’re happy to count footpaths. But they can only consider formal rights of way. Apparently they’ve parents claiming their kids can cut time off the journey by climbing over a wall or popping through a hedge.’
‘So if we don’t get some sort of formal access off the High Street, kids in the new houses don’t stand a chance of getting in.’
‘That’s the long and short of it.’
‘Don’t say that to the Kirkbys. Or to anybody else.’
I say ‘So what are we showing on the plan? Access from the north? Or access from the south?’
Bruno is trying to help. ‘Is there anyway you can show a scheme without showing how you get in and out of it?’
I appreciate his efforts. I really do. He doesn’t have to be here. He’s only paid to work part time. But no. We can’t.
I say ‘We’d be a laughing stock. It’d be like unveiling house plans without showing a front door.’
‘Couldn’t you just sort of fade it out around the edges?’
I think of the soft focus photograph on Linda Kirkby’s mantelpiece. Faces in sharp focus. Fading to a dream-like blur.
I say ‘We’ve got six hours before we go to print.’
I say ‘Can we at least agree we’re going to show a plan that doesn’t built on Macey’s Patch?’
Lester says ‘Please tell me you’re joking.’
I say ‘It’s not that big an area. And the sycamore tree’s protected, so there’s only so much we could build. It just seems like an easy win. We’d lose one house at most. And we’d make an awful lot of friends.’
‘They won’t thank us for it.’ Says Lester. ‘They’ll just ask for something else.’
He’s right. I know he’s right. The minute we give an inch we’ll be in all kinds of trouble. Petitions for a playground, a swimming pool, a surgery.
I say ‘It might help discussions with the Kirkbys. If we guarantee we won’t touch Gala’s grave.’
‘It’s not a grave.’ Says Lester. ‘It’s an area of privately-owned ground where people dump dead pets.’
‘I don’t think we should under-estimate the strength of local feeling.’
‘One fleeting conversation with Linda Kirkby’s grandmother.’ Says Lester scornfully.
‘And an anonymous letter.’
‘We haven’t had a letter.’
‘It was sent to my home address.’
‘What did it say?’
‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’
Lester looks nonplussed. Bruno stares at me as though I’ve gone completely mad.
‘You got a poison pen letter and you didn’t think to mention it.’
‘We get angry letters all the time.’
‘Not anonymous ones.’
I say ‘It just seemed a bit… Midsomer Murders.’
‘It’s illegal tipping.’ Says Lester. He’s already losing interest. ‘A health and safety hazard. They ought to get a fine.’
‘Did you get a sample of her hand-writing?’ says Bruno.
‘Did you get a sample of Linda Kirkby’s hand-writing? To check against the letter.’
‘Sorry, no I didn’t. Silly really. I should have done it when I bugged her phone.’
He grins. ‘Humour me. It’s a small town and a boring job. We’ve got to keep ourselves amused somehow.’
Bruno says ‘You know I won’t be there on Wednesday.’
Fair enough. It’s not his problem. I’m grateful he’s here now. He’s only meant to work three days a week.
He takes my silence for disapproval. A demand for some sort of explanation.
‘I can’t stand those things. There’s only so much vitriol I can take.’
I say ‘I don’t suppose you’d have the boys?’
‘Why, what’s Daniel doing?’
I shrug. ‘I’m not sure what he’s up to.’ The truth if not the whole truth.
Bruno gives me a sideways look.
I say. ‘So what about Wednesday?’
He says, ‘I can’t I’m working.’
I say ‘I thought you’d given it up.’
‘If you and Lester paid me properly I’d give it up tomorrow.’
He looks a bit embarrassed.
‘If you’re desperate I can try and switch some stuff around.’
I say. ‘I’m not sure I really want you round my kids.’
He looks affronted. ‘I’m a personal trainer. Not a pedophile.’
‘A personal trainer with benefits.’
‘Stop being sanctimonious. It doesn’t suit you.’
I say. ‘I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.’
‘No.’ he says. ‘It’s mine. And its pays a damn sight better than this.’
He is pulling on his coat.
‘I can sort out Wednesday if you want me to.’
He calls over his shoulder when he’s half way through the door.
‘It doesn’t sound as though you’ve got an awful lot of choice.’
It’s Gala Pie for tea. We never usually have it, but I’ve got it on the brain.
Sonny says ‘What is that?’
‘It’s Gala Pie?’
‘What’s Gala Pie?’
‘It’s a meat pie with an egg in the middle. The egg’s a magic egg.’
The boys look disbelieving. They’re too old for this sort of thing.
‘It’s an egg without a beginning or an end. Wherever you cut the pie, you slice through the middle of the egg.’
They look suspiciously at the pie.
I carry on regardless: ‘You never get the end bit of the egg, where it’s really small and only white. And you never get a bit where the pie’s all meat and the egg’s run out. It’s always just like this. A full slice of egg. Yellow in the middle and white on the outside.’
Sonny looks disapproving: ‘They must throw a lot of slices away.’
‘I don’t think they do. I think they make the egg stretch out somehow. So it’s a cylinder not an oval. Like one big eggy sausage.’
‘It’s not so different from Scotch Egg.’
‘Except the egg’s shaped like a sausage instead of an egg.’
He looks intently at the perfect disc of eggy sausage in the centre of his pie.
‘Why would anybody do that?’
I say ‘People do all sorts of funny things.’