Rumours in the Village Shop
Janice pushed a mug of hot chocolate across the counter for the milkman as she sorted out early morning papers and magazines for delivery.
“You’re not telling me they’ve rushed that new school through for only a handful of Redington nippers!” Stanley delivered milk along with orange juice and other essentials like digestive biscuits and bread, yoghurts or cakes to elderly residents in the village. He took a huge swallow of his drink and raised his bushy eyebrows in Janice’s direction. “I mean, fair enough, the old school was in a state of ruin, but the way they’ve gone to town. Makes you wonder.”
Janice took a deep breath, and wiggled her shoulders when she’d bagged up two sacks full of papers ready for delivery. She’d done the job for so long she could have done it with her eyes closed. “Mm, I wouldn’t be sure. There’s all those new houses going up on the estate remember. People are already moving in over there now. The way it’s going, Redington will be double in size before long. It’s only from being in the shop that I get to know the new ones. It’s a good thing, building that new estate; you have to go with changes. I know a lot don’t agree though.”
“Not many around here think like you do; and not sure how long I’ll be able to keep going with my rounds. Mind you, saying that, a couple of young wives stopped and asked if I’d call twice a week with bread and milk, so you never know. Their hubby’s work on the roads over in Peterborough; tricky for them to get out early, especially if the babies are sleeping and them without transport. That’s what they were telling me. And with the shop being over this end of the village, makes it easier if I drop milk off.”
“That’s good news. It wouldn’t be the same without you and your deliveries. On the downside, there’s a new row of shops going up on that estate as well, so that might affect us in the long run.” Janice took a deep breath, and ran her tongue along her lip. “According to Jack, he’ll keep on doing the same as he’s always done, he doesn’t seem worried. I’ve spoken to him about expanding. I’m sure it could work.”
The door to the back of the shop banged open. The thin youth with ragged jeans and red and white sweatshirt made his way behind the counter, and picked up the delivery book. He glanced up, “Hi, Stanley, fancy taking a couple of small boxes for me. I’ve got the fruit and veg deliveries today. You know how they’d rather have you bringing them their jammy dodgers than me,” he grinned. “Sorry, did I interrupt something?”
Richie had dark brownish hair that sometimes hung lankly around his ears. On other occasions it stuck up, having a complete life of its own. His hazel eyes were enquiring and always darting from left to right, keeping an eye on every inch of the shop at the same time, Jack was teaching him to become shop manager, only everyone knew Janice held the fort more often than not.
“I was telling Stanley about Jack taking on a shop unit on the new estate. They’re not that big, and we’ve got all the stock and that new delivery van. It makes sense to me, only Jack doesn’t like changes, does he, Richie?”
“Not much. Let’s face it; took him three years to get me a van. He had me going round on that flipping great bike while I was the apprentice, with the basket on the front like an offspring of Granville.”
Janice chuckled, “Mm, I did hear you being called that once or twice. You have to admit it’s an idea though eh?”
“I’m sure you’d manage it between you. Anyway, if the young Royal is going to be attending that new nursery school in Redington, more people might want to come over here to live. We’ll have the television cameras here, Janice; better get your roots done.” Stanley put his cup down and made for the door swiftly managing to duck the pack of crumpets Janice hurled his way. He reached up and caught them in his left hand, then threw her a wink at the door and he was gone.
“I think there might be something in it, Ivy. I heard on the radio just before Christmas that he was going to be attending Nursery in mid-Norfolk.” Janice was marking the boxes of mince pies at half price. Nobody would want them now, and the sell by date was the end of the month.
The door pinged and a good looking woman with blonde flowing hair and pretty features waltzed in. She made her way round to the newspaper stand. “Hello, I’m new here, just checking out where I can get my morning papers and things,” she smiled at Janice, unaware that she’d interrupted a serious gossiping moment. She paid for a paper and milk then swished her long hair over her shoulder and left.
Ivy picked up two boxes of the special offer cakes, and popped them in her basket, then looked out after the young woman who’d just left. She glanced back at Janice, “From what Edna Bailey was telling me last night after choir practise there are already quite a few names down, and they’ve appointed a new teacher there. She’s moving in around now I think. She’s bought one of the new flats on the edge of the village.”
“Flipping heck, Ivy, you know all the gossip before it happens. Wonder if that was her? We were too busy in conversation to ask who she was.” Janice patted her arm as she noticed the look of alarm on the old lady’s face. “We only gossip in a good way, don’t take it to heart. That’s what’s good about having a village shop. We exchange news, better than in here really,” Janice patted her fingers and glanced at the Gazette as she passed it across the counter. “Oh my God, Ivy…” Janice put her hand to her mouth and gripped Ivy’s hand. “Just when I was saying we only gossip in a nice way.”
The headline in the paper showed a picture of the new building site where some flats and houses were finished and others were still being built. Ivy dropped her basket as she read the headline out loud… “Body found on a building site…”
Janice pushed her purple glasses up onto the bridge of her nose. “There’s no news of who it is.” She clasped her hand over her mouth again. “I didn’t even notice this morning when I bagged up the papers. Oh, Ivy, let’s get us a cup of tea. I don’t want to send you off up the street after a shock like that. Here, sit down.” She pulled out another chair from under the counter, and returned her specs to the place she usually kept them; on top of her head.
They were still sitting chatting and not wanting to contemplate who or what was behind the tragic discovery, when Betty stuck her head through the door. “You’ve heard the news?”
“Only just now, I can’t believe it.” Janice got up and walked towards the door. “Who told you?”
Betty put her hands into her pinafore, and pulled a tissue from the front pocket. “One of the gang of builders; he comes in for a pasty most mornings. They were about to lay some cement, and one of them spotted that the earth had been disturbed. Ugh.” She shivered and screwed her face up. “What is this village coming to? A body buried under the foundations of the new houses. Imagine if they hadn’t been alert to the soil being tampered with, that poor person would have been buried forever.”
“Have they any idea who it might be?” ventured Ivy. “It sounds like something from a mafia film; not something that goes on in our back yard. It’s made me feel quite sick.”
Janice put an arm around Ivy’s shoulder. “Come on, I’ll get Richie to drop you off in the van. He’s going out in a minute anyway with the deliveries. It’s been a shock for us all but I’m sure they’ll find out more when they’ve done tests and things.” She called to the delivery boy, who had almost finished loading up. As Ivy settled into the van, Janice whispered to Richie, “Make sure you see her into the house, and then tell her to lock the door.”
When they’d gone, Betty looked up the street. “Well, better get back to the shop. All the extra workers on the site over there have brought me a good trade over breakfast and lunch times. This will throw a dampener over everything. Imagine how the protesters will have a field day with this as well.” She twisted her face in a way that spoke more than words ever could, and raised her eyes skywards.
“Let’s hope they find out who did this awful thing pretty quickly, otherwise that new nursery school will be empty.” Janice pulled her glasses from the top of her head and put them on. “Well I can’t see many parents wanting to send their little darlings to a school next to a cement cemetery; least of all royal ones.”
Richie drove the shop van carefully round the lanes and when he pulled up outside Ivy’s cottage, turned off the engine. “I’ll give you a hand with that shopping, hang on.” He jumped out, slammed his door and took the shopping. Richie stood back and looked up and down the street, making sure no strangers were lurking. He followed in behind her when she unlocked the door and placed her bag on the worktop.
“I’ll wait while you put the groceries away if you like.” Richie sat down on one of Ivy’s pine kitchen chairs.
“I’m not as frail as you seem to think,” Ivy swung to face him and nodded towards one of the bags. “There’s a pack of digestives in there if you’d like one.” She picked the kettle up. Have you got time for a cuppa? I do like a bit of company, but not because I’m afraid.”
Rubbing his hand over his face to stifle a yawn, the delivery boy nodded. “I’d never say no to a cuppa. Simone and Marigold might give me jip if they don’t get their lemons and limes on time for the afternoon drinks though.” He smiled. “Bet there’ll be more news about that body on the building site by the end of the day.”
“I can’t imagine how the news was in the papers before Janice heard anything. She has a knack of getting to know most things. She’s a good listener, that’s what it is.”
Richie threw his head back and gave a huge smile, showing a row of even teeth. “They don’t call her the Redington Echo for nothing, must have happened late last night or middle of the night to make the early papers.”
“One good thing about being an elderly, Richie, not a wrinkly as I’ve heard young ones call people in my age group; you tend to go unnoticed. There’s a lot to be said for being invisible if you’re going to do a bit of detection.” Ivy picked up her mug of tea, and reached for a biscuit to dunk. “I’ve got plenty of time on my hands.”
He sat upright and by the look on his face, Ivy could tell he thought she was losing a few marbles.
“I dropped you off to save you walking home on your own; I’ll stay for ten minutes if you like…” His head tilted to one side, and raised one eyebrow. “You are joking, about the detecting I mean?”
“Ah, you see, you think the idea is ludicrous and so would most people; that’s what makes it acceptable, to me anyway. And I think the professor would agree. We do the times crossword together on Sundays, and he pops in for morning coffee mid-week as well. That reminds me, I ought to tell him.”
“Well, as long as you’re alright, I’ll get on with the deliveries then.” Richie sucked in his cheek, and threw a smile in Ivy’s direction. Just make sure you let me know if you decide to go out looking for clues.” He held an imaginary looking glass in his hand, and squinted one eye.
“Don’t worry; I’m not going to do anything silly. Wouldn’t hurt to get out and about and ask a few questions now would it?”
As Richie made his way to the van, then shouted back, “Thanks for the tea by the way.”
Ivy patted the side of her nose, and whispered, “Keep those eyes and ears keen.”
With a half laugh, and a shake of the head, Richie drove off.
Professor Harris had locked the door of the Hall as soon as he’d finished talking to Ivy on the phone. He didn’t go out early, and spent his mornings pottering in the garden or going through his memoirs. It was quite a shock to hear that a body had been found on the building site on the outskirts of Redington. It was the other end of the village to where he lived, but even so, much too close to home, and from the sounds of things, Ivy wanted to get to know more.
He had to admit, that was one of the things he admired in the neat little lady with the silvery grey permed hair, and pale blue eyes. The way she found daily life interesting. Whether it was a new baby in the village, someone moving in, or a ghostly sighting, she loved to get involved. Since they’d become regular friends, he’d found life to be much more enjoyable all round. Ivy had been watching in the window for him coming round the corner. Before he had chance to knock on the door, she held it open.
“Come in Professor, there’s so much to tell you. Apart from the body on the building site, that poor person, I wonder who it can be. And, this morning in the shop, Janice was telling me that they rushed that nursery school through, the one over by the building site for a royal visitor, can you believe it?”
“Woah, Ivy, steady on, you’re going from dead bodies then royals in the nursery. They planned the nursery school to be ready for when young families buy the houses. They’re already moving in; I know that because I went walking over that way last weekend. Quite a few in there now as it happens. Got curtains up at the windows and tubs in the porches, even painted little fences black and white. Gives it a Georgian feel, rather nice they are.” The Professor gladly took the cup Ivy placed on the table in front of him.
“I’ve been thinking it’s quite a clear afternoon for a walk.” Ivy kept a straight face and if she’d noticed the twinkle in her companion’s eye, she certainly didn’t let on, she only gave a smile and asked, “Shall we wander down there and take a look? I haven’t been over that way this year yet. I love these crisp January days.”
“The thought had crossed my mind.” He smiled. “And seeing as it’s the start of the New Year, let’s make it our first walk together for 2016. As long as you put your scarf on, you know how the cold air gives you a stiff neck.”
Already, Ivy had cleared the table, and was reaching for her coat. She looked at her small note book on the hall table, but decided to fill in any details when she got back. Wouldn’t do to be jotting in the street, it may draw unwanted attention, and as she’d mentioned to Richie earlier, nobody takes much notice of a couple of elderlies taking an afternoon stroll.
The sky was mainly a pale blue with only a few marshmallow clouds hanging around. Ivy wrapped her scarf around her head and neck. Pavements glinted in the afternoon sunshine, and the crispness of the afternoon air brought a glow to her cheeks. Without a second thought, Ivy linked arms with the Professor, who didn’t object, or if he did, he gave her no cause to believe it.
Children played in the street oblivious to what had happened in the village. The only giveaway was a group of mothers with arms folded whispering on a doorstep, keeping an eye on the youngsters at play while they tried to come to terms with happenings from the night before. Anxious glances soon relaxed when they saw a pair of friends taking an afternoon stroll.
The couple walked up the road, which led to a cul-de-sac; a barrier blocked the entrance to the building site.
Professor Harris peered past the police tape. “The show room office has a light on; we could go and make enquiries, otherwise we’ve hit a dead end.”
Ivy was already making her way to where the girl was sitting behind a desk reading her magazine. She knocked lightly on the door and went in. “Is the show house open?” When she needed to, Ivy gained an enormous amount of confidence. “Only we wanted to have a look around, if that’s alright.”
“It is, but we have to be careful not to let you go past the end house. That’s where they found the body.”
Professor Harris stepped in. He had been in the amateur dramatics group before he’d moved to Redington. Something he wanted to take up again, when he got round to finding a local group. “Did you say, ‘Body’?”
“That’s right,” the sales girl looked surprised. “Don’t tell me you’ve not heard? Surely you read the paper; it’s all over the front pages, not doing us a great lot of good to be honest. They could have found somewhere more discreet. Talk about Mafioso, now we’ll be hard pushed to get people to look round. Glad it hasn’t put you two off though. Was it the bungalows you were interested in?” She looked directly at Ivy.
“Erm, yes, I have always wanted a bungalow, only…” It suddenly occurred to Ivy that all this time and she didn’t know the Professor’s first name. She was rendered speechless for only a few seconds before he replied.
“She always says to me, ‘Archibald, we should get a bungalow, what with your gammy legs and all that,’ don’t you dear?”
Ivy nodded, and clasped his hand, “Archie, it was me dreaming mostly, but we could have a look, now there’s a chance of us finally getting one, and it would mean we could stay in the village. What do you think?” Ivy was playing the part well; she silently congratulated herself on passing herself off as the Professor’s wife. And now she might start calling him Archie as well. “Would that mean going past the place…” She didn’t want to put it into words now they were near the scene of the crime. “Do you know who it was? Only it’s a rare thing to happen in these parts.”
Turning to where Ivy was waiting for an answer, the girl shuddered. “Let’s say, they’re looking for a new site manager, and it’ll be a brave man or woman who will step into a dead man’s shoes.”
End of chapter 1