‘I could kill her!’
Charlie had been soothing his throbbing hands on a pint, waiting to play on the fruit machine, when he overheard Dave complaining as he thumped himself down at the next table.
‘Let me guess, the darlin’ woman at the shop?’
Charlie glanced over at the group of men who worked at the car repair yard on the edge of the village. He regularly weeded around the small industrial estate and knew most of the men by name. They often said hello to him when they went out the back for their cigarette breaks.
Despite having lived in the village his whole life, he had no friends and still felt nervous around most of the people. He had become one of the permanent fixtures of the village, always around and mostly ignored.
Still, at thirty-three and living at home, he thought he had a nice life. He worked for Green Gardens and Mr Green, his father’s friend, was always good to him. He would explain patiently what Charlie had to do at each job, never got angry with him and always gave him extra money in the summer when they were at their busiest.
His mother would help him sort out his pay each week. One pile for rent, one pile for savings and in the summer there would be an extra pile he called his ‘fun pile’. He would use this to buy a puzzle book and a pint, and any extra he gambled on the fruit machine.
This was the first Friday in the summer he had his fun money and he had been impatiently waiting to play when he heard Dave moaning.
‘What did she do this time?’ Nigel asked, rolling his eyes.
‘Stupid cow had the wrong price in her till for my drink. You’ve seen the special offer signs saying: “All cans of Scrumptons – £1”, been up for over a week now?’ There was a general murmur of agreement around the table. ‘She tried to charge me nearly two quid for the Scrumpton Max. I pointed out the signs and she just shrugged and said her till showed one-pound-ninety.’
‘I had that last week when I tried to buy stickers for my lad’s album. Came up seven pounds. Seven pounds!’ Ade slapped his hand on the table. ‘She didn’t even blink when she asked me for the money.’
‘She’s unbelievable and you can’t argue with her. The till is her gospel,’ said Dave. ‘Notice how she always huffs if you ever ask her where something is? God forbid if she ever has to leave her precious counter.’
‘She drives me mad when she natters away to her darlin’ friends – screw the long queue of people waiting.’ George, the landlord, piped up from behind the bar.
‘What a waste of skin.’ Dave shuffled his chair round so he could include George in the conversation.
Nigel nodded. ‘Remember when I went in to buy your fags for you the other day? I couldn’t remember the brand, had a mind melt. Anyway, I described them to Darlin’ Woman and she point blank refused to open the cupboard until I had named them.’
‘Something to do with law – cannot influence people to buy them.’ said Christos. Charlie understood Christos came from another country; he didn’t know which one, but his accent sounded mysterious and exciting to him.
‘I get that, but there was no-one else in the shop, just me and it’s not like I’ll suddenly start smoking because I can see all the packs.’
‘I can just picture you leaping over the counter, grabbing a pack off the shelf – ‘ooh, pretty box’,’ Dave mimicked Nigel’s voice. Nigel frowned, the others laughed.
‘I mean, how do they get away with running a shop like that?’ George said, wandering over to the table. ‘I’m sure it’s an experiment to see how far they can push the customers.’
‘I’d like to experiment on her,’ Nigel grumbled.
‘Hey, Christos, what would they do to her in your village?’ Dave asked.
Christos smiled wearily, ‘You know I lived in big city, they do nothing, same as here. But in villages, that is different story.’ Charlie loved the way Christos missed out words and rolled his r’s.
‘I bet they would tie her to a donkey and run her out of town.’
Christos ignored the comment. ‘I hear of one story in little village near my parents’ house, where butcher disappear one day. They say he had touched one boy and then next week he vanished. They had big bonfire and feast to celebrate him gone and they say…’ Christos lowered his voice and leant in towards the centre of the table. The others leant in with him.
Charlie strained his ears to listen. The pub was quiet now and the fruit machine was free but all thoughts of playing had left his mind.
‘They serve steaks at feast… but there was no butcher to prepare them. The villagers make them and you know what meat they use?’
Wide-eyed, they shook their heads in unison.
‘You mean the actual man?’
Christos nodded. ‘It is only story, but police investigate missing butcher; that is fact. He was never found. No body.’
‘Ha! You are full of crap, Christos.’ Dave exclaimed suddenly making Charlie jump.
Christos shrugged. ‘I just tell you what I hear.’
‘Pity we’re not butchers, but you could use your welding torch, Dave, and weld the Darlin’ Woman into the boot of one of your cars and send it off to be crushed.’
‘I’d like to weld her mouth shut. I tell you if she calls me darlin’ one more time…’ Dave stood up. He pulled down an invisible shield in front of his face, then proceeded to hold down an imaginary person on the table and pretend to weld the lips shut. ‘Best keep still darlin’… this won’t hurt at all.’ He grunted and muttered as he wrestled with his invisible victim.
‘There!’ he exclaimed sitting down in mock triumph.
‘I bet one day, someone will snap and sort that woman out. There’s only so long people will put up with that kind of service.’ said George.
Everyone nodded and muttered in agreement.
‘Isn’t that right, Charlie?’ Dave said and the group turned to look at him. Charlie jumped at the mention of his name and felt the heat rise in his cheeks.
‘I’m… I’m going to play on the fruitie’ he stammered.
Charlie stood up quickly, sloshing a wave of lager over his hand and scurried over to the fruit machine, but he still overheard George’s comment.
‘I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s him, you know, who snaps and gives Darlin’ a taste of her own medicine. We will see him digging one day only it won’t be roses he’s planting.’
Charlie tuned out to the laughter that followed and concentrated on the flashing lights and tinny music. It wasn’t long before all thoughts of the weird conversation left his head.
Five weeks later, Charlie was on his way again to the pub for his Friday treat. He spotted a police car parked outside and hesitated before going inside. Anyone in uniform made him nervous, but decided he would keep his head down, get his pint and go straight to the machine.
Slinking over to the bar, Charlie glanced round and saw the mechanics at their usual table, but this time there was a policeman hovering over them.
‘Sorry we can’t help. We were all in here last Friday until after midnight. Isn’t that right George?’ Dave said, looking over at the landlord.
‘Yup – all night,’ George repeated. ‘I remember because it was deadly quiet that evening. Just the lads. There was something on at The Red Lion. No-one else, all night.’
‘Well, if you think of anything at all, let me know. She has been missing a week now.’ The policeman headed for the door.
Charlie relaxed a little and took his pint over to the fruit machine.
His hand hovered over a button and he frowned. He was in the pub last Friday. It wasn’t surprising that George didn’t remember him being here, no-one ever did. Come to think of it, he had only seen two of them. Dave and Nigel never came in that night.
He looked over to the bar thinking that he may tell George he had made a mistake when his eyes fell on a chalk board, propped up at the end of the bar.
* DELICIOUS DARLIN’S *
EXTRA LARGE HOME-MADE SAUSAGE ROLLS
Beneath the sign was a plate of steaming sausage rolls. Charlie looked around; everyone in the pub seemed to be hungrily tucking into them, even George. He didn’t want to disturb him while he was eating. If he won on the machine, he would have one later. They looked delicious.