The Girl From Oswestry

This is a first draft of a first chapter. Feedback is always appreciated and any tips most welcome.

 

The church clock had been ten minutes fast for so long now everybody had grown used to it and when the clock chimed it passed without comment and was for a moment the only sound in the church village, the silence was broken by the sound of a tin being kicked across the pavement picking up some loose chippings on its short journey. A moment later a man appeared around the corner, hands in the pockets of his long over coat and keeping his head down muttering something under his breath as he half walked and half shuffled his way down to the Cloithiers Arms. He pushed the door and it failed to budge, the man looked up and knocked loudly on the door, a minute or two later he heard the clank of keys and a muffled shout of “all right, all right I’m coming.”  The door opened and Sid the landlord popped his head out and looked around. “Well where has it gone?”

“Where has what gone?”

“I heard this loud thumping and I thought ‘oh hello, I’m being jack-knifed into by some heavy artic’ and I open up and low and behold. No lorry, just my front door besieged by some articulated twit.” Sid gestured inside, “well if you are coming in Arthur.”

Arthur shuffled to his usual bar stool after hanging his jacket up on a coat hook. “I thought you were open.”

“That’s a natural assumption to make if you ignore the reduced lights, the locked door and the big sign in the window showing that on Tuesdays we open at 12!” Laughed Sid, “what are you having?”

“Oh I don’t know, you’re the expert. Tempt me.”

“A pint of mild perhaps?” Sid Suggested poising his hand over a pint pot.

“No, it’s too early for beer,” answered Arthur.

“How about a fizzy Lemonade?”

“Gives me wind,”

“How about a still Lemonade.”

“No I don’t want that rubbish”

“Oh that’s good,” Sid tutted. “Think about it objectively why don’t you?”

Arthur looked around and after a pause announced, “I think I will have a cup of Cocoa and a Ploughman’s if chef has started.”

“Tsh, Cocoa,” said Sid as crossed to the coffee machine. “Early night for you then is it?”

“Just trying to find something to occupy the time with. Days like this I miss young Miss Radcliffe.”

“Think she’ll marry that chap then?” asked Sid.

“I expect so, she was out of town quicker then a bullet in the backside of a Bat out of hell the moment she learnt he’d become a widower.”

Sid placed the mug of Cocoa in front of Arthur along with a set of cutlery for his Ploughman’s, “they still got you on gardening duty?”

“Pretty much,” answered Arthur sipping his Cocoa. “How’s Tracy?”

“She’s ok, getting a bit sick of marking all that homework though.”

“I can guess,” answered Arthur. “Paperwork is also so inspiring.”

There was a ding from the Kitchen and Sid disappeared for a moment and upon his return he was carrying the Ploughman’s platter, “still it means  that the house is occupied more.”

Arthur tucked into his ploughman’s lunch and pretty much ate his lunch in total silence, occasionally checking his phone for anything exciting on the news or any messages from Liz or Marie, or in fact anyone but the phone was stubbornly uninspiring. “Sid,” he said finally breaking the silence. “How long have you been in this place now?”

“Oh must be nearly seven years now,” mused Sid. “Why do you ask?”

“Because I would have thought by now that you would remember I don’t have Sugar in my Cocoa,” Arthur laughed as he buttered up the last bit of his bread. “Cheese choice was excellent today, nice mix of hard cheese and stinky feet.”

“Ah it’s not a Ploughman’s unless you have some stinky feet cheese, you should know that.” Replied Sid with a smile as he cleared the plate and empty mug. As he did so the door opened and a young woman of about 20 entered the pub. “I’ll be a minute miss” Said Sid as he disappeared into the Kitchen. The woman quickly scanned the bar before pulling up a stool and sat next to Arthur and presented him with a copy of the local Newspaper.

“I believe you missed yours this morning,” she said sweetly.

“Yes I was a bit late going to the shop this morning,” answered Arthur. “Thank you miss..?”

“Sevenpenny, Julia Sevenpenny,” she answered.

“I take it your the new girl they hired at the shop,” said Arthur.

“I a new girl whose been hired but not from the shop Mr Fransure,” she answered.

“Bar girl perhaps? I know Sid was-” Arthur paused and frowned. “How did you know my name?”

“Arthur Charles William Philip Fransure, guessing your parents were very pro-monarchy,” Miss Sevenpenny began. “You’ve been on Gardening duty for the last six weeks and it I am delighted to say that you can hang up your shears.”

“Hang up my shears?…. Oh I see, ‘his nibs’ has selected me for active duty again has he.”

“Indeed that is the case Mr Fransure.”

“Please, call me Arthur, all the mistering makes me nervous.”

“Ok Arthur, well there is a briefing at one if you would come with me,” Sevenpenny said sweetly.

“He must be feeling his age, his drivers are getting younger,” laughed Arthur. Sevenpenny smiled wryly and they headed out the door. “The money is on the counter,” called Arthur as he departed. Sid emerged to watch Arthur and the dark hair girl exit and get into the solitary car on the car park.

“Good grief, he must be a smooth operator,” Sid mused out loud to himself.

 

They arrived at their destination shortly before one, the façade this time was an old fashioned sweet shop with a shop window decorated with Candy Canes, jars of Humbugs, Peppermint candies and dozens of other delightful products. As Sevenpenny and Arthur entered the smiling shop assistant was measuring out a quarter of Aniseed Balls for a young kid, he clocked Arthur and Sevenpenny as they entered.

“Afternoon gov, Sherbert Dips again?” the assistant asked.

“Not today, I think I’ll go for gobstoppers and whatever the girl wants.” Answered Arthur.

“Righto sir,” the assistant smiled as he scanned the jars for gobstoppers, a moment later he heard the shop bell go and the kid departed. The assistant straightened up and crossed to his till and rang through a sale, a moment later the back wall of the shop opened up and Miss Sevenpenny and Arthur entered the room. ‘His nibs’ was sat at the desk musing over a few documents, he looked up briefly and acknowledged their presence.

“Good afternoon Arthur, good to have in the office again.” He said cheerfully.

“A sweetshop?” asked Arthur “Why a sweet shop?”

“Well it got too nippy holding briefings in the butcher’s cold room and besides it helps with my blood sugar levels.”

Arthur smiled, “I guess that works. Pretty young thing you have here.”

“Yes, Miss Sevenpenny has just joined us. Moved down from Shropshire I believe. Is that right?”

“Yes, I’m from Oswestry.” She answered.

“I guess someone has to be,” replied Arthur with a smile.

“Well lets cut to the chase. Three government aides have disappeared while on walking holidays in the Pennines, at first we thought it was just ramblers getting lost but well we later found out that someone had attempted to break into their respective offices.”

“Well what department are they in?” asked Arthur.

“That’s the curious thing, they are all low ranking civil servants in totally unrelated departments and all from different backgrounds and political parties. So I need your charm and wit to look into this, your partner has fall details.”

“Ok so where do I meet my partner?”

“What do you mean?” asked ‘his nibs’.

“If my partner is to brief me further I need to know where they are.”

Sevenpenny tapped him softly on the shoulder and offered him some papers from her handbag.

“Thank you, it seems odd my partner is using….” Arthur paused and looked Sevenpenny up and down. Five foot Eight, slim, amazing almond eyes and rather fresh faced looking, she couldn’t be far out of her teens. “My partner… You are my partner?”

“Yes Arthur,” smiled Sevenpenny.

“You are…  oh no!”

 

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