Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Village tales of Fekenham Swarberry - UNPUBLISHED WORK - Book Four - The Politics of Turnips - Part One 'Arrivals' - Chapter 12 - "Ralph, Verity, Yue Zedong and a Mystery Explained"

 After taking his leave of Cybil, Ralph returned to The Duck. It was now his only source of income even though he had savings enough to live off if needed. He loved with a passion the restaurant he had bought and was very proud of the reputation it had gained in so short a time. His head chef, Thierry Claude Debuckét, prepared food of the highest standard, combining not only French and English recipes but others from around the world. The combined cuisine was both delicious and exciting. It attracted good food lovers from far and wide.

  Today though it wasn’t Thierry he needed to speak to, it was Yue Zedong. He had suspicions that she, much like the sadly deceased and much missed Charlie Chan, had arrived in Albion without the proper paperwork. The one thing that Ralph couldn’t afford to do without damaging both his and The Duck’s reputation was to be harbouring an illegal immigrant. He liked the girl; she was hard working also highly intelligent, far too good to be waiting tables. Nonetheless, he had to be seen to be upholding the law of the land. He was after all a retired lawyer.

Ralph’s Aston Martin rolled across the gravel parking area at the back of the restaurant. He climbed out of the driver’s seat then walked the short distance to the kitchen door. Yue was sitting drinking coffee with three other members of staff.

“Hi guys. Taking your lunch break I see. Sorry to butt in but I need to speak with Yue. Why not come to my office, hon, where we can talk.”

As the pair walked away, with Yue fearing the sack or worse so Lionel Richtea, the driver from the brewery arrived. Ralph didn’t buy much beer as the favoured alcoholic beverage at The Duck was wine but he always ordered a few crates. The kitchen door was opened by another Chinese member of staff.

“Yue?” asked Lionel.

“Yue who?” said the Chinese female.
“Yue Zoo.”
“Yue Zoo?”
“Dang Dong,” replied the Chinese woman.
“Dang Dong?”
“Isn’t that something we do at New Year?”
“I don’t need new ear, I have two of my own,” said the Chinese woman.
The pair stared at each other with a single lack of comprehension. Then Lionel spoke again.
“I have a delivery for Yue Zoo. Are you she?”
“No, I said me Dang Dong. I wash plates. Yue is with Mister Ralph. He is seeing to Yue in orifice now.”
Lionel stuck his chin out then coughed while muttering something about funny goings on and bloody foreigners then he placed a small crate of beer at Dang Dong’s feet.
“Sign here,” he said.
“I already told you. I no want another ear. Me sign nothing. Go now. Go away.”
And with that, armed with a vicious-looking soapy sponge, the Chinese plate cleaner chased the Muckleford man away.
In Ralph’s office Yue Zedong was pleading with Ralph.
“Please, I need this job. Help me get the proper papers to allow me to stay. I simply cannot go back to China just yet.”
Ralph looked the girl who could only be in her late twenties. She impressed him. Her grasp of the English language was good, proficient. He didn’t want to report her to the authorities but was very aware of how public opinion was regarding illegal Chinese immigrants.
“You could always petition for sanctuary.”
“If I have to then okay but I would really like get a work permit. I have every intention of returning to my country. All I want is temporary visa, one that lets me stay but also allows me to work. It isn’t right to come to another’s country and not work.”
Ralph looked at the girl again. She was tall, about five feet six. She had that glorious blue/black hair that nearly all Orientals have, large almond shaped eyes that revealed brown pupils, sculptured cheek bones with a long, aquiline nose with full sensual lips.
“Why are you here? You don’t strike me as being the typical Chines immigrant who flees China to escape the oppressive regime. You are intelligent and hardworking but more than that, driven. What it is it that drives you? Why would anyone want to return to a country, and I say this with all due respect for its people, which is so oppressed by its government?”
Yue Zedong studied the face of the man before her. It was a good face, strong, resolute and very handsome.
“Love,” was the single worded response that Yue gave.
“Yes Ralph, love. Love for my country, love for my people. Love sometimes makes us do strange things and the things I do now may seem strange but they all are done for love.
 “My country has spent thousands of years being subjected to tyranny. We are not citizens, we are not even subjects. We are slaves to the grand design of the Emperor’s will. What he wants we deliver. We are powerless to stop him. He wants power and he takes it. He wants obedience and he enforces it. He wants land and he conquers it. The Emperor believes he is unstoppable but he isn’t. The people of China do not want war with the west. We want peace but more than that we want freedom.”
Ralph returned Yue’s intent look then he responded.
“And you are going to deliver freedom to the Chinese people?
Yue laughed. She had a ferociously loud laugh. It was like the bark of a Sea Lion.
“Yes, I am but how is a question for later, for now I need your help. Will you give it to me?”
Ralph sighed as he hung his head down gazing at the leather inlay of his desk. Then he looked up at Yue.
“I’ll see what I can do.”

Ralph left the restaurant in the capable hands of the small team he had working for him. He drove home, thinking all the while of the incredible Chinese girl he had working for him. He was determined to help her in any way he possibly could. As he walked into the cottage he called out to his wife.
“I’m home!”
A chilly silence returned his call. He hadn’t noticed if Verity’s bike was in the drive when he pulled up so he looked now to see if it was there. The first thing he saw as he looked was Verity on said bicycle pedalling her way across the village green. Ralph turned away from the window and went and put the kettle on. He pulled out a jar of coffee for himself along with the tea caddy for Verity. Minutes later her key turned in the lock.
“Hi honey. I take it you’ve been over to see Cybil and Jonah?”
“Yes. Both mother and child seem to be doing fine. Ruth was there. She always was an odd child.”
“We need to talk, Verity.”
Verity looked at Ralph’s face. She could tell by the tone of his voice that it was serious.
“Sounds ominous.”
“That kinda depends on what’s said,” replied Ralph. “I have the kettle on. Would you like some tea?”
“Yes, please.”
They stood together in muted silence watching and waiting as the kettle, heated by the dancing flame, slowly came to the boil. Then Ralph, without a word to Verity, made her a cup of tea and himself a mug of coffee. Then, still without speaking, the pair went to the living room. Verity sat on the sofa whilst Ralph sat in the large, winged arm chair. It was Verity who spoke first.
“This is about my recent spate of meetings isn’t it?”
Ralph nodded.
“Yes, it is, but before we even think of going there I need to both confess and apologise. In our time together I have never once done anything regarding you that I am ashamed of, at least I hadn’t. I don’t want to make excuses for what I have done but your disappearances of late and all the phone calls from this mysterious man had me feeling a tad jealous. I’m sorry Verity but I read your diary. I know who Ken Stark is and I know you spent the night with him back in the eighties. I guess he made quite an impression on you.”
Verity’s normally inscrutable face dropped its well-disciplined façade allowing a slight smile to curl her mouth. She was accustomed to Ralph being strong and succinct. He normally approached life with a cool, practised rationale. This unusual display of jealousy was oddly, touching.
“We did spend the night together some twenty years or so ago. We stayed up all night whilst Ken played me his Jazz collection. There were no bedroom gymnastics, no hanky panky, no rumpty pumpy just record after record of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Yes, I was taken by the man but only for his political mind. Ken is about as sexy as a fried egg.”
Ralph looked, and all at the same time, relieved, puzzled and slightly foolish.
“But these recent meetings in hotel rooms?”
“Discussing politics mostly, Tory politics; you see Ken is going to retire in a couple of years time and, since he cannot stomach Rupert Snatch-Kiss he has been looking for a suitable candidate to replace him as Tory leader but also as the next potential prime minister of England.”
Ralph looked less foolish and a bit relieved. The explanation had made sense even if he didn’t understand exactly what Verity was saying.
“And what has this to do with you?”
“Now that I have resigned my post as Fekenham Senior School’s Headmistress I think it high time I began a career in politics. I am going to succeed Ken Stark first as Tory leader and then I shall run for Prime Minister.”
The lantern jaw of Ralph Ramhard, ex-lawyer and now restaurateur, hit the floor with a loud crash – at least that’s how it felt to him.
“Just like that?”
“Sadly, no, I will have to do the regular running as a constituency candidate first but Ken intends to fast track me, one of your expressions I believe. I am confident I can win the local election once I get my name out there. I am well known in the area so I don’t think it will pose that much of a problem.”
“What about Snatch-Kiss?”
“I don’t think he will beat Parminter. I know I shouldn’t say that as I am Tory but Fullcock is much respected.”
“What about the new tax that everyone’s getting hot under the collar about?”
“Flair is no fool. He will drop the idea, probably sooner rather than later. The Whigs have done a good job as far as the electorate are concerned. Theirs and Flair’s popularity is waning but I think it will last long enough to see Parminter Fullcock become Warden of Wessex.”
Ralph looked somewhat incredulous. He ran his large hand through his hair.
“You’re sure about this aren’t you, hon? This is really what you want to do?”
“Become Tory leader? Oh yes, yes indeed. It is what I have always dreamt of.”
The thought of being married to a member of parliament, possibly the next Prime minister, was not a thought that sat easy with Ralph. Such a role would need a deal of self sacrifice from Verity and from her husband. Ralph wasn’t sure he could commit to that. For now though he was relieved to learn his wife had not been unfaithful, beyond that he would have to wait. One thing was certain though; when Verity got the bit between her teeth there was very little anyone could do to change the course she had set.
As Ralph considered Verity’s proposed move into politics so evening had arrived in Fekenham wearing humble clothes. A grey sky ribboned with streaks of red coated the rooftops. Fires were kindled sending indiscrete smoke signals rising to a heaven ignorant of such communications. Many folks gathered as they always did in the rum-soaked, gin-spilt, beer-swilling comfort of the Frog and Radiator. One or two stayed at home watching television or listening to the BBC. Others were making music.
    Riddle Drum was assembled in the church of St. Whipplemore’s. The band, consisting of Ruth on guitar and singing lead; Elvis Linkthorpe on banjo with Shaz; Ted Sandip and Neil Beefshank singing harmony as they all played Ruth’s latest composition. It was an uplifting song that trundled along at a fair crack As Ruth sang each line so the three harmony singers repeated the same phrase until they reached the fourth line where they fell silent letting Ruth’s melodious voice finish the verse. On the chorus the whole group sang along with a rambunctious force. They did the same with the second and third verse then on the final three verses they all joined in as the song climaxed with an emphatic repeat of the first line sung solo by Ruth.
“Once again the blinding light
Unbidden comes into my room
Floods the room with razor white
Draws aside my solitude.

Once again the blinding light
Chases shadows from the wall
Lifts the dark veil from my sight
Leaves me breathless and alone.

Sudden movement
Sudden change
Day dawns
Night fades

Once again the blinding light
Casts moving colours on my wall
Fills the world with warm delight
Cleanses fears that now grow cold.
Sudden movement
Sudden change
Day dawns
Night fades
Once again the break of day
Sweeps a breeze on golden corn
Runs a hand through trembling hay
Bringing peace to the morn
Once again the break of day
Settles soft on children’s heads
Chases nightmares far away
Wakes the sleeping from their beds.
Sudden movement
Sudden change
Day dawns
Night fades
Once again the blinding light
Floods the room with razor white
Lifts the dark veil from my sight
Fills the world with warm delight
Once again the blinding light”
The song over and with all members feeling pleased as punch with themselves, Ruth leant in close as Elvis Linkthorpe whispered in her ear. Ruth nodded at the vicar then turned to the rest of the group.
    “The vicar has a song he’d like me to sing with him. If it’s any good we can perform it when Kate Bush plays at the pavilion. Her tour is a couple of months of so it gives us time to practise a bit.”
    With that the pair broke into a cappella version of the timeless and beautiful song “The Parting Glass.”
Of all the money that ere I had, I spent it in good company.
And of all the harm that ere I've done, alas was done to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit, to memory now I cannot recall.
So fill me to the parting glass. Goodnight and joy be with you all.

Of all the comrades that ere I had, they're sorry for my going away,
And of all the sweethearts that ere I had, they wish me one more day to stay,
But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise while you should not,
I will gently rise and I'll softly call, "Goodnight and joy be with you all!

Oh, if I had money enough to spend and leisure time to sit awhile
There is a fair maid in this town that sorely has my heart beguiled
Her rosey cheeks and ruby lips, she alone has my heart in thrall.
So fill me to the parting glass. Goodnight and joy be with you all.

The song came to its glorious conclusion and was warmly applauded by Shaz, Ted and Neil. It was chilly outside. Autumn was fast running into winter so the vicar had turned the church heating on. Unfortunately, the system didn’t throw out much heat so the atmosphere wasn’t as warm as wished for. Neil turned to Ted.
“When are you up before the beak?”
“Next week, Tuesday t’ be exact. Not looking forward to it at all.”
“It’s what comes of breaking the law,” said Shaz a little contentiously.
“Someone has to,” said Ted, “Otherwise we get stung again by tax. I don’t know who first said it but they was right. ‘You’re born, you die and in between you pay tax.’ Them’s are the only firm truths in life. I see that Bert Meade and Tom Theobold have both closed their shops as have you Shaz. Times are hard enough without the bloody government robbing us blind with another tax.”
Shaz said nothing. As a supporter of the Whigs he was more inclined to tolerate tax hikes even if he did think the recent proposal daft. He changed the subject to avoid causing a row.
“I’m buying the old pub near to you Ted.”
“What, the Old Trout?”
“Yes, I think we can make a go of it.”
“I believe you can. Good luck t’ you.”
Neil joined in the conversation whilst Ruth and the vicar tuned their instruments.
“I see Tom Theobold has moved his business to Muckleford. He closed his old family business down but still owns the old barn. He is leasing the three shops to those that wants to have them. I see that your ‘friend’ Susanne has taken over what was the bakery. Is she going to open it up again as a patisserie?”
The vicar coughed then answered in an offhand manner.
“I don’t think so, no.”
“So what sort of shop will it be then?” asked Shazli.
“I thought I saw Delores Dewhip come out of the front door t’other day,” said Ted.
At the mention of the old barmaid’s name the conversation went down a ribald avenue before coming to a sudden cul-de-sac.
“So what sort of stuff will this shop have in it then and is Delores working there or was she just visiting?” asked Neil.
“Beds,” said the vicar, “quite a few beds.”
“Beds? A furniture shop in Fekenham? I don’t think that’ll work. Too few visitors. Why, if’n you want a bed you go to Muckleford,” said Ted.
“What about settees and armchairs,” asked Shaz, “will Susanne be selling those too? Will they all be French furnishings?”
“Just beds,” replied the vicar with a stupid smile on his face.
“A shop selling just beds; that sounds a bit bad mad don’t it?” enquired Neil a little perplexed.
“I didn’t say they were selling beds. I merely said the shop will have beds.”
Ted scratched his head, Shaz looked utterly bewildered. The vicar often conversed in a Daliesque manner. His sermons too were filled by metaphorical soft-watches and ambiguous references. The villagers were used to this now but Linkthorpe still had the ability to confuse and confound them all.
“Just beds?” said Neil again “What kind of shop is that?”
“A knocking shop,” said vicar Linkthorpe to everyone’s astonishment.
Ruth looked over. She wasn’t certain she had heard the vicar correctly. He was a man of odd behaviour so she, like the rest of the community often found his wavelength difficult, indistinct. Clarification was needed. She took the direct route.
“A knocking shop? You mean a brothel?”
“Bordello by any other name,” replied the vicar.
“’Cor blimey!” said Neil.
Ruth shot him a dark look. She was uncertain if she should be horrified or amused. The idea of village vicar living with an ex-prostitute who was about to open a house of ill repute was by anyone’s standards, weird. Even Fekenham with its generous nature and its liberal attitudes might struggle with such a concept. She hadn’t liked the way Neil had grinned at the thought of having whores in Fekenham.
“I’ll be buggered,” said Shaz.
“They cater for all tastes,” said Linkthorpe amiably.
“How much?” asked Ted, licking his lips as if they were sugar coated.
Ruth cast her eyes toward the heavens saying nothing but thinking more.
A brothel in Fekenham with Delores Dewhip as the whore; business was bound to boom but what would the female villagers think? More importantly what would Arthur Bentwhistle’s wife, Lupini have to say?
The smile on the vicar’s face suggested everything would be just fine and dandy. Ruth was not so sure it would.

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