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Authors: Gerald Hammond

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BOOK: The Unkindest Cut
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Jane, who had been expecting to have to use relays of milk churns, had switched to expecting a need to do something clever with a boat trailer, but now she could relax. ‘Write down your name complete with your middle names,' Jane said. ‘I'm going to nominate you for a JCB in the next honours list.'

Lance tried to laugh with his mouth full of tea. It was lucky that he was wearing older clothes than usual. ‘I'll see that you get it back in good order,' Jane said, mopping up the spillage with a paper towel.

‘But I don't
want
it back,' Lance insisted, mopping his eyes with a swab provided by Jane. ‘That's the whole point. I'm trying to get rid of it. Take it away and lose it, for all I care.'

‘Then you wouldn't mind if I made holes for immersion heaters in it?'

‘I'll say this again for the last time. Watch my lips, Jane. I … do … not … want … it … back. If you try to give it back to me I shall drop it on your foot.'

‘Then the yacht group can cut it up for chainplates and things when I've finished with it. That wasn't a question,' Jane added hastily. ‘I was summarizing.'

Next morning Mrs Stiggs telephoned to find which part of Jane's day was unencumbered by surgery times and duly turned up with another driver and Lance's Audi. Vets have to drive a lot of miles and Jane had only been able to afford a Citroën 2CV and not a very new one, so to be driven in a quiet and comfortable car was a luxurious novelty. In the surgery window Jane hung the sign that she kept for these occasions. Neatly printed by computer and duly laminated, it read: ‘CALLED AWAY. IN EMERGENCY PHONE …' and there followed the eleven digits of her mobile phone number. A similar message went on to her answering machine.

In the nearby jeweller's shop, just a few doors along the Square, a local young woman called Helen Maple, who considered herself to be the local female factotum, was in charge for the moment but not heavily occupied, so Jane asked her to look out for disappointed customers Helen happened to notice lingering outside the surgery, most probably looking for dog food, flea powder or biscuits. Helen was happy to oblige and Jane was free to go.

Mrs Stiggs was a widow, slightly overweight but still not without her sex appeal because she gave her face, figure and hair the intense care that an infatuated owner gives to a garden. She was a good driver but on this occasion, because of a sprained ankle, her daughter Joyce had come along as driver. Joyce, who was red haired, blue eyed and slender, also took a pride in her personal appearance. She was very well dressed in colours suited to her strong complexion and a summer dress cut to flatter her slightly plump figure. She, like her mother, worked for Lance Kemnay, though in a more junior position.

Jane hopped in the back seat of the Audi, luxuriating in the plump leather seats and ample leg room. It was only a short fifteen-minute journey, but Jane revelled in this time out from her busy day; it was a great excuse to take her rather aching feet out of her shoes (as sensible as they were for a vet) and massage the soles of her feet and her ankles, both of which were beginning to suffer under the strain of slight water retention and extra weight.

Joyce conveyed them all, briskly but safely, to the former church hall at Longdene. Once the expedition members had exited the car, both Jane and Mrs Stiggs showing signs of stiffness, they entered the building, negotiated their way around piles of various building materials and sacks of cement and there, half hidden by a stack of terrazzo floor tiles, was a tank. It looked more than large enough.

‘How many glasses of champagne would that hold, do you think?' Jane asked.

Lance retained the services of Mrs Stiggs as his secretary at the cost of a substantial salary, not for her looks but because she was the sort of person who knew the contents of the average champagne glass in cubic centimetres, could estimate the dimensions of the tank by eye and could divide the one by the other in her head. She had hobbled from the car with the aid of two sticks but her mind was still needle sharp. ‘Just under a hundred and twenty thousand,' she said.

That sounded rather a lot but they need not fill the tank to the brim and Jane was not going to pass up the chance of a free stainless steel tank. ‘I should think that'll do it,' she said. ‘Please tell Mr Kemnay to go ahead, shift it to Kempfield and to let me know when it's coming. Or going. Or whatever. And ask him where those terrazzo tiles are destined for. We could use them at Kempfield.' Jane knew that when a contract included terrazzo floor tiles the contractor would usually allow for a spare quantity because if extra was needed the first run would be almost impossible to match for colour. So consequently he very often ended up with the surplus on his hands.

Mrs Stiggs winked. ‘Leave it with me. I'll see to it.'

Joyce, however, did not approve of Lance's frequent gifts to Kempfield. ‘They should be paying for all these materials,' she said defiantly.

‘What do you care?' her mother asked rather tartly. ‘It doesn't come out of your pocket.'

‘I suppose not,' Joyce said doubtfully.

Mrs Stiggs and Jane exchanged raised brows and subtle yet amused smiles and all concerned made their way back to Newton Lauder, Jane now that much closer to a completely organized wedding.

There were some clients whose animals Jane had treated, at least once in the past, without looking for payment. These were those whose favours she was likely to need on some other occasion. Among them was an impecunious farmer who had woken her from a deep sleep when he thought, mistakenly, that his cattle had eaten a poisonous weed. From him she called in her favour and demanded the loan of a tractor, trailer and driver on a date chosen after careful scrutiny of the calendar and the weather. Other tradesmen and shopkeepers had been blarneyed or blackmailed into providing goods or services as well.

However, Jane had no need to use blackmail on the young members at Kempfield. For many of them she had nursed a sick puppy or kitten back to health or had obtained special access to facilities at Kempfield or elsewhere. The page posted in the lobby for members volunteering to pick elderflowers soon had to be supplemented with extra pages. A plumber whose son's budgerigar's talons she had clipped had, in return, fitted and connected immersion heaters to the tank.

This enthusiasm to help her out just proved that Jane was a very well-liked and popular member of the local community and how, as a prominent person on the committee of Kempfield, she had earned the respect and friendship of many of the young who frequented the place. GG had also been incredibly well respected in his role as photography course leader, and many of the now respectable thirty-somethings of Newton Lauder owed their present success to GG's role as their mentor which had kept them from veering into the world of the petty criminal.

On the day chosen for the big elderflower pick, the tractor and trailer made four runs between Kempfield and two stretches of woodland rich in elder trees. A measured quantity of water had been added to the tank and brought to the required temperature. The elderflower heads were added, together with lemon, wine vinegar and bags of sugar. Two boys who had been prevented, by leg injuries incurred in a football match, from joining the harvesting party were left to stir the concoction which was then covered with muslin, and the tank was wrapped in insulating material and left.

The yeast that was working itself up in a clean jar proved unnecessary – after two days the tank could be heard and smelled from anywhere in the complex. All activities involving paints or anything else that might taint the wine had already been banned. For four more days the brew was left to bloop and gurgle. Then it was siphoned through muslin filters into milk churns, the lids were clamped down and additionally fastened with fencing wire, the room allowed to cool and the churns left to finish their fermentation in peace. The tank was scrubbed out and went to store.

The date for the wedding was coming close but, while the ceremony was of interest only to the young female members of the fashion and catering sections, the male members foreswore their boats, cars, motorcycles, furniture and firearms for a period and turned their attention to Kempfield itself. The project had sparked the general imagination and the reception was to be the success of the century or else …

THREE

I
n addition to those who loved Jane or owed her favours, somehow the idea of this wedding above all others being the one occasion for everybody to meet and greet had caught on and spread like flu. Even the Newton Lauder Hotel ballroom would not have contained the crowd that was expected for what would undoubtedly be the wedding of the decade, but the former barns and cattle courts of Kempfield had ample space. They had been scrubbed out, lined, decorated and redecorated several times since being taken over and could be made available at short notice. Two hectic days were spent on another clean and a clearance of the three largest workshops and then some clever work with cheerful wrapping paper completed the transformation, disguising the utilitarian spaces as circus tents. Most of the problems were resolved by intelligent analysis but the removal and storing of machinery made demands on the pure manpower which, fortunately, was available. Jane's own attitude vacillated between trepidation and eager anticipation.

While all that work was going on, Jane was checking over her mental list and ticking off the jobs to be done. Surely everything was almost done … Then, on her very wedding eve, it hit her, forming such a distraction that she nearly inoculated a Persian cat against brucellosis. She was so used to driving herself everywhere that her mental picture had faded away at the point of getting herself from place to place apparently by teleportation. Guests could be trusted to make their own ways to Kempfield; and if they became unfit to drive and had to walk home again at least it was downhill all the way for the locals. The bride, however, would be expected to arrive and depart with dignity. A phone call established that nobody had remembered to book the limousine kept at the Ledbetters' garage and service station which was generally reserved for weddings and funerals and the occasional visit of a VIP.

To her infinite relief, the limousine was still available. A few minutes later, responding to her phone call, Alistair Ledbetter arrived at the surgery by motorbike, hoping to settle the details of the booking. He was Mr Ledbetter's second son and, in Jane's opinion, a few litres short of a gallon; but he was a handsome boy, a good driver and he kept the limo shining like a mirror. On the whole, the limousine driving was his responsibility and the rest of his days were spent polishing the limo, doing odd jobs around the garage or vanishing to take his amusement elsewhere. If he sometimes made advances to the occasional unaccompanied bride on the way to the church, or the odd visiting female VIP, nobody had complained yet.

‘Thought we'd be hearing from you, one of these days,' he said. ‘What time do you want picked up?'

They discussed times and places. There was nobody to give the bride away and because she had been living with the groom for two years such an attendant had seemed superfluous. Deborah Calder was to act as Maid of Honour and would be collected from her own home by the limousine as well.

For once, Alistair was anxious to be helpful. He was looking hangdog, which was not his usual expression. ‘Can't lend me a hundred quid, I suppose?' he enquired, once the formalities of the booking had been gone through and he was about to zoom off on his motorbike.

Alistair was known to gamble. Jane had heard it said that to repay a loan was against his religion. ‘If I could,' she said, ‘I'd lend it to myself. Try your father.'

Alistair made a sound that combined contempt with derision. ‘Not a hope. And don't you go telling him I asked.' He drove off.

Jane, who had been short of money for years, hated to hear of anyone else in that predicament, but Alistair had left and Jane's attention had to be given to her newly arrived patient's owners, Mary Kemp and Jolene Henderson. The two ladies lived together but, as was well known, they were certainly not lesbians. They were an artist and an artists' model. Jolene had seen a mouse so they had accepted the gift of a kitten from a neighbour who had spurned Jane's offer to neuter her tabby cat and was paying the price. Now they had brought it in for its shots and to be microchipped. There were no other clients waiting so Jane decided against bothering to transfer to the back room where anything smacking of surgery was usually performed. Jane did the job to the loud indignation of the little feline and replaced the plastic syringe on the shelf below the counter.

Among the ladies of Newton Lauder, Jane's wedding was the only subject to be discussed with her – or, usually, with each other. ‘Where are you going for your honeymoon?' Jolene asked. ‘Or is it a secret?'

‘It's a secret from me,' Jane said. ‘We're both snowed under with work. I can't get a locum until September and Roland's promised to do some more editing for Simon Parbitter but his own publisher is making noises about his next book and the film director wants changes to the script of Simon's last one.'

Her words were peevish but there was undoubtedly satisfaction in her tone of voice. Before Jane took over the surgery, locals had been inclined to take offence at her predecessor's brusque manner and take their business elsewhere, whereas now, clients from further afield were travelling to her clinics, not only for her veterinary skill, but also her open manner and friendly disposition that made chatting with her such a pleasure.

‘At least you're both busy, so you should soon be on Easy Street at last,' said Mary. She smiled her angelic smile. (Mary and Jolene lived mainly on Mary's illustrating of comic books. Mary had an exceptionally beautiful face and head which she used, with subtle changes, for most of her principal female characters. Jolene was rather pug-faced but her figure was superb and carefully tended to ensure that it stayed that way.)

BOOK: The Unkindest Cut
7.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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