Simon Parke  
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Morning has broken

CHAPTER 8

You will remember that in our last episode, Lord Jo was infuriated by a call from Mrs Pump; both Billy and Cadbury celebrated in a subdued manner; David decided to be pro-hole, while the men in the pub reacted disappointingly to a call for help. Because no – Dr Hafiz hadn’t misplaced his needle! It was Billy who was groaning.

Well today, we discover everyone around the hole in the road, and in a state of some exultation.

Yes, in the end, everyone helped Billy out of the hole, and it was absolutely marvellous – it really was! Sheer community spirit, the like of which the village hadn’t seen for a while – perhaps not since the war. Why so long? Was Misty Longings just so lovely that no one thought they had to make an effort? Well, they were certainly making an effort now, and it was a joy to behold.

‘If only things could always be like this!’ said Inky, before racing off on his bike to get a plank. Meanwhile, it was Mrs Pump who kicked the men out of the pub to go and help. They had all sat down at the mention of Billy, but Mrs Pump had no time for that sort of attitude:

‘You don’t have to like someone to help someone,’ she said, because she had been a nurse, and liked hardly anyone.

Once gathered round the hole, everyone chipped in with ideas and possible solutions. No one wished to go down into the hole, obviously. But with encouragement, Billy slowly manoeuvred himself onto the plank.

‘Hold on, Billy!’ shouted Inky.

Slowly, Billy was hauled to the surface by a pulley system found in the church vestry of all places.

‘I always thought it might come in useful one day!’ said Rex, beaming.

It was truly a wonderful moment when finally the plank holding Billy swung safely over the edge and into the low winter sun of the High Street.

‘Welcome home, Billy!’ said Patricia.

‘Bastards,’ said Billy.

‘Really, Billy! We’re only doing our best! You should perhaps be a little more grateful,’ said Patricia.

‘The police!’ he said. ‘This was their doing!’

Oh dear. This was a disappointing response by Billy, but as it happens, on this occasion, he could well have been right. No one wants to knock the thin blue line, because they do a wonderful job by and large, but they can’t always get it right – no one can. And they certainly hadn’t got it right on this occasion.

This is what happened: The Old Bill had been dealing with Billy’s assault on Patricia, when serious trouble developed four miles away outside a bar in Much Needing. Hardly a surprise, what with their ‘booze culture’ and ‘binge drinking’, but they needed to respond, as they were the only police within a hundred miles of the incident. Billy was suddenly deemed a waste of time, and duly dumped down the hole, like Jeremiah in Jerusalem a long time ago.

‘One more in a hole – one less in our cells!’ said a young constable, well known for his comedy. So they had left Billy there and sped off to the trouble spot in Much Needing, with blue lights flashing and sirens screaming: Nee-nor, nee-nor!

Billy was still angry about the incident, but Rex hoped that this was a time for reconciliation.

‘Least said, best mended,’ said Rex. ‘Morning has broken!’

‘It’s the afternoon,’ said Mrs Pump.

‘Metaphorically!’ said Rex. ‘I feel it. Morning has broken!’

‘Cat Stevens sang that,’ said trivia buff, Inky.

‘He did indeed, Inky,’ said Rex. ‘But it’s also in our hymn book! It’s a hymn, you know. A church song. Morning has broken, like the first morning! It speaks of former times, an Eden, when everything was good. Perhaps it is our song for today. We shall sing it on Sunday. Morning has broken for young Billy – and perhaps for us all!’

Certainly it seemed like that, for what a grand day this was turning out to be. Rex hugged David, and David hugged him back. Patricia hugged Rex, and Patricia hugged David, and David definitely hugged Patricia, and Inky said ‘Yippee’, and Rex nearly hugged Alky, but then at the last moment, shook his hand.

During the hugging and handshaking, Billy was taken to the Dog and Whistle by Mrs Pump. Mrs Pump was neither a hugger nor a shaker, and Billy was getting restless. Patricia followed them in, shortly after, to check everything was OK. And then, Alky followed them in, on the trail of his unfinished gin.

‘We must get Dr Hafiz,’ said Mrs Pump.

‘I feel fine,’ said Alky. ‘Stop fussing.’

‘For Billy,’ said Mrs Pump. ‘You can die whenever you want.’

‘I’ll call him,’ said Patricia, getting out her mobile phone, partly because she cared and also because Dr Hafiz was rather gorgeous, in his way.

‘He’s in the function room,’ said Mrs Pump. ‘It’s his afternoon surgery. Just knock on the door.’

*

Away from both the euphoria and concern up the road, Mrs Post had her nose to the grindstone, in the postal sense of the phrase. The grubby letter addressed in the child’s hand, appeared to say, ‘To the Vilage – enyone who mite bee intrested.’ She put it on the side, wondering if it was a matter for the Parish Council. For some reason, she didn’t wish to deal with it right now. It probably wasn’t important, and it could certainly wait awhile.

But where was Cadbury? That was important. Cadbury had not yet returned from Algernon’s, which was strange. Like a dog, Cadbury always came back for a pat on the back when she’d completed a task. The other possibility was that she had failed to complete the task, and was now out there, tail between her legs, too ashamed to show her face. Perhaps, on reflection, that was the more likely scenario.

‘Bad dog!’ Mrs Post said under her breath.

Mrs Post rang The Palace and got no reply. She rang for three minutes this time, just to make sure. She then rang the Dog and Whistle, which she always said was Alky’s second home. It was Mrs Pump who answered the phone, but she put Alky on straightaway: ‘Yes, young Cadbury came to my door,’ said Alky. ‘She delivered the note and then went away. What more can I say?’

What more could he have said? Well, I suppose he could have said that he threw furniture at an innocent girl; that he left her bleeding and in deep shock; and then forgot about her. But really, what was to be gained? These things are not important. Not in the grand scheme of things; not in the broad sweep of history.

‘She’s a dear girl, a sweet lass,’ said Alky, feeling the calming gin. ‘But we must just let people sleep, eh? That’s the secret; that’s all we need to do, to keep the world a sunny place! Like you do, Mrs Post. You, above all others, keep the world a sunny place.’

Well, Mrs Post knew he was a charmer – Algernon Key should have kept snakes! But Mrs Post still basked in the praise, and why not? Algernon was no angel; that she knew. He had once slapped her bottom in a most inappropriate manner. But he had his good points, while Cadbury definitely had her bad ones. Cadbury could be very irritating, and on occasions – if yesterday was anything to go by – definitely went in rooms where she shouldn’t. What had she seen?

Mrs Post put down the phone, both reassured by Alky’s words, and still tut-tutting, in an amused sort of way, over naughty men who smacked ladies’ bottoms.

‘Men! You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them!’

It was a clever phrase she had once heard, and which she now used for herself.

*

Across the village, Cadbury wasn’t feeling very clever at all. Her fingers clawed aimlessly and painfully at mud and undergrowth. How long had she been in this ditch? How did she come to be here? She was desperate to escape these damp surrounds, while Lord Jo was desperate to be home. He duly hurtled and sped towards the manor in his very fast car. As the hole was slowing things up in the High Street, he would take The Palace route. If you couldn’t drive fast, what was the point of driving? He didn’t want to see the hole, anyway. His village shouldn’t have a hole at its heart, and so it wouldn’t! Not if he didn’t look…

Lord Jo put his foot down, as Cadbury’s foot pushed her up, just a little. For the first time, she could now see over the edge of the ditch. The road she’d need to cross looked clear. She looked one way and then another, and saw nothing approaching. Now was the time. She must just be really brave, and go, girl, go. The army might not make her queen, if they found her in a ditch.

‘In fact, I think they might ditch the idea altogether!’ she joked to herself, even as she heaved herself up on to the tarmac.

*

‘Of course I’m worried,’ said Dr Hafiz. ‘A patient of mine goes missing. How could I not be worried?’

‘He was only a tramp,’ said Jane.

‘And only a god,’ said Dr Hafiz. ‘There are no distinctions. I’m surprised by you, Jane.’

Jane felt suddenly shamed. Where had those words come from? ‘I know,’ she said. ‘I am surprised by myself. I’m sorry.’

Dr Hafiz continued to sort the medical records, but Jane had more to say: ‘Sometimes I am so hard inside.’

‘The heart’s hearth is a hard hearth to maintain,’ said the doctor.

‘And a most cold place sometimes.’

‘Indeed – but you stoke it as you are able, Jane. That I know. And there are such embers there, that a fine blaze is never far away.’

Somehow, Dr Hafiz always left her feeling better about herself. ‘So what will you do now?’ she asked.

‘I just want to know where he is – that is all. Where has this travelling man travelled to? He will have run out of his medication over two weeks ago, and without them, he is in serious danger.’

‘Did you ever find out who he was?’ asked Jane.

‘It is something of a mystery,’ said Dr Hafiz – but one I intend to solve. He certainly seemed very attached to this place in some way. Does Misty Longings hold a secret, perhaps?’

I fear it might.

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