Jenny May-Hill knew her cheeks were flushing a bright red when she reached the top of the hill that overlooked the village. Her New Year’s Resolution of a new keep fit regime was going to last about a week; this was another fact that she already knew but she had promised her husband Alex that if she went for at least one run a day then he would replace the Death Trap of a coffee machine that he had been using for years with one that didn’t actually rattle every time he switched it on. She bent over and placed her hands on her lycra clad knees and breathed out in short, sharp puffs. Jenny couldn’t remember when she made the resolution exactly but her best guess was somewhere between Big Ben and a party guest suggesting that they make their own cocktails. Alex’s take on a Pina Colada was quite tasty and led to a very interesting night between the two of them but the lethal combination of whatever alcohol was left in the bottle didn’t sit well the following morning, or week as it turned out. After straightening up, Jenny cast a glance over the fishing village that had been her home for exactly twenty-eight years. From the quaint little square that made up the High Street over to the stone walls of the impressive Harbour that held the pride of the South West’s Fishing Fleet, The Rainbow Sun, Jenny could attach memories to every single one, especially the cliff top that lay just west of the Harbour itself. Jenny could make out the stone bench that stood pride of place there, a welcome rest for anyone who decided to take on the steep climb, especially at the beginning of January. Jenny smiled, closing her eyes to take in a lung full of fresh, slightly salted air before deciding that it was way too cold to stay on the mountain side for long. With a quick stretch and a flick of her blonde ponytail, Jenny was ready to run back down the hill and into the welcoming arms of her home. Well, a slow jog anyway…
Boroughford-upon-Tweed was at its height during the weekend. The whole village seemed to come alive, no matter what the weather. The market stalls were proudly set up with the neighbouring villages all descending to sell on their wares. The latest catch of the day was being thrown into the iceboxes and priced up with the fishmongers already scratching their beards as to what would be the best buy for them today. As Jenny walked through the centre of the High Street, waving at those who greeted her warmly, she noticed that Pip Holland, dressed up to the nines as usual in his fitted blue jeans and skin tight leather jacket, polishing the wrought iron sign that hung proudly above the door of the book store that he had built from scratch. What were once a few shelves, consisting of his private collection was now a two-story book haven for all those who wanted to lose themselves in the classics for an hour or two.
‘Be bloody careful on that thing.’ Jenny shouted over. Pip turned his head, the small book pendant that he wore chinking against the top button of his jacket.
‘I’m always careful.’ He yelled back, rubbing a gloved hand against his copper highlighted hair. ‘Is that husband of yours working today?’
‘Of course he is.’ Jenny smiled. ‘He always works on a Saturday you know that.’
‘Then I will be there as soon as I have finished this.’ Pip pointed to the sign with his orange rag. ‘Latte please.’
‘Of course sire.’ Jenny laughed with a wave before the few yards to her destination. Nestled among the gorgeous old buildings was the one place where Jenny could truly relax. C&C Coffee Shop had been a stalwart of Boroughford life since the mid sixties when Charles and Catherine Hill first opened it. Now, in the midst of their retirement to a warmer climate it had passed to their son Alex who, when Jenny entered the shop itself, was busy clearing tables and taking orders from the group of ladies affectionately known as The Purple Rinse Brigade. At least, that’s what Jenny knew them as. The little bell above the door signalled Jenny’s arrival and Alex looked up with an expectant look on his face. His blue eyes sparkled and his wide smile accentuated his stubble-laden jawline. He politely apologised to the table he was serving and promised them that he would be back within a matter of seconds before making his way over to Jenny.
‘Well this is a pleasant surprise.’ Alex smiled, giving Jenny the lightest of pecks on the lips. ‘Thought you’d gone for a run?’
‘Umm…’ Jenny took a step back and dramatically waved her arms down her body to show off her black and yellow running gear.
‘Ahh I see.’ Alex nodded, biting his bottom lip. This was a sure sign to Jenny that her husband was about to say something carefully constructed so as to not hurt her feelings. ‘Well, it’s… bright…’
‘Get me a coffee and a bacon sandwich before you find yourself sleeping on the sofa.’ Jenny replied, hands on hips. ‘For a week.’
‘I’ll put extra brown sauce on it for you.’ Alex said, before turning on his heels back to the table he was originally serving. ‘Sorry ladies but duty calls. Can I get you anything else?’
‘Oh no dear boy this is more than substantive.’ Mrs Claymore, head of the Purple Rinse Brigade, tapped Alex lightly on his shoulder causing a few stray toast crumbs to fall from her fingers onto Alex’s blue shirt.
‘Ok, I shall leave you lovely ladies to it then.’ As Alex made his way into the back and Jenny walked over to her usual stool by the counter, she heard the whispers of “oh isn’t he wonderful” and “if I was thirty years younger dear”, the same whispers that she would hear every time she walked into the time capsule of a coffee shop.
Not a lot had changed since Alex’s parents first opened up. The lighting and electricity of course had been modernised but the interior and the feel remained the same. The Hill Family philosophy of, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” carried through into the pale wood interior and little round tables covered in lace tablecloths with a vase in the centre each holding a different coloured carnation that Alex would buy each week at the Market, or at least send Jenny out for them. The chairs were cream and unlike most modern coffee houses, they were small armchairs that were comfortable and easy to get in and out of, not that many of the customers choose to leave the shop until at least their third round of tea or coffee. The floor to ceiling bookshelves that ran across the far sidewall carried everything from Jane Austen to the more modern authors that younger customers seemed to favour. Every now and then Pip would have a stock clearance and let Alex have whatever he no longer needed. That was the sprit of Boroughford, Jenny thought as she turned around on her stool and faced the wooden worktop that stood proudly on the glass counter, protecting the delicacies that Alex had spent the previous night preparing. Scones filled with cream and jam, assorted Danish pastries, muffins that were almost experimental in their flavouring but hard to resist as well as filled sandwiches and baguettes standing proudly, waiting to be purchased by the hungry lunchtime hordes. Apart from The Mariner’s, which claimed to served the finest pub grub in the South West Coast which, in reality was nothing more than frozen chips and pies bought from the out of town supermarket, C&C had the monopoly on selling beverages. Jenny was proud of the way her husband handled the business he had inherited and equally as proud of the way the customers took to him like they had his parents before him.
Jenny’s peace and reflection was gently brought to a halt when the delicious aroma of freshly toasted bread encasing her favourite snack meat drifted into her senses.
‘As ordered my lady.’ Alex smiled, pushing the plate and a bottle of Brown Sauce towards his wife. Jenny raised an eyebrow when she noticed that there was one vital thing missing.
‘Coffee?’ she asked, causing Alex to bite his lip in nervousness. Jenny knew the silence meant only one thing and when she heard the deathly rattle coming from the kitchen.
‘Slight hiccup.’ Alex smiled a wide smile, full of teeth and hope that his wife wouldn’t go mad as she usually did. Jenny remained silent. She had had the same conversation with Alex since he had taken over the coffee shop. “Matilda” was at least twenty years old and should have gone out with the Ark but in true Hill tradition, Alex kept it as a necessity for the shop despite the fact that it had nearly caused a fire on more than one occasion.
‘That thing should have should have been put out of its misery years ago.’ Mrs Claymore interjected, smoothing down her lilac coloured satin scarf whilst the rest of the Purple Rinse Brigade nodded in agreement. ‘Jennifer dear can’t you get that young man of yours to do something about it?’
‘Right here Mrs C.’ Alex said as he pointed at himself with both hands. Jenny shook her head and sighed.
‘Its not for the want of trying Mrs Claymore.’ She answered, turning around slightly. ‘And it’s Jenny please.’
‘Oh of course, you don’t like your proper name do you?’ The old lady tapped herself on the hand in a mocking gesture as the rest of her table let out a controlled fit of what could only be described as “posh giggles”.
‘That’s not the only thing I don’t like.’ Jenny mumbled under her breath before turning back around to face Alex and the rattling noise in question.
‘She does the same to me you know.’ He said, leaning on the counter. ‘Insists on calling me Alexander even though its not my name. She’s an old girl stuck in her ways.’
‘She carries on she won’t get much older.’ Jenny took a large bite out of her sandwich, letting the brown sauce she had poured over it run down the back of her hand.
‘Don’t be evil Jenny.’ Alex scolded, wiping Jenny’s hand with the tea towel he pulled from his shoulder. ‘What would your grandparents say?’
‘Tell me how to make it look like an accident.’ She grinned sarcastically through a mouthful of sandwich. ‘Which is exactly what I will do if coffee is not provided and that machine isn’t replaced within a week.’
‘You do say the most romantic things.’ Alex leaned over further and gave Jenny a welcome kiss, which despite her best efforts she found herself giving into despite the remnants of her sandwich falling apart in her hand. It was only when a well poised cough from the table that made their presence felt, did Jenny and Alex realise what was happening and so they pulled apart with equally blush filled cheeks.
‘Coffee.’ Jenny said, trying to control her grin.
‘Coming up.’ Alex straightened up and disappeared behind the curtain, which separated the kitchen from the main shop leaving Jenny with a warm glow all over.
When Alex returned with the welcoming caffeinated liquid, Saturday, as Jenny knew it returned to normal. She spent the next half hour happily eating, drinking and conversing with the customers as Alex flitted between kitchen and café taking orders and compliments as he did so. No matter how busy he got, Alex did not once call upon his wife for help. He always said that Saturday was her day to relax as she did more than enough during the week. Jenny being the new woman that she was always believed in equality but did love Alex’s old-fashioned gentlemanly attitude. By the time The Purple Rinse Brigade were on their third pot of tea and no doubt item four on the agenda of the latest meeting of the Village Council, Jenny was finished and ready to go on her usual afternoon stroll around the market outside. It was then the commotion started, a loud crash followed by a scream and what sounded like a car engine revving away. Everyone in the shop heard it; even Alex who was in the deep recesses of the kitchen flew out into the front where he could get a good view of what was going on. Jenny wiped her hands on the serviette on the counter top, jumped from her stool and went over to the window and nudged her way to the front.
‘Oh my God…’ she gasped, before running out the door quickly followed by Alex. They both made their way the small distance to Pip’s bookshop where the proprietor was now curled up on the floor, seemingly having fallen from the ladder he had been using.
‘Pip are you ok?’ Jenny knelt down at the side of her friend whose face was contorted in discomfort.
‘Nothing that a hot bath won’t sort.’ Pip answered, rubbing the small of his back. ‘Don’t think anything’s broken.’
‘Are you sure mate?’ Alex already had his mobile phone in his hand ready to make the 999 call, but Pip was insistent.
‘Honestly, everything moves.’ He answered, bending his arms and legs. ‘Just aches like a bitch that’s all.’
‘Right, lets get you inside.’ Jenny said, helping Pip slowly to his feet. ‘Al, you’d better call Jamie…’
‘No!’ Pip’s eyes went wide. ‘Don’t call Jamie. That drama queen I can do without. Just get me inside I will be fine.’
‘Ok.’ Jenny helped Pip sling his arm over her shoulder and limp into the book shop making sure that Pip didn’t see her mouth an order to Alex who nodded in return before going to calm his customers and try and return C&C normal.
Jenny flicked the sign on Pip’s door to “closed” before stepping over the piles of books that were strewn across the floor. Jenny looked around to see the shelves were in slight disarray and the dust flecks were visible in the sunlight that streamed through the gaps in the full window display. Pip’s desk was full of papers and old account books that were open at various pages with various coloured pencils adorning each of them. It led Jenny to conclude that only one thing was happening – stock taking month. It was no wonder that Pip didn’t want anyone to call Jamie; there would have been a complete uproar if Pip’s partner had walked in on this. Now Jenny was wishing she hadn’t told Alex to make the call…
‘Sorry about the mess.’ Pip groaned as he sat down on the Captain’s chair that seemed to be the only thing untouched by the devastation. ‘You know what’s it like in January. Bet Alex is going through the same thing.’
‘Not quite.’ Jenny replied, brushing some biscuit crumbs off a stool so she could sit down. ‘He’s quite organised when it comes to stock take. He doesn’t leave it till the last minute.’
‘Less of the thinly veiled insults, I’m injured here.’ Pip gritted his teeth, clearly in more pain than he was letting on.
‘Ok sorry.’ Jenny got up and started to walk towards the back of the shop. ‘Do you still keep those emergency ice packs in your fridge?’
‘For every attack Jamie has, yes.’ Pip nodded, getting himself into a more comfortable position. ‘There should be enough in there for my back.’ Jenny nodded before disappearing into the back. The backroom of Pip’s Books was no more organised than the front. The teapot and cup had been used multiple times that morning she could tell, and the milk was quickly turning to cheese despite the cold weather. Half eaten packets of biscuits were shoved into corners quite possibly in the hope that Jamie wouldn’t see them during an unexpected visit. It wasn’t that she didn’t love Pip and the fact that he was her brother in law, but Jenny knew what Jamie, her only sibling could be like and it wasn’t a pretty sight when Pip didn’t live up to the standards expected. Jenny sighed as she grabbed the milk and returned it to its rightful place in the fridge, grabbing the ice packs at the same time. It was then that Jenny heard the sound she was dreading. The bell that graced all the shop doorways in the village rang out with a vengeance and the loud yelling of her sibling filled the front of the shop. Jamie May was now in residence…
’And just what were you doing up a ladder? Umm, cat got your tongue? And come to think of it what the bloody hell was a car, a motor vehicle no less doing in the middle of the village on a Saturday? Does anyone want to fill me in?’ Jamie May was in full dramatic flow when Jenny tentatively entered the front of the book shop once again, ice packs in hand and a mental note to buy headache tablets from the chemist later. Alex was also standing there, apron still firmly tied around his waist, a stressed look furrowing his normally youthful brow.
‘I don’t know any of the answers Jamie so please will you stop yelling and concentrate on your boyfriend.’ Jenny saw her husband interject with his usual calmness and control. She almost felt like leaving him to it but as per the norm, Jamie caught one glance of her and dragged her in whether she liked it or not.
‘Ahh my darling baby sister, what do you think of all this umm? There’s a conspiracy going on here I tell you that. Are you going to defend me or be against me like you normally are?’ Jamie stood with pursed lips and folded arms and awaited Jenny’s response. The younger May sighed and titled her head.
‘And you’re supposed to be the older brother.’ She replied, kneeling down to carefully place the ice packs around Pip’s clearly bruised ribs. Jamie said nothing in response just stood there sulking. With his greying hair and blue and grey-flecked eyes, it was hard to imagine that Jamie was only three years older than his sister. They did share the same facial make up if not the same temperament, and even a stranger to the village could tell that they were the children of William and Angelina May, two people who had not been seen in the village for a number of years. Pip and Alex looked at each other with wide eyes. They knew that a smart remark from one May sibling that resulted in the other pouting was the fuel for a full scale war that they would inevitably get dragged into. Alex thankfully took the initiative and spoke up first.
‘How about we actually find out exactly what happened and then you two can go outside and take the usual thirty paces, what do you say?’ he said with a hopeful smile. Jenny and Jamie looked at each other and nodded, a silent truce until the next crises caused a fight. Jenny turned her attention back to Pip whose physical discomfort seemed to be healing for now.
‘There was a car in the high street?’ she asked, catching onto Jamie’s earlier rant. Pip nodded and swallowed hard.
‘Yep.’ He winced shifting his position slightly. ‘Came out of nowhere, that’s what made me fall. Put the scares on everyone else to. Almost took out the entire market.’
‘Ok, I’m with the crazy in law here, what the Hell was a car doing in the High Street?’ Alex asked, a confused look spreading across his face, an insulted look spreading across Jamie’s.
‘I have absolutely no idea.’ Jenny answered, pushing herself up on her knees but keeping close to Pip. ‘Everyone here knows that the High Street is a pedestrian zone. The only place where vehicles are allowed is the harbour and that’s only when the daily catch is coming in.’
‘Tourists!’ Jamie screamed, causing Alex to jump. ‘They are finally bloody invading!’
‘His tranquilizers are here somewhere…’ Pip mumbled, stretching out slightly to calm his aching muscles.
‘Shut up Jamie.’ Jenny said, as well as making a “quiet down” gesture towards Pip. ‘We need to be sensible about this.’
‘Jenny’s right.’ Alex nodded shooting a look to Jamie who had gone back to pouting and pulling at his thick sleeves of his cream jumper. ‘We need to think things through rationally. And maybe get you down to A&E.’
‘No way.’ Pip shook his head, copper highlights glinting against the light. ‘I hate that place, they stick unnecessary needles in you.’
‘It was a tetanus and you shouldn’t have been climbing that fence.’ Jamie piped up remembering the infamous “Break Into The Pub” bet three years ago.
‘It was your idea! Ow! Bloody hell!’ Pip squirmed seemingly losing the energy to argue. Jenny had also reached the point of giving up when she raised her hands and breathed loudly.
‘Right!’ she snapped, causing the heads of her family to turn sharply to meet hers. ‘I need to get to the bottom of this and for that I need you lot out of my hair. Alex, get back over to the shop and carry on as normal, ply them with tea and scones and everything should be ok.’
‘Yes boss.’ Alex saluted, blew a kiss at his wife before exiting the bookshop. Jenny rubbed her forehead and took a deep breath before placing her hands on Jamie’s shoulders and holding him still.
‘Ok focus sunshine.’ She said, keeping eye contact. ‘Pip is in pain, he’s had a bad fall and he’s pretty shaken up. You need to calm your tits, get him over to the house, into the car and then drive very gently to County Hospital to get him checked over is that clear?’ Jamie said nothing in reply, only nodded before Jenny let him go. He walked quietly over to a protesting Pip and helped him up before leading him out the door with Jenny promising to hold the fort while he was gone.
For the next few hours, Jenny attempted to make some sense of not only the mess in Pip’s Books but also the whole situation. She glanced out of the window into the market, which seemed to be carrying on as normal. Jamie had sent a text message to say that Pip had been diagnosed with bruised ribs, pulled shoulder muscles and one hell of a dent in his ego but thankfully nothing was broken and he should recover in a week or two. To say that Jenny had breathed a sigh of relief was an understatement; Pip meant the world to her, as did the entire village. For something like this to happen was completely unfounded in her forgotten little blot on the landscape. There had to be answers and she would probably find them, but they would involve awkward questions to the one person who would cast off the entire situation as a one off occurrence. The day had started off completely normally and now it was just giving her a headache. By the time Alex had closed up and re-entered the bookshop, Jenny was more than ready to throw in the towel and go home to her own bed. But she knew that she needed answers, if only to put Jamie’s mind at rest that no one was actually out to kill the love of his life. Jenny had made her mind up and when the last book was replaced on the shelf, she kissed Alex before they left for the sanctuary of their little cottage, with the couple both knowing the mission statement for the following day.