Mack's Progress Ch. 09byDenham_Forrest©
It was a long way to Lyon, but when we eventually got there Javier adamantly refused any payment for the trip. I had no idea how the train timetable ran so I was taking potluck. I'd chosen to set off from Lyon because that way my starting point would be much further down the line than Cody's so I had it figured I'd be well ahead of her; that way there was little chance of us running into each other during the journey.
Javier stayed at the station with me until the first train to Paris arrived and when it did, he wished me a safe journey the way only a Frenchman could another male. Somewhat embarrassing for my repressed English character to get accustomed to.
The express train took me directly to Paris, where I jumped on the Euro-Star to Waterloo. Then it was the underground system to the station closest to my parent's house where, I'm pleased to say, I was received like the prodigal son.
I noted that my father took a quick look up and down the road, as if he was expecting someone -- I assumed Codi -- to be with me; but if it was, he made no comment concerning her absence. It was embarrassingly obvious to me that all of my family avoided mentioning or asking questions about Codi at all though. At the time I assumed that there was something about my demeanour that told them that Codi was history; whatever she was not mentioned by anyone.
It was to be sometime before I worked out the reason she was never mentioned, and I've chosen to never broach the subject with any of them.
Julia arrived at the house shortly after I had and I got the distinct impression that she'd turned up especially to see me. But that idea I had trouble understanding, because even if someone had called her the second I'd arrived at the house to tell her that I was home, she hadn't had the time to drive over from her own house.
All the family appeared to have assumed -- correctly -- that I'd stopped off to see them on my way back to the Willows.
"Have you called Bev to let her know that you're coming?" my mother asked.
The familiar name that my mother used for Beverley didn't really surprise me. I was well aware by then that the two women had been in regular contact with each other for years. Later I learnt that my parents had been up to stay with Bev and George for a few days, more than once, while I'd been away.
"No, I figured that I'd surprise everyone up there, like I did you lot," I replied. "Bev wrote me a letter last week and invited me back for the season so I planned on just turning up."
"You don't know then?" my father asked.
"Know what?" I replied, but before my father could say anything further my mother cut him off.
"No, father, it's Beverley's surprise; don't you dare go interfering!"
My dad clammed up after that and no matter how much I pushed him; he wouldn't elaborate on the comment he'd made. He just gave me the kind of smile that he had always reserved for my eldest brother in the past. I'm not sure how to describe it, but for once in my life I got the idea that my father was proud of me. Pride was something that I had never known him show where I was concerned before. Considering what a fuck up I'd made of just about everything in my life up to that point, I had some trouble understanding that smile.
That night as a family, we all went out for a meal together, after which some heavy drinking took place. It might sound odd - and I got a few strange looks from the family of beer drinkers - but I found myself drinking quite a bit of wine during the evening, a habit that I'd picked up in France. Although it was nice to get back to some decent beer for a change.
I know that I consumed a little more than I usually did and I'd been mixing my drinks a lot more than is prudent, but it was a family celebration after all. Anyway even in my inebriated state, I did feel that there was something not quite normal about the atmosphere and almost every one of my relatives' behaviour. They obviously asked me about my travels, but not one of them ever mentioned Codi by name. As a matter of fact not one of them mentioned her at all, unless I related a story to them.
Not that I was going into any detail about what had happened in the previous few days. I figured I'd let them assume I'd returned to the country because of the letter Beverley had sent me, asking me if I was returning to the pub for the season. After the way I'd fucked things up so completely with Lindsey and got everything all arse about face, I could just imagine what they'd make of me telling them that Codi had done the dirty on me. Can you imagine it? 'Mack's cried Wolf again!'
The other strange thing that for some time I was to have some difficulty understanding was that Lindsey's name didn't crop up in conversation either. For any of my relatives to talk to me for more than ten minutes without Lindsey's name being slipped into the conversation eventually had been very out of character for all of them for some years. In the end I figured that they were trying to keep the whole of my debacle with Lindsey and, possibly women in general, out of the conversation.
By coincidence later on some of my old mates turned up in the pub that we'd ensconced ourselves in, and they joined the party.
By an even greater coincidence, one of my mate's sisters worked in the same office building as Lindsey. Consequently later -- and I never did understand why - when I found myself standing at the next urinal to his, I found myself dropping a question that I really didn't intend to; well, consciously anyway.
"Cathy still work with Lindsey?" I asked, wishing that I hadn't asked even as the words were coming out of my mouth.
"No, mate, as I heard it Lindsey threw the job in last year. About the time you went sailing, I believe."
"Oh, do you know what happened to her?" I still couldn't understand why I persisted in asking him about her.
"Ain't got the faintest idea, Mack; Meg and Lindsey never were too pally. I think Meg said that she went back down Bristol way, where her parents live, but I can't be sure. To be honest I never took much notice when Meg mentioned it; I know Lindsey hasn't got that flat of hers anymore though. A guy from my office lives there now. Why, what's up, you missing her?"
"No, not really Nick." I lied, "Just curious about what happened to her, that's all."
"I hear tell you shacked yourself up with a right little babe out in Spain," he commented. "American, weren't she?"
Just where Nick had heard about Codi from, I had no idea, but from his statement it was apparent that her existence was common knowledge. I wondered how the word had gotten around.
"Yeah, we had a good thing going there for a while. But how come you know about her?"
"Can't remember exactly who told me, Mack. Christ, you know how the rumour mill works, mate. Supposed to be American and a real looker, so the story went. But then, you always did manage to hook the good-looking birds. Never could understand why; it ain't like you're no oil painting or nothin'," he jibed.
"Codi could take your breath away when she put a bikini on, I can promise you that," I replied, trying as hard as I could to put a convincing smile on my face.
I really didn't want to discuss Codi with anyone, but I couldn't let on that she'd shit all over me to my friends, so I had to act casually about her; as if I didn't really care.
"What happened to her?" he enquired.
"Ah, she's gone back to the States. She was only over in Europe on a gap year from college."
Now that wasn't really an untruth. Codi had been intending to return to college, until we'd started talking about marriage. Now that I was out of the picture, I thought that it was safe to assume that she'd return to her original plan. It would also cover my arse quite nicely in the rumour mill.
"You going back to that Pub of yours up on the Broads, Mack?"
"Yeah, that's the basic plan."
"I heard that you were the manager there. How come you got the time off to go gallivanting around the Med?"
"Nah, I was just a barman, but I enjoyed myself working there."
"Well, if you can live on the money, that's what you really want; a job that you enjoy doing. Shit, I hate getting up most mornings when all I've got to look forward to is that fucking office. Wish I had the guts to do what you did and just chuck it all in and find a job I enjoyed doing; even if the money was crap. But I'm getting married come September, so I can't afford the indulgence. Fuck it, can't even afford to go sea fishing anymore!"
By that time we were re-entering the noisy bar, so the conversation abruptly ended. Much to my relief, if I'm being honest.
Two days later and after a very early start; I climbed off the mid-morning bus in the village. Several folks who saw me, gave me a cheery wave of acknowledgement as I began my walk towards the lane that leads to the Willows.
I could have gone by the towpath, that would have been a shorter walk, but I could easily have been spotted some distance off. I was planning on making a surprise appearance, so I went via the car park.
It was still reasonably early so I wasn't expecting that there would be any customers in the pub at that time on a cold March morning.
When I eventually entered the car park I got a disquieting shock; my car was missing and I at first thought that it had been stolen. But then I remembered that I'd left the keys with Bev and told her that, as it was taxed and insured (I hadn't had the time to cash either in before I left) and providing the driver was insured to drive it, then they could have use of the vehicle if it was required.
Beverley and George's cars were parked there and so was the old banger that Patricia drove around in. There was, however, a gap between two of them from which I assumed that my car had been removed.
The bar was very dark when I entered, far darker than it should have been. What light there was in the place was coming from a single light over the bar itself, the flames from the roaring fire in one of the grates and some light spilling out from the open cellar door.
Down in the cellar somewhere, I could hear someone moving crates and barrels around.
I went around behind the bar and looked down into the cellar, where I thought I could detect the noises that George makes when he's humping barrels about. I almost went down to join him but changed my mind.
Because my arrival had gone undetected so far, I thought that it might be fun, to pour myself a pint of keg and then settle in a seat by the fire to see how long it would take for anyone to discover me. It had to be keg because if I'd used one of the pumps, George would surely have heard the sound or noticed the slight movement in the plastic pipes.
Settling back, safely out of sight in one of the big club chairs, I stared into the flickering flames in the fire. I felt strangely content and relaxed to be back home again. All thoughts of Codi and what might have been banished from my mind.
I must have felt so warm and cosy sitting there after my long cold walk that pretty quickly I must have fallen asleep. That's when I suddenly found myself entering the Willow's for the first time again; but it was a dream of course.
Millie came walking in from the garden, straight over to me and kissed me on the lips. Then Pat, Michele, Bev, and finally (and completely inexplicably) Lindsey came in and did the same thing; they didn't speak to me, they just kissed me. The next thing I realised was that all of the girls were stood at the bar and had began to cut cards to see which one was going to be the first to take me to bed.
It was all very strange and confusing, but then dreams usually are. Then the dream got as crazy as most dreams eventually do. Mary, the three birds from Manchester and even Codi put in an appearance somewhere along the line as my subconscious mind played its little game with my sanity.
Then suddenly my cousin Billie was sitting on my lap kissing me. "See, he ain't dead!" she exclaimed as she broke the kiss. "Still kisses as good as he ever did anyway. You wanna go, Pat?"
"I'd love too, but I don't think John would appreciate the idea very much."
"Ah, don't be a spoil sport, snog the bugger while he still don't know what's going on." Billie laughed.
"Cut it out, Billie. Or we'll have a queue from here to kingdom come," Bev's voice said.
That's when I realised that I was awake again and not dreaming any more. I looked around to find a group of my friends standing around looking down at me. They all started laughing at the surprised expression on my face.
"We were hiding from you in the kitchen, Mack. We intended dashing out on you when you rang the bell. We were sure that you would do that. But you didn't, or come looking for us either; you just sat yourself down and fell asleep instead," Beverley informed me, smiling. "We thought that you must be tired and decided not to wake you. We were hoping that Millie might be back before you woke up, but she's got held up and... well, we can't creep about on tip toe in here all day waiting for her."
"Hi, folks!" I replied after I'd finally got myself orientated again. That dream had unsettled me some; but isn't that what dreams -- when you can remember them -- usually do.
"I was planning on creeping up on you all, but it looks like someone let you know that I was coming. Where is Millie by the way?" I asked, trying to act as casual as I could under the circumstances.
"She's gone over to the..." George began to say, but Bev cut him off.
"Millie's running an errand for me. She should be back before too long. They've taken your car. I hope you don't mind?"
"Millie's finally taken her driving test then, about bloody time too," I commented.
"Not exactly, Mack, only she is taking driving lessons now. No, the new barmaid's driving her. That's all right, isn't it? You did say that providing the driver's insured to drive the car then we could use it when we needed to."
"If she's insured, then there's no problem; better that it's used than sitting out there rotting in the car park."
"Oh, yeah, she's insured all right. Some people are very lax about their paperwork," Billie, who was still sitting on my lap, commented with a giggle; for some reason, everyone else found her comment funny as well.
Whatever the joke had been, it went completely over my head. I was about to ask what was so funny when Bev suddenly decided that it was time for me to see the refitted kitchen; it had had a full makeover whilst I'd been away.
The kitchen had never been my domain, so at the time I did wonder why Bev thought it was so important that I saw it at that particular time; but I had to admit that it was impressive. Bev is very proud of her pub.
Mille still hadn't returned by the time we got back into the bar, but a good few of the locals had started to turn up and an impromptu celebration of my return ensued. Well, I suppose it was impromptu, although someone might have done some planning or put the word out locally. After all, it was obvious that my arrival had been expected.
Almost everyone insisted on welcoming me back personally and usually with a pint or a short. After an hour or so I was feeling the effect a little, and Bev decided that steak and chips was called for, to soak up some of the booze; I was instructed to sit at one of the tables and eat it.
Bev and George sat themselves down opposite me and almost everyone else in the pub suddenly moved away from the chosen table tucked away in a corner, to the other side of the bar.
I'm not really as daft as I sometimes behave. It was clear to me that Bev and George had something they wanted to talk to me about. Well, let's be honest Bev obviously had a bone or two to pick with me.
"There've been some changes around here whilst you've been gone, Mack," Beverley began as I ate. "George and me started thinking about the future; not that we intend to retire in any hurry or anything. But Sammy Grave wanted to call it a day; so George cashed in his pension and I liquidated some of my shares and... well, Mack, to cut a long story short, George and I have bought the Wherry off him and we were hoping that you'd go in there as manager."
The village had two waterside pubs, one at each end of the village beside the river: Beverley's pub, The Willow's Ferry, and The Wherry, about a mile or so away as the river goes at the other end of the village. Sammy Grave had been in friendly competition with Beverley for years, but he was getting on in years and the place had gone downhill some. Beverley's offer took me completely by surprise.
"I don't know what to say, Bev," was all that I could think to say in reply.
"Only for a few years, Mack, until we get the place sorted, that is. Then eventually and before George and I retire, we thought that you might like to take the place on as a tenancy, and even with a view to buy in the long term, if you'd like."
"What about Michelle and Pat? Surely they might want to..."
"Michelle's got her eye on running this place eventually. Patricia enjoys serving behind the bar but she has never wanted the hassle of running a pub herself. I think the plan is that the two girls will keep the place on but Michelle will take over as publican. But that's all in the future, Mack; George and I have plenty of life left in us yet. Anyway how'd you fancy the idea of being the publican at the Wherry?"
"I'll need some decent staff. Those buggers Sammy had working for him were bleeding useless."
"No problems there, Mack. Millie and Phil's house is nearer to the Wherry than here, so she'll be working for you. And then this new barmaid we've got, she will most likely live in the Wherry with you; that should be right up your street!" Bev giggled and got an expression that I was extremely familiar with on her face.
I think I might have blushed a little myself as I smiled back at her, enjoying her sly joke. I don't think George picked up on the inference, but he might have. George, when he wanted to, could be very poker faced.
"Who is this new girl?" I asked. I figured it must be one of the young girls from the village who'd only just left school. It wasn't that big a village and I knew most of them by sight if nothing else.
"Oh, she's a nice girl. I'm sure you'll get along like a house on fire," Bev replied.
"It's going to be a real balls-up if you don't!" George commented rather quietly, almost under his breath. So quietly in fact that I wasn't at all sure that I'd heard him correctly.
"She hasn't been in the business very long, Mack," Bev quickly went on, ignoring George's interruption, "but she's picked it up almost as quickly as you did. Mind, you'll have to have a long talk with her first; perhaps you can sit down for a chat with her later when they get back. The Wherry's closed for the time being, whilst the builders tidy the place up a bit. Millie and the new barmaid are watching that the workmen aren't pilfering all the stock and seeing what needs to be done in the staff quarters."
"Yeah, I'll do that. The sooner the better I suppose, if we are going to work together."
"Mack, you're not exactly going to be working together. We hope she's going to be working for you as an employee remember; you're going to be the publican."
George muttered something again. I think he said, "For the minute anyway!" Which confused me at the time, but I couldn't be sure.
Bev did give him one hell of a dig in the ribs with her elbow though, before she continued.
"And because that will be the situation, you have to realise that it's your choice whether to take her on or not. She can always stay here and work for us, if you think it'll be awkward having her at the Wherry with you."
I did wonder why Beverley seemed to think that I might not get on with the girl. I was an easygoing bloke when it came to working with people, providing they had some common sense and got on with the job. I'd never clashed with any of the part-time staff she'd hired at the Willow's.