"Then you should have come to me first, Sid, you know I've got just about everything here. "
"Yers, yer right," he mumbled, and was led over to an array of knives. He made his choice, paid and left a happier man.
"You have just about got everything here," I commented, "I'd like to take a good look over the place. "
"Later," said Hannah with a smile. "I'll show you your room and you can unpack. If anyone comes in I'll hear the bell. "
We went up a flight of stairs at the back of the shop, through what seemed to be a combined kitchen, dining room and lounge, and along a short passage with five doors.
"Bedroom, bedroom, bedroom, bath room and toilet," said Hannah pointing to the various doors. "That's my room there and here's your room. "
She opened the door and my immediate impression was that she had furnished it out of her stock. There was a massive carved wardrobe and an equally impressive chest of drawers. The bedside table was a solid piece of work with a reading lamp standing on it. On the floor was a rug that looked as if it had come straight from the Middle East, but dominating the whole was a gigantic bed.
"It's... er... it's a bit big," I said, indicating the bed.
"Yes, it's beautiful, isn't it, said Hannah with a hint of pride in her voice. "I bought it from a rich pastoralist who said he was 'modernising'. I bet you could sleep four people comfortably in that. I bought the bed covers as well because you can't buy them big enough in the shops; he must have had them specially made. "
I could well believe it, and decided that pastoralists liked to sleep, copulate or both, in beds that imitated the vast hectares their cattle roamed over.
"Hannah laughed and said, "You should see my bed... come on, come have a look. "
She took my hand and we went to the room next door. The room in general was startling in that everything seemed to be white; woodwork, walls, curtains, and even the rug on the floor, and above all the bed. It wasn't as large as mine and was one of those curtained affairs, the curtain of course being white.
"I've often wondered why they had curtains round a bed," Hannah said. "I've heard a number of theories. One of them is that they're a left over from the old days and drafty castles, so they closed the curtains to try and keep the drafts out. Personally I think they had them so that if they were copulating early in the morning and a servant came in, they wouldn't be seen. "
I made no comment but thought the bed looked just the right place to enjoy a fair young maid.
The shop bell clanged and Hannah said, "Better see what they want. I'll leave you to unpack. "
Since I had only brought enough things for "a week or so," my unpacking didn't take long, and what was unpacked almost disappeared in the vastness of wardrobe and chest of drawers. When I finished I inspected the bathroom and toilet and decided they were slightly more up to date than the bedroom furnishings, although the bath seemed to be more like a miniature swimming pool.
"They must have liked bathing four at a time as well," I thought.
Since water is a serious consideration in my country, and especially so in towns like Jackborough, I was relieved to see that there was also a shower of distinctly modern design, though looking slightly out of place beside the bath. However, since to even put a few centimetres of water into that bath might endanger the levels of the local water reserves, I decided that I would settle for a shower when the time came.
I wandered downstairs to find Hannah engaged in haggling over the price of an old aluminium kettle. I took a slow turn round the place and noted that although attempts seemed to have been made to keep things into some sort of order, it looked as if the one making the attempt had been overwhelmed by the sheer disparate nature of the stock.
The situation disturbed my desire for order; a desire that had been engendered in me throughout my course of studies.
Hannah finished with her customer and said, "Darling, I can't take you round now, but go and have a look out the back, I think you'll find it interesting. After the shop's closed and we've eaten it'll still be light enough for me to show you a bit of the town. "
I went out through a door at the back of the shop and was a bit surprised. There was quite a large block of land, and there were vegetable and flower beds obviously well attended. In addition there were two sheds, one rather large, the other the size of a single car garage.
I looked into the larger shed, and on seeing the contents went inside. There were several woodworking machines and in addition there were pieces of furniture that seemed to be in various stages of reconstruction. Different sizes of timber were lying on racks that were suspended from the roof, but most fascinating as far as I was concerned, was the array of electrical appliances; old radios and television sets; clothing irons; a couple of washing machines and numerous other bits and pieces, some of them disassembled as if being repaired. What really caught my eye, however, was a relatively new looking computer.
Deciding I'd better not touch anything I left the shed and looked into what I had taken to be a garage, and this it proved to be. Standing there in splendour on wooden blocks and from the upholstery looking as if it had hardly been driven was a Morris Oxford of nineteen fifties vintage. I gave it a look over, wondering how it came to be there and why it seemed unused. The answer was to ask Hannah.
Chapter 4. A Nasty Customer.
Going back into the shop I found Hannah trying to deal with three customers. One, an elderly lady, was inspecting a tea service and she kept saying, "My mum had one of these when I was a kid. "
Another, a spotty faced youth, was hunting for a "Foot pump ter blow up me tyres. " The third customer was a man who looked to be in his forties and he was talking in almost a whisper to Hannah who kept shaking her head and say, "No George' I've told you before, no, so do stop bothering me. "
While George could not be heard Hannah could, and the two other customers plus myself, had our ears cocked, obviously wondering what Hannah was saying "no" to. This was not revealed, at least, not then, because George, clearly annoyed, departed the shop leaving behind a red faced Hannah.
I wanted to ask her if she was okay, but to cover her confusion she attended to her other customers. The spotty youth found his pump and the lady decided she would take the tea service.
They left and business slackened again. I wanted to ask Hannah about the little fracas with George, but decided not to.
Hannah said, "Let's have a cup of tea while things are quiet... oh my dear, I haven't asked you if you've eaten... are you hungry?"
I told her I'd eaten on the train, so she went on, "I won't cook tonight; we'll eat out at the hotel. I'll make the tea and you can tell me about your studies and your parents... how are they?"
The talk went on for some time until the bell clanged again and a rather wretched looking young woman came in. Hannah seemed to know her and a whispered conversation took place. It ended with what looked like a child's dress being handed over and I didn't see any money change hands.
Hannah came back with a strangely sad look on her face, but said nothing.
While we sat drinking our tea I asked her about the car.
"Oh, that," she replied, "I bought it from a farmer's widow. Way back they bought it new, and soon after her husband died. It seems she could never bring herself to use it so it sat in a shed on the farm for years. Finally she decided to sell it, so I gave her what she asked for, which was pathetic. I thought I might drive it, but as I seem to spend most of my time driving the van I've never got around to using it. Perhaps one day... Jason, would you like to use it while you're here?"
I laughed and said, "Hannah, after being so long unused it'll probably need a bit of inspection - you know, brake linings, they might have disintegrated. "
"Well, I drove it from the farm and it seemed okay. "
"I'll have a look at it if you like. "
"Do you know about things like that?... Oh, darling, you're supposed to be on holiday, you can't start working. "
"That's okay," I replied, "I'd probably enjoy playing around with it. By the way, who uses that machinery in the big shed and does all that pulling apart of all those electrical things?"
"Don't be so cheeky," Hannah laughed, "I do, but I'm not doing very well at it. I've done a lot of night school classes, but I don't think they really covered pulling electrical things apart and putting them back together again, but I'm okay at rebuilding old furniture. "
The shop bell clanged again and another customer entered, a middle aged man who looked a little apprehensive.
"Hannah," I heard him say, "I'm looking for the statue of a naked woman for the amateur theatrical performance, and we need one for the set décor. "
"Ah," said Hannah, "I think I've got just what you need over here. "
I saw a statue produced and the customer asked if she would wrap it up.
"Don't want to be seen carrying it around the town, do I?" the man said.
Hannah laughed and said, "I'll come and see the production. "
"I'll send you round a couple of comps if you like. "
"Lovely," replied Hannah as the man left.
Chapter 5. Confrontation and Threat.
Hannah came back to the office and sighing said, "Soon be closing time and we can go and eat. " Shortly after the sign reading "Open" was turned round to read "Closed. "
I thought Hannah would want to change her overalls for something more formal, but no. She went upstairs and after apparently washing her face and hands came down again still overall clad.
"Come on, let's go. "
We turned right out of the shop and began to walk along the main street. There were few people about and only a half a dozen cars still parked along the street. We came to a long low building with a sign reading, "Jackborough Hotel. " We entered and passing through a bar where a few men were drinking there were salutations of, "Hi Hannah, how's things?"
Hannah assured them that "Things are okay, its people who are a bit strange," and leaving their laughter behind us we went into a dining room that had a bar of its own. There were several tables but all were unoccupied at that stage. A man came over and said, "You can sit anywhere you like Hannah I haven't got many coming in tonight. "
He looked at me curiously but said nothing and Hannah made no introductions. We sat and looked at the roughly printed menu.
"There's not much choice, Jason," she said, "but what there is usually damned good. "
Certainly it was plain fare on offer, so I chose a steak with vegetables. Hannah chose lamb chops also with vegetables.
"Would you like something to drink?" she asked.
"How about a bottle of shiraz?" I suggested.
"Fine, but you'll have to go to the bar to get it. "
I walked over to the bar and for the first time noticed a couple of men standing there drinking. The barman served me the bottle of wine and gave me a couple of glasses, and it was only as I turned away I realised that one of the men at the bar was George, the gentleman of the afternoon fracas.
He was looking at me intently in the way people who are drunk do as they try to focus. He said nothing as I turned away and returned to the table.
"There's that guy who came into the shop this afternoon. "
"Yes, I know Jason; just take no notice of him. "
"What was the problem with him?"
"Oh, nothing to worry about. "
I could see that Hannah was looking a bit uncomfortable but I decided that it was none of my affair, so I didn't pursue the matter.
Our food arrived and we began to eat. Hannah continued to ask me how things were "in the old place," meaning of course the area where she had once lived. We were eating and chatting quietly and George was forgotten until we suddenly saw him standing by our table. He was rocking back and forth and staring first at Hannah and then at me.
"Shaw yer in the shop thish afternoon," he slurred, looking at me. A sneer came over his face and he went on, "Ain't yer goin' ter inter... inert... tell me who the boyfriend ish?"
"He's my nephew Jason," replied Hannah, not altogether truthfully. "Now please go away George, we want to eat in peace. "
"Go 'way Georsh," he mimicked, leaning over Hannah. "Its alwaysh fuckin' 'Go 'way Georsh', ain't it. 'I'm too fuckin' good fer yer Georsh, don' tush me Georsh'. Fuckin' shnooty bish. I know what bishes like you need and Georsh hash got it ready ter shick it in... "
I rose out of my seat. George was a biggish guy but flabby and with a considerable paunch. I'm a reasonably big guy myself and nearly half George's age. I'm not a violent type so I said to George quietly, "Hannah and I want to enjoy our meal in peace, George, so why don't you go back to the bar and have another drink?"
"Ow my gawd, don' he talk posh, an' he'sh sush a pretty boy. I think I'll shpoil 'is fash a bit. "
He pulled back his arm to swing a punch at me but his drinking mate and the barman had come up behind him and grabbed him.
"Come on George, we don't want no trouble and you've had a few. "
The struggling George spate at us, "I'll 'ave a few fuckin' more ash well, then I'll fixsh pretty boy nephew. "
His mate lugged George back to the bar and the barman said, "Look out for him, mate, he used to be a well known street fighter and he can still be a rough handful. He's been in jail a few times for grievous bodily harm and stuff like that. "
"I'll watch out for him," I replied.
The meal was spoilt and we rose to leave. The man who had served us, who turned out to be the manager, came hurrying over.
"God I'm sorry Hannah. I should have known there'd be trouble when George saw you, especially with another bloke. Look, the meal's free and take the bottle of wine with you. "
"The 'bloke' with me is my nephew Jason; Jason, this is Jeff Clark the manager. "
We shook hands and Jeff repeated the barman's warning. "Be careful of that bloke Jason; don't let him get you on your own because he can be very nasty. "
"It's okay Jeff; I can look after myself, thanks all the same. "
He looked at me and grinned and said, "Yes, you look as if you can, perhaps I should be giving the warning to George. But seriously, he's not above using a broken bottle or anything else nasty he can get his hands on. Sorry about the spoilt meal, but don't stay away Hannah; I'll just keep an eye out another time and if George is here you can eat in the back parlour. "
We left the hotel, Hannah looking very miserable. "I'm so sorry, Jason. Your first day here and all this unpleasantness and I wanted it to be so nice for you; I suppose you worked out what all that was about?"
We didn't make our tour of the town so we re-entered the shop, the bell clanging behind us.
"There's nothing for you to be sorry for, Hannah, and yes, I think I understand the situation. He wants you and won't take 'no' for an answer. "
We climbed the stairs to the living area and sat down in a couple of armchairs.
"You're right Jason. He came in a couple of days after I took over the shop. He was looking for a half inch wood chisel or something like that. I wasn't sure where the stock was – I'm still not always sure;" she gave a wry grin.
"It took some time for me to find what he wanted and all the time he made little hints – you know the sort of thing. After that he kept coming in for all sorts of things I'm sure he didn't really want, and then he came in just to hang around. "
"He's really got it bad," I commented.
"Yes, he finally got around to it – said I looked as if I needed a man in my life, and he knew of a 'real man who knows how to give a woman what she needs'; he meant himself of course. As you say, he won't take 'no' for an answer. Let's forget him; I've got a couple of cold chicken legs in the fridge and we can drink the wine. "
Chapter 5. Questions and Desire.
It was hard to forget George and the unpleasantness he had caused, and we sat a little morosely until the wine began to loosen us up.
Hannah had only asked general questions up to that point, but now, under the influence of a little alcohol, she got a bit more personal.
"Got a current girl friend, Jason? I know you used to be quite a devil with the girls when you were at high school. "
This was a subject that still hurt so I mumbled something about not having a current girl friend. "Your mother told me you had a girl, Freda I think, that you were quite struck on; she even thought you might get married. "
A pang of anguish speared through me. I didn't want the matter pursued. I was sure that my mother must have mentioned my break up with Freda and that Hannah was offering me the chance to talk about it, but I wasn't ready for that yet. I said something about it being "all over," and I think my tone of voice indicated that I didn't want to go on with the subject.
Hannah, having got the message, turned to the subject of the shop.
"What do you think of it, Jason?"
"It's got a lot of possibilities Hannah; needs a bit of working on though. "
"Yes, I know, but you should have seen the state it was in when I took it over. I think the old guy I bought it from just used to chuck things anywhere. I've tried to straighten it out, but it's a matter of time. This afternoon was a bit slow and usually people are coming in for all sorts of things. "
"During holiday times and weekends the tourists come through looking for a bit of nostalgia; then I often have to go out to collect items people want to sell. On top of that I get dealers coming from the city seeing what they can pick up. "
"You're doing all right, then?"
"A bit better than breaking even, but I could do a lot better if only I could get at things. I mean, the stuff out in the shed; refurbishing things, repairing them. The shop is like this town, there's a lot that can be done with it if only I could get around to it. "
I noted the reference to the town but didn't follow up on it. I wanted to have a look around and come to my own conclusions about the place. I could see that Hannah was so caught up in her work she wouldn't have much time to take the walk we were supposed to have that evening, so I resolved to take myself off next morning for a look.
It was time for bed and the wine had made me sleepy, so I asked Hannah if it was okay for me to have shower. Permission granted I showered, wrapped myself in a dressing gown and went to bid Hannah goodnight.
She was sitting at the table poring over some ledgers. "Trying to keep up," she said, "but I'll have to give up shortly, I'm tired. "
I said "goodnight," and Hannah smiled a trifle coyly and said, "Aren't you going to kiss me goodnight?"
I bent over her to kiss her on the cheek, but she turned her head and said, "Properly," and brought her lips to mine.
Her lips felt warm and moist, and once again smelling her female fragrance I got an instant erection. Irrationally I felt a wave of anger pass through me. She could arouse me, however inadvertently, but I knew that what she inspired could have no fulfilment.
"Goodnight, darling," she said softly, "it's so good to have you here, and let's hope it will be a better day tomorrow. "
I hurried to my bedroom because despite the dressing gown I feared she might notice my hard throbbing discomfiture.
I turned on the lamp beside the bed and it cast a warm soft glow over the room. The vast expanse of the bed looked uninviting. I went to the window that looked out over the back of the town. The houses were cloaked in moonlight. Nothing seemed to stir, the houses looking as if carved out of dark grey carbon.