Authors: Rachel Ennis
July in Polvellan brings the summer fete and regattas up and down the coast. It’s usually a happy time – but Jess Trevanion’s relationship with Tom Peters is in trouble, as he wants a greater commitment than she is ready to make.
Jess soon has other things on her mind – she has to use all her investigational skills to try and prove a woman innocent of infidelity, but it causes long-hidden secrets to come to the fore.
Jess’s friends aren’t having much luck, either. Teenage neighbour Tegan is being bullied over her pregnancy; meanwhile, Ben and Morwenna’s wedding plans are turned upside down by two huge shocks – will their big day go ahead or is it too late?
aturday was warm and sunny: weather that had brought nearly everyone in Polvellan to the annual Summer Fair held in the field down by the river.
Jess Trevanion and her friend Viv stood under a green and white open-fronted awning anchored with steel pegs. Two hours earlier the long trestle table in front of them had been covered with cakes, scones and biscuits. Now it was bare but for a single cellophane-topped greaseproof bag.
Comfortably cool in an apricot cheesecloth shirt over neutral linen trousers, Jess glanced at her watch. ‘It’s only half past four.’
‘And we’ve sold the lot,’ Viv pointed out. ‘No point us hanging around here. Haven’t you got things to do at home?’ She was her usual colourful self: an orange and yellow tunic over lime green Capri pants. Cork-soled wedges revealed hot pink toenails.
Jess looked across the field to where stalls and sideshows were arranged in a U-shape with the large brown tea tent at the top.
‘Elsie and Tegan are packing up,’ Viv said. ‘So’s Annie.’
They both looked at the solitary cellophane bag on the table.
Viv stepped back. ‘I took them last time. Jimmy broke a tooth, remember? Hard as coal they sultanas were.’
Jess sighed. ‘All right, put them in my basket. How much did we charge for Morwenna’s?’
‘Two pounds for six. Mor got a lovely light hand with scones.’
‘Thanks for that.’ Jess rummaged in her purse and dropped coins into the tin. ‘I see Claire is over with Jack. I hope she remembers I’ve kept a lemon drizzle for her.’
Viv looked up from pulling the white lining paper free of the drawing pins anchoring it to the boards of the table top. ‘She won’t forget. Loves your lemon drizzle she do. She’ll never get away from Jack without buying a plant.’ They watched for a moment. ‘There, what did I tell you?’
Jess tipped out their takings onto the table and began counting the money, putting notes back into the tin and stacking the coins.
‘Sorry I couldn’t get over earlier,’ Claire said as she reached them. She had matched a flowered summer dress with a floppy straw hat, trimmed with a two-tone pink silk flower, and flat sandals. A cardigan was draped round the handle of her wicker basket.
‘You certainly look the part,’ Jess greeted her.
Claire’s smile was wry. ‘As Mrs Vicar you soon learn what’s expected.’
‘Mister did a lovely job with his speech,’ Viv picked up the bagged cake from one of the chairs behind the table and handed it across.
‘Thanks.’ Claire put it carefully on top of the other items in her basket, dug for her purse and pulled out a note. ‘Keeping it short always gets him a big round of applause.’
‘Is two pounds fifty OK?’ Jess asked.
‘Perfect. I’ve been to every stall and sideshow,’ she accepted the change. ‘I always spend more than I intend to. But the hall is a good cause, and considering all the baking you and the others have done this week, I certainly can’t complain. The minute Paul declared the Fair open there was a stampede in this direction.’
Viv nodded. ‘We’re usually first to sell out. People bring one they’ve baked and buy someone else’s to take home.’
‘Have you any idea what you sold?’
Viv picked up the list and took a deep breath. ‘Four Victoria sponges, two carrot cakes, three chocolate sponges, two lemon drizzles, two fruit loaves, a dozen saffron buns, two farmhouse cakes, two dozen plain scones, two trays of chocolate brownies, and two dozen ginger fairings in bags of six, and Marge’s sultana scones.’
Claire’s brows rose. ‘Someone bought them?’
Viv tipped her head towards Jess. ‘Her turn. Good job you booked your lemon drizzle.’
‘I suppose I should have taken my chance with the others. But fighting my way to the front wouldn’t have set a good example and I’m so busy with the magazine I don’t have time to bake. Paul’s grumpy about the time I’m giving to it. Mind you, listening to the news is enough to make anyone miserable. What is happening to the world?’
‘Are you enjoying it?’ Jess asked, jotting the total at the bottom of the list and putting it into the tin with the cash. ‘The magazine, I mean.’
Claire nodded. ‘Very much. Chasing people for money or promised articles can be a pain though. Still, considering Paul had been urging me to take up an interest so I wouldn’t be moping about the house drinking too much, he can hardly complain now. I’m a happier person, thanks to you lot.’
‘Have you heard from your daughter lately?’ Jess asked as she and Viv lifted the table off the trestles and laid it on the grass. ‘Is she still in Afghanistan?’
Claire nodded. ‘We had a letter on Thursday. Ginny wrote it six weeks ago but mail can be very erratic. I’m grateful to hear at all. The agency is trying to get medical aid to women and children in refugee camps. But there is so much suspicion and so many different factions ... I’m hugely proud of her,’ her face crumpled briefly and she flapped one hand. ‘Sorry.’
‘Don’t be so daft,’ Viv said. ‘’Course you worry. It don’t matter how old she is, or how good at her job. You remember the day she was born. One minute you’re changing nappies then before you know it they’re all grown up.’
Claire nodded. ‘And doesn’t that make you feel old. I’d better go. Paul’s got a couple of home visits after he’s dropped me off. I’ll see you next week.’
‘What’s on there, then?’ Viv murmured, watching Claire’s receding figure. ‘You’d think he’d be glad she’s doing something that’s good for her and the village.’
‘Perhaps he’s just tired.’ They laid each folded trestle on the table top. ‘It can’t be easy, always having to be pleasant.’
‘Sandra said when Claire took the first twenty copies of the magazine into the shop she was shaking like a jelly. Ten o’clock that was and every one of them was gone by lunchtime. I think she should print at least fifty next time.’ Viv nodded at the money tin. ‘Do all right, did we?’
‘Better than last year.’
‘I should hope so. I’ve hardly been out of my kitchen for three days, ’cept to run across to the shop. I’m glad they kept Gill as treasurer. Working in the post office she know what she’s doing. Gimme a minute to pull they pegs out.’
As Viv reappeared, Jess loosened the wing nuts holding the awning frame rigid, and between them they folded it down.
‘So, are you investigating anyone interesting?’ Viv enquired, kneeling to fold in the striped fabric.
‘No, it’s been quiet this week. Last night I finished reading an old paperback I found when I was going through my shelves to fill a box for Fred Honey’s book stall. The blurb said it was the autobiography of a Tibetan mystic who had fled from the Chinese communists after they murdered his family.’
‘I’d sooner have a nice romance.’
‘I like those too, but the cover caught my eye. Apparently this man made his way down through the snow-filled passes of the Himalayas all on his own.’
‘Then he managed to reach the West where he learned English and decided to write his story. As you do. It certainly was amazing.’
Viv’s eyes narrowed as she gripped the hand Jess offered and climbed to her feet. ‘All right, I know you. What’s wrong with it?’
‘While I was reading I believed every word. When I’d finished it I went on-line and looked him up. Guess what? This so-called Tibetan monk, who claimed his name was Lobsang Rampa, was really Cyril Henry Hoskins, born here in Cornwall’
Jess nodded. ‘He was the son of a Wadebridge plumber and had never been anywhere near Tibet.’
‘It was all a lie?’
‘Let’s be generous and call it fantasy. But it was totally convincing. I like to think –’ she broke off, shaking her head.
‘What?’ Viv demanded.
‘I was going to say I like to think I’m no pushover but we both know –’
‘Don’t you dare,’ Viv poked her with a finger. ‘That husband of yours was a liar and a cheat. He’d been at it so long he was a bleddy expert. No way you could’ve known. Anyway, he’s long gone and good riddance.’
‘Don’t hold back, Viv. Say what you really think.’
As Viv’s angry frown instantly softened to apology, Jess grinned.
‘Oh, you ...’ Viv nudged her.
‘I’ve changed a lot this past three years.’
‘You have too. I’m glad you never turned bitter. Lord knows you had reason.’
‘I’ve also got more sense. Nursing grudges is the quickest way to put everyone off. I prefer to look for the best in people. But I’ve learned the hard way that some aren’t what they seem.’
‘Speaking of the best, when are you and Tom –?’
The sound of a shriek made them both look round. Nineteen-year-old Brianna Pellow, wearing skinny white jeans and a coral gipsy top, was struggling with a dark-haired young man. His white T-shirt clung to muscular shoulders like a second skin and emphasised his tan. They were both laughing as he tried to grab the can of beer she was holding out of reach.
‘She need a bleddy good slap.’ Viv muttered.
Jess was surprised. ‘That’s not like you, Viv.’
‘It is now. She was snogging my Charlene’s Darren in the pub car park night before last. Cissie Cottrell seen them. You know what Cissie’s like.
I wish I didn’t have to tell you, but I was sure you’d want to know.
’ Viv’s imitation of the elderly chapel organist was brutally accurate. ‘I bet half the village know by now. Here’s Jimmy come to pick up the awning and the table. Don’t say nothing to him about it.’
‘All right, bird?’ Jimmy jumped down from the cab of the open-back truck. ‘OK, Jess?’
‘Hi, Jimmy.’ With her and Viv at one end and Jimmy at the other, they lifted the table and trestles onto the flat bed, then Jess fetched the bag of pegs while Viv and Jimmy loaded the awning.
‘Charlene came by when she got home from work,’ he was telling his wife. ‘Complaining about Darren going sailing she was. Said he should be home. There was stuff to do in the house and the grass need cutting. I told her, boy’s working hard all week. He deserve a bit of time off. Anyhow, he’s with Tom and Doug. Tidn like he’s out boozing or chatting up other women.’
Jess and Viv’s eyes met for an instant.
‘She don’t know when she’s well off,’ Jimmy said. ‘You better talk to her, Viv. Char don’t give Darren a minute’s peace. She never used to be like it. And if she don’t stop nagging him –’ he shook his head. ‘Bleddy women’s magazines filling her head with daft ideas. I had my way I’d ban ’em all. He’s a good lad. But to hear she talk he don’t do nothing right.’
Viv patted her husband’s arm. ‘All right, my lover. ’Bye, Jess.’
s they drove away, Jess crossed the trampled grass. Elsie had forsaken her usual pink check tabard overall for a royal blue cardigan over a white, open-neck blouse and beige trousers. She was packing unsold items from the bric-a-brac table into a cardboard box.
Sitting on one of the chairs borrowed from the village hall, her baby bump just showing, fifteen-year-old Tegan looked comfortable in a tiered turquoise maxi dress. She had tucked her hair up into a wide-brimmed straw hat.
‘Time you went home, Tegan,’ Annie called over from the adjoining stall.
‘I’m all right,’ Tegan called back.
‘You’ve been out in this heat long enough.’
‘I said I’m all right!’ Tegan turned her back.
‘She mean well, bird,’ Elsie murmured.
‘She’s always fussing, Nan. I got you. I don’t need her going on to me.’
As Annie shook her head and returned to her packing, Jess wondered again why she was so anxious to be involved. She smiled at the girl.
‘Hi, Tegan. Hello, Elsie. Have you made much money?’
‘Done really well we have,’ Elsie beamed. ‘Go on, maid. Tell her how much we took.’
‘A hundred and forty-three pounds,’ the girl said proudly.
‘Wow, that’s terrific.’
‘I can’t hardly b’lieve it,’ Elsie said. ‘Gill’s some pleased. ‘’Tis all this one’s doing.’ She gave her granddaughter a brief, fierce hug. Tegan rolled her eyes but her cheeks glowed pink with pleasure. ‘She been making bead necklaces and bracelets of an evening. When we came down, she pinned them out on my gold cushions off the sofa.’ She gestured to the three cushions piled next to Tegan’s chair. ‘Looked ’andsome they did. They was the first things to sell.’