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Authors: Paisley Ray

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Toad in the Hole

BOOK: Toad in the Hole
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THE RACHAEL O’BRIEN CHRONICLES

EURO SUMMER: TOAD IN THE HOLE

 

A Novel

by

 

PAISLEY RAY

 

 

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, compiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical without the express written permission of the author. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the author is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.

 

 

Copyright 2013 by Paisley Ray

Cover Art by Chantal deFelice

Edit by Kristin Lindstrom

Copy Editing by Margie Aston

Formatting by Lucinda Campbell

 

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

ISBN-13: 978-0-9885528-4-5 (Ebook)

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

 

Many thanks to Dr. Gerald Rolph, Duncan and John Cook at Allerton Castle for their generous warmth and for showing me the meticulous detail in castle refurbishments. To Sarah and the gang at the Fox and Hound in Danby, for the good food, hospitality, and unlimited Internet access. Cynthia Slocum for her sharp eye and suggestions. Also thanks to the Wikipedia community for their invaluable information on various subjects.

 

 

 

Marcel and McKenzie,

The best of company romping through the North Yorkshire countryside and blitzing through endless castle crawls.

 

 

 

The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles

by

Paisley Ray

 

Freshman: Deep Fried and Pickled (No.1)

Freshmore: Summer Flambé (No.2)

Sophomore: Shelled and Shucked (No.3)

Euro Summer: Toad in the Hole (No.4)

Junior: Johnny Cakes (No.5)

Southern Summer: Swamp Cabbage (No.6) – Coming Soon

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

 

JUNE 1988

CHAPTER 1

Pearly Kings and Queens

CHAPTER 2

Face Down on “Rory O’More”—
Floor

CHAPTER 3

The Bloody Tower

CHAPTER 4

Put Some Lead in it

CHAPTER 5

The Lady with the Lamp

CHAPTER 6

Deeds of Goodwill and Knavery

CHAPTER 7

Tourist Traps

CHAPTER 8

Gargoyles and Garters

CHAPTER 9

Midnight Viewing

CHAPTER 10

Locks and Weirs

CHAPTER 11

Marooned

CHAPTER 12

The Keeper

CHAPTER 13

Wagers

CHAPTER 14

Cheeky

CHAPTER 15

Foggy Cronies

CHAPTER 16

London Toils

CHAPTER 17

Sacked

CHAPTER 18

Getting on My Wick

CHAPTER 19

Unexpected Cargo

 

JULY 1988

CHAPTER 20

Third Wheel

CHAPTER 21

Cobweb Cottage

CHAPTER 22

Dove Coo-OO-oo

CHAPTER 23

The Bard

CHAPTER 24

Taking the Biscuit

CHAPTER 25

Beaters

CHAPTER 26

Muskets and Pikes

CHAPTER 27

All Sixes and Sevens—
Haywire

CHAPTER 28

Smugglers Cove

 

Sneak Preview

Johnny Cakes

 

 

 

 

 

“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”

~Mae West

 

 

 

J
UNE 1988

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

P
early
K
ings
a
nd
Q
ueens

 

 

“T
OAD IN THE HOLE
,
it’s what I crave when I’m back,

my grandmother Geneva said before releasing a plume from an Indonesian Kretek cigarette into the already smoky room.

It was early June outside Langdon Park in East London, and rain ricocheted off the pub windows. Seated on the wooden bench next to me, Travis fidgeted. Beard stubble had erupted on his chin, shadowing his handsome face. Leaning into my ear, his breath whispered, “Is your grandmother always so graphic?”

Warm ale washed the back of my throat and I had to concentrate to swallow. It would have been easier to come up with a smartass comeback if I’d been one hundred percent sure what GG was talking about—
Toad in the Hole!?
The truth was I’d only found out that I had a living grandmother a year before. To preserve my sanity, I try not to dwell on my family’s dysfunctional dynamics and for the most part I trap that stuff in a corner of my brain that unfortunately keeps outgrowing its allocated space. I didn’t really know the woman seated across from me with hair fashioned behind her ear in a gem-encrusted barrette. She was nine-tenths a mystery and among other things, she easily hid the fact that she was a grandmother. Her fisherman cable-knit sweater and jeans gave her a timeless appearance, and if genetics were on my side, I hoped I looked just as good at her age.

To make up for lost time, missed birthdays, and Christmases, GG —Geneva McCarty, a “Geordie” from Newcastle, England, by birth—had invited me and a friend on this trip to visit her homeland and I’d chosen Travis Howard to bring along.

Travis’s dimples caved. “We’re talking about food? Right?”

“What did you think we were talking about?” I mumbled, knowing his mind, like mine, had visited the gutter. I’d been attracted to him from the moment we met two years ago on a crisp Halloween night in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I knew he liked me, but not in
THAT
way. Our relationship fell under the expansive umbrella of “friends,” though I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a part of me fantasized about the day he’d abandon his sexual preference for men and leap over the white picket fence into my open arms.

GG’s eyes danced as she took another drag of her cigarette. Jesus, I craved one – not that I’d smoke in front of my grandmother and my dad’s assistant, Edmond. They were easy going traveling companions, but my relationship with them hadn’t evolved to where I’d comfortably reveal the two years of college vices I’d tucked under my belt.

“Homemade sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding. It’s feel good food, more complicated to make than you’d think. The baking tin and beef drippings need to be smoking hot before the batter is poured. It can come out like a brick if the proper steps aren’t followed.” She tapped Travis’s arm. “You’ll love it.”

“I’m sure I will.” Travis lied.

Along with gumption, youthfulness, wealth, and a slew of other qualities, GG possessed the power of persuasion. When Travis’s mouth twitched, I knew he was a goner.

“Make it two,” he said.

Edmond was the oldest in our group and surprisingly didn’t outwardly appear drained from our cross-continent airport schlep. I chalked it up to the golden glow he carried on his cheeks, neck, and hands. A suntan easily masks how you feel beneath. He fastened his sleek dark hair into a modest ponytail, accentuating the contrast where his tanned face met gray at the temples. His coloring didn’t come from white sand beaches and crystal blue waters. It had been harvested in Canton, Ohio, where summer heat had flicked on like a light switch a month before this trip. By the time I returned home from my sophomore year at North Carolina College, sauna conditions had already curtained the Midwest in ninety-degree heat. Edmond’s early-season tan was a blatant reminder that the number of clients requiring refurbishment and repair of art and antiques at Dad’s restoration shop waned. That had to be why my father agreed to relinquish his only full-time employee for an entire month. My grandmother professed she needed his help while she redecorated her cottage in North Yorkshire, but she was a wheeler-dealer and in the back of my mind, I wondered if she had more than refurbishments in mind for this trip.

I had trouble focusing on the handwritten blackboard menu behind the bar. All around me, there was a costume party. Sparks of laughter kept erupting from patrons dressed in outfits that had pearly designs stitched up and down the seams. Their chatter was in English, but it didn’t make sense to me. My ears latched onto bits of their sentences: one ordering “apple fritter” and another pointing to the “Jack n’ Jill” behind the bar. “Who are all these pearly people?”

“The clothes are something, aren’t they?” Edmond remarked.

Lowering my voice, I asked, “Why are they speaking in children’s nursery rhymes?”

GG flicked her wrist in the air. “They’re East Enders. Cockneys. Probably crowning some new kings and queens.”

At the age of thirteen, I’d awoken before dawn and watched Lady Diana marry her prince. I’d seen royalty on TV. The people in the pub didn’t wear fancy hats that matched their fitted dresses, or silk ties with coordinating handkerchiefs in their suit coat pockets. This crowd swilled ale like water, and I was certain none of them owned a palace.

Perking up, Travis asked, “What do you mean kings and queens?”

“To carry on the charity that Henry Croft started,” Edmond said.

“Who’s Henry Croft, and how do you know about him?” I asked.

Edmond’s eyes widened. “This isn’t my first trip to London. I’ve attended the annual harvest festival parade on more than one occasion. Croft, the pearly kings and queens founder, grew up an orphan on the London streets. As an adult, he dedicated his life to philanthropy. Somewhere along the way, he figured out that decorating his clothes with fancy buttons drew attention to his charities. He was the original pearly king.”

I wasn’t entirely sure that Edmond wasn’t shoveling a mountain of manure. “When was this?”

“Late 1800s, early 1900s,” he said.

Travis scoffed. “Wearing buttons like that is a fashion disaster.”

Seated next to Edmond, GG seemed pleased to have all of us for company. Edmond had managed a quick change in our rooms at the hotel behind the pub, and for an old guy looked smart in a white cotton shirt and cargo pants. He torqued his neck toward the specials chalked on the blackboard behind the bar. “I’d better place our order.”

“What are you having?” I asked Edmond.

He slid the empty pint glass onto a Newcastle Brown Ale cardboard coaster. “Cheese and onion pasties. Warmed.” Under closed eyelids, he moaned, “That flaky crust.”

“Fish and potato chips for me.”

“Chips aren’t potato chips,” GG said. “Around here, chips are fries.”

“French fries?”

“My dear,” GG said as she ashed her cigarette, “The Brits would never call a fry
French
.”

Posed in a half stance, Edmond asked, “Another round?”

I tapped the rim of my pint. “For medicinal purposes, I’ll have another.”

Travis rolled his syrupy eyes.

“It’ll help me adjust to the time zone.”

His eyes rolled again.

“Just a half for me,” GG said. “I have some arrangements to make back at the hotel.”

The pub’s door opened then closed, and a shiver from a damp air draft crept up my spine. Cigarette smoke cast a dreary glow and a yellowed haze wafted off the red velvet curtains. I looked at my Swatch. London was five hours ahead of Ohio. After a long day, I felt surprisingly awake, just stiff from a lot of sitting. Gliding my gaze around the perimeter of the pub, I fixated on the dark-stained hardwoods that covered the floor and walls. Like the cabin of an old ship, the boards had been dinged and nicked over generations.

At the bar, Edmond fiddled with the English notes and coins he retrieved from his pocket while GG chattered on about our agenda. “We’ll explore London for a few days. Head up to Stratford-upon-Avon, take in a play, then ride the train to my house up north.”

BOOK: Toad in the Hole
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