Read The Village Green Affair Online

Authors: Rebecca Shaw

The Village Green Affair (24 page)

He reversed into the drive at Glebe House; that way they were much less in the public eye.
But the first thing to delay them was the fact that Liz’s key didn’t fit the lock.
Jimbo swore. ‘He’s changed the locks already. Round the back. Come on, Liz.’
He found that the kitchen window was not quite locked shut, but when he’d got it open he knew he hadn’t a chance of getting through it. ‘Sorry, Titus, this looks like your call.’
With a nimble spring Titus squeezed through, and was soon standing in the kitchen, unlocking the back door.
‘You go up, Liz,’ he said, ‘and give me a shout when you’ve got what you need.’
When she’d gone upstairs, well out of hearing, Jimbo looked at Titus and raised his eyebrows. He shook his head and raised his hands helplessly.
Jimbo needed to be told nothing more. ‘So sorry. So very sorry.’
Titus said, with his lips almost tight shut, ‘I could kill him - and me a pacifist.’
Jimbo ventured into the hall. It looked as though a bomb had dropped. Torn clothes were strewn everywhere and a mobile lay smashed to pieces alongside the hammer that had done the damage. Neville must have gone berserk.
They heard Liz calling and Titus disappeared up the stairs two at a time.
When they got back to Jimbo and Harriet’s, Titus carried her things upstairs and left Liz to put them away.
Downstairs in the kitchen, he said to Jimbo and Harriet, ‘I look after a flat for a friend on the other side of Culworth, while he works abroad. I’ve rung him and he says Liz can stay there for a while, but I’ll have to go and look at the flat, collect any post, open the windows, see to the bed. He won’t be back until September. That’ll give us time. Thank you very much. I’ll be in touch.’
Titus stood for a moment longer, as though knowing what he wanted to say but not being able to find the words. Finally he said, ‘You know who your friends are at times like these. Thank you. She doesn’t want people to know anything at all about what’s happened. Wants to protect him, you see.’ His voice became choked with his tears and he had to wait until he’d got control again. ‘So, if possible keep mum . . . she’s determined about the nursery - to continue, you know - and hopes to begin again on Monday. Angie had to manage for today. Liz can come and go between . . . between N-N-Neville coming and going from the office. Says it will help keep her sane.’
‘Fine. That’s a good thing. Leave her with us, and phone any time. Did she pick up her mobile from the house?’
Titus hesitated. ‘No. It’s broken I’m getting her a new one tomorrow. Goodnight.’
Liz stood at the top of the stairs and called, ‘Goodnight, Titus.’
When he’d gone Harriet suggested Liz went to watch the TV in the sitting room. ‘We’ve got our new one - big screen, surround sound. Go and enjoy yourself.’ She gave her a gentle push, and Liz wandered off.
In the kitchen Harriet asked Jimbo why he’d been so angry and refused to allow her to go with Liz.
Jimbo perched on a bar stool, opened the biscuit tin, didn’t like the digestives that were in there, snapped the lid shut, and finally satisfied her curiosity.
‘I drove behind Neville all the way to Culworth this morning on his way to the office. How he got there without having a major accident I have no idea. You know what he’s normally like - sedate, slow, every archaic hand signal you could imagine. But this morning he drove like a madman. He was terrifying. Twice he almost knocked someone down, and I lost count of how many times he had to swerve. I didn’t want you to go in case, well, in case . . .’ He went to look out of the window. ‘She couldn’t bring her mobile because he’d attacked it with a hammer. A lot of her clothes were torn to shreds and thrown all about the hall and the staircase. Some photographs of her and the boys had been ripped apart, and their frames smashed. It was horrific.’
Harriet began to tremble. ‘He always appears totally controlled as though nothing could ruffle his calm. No wonder Titus is so upset. What Neville did to her doesn’t bear thinking about.’
‘She hasn’t told you anything then?’
Harriet shook her head. ‘Jimbo, what if he comes to the door looking for her?’
‘We’ll make sure he can’t get in. In fact, I’ll go round right now and lock everything - windows, doors, garage up-and-over, and personal door. I’m starving, by the way.’
‘I thought you’d had lunch out?’
‘I did, but I couldn’t eat much. Go and tell Fran not to open the door to anyone, please.’
In fact, they did have to open the door because Grandmama was hammering on it. At first they assumed it was Neville, judging by the noise level, but when Jimbo peeped through their spy-hole he saw it was his mother. Seeing as she’d declared she wouldn’t speak to him ever again, he guessed they must be reconciled.
She didn’t acknowledge him beyond a pat on his cheek as she whizzed by. Charging into the sitting room, she said, ‘You won’t believe it, but they’ve . . .’
Her jaw dropped when she saw Liz. Instinct told her there was something very wrong because Liz looked so ghastly, so she didn’t say what she would have said. Instead she smiled at her. ‘What a lovely surprise you being here. You can be one of the first to hear my news. I have been working in collaboration with the Culworth police - and between us we have two antique dealers in the nick!’ She plumped herself down in Jimbo’s chair, intent on regaling them with the story.
But Jimbo said, ‘Stop! Before you go any further, are you and I speaking?’
‘Why, of course we are. Why shouldn’t we be?’
‘When I received this
severe wound
,’ he pointed to the nasty cut still evident on his forehead, ‘you told me you were never speaking to me again.’
‘Ah! Well, I was very angry at the time. But I’ve got something better to do than bear grudges. So give me a kiss. There, that’s better. Where’s Fran?’
‘Just coming. She’s making us a pot of tea.’
Rather too eagerly, Grandmama said, ‘I’ll go and give her a hand. We’ll need an extra cup.’ She sped into the kitchen, closing the door behind her. ‘Fran!’ she whispered. ‘Why is Liz here?’
‘I don’t know, Gran. Not even Mum knows. But she’s staying the night. She came before we got up this morning. Titus has been here, too.’
‘Now he’s what I call a loveable chap. Such a sweetheart, even if he has brought that damned market to Turnham Malpas. Have we got everything? The extra cup for me?’
Jimbo went to draw the sitting-room curtains, glancing out before he did so. He saw that Titus’s car was outside the pub and Titus appeared to be walking towards Glebe House. Alarm bells rang. ‘Liz, Titus is here and he looks as though he’s intending to go to your house. Shall we sit tight?’
Liz grabbed the arm of the sofa and made to get up, but sat back down again. ‘I can’t dare to go back to the house with
there. I just can’t.’
Grandmama put an arm round her shoulders and said, ‘No need. I’ll go.’ She stood up. ‘Come along, Jimbo, we may be needed.’
Jimbo hesitated. ‘Look here . . . I’m going by myself. If I’m not back in twenty minutes, get Peter to go to the house. Right? Not you, Harriet, nor you, Mother, nor you, Liz. Each one of you girls must stay here. That’s an order.’
When Jimbo got to Glebe House he found the front door ajar. He stopped for a moment to catch his breath and to listen. He could hear Titus’s quiet voice speaking reasonably, and no sound of Neville’s at all. The study door was slightly open, and, so they wouldn’t hear his footsteps, he walked carefully along the Persian runner, which went the length of the hall and right to the kitchen doorway. He could only hear snatches of phrases, or the odd word, and decided to stay out of the study and not interfere. Jimbo sat at Liz’s kitchen table and waited.
It had all begun with Titus ringing the doorbell and Neville taking a few moments to get to the door. He was verging on being drunk, and when he saw who was standing at the door he reacted so violently that he slipped as he lunged at Titus, and needed a hand to save him from falling full-length out onto the path.
‘Steady, Neville, take it steady. Here, let me help you.’ Titus grabbed his arm firmly and piloted him back into the hall. ‘Study I think.’
Neville righted himself as they entered the study and, recognizing familiar territory, headed for the safety of his desk chair, although he needed Titus to steer him into it.
‘I’ve come to see you, Neville, on behalf of Liz. What possessed you for heaven’s sake? Mmm?’
‘What possessed me? What are you talking about? What have I done?’
‘Don’t pretend you don’t know to what I am referring. I’m talking about y-your b-b-behaviour to Liz last night, here in this house.’
People knew
. Neville felt an explosion erupt in his head. Possibly the whole village might know about his actions. But if they thought he lacked passion all he’d done was show Liz he didn’t. But that wasn’t quite right, was it? Self-doubt made the explosion worsen.
For a brief second Neville could have torn his torturer apart, so angry was he that it was the despicable Titus Bellamy who was standing there confronting him.
Casually, almost flippantly, as though last night meant nothing, Neville answered, ‘Passion, that’s what. Peter came and talked about it, about love and what it means. So I did just that. I showed her passion, I showed her what it means, just as Peter talked about.’
‘No, you didn’t.’
‘I did.’
‘That wasn’t passion, that wasn’t loving. You damn well nearly murdered her!’
‘I did not. She is
my wife
.’ Neville threw back his head and laughed confidently. ‘She won’t be gone for long. Oh, no. She’ll be back. She can’t live on thin air. She can’t ignore the money I provide.’
Titus firmly stated in a loud, clear voice, ‘She isn’t coming back.’
Neville, who’d been confidently swinging his chair from side to side, stopped to glare at Titus. ‘You can read her mind, then? I think not. I haven’t been married to her for twenty-five years without knowing her mind.’ He rubbed his fingers together. ‘Money! That’s what makes the world go round. And I’ve got loads of it. She’ll be back with her tail between her legs ... begging.’ He appeared wholly delighted with the image of Liz penniless.
Titus grew angry. ‘I’ll say it again. Liz is not coming back. I’m finding her a flat. After what you’ve done to her she cannot come back. I won’t allow it.’
Neville shot up from his chair, rested his hands on the desk and, leaning forward, thundered, ‘
won’t allow it? You’re not married to her,
am. What the hell has it got to do with you? I tell you what -
. Nothing at all. Get out of my house. Right now!’
When Titus didn’t make a move to go, Neville rushed round his desk and squarely faced up to him, fists raised, his face the colour of a beetroot, breathing heavily.
Titus sat down and said nothing. As a pacifist he couldn’t measure up and threaten Neville. He had to confront him with stillness, and match anger with gentleness.
It’s difficult to threaten a person who is not responding to your anger. There’s nothing to hit, nothing to vent your fury on when your opponent simply sits down, shoulders slumped, with his eyes downcast.
By now Jimbo had left the kitchen and was standing in the hall, prepared to step into the breach.
Neville screeched with frustration, ‘Stand up like a man and take my challenge. Stand up, you coward. Stand up! Get out of Turnham Malpas and take your damned market with you! Do you hear me? And I want every penny of the money I lent you.
Every single penny
But Titus didn’t answer; he remained still and silent, avoiding Neville’s eyes. He didn’t care about being called a coward; when his principles were at stake he could be extremely stubborn.
There appeared to be an impasse. A heavy silence fell on the study. They were both so completely still they could have been figures in a painting, until Titus spoke, his voice so low he could just be heard.

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