A Village in Jeopardy (Turnham Malpas 16) (5 page)

BOOK: A Village in Jeopardy (Turnham Malpas 16)
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Harriet, also being privy to Alice’s romance, tried equally hard to steer the conversation, but failed miserably.

‘What the heck’, said someone from Penny Fawcett rather more loudly than necessary, ‘is the matter with Alice? She made a real balls-up of conducting tonight. For what good she’s done she might as well have packed up before she started. Anyone know?’

‘Well, normally I feel on top of the world after a good sing but not tonight. Her mind wasn’t on the job at all. She was a right waste of space and not half.’

Harriet tried to intervene but was interrupted by Sylvia Biggs. She suggested that perhaps Alice was sickening for something nasty. ‘There’s a lot of flu about, and bad coughs.’

Then the drinks arrived and by the time they were sorted the conversation about Alice had gripped them all.

‘I say! You don’t think she might be pregnant after all this time?’

A roar of laughter went up from the Penny Fawcett contingent, mixed with remarks of ‘chance ’ud be a fine thing!’ and ‘now how likely is that, married to that pathetic little man?’

Caroline, as Alice lived in Turnham Malpas, swung to her defence. ‘It really isn’t right to talk about her like that. It’s probably as Sylvia said; there’s a lot of coughs and colds about and I should know, being a doctor.’

This did quieten the chatter about Alice somewhat, but the Penny Fawcett singers all sitting next to each other wouldn’t let it rest and giggled and spoke too loudly for the others’ comfort, so the conversation broke into two halves.

They were all silenced by the arrival of Johnny Templeton. As the inner door swung closed behind him he looked immediately at the group from the Ladies’ Choir, and the welcoming smile he’d had on his face fell away completely. He stalked across to the bar and, leaning forward so the other punters couldn’t hear, he asked had Alice been in?

‘Not tonight, Johnny, no. She usually does on choir night, but not tonight. Sorry,’ said Georgie. Curious to know more about their supposed romance, she followed this up by asking was he expecting to meet her in the bar? He could leave a message if he liked.

Johnny looked ruefully at her, wondering whether to confide, but decided not.

‘No, thanks, I won’t.’ He marched out, not looking to either side of him, allowed the outside door to slam, which it did viciously due to the vigour of Johnny’s push, and stood outside listening to the stillness of the village and watching the little Jack Russell that belonged in the Rectory wending his way home alone. He gave two enormous barks, which appeared far too loud for a dog of his size, and in moments the front door opened and he hopped inside. Johnny heard Beth’s voice greeting him with such enthusiasm that for a moment he almost wished Beth was greeting him and not the dog.

He stayed a while longer, studying the comfortableness that the sight of the village gave him, felt his bones stir in response and contemplated how every house in it had once belonged to the Templetons. And he wished . . . oh! how he wished . . .

The door of Alice’s house opened and, as he watched, Alice slipped out, closing the door after her noiselessly. She glanced up before crossing Stocks Row and saw Johnny watching her. Her beautiful, beautiful face flooded with life and she began to run towards him, her arms widespread. As she flung herself into his arms the door of the Royal Oak opened and the Penny Fawcett choir members came out en masse.

Their gasps of surprise shocked Alice into hiding her face in Johnny’s jacket, but it was too late; they’d seen her and gave her a loud cheer of enthusiastic support. Luckily for her she didn’t hear their comments as they piled into the Penny Fawcett minibus in the pub car park.

Johnny hurried her into his house, shut the door behind them and clasped her to him. He sensed there was something very different in the way Alice had rushed towards him, as though she had made a decision from which there would be no turning back.

They kissed and kissed – guilt had been swept away, the need for secrecy lost in an abandonment, that Johnny had not experienced before, even with his many lovers.

‘Alice!’ he whispered, pulling her closer.

‘Johnny! I can’t live without you; I know that now, as an absolute certainty. Tomorrow I’m telling Marcus I must have a divorce.’

It was as though his very being had been splintered into a thousand pieces by her unexpected declaration. The shock waves made Johnny release her, saying shakily, ‘You mean it, don’t you?’

Alice stood back a little so she could look directly into his face. ‘Don’t
you
mean it?’ The shock she could detect in his eyes frightened her and made her see very clearly what his real reaction truly was. He should have been thrilled; he’d got what he wanted. But she knew beyond any doubt that Johnny was appalled. How could she have got it so wrong?

Her voice shrank to a hoarse whisper. ‘Marriage isn’t what you want, is it? I can see that. I thought you
did
. What have I done wrong? Has nothing you’ve said to me been the truth? Oh! Johnny! What a fool I’ve been! What a fool.’

Before Johnny could think rationally Alice had left, closing the door so very quietly behind her, leaving him standing alone, his head spinning with conflicting thoughts. Wasn’t marriage to her what he wanted above all? Why hadn’t he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘Yes! Yes!’ But the words she had used were like a fatal echo of the words he’d heard so often before from women who he knew all too well fancied his fortune and his position in Brazilian society much more than him.

Chapter 4

 

Alice, having crept out of her cottage knowing Marcus was ensconced in the attic writing, had to creep back in hoping he hadn’t noticed her absence. She plunged into the easy chair beside the wood-burning stove in the kitchen, for she needed its warmth, too deeply hurt for tears. Her throat tightened unbearably, her skin burned with shame, and her heart beat so fast she felt she’d run a full marathon.

She couldn’t even think. She’d take two painkillers, see if that helped. She deliberately chose to use chilled water from the fridge to help swallow them and to cool her raging heart. After another half hour crouched in the chair, her face hidden in her hands, and the painkillers beginning to soothe the pressure in her skull, Alice forced her hands away from her face and sought to answer her own questions.

What had she left of life? Nothing. An appalling tremble took possession of her limbs that no amount of self-control could stop. This was a night when, if anyone at all crossed her, she – and she was a pacifist through and through – could deliberately set about killing them by cold-bloodedly slashing their throats. Would Johnny be her victim or Marcus . . . or both?

With her mind swamped with murderous thoughts, the trembling slowed. All the crime dramas she’d ever watched on TV paraded through her consciousness, so when Marcus thundered down the stairs shouting, she was completely unaware, as though the real world had spun into space and left her the only person alive, curled in her favourite chair, paralysed.

‘Alice! Alice! Where are you?’ Marcus called.

She heard him rush into the sitting room, calling her name up the stairs out the back door, again and again and again. The excitement in his voice was obvious. She’d never heard him so elated since . . .

‘There you are! I’ve had an email from a publisher asking me to let them have the full manuscript of
Killer at Large
. They want to see it! Isn’t it wonderful?’

Seeing as he was all she had left now, Alice summoned every ounce of her strength in an attempt to match his excitement.

She sat slowly upright in the chair. ‘That’s marvellous. Best not get our hopes too high, just in case.’

‘No, you don’t understand. They say “with a view to publication”. They’re lyrical about it, full of praise! Here, read it. Read it.’

Alice felt the piece of paper being thrust into her hand, automatically looked down to read it, but the printing was a blur so she made a pretence of reading it.

‘That’s wonderful! At last!’

‘I knew I’d make it one day. See here, look, they’re saying about the possibility of me writing a trilogy! I’ve known all along I was on to a good thing with this novel. Something about it, you know, something special.’ He grabbed her shoulders and squeezed them tightly. ‘At last it hasn’t all been in vain. Now they can all stop mocking me, looking down their noses at me. Now it can be me doing the patronising. Aren’t you thrilled? Say something, woman!’

She unwound her legs out of the chair and made the effort to stand up. ‘Shall we have a toast?’ How the glasses and the bottle of sparkling wine appeared on the kitchen table she’d no idea, but they did, because there they were and it certainly wouldn’t have been Marcus who’d got them out.

‘Well, I must say you don’t seem very thrilled. Can’t you summon something up to show how delighted you are at my success? You’re not envious, are you? You are! That’s why you’re so quiet. That’s just not fair. You’re my wife; you should be thrilled for me. Just think of the money! It could be millions! At last my just reward! All those hours struggling away in that damned attic, always short of money. Now comes my moment! Oh! Sparkling wine! That’s more like it!’

Alice’s hand shook as she poured it out. ‘Here you are! To Marcus March’s success in the publishing world! At last!’ They clinked their glasses and Marcus saw how her hand trembled and he said with triumph in his voice, ‘You’re quiet because inside you’re absolutely thrilled. I feel humbled by that. I knew one day I would make you proud.’

The wine made Alice’s head spin as she listened to Marcus going on and on about success, apparently completely forgetting that this had all happened before and come to nothing. She found his writing obscure, deeply depressing and very scary, but maybe that was what publishers demanded now, not a manuscript bright and uplifting, which was what she would have written. On and on he went, talking about publishers sitting at his feet praising his novels, worshipping at the altar that was Marcus March.

‘I say, Alice, do you think I should have a pseudonym? Something double-barrelled say, or Marcus
something
March? Or something completely different?’

Alice didn’t answer. Unlike Marcus, she wasn’t seeing a room piled high with copies of his very first novel in a major London publisher’s office; she was seeing the look of horror she’d glimpsed in Johnny’s face.

That night Marcus decided it was
the
night for making love. If they didn’t have a bit of hanky panky tonight, when would they, filled to the brim with success as he was? So he began his ritual that she knew led to making love and filled her with dread; it was a poor substitute for Johnny’s. She feigned her pleasure as she had done so often before, but this time it was grim because Marcus couldn’t step up to the plate. When he rolled on to his back angry because he’d failed, he blamed it on Alice. She turned on her side and finally allowed the bitterness of her situation to fully surface and crucify her.

 

After an almost sleepless night Alice rose half an hour earlier than normal and showered, allowing the hot water to slough away her sorrow for a full ten minutes instead of the three she would have allowed herself had things been happier. She threw on a T-shirt and a pair of loose trouser bottoms, and heard in her head that hymn of national mourning, ‘Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past’. She went down the stairs, one stair, one note, one stair, one note till she reached the kitchen.

Marcus rolled downstairs an hour later, kissed her on the top of her head and squeezed her shoulders.

‘I’m looking forward to today.’ He sat down to eat his breakfast determined not to allow last night’s disappointment spoil what could be the first day of his new life as an international author. So, Alice thought, this is what I am spending the rest of my life with. This self-obsessed man who cares for no one but himself, so convinced of his own brilliance in every aspect of his life. He’s going to be even more unbearable if his book is published. How could she possibly bear it another moment?

Marcus broke the silence. ‘I’ve decided.’

‘Mmmm?’

‘I’m going up to London to hand my manuscript in personally and meet the people who will be dealing with it – make a big impression, you know, and be absolutely certain that it will be published exactly as I want it. I won’t tolerate any interference. It’s my book and it has to be done my way.’

Alice answered him after a long thoughtful drink of her tea.

‘Has it occurred to you that they might have very different ideas from you of how they’ll deal with it? You know, this character doesn’t work well, or it would be better balanced if . . . after all, it is your first book.’

‘Pass the milk. Quite frankly I shan’t put up with it. It’s my book, I know I’ve got it right and I shall stick out for having it published how I want it done, just exactly as it is. They’ve no right to interfere.’

‘You seem to forget, Marcus, they will be
paying
you. And you, being new to publishing, might just have to fall in line with their thinking.’

Marcus cleared his mouth of toast and said officiously, ‘Look, what do you know about publishing? I’ll tell you.
Nothing
. I shall have it my way.
Full stop!

Alice stood her ground. ‘This will be my last word on the matter. You could find they have decided to change it as they have determined, and you, if you object, could find yourself without a publisher.’

BOOK: A Village in Jeopardy (Turnham Malpas 16)
4.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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