The Poisoning in the Pub

BOOK: The Poisoning in the Pub
2.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

To George and Marianne,

remembering many convivial drinks

and excellent meals

and

to Sally Monks,

whose husband David won

an eBay auction in aid of Oxfam

to have her name included in this book

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter One

One of the most inauspicious events for any restaurant is to have a customer vomiting on the premises. However distant the cause may be from the establishment’s kitchens,
whatever rare gastric bug may have triggered the attack, such a happening is never good for business. There is always an assumption on the part of the general public that blame must lie with the
food served in the restaurant.

Ted Crisp, landlord of the Crown and Anchor near the sea at Fethering in West Sussex, found that out to his cost one Monday lunchtime in July. His dish of the day was pan-fried scallops with
spinach and oriental noodles, and unfortunately it was a choice for which a large number of his customers opted.

Amongst those customers were two women in their fifties. The one whom most people, particularly men, would notice first was called Jude. She had an abundance of blonde hair twisted into an
untidy knot on top of her head and a body wobbling between the voluptuous and the plump. She wore a bright cotton skirt and blouse, draped over with a tangle of multi-coloured scarves.

Her companion, by contrast, looked as though she wanted to melt into anonymity. Women are said to become invisible when they get into their fifties, and Carole Seddon’s appearance
suggested that was a tendency of which she strongly approved. She had on a grey Marks & Spencer jumper, beige trousers and shoes so sensible they could have given lectures in civic
responsibility. Grey hair was cut into the shape of a helmet; rimless glasses fronted surprisingly shrewd pale blue eyes.

The two were discussing Carole’s granddaughter Lily. ‘It’s down to you,’ Jude was saying. ‘If you don’t feel you’re seeing enough of her, then say
something to Stephen and Gaby.’

‘It’s not that I don’t feel I’m seeing enough of her,’ said Carole. ‘It’s just I feel I should see more of her if . . .’ She petered out.

‘If what?’

‘Well, if . . .’ Carole Seddon was clearly having difficulties with what came next, but Jude’s look of innocent quizzicality did eventually begin to elicit an explanation.
‘The fact is, Stephen and Gaby have spoken of going away for a long weekend . . . you know, him taking the Friday off and . . .’

‘How nice for them.’

‘Yes, but . . .’ Jude waited patiently. She had the feeling the problem would not be an enormous one. Or at least only enormous to Carole. Her friend and neighbour had a great
capacity for getting upset over trifles or, as some of Jude’s more New Age friends might put it, ‘sweating the small stuff’.

‘The thing is,’ said Carole in a rush, ‘they want to leave Lily with me.’

‘Over this long weekend they were talking about?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, that’d be lovely for you, wouldn’t it?’

‘Ye-es.’ The length of the vowel betrayed the extent of Carole’s anxiety. ‘The fact is, Jude, it’s years since I’ve looked after a baby . . . well, since
Stephen was born, actually. And I wasn’t very good at it then. I don’t really think I have much in the way of maternal instinct.’

‘Nonsense, you’ll be fine. And it’s not as if you’ll be on your own.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘I’ll be next door at Woodside Cottage. If you have a crisis, you can call on me.’

‘Oh, Jude, would you really help?’ There was an almost pathetic appeal in the pale blue eyes.

‘Of course I would.’

‘Thank goodness. Now, please, promise me you’ll let me know which weekends you’re going to be away, so that I can make sure Stephen and Gaby choose one when you’re
around.’

‘Yes, of course,’ said Jude easily. She was continually amazed and slightly puzzled by how seriously her neighbour took things. For Carole Seddon life was a minefield; every step in
every direction – particularly a new direction – was full of potential hazards. Jude had always had a more relaxed attitude. There were things which she took seriously, but she really
didn’t sweat the small stuff. And in this particular instance she couldn’t help being amused by the comfort Carole took in her potential as an assistant baby-minder. Jude, despite a
varied and exciting love life, had never had any children. The right man for such a commitment had never appeared at the right time.

But Carole Seddon, despite her dauntingly efficient exterior, and despite the fact that she had held down a responsible job at the Home Office with icy control, was totally lacking in confidence
when it came to her private life. She had felt even less certainty in such areas since she had divorced Stephen’s father David, but she had never really felt at home at home. Her neuroses had
made her create a wall of privacy around herself, and Jude was one of the few people who was occasionally let inside that wall.

Carole, embarrassed to have strayed onto such an emotional subject as her granddaughter, looked round the pub for a new topic of conversation, and her eye was caught by one of many identical
posters stuck on any available space. DAN POKE COMEDY NIGHT, read the legend. FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY. TV STAR REVEALS ALL HIS NAUGHTY BITS – FANCY A POKE . . . ? The date was the following Sunday
evening and the venue – surprisingly to Carole at least – was the Crown and Anchor.

‘Know anything about that?’ she asked.

Jude shrugged. ‘Well, I know about Dan Poke. Was quite a big name on television a few years back.’

‘Really? I’ve never heard of him.’

‘One of the first round of alternative comedians.’

The intonation of Carole’s ‘Oh’ suggested that that was hardly the kind of thing she might be expected to know about. Except for her secret vice of a particular afternoon
chatshow, she didn’t watch much ‘entertainment’ television. Carole still had a rather Reithian view of the medium as a purveyor of education and generally watched only news and
documentaries. Watching the first was easy – news proliferated from every outlet – but decent documentaries had become an endangered species. Drama, generally speaking, Carole eschewed,
though she would watch classic book adaptations featuring Empire-line dresses or crinolines. And, of course, anything with Judi Dench in it.

‘Are there people in Fethering who would want to watch someone like that?’ she asked Jude, in a tone that very definitely expected the answer no.

‘Presumably. Otherwise why would Ted be putting it on?’

Carole’s only response was a ‘Hm’ that was very nearly a ‘Hmph’ of disapproval. There was a silence while they ate, before she observed, ‘These scallops are
good.’

‘Yes. Ted’s new chef is really doing wonders.’ Jude looked round the pub. The weather was very hot, so the outside tables were full, and there was very little space in the
interior. All the pub’s doors and windows were open, but only the slightest breeze drifted lazily in from the sea.

Fethering would always be predominantly a retirement community, so the average age of the clientele was high. The tourists the area attracted tended to be quite mature too. Small children were
few, and those that were there were with grandparents rather than parents. Otherwise, a lot of well-heeled people in their sixties and seventies, representatives of the last generation whose
pension provisions would be adequate to their needs, sat on the outside benches or in the alcoves of the Crown and Anchor, eating and drinking. As they did most lunchtimes in various pubs along the
South Coast. And good luck to them.

‘Word of mouth is spreading,’ Jude observed. ‘Do you remember how gloomy Ted was about the effect he reckoned the smoking ban would have on his business? Looks like he got it
wrong. For a Monday lunchtime, the place is heaving.’

Her choice of word was perhaps unfortunate, because at that moment, a pensioner in one of the alcoves rose in panic. Long before he could make it across to the safety of the toilets, his
semi-digested lunch spewed in a yellow arc across the floor of the pub.

It is an instinct among the British people to try to pretend unpleasant things have just not happened, but this one was hard to ignore. The Polish bar manager, Zosia, was quick to fetch a bucket
and mop from the kitchen behind the bar and Ted Crisp himself followed her out. The landlord was a large man with ragged hair and beard, dressed in his permanent livery of faded T-shirt and equally
faded jeans. He gestured for Zosia to get a move on.

But before the clean-up operation could begin, there was another casualty. An impossibly thin little old lady with rigidly permed white hair had risen from her seat in another alcove and
tottered forward. She was sick too, though not as profusely as the man had been. Something like mucus spilled from the corner of her wrinkled mouth as she slipped slowly to the floor. And lay
ominously still.

Though Jude had no medical qualifications, her work as a healer meant that she knew a lot about the human body and its frailties. So she was quickly crouching beside the stricken pensioner,
feeling for a pulse. Ted Crisp looked on in horror as a silence descended on the Crown and Anchor.

A little old man, surely the woman’s husband, had tottered out of the alcove after her and was looking down at Jude, his rheumy eyes beseeching her not to bring bad news.

‘It’s all right,’ said Jude. ‘Her pulse is weak, but it’s definitely there.’

‘Thank God,’ said the little old man.

‘Maybe she just fainted because of the hot weather . . . ?’ Ted suggested hopefully.

The husband didn’t buy that explanation. ‘She was right as rain this morning.’

‘What did she have for lunch?’ asked Carole.

‘The scallops. She insisted on having the scallops.’ He was unaware of the communal intake of breath from other customers who had ordered the same. ‘Bettina always liked
seafood. I could never take it myself. Got one of them allergies to all that stuff.’

Carole and Jude exchanged a look and knew they were both thinking the same. Scallops could all too easily go off in the kind of weather they were having.

The old man’s eyes once again appealed to Jude. ‘Is Bettina going to be all right?’

‘I’m sure she is,’ came the brisk reply, ‘but I think it might be as well to call an ambulance and get her looked at at the hospital.’

‘I’ll ring them,’ said Ted, relieved to have something positive to do. After the recent excitements, the pub settled back into some kind of normality. Zosia made quick work of
cleaning the floor. The man who had vomited first was helped to the Gents to clean himself up, and soon taken home by his friends. Bettina, whose surname Jude discovered from her husband Eric was
Smiley, was picked up and settled into a chair. She hadn’t fully regained consciousness, but mumbled softly to herself. Eric took her thin liver-spotted hand in his. His grip was so tight
that he seemed to fear she might slip away from him.

BOOK: The Poisoning in the Pub
2.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Ivanov by Anton Chekhov
High Octane by Lisa Renee Jones
The Judge by Jonathan Yanez
Zen Attitude by Sujata Massey
DesertIslandDelight by Wynter Daniels
Snowdrops by A. D. Miller