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The Five Horseshoes

 

 

 

The Five Horseshoes

 

By David McDine

 

Copyright 2016 David McDine

 

Shakespir Edition

 

Shakespir Edition, Licence Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favourite ebook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine a time when beer was two shillings – ten pence – a pint and you could buy a house for three thousand pounds. There were no mobile phones and there was nothing personal about computers. The few that existed were the size of the average bungalow. The pace of life was slower. Stress had not been discovered, at least, not in Nether Snuffingham. And nothing much happened to the people who lived there. Most of the time…

CHAPTER ONE

 

The Shoes

 

Nothing much happened at the Five Horseshoes. Nothing much had ever happened there, if you discount times when the beer was off or there was an outbreak of food poisoning attributed by some to the landlady’s homemade pies.

The Romans had bypassed the village, literally. They chose to build their long, straight road a few miles to the north.

Anglo-Saxon warrior tribes had left little mark, apart from inserting some pretty fierce Brünnhilde types into the local female gene pool. The landlady, Gladys, was a case in point.

 

One of the few significant events was back in 1085 when a Norman surveyor turned up to check out what to record in the Domesday Book. He didn’t find much and the village rated merely a brief mention as being worth forty shillings, inhabited by a few peasants, serfs and a handful of cattle and swine, and to be taxed at one yoke, whatever that meant.

And, as late as the early 1960s, those peasants and serfs were still pretty much in evidence. Witness the public bar of an evening. Even now few of them bother about paying taxes. Most prefer cash in hand.

The village had pretty much slumbered through the centuries. Unfortunately its inhabitants did not hear about the Peasants’ Revolt until it was all over, otherwise some would almost certainly have had a go.

A couple of local farmhands had set off to join the Parliamentarian forces during the Civil War, but couldn’t find them, so returned to the village unscathed – if a little sheepish.

There was a brief flurry of excitement back in 1943 when a shot-down German airman who had parachuted into the churchyard was captured by two pitchfork-toting landgirls and brought into the public bar. ‘For you, sunshine,’ the village bobby was alleged to have told the startled prisoner, ‘the war is over. Fancy a pint?’

The swinging sixties had not even begun to swing locally. There were regulars there who knew little of life outside and had not yet heard of the Beatles, never seen a miniskirt, and thought drainpipes were the things rainwater ran down.

One of the few exceptions was Norman Butcher, who occasionally dropped in for a pint on his way home from work. He had seen or heard of all of the above through commuting by train from the nearby market town to his civil service job in London. But he didn’t rabbit on about it – or anything else, come to that.

Of course there was the local newspaper reporter, Des Crow, from the Mercury, who usually popped in once a week. He claimed to know just about everything. But he was more interested in extracting information from the locals than educating them about the fashions and fads of the day.

The pub, known to its regulars as the Shoes, stood at one end of the small green overlooking the village pond, its Virginia creeper-clad walls and olde-worlde charm marred only by signs of neglect such as peeling paintwork and loose peg tiles.

Inside, it was cosy if scruffy. There was no plastic or chrome anywhere to be seen and its main features were its aged wood-wormed oak beams and the handsome inglenook fireplace decorated with a few genuine horse brasses in the snug.

At first glance you would think the ceilings were painted yellowy-brown, but they had once been white and were now stained with nicotine from generations of smokers, whose lungs were probably the same colour.

Gladys, known as Glad – a misnomer if ever there was one – and her husband Horace had run the pub for many a year.

She was a ginger-haired gin-swilling bossy-boots, whose interrogation techniques would have been the envy of the Gestapo.

No customer could ever stay tight-lipped when she was in cross-examination mode. And as a result she knew everything about everybody who ventured into the Shoes. Apart, perhaps, from Norman the commuter, as he was known, being the only local who ventured far away from the village to work. Norman never volunteered any information about himself – not even number, rank, name.

Although he was nominally the landlord, with his name above the entrance, Horace, a multi-chinned roly-poly, and otherwise matey sort of chap, knew his place. It was Glad who ran the pub with an iron fist, dealt with the brewery, made out the orders for peanuts, crisps and the like, controlled the till, served up doorstep sandwiches – and cooked her infamous pies.

Horace was a bit of a comedian, always ready with a quip, but he was ever careful of overstepping the mark when Glad was in one of her moods, which was pretty much most of the time.

The large, brick-floored public bar was inhabited during opening hours by a small band of regulars. There was old Frank and his Penguin-eating terrier – chocolate biscuits, that is, not real penguins.

There was the major, who had spent far more time selling insurance than he had in harm’s way, and a First World War veteran from somewhere to the far north known only as Yorky.

Then there were two other old codgers, Will and George, who had spent all of their working lives together labouring on local farms, and now in retirement spent more time together playing cribbage, draughts and darts in the Shoes than they did at home with their wives.

Old Mabel, who knitted, drank stout, and cackled a lot, and a few nondescripts made up the rest of the regular clientele. Little Jimmy, a former merchant navy man who had fallen on hard times after swallowing the anchor and now lived in a hut he had made himself in the nearby woods, was often to be found in the public bar, leaving his precious First World War medals with Horace as security for beer when he was out of funds.

Various others popped in on a regular basis. They included the man whose company owned the bar billiards table and shared the takings from it with the landlord. The bar billiards man had not yet twigged that Glad had found a way of extracting some of the sixpences before his weekly visits.

Regular as clockwork, every lunch-time, the village baker would appear. He was a tiny, chipper man, never seen without his cloth cap, who brought his newly-baked loaves in a large basket and stayed only long enough to resupply Glad’s sandwich-making operation and consume his usual half pint, never more.

The Shoes did better trade at the weekends, but there were days during the week, especially if the weather was bad, when even the regulars stayed away. At times like that the pub resembled those scenes in the film Whisky Galore when there was no whisky.

This state of affairs usually brought on one of Glad’s moods, and Horace would find tasks that kept him down in the cellar. He would stay there among the crates, barrels, cobwebs and a notice left over from wartime that urged soldiers ‘Please do not bring your rifles into the bar!’ for as long as possible.

When a call of nature or hunger forced him to surface like some tubby depth-charged submariner, Glad was there waiting to pound his ears with alarming statistics of falling takings and rising bills.

‘I don’t know why I bother, really I don’t!’ she would moan. ‘Work, work, work and nothing to show for it! At this rate we’ll never get that package holiday you promised me on the Costa Brava.’ And she would fix Horace with a baleful stare and tell him acidly, ‘It’s about time you came up with something to attract more customers.’ As Horace had often reflected, it was never us when things weren’t going well, but you

Horace would wince and put on his thinking cap. But, sadly, no great brainwave had struck him so far.

CHAPTER TWO

 

Village Calls

 

Nothing short of war, famine, fire, flood or pestilence would prevent Des Crow, the cocky, porky-faced, pot-bellied reporter from the nearby market town, from making his weekly call at the Shoes seeking village news for the Mercury.

Crow had long since recognised that village pubs were goldmines for news and gossip and, anyway, he enjoyed a glass of beer or three and yarning with the yokels.

He particularly sought quirky paragraphs, known in the trade as overnights, that he could phone through to the London evening papers, reversing the charges of course. But there was never much to tell him.

When his calls around all the neighbouring villages did bear fruit, he would phone the evening paper copytakers, announce himself, ‘Des Crow here, old man, with a couple of overnights,’ and dictate pithy paragraphs such as:

 

Allotment holders at Little Snuffingham are complaining to the council about a plague of slugs from the nearby municipal tip that are attacking their vegetables.

 

Snuffingham-cum-Upham’s fourteenth century parish church of St Barnabas is infested with deathwatch beetles as well as having dry rot, a Diocesan survey has revealed.

 

And[_:_]

 

Nether Snuffingham Women’s Institute branch is planning to produce a charity calendar with different members each month posing as famous characters from history.

 

Predictably, Glad had been selected to portray Boudicca. Typecasting, Horace called it. Fortunately, Crow had discovered, the well-upholstered lady playing Lady Godiva would be wearing a pink body suit. Little was he to know that this was an early forerunner of a more famous, some might say notorious, calendar, featuring WI members up north wearing substantially less, that would take the world by storm.

If these overnight paragraphs made it into the editions that came down from London by train the following afternoon, Crow would stand to make twelve and sixpence a time. He could times that by three if the News, Standard and Star all used them.

It was one of those wet, doom-ridden no Whisky Galore kind of days during a long spell of bad weather and poor trade when Crow arrived at the Shoes for his weekly call and noted Horace’s uncharacteristically gloomy look.

‘What’s up, old chap? Been at Glad’s pies again?’ Even he would not have dared to make such a quip if Glad had not been safely out of range in the back parlour.

Horace paused midway through pulling the reporter a pint. ‘No, no. Try not to touch ’em myself. It’s just that business is slow, dead slow. And Glad keeps moaning that we’ll never get that package holiday on the Costa Brava that she’s been going on about for ages. Wants me to think of something to attract more trade, but, I ask you, I can’t change the weather, can I? I can’t conjure customers up from nowhere, can I?’

He banged the full pint glass down on the bar counter. ‘That’ll be two bob.’

Crow put down a florin, took a slurp, and surveyed the public bar. Only the old crone Mabel, knitting furiously in her chair beside the front window, and old Frank on his corner barstool muttering quietly to his terrier, were to be seen. It certainly was another slow beer day at the Shoes.

‘See what you mean, old man. Not exactly buzzing in here, is it?’

Horace shook his head sorrowfully. ‘You can say that again. We’ve only taken a few quid all week. To say we’re keeping a pub is about right. This one’s not keeping us at the moment, that’s for sure.’

‘I would’ve expected little Jimmy to be here. Hardly ever known him not to be.’

‘No, haven’t seen him since that storm the other night. It was chucking it down at closing time and I was worried about him getting back to his hut in the woods. It’s a good two miles, you see, and the old boy could have caught his death staggering back there after a few pints…’

‘You didn’t fancy putting him up for the night?’

Horace shook his head. ‘Oh no, Glad wouldn’t have allowed that. Thin end of the wedge, do you follow? It wouldn’t do to set what they call a precedent, else we’d have to put up every drunk who couldn’t make it home.’

‘So what happened to Jimmy?’

‘Well, old Bert the garage bloke had dropped in for a nightcap on his way home from town. He lives over near the woods so I asked him if he’d give Jimmy a lift in his car. “Oh no,” he says, “he’s too smelly to come in the car, but I don’t mind giving him a lift in the boot.” So that’s what they did. We popped little Jimmy into the boot of his car and off they went. Haven’t seen either of them since, so I just hope Bert remembered to let him out when he passed Jimmy’s hut.’

Crow considered for a moment whether or not he could turn this into a story for the Mercury, or even an overnight, but dismissed the idea. No, it wouldn’t fly – not unless Jimmy’s mummified body was discovered in the boot when the car was eventually traded in…

A sudden crash from the back of the bar accompanied by the tinkling of breaking glass made them both jump.

‘Strewth!’ exclaimed the reporter. ‘What the heck was that?’

Horace spun on his heel more like a startled ballet dancer than a heavyweight. His first thought was that Glad had run amok in the kitchen, a situation that did occur from time to time when her pies got burnt or a mouse appeared from the holes in the skirting board. But then his foot scrunched on broken glass. ‘Thank Gawd,’ he said. ‘Just a bottle that’s fallen off the shelf. Now what made that happen?’

Sure enough, the label among the shards and the remains of the beer rapidly disappearing into the gaps between the floor bricks revealed it to have been a small bottle of the strong ale that some reckoned you could get drunk on for a few shillings.

Crow suggested, ‘Perhaps it was vibration from Glad in the kitchen, still chuntering on about the Costa Brava.’

Horace pursed his lips. ‘Could be, but more’n likely that bottle was poised, on the edge like, waiting to dive off and hit our takings. Even the soddin’ beer’s turned against me.’

He fetched a dustpan and brush and knelt to sweep up the broken glass, muttering, ‘Just one darned thing after another. Only last week the local bobby came in on his high horse and laying down the law just because someone had left the cellar hatches open.’

‘What, those trap doors in the paving outside the front of the pub where the draymen roll the barrels down into the cellar?’

‘That’s right. Must have been them ‘as left them open, but Alf, the copper, went on and on about it being the landlord’s responsibility to check that they’re closed, how someone could have fallen in and broken their neck or whatever.’

‘Wouldn’t mind falling into a cellar full of free beer myself,’ Crow observed.

‘That’s just it,’ Horace complained. ‘I had to give the bobby a free pint just to shut him up. Still, trade’s so poor I might just as well give the beer away.’

Crow chuckled. ‘Never mind, old chap, I’ll have another pint, just to boost your profits, mind.’

While Horace was pouring it, the reporter indicated the poster pinned to the pub noticeboard alongside last year’s list of inter-village darts match fixtures. ‘Anyway, no doubt you’ll make a killing at next week’s sale.’

The notice announced:

 

Special Sale

at

Nether Snuffingham

Situated behind the Five Horseshoes

 

260 SHEEP

 

56 STORE CATTLE

 

Thursday 11th September

Sale to commence at 11 a.m.

 

Horace nodded grudgingly. ‘Shouldn’t do too badly, but it’ll be what they call an exception to the rule. Be alright if every day was a sale day, what with all those thirsty farmers and hangers-on. Trouble is, trade’ll be back to square one the following day…’

Crow knew how it felt because he was suffering his own news drought. Draining his pint, he announced, ‘I’d best be on my way, Horace,’ and added sympathetically, ‘but I’ll be back to report on the sale on Thursday and I’m sure you’ll make a killing.’

The pub’s cash register would indeed be busy on sale day, and the reason was simple. One of its great attractions was that, in those days of strict licensing laws, the Shoes was granted special dispensation to stay open all day, catering for the great thirsts sellers, buyers and idle gawpers are prone to at such gatherings.

It was well known that in the past some had imbibed so freely that they had bid for the wrong lots. And one seller was said to have enjoyed the relaxed drinking regime to such excess that he had bought his own sheep back.

Certainly it was an event that gave a twice-yearly boost to the diminished coffers of the licensees at the Five Horseshoes. But not enough to make Glad’s dream of a package holiday on the Costa Brava come true.

CHAPTER THREE

 

The Sale

 

On the morning of the sale the Shoes was soon busy as vendors, potential purchasers, and some who were only there for the beer, crowded the public bar.

Horace had made sure there were spare barrels on tap in the cellar and Glad was bustling around the kitchen baking an extra batch of her pies.

Having made his routine morning calls to police, fire brigade and ambulance, picking up a few paragraphs about stolen bicycles, a chimney fire, a call-out to a collapse in the street and the like, Des Crow drove out to the Shoes in time to get one in before the sale started.

If anyone had bothered to ask, he would have replied, truthfully, that he was one of those really only there for the beer. He was there to write up the sale, of course, but he wouldn’t have to do anything, work-wise, until it was over.

Then he’d get a few quotes from the auctioneer and compare the latest sale figures to those of the previous auction. In his wallet he had the Mercury cutting of the story he had written about it, so, as he liked to tell his milksop juniors, it would merely be a case of changing the names and figures to protect the innocent. It was a phrase he had picked up from the Jack Webb movie Dragnet, and he rather fancied himself as a journalistic version of Sergeant Joe Friday.

To balance his piece, he would get one of the farmers to say how the terrible English weather, and high cost of everything except your own livestock when you came to sell it, was making it harder and harder for poor farmers to survive.

Always good for a whinge, were the farmers. And then they’d drive off in their nice new Land Rovers.

Crow always enjoyed sale day. It was an easy thing to write up and a good opportunity to get well oiled at the Mercury’s expense, as he always charged a quid in expenses for buying farmers drinks, but kept his hand firmly in his pocket – and was occasionally treated by those he should be treating.

Having quaffed his first pint, he made his way to the meadow at the back of the pub where the sale was about to start.

The sales ring was made up of linked wooden hurdles keeping back a sea of cloth-capped farmers and small-holders looking to sell or increase their stock, and graziers intent on buying animals to fatten up in the nearby marshlands for the meat trade.

The auctioneer, from the market town, was by far the best-dressed man in his velvet-collared British Warm overcoat. He was perched on a shooting stick brandishing a gold-topped walking cane and supported by his clerk whose job it was to record buyers and prices of each lot.

First the sheep: wethers, ewes and lambs, each bearing their owner’s mark in various shades of dye, were hustled into the ring from nearby holding pens in groups of a dozen or so. There were a few lively rams to come, and the cattle: cows, heifers, steers and a couple of bulls, would be the last to be auctioned.

Crow was not himself of farming stock, but he did know that wethers and steers were male sheep and cattle that had suffered the unkindest cut of all and were no longer interested in the females of their species.

Ewes and cows, he also knew, had already produced offspring, and heifers were cows that had yet to calve. Rams and bulls, were, well, rams and bulls that in polite society were known as intact.

A clanging handbell heralded the arrival of the first lot, ten crossbred lambs, and the auctioneer got to work running up the price in response to bids from ringside that were often little more than a twitch of hand, head or stick, and would not have been picked up at all by anyone new to the scene.

Elbows resting on one of the wattles, the reporter allowed his gaze to roam around the sales ring and, as he did so, something struck him as being odd.

Puzzled, he asked the ruddy-faced farmer next to him, ‘Strange how a lot of these locals look alike, isn’t it?’

The farmer took his pipe out of his mouth and smiled a gap-toothed smile. ‘Mebbe it’s the cloth caps…’

Thinking about it, Crow recalled that the picture of the sales ring that the Mercury photographer snapped at the last sale did look rather like a scene from a cloth cap convention.

But he shook his head. ‘I see what you’re saying, but, no, what I mean is that a lot of them actually look alike – as if they’re related.’

The farmer’s grin broadened. ‘Mebbe they are. Well quite a few of ’em, anyways.’

‘How come?’

‘Well, y’see, round ’ere afore the war, long afore everyone had cars, motorbikes and suchlike, there was only four blokes what ’ad push bikes.’

‘So?’

‘So, they was the ones what rode orf to the village dances. Used to have a dance every fortnight in one or other of the village halls round here. Still do in some parts. Les Smith and his band mostly. Waltzes, quick steps, foxtrots, Palais Glides, Gay Gordons and all that.’

In the background the sale was progressing apace, with sheep lots being driven into the ring, the auctioneer calling out near incomprehensible figures and banging his cane on a wattle to mark each winning bid.

But for the moment Crow was oblivious to all that. Instead he continued quizzing his new-found farmer friend, ‘So that’s where the young people got together – to dance?’

The farmer shook his head. ‘Oh no, the boys didn’t dance. Not the ones what were old enough to drink. They’d go off to the local village pub until closing time. It’s the old people and the girls what danced – together, I mean. The boys turned up after chucking out time and stood together down by the door. We felt safer in a bunch, like.’

Crow twigged. ‘You were one of them?’

‘Mebbe, mebbe not. Anyways, the bolder, or drunker, ones would wait ’til the end and grab a girl they fancied for the last waltz.’

‘So how come so many people look as if they’re related?’

The farmer touched his nose as if he was about to reveal a state secret and looked around to make sure no-one was eavesdropping. ‘Well, y’see, the village girls liked a bit of fresh meat, from outside like, rather than getting orf with a second cousin or some boy they sat next to at the village school.’

Crow was puzzled. ‘But getting orf, I mean off, with outsiders would mean bringing in new blood, so I still don’t see why so many of these people look like they’re related.’

‘Ah,’ the farmer lowered his voice and said conspiratorially, ‘it’s like this, y’see, what they say round these parts is that most people haven’t got forefathers. They’ve got any one of four fathers…’

Finally Crow understood. ‘The ones with the bikes?’

‘You got it.’

 

  • * *

 

Wondering if he had just been had, Crow returned to the public bar, where the beer flowed steadily all day, for a much-needed second pint.

It was crowded with farmers, some who had already made a successful bid and others waiting to try and buy a later lot.

They jostled for position as close as possible to the bar counter, a thick fug of smoke hung over them and it was difficult to make yourself heard above the babble of conversation.

Men who seldom mixed with others as they went about their daily work swapped news and stories with their fellow horny-handed sons of the soil, their tongues loosened by the alcohol that had unlocked their pent-up desire to commune with their fellows. The talk was all of farming, who their sons and daughters were courting, and, of course, the sale.

Only one of the drinkers, unnoticed by any of the others, kept himself to himself in a corner.

After witnessing such a sale as a boy, Norman the commuter had never been able to bring himself to watch another. To him, it was no better than a slave market, albeit for animals rather than humans.

He would not have been there at all if the sale had not coincided with what in the Civil Service is euphemistically known as a privilege day. He did not wish to spend it alone at home now that his mother was unconscious and near death in hospital, where he would visit her later.

For now, it was a kind of therapy to hide away in a corner of the crowded bar nursing a half pint and dreaming of a different sort of animal altogether. His mind was more on the wildlife of the African plains and the Australian bush than the sheep and cattle changing hands that day. And a crowded bar, he had found, was a good place to hide if you didn’t want to get dragged into an unwanted conversation.

If the public bar was a hive of activity on sale day, the snug was a haven of peace. By tradition it was strictly reserved for the auctioneer and his clerk.

For once Glad had finished baking her pies early and on this special day cooked a proper meal, appropriately roast lamb with mint sauce and three veg, followed by apple pie, cream and a block of mousetrap cheese with biscuits. There would be enough for four, because, again by tradition, the auctioneer always treated the two highest bidders of the day to a free meal.

As for Horace, on sale days he would have to settle for the same dodgy pies as the rest of the lower orders. But then, over the years his gut had grown accustomed to them, much as dung beetles become used to their daily fare.

 

  • * *

 

After a longish break for lunch, the sale went on well into the afternoon, and as it came to an end local buyers drove their newly-purchased animals home across the common, and the cattle lorries were loaded up to take those from further afield.

The wattles were collected up with a tractor and trailer and soon the field was empty again, awaiting the arrival of the odd weekend caravanners and campers the following spring.

As evening wore on, in the public bar the successful sellers continued to drink some of their profits before wending their way unsteadily home.

The village bobby, PC Alf Midgley, on hand all day to ensure that the sale was trouble-free, had been smuggled with his visiting sergeant into the back parlour during the afternoon for a much-deserved pint.

Now he waited outside astride his trusty Noddy bike to see that the merry farming folk left in an orderly fashion, telling one obviously inebriated smallholder, ‘Steady there, Willie. Take care you drive home slowly and in a straight line. The sergeant might still be about.’

CHAPTER FOUR

 

Raised Spirits

 

Crow made it a point of honour to be one of the last at the bar, watching Horace and Glad collecting up glasses and emptying overflowing ashtrays. ‘So, have you made your fortunes?’ he asked.

Glad gave him a less than glad look.

‘Didn’t do too bad, did we?’ Horace ventured. ‘But of course, like we said the other night, the sale is a one-off, well two-off as it’s twice yearly. What we need is something to draw the punters in on a daily basis, not just rely on a couple of days like today and a few busy weekends in the summer.’

Crow, loquacious in drink and hoping to be offered a nightcap, nodded enthusiastically. ‘What you need is a bit of exposure.’

Horace winced at the mental image of Glad exposing any more of herself than was strictly necessary.

The reporter had registered Glad’s raised eyebrow and moved quickly to avoid one of her withering put-downs. He spluttered, ‘By exposure, I mean a headline, dear lady…’

Horace exhaled with relief and Glad lowered her eyebrow.

Crow burbled on, ‘But you won’t get any headlines from the half-yearly sheep and cattle sale, even in the Mercury. You’d need at least a two-headed sheep to go berserk.’

‘Will you join us in a nightcap?’ Horace asked, so unexpectedly that Crow nearly choked on his fag.

‘Don’t mind if I do. Scotch, please. Double if you like.’

‘Spirits, after all that beer?’ Glad more commented than asked.

Crow ignored the slight, and, as Horace operated the whisky optic, twice, the journalist punched the air. ‘Yes, that’s it!’

‘That’s what?’ asked Glad.

‘That’s just what you need. Spirits, well a spirit. What you need to grab a headline is a resident ghost…’

Horace dispensed himself a double. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘now you come to mention it, some of the old locals do tell of a ghostly five-legged horse that they reckon gave its name to the pub. Five Horseshoes, you see?’

He poured a single gin for Glad. No sense in getting the old girl to the morbid stage. ‘But we don’t believe it ourselves, do we Glad? Funny as how whenever someone reckons to have seen it, it’s only ever after closing time when they’ve had a skinful. What I reckon is that the pub probably got its name just because the first landlord happened to have five horseshoes hanging about gathering dust and put ’em up so’s them as couldn’t read would know where they were.’

Crow mused. ‘Hmm, a ghostly five-legged horse?’ But he shook his head, dismissing the thought. ‘Nah, no-one’s going to fall for that. We need to be a bit more subtle…’

He warmed to the idea. ‘What we need is a proper ghost, or one of those polter-whatsits – you know, a poltergeist. One of those mischievous spirits that knocks things over, turns the light on and off when there’s no-one near the switches, makes people’s beer disappear. That sort of thing.’

Horace grinned. ‘There’s quite a few that get in here who can make beer disappear quick as you like. The way some of ’em throw it back it don’t hardly touch the sides on its way down.’

Crow looked around to make sure no-one else was listening and said, conspiratorially, ‘Look, I did a story about a poltergeist down at Little Snuffington years ago. Some expert reckoned they’re caused by someone’s emotional disturbance, usually a woman, or so he said.’

Glad raised an eyebrow again.

The journalist hastened to reassure her. ‘It wouldn’t be the likes of you, of course dear lady. You’re made of sterner stuff…’

‘You can say that again,’ muttered Horace, only to find Glad’s deathray look zeroing in on him.

Crow ploughed on. ‘They had objects moving around on their own, strange banging noises without any obvious cause, strange odours and mysterious writing appearing on walls…’

‘We get quite a bit of that in the loos,’ Horace volunteered.

‘Things flung at people, being pushed around by some unseen presence…’

Horace could have said that both had happened to him when Glad had downed a gin too many, but with the known presence responsible at his elbow he wisely chose to hold his tongue.

‘Look, this could be good for trade and good for me. I’d get a headline in the Mercury and I might even be able to sell it to the nationals. But it’s got to have a peg.’

‘What d’you mean, a coat hook?’

‘No, no. A story like this needs to have a peg – something definite to hang it on, stand it up.’

‘He means to give it credibility.’ All three turned, startled, at the sound of Norman’s voice from his seat in the corner. Normally he was seen and not heard and they had forgotten he was still there.

Crow nodded enthusiastically. ‘That’s right. You’ve got it in one! And I’ve thought of a way we can give it credibility.’

Norman got up and put his empty glass on the counter. ‘I’ll say goodnight to you and leave you to your, er, spirits…’

But they hardly noticed him going and Horace asked, ‘What’s this credibility thing then?’

The reporter grinned. ‘The vicar. You know, Reverend Whatshisname, the local man who’s always going on about how people should play the game of life as if it’s a cricket match.’

The incumbent of St Mary’s was indeed a cricket fanatic and managed to introduce references to the game of flannelled fools into most of his sermons and everyday utterances.

Horace asked, ‘What about him?’

‘Well, we could get the vicar to come and perform a whatsit – an exorcism.’

Glad had never heard of such a thing. ‘What’s that when it’s at home?’

‘Well, dear lady, it’s like a service where your clergyman says prayers and suchlike, casting out the evil spirit.

‘Tells it to eff off, sort of thing?’ Horace queried.

Crow nodded. ‘That’s it in a nutshell. If you can get him to perform an exorcism, well, that’s a peg, a news peg. That’d stand the whole thing up.’

‘Even if it’s not true?’ asked Glad.

Crow tossed back the last dregs of his double whisky. ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, I always say, dear lady.’

Oblivious to her scorn, the reporter smirked. ‘Anyway, who’s to say you haven’t got a real poltergeist here? Remember that bottle jumping off the shelf when I was here last week?’

Glad glared. ‘That shelf’s wonky. If I’ve told Horace once I’ve told him a thousand times…’

But Crow ploughed on. ‘And what about that time when your cellar hatches were left open? Might not have been the draymen – or you. Might have been…’

‘A real poltergeist!’ Horace exclaimed excitedly.

‘Exactly! So we have ourselves a story that may even be true…’

Ever sceptical, Glad muttered, ‘That’d make a change.’

But again Crow ignored the barb, examined his empty glass and announced, ‘Now, I think I’ve just got room for one more for the road…’

CHAPTER FIVE

 

The Come-on

 

Next morning, after cleaning the beer pumps and bottling up from the crates in the cellar to fill the racks behind the bar that had been ravaged by the sale day excesses, Horace looked up the vicar’s phone number.

Not being one to call on the clergy or the uniformed emergency services other than the odd times when customers had dropped dead in the bar, it was not the kind of number he had at his fingertips.

Having found it, he dialled, but there was no immediate answer and after listening to it ringing out for a while he put the phone down.

Later, during a lull in the almost non-existent public bar trade, he tried again and was startled when this time it crackled and a sepulchral voice announced, ‘St Mary’s vicarage. Vicar speaking, how may I help?’

Horace was temporarily taken aback. Surely they weren’t sending vicars on customer relations courses these days?

‘Oh, hello there, vicar. Sorry to trouble you…’

‘Who is it?’

‘It’s Horace, the landlord down at the Shoes.’

‘Has someone died?’

‘No, should they have?’

The vicar had been dragged away from watching a televised cricket match and there was more than a hint of acid in his reply. ‘Well, I normally only see you at a wake following one of your customers’ funerals.’

The vicar was well aware of the publican’s boast that he had only been to church twice, to get baptised and married, and he would only go once more – wearing an oak casket with brass handles. It was also true that Horace did not even attend his regulars’ funerals, always claiming that he needed to be back at the Shoes ready for when the thirsty mourners arrived.

‘Ah yes, well said, vicar. Good point well brought out. I’m not much of a God-botherer, you see. I reckon he’s got enough on his plate what with wars, famines, deathwatch beetles and whatever.’

‘So, has another of your customers passed away?’

Horace chuckled down the line. ‘What, to the great public bar in the sky? No, no, vicar, though I suppose quite a few do seem to drop off their perches from time to time. But no, not this time. We need your help with another matter. Your blessing, like.’

The vicar’s antennae were vibrating. He was frequently called upon for help, judging flower shows, declaring the village fete open and that sort of thing, but he had never been asked by a publican for a blessing before. He was intrigued, but could not help voicing a hint of sarcasm.

‘What could that be, the annual blessing of the barrels or presenting the darts’ cup?’

Horace was amused. ‘Blessing the barrels? What a very good idea, vicar, but no, we want you to perform an exor-whatsit. You know, tell a ghost to bog off…’

‘A what!’ The vicar was completely dumbfounded.

‘A ghost, vicar. Well, what they call a malevolent spirit, that is. Come to think of it, two spirits…’

There was a moment’s silence as the vicar digested this extraordinary piece of information. Then, gathering himself, he asked suspiciously, ‘Are you, how shall I put this, are you quite sober?’

Horace guffawed. ‘Dear me, yes, vicar. Sober as a Methodist. I haven’t touched a drop so far today, beer or spirits!’

The vicar allowed himself a nervous laugh. ‘Two spirits, you say?’

‘That’s right, vicar. One’s what they calls a polter-whatsit.’

‘Geist – a poltergeist?’

‘That’s it. Never learned Latin at school, myself.’

The vicar corrected him. ‘It’s German, not Latin.’

‘Blimey, never guessed it was foreign. Must be left over from the war!’

‘How does this evil spirit manifest itself?’

‘Oh no, vicar,’ Horace assured him. ‘I don’t think it gets up to anything of a sexual nature.’

Perplexed, the vicar was speechless for once.

Horace filled the vacuum. ‘Although, now you come to mention it, vicar, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these polter-thingeys hung around the ladies’ loo. We’re always having to replace the Bronco in there. Uncanny how quickly it disappears. No sooner put a new roll in and there it is, gone…’

The vicar was becoming a little testy. ‘No, no, by manifesting, I mean how does it make itself known?’

‘Oh, I see what you mean. Well, it throws stuff about in the bar, switches the lights on and off, makes beer disappear and suchlike. And it left the cellar hatches open one time. Malevolent thing to do, that was. Someone could have fallen in. The local bobby came round to look into it.’

‘The cellar?’

‘No, who left the flaps up. The other one’s upstairs, in the attic. But that’s just what you might call a normal ghost. English I should think.’

‘And how does that one manif…, er, appear?’

‘Oh no, vicar, it doesn’t appear as such. It’s more heard than seen. Clumps about at night. Keeps Gladys awake so she’s even more irritable than usual in the mornings.’

‘Hmm, could be demonic possession of some sort. So, you want me to perform an exorcism?’

‘That’s right vicar. Well, two if you would. We’d like to get rid of both.’

The vicar was intrigued. An exorcism would make a change from the usual boring routine, but he was unsure of the correct procedure and racked his brains before answering. ‘Look, I’d have to do a bit of research, but I daresay I could pop along and say some prayers for protection and peace…’

‘And tell them to bog off?’ Horace asked expectantly.

‘Well, yes, although not quite in those terms. I think I’d need to tell it, er them, to depart in peace. That sort of thing.’

Horace punched the air with the receiver. The fish had taken the bait.

He put the phone to his ear again. ‘Many thanks, vicar. Good man! Shall we say this evening just after closing time? That’s when they do most of their manifesting…’

 

  • * *

 

After putting down the phone, the vicar sank back into his favourite armchair, a pile of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacks on the low table beside him. When his mind was troubled he tended to refer to Wisden rather than the Bible, drawing great inner strength from the statistics of long-ago matches and the sportsmanlike exploits of the gods of the greensward. Indeed, some knew it as ‘the Bible of cricket’.

A bit of superficial research told him he would need to take not Wisden, but a proper Bible, crucifix and some holy water to sprinkle about, recite the Lord’s Prayer and so forth.

He mused that he almost certainly needed to obtain the bishop’s approval to carry out an exorcism. But then, this was the most intriguing thing he had been called upon to do since he had married two sets of twins who had changed their minds at the altar and swapped partners, causing no end of paperwork.

Yes, he should consult the bishop. But then his lordship was a dry old stick and what if he said no?

So, telling himself that he could carry out the exorcism quietly, without anyone outside the village hearing about it, he resolved to go into bat that very night and score a boundary against the forces of Satan.

And, meanwhile, he could look forward to watching more of the televised cricket after the lunch interval.

CHAPTER SIX

 

Schemes and Spirits

 

As arranged, Crow returned to the Shoes as soon as the magistrates’ court adjourned for lunch. He could pick up the result of the poaching case he had been covering later. Normally he would not have bothered with it, but this one resulted from an alleged incursion by a gang of townies hunting pheasants on Lord Gorse’s land, and the reporter reckoned anything involving a toff was good for a story.

Downing a pint, he went into a huddle with Horace and Glad, making preparations for the exorcism. There was muttered talk of fishing line and ghostly footsteps.

This sparked a comment from the only other customer in the public bar, old Frank, sitting on his usual barstool nursing a pint of mild and bitter.

‘Ghosts? Plenty of ghosts round these parts, but I don’t recall any ones what go fishing.’

Horace fixed the old poacher with a puzzled stare. ‘Oh yes, Frank, and what do you know about local ghosts?’

The old-timer took a slurp of his fast-diminishing pint. ‘Well, I’ve got a bit of a dry throat like. Might ’elp if I was to get a refill…’

Crow slapped two shillings on the bar. ‘Best oil the wheels, eh Horace?’

As Horace worked the mild and bitter pumps, Frank refilled his pipe, sucked his teeth and launched into his spiel.

‘Local ghosts? Well, don’t know as there’s any really local ghosts. There’s the five-legged horse, of course, but I’ve never seen that meself…’

‘Never been drunk enough?’ Horace offered.

‘No, never seen that horse, drunk or sober. But what I do know is that there used to be a monastery, you know, over towards Upper Upton.’

Glad confirmed. ‘Oh yes, those old ruins you can see from the road.’

‘That’s right,’ Frank nodded sagely. ‘Of course, that’s what they was before Henry the Heighth disillusioned the monks. Afore that it must have been quite nice to be a monk, just hanging about the monastery all day brewing beer and whatnot – like that Benedictine stuff what we used to drink at Christmas.’

Crow asked, ‘So, are there any ghosts there?’

Frank shrugged and ploughed on. ‘There was friars, too, in the olden days. But it can’t have been healthy eating a load of fried stuff. I seen that Friar Tuck in a Robin Hood film when I was a kid. He was really chubby. Probably ’cos of all them fry-ups. And the drink, of course.’

‘So, were there any ghostly friars?’

‘They said they had to drink beer and such ’cos the water wasn’t safe what with all the little bugs what you can’t hardly see swimming round in it. But I reckon they just made that up so’s they could get rat-arsed every day. The local water’s never done me no harm. Course, me grandfather did die of typhoid but he must’ve caught that when he went up to London on the train one time. Never been on a train meself and ain’t never been up London either. No bounds what you might catch up there.’

Crow was becoming ever so slightly exasperated. ‘Look Frank,’ he said as patiently as he could, ‘I’ve bought you a pint and you said you know about local ghosts, but you’re beginning to ramble…’

But Frank was not to be hassled. ‘There was a lot of praying of course, if you was a monk or a friar, but I suppose that was one of the drawbacks of the job…’ He took a long draught of mild and bitter and relapsed into silence.

Crow, Horace and Glad exchanged frustrated looks.

The silence was broken by Horace. ‘I think we can forget about Frank and his local ghosts. Didn’t exactly help our cause, as they say…’

‘You’re right there,’ said Crow. ‘But we could use him tonight. There’s a role for him in the attic.’

‘What’s his price, d’you think?’

‘A couple of mild and bitters – and a Penguin for his dog.’

‘Well,’ the reporter warned, ‘you’d better make sure he’s well briefed. Don’t want him getting it wrong and rambling on when the vicar’s here.’

They plotted and planned well into the afternoon, and, having set up everything for the evening’s performance, agreed that it would be a very good idea to have a police presence.

Horace offered, ‘I could give Alf Midgley a ring.’

‘The village bobby?’ asked Crow.

‘That’s him. He likes a free pint and if he’s here when the vicar tells the ghosts to eff orf it would add a little…’

‘Credibility, just like that commuter bloke said!’ Crow enthused. ‘Perfect. Just the kind of thing we need to stand the story up…’

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

The Exorcism

 

There was tension in the air – a bit like the run-up to the gunfight at the OK Corral. Glad and Horace ushered out the evening’s drinkers, except for Frank, who was poured another pint of mild and bitter and told to sit tight.

Alf Midgley, summoned by Horace, turned up on his Velocette motorbike and marched into the public bar carrying his helmet and goggles.

‘What’s afoot?’ he asked, casting an eye over the assembled company of Horace, Glad, the reporter Des Crow, old Frank and his terrier. ‘It’s past closing time, so I hope this here’s not an open-and-shut case of serving drinks after hours, because if it is I’ll have to do some serious nicking.’

‘Ah, well, Alf,’ Horace said hesitantly, ‘let’s call it a lock-in, a private party like, ’cos we’ve got a bit of a thing going on here tonight.’

‘If it’s a lock-in you’d better pour me a pint and tell me what it’s all about. Someone’s birthday, is it?’

Horace worked the beer pump, placed the overflowing pint of bitter in front of the policeman, and said quietly, ‘No, it’s what you call an exorcism. You know, getting rid of evil spirits and whatnot?’

Alf was nonplussed. ‘You what?’

Crow interjected. ‘Look, the vicar’s due here in a minute and all will be explained. You’ve been asked here to kind of, well, verify, what’s going to happen.’

Alf was about to protest when the public bar door swung open and the vicar appeared. Round his neck dangled a large crucifix and he was clutching a Bible and a phial of holy water. ‘Ah, PC Midgley,’ he exclaimed. ‘Good to see that the law’s here to ensure that everything’s above board.’

The upholder of the law nodded to the man of the cloth. ‘Now, p’rhaps you can explain what’s going on vicar?’

The vicar placed his Bible and holy water on the bar and clasped his hands together, as if in prayer. ‘I’ve been asked here to perform an exorcism, to persuade an evil spirit, that is, two evil spirits, to leave the pub in peace.’

Alf snorted. ‘Spend a fair bit of me life making sure people leave pubs in peace at closing time, but I’ve never come across a spirit…’

‘Well, you’re about to tonight, Alf,’ Horace told him. ‘We’ve got a polter-thingy that throws things about, turns the lights out and such-like, and another sort of common-or-garden ghost that tramps about in the attic.’

And, ignoring the constable’s disbelieving look, he turned to the vicar and asked, ‘How about a drink for you, vicar? On the house like. A glass of spirits p’rhaps?’

The churchman frowned. ‘Very amusing I’m sure, but I prefer to keep a clear head, thank you all the same. Now, perhaps we can get on with the matter in hand?’

Old Frank had got up and left the bar, but neither Alf nor the vicar appeared to have noticed. If they had it is more than likely they would have assumed that he had repaired to the open-roofed urinal adjoining the pub and popularly known as the Black Hole. The lack of a roof meant that philosophical drinkers could gaze up at the heavens and ponder the mysteries of the universe while relieving themselves.

The old poacher’s terrier had not followed its master and was still in its usual place under the barstool licking a trace of chocolate from a Penguin bar wrapper.

The vicar rapped on the bar with his fingers, bringing the gathering to order. He picked up his Bible and cleared his throat, a trifle nervously. ‘Now I should tell you that, despite what you might think, there is no specific order of service for this sort of thing, least of all in a public bar.’

‘Pity…’ Glad mouthed.

‘However,’ the vicar continued, ‘I propose to recite the Lord’s Prayer, call upon each spirit to reveal itself, douse it with holy water and ask it, in the name of Jesus, to depart peacefully, and not return…’

‘Sounds about right,’ Crow offered.

‘And then I shall ask you to join me in some prayers for protection and peace…’

It was at that very moment that the lights went out and Glad, although she knew exactly what was occurring, could not help but give a startled shriek.

‘Bloody hell!’ Alf exclaimed. ‘A power cut!’

‘That was no power cut,’ warned Crow, dramatically. ‘That’s your poltergeist in action!’

‘That’s right,’ Horace agreed, striking a match and lighting a candle that just happened to be handy on the bar.

The flickering light revealed a frozen look on the vicar’s face. ‘My, er, goodness,’ he spluttered and clutched his crucifix.

‘May the cross of the Son of God, which is mightier than all the hosts of Satan…’ he intoned, but, before he could get to the bit about it abiding with them in their going out and their coming in, a bottle came crashing down from the shelf behind the bar and this time both the vicar and Alf almost jumped out of their skins.

‘That’s torn it!’ Horace exclaimed. ‘You’ve really woken it up now, vicar.’

And Crow urged, ‘Yes, best get on with exorcising it PDQ or it’ll wreck the place.’

The vicar held up his Bible to shield himself and continued nervously, ‘…from the wrath of evildoers, from the assaults of evil spirits, from foes visible and invisible, from the snares of the devil, from all passions that beguile the soul and body, may it guard, protect and deliver us…’

It was at that point that a clumping noise could be heard, emanating from somewhere above them.

As one, they looked up at the nicotine-coated ceiling where the flickering candle was throwing strange, ever-changing little shadows.

‘Crikey,’ Horace whispered. ‘That must be the other ghost. The one that manifests itself in the attic.’

The vicar’s face was as white as his vestments, but Alf Midgley was not one to stand around quivering for long. In the best traditions of the constabulary he pulled himself together, produced his truncheon from its resting place down his trousers, and made for the door.

Flinging it open, he crossed the parlour and, closely followed by Horace carrying the candlestick, the vicar armed with crucifix and Bible, and Des Crow wielding a small flash camera, with Glad bringing up the rear, he started up the stairs.

They could still hear the ghostly clumping when they reached the landing.

Breathing hard, Alf shouted, ‘It’s coming from above!’

Horace confirmed, ‘That’ll be the attic, like I said. That’s where it usually manifests itself. So if you just get on with your exorcism words vicar, I’m sure it’ll get the message… and stop clumping about!’

His voice had risen to a shout as if delivering a message to whatever was above, but as the clumping came to a sudden stop there was a simultaneous cry of alarm emanating from the attic, the ghost’s booted foot appeared through the ceiling above their heads, Crow’s camera flashed, and a fine shower of plaster floated down on them.

Alf cried out, ‘What the hell is that?’ And Horace observed, ‘About a size seven, I’d say.’

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Calling a Truce

 

Down in the bar, with the lights back on, everything was back to normal.

Horace was pulling a pint of mild and bitter for the dishevelled former ghost, who had resumed his seat at the corner of the bar.

Crow had helped himself to a double scotch to calm his nerves and he was pouring a gin for Glad while she was busily clearing up the shards of broken glass. The fishing line that had enabled Horace to make the bottle appear to fly off the shelf, invisible by candlelight, was now clearly to be seen, as was the line to the main light switch.

The vicar brushed plaster from his surplice and let his frosty expression dwell on each of the conspirators in turn, starting with Alf.

‘Really constable, I find it hard to believe that you, supposedly a guardian and upholder of the law, would allow yourself to become involved in such a travesty as this!’

Alf was greatly offended. ‘Oh no, vicar. You’ve got it all wrong. I’m nothing to do with all this whatsoever. Tricked into coming here, I was, just like you.’

The vicar could see that the plaster-covered constable was sincere – and innocent. So he turned his wrath on the others.

He demanded, ‘Do you mean to tell me that this has all been a trick, a cheap stunt just to get some false publicity so you can sell more beer?’

‘Well, vicar, we wouldn’t put it quite like that, would we, Des?’ Horace responded lamely, his ever-so-slightly shamefaced expression clearly appealing for the newsman’s support.

Crow put up his hands in a gesture of mock surrender. ‘Just a bit of harmless fun, vicar. Mercury readers love a bit of a ghost story, and this’ll not only tickle their fancies but it’ll drum up a bit of trade for Horace and Glad.’

‘Disgraceful!’ the vicar shrilled. ‘And you have involved me, a man of the cloth, in it. I might have lied to the bishop, er, if I’d consulted him, that is. It’s simply not cricket!’

‘Anyway,’ Crow attempted to reassure him, ‘you’ll come out of it well in the story, uncovering a good hoax and so forth. Now, I just need to pose one or two more pics.’

The vicar was apoplectic with righteous indignation. The thought of having to explain his presence at the fake exorcism to the bishop whom he had not consulted as he should have done filled him with dread. ‘Story? Story! There’ll be no story! And positively no pictures! If so much as a line about this appears in the Mercury or anywhere else I will personally make sure that the owners hear exactly how you have tricked not only the church but the police, too. Cheating and lying…!’

Crow bit his lip nervously. The Mercury’s owners were known to be, what he called grade one God-botherers and it would not do to invite their wrath, seeing as how they kept him in beer and fags.

‘Point taken, vicar. Not even a paragraph in the village news, then?’ he asked lamely.

‘Not even a paragraph.’ The vicar turned his ire on Horace and Glad. ‘And as for you, well, words fail me.’ But they did not and he ranted on about the pub being a tied house, and how the brewery would be preached against from every pulpit in the diocese if word of the hoax ever passed the licensees’ lips.

In his corner, old Frank let all this wash over him, slurped his well-earned pint and, while no-one was paying him any attention, reached behind the bar for another Penguin for his terrier.

All the time the vicar was ranting, PC Midgley had been racking his own brains about what action he should take, as upholder of the law of the land.

He stroked his chin and fixed Des Crow, Horace and Glad with the stare he normally saved for motorists who had dared to park with abandon. Taking out his little black police notebook, he unhitched the elastic strap, opened it up and stood, pencil poised.

‘Now then,’ he said, having finally made up his mind about the nature of the offence or offences committed, ‘there’s a little matter of wasting police time, and of serving drinks after hours.’

Crow muttered a word that should not be muttered in front of clergymen or ladies like Glad, but Horace held up his hand. ‘Alright, alright, but before you go any further, Alf, let me remind you who came into the back parlour on sale day, in uniform, and, accompanied by his sergeant, partook of pints of best bitter. Were we wasting police time then, or was it you and your sergeant who were wasting time and drinking when you should have been on duty?’

The constable looked a little sheepish as Horace concluded, ‘… and furthermore, there’s the little matter of your half-finished pint on the bar…’

Alf licked his lips nervously, snapped the elastic strap back on his notebook and put it in his pocket. Recovering his equilibrium, he told the three offenders, ‘Just this once, consider yourselves cautioned. And we’ll say no more about the matter.’

Relieved, Horace exhaled and reached for a fresh whisky tumbler. ‘Now that’s all been sorted, how about one for the road Alf? And you, vicar? What will it be, spirits?’

 

  • * *

 

And so Des Crow relegated the story to his office spike – that pointed piece of wire set on a round wooden base where reporters stuck old court agendas, council minutes or notes that needed to be kept in case of reader, or worse, legal, challenges. It was also the traditional burial place for stories that, for whatever reason, had not made it into the newspaper. Such was the fate of the Five Horseshoes’ ghosts that never were.

Crow continued to whinge to his colleagues about the lack of good stories. ‘The nationals haven’t heard from me with a good saleable story for so long that some of ’em probably think I’m dead!’ he moaned.

And he dreamed dreams of stumbling across a scoop that would restore his reputation as the leading local purveyor of news to Fleet Street – and fill his pockets. It was a search that might last through all eternity, much like a middle-aged lady’s quest for the perfect pair of trousers or the ideal all-purpose handbag.

The vicar put the whole exorcist episode down to experience and vowed never again to allow himself to become entangled with the occult, real or imaginary, reverting to his love of cricket and quiet contemplative study of Wisden.

At the Shoes, the old brass-faced clock, ever pointing to five minutes in the future yet always seeming to make time stand still, continued to tick, slowly.

Old Frank, now a retired ghost, resumed his poaching career and spent lunchtimes and evenings in his corner of the public bar, his terrier at his feet.

With the better weather, the regulars came a little more regularly. And the click of bar billiards, the thud of darts missing the doubles, the drone of flies in holding patterns over Glad’s pies and the murmur of desultory conversation continued exactly as before.

Until trade picked up enough to fill their coffers, Horace and Glad put on hold their dreams of a package holiday to the Costa Brava. There would be no wall-to-wall sunshine, no tapas and no cheap gin as yet.

Instead, they resigned themselves to a fortnight savouring the delights of a Margate bed and breakfast – if and when Glad’s sister Freda and her doleful husband Arnold would agree to hold the fort at the pub. It would not be their dream holiday, but Dreamland.

Philosophical about the failure of the exorcism lark, Horace did his best to lift Glad’s spirits. ‘Never mind, old girl,’ he told her, ‘I’ve got a feeling in me bones. If we play our cards right, one of these days this ’ere pub really will be famous.’

He was right, of course. But that is another story…

 

 

 

The End

 

 

About the author

 

 

David McDine is a former journalist and member of the Government Information Service and lives with his wife Sue on a Kent smallholding where over the years they have kept children, horses, sheep, rabbits, chickens, dogs, cats and fish. He writes historical books and humorous fiction.


The Five Horseshoes

Spirits are low at the village pub. With takings down, publicans Horace and Glad fear their dream of a Spanish package holiday may never come true. In the early 1960s what passes for excitement hereabouts is the half-yearly livestock sale behind the pub – and Glad posing as Boudicca for the Women’s Institute calendar. Local reporter Des Crow is suffering a lean patch too, so they come up with a stunt aimed at grabbing headlines and boosting trade. But plans go awry when the cricketing vicar, Alf the village bobby, and old Frank the poacher become involved. The Five Horseshoes is a light-hearted, funny novella introducing the off-beat characters and eccentricities of village life that readers will meet again in the The Animal Man, the first of David McDine’s upcoming trilogy. It is sure to appeal to fans of Tom Sharpe, Alexander McCall Smith, and P.G. Wodehouse.

  • ISBN: 9781370789641
  • Author: David McDine
  • Published: 2016-10-18 10:08:22
  • Words: 10655
The Five Horseshoes The Five Horseshoes