“What is it?” Ian asked. They had finished work for the day, and they were having a cuppa before he took the parcels to the depot.
Jeanette looked up from her phone. “It’s frustrating. Look at this. Someone’s selling up the contents of their polytunnels – at this time of year! It’s going for pennies.”
Ian looked over her shoulder at the sale on the internet. How could he tactfully tell Jeanette that the smallholder down the road was probably selling up because he couldn’t make it work, not because of illness in the family. “It looks like a great deal. Are you going to get it? You have the space.”
“I don’t know.” Jeanette hesitated. “There’s a lot of stuff. I mean, there are hundreds of plants. It’s a lot of trips and it’s the other side of York.”
“Steve,” Ian called across the office, “Can I borrow the big van to move some stuff for Jeanette?”
“Sure, no problem.” Steve didn’t even look up from the crystals he was sorting.
“Seriously?” Jeanette looked at Ian and then at Steve. “I wasn’t hinting, you know.”
“I know.” Steve was still focused on the crystals.
“And I’ll pay for petrol and everything.” Jeanette said.
Steve finally looked up. “It’s okay. You’re part of the team. And it’s Ian that you’ll have to thank. He’s the one that will be doing the driving. Ian, when you come back from the depot, will you have a look at these with me. They have some odd… resonances.”
“Sure.” Ian drained his mug of tea. “Go on, Jeanette, buy those plants.”
“You don’t mind?” Jeanette’s hand hovered over her phone.
“Just buy them!” Ian grinned. “And see if you can book a time to pick them up tomorrow. I’m waiting on a delivery of some valves and I can’t get on with the plumbing at the moment.”
Jeanette tapped her phone and then laughed out loud. “Even if it isn’t as described, even if the plants aren’t anything like the pictures, even if it’s only a tenth of what it looks like, it’s wonderful!”
“You’ve got a lot of work there.” Ian said, still looking over her shoulder as she scrolled through the images. “But I’m sure you can do it. Perhaps I can help out once the plumbing is sorted. I like keeping busy.”
“That’s a really kind offer, but I couldn’t. I mean, I can’t pay you anything and it’s hard work and…” Jeanette trailed off awkwardly.
Ian held up his hands. “I’m more likely to pay you.” He hesitated. “I need to keep busy at the moment. I would be glad of the distraction.” For a moment a shadow passed across his face before he put his mug down with a purposeful clunk. “And speaking of distraction, I’d better get these parcels down to the depot. Then I’ll drop Jeanette off and have a look at those crystals when I get back, Steve.”
Steve waited until he heard the van pull away before he spoke to Jeanette. “Listen, it’s none of my business, and it’s okay to say ‘no’, but if Ian offers to help you out then I would be grateful if you would let him. He’s got a lot of stuff on his mind and he’s finding things hard. He likes to keep busy as a distraction.”
“It’s not serious, is it?” Jeanette asked. Ian seemed such a kind, dependable person that she didn’t like to think of him as being so upset.
“It’s complicated.” Steve said with massive understatement. He looked up with some relief as Adele ushered in Ferdi. “Hi, Ferdi.”
“I take my coffee with two sugars, black, please, love.” Ferdi said with unknowing courage before shutting the door between him and Adele. “Stevie, I’ve got a great deal for you.”
“No moon rocks.” Steve said.
“I heard that you were going to be having a fire sale.” Ferdi said, somehow pulling a large bag from inside his jacket. He looked at Jeanette who was wondering who this ugly man was and what on earth was happening. “Give me a hand with this, will you, love.”
Jeanette managed to get a drop cloth over the table just in time as Ferdi emptied a sooty bag onto the table. “I’ll just go and get a damp cloth.”
“That’s great, love, and fetch us that coffee while you’re at it.” Ferdi turned and beamed at Steve. “Lots of fire related stuff at a great price. You can’t go wrong.” He picked up a dark, dusty object. “Look at this, shaped charcoal briquettes. Perfect for barbecues or incense burners.” He pushed the object into Steve’s unwilling hand. “Guaranteed best seller and I can do a very good price on bulk.”
Steve examined the briquette. It was the size of a standard charcoal disc but pressed into the shape of a stylised flower. “It’s nice, but no good for us. Look how it’s crumbling. We couldn’t ship it anywhere. It would turn up as dust.” He looked at the cloth. “Look at the state of the table.”
“It’s in it’s early stages, nothing that can’t be fixed in the final press.” Ferdi waved a regal hand. “Now how about this?” Adele walked in and set a milky cup of tea in front of Ferdi, turned on her heel and walked out.
“You really shouldn’t upset the staff.” Steve tried to hide a grin. “What is that? It’s iron.”
“Hand-forged, authentic, designer flint and steel.” Ferdi said. “Beautifully made, guaranteed sparks every time if used according to instructions. Look…”
Steve grabbed the steel from him. “You can’t strike sparks over a table covered in charcoal dust! And we can’t have that amount of hand-forged steel in the shop. The elfen couldn’t take it.” Steve paused as his brain caught up. “What do you mean, designer? How can you have designer flint and steel?”
“Everything has been designed by someone.” Ferdi said knowledgeably. “I can’t really do direct shipping on these wonderful items. They really are a work of art. You could put them in a cabinet.”
“I’m not putting them in the White Hart.” Steve said. “There must be loads of places that would take them, like…” He trailed off. “Which lorry did they fall off?”
“How about these?” Ferdi swept majestically past the question and handed Steve a dusty box before taking a mouthful of the tea and pulling a face. “No sugar. But these, here, are quite difficult to get hold of. They’re quite obscure.”
Steve knocked some dust off the small box and sighed. “There’s quite a bit of quality stuff coming out of China, if you know where to look. There’s some really nice items around, and this isn’t one of them. Ferdi, I’m not going to light one of these death trap matches over a load of charcoal dust even if I wasn’t risking whatever chemicals are in here.”
“They light in different colours.” Ferdi said. “It’s a little touch of fun in a humdrum world.”
“No.” Steve looked over the table. “Hang on, a fire sale is where you sell a lot of stuff cheap after a fire because it might be smoke damaged. It isn’t a sale where you have deals on things that make fire.”
“I don’t see why it can’t be both.” Ferdi took another mouthful of tea and grimaced. “Anyway, this is a splendid opportunity to get some quality merchandise at a very reasonable price. And I’m sure your little friend would enjoy the charcoal.”
Armani poked a reluctant head out of Steve’s pocket, took a look at the charcoal and sneered. “It’s stale.”
“How can charcoal be stale?” Ferdi started to pull the dusty items into his bag. “You just don’t appreciate carboniferous products.”
“You mean carbonaceous.” Steve said as he carefully tucked Armani back in his pocket.
Jeanette came in with a spray and cloths. “I thought I had better pick up some cleaner,” she said.
“Listen, Ferdi,” Steve said to the offended goblin, “This isn’t exactly my sort of stuff, but last I heard you were doing some amazing stuff with copper. Perhaps we can get together and talk about that later.”
“I don’t do production these days.” Ferdi sniffed. “But I’ll call back later when you’ve had a chance to think about things.” He winked at Jeanette and left. They could hear him calling Adele, ‘darling’ on the way out.
“That is a brave man to call Adele ‘darling’.” Jeanette said.
“Callum probably wouldn’t do anything.” Steve said, trying to get the dust off his fingers with one of the damp cloths.
“It’s Adele he needs to be scared of.” Jeanette said. “I’d better get this up now. Charcoal is awful to clean if it’s left.”
Steve dropped Fiona off at the White Hart the next morning. “I should be back by tonight. Don’t let Kadogan stress you too much.” He said, kissing her lightly.
“Stay safe.” Fiona said as she wriggled out of the passenger side of the van and smiled at her husband before shutting the door. “And no more flint arrowheads.”
Steve laughed and drove off, leaving Fiona standing in front of the White Hart. She spent a moment looking at the building. The brownies had worked a superhuman transformation. The outside was clean and freshly painted and the area around the car park was flourishing again. The blackened mess of three weeks ago might have just been a nightmare. She stepped into the shop and smiled. She would never have wanted a fire, but this was such a great opportunity. They could learn the lessons of the last year and change the shop around to suit. It was so different from when she and Kadogan had first opened.
Freydis was over in the café area, caressing the new coffee machine. “Look, Fiona Adderson, is this not wonderful?”
“Indeed.” Lord Marius was lounging at the counter, sipping a syrupy coffee. “It is a true marvel. Fiona Adderson, I have some parcels and letters for you and also I have news of a young werewolf from Liverpool who is female and in search of a mate. She was expelled from her pack due to a sad misunderstanding. It could happen to anyone. Should I approach her on behalf of Ian?”
“Shouldn’t you ask me that?” Ian had come up behind Lord Marius. “If it’s Jasmine, then no, I’m not interested in someone who got thrown out of a pack for constant fighting.” He looked at Fiona. “Steve said I could use the big van to move some stuff for Jeanette.”
“Of course, Steve said that Jeanette was getting some plants.” Fiona nodded. “And it’s about time you had a day off. Take your time.” She watched Ian stalk out of the shop, jangling the van keys.
“It is also time for me to take my leave.” Lord Marius drained the last of his coffee. “My compliments, Freydis. The coffee from the new machine is exquisite.”
Freydis waited until Lord Marius had safely left before leaning towards Fiona. “I have bought a book.”
Fiona’s heart sank. She managed a smile. “Really? What about? Is it another book about coffee?” Freydis had accumulated a few books on coffee. Like most elfen, she rarely concentrated for long enough to read a book, but, like most elfen, once she became obsessed with a subject she could absorb a lot of information.
Freydis shook her elegant head. “It is about how to reclaim a husband. Although I think that there is too much about infidelity.”
“Oh.” Fiona scrabbled around for words. “Is it any good?”
“I am unsure about that.” Freydis pulled out a battered paperback from underneath the counter. “It says that I need to be independent. I have always been independent.”
“Absolutely.” Fiona said.
“And I need to have my own opinions that are not always the same as his.” Freydis leafed through the book. “Also I need to demonstrate my ability to have a fun time without him.”
“I think he knows that. You had an affair.” Fiona said without thinking. She winced. “I’m sorry.”
Freydis’ shoulders slumped. “If only I had come across this book earlier. But they didn’t really have books then. At least, not like this. It was all parchment and gilding and nothing about being a person.” She frowned. “And I have to make him miss me. How should I do that?”
“I have no idea.” Fiona said with absolute truth.
“I shall evade him” Freydis nodded. “Then he will become frustrated that he cannot see me and demand to see me. But I shall continue to evade.” She wrinkled her perfect nose. “But if I continue to evade, how shall he meet me to agree to remarry? It is all too complicated.” She put the book back under the counter. “However, I have mastered a double espresso with extra steam and nothing is beyond me. Once I have remarried I shall give you the book for when Steve Adderson is unfaithful.”
“That’s not nice.” Fiona said.
“It is true that Steve Adderson is very unlikely to be unfaithful to you.” Freydis placed Lord Marius’ cup into the dishwasher. “But one cannot be too careful. Also, have you decided about what to wear to your wedding anniversary? I think you should wear something exciting as your wedding was so drab.”
“What?” Fiona took a breath. “What wedding anniversary?”
“You married on the 22nd day of June.” Freydis said. “Therefore it is your wedding anniversary every 22nd of June. Lord Ragnar is throwing you a party.” She sighed. “We were married at Beltane, of course, and we had the most wonderful arguments every year.” She ran a cloth over the immaculate coffee machine. “Perhaps we should have spaced them out more. They would have had more impact.”
“I think it’s different for elfen.” Fiona said. “We don’t really argue at all.”
“Really?” Freydis turned around and stared at Fiona. “I cannot imagine that at all. Of course, Kadogan has his very dull connection with Suzuki. They don’t seem to have any arguments at all and to the best of my knowledge have destroyed no buildings.”
“Everyone has their own way of doing things.” Fiona said. “I had better sort out the stock room. Now that the smell of smoke has faded we can start getting more stuff back here, and I need to check off the orders.”
“And you have only Adele and Callum to help you with the parcels.” Freydis said.
“It’s okay, we can manage for a bit and Ian deserves some time off. He’s very stressed.”
“I have also heard about Jasmine. She would be unsuitable here. She is likely to become violent, and it is not really appropriate in the White Hart itself.” Freydis checked again in the cupboards. “But if Ian doesn’t find a mate soon then there could be issues between him and Callum.” She tilted her head, sizing up the space in the cupboards. “It is surprising how much instinct can drive werewolves. Callum will not be able to restrain himself forever. Do you think we should stock speciality teas?”
“What?” Fiona felt she was saying that far too often. “What do you mean about Callum?”
“Callum is very much in love with Adele, and she is in love with him to an incredible degree. I can feel their emotions. If he is not allowed to court her, then he will find himself snapping at Ian and it could get quite violent. We have many speciality coffees and you drink many varieties of tea. Perhaps we should expand the range of teas on offer. We only have four flavours.”
“What do you mean?” Fiona found herself clutching the edge of the counter. She had seen Ian getting snappy, but not to the extent that Freydis seemed to suggest, and he and Callum were both strong enough to make real injury a possibility.
“We currently only carry English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Lemon and Ginger and Peppermint. But I have seen you drink Darjeeling and Jasmine tea.”
“No, what do you mean about Callum and Ian? Ian won’t stop Callum getting with Adele.”
“It’s a werewolf thing.” Freydis waved a dismissive hand. “If we are going to have coffee nights then I think we could add tea to the menu. Could you look into it?”
“Yes.” Fiona made a note on her phone as she could guarantee she would never remember it.
“And I shall make my own enquiries about young lady werewolves.” Freydis shut the cupboard door and straightened. “I am not without contacts and Ian does deserve a good mate. I hope I shall be able to introduce him to someone at your wedding anniversary reception.”
“But we aren’t having an anniversary reception.” Fiona said helplessly.
“Of course you are. Lord Ragnar feels quite obligated to you and this will ease a small portion of that obligation. I think we could carry quite a few varieties of tea. I read somewhere that if they are kept properly, most varieties of tea do not deteriorate quickly.”
“I’ll go and have a look online.” Fiona said, heading for the office. “And I’ll speak to Steve tonight about the reception.”
Dave winced as he put the tray on the table. “I think that’s everything.”
Darren picked a bacon butty off the plate and gave Dave a cool look. “The army has rules about self-inflicted injuries.”
“It’s not self-inflicted.” Dave sat down carefully. “I was thrown across a car park by a revenant.”
“It’s self-inflicted if you don’t give it a chance to heal up.”
“The revenants have calmed down.” Sir Ewan took his own sandwich. “It’s a lot quieter. You don’t need to get out and do stuff.”
Dave shifted uneasily. “But what if there is a revenant and I don’t stop it?”
“Then it will be down to me or Darren or one of the werewolves or Kadogan or any of that lot. Mike Doyle is coming over next week. You need to take that week easy.” Sir Ewan took a large bite.
“And that includes training.” Darren said. “You need to take it easy. Mike has been a paladin for years, he has helped out all over the country and he’s a steady lad. Don’t worry about it.”
“It’s more like a holiday for him.” Dave grumbled, cautiously picking up his own sandwich while keeping his left shoulder absolutely still.
Darren grinned. “I think his wife put her foot down. She said she hadn’t had a holiday for four years and she deserved to leave the Village for more than an afternoon. She’s the one that’s having a holiday. I’ve known Karen for a few years. She’s been very understanding. They didn’t even get a proper honeymoon. So she stays and has a chance to look around York and the area and Mike helps out at night. It will be fine and you can rest that shoulder.”
“And the revenants may finally be fading. We haven’t seen one all this week.” Sir Ewan took another sandwich. “It may finally be dying down.”
Darren shook his head. “There are just as many exorcisms.”
“Perhaps the guy that Dean saw is making an impact.” Dave carefully picked up his sandwich and took a small bite. “Has anyone managed to speak to him yet?”
Darren shook his head. “No-one seems to know anything. On the bright side, I’ve been speaking with Steve and some of the quartz crystals coming to the White Hart are showing signs of being able to deflect this…” He waved a hand and took a mouthful of tea. “What ever it is, this dark energy. We just need to get them blessed and into the right places.”
“You mean, in hot spots?” Sir Ewan asked.
“I mean, right above the remains in the plague pit. Lord Ragnar should be able to help with that.” Darren frowned. “Now all we need to do is work out where it’s coming from.”
Jeanette paused for a moment and looked out of her kitchen window. It was a sight she never thought she would see. Ian and Luke both had their shirts off and were pulling together the rubbish that the three of them had cleared from the garden. The garden looked amazing, but so did the two men without their shirts.
She pulled the burgers from the fridge. Maybe later she would build a barbecue in the garden. Right now, she was happy to put them on a rack in the oven just above the baked potatoes. They were too thick and juicy to grill. The green salad was bought and in bags in the fridge. In a few months she would be able to eat out of her own garden, but until then she would have to make do with bagged salad and shop coleslaw. At least the chocolate cake for dessert was home made.
She kept flicking glances out of the window as she laid the table, buttered bread rolls and made a large pot of tea. She really wasn’t used to half dressed, handsome men within a few yards of her. Ian was a little older and slightly slimmer with lean muscles and a determined attitude. Jeanette could see what Steve meant. He was trying to hide from something with hard work, trying to lose his inner demons. Luke was much calmer and working at a steadier pace, though he was still making a huge difference. For a moment Jeanette felt a lump in her throat. These men had taken an afternoon away from their own lives to help her, refusing any reward, and they had made such a difference. The new plants were all arranged in the polytunnels ready for Jeanette to plant up as she needed. The path to the field had been cleared so that when Jeanette hired a rotovator later in the week it would have easy access. And now the garden was cleared and the beds dug over. The compost heap was already well stacked and there was enough dried branches and twigs for a bonfire later. She stuck her head out of the door. “Dinner is almost ready.”
The men looked up. “We’ll be right there.” Luke said. He looked at Ian. “She’s got the good burgers from the butchers just past the Post Office. They’re better than a lot of steak.”
“I am hungry.” Ian said as he straightened and looked around him. “We’ve made a difference today. I think that we have earned the good burgers.”
Luke nodded. “I’ll ache tonight. Come on. I’ll use my bathroom, you can use the one downstairs.”
Luke left Ian and ran lightly upstairs to his en suite. He caught sight of himself in the mirror, sweat stained and muddy. He could do with a shower but there wasn’t really time. He had missed a lot of opportunities this afternoon. He ran water into the sink and tried not to blame himself. He should have said something to Ian. But most of the time Jeanette had been with them. And how did you lead up to something like that? By the way, I liked the way you killed the vampire the other night. What if had been mistaken? What if it hadn’t been Ian but someone who looked like him? No, it had been Ian. There was the same focused determination, the same economy of movement and concentration. Luke splashed water over his face. But Ian was very much a part of the White Hart. It was clear when Ian talked. He saw the people at the White Hart as family, and he was deeply loyal to them.
Luke tried to think back to the day when he had realised that there was more going on at the White Hart than met the eye. The old woman, probably the one Jeanette called Mrs Tuesday, had been spinning them some yarns. Looking back, he could tell that she was leading them on. And Tim had been deliberately pushing his luck with the hard case in the café, picking on his parents and trying to start a fight. Luke started towelling himself dry. Completely trashing a car down to its frame was an over-reaction, but did it mean that the White Hart was evil? Or perhaps Mrs Tuesday knew about curses because she fought them? Luke grabbed a clean shirt from the wardrobe. Jeanette was always half asleep by nine. She never stayed up late. Perhaps he could persuade Ian to hang around a little longer and ask him some questions after she had gone to bed. If not, there were bound to be other chances now that he knew how to get hold of Ian. It looked like he was finally going to get some answers.