Community Spirit – Episode 53

JEANNIE jumped about a foot into the air.

“Er . . .” she began.

“That Fergus and I cleared the air yesterday and agreed to support each other to ensure both pubs have a viable future in Much Mucklebury.” Nate jumped in, earning himself a grateful look from Jeannie.

“Oh.” Debbie sneered. “He mentioned something about it. I told him we had nothing to worry about from this place.” She waved her hand around. “Look at it! It’s on its last legs, but he does get himself in a bit of a state about something and nothing.”

“Another white wine, was it?” Nate asked before Jeannie could leap to his defence. He served Debbie and she moved away.

“Crumbs,” Jeannie said. “Where did she come from?”

“She does have the ability to appear from thin air,” Nate agreed.

“You’re right,” Jeannie went on. “And it’s not just herself she can make appear.”

“What do you mean?”

Jeannie glanced around again.

“I think there’s something a little underhand going on over the road,” she said. “Debbie spends a lot of time in a room at the back of the pub by the staff entrance and no-one else is allowed in.

“On the day before the fête, when I was shopping for ingredients, I saw her loading her car in the supermarket car park with boxes of cheap spirits. We only sell branded spirits supplied by the brewery in the pub.”

Nate raised his eyebrows.

“What could it mean?” Jeannie asked.

Nate leaned in.

“There’s a scam as old as the hills where landlords swap branded spirits for own label and pocket the difference. It sounds like that to me, but they’re taking a huge chance by doing it. If the brewery were to find out, they’d be sacked for certain.”

“One time the area manager came in and they pretended the pub was really busy even though it only had a few customers.”

“That sounds like they’re not putting all of the sales through the tills. Very dicey practice.” Nate looked grave. “I’ve seen too many people fall victim to the lure of fiddling the books. Once started, it’s very hard to come back from.”

“What do you think I should do?” Jeannie asked.

“If you report it now,” Nate began, “as you’re about to resign, they’ll pass it off as sour grapes from a disgruntled employee.”

“Are you saying I shouldn’t do anything?”

“I wouldn’t tell you what to do, Jeannie. Why don’t you think it over? If you want to talk it through any more before you decide for sure, I’d be happy to listen.”

“At least if I leave they can’t ask me to spy on you any more. Debbie probably thinks I’m over here extracting all your secrets to pass on to her for fear of losing my job.”

“We should give them something else to talk about,” Nate suggested, reaching over the bar to stroke the side of Jeannie’s face.

She leaned her cheek into his hand and they stayed that way for a few moments.

“Now, now, you two lovebirds,” Pamela teased, beaming as she came up to the bar with an empty glass.

Nate withdrew his hand and Jeannie blushed.

“What did you think of Jeannie’s success at the fête? Her pies were the stars of the show.”

Alison Cook