May The Best Team Win – Episode 12

Gerard Fay © Neil and Rachel in their local pub Illustration: Gerard Fay

Neil stood stock-still outside the Flying Duck and stared. It was a crisp evening.

A crescent moon floated above the village and a smattering of stars was beginning to appear.

A warm gust of air issued from the door as a group left the pub, and the scent of pie and beer beckoned, but still Neil stood.

“Evening, Neil. Something up?”

He turned to see Graham and Dawn watching him, their faces bemused.

“Look!” Neil pointed up towards the sign that hung from the white wooden frame in front of the pub – it wasn’t there!

Graham’s mouth fell open.

“Goodness, what’s happened to that?” Dawn asked. “How long’s it been missing?”

Neil shook his head.

“I’ve no idea. I could have sworn it was here yesterday.”

“Yes,” Dawn agreed. “If it wasn’t, surely we’d have noticed when we passed?”

“You’d think so.” Graham frowned. “Do Brad and Maeve know?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll have to go and tell them. They won’t be happy.”

Brad and Maeve had only just had a new sign painted. It wasn’t cheap and they’d been really proud of it – three mallard ducks in flight over Frenton.

Inside, the pub was warm and cosy. The fire had been lit and a bubble of chatter rose to greet them.

Neil hung his coat on a chair.

He had left Apollo at home this evening. The dog was on medication, his leg was bandaged, and he needed rest.

Apparently, he’d strained it when he caught it in a rabbit hole, but nothing was broken and, thankfully, he was improving.

Neil made his way over to Maeve.

“Evening, Neil. Your usual?” She looked happy this evening, serving the customers and chatting with her friends.

“Yes, please, Maeve, but first I need to tell you something.”

“Oh, yes, what’s that?” She raised her eyebrows and smiled at him.

“Do you know… are you and Brad aware that your sign is missing?”

“Our sign?” Maeve frowned. “Which sign?”

“Your pub sign. Outside.”

Her face flushed scarlet and she ran a hand through her dark hair.

“No. Oh, no, not the new sign. Brad! Brad!” She turned away in search of her husband.

Neil sighed and took a seat with Graham and Dawn.

“I wonder what’s happened to that, then?” Graham shook his head.

Neil was about to reply when Rachel came in.

She was wearing a dress and appeared to have done something different with her hair.

Ewan didn’t seem to be around, so Neil rose to his feet and immediately offered to buy her a drink.

“Thank you, Neil, that’s very kind.

“What’s the matter with Brad and Maeve? Brad nearly knocked me over, and Maeve isn’t sounding very coherent.”

Dawn grimaced.

“It’s the pub sign, Rachel. It’s missing!”

“Missing?” Rachel pursed her lips. “That thing must weigh quite a lot and you’d have to climb to get it down – who would do that?”

“Oh, surely no-one. It must have blown down in that storm the other night.”

Dawn took a sip of wine, but Neil shook his head.

“I stood looking around for quite some time. There’s no evidence of it at all.

“No broken pieces. The fixings look intact, too. I’m afraid Rachel’s right – someone must have removed it.”

There was silence, then Graham spoke.

“I can’t imagine anyone would bother to go to those lengths to steal it. I think it must be a prank.

“I wouldn’t put it past one or two of my students to find something like that funny.”

Neil frowned. It was very thoughtless. Still, if it was just a bunch of kids, maybe it would be possible to have it returned.

“Do you think it could be mentioned in assembly or something?

“There might be some way of getting it back – a reward, or an amnesty?”

Graham looked thoughtful. Neil glanced about the room.

Brad had returned and was talking quietly to Maeve, his arm about her shoulders.

Neil was just wondering what he could do to help, when he noticed movement behind them.

Ollie had come downstairs and was staring at his parents, a horrified look on his face.

He was clearly listening to their conversation and was slowly turning scarlet.

He stared at the floor and fidgeted with his hands.

Neil decided to have a quiet word.

Ten minutes later, Ollie had disappeared and Neil sat back down at the table, a fresh pint in his hand and a satisfied smile on his face.

As he suspected, the young man knew the sign’s whereabouts. He didn’t think Ollie had tried to stop his friends, who were enacting a dare, but he hadn’t been directly involved either and he’d ensured that the sign was kept safe.

After a few well-chosen words, Neil was pretty sure it would be back in situ by the morning.

Neil was quietly congratulating himself when Rachel turned to him, her face crimson.

“It was him, wasn’t it? Ollie. I saw you talking.”

The others turned, their mouths falling open.

“It’s all right, Rachel, he wasn’t involved and the sign will be returned.”

“It’s not all right. He’s a vandal, and he’s seeing my daughter!”

Neil shifted in his chair and Graham excused himself and went to the bar. Dawn turned to Rachel.

“Calm down,” she said. “Ollie’s a nice young man and Sophie’s a sensible girl. Trust her.”

“Hmm.” Rachel wasn’t happy.

“Really, you mustn’t worry. Ollie Foster will turn out well and your Sophie has her feet firmly on the ground.”

Neil nodded, but he could see Rachel was not reassured.

To be continued…