May The Best Team Win – Episode 17

Gerard Fay © An old colleague visits Brad in the pub Illustration Gerard Fay

Maeve stood behind the bar of the Flying Duck, ostensibly wiping glasses, but really trying not to stare at the man who had come in and was sitting by the fire.

He was in his forties, tall and greying, and dressed in a suit.

There was something familiar about him that gave Maeve an uneasy feeling she couldn’t place.

So far, he hadn’t ordered anything, but sat perfectly still, fingertips together, staring into space.

Maeve was wondering whether to offer him a drink, when she heard a noise behind her.

“Oh no, it can’t be!”

She turned to see Brad, his face pale and his mouth open, staring.

Brad whirled round ready to retreat back into the kitchen, but the man stood up and spoke.

“Bradley Foster, I thought it was you.” He moved towards them, an unpleasant grin on his face.

“Hello, Anthony.”

Anthony. Of course.

It was that awful man that Brad used to work with in the city.

He was a bully and one of the many reasons that Brad had left his high-flying job and moved to the countryside.

“I thought this was your pub. How are the mighty fallen.” Anthony smiled, his grey eyes glittering. “Interesting name, the ‘Flying Duck’.”

Brad folded his arms.

“Did you just come in for a chat, Anthony, or can I get you a drink?”

Anthony smirked.

“I’ll have a pint, while I’m here. I’m sure it will be on the house for an old friend.”

Maeve shook her head, her mouth one thin line and poured him a beer.

She slapped it down in front of him and put her hands on her hips.

“That will be £3.80, please.”

He turned towards her.

“Ah, your lovely wife.  wouldn’t have recognised you, Maeve.” He directed a pointed glance at her waistline and greying hair.

“So, how is life treating you in this backwater?”

“We’re very happy here, thank you,” she replied, moving back to stand beside her husband.

“Of course you are.”

The pub was filling up and Neil had come in with Graham and Dawn.

Maeve was pleased to see Apollo with them. He looked well. His coat was glossy and the bandage was gone from his leg.

“What can I get you?” she asked. “Your usuals?”

“Yes, please.”

She poured two beers and a glass of white wine, but she could still hear Anthony’s voice.

“So, you allow animals in your pub, do you? Not very hygienic, Bradley.”

Maeve sighed and tried to smile.

“I’m glad that Apollo is better, Neil,” she told him.

“Thank you, Maeve. It’s a huge relief.”

Maeve was very busy for the next 15 minutes serving neighbours and friends. Usually, she would have been in her element.

Tonight, however, she felt tense and miserable.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that Anthony was still talking to Brad.

Her husband’s face was flushed. What was that awful man doing here?

“Evening, Maeve. I’ll have a glass of your finest Chablis.”

Priscilla had entered the pub in a wool coat and fur-lined boots.

“Goodness, it’s cold out there,” she said, beginning to peel off her layers.

She gathered her things and gave Maeve a searching look.

“Are you quite well tonight, my dear?” she asked with unwonted gentleness.

Maeve felt her eyes prick. She pressed the backs of her hands to her flushed cheeks and nodded.

“Absolutely fine, Priscilla, thank you.”

Priscilla’s sharp eyes bored into her, but she merely nodded, picked up her glass and moved away.

Maeve took a breath and turned towards Brad. She must try and rescue him.

However, right then, there was a lull in conversation and Anthony chose that very moment to ask a question.

“And, how are your sons?” he said. “I believe the oldest one has been in trouble with the police.”

Maeve went scarlet, as a number of heads turned their way.

Brad answered quietly.

“We’re very proud of both our sons.”

“Well,” Anthony drawled. “They’re only as good as the parenting given them.”

He paused for emphasis.

“I won’t order any food,” he continued loudly.

“I’ve heard there have been cases of food poisoning in neighbouring villages since you hosted some pub quiz or other.”

The punters began to fall quiet, turning to stare at the men. Maeve clenched her fists. She felt sick.

“The Fancy Pheasant has far better reviews. I would go there, if I were you.”

Anthony turned to his now silent audience.

“Bradley here isn’t cut out for business. I used to work with him and I could tell you a tale or two.”

To be continued…

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