WHY am I the last to know?”
Iris Anderson brandished the “Lochaber Herald” in front of her employer.
“Roberta showed me the paper when I dropped Angus off. She says it’s on the paper’s website, too!”
Charlie Mack held up both his hands.
“I’m sorry, Iris. I kept putting it off. I was going to tell you this morning, I really was. Trust Roberta to get in first.”
“Don’t blame Roberta. I was here yesterday. You could have said something then. Or whenever it was you decided to sell.”
Charlie sat down at the kitchen table and indicated for Iris to do the same.
“I’m sorry,” he said again. “I couldn’t have carried on as long as I have without you, Iris. I’ll tell whoever buys the place what a good worker you are. But the bank has said enough is enough. So after sixty years I’m afraid the Ferryboat will go out of the Mack family.”
He seemed to age in front of Iris’s eyes. Her heart softened.
“I didn’t know things were that bad, Charlie,” she said gently, sitting down again. “Have you . . . ” She hesitated. “Have you spoken to Sandy?”
Charlie looked startled.
“I just wondered,” Iris said, “or is he too much the big shot now to remember his roots?”
Charlie shook his head.
“Sandy’s not like that. He phoned a couple of months ago but I kept my troubles to myself.”
Sandy Mack. Charlie’s nephew and only close relative. The last Iris had heard of him he was doing whatever he did, his computer wizardry, at some IT company in Zurich. Surely he would want to help to keep the Ferryboat in the family after all these years?
“Is he still in Switzerland?” she asked.
Charlie must have followed her train of thought.
“He was when I spoke to him, but don’t you be telling tales. It’s not only money that’s needed to keep the old Ferryboat afloat, it’s energy, youth, imagination all of which Sandy’s got, but he’s never been interested in the hotel business, you know that. But of course,” Charlie added slyly, “if you want to get in touch with him for yourself, warm up cold soup . . . ”
Iris wrinkled her nose at him.
“Very cold soup that would be,” she said. “Water under the new Lorn bridge, Charlie.”
The summer after she’d left school she and Sandy had had a brief well, embryo romance might be the best way of putting it. As usual she’d come up to Lorn in the holidays to stay with Great-aunt Janet, and had got a job helping in the Ferryboat kitchen. Sandy was there, odd job man for his uncle Charlie.
They had a lot of laughs that summer, and a few kisses when Sandy walked her back to the cottage. But then Fin appeared in her life and swept her away. It seemed a lifetime ago but it was only six years. Now Fin had gone and she was left a widow with her precious little Angus.
“Pity,” Charlie said, getting up to switch the kettle off. “You could do with getting a bit of a life for yourself, Iris, whether it’s rekindling old flames or something else.”
He put two mugs on the table.
“Let’s draw up a plan of action. We’ve no guests booked in this week so we’ll have time for a bit of a spruce-up before we get prospective buyers.”
A bit of a spruce-up was optimistic, Iris thought. But the next owners would have their own plans.
“Right,” she said briskly. The future of the Ferryboat might not involve Iris Anderson but she was here to work now. “You tidy the office. It’s a tip. I’ll start on the kitchen cupboards and the store-room. And how about if I ask Roberta to lend us some of her tubs to cheer up the front door?” She stood up and reached for her overall. “Come on let’s get sprucing.”
* * * *
“Tubs? Could do. Although why, I don’t know. Lazy old buzzard’s let the place go. Told him that. Now he comes crawling.”
Iris grinned, not fooled by Roberta’s diatribe. Her friend’s brusque ways hid the proverbial heart of gold.
“It was my idea, not Charlie’s,” she said. “I thought it would create a good impression.”
“Good initial impression, yes. Won’t prepare them for the rack and ruin inside, though.”
Iris looked at Roberta.
“Thanks. I don’t know what I’d do without you. And Angus loves coming here.”
When Iris’s last childminder moved away, Roberta, retired early from teaching, had stepped in. Now that Angus was at school she saw him on and off the bus when necessary and kept him until Iris could pick him up.
“We’ve been planting daffie bulbs today.”
Iris had already guessed that from the state of Angus’s nails.
Roberta followed them to the front door and gave a sigh.
“Since it’s you, I’ll get Donnie to help lug a couple of tubs up to the Boat. Oh. News. Donnie says there’s been vandalism on the bridge. Girders damaged or some such. Any delay means the ferry will run for longer. Donnie’s trying not to smile about it.”
Roberta spoke as if Donnie, the Lorn ferryman for the last twenty years, was a mere acquaintance. Yet she had been engaged to him for the last eleven of those years. Iris had given up trying to understand their relationship but it seemed to suit them, which was what mattered.
Angus walked backwards so that he could wave to Roberta all the way down the path. Roberta waved back.
“I hope you keep your job,” she called to Iris. “Who knows what kind of people will end up running the Boat?”