TOM grabbed Charlie’s arm.
“That Gilmore woman. She’s booked into the Ferryboat for dinner tonight. Iris recognised her name. And ”
“I don’t think you’ve anything to worry about.” The soothing voice of the Visitor Centre lady broke in on his babble. “Your son-in-law’s wonderful cooking . . .”
“He’s not there!” Tom all but shrieked. “He’s having a night off! Of all the
nights . . . Charlie, are you coming? I must get home.”
With a wave goodbye he ushered Charlie out of the door and round the corner to the garage.
“Corin’s in Glasgow Judy’s trying to get hold of him. He’s not answering his phone.”
“Calm down, Tom.” Charlie stopped to get his breath before increasing his speed to catch up.
“Calm down? This is either the best or the worst thing that’s happened since we bought the Ferryboat and we’ll soon find out which.”
It was different for Charlie. He’d been running what was basically a pub with rooms how could he understand about fine dining and aiming for a Michelin star and everything they had staked their family’s future on?
Nodding at what he hoped were suitable intervals, Tom tuned out Charlie’s voice as he negotiated the car through Oban and concentrated on getting to Lorn in the fastest possible time allowed by the speed limit.
About halfway down the road, his phone rang.
“Could you answer that, Charlie?” he asked, indicating where it sat on the shelf in front of the passenger seat. “I don’t want to stop.”
Charlie fumbled with the buttons.
“Judy? It’s Charlie, speaking on behalf of your good man who’s driving like Lewis Hamilton to get back to you.” He turned to wink at Tom. “Can I give him a message? Uh-huh. Will do. So you’re in charge? What’s on the menu?”
Tom gripped the steering wheel. Was Charlie expecting to be invited to dinner? To sit in the dining-room alongside
“Lovely, Judy. Don’t worry, we’re on our way.” Charlie pressed the red button to end the call. “Still no word from Corin. She’s left four messages now. And Holly’s not picking up, either.”
“Judy, Verity, Iris, me.” Tom thought aloud. “It’s do-able, a full dining-room, under normal circumstances. But with that woman . . . Corin would have pulled out all the stops.”
“Well, he’s not going to be there,” Charlie said. “It sounds as if he left Judy instructions for some very do-able, as you put it, dishes which all sound just the job. And with the view from the dining-room window, and a glass of something from your excellent cellar, Miss Gilmore will be on her knees begging to stay for a week.”
“I like your optimism,” Tom said, smiling in spite of himself. To distract himself from the problem, he asked a question. “Charlie, I’ve been meaning to ask. In the dining-room ceiling there’s a place where it looks as if a plug of wood has been put in and ”
“You haven’t heard the old yarn about the place? I always meant to make some kind of a feature of it maybe you will.” Charlie settled back in his seat and put on a jokey pirate’s accent. “It’s all to do with smugglers, Tom, lad,” he said.
“The story goes that the excise men customs, as we would say now relieved some smugglers of a cask of whisky made illegally up in the hills. They spent the night at the Ferryboat, in a first-floor bedroom, the cask in with them. In the middle of the night the smugglers crept in and persuaded the chambermaid to tell them which room the men were in, and whereabouts on the floor the cask was. They drilled a hole in the ceiling of what is now your dining-room, drained the whisky into another cask and were miles away by morning.”
“That’s wonderful.” Tom smacked the steering wheel in delight. “I’d never have guessed that was the explanation.” He must ask Louise to design a plaque telling the story it would be a real talking point in the dining-room. His distraction idea was so successful that the fact that an influential restaurant reviewer was coming for dinner only rushed back into his head as he passed the sign for Lorn.
“Where are you going?” Charlie asked, as Tom signalled left to go up the hill.
“I’ll drop you off,” Tom said.
“No, no. It’s all hands on deck at the old Ferryboat tonight. I’ll come in with you.”
Tom was touched.
“Good of you, Charlie, but ”
“I suspected you weren’t listening earlier.” Charlie grinned. “I was saying I haven’t always served up microwaved grub. Back in the day I worked with a top-notch chef in London for a year. Had to come home when my dad got ill. Still remember a few tricks of the trade, though.” He was out of the car as soon as Tom cut the engine, moving across the yard as if he’d shed 20 years.