We rocked up at the Fair Maid and Falcon at about four in the afternoon of a filthy early October day. Two humans and two dogs, in a big American motorhome, come to run the business while the owners went on holiday. The rain was streaming, it was blowing a gale, and the pub certainly wasn’t appearing to its best advantage.
‘You and the dogs stop in the dry’ Ben said. ‘I’ll go find out where they want us to park.’
I did as he suggested, and he came back about fifteen minutes later looking cross.
‘Oh, the stupid buggers want us to park on the other side of the road in a very muddy field with no water and no lekky hook-up. They don’t want their customers to see the Winnie. He says they have a select clientele who might think the New Age Travellers had moved in.’
‘And what did you say to him, love of my life?’
He grinned. ‘The second word was ‘off’. I’ve left them having a bit of a think.’
I looked at the long, low, flint-walled building squatting moodily at the edge of its sodden beer garden and found myself shivering. ‘I don’t much care for this place’ I said slowly ‘so if the incumbents aren’t prepared to be reasonable I vote for giving them back their deposit and going home. Let them find somebody else to run their fucking gastro pub while they piss off the the Caribbean.’
Ben laughed. ‘Do you think there is anybody else?’
I laughed ruefully. ‘No. I guess not. And I find I don’t much care.’
He patted me companionably ‘Got the willies have you?’
‘Yup. And that’s normally your job…’
‘Yeah. It is. I’ve actually got a few myself. The atmosphere has changed greatly since I came here in June.’
‘I can’t put my finger on precisely what it is, but they seem to be losing it. He’s chain-smoking and his skin is hanging on him. And her? She looks like something the cat brought in and didn’t want. They are also extremely edgy. When I was inside, a door banged somewhere and she jumped about ten feet in the air.’
‘Odd. Marital problems do you think?’
His forehead creased as he considered that idea. ‘No. Doesn’t feel like that. I mean they aren’t exactly playing happy families, but they weren’t in June. This feels new… and nasty.’
Our conversation was interrupted by a timid knock on the door of the camper. Stan and Ollie growled softly and Ben got up to open the door. A skinny young girl in a waitress uniform stood out in the rain.
She did as she was told and stood dripping on the floor. ‘They want you to go back in’ she almost whispered. ‘He’s in a terrible temper and threatening all sorts if you don’t. She’s crying. Again.’
Ben looked at the girl from under his blonde eyebrows. ‘Would you go back in there if you were me?’
‘It’s them two. They’ve gone mad. They used to be OK to work for. Hard. But fair. But now they are both completely nuts. He shouts all the time and drinks, and she drinks and cries. This is my last shift. Got a job in Lymington. It’s a drop in pay. But. Told myself it was because its nearer to home. It isn’t though. It’s this place. It has started to give me the serious creeps.’
‘Okay. Thanks. I’ll now go see the charm twins.’
He got up and pulled on his parka. I watched them splashing their way across the car park, with Ben holding our huge red umbrella over the shivering girl, then sat on the rug with the dogs. ‘Well’ I said. ‘What do you two reckon? Stay? Or go?’
They looked solemn, then lay one either side of me and promptly fell asleep.
Ben was gone ages, and I was almost asleep myself when he returned. He looked a bit grim.
‘I dunno. When I went back inside all was sweetness and light. But I have the willies now. The volte face was too complete. We get to park wherever suits us. Would we like a meal with them in the restaurant tonight? The dogs can use the private garden. There was even the offer of more money.’
‘Shit Ben. They must be desperate. We’re overcharging them now, because you didn’t really want to take the job.’
‘True. But that was different. I just thought he was an asshole. Now he’s a worried asshole.’
‘So? What do we do? We probably have to stay, don’t we?’
‘Yup. Or have the asshole mouthing off all over Facebook and Twitter if we don’t.’
‘Okay then. We do it. But I want it on record that I have the willies.’
Extracted from Who Put Her In? ©️ jane jago