Estimated reading time: 4 minutes —
Chapter 2. The Inn
The young couple arrived at the Inn after a fast-paced walk down the street from the station. They were the first. They dropped their bags by the bar and studied the black board scribbled in chalk, a menu of sorts. Pheasant and some pudding would be satisfactory, they decided.
“The pheasant is delicious today!” the innkeeper exclaimed, thrilled with the unexpected increase of customers.
The couple didn’t reply. Whispering among themselves, they took refuge at the booth farthest away from the bar, where a book lingered on.
The woman picked it up and opened it. It was about the legend of a highwayman who used to hide in the upstairs rooms at the Inn where he, apparently, ended up being arrested. The couple exchanged a look of complicity. Had anyone seen it, they’d be concerned. No one did.
More passengers arrived and the innkeeper was ecstatic, waving everyone inside with words of welcome and yelling at his wife to hurry up with the food; by the looks of it, this crowd wasn’t the drinking type. His wife, a woman not as inclined towards working as she was towards enjoying a day’s rest, wasn’t pleased at all. The extra work on a Sunday didn’t suit her; she firmly believed Sundays should be devoted to the family.
The stationmaster entered the Inn, fighting his way through the crowd, looking left and right.
“Has anyone seen the tall man who was standing by the entrance back at the station?” he asked, hopeful that he could get rid of the odd piece of luggage.
Through the years, thousands of passengers had passed through his train station and never had a bag been lost under his supervision. Even that time when a member of the royal family decided to test the railway services by accidentally-on-purpose dropping his bag under a bench in the station and taking off in the next train, did that bag get damaged, violated or lost. Within two days, the bag had been returned to His Royal Highness, who sent a letter of praise the stationmaster framed and kept discreetly but proudly in a drawer at the station.
No one replied, so he left the Inn determined to find the man somewhere else.
By then, most of the people had either settled down in one of the booths or at the bar. As the innkeeper suspected, only a handful asked for a drink.
“Here it is, roast pheasant and steam pudding,” he said, placing the plates on the small round table. “It’s so nice to see new faces. When a train drops people off at the station, they don’t come this far. They usually stay by the hot-air balloon or on the platform.”
The couple stared at him, a bored look on their faces.
“Would you like to have anything else with the pheasant and the pudding?”
They shook their heads. The food looked ok and it was hot, at least that. They had had enough of rain and cold weather.
“Right, so… I better be on my way, busy day here!”
The innkeeper felt drawn to those two, but he couldn’t quite explain why. He was divided between making a bit more of an effort to get to know them or do what he really needed to do which was to attend to the extra large clientele. “Let me know if you need anything else. Just call me, my name is Augustus!”
The man waved the innkeeper away. Augustus didn’t like that.
“Annoying little man,” the woman said. “Augustus… He’s going to be trouble, I tell you.”
“No, dear, we’ll take care of that. I just hope Ron is doing what he’s supposed to be doing.”
“He’s so stubborn, Fred…”
“I know. But he’s the best,” said the man, lowering his voice even more.
“I wish we didn’t have to depend on him so much…”
“Millie, listen to me, it’ll be ok, you’ll see,” said the young man, stabbing the pudding with his knife. “He’ll do what he was told and we’ll be out of this simpleton village in the blink of an eye.”
“I am not so sure of that, Fred,” mumbled the woman.
Fred wasn’t in the mood to perpetuate this line of conversation with his ever so pessimistic wife; instead of replying, he looked around the Inn, noticing that some of the people had left, probably to take a walk through the picturesque village. It was still early.
“I’m going outside to stretch my legs. I’ll be right back, dear.”
Millie acquiesced. She knew her husband sounded confident, but he was in fact as unsure as her. Ron was the best; Ron was reliable; Ron was the right man to get the job done. However, she didn’t trust Ron and nothing would change that. She never liked it when people kept little secrets and reveled in them as if these were some teenage practical joke, just like the bag packed with the sleeves hanging out. Ron said it made him look like a lunatic and he seemed to enjoy that. She didn’t.
“There are people walking all over the village,” said Fred, back from the street. “And the stationmaster is going bezerk looking for Ron” – he sounded amused.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“Bu we haven’t heard from…” – Fred stopped abruptly when he realized the innkeeper was standing next to them.
“Hope everything was to your liking,” said Augustus, suddenly suspicious of these two whispering in the corner.
“Sir, it was delicious, thank you,” replied Fred.
“But… you haven’t eaten anything,” complained Augustus, exaggerating an expression of disappointment.
“We are tired, dear sir, but it was very good,” insisted Fred. “Wasn’t it, Millie?”
Millie was rummaging through her purse. She looked up, startled.
“Umm… Yes, yes.”
“Well, should I bring you anything else?”
“No, thank you. How much do we owe you?” asked Fred, following the innkeeper to the bar.
Millie went back to her purse. She was so frustrated that she threw all its contents on the table and picked one item after the other, realizing that what she was looking for was simply not there.
She stood up, went to Fred and nervously pulled him outside by the sleeve of his coat.
“I don’t have it.”
“I can’t find it. I had it in my purse and now I don’t,” she replied, tossing and turning the contents of her purse.
“I didn’t lose it, that I guarantee. I didn’t touch my purse till now. I just wanted to review things. And it was gone. Someone must’ve taken it.”
“How…? The purse was with you the whole time. Wasn’t it?” Fred asked hesitantly.
“It was, but… I fell asleep right before we arrived here. You woke me up, remember?”
Fred remembered. He specifically told her not to go to sleep while he went to the next carriage to grab some coffee. When he got back, she was, of course, fast asleep. The last few days had been extremely tiring and that was taking its toll on them.
“I didn’t memorize any of it, only mine…”
“I did,” Millie replied, trying to look confident.
Fred looked at his watch. “Where is Ron? We need to get moving.”
As the two walked away hand in hand, just a regular couple going for a walk, Augustus watched them closely. Through the door of the Inn he intentionally left half-open when the couple hurried outside, he eavesdropped on their conversation and frowned.Chapter 3: The Hot Air Balloon >