On Monday I promised to post part 2 and 3 of my story about a man I called Barry Davies. If you missed part 1 then I suggest you read it first. Here’s a quick link to it. And don’t forget you can get a free copy of my collection of short stories ‘Prompt Responses’ simply by giving me your e-mail address in a comment below. If you are worried about a robot picking up your e-mail address and using it to send you a load of spam, write [at] instead of @ and [dot] instead of .
Remembering Barry Davies
#2 David and Julian
“Do you remember how the wind howled through the open window? You uttered an expletive. I pulled it closed and looked around the deserted bar room.”
I settled back in my chair knowing that nothing would stop David now that he had started. I’d decanted a bottle of a delightful old malt to round off the evening and it was inevitable that we would reminisce about our venture into the hospitality business in the ’90s. Back then David had had enough of working long hours in a hotel kitchen and wanted his own place. Somewhere we could live and work together, me dealing with front of house and him in the kitchen producing gourmet food using the best of locally sourced ingredients. The old pub seemed to be the perfect place in which to do it.
I listened as he warmed to his subject: “It wouldn’t take much, I thought, to turn it back into the cosy snug it must once have been. Just the place for pre-dinner and after dinner drinks. You were not so sure at first, that open window had freaked you out I think. But when I spread out the architect’s drawing of the extension you began to see the possibilities.”
My brother-in-law agreed to help with the finance. His design consultancy was in the doldrums. The chemical companies and refineries he’d set it up to serve were cutting back and there was less work to be had. Said he wanted a new source of income. A share of the profits from a gastro-pub could be it.
“I had serious doubts, still,” I reminded David. “With factories cutting back and people being laid off where would our business come from?”
David set his glass back on the silver tray and leaned forward: “You never really understood, did you?” He said. “The world was changing. Manufacturing was dying on its feet, helped by greedy unions and cheap foreign imports. Services were where the big money was to be made. Barry knew that. He could see that the way to bring prosperity back to this area was through tourism. He wanted to attract the city boys – yuppies they were called, don’t you remember? Barry believed the town could offer a quiet retreat, away from the stresses of making deals on the market floor. Our restaurant was going to be a part of that.”
“I was wrong to doubt your vision,” I admitted as David took another slug from the cut crystal tumbler. “You and Barry were right. It worked well for a while. But, you know, I never believed it was all about the money for Barry.”
David raised his eyebrows: “What gave you that idea?” he prompted.
“ Just something he said once.” I hesitated, realising that if I went further I would be breaching a confidence.
“Go on; you can’t keep me in suspense now you’ve raised my curiosity.”
“It was one night when we had all had a little too much to drink. The building work was almost completed and we were tasting wines, trying to figure out which ones to offer to our clients. That was the excuse anyway.”
“You were the one with the best taste in wines, that’s why we were such a good team.” David leaned forward. I was shocked at the sight of the age spots on the hand he placed on my arm. I had forgotten that he was ten years my senior. “Sorry,” he said, “I interrupted your story.”
“He said something strange. I suppose the drink had loosened his tongue. We were in the snug, around the table next to that very window you closed on that first viewing. You had taken Annette to show her the new kitchen. Barry looked around the room and said how pleased he was that we had kept so many of the original features. ‘Place means a lot to me,’ he said. He slurred his sibilants a bit so I knew he had drunk more than was good for him. ‘Special memories, you know? Used to come here with someone special. Long time ago now but special, very special.’ He emphasised the word ‘special’ a lot. Later he made me promise not to say anything, especially not to Annette.”
“Doesn’t sound like Barry,” David said. “Its hard to think of anyone less likely to have an affair; I assume that’s what you are hinting at. Still, whatever his reasons, we couldn’t have done it without him. Especially when the end came. If he hadn’t let us see that report before it became public we would have been in real trouble.”
I had been holding my own glass in both hands, warming the amber liquid to improve its flavour. Now I placed it on the tray beside David’s. “Ah, the famous report,” I said. “Barry took a real risk there, almost as big as the one he took when he backed us in the first place.”
David nodded: “He was only protecting his investment, after all. He had more to lose than we did, don’t forget. He tried hard to get the council to change their minds and extend the rock barrier further along the coast but there just wasn’t enough money in the kitty. So he did the next best thing: let us know that our dream was over and that we should sell up. We’d just got our first Michelin star so we were able to get a good price.”
That Michelin star meant a lot to David and he was devastated by the news Barry imparted. Selling up would mean starting over but the award made it easier. I unstoppered the decanter and added a good measure to David’s glass. “I couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty about what we did there,” I admitted.
“We couldn’t let on that we knew. It would have exposed Barry. No-one outside the council knew. Anyway, if the buyer had done his research more thoroughly he should have known all about the risk of coastal erosion.”
“We didn’t,” I pointed out.
“Not at first. But after that storm in ’98, when a large chunk of the cliff at the end of the garden disappeared we began to have our doubts. That’s why the report was commissioned.”
“Anyway, it all worked out well for us and Barry. I can’t help wondering about those ‘special memories’ of his though. Without those you might still be working in a hotel kitchen and I’d be, who knows what? A cocktail barman?”
This may be the South of France but the wind can still cut through an open window. What’s the matter with you, sitting in a draft? Oh, you are asleep. I’d love to know what you are dreaming about. That woman I shouldn’t wonder. You thought I didn’t know. I suppose it goes to show how delusional you can be sometimes. I knew alright, of course I did. Wives always do. At first I thought it was my brother Julian you’d taken a fancy to, especially when you agreed to fund that gastro-pub for him and his partner David. If I was to say that out loud you’d laugh I know, but look at it from my point of view. Your love making was always more than a bit tentative, as though you were afraid of shocking me. And I was too shy to show you what I so wanted you to do. Little wonder if I entertained the notion you might be bi- or even gay.
But no, it was a woman. Julian let the cat out of the bag a few years ago. It was after they’d sold the gastro-pub. He was thanking me for making you see sense. Humph! You and your sense of propriety. Didn’t want to stoop to the same level of corruption as the rest of the members of that tin pot council. We would have lost most of our savings, not to mention David and Julian being out of work if they hadn’t sold up when they did.
I told Julian I never understood why you were so keen to invest in that place. There were lots of far better places they could have had, with far better prospects of success. But you were adamant that it was the Gull’s Nest or nothing. Julian told me you’d said something to him about it being a special place for you. I said he was mistaken. We’d never been to the place when it was an ordinary pub. It closed soon after we moved to the town. And we didn’t frequent pubs anyway; couldn’t afford a baby sitter for one thing. Not that our children were babies by then but you know what I mean, they were too young to be left alone at night.
I puzzled about it for days. What could be so special about a run down pub? In time I forgot all about it. Then, when we were packing up to come here, I came across an old folder of yours. I saw you blush before you snatched it from me and said you’d deal with it. You recovered quickly enough but I saw your embarrassment. Was it something to do with your council days? I wondered; some papers recording a secret deal perhaps. That seemed unlikely; after all, when you had the chance to get into a secret deal to protect your own and my brother’s investment, you had to be nagged and cajoled before you’d do the sensible thing.
I made up my mind to find that folder and discover what it contained. A sort of diary. Your first attempt at writing fiction, you told me when I challenged you. Done to fill in the time when you were working away from home, you said. Did you really think I’d buy that? I thought it best to go along with it though. Why spoil a half century of happiness over a silly fling that happened more than thirty years ago?
I had better wake you up. You don’t like it if our meals are not taken at the same time every day. Perhaps I’ll open that window again. The wind howling through should wake you up.