Nothing to Lose
- Book info
- Author updates
A story of love, heartbreak, and happiness, as two determined young women work against overwhelming odds. When Jasmine?s beloved granddad dies, she is left an odd bequest in his will ? his bookie?s stall at Ampney Crucis dog racing stadium. Despite her snobbish parents? disgust, Jasmine is determined to make a success of the business. In London, single mum April works all hours for the dodgy Gillespie family, dreaming of the day her daughter?s dad will return. When April helps collect a debt for the Gillespies, she is left with a manic greyhound named Cair Paravel ? but her landlord?s not going to like that ? When the prestigious Frobisher?s trophy comes up for grabs, the Gillespies will stop at nothing to have the race held at their venue ?but Jasmine and her friends are determined to have it at Ampney Crucis ?
Release date: November 18, 2014
Publisher: Accent Press
Print pages: 346
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Nothing to Lose
The chorus of ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ roared along the isle, poured through the nave, then soared sacrilegiously up into the sixteenth-century rafters of St Edith’s. The organist, more used to wheezing out ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, gamely tried to keep pace with the toe-tapping mourners. Even the vicar, his elbows resting on the pulpit’s worn carve work, was clapping his hands to the back beat.
Sandwiched between her fiancé Andrew and her parents in the front pew, Jasmine Clegg sang ‘… my oh my, what a wonderful day …’ as the tears coursed down her cheeks. Her grandfather, currently reposing in his silk-lined, oak-veneered coffin at the top of the chancel steps, would have loved every minute of it.
It was, Jasmine thought sadly, exactly what he’d wanted – exactly what he’d detailed more than three years earlier while he and Jasmine had been sheltering from a coastal gale, sharing cheese and onion baps and a tomato Cup a Soup.
‘When my time comes,’ Benny Clegg had waved his crusts under her nose, ‘don’t you dare let your father go for anything mournful like ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ or ‘Abide With Me’, or God forbid ‘The Day Thou Gavest’!’
Jasmine had swallowed her mouthful of soup quickly, raising her voice above the crashing of the sea. ‘What? Oh, Grandpa – I don’t want to even think about it!’
‘Well I do. When I go, I want a damn good shindig. I want all my friends tapping their feet and smiling. No – listen, love. I want my coffin to go into St Edith’s to ‘Entry of the Gladiators’, come out to ‘In The Mood’ …’ Benny had gurgled happily here. ‘Me and your gran had some right old times to Glenn Miller … and I want everyone to have a rip-snorting singsong in the middle. That Zippy tune would be about right …’
He’d started to whistle it cheerfully between his teeth. Bits of bap had sprayed onto the wet shingle, and a seagull had swooped down and scooped them up with a shriek of triumph. Jasmine had looked at Benny in horror. He meant it! He was planning to die! He couldn’t! Her grandfather was the only person in the world whom she truly loved. He couldn’t die and leave her.
‘Grandpa! Stop it, please!’ She’d shaken the raindrops from her hair and shouted against the salt-tanged screech of the wind. ‘I don’t want to hear this! I won’t listen. Anyway, you’d never get away with even a partial humanist funeral in Ampney Crucis. Not with that new vicar.’
Benny had swigged at the soup and emerged with a vibrant orange moustache. ‘No? You don’t reckon he’d stand for it? Maybe not – he seemed a bit of a miserable sod at Harvest Festival, now I come to think about it. He never saw the funny side of the marrows and –’ he’d suddenly regarded Jasmine fiercely ‘– don’t you try to change tack, young lady. This is very important to me.’
‘And you’re the most important thing in the world to me and I don’t want you to die!’
‘Lord love you, I’m not planning on going yet awhile. I just want to get this clear. When I’m dead it’ll be too late, and if I leave the arrangements to your father he’ll go for dirges and things. You know he will, don’t you?’
Jasmine nodded. The Clegg sense of fun seemed to have bypassed Benny’s only child with a vengeance. Her father was the least humorous person she had ever known.
The raindrops were drumming steadily on the corrugated-iron roof, which slapped and flapped above their heads. She’d sighed.
‘If you’re being serious, you’ll have to have some hymns and prayers, especially if you want the service to be at St Edith’s.’
‘OK then, I’ll have a couple of rousing hymns and some nice cheery prayers as a sop to you and the good Lord, then you lay me to rest on the leeward side of that oak tree with your gran so that I get the sound of the sea, the smell of the rain, and the warmth of the evening sun. You’ll see to it. Jasmine, love, won’t you?’
And Jasmine, the last remnant of cheese and onion bap stuck miserably in her throat, nodded.
‘Good girl.’ Benny had hugged her. ‘That’s settled, then. And the rain’s easing, so how about cheering ourselves up with a pint or three in the Crumpled Horn?’
Now they were in the Crumpled Horn again – without Benny, of course, but all his wishes had been carried out to the letter, and the post-funeral party was in full swing. Jasmine, still numbed with grief, clutched half a pint of Old Ampney ale and hunched in a window seat. The afternoon sky was pale and luminescent, more like January than early May, sweeping down to the sea. The earlier rain had left everything looking shiny and cold, like stainless steel. It was bleak and cheerless, as only an English seaside village can be on a damp spring day, and the crowded pub was empty without Benny’s throaty laughter.
His closest friends, Allan, Peg, and Roger, were huddled in the inglenook, their faces woebegone, their elderly hands still clutching handkerchiefs. They’d wept copiously at the graveside, hugging Jasmine, sharing the devastation of her loss. Roger had said that she’d done a wonderful job for Benny. Allan, nodding, had added that if he had to choose a way to die then Benny’s had been just perfect: falling asleep in his favourite armchair, with a glass of beer in one hand and a plate of egg and chips just finished in front of him, and greyhound racing on the telly.
They looked at her now and smiled sadly. Jasmine smiled back without using her lips, just stretching her face slightly. She’d probably never smile properly again.
Across the crowded bar she could see her mother, looking even more pointed than usual, dressed in stark black and pecking at a sandwich, mentally working out the calorie content. She looked, Jasmine thought, like a hard-eyed, glossy crow raking at a piece of carrion. Her father, dark lounge suit, black tie, and too many whiskies, was back-slapping with his council cronies. Andrew, her fiancé, was, as always, networking. Jasmine wondered how many cars he’d managed to sell to the funeral director. Andrew never missed an opportunity to do business.
Neither her mother nor Andrew would miss Benny at all, and her father would soon recover. They’d found Benny an embarrassment to their social standing, and had avoided even mentioning him if at all possible. To them he’d been an eccentric, scruffy old man with little money. There had been times, Jasmine knew, when her parents had denied that Benny was even part of their family. He’d known it too, and been bitterly hurt by the denial. And now it was far too late for anyone to make amends. She wiped away a solitary tear. She’d never felt more lonely.
‘Jasmine – may I join you?’
She shrugged. ‘Yes, of course. But I’m not good company.’
John Bestley, Ampney Crucis’s sole solicitor, nodded as he sat down. ‘No, I understand, my dear. A very sad day. Especially for you.’
Jasmine sniffed back further tears. They hurt her throat. She always cried more when people were kind.
John Bestley played with the stem of his sherry glass. ‘You are aware that Benny left his will with me? And that he’d asked for the contents to be divulged here after the funeral?’
‘Yes.’ She bit her lower lip and exhaled. ‘He also told me that you’d said that public will-reading was practically a dead art. That it rarely happens these days – except in films.’
‘Very true. But your grandfather always had a sense of the dramatic.’ John Bestley’s eyes crinkled. ‘He fancied that this would be a rather theatrical finale to the day.’
Jasmine chased a beer mat round the table. ‘He didn’t have anything much to leave though, did he? He didn’t even own his house. He was always broke. And Dad’s his only son, so there doesn’t seem to be a lot of point.’
She picked up the beer mat and tapped its edge fiercely against her glass. ‘I mean, John, that if people are going to laugh –’
‘No one will make a fool of your grandfather, my dear. Certainly not me.’
‘OK. Sorry. I just didn’t want it to be embarrassing for him. Mum was always so condescending to him about it, you know … The little bits and pieces he had were priceless to him, but probably … probably … just, well, tat to other people … Oh, I’m sorry …’
John Bestley hurriedly handed her a very stiffly starched handkerchief from his breast pocket. ‘There, there, my dear … It’ll be fine. Trust me. Shall we get it over with, then?’
Jasmine wiped her eyes, blew her nose, and nodded.
John stood up, clapping his hands. ‘Ladies and gentlemen! If I could just command a few minutes of your time!’
The hubbub slowly died. Heads turned. Jasmine’s parents moved closer together, as if to shield each other from the coming humiliation.
Andrew slid into the seat that John had just vacated and squeezed Jasmine’s shoulder. ‘Cheer up. This won’t take long, will it? After all, Benny had nothing to leave.’
Jasmine narrowed her eyes. Through the blur of her tears, Andrew’s regular features and neatly cropped fair hair all shifted sideways a fraction. ‘He had everything to leave! Everything!’
‘Yes, well,’ Andrew fumbled his words, ‘of course he did. I just meant that in terms of material possessions, and, well, hard cash, it’s hardly going to amount to the legacy of a lifetime, is it?’
Benny had never liked Andrew; couldn’t see why Jasmine had agreed to marry him. She was beginning to think the same – but she was far too emotional to face any further life-changes at the moment. She needed all the constants she could get.
John, having covered the preliminaries, had started on the bequests in solicitous tones.
‘To my son, Philip Clegg –’
Several of her father’s councillor chums immediately looked slightly askance and Jasmine bit back a smile.
Nice one, Grandpa! Her father, believing that Clegg was a dead giveaway of his humble origins, had changed his and her mother’s surname to Clayton several years earlier. Jasmine, who had always been proud to be a Clegg, had torn up her deed poll forms.
‘Excuse me,’ John peered over his half-moon glasses, ‘could we have silence, please? Thank you. To my son, Philip Clegg, I leave my good wishes for his future, my sorrow that he had no interest in the family business, and my binoculars to enable him to see what is happening under his nose.’
The Crumpled Horn erupted in hoots of laughter. Jasmine, watching her father’s face pucker in non-comprehension, sighed. Benny’s jokes had always been wasted on Philip.
‘The old sod,’ Andrew hissed. ‘There was no need for that!’
John tapped on the table. ‘Please! Let’s get on! To my daughter-in-law, Yvonne Clegg, I leave my chip pan in the hope that she will use it daily and put some flesh on that scrawny frame. While this may broaden her hips, unfortunately I am not in a position to leave her anything which might broaden her mind.’
Yvonne clutched at her husband with a shriek. Philip patted her hand. Jasmine wished that she could rush across and comfort her parents. She wished that she wanted to. Sadly, she reckoned, considering the way they’d treated her grandfather, Benny had let them off very lightly indeed.
‘That’s totally uncalled for!’ Andrew hissed. ‘Your mother has got a wonderful figure. All the blokes at the dealership think she’s top totty.’
‘What?’ Jasmine wrinkled her nose. ‘My mother? That’s disgusting …’
‘Of course it isn’t. Any woman with an ounce of self-respect would take care of herself, just as Yvonne has done. I bet she’s still a size ten, and with that fabulous hair …’ He trailed off.
‘Yes?’ Jasmine’s voice was dangerously calm. ‘Go on.’
‘Well, nothing, of course, I mean …’
John Bestley was still speaking. Jasmine stared at the handkerchief, damp and twisted in her hands. She didn’t need Andrew to draw the comparison between her petite, blonde, designer-dressed mother and her dark, plump, untidy self. Yvonne had always seemed rather shocked that her only daughter had the brown eyes, the clumsiness, and the overwhelming desire to please of a capering Labrador puppy. And Jasmine herself knew that she was as far removed from being anyone’s top totty as it was possible to get. But the thought of Andrew’s smarmy car salesmen friends leering over her mother was still stomach-churningly appalling.
John cleared his throat. ‘To my three dear friends, Allan Lovelock, Roger Foster, and Peg Dunstable, I leave the sum of twenty thousand pounds each.’
Andrew let out a low whistle.
‘Bloody hell!’ Yvonne stopped clutching her husband and, rocking on her stilettos, clutched at the bar instead. ‘This is ridiculous! That money should go to Philip! The will’s invalid!’
‘On the contrary,’ John said smoothly, beaming at Peg, Roger, and Allan, who looked about as poleaxed as Yvonne, ‘the will is perfectly legal. Now, please, no more interruptions. The last legacies are fairly brief.’
Jasmine was silent. Sixty thousand pounds! Where the hell had Benny got that sort of money? He’d always lived so frugally, he must have been squirrelling it away for ever.
Still, no one deserved it more than Allan, Peg, and Roger – they’d been true friends for many, many years.
‘To my granddaughter, Jasmine Clegg,’ John Bestley’s voice softened as he motioned his head towards her, ‘I leave all my love. She has been the best pal a man could have, and it has been both a privilege and a pleasure to share her life…’
This time Jasmine couldn’t stop the tears. They fell soundlessly, the sobs rocking her body. Andrew patted her clumsily.
‘To her I wish health, good fortune and, above all, lifelong happiness. I would hope that she will always have the strength to follow her own path in life without hindrance from others. She will understand. I also leave her the residue of my estate –’
‘Christ,’ Andrew sighed. ‘A council house full of second-hand furniture.’
John Bestley adjusted his glasses and looked directly at Jasmine. ‘Would you like to see me privately at the office to go through the specifics, my dear?’
Jasmine sniffed into the hankie and shook her head. It didn’t matter. She’d find a home for Benny’s bits and pieces somewhere. It was time she looked for a place to rent, anyway. She couldn’t go on living with her parents for ever. It was some scant comfort that her grandfather’s possessions could one day furnish her own little flat.
‘Very well,’ John cleared his throat. ‘I also leave Jasmine Clegg the residue of my estate in its entirety: my furniture and all my personal possessions for her to do with as she pleases. I also leave her my beach hut –’
Jasmine caught her breath. The beach hut! She’d almost forgotten that Benny and her grandmother had actually owned the sea-front chalet where she’d spent most of her childhood summer days. It had been her bolt hole all her life. Oh, that was wonderful …
‘Council’s intending to bulldoze them, so I’ve been told,’ Andrew said, looking disappointed. ‘You won’t get much for it.’
John coughed. ‘Also to my granddaughter, Jasmine Clegg, I bequeath fifty thousand pounds.’
‘Fifty grand!’ Andrew had perked up. He kissed her neck. ‘Wow, Jas! That’s amazing! You could invest it in the dealership – become a partner.’
Jasmine’s mouth dropped open. She wasn’t listening to Andrew. She didn’t dare to look at her parents. She worked some saliva into her mouth. She couldn’t take this in. There had to be some mistake. ‘Er – John … maybe I should come and see you. I mean …’
‘Whatever you think best, my dear.’ John’s voice was avuncular. ‘We’ll make an appointment later. And there’s just one more thing.’ He looked down at the papers in front of him. ‘To Jasmine Clegg I also leave my business. I know she loves it as much as I do. I have had the licence transferred to her name to come into effect six weeks after my death.’
‘Business? What business?’ Andrew looked quizzical, then his eyes widened in horror. ‘Jesus Christ! He doesn’t mean …?’
Jasmine started to laugh. Her parents were gaping at her across the bar. Roger, Allan, and Peg were all beaming.
John Bestley gathered the pages of the will together tidily. ‘Congratulations, my dear. You are now the proud proprietor of Benny Clegg – the Punters’ Friend.’
Jasmine, not knowing whether to laugh or cry now, was slightly disturbed to find she was doing both.
Benny had left her his bookmaker’s pitch at Ampney Crucis Greyhound Stadium.
‘And just what do you intend to do with this?’
Jasmine sat down heavily, puffing from her exertions, and surveyed both her best friend, Clara, and the Victorian chiffonier, with grave doubt. ‘Goodness knows. I thought it’d sort of slot in.’
‘It’d sort of slot in,’ Clara said, ‘to the mansion it was designed for. It was a tight squeeze in Benny’s front room. It is never – never, ever – going to fit into a beach hut.’
It was a month after the funeral. June had come to Dorset, bringing with it fine weather and the first rush of holidaymakers. The beach hut, one in a row of two dozen perfect 1920s specimens, had a wooden slatted veranda, two main rooms, a minuscule bathroom, a kitchenette comprising two sockets and a gas ring, net curtains, and a line for hanging up wet bathing costumes – and like its neighbours was painted in sugared almond colours. The huts stood in proud defiance along the Ampney Crucis sea front, with the skewwhiff wooden steps down to the sands in front of them, and the undulating gradient of the cliffs behind.
Jasmine had already transferred most of Benny’s furniture into the beach hut. The chiffonier was the last to go. Clara, in one of her rare moments either not at work or in the gym, had been co-opted in as heaver-and-shover in chief. The chiffonier’s move had taken far longer than Jasmine had anticipated, and they now had an interested audience of small children in shorts.
Scrambling to her feet, Jasmine once again grabbed a corner of the chiffonier. For a few minutes they seemed to be making some headway, then Clara dropped her end of the enormous cabinet with a groan.
‘There! That’s it! I’ve broken a fingernail! Andrew should be helping you with this. I can’t believe he’s let you do the house clearance on your own.’
‘I wasn’t on my own,’ Jasmine panted, tugging futilely at the immovable object. ‘Roger and Allan and Peg helped.’
‘Get real! They’re all at least eighty!’
‘No they’re not. And anyway, they helped me with respect arid sympathy, and didn’t mind me crying all the time. Andrew would have mocked.’
‘Yeah, he probably would, the bastard. But still, Allan and Roger must be pensionable by now, and Peg Dunstable is away with the fairies.’
‘She is not!’ Jasmine giggled. ‘Just because she thinks she’s Doris Day doesn’t mean that she hasn’t got all her marbles. She’s a very astute businesswoman, she’s just got a bit of a fixation –’
Clara picked at the flaking nail. ‘You are so naive, Jas, do you know that? Peg Dunstable is totally barking. God, you’ll make a right team.’
‘Yes, we probably will. Now forget your manicure and my sanity and lift your end.’
They lifted and pushed, but the chiffonier was still wedged at an angle across the veranda. Clara, again examining the damaged fingernail, leaned against the cabinet with a sigh. ‘What we need is a strategy … and the help of a couple of rugby teams. Why couldn’t you have got yourself engaged to a man with biceps instead of …?’
‘Go on, you can say it. You’ve said it often enough. A smarmy showroom-bound wimp like Andrew.’
Clara disliked Andrew even more than Benny had, if that were possible. Jasmine, who had known Andrew ever since her schooldays, and who had had no previous serious boyfriend, had been engaged to him for the last three years. They’d sort of drifted into it, sort of stuck together, and certainly Jasmine had never considered ending it. So what if it wasn’t a Grand Passion? Neither of them had expected that, had they? It was safe, it was familiar, and both sets of parents approved.
She grimaced. Her parents would never, ever approve of anything she did again …
Philip and Yvonne had been incandescent since the day of the funeral. The rows in their five-bedroomed mock Tudor detached had raged for weeks. This had culminated in Jasmine, for the first time in her life, leaving home. Silently, she’d packed her suitcase and decamped to the beach hut. Andrew had joined in on the parental front at this point, and told her that there was no way she could live like some down-and-out in a dilapidated chalet that was due for demolition.
Fired by a fierce determination that she hadn’t even known she possessed, Jasmine had told him to mind his own business, and had also evaded both her father’s and Andrew’s insistence that she must invest her nest egg wisely – either in Andrew’s car dealership or Philip’s portfolio – and had deposited her inheritance in her building society account.
She had a feeling she hadn’t heard the last of the matter.
‘Tell you what.’ Jasmine fanned herself with the flapping hem of her T-shirt. ‘Shall we abandon this for a bit and go to the Crumpled Horn?’
Clara shook her head. ‘We will not. We’ll finish the job first.’
‘God, you’re so bloody focused.’
Clara looked smug. ‘Which is why I’m Sales Director of Makings Paper, while you’re – well, God knows what you are.’
‘I’m a bookie.’ Jasmine grinned at her. ‘Or at least I will be as soon as I’ve had a few lessons.’
Clara gave her a withering look, and once again applied her shoulder to the cluster of carved beechnuts dangling from the chiffonier’s corner. ‘And have you told your parents and the squirmy Andrew that you’ve jacked your job in yet?’
‘Hell, no. They’re still getting over Grandpa’s legacies and the fact that I’ve left home. Telling them that I’m no longer inputting boring figures on to boring computers in the boring accounts department at Watertite Windows would possibly be a scrap of information too far at the moment. Hey – I think we’ve done it! It moved!’
With a lot of scraping and cursing and a shriek from Clara as another fingernail splintered, the chiffonier was finally heaved into place. Sweaty, grimy, and triumphant, Jasmine surveyed it with pleasure.
‘Doesn’t it look lovely? Oh, thanks, Clara – you’re a real pal.’
‘I’m mad and so are you. Look, Jasmine, you do know you don’t have to live here, don’t you? My flat is huge, and it’d be really fun to share and –’
‘And I’d drive you crazy by filling it with clutter and making a mess and knocking things over.’ Jasmine said, thinking of Clara’s pristine minimalism with a shudder. ‘No, thanks so much, it’s really kind of you – but I don’t think even our rock-solid friendship would survive being together twenty-four hours a day. Anyway, I love this hut.’
Clara grinned. ‘Rather you than me then – but the offer stands should things get desperate. Right, so now you can stay here and play house while I go and get some grub from the pub. Any preference in crisp flavour?’
‘Not cheese and onion. They make me cry.’
Clara gave her a swift hug. ‘Poor thing. Is it still awful?’
‘Yup. It’s getting a bit better, though. I usually only cry at night now.’
‘I should have been here for the funeral.’
‘You couldn’t help being in Guatemala.’
‘Guadeloupe. And it was naff timing for a holiday. I can’t bear to think of you having to cope with it all on your own.’
‘Well, I did, so maybe it was a good thing that you weren’t here. Mum and Dad and Andrew were useless, so I had to just get on with it. Anyway, could we not talk about it any more, please?’
‘Yeah, sure. Sorry. So, it’s a pint of Old Ampney and a packet of smoky bacon?’
‘Make it half a pint. I want to keep a clear head. I’m going to meet Peg at the greyhound stadium later for my initiation.’
‘Bloody hell!’ Clara forced her way through the inquisitive audience of children who were now three-deep on the veranda. ‘She’ll have you doing sugar-sweet smiles and singing ‘The Deadwood Stage’ complete with whip noises and thigh-slapping. I know – I’ve seen her do it in Sainsbury’s. I’d better make it a treble whisky at least.’
Laughing, Jasmine watched Clara disappear towards the prom road and the Crumpled Horn, and then looked proudly at the chiffonier now firmly wedged at the back of the hut. The place was possibly a mite overcrowded, but at least she now had everything she needed to call it home. It’d be fine for the summer months. The winter, with the notorious Dorset gales swooshing in from the English Channel, coupled with plunging temperatures, could be another matter altogether, but she’d deal with that when it arose. Right now, she thought, as she delved into one of the dozens of cardboard boxes she’d brought from her grandfather’s house, she was relishing her new-found independence.
‘Bugger off!’ Clara, balancing a tray of beer and crisps, climbed back on to the veranda and glared at the children. ‘The show’s over. Go and watch Punch and Judy. Although, on second thoughts, this is probably funnier.’
‘There!’ Jasmine stood back to admire her handiwork. The chiffonier was now adorned with various pieces of her inheritance – two Staffordshire highwayman figurines, a walnut carriage clock which had stopped five years before, and a pair of slightly verdigrised brass candlesticks. She’d also added her grandparents’ wedding photograph in a silver frame. ‘How does that look?’
‘Like it belongs in a mausoleum.’ Clara shook her head. ‘You can’t be serious about this, Jas, can you?’
‘Deadly serious. Never more serious about anything in my life. Now, where’s the beer?’
Ampney Crucis Greyhound Stadium was possibly a bit of an overstatement. An oval sand track surrounded by dirty and disintegrating white railings, enclosed by three tiers of rickety stands with a snack bar at one end and a Portaloo at the other, it probably wasn’t anyone’s idea of a good night out at the dogs. However, Jasmine, who had grown up there, standing on a box beside Benny as he set prices, took bets, and hopefully didn’t pay out too much too often, absolutely adored it.
She lingered for a moment in the evening shadows, looking at the deserted track, biting back the tears. It was the first time she’d been here since her grandfather’s death, and she could see him everywhere, hear his voice barking the odds, feel the comforting touch of his worn tweed jacket as she’d snuggled against him on cold nights when the wind came straight off the sea.
The three bookmakers’ pitches were permanently sited at the foot of the stands. Greyhound racing at Ampney Crucis was very far removed from the bright lights and glamour of the big stadiums. The site had been in the Dunstable family for generations, and Peg was fiercely proud that it was one of the few surviving independent tracks in the country.
God knew, Jasmine thought, trailing her fingers along the wobbling rails, how it had survived at all. With meetings three times a week, all year round – solely for the Dorset locals in winter and with the addition of the bemused Ampney Crucis holidaymakers in the high season – they somehow seemed to manage to scrape a living. Quite a good living really, she supposed, if Benny’s legacies were anything to go by.
Completely alone in the stadium, Jasmine wandered towards the bookmakers’ pitches, shivering slightly as she plunged from the warm evening sun into the towering shadows of the stands. ‘Benny Clegg – The Punters’ Friend’ stood in the middle of the three, ‘Roger Foster – Bookmaker to Royalty’ was to the left, and ‘Allan Lovelock – Honesty is my Middle Name’ to the right. Roger and Allan, both of her grandfather’s generation, like Peg, had been permanent fixtures at the Ampney Crucis track all her life. This was the only place – apart, of course, from the beach hut now – where she really felt at home.
She sat forlornly on one of the three orange boxes which made up the rest of her inheritance, and wondered briefly if she could really make a go of it. Could she, in all honesty, become a successful bookmaker? Oh, sure, she’d written up the books for Benny ever since she’d been able to add up: standing beside him at the meetings, writing down the bets in the ledger as the punters put them on, able to work out winnings quicker than any calculator. But being in charge? Setting prices? Calling the odds? Actually running the business? Would she ever be any good at that? Her grandfather had entrusted everything to her – she prayed that she wouldn’t let him down.
‘Sorry to have kept you waiting, darling.’
Peg Dunstable swept down the stand steps, her flicked-up hair swinging jauntily, kept in place by a broad Alice band. With her swirling skirt cinched in by a black patent belt, the collar of her poplin blouse standing up, a two-ply cardigan slung round her shoulders, and wearing ankle socks and flatties, from a distance she looked the spitting image of her heroine. It was only close to that anyone could see the wrinkles on the papery skin beneath the panstic
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...