Chapter Twelve – Pitching In
“Jowan, what is it?” Margaret asked. Betty got to her feet too, her plain, motherly face full of concern.
“That was my mum,” Jowan stammered, “it seems that my dad has had a stroke. He’s in hospital and she’s terrified. I … I’ll have to go too, see what I can do to help.”
“I am sorry, Jowan,” John’s voice sounded, “I will accompany you to the hospital and assist you.”
“I am coming too,” Margaret said.
At Leicester UH, John and Margaret met with Mrs Thorn, Jowan’s mother, a rather stocky woman of a height that was that of Margaret. She had the same curly hair as Jowan which must have been dark in her youth but was now sprinkled with grey, and very dark eyes. When she saw her son coming into the waiting area, she burst out in tears. It seemed that her husband was getting worse, after having himself worked up about the pub he ran in the town’s centre, where he’d collapsed an hour before. The doctors were still examining him, and Mrs Thorn was waiting for them to be informed about her husband’s condition.
Margaret instantly concerned herself with the distressed woman. She remembered all too well her own, dear mother who had become so ill after they had moved to Milton.
“Come, Mrs Thorn, let me get you a cup of tea.”
The older woman looked at her with sudden relief as if she hadn’t thought about it herself.
“I’m sorry, dear. I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name.”
“This is Margaret,” Jowan said, “a friend of Marjorie’s from Manchester who’s staying with us for a few days. This is her partner, John.”
Hands were shaken, and they all settled in the waiting area with tea from the vending machines.
Jowan’s mother began telling them what had happened.
The pub Jowan’s father owned was his life’s achievement and pride. He had worked long hours all his life to get it like it was now, a busy, well-tended place where people could have a good meal for a reasonable price, a pint of ale after work, or even a cup of tea and a piece of pie while they did their shopping. The biggest problem was to find and keep a sufficient staff in an age when people did not like to work on weekends, or late at night. Mr Thorn was forever fighting battles to meet his own standards, and he pitched in himself when it was busy. As a result of the long hours and hard work, not to mention the stress of dealing with inadequate employees, he had worked himself to exhaustion time after time. His body, which had protested several times over the years, had now given up, but he couldn’t stop worrying about the pub, even during the transport to the hospital
Mrs Thorn began imploring Jowan to go down there and see what could be done to assure that everything went well during his father’s absence.
“Mum, why? Dad has a few employees to do the work while he’s ill, hasn’t he? I’m sure …”
“You don’t understand, Jowan! Your dad has been doing it practically on his own, lately! You know that French cook he took on has too much airs to get his hands messy. Cutting and washing vegetables is beneath him. And that waitress, Kylie is good for nothing if your dad’s not around. Please, darling, you must go there. Your dad will want to hear all about it.”
Twenty minutes later, Jowan parked his car in front of “The Green Huntsman”, Mr Thorn’s pub. Although it was eight pm, there were but a few patrons inside when he and John walked in. A girl in a skirt and top that scarcely bedecked her body was sitting on one of the patrons’ lap. To John, she looked like a prostitute, as she was showing her naked arms and legs and a considerable portion of her bosom and bare stomach. John was immensely glad that Margaret had stayed at the hospital with Mrs Thorn, otherwise she would have witnessed this unspeakable behaviour.
“Hello, Kylie,” Jowan said as he strode towards the back where the kitchen was, “is Bert still here?”
The girl hastily jumped off the patron’s lap and trotted after Jowan.
“Yes, Jowan! He’s …”
“Sleeping on the job as usual,” Jowan mocked and threw open the door to the kitchen. John brushed past Kylie without a glance and followed Jowan inside.
The kitchen, which was large and well-equipped, looked like a battlefield. The dishes were piled up in the big sink, and there were dirty pots and pans all over the place, not to mention food residues, empty bottles and other signs of neglect everywhere.
Next to the kitchen was a small restroom where they found the chef lounging in a comfortable chair with a glass of brandy in his hand. He didn’t stir when Jowan and John strode in but stared defiantly at them.
“Mr Duvalier, good evening!” Jowan said, trying to keep his voice level. “I see that the kitchen is not tidied up. Did the cleaning team not come in today?”
“No, they didn’t!” the chef said in a strong French accent. “How am I supposed to keep up now that Monsieur Thorn has met with illness?”
“Well, couldn’t you have a go with the cleaning-up, then?” Jowan retaliated, anger growing in his tone.
“I absolutely refuse to do that! I am a chef, not a cleaning woman!”
Jowan opened his mouth to shout at him, but John drew him out of the room and whispered,
“Look, do not be shocked by my bluntness, Jowan, but can I make a suggestion? You are needed at the hospital with your mother. I can perfectly sort this out and keep an eye on the business while your father is ill. Trust me, I know a disgruntled employee when I see one. I can handle him.”
“What? John, you don’t know what you’re talking about! This is a stinking mess of a job, you’ll never get that lazy bastard to dirty his hands by doing the dishes!”
“Well,” John chuckled, “a few days ago, I could have easily said that of myself, too! Since then, I have already “dirtied my hands” with the dishes twice and suffered no ill consequences from it. Just tell him I am the one in charge until your father comes back. Leave the rest to me.”
“Okay … if you insist but what do I tell Margaret? You’ll be tied up in here for the largest part of the day … and the night.”
“Bring her here. If I know my Margaret, her hands will soon be dirtied, too! Leave me some cash, please. I might need to go out and buy stuff.”
“Here,” Jowan said, “this is the key to Father’s safe. I’ll show you how it’s opened. You can take whatever you need from it. Thank you, John. I appreciate this.”
After Jowan explained the restaurant’s daily routine and the working of the safe to John, the young man left. He was anxious about what he would find at the hospital, and John’s help was most welcome.
John Thornton now found himself alone and in charge. As usual. He was up to it.