This Sunday I’ve added another chapter for your perusal; things are hotting up as Tilly discloses she is being stalked…
…and afterwards I’ve included a recipe for my very own Chilli Jam – now THAT’s Spicy!
Chapter 3. The following day.
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, against the use of nature? Present fears are less than horrible imaginings. Macbeth. Act 1 Scene 3
Michaels’ Taverna was a blaze of welcoming bright light, merry background bouzouki music and tantalising aromas. Newly opened; word had swiftly spread throughout the community; here the mezes, or Greek for ‘mixtures’ were reputed to be delicious. Tilly had arranged to meet Pete, Ann, Bernard and Jenny for an early supper. After hearing others from their theatre group rave about the taverna, they wanted to try out the menu for themselves.
Tilly arrived early, leaving her house before it got dark so she could enjoy the drive up into the cool hills. The sweet herb-scented air played through her hair as she drove up the twisting road and admired the sweep of the countryside. It was always a welcome relief to leave a hot, fume-filled Limassol and get out to where the vineyards and olive groves climbed the ancient hillside. Before she left her car she stole a look around the parking area. With relief she realised she recognised none of the other cars already there.
A shy teenage girl greeted her and showed her to a comfy cushioned settee on the wooden veranda. Tilly ordered a glass of the local white wine while she waited on the others. She sipped it slowly, the crispness of the Xinisteri grape crisp and dry on her tongue. Michael placed a dish of locally grown almonds in front of her. He flirted outrageously before giving her fingers a last kiss and then, sighing melodramatically wandered back to the kitchen. Normally, Tilly would have relished his playful and amorous attention, but not this evening. She felt stiff and awkward, her thoughts elsewhere. She fidgeted in her seat, scraped her hair back off her face, felt an imagined itch under her bra strap. Tilly cast an uneasy look around her, willing herself to relax. Something that had evaded her since her unfortunate set to with Leslie. How could she have been so blind? Or weak and stupid! She had never been so annoyed with herself in her life.
A car’s headlights swung into the car park, the tyres crunching over the loose gravel. Tilly peered into the deepening twilight and recognized the battered silhouette of Bernard’s old Hyundai. She smiled, as she pondered, not for the first time, how it continued to trundle up the steep mountain roads to Agios Mamas, let alone pass a road safety test. It would certainly never pass an MOT back in England.
There was a certain amount of gaiety as the four newcomers wandered up to Tilly. Arranging a smile on her face, she stood up to greet her friends.
‘Here we are at last! I wondered if we were ever going to get out this evening. The girls were playing up a bit. How are you, Tilly?’ Ann enveloped her in a matronly hug of ample bosom overlaid with the sweet scent of her usual lavender water.
As ‘the girls’ were a couple of fat Cyprus poodles; small, fluffy bundles on six-inch long legs, Tilly failed to see how they could give anyone any trouble at all. They lived for their twice-daily meals and hardly needed or craved any outdoor exercise of any sort. Show them their leads and they looked puzzled. She smiled as Ann explained.
‘A kitten got in the courtyard and it couldn’t get out again. The girls went completely bananas. Of course we had to capture the poor terrified thing to let it out, and boy could it run. It was hilarious watching Pete. He eventually threw a towel over it and bundled it up. It was the only way. It was hilarious. You’d have died.’
Pete gave her a mock scowl. ‘You didn’t help at all except laugh when the cat leapt over my head,’ he complained. ‘Still we got there in the end. How are you, Tilly m’dear?’ He planted a smacking kiss on both cheeks. ‘You look a bit peaky. Have you lost weight? Oh, and by the way, Tilly, hearty congratulations on getting the leading lady part. You’ll make a fine Lady M.’
Tilly returned his greeting and mumbled something about ‘working out hard at the gym’ down in Episkopi. She ignored his remark about the play as she turned to welcome the others. She complimented Jen on her very short haircut. The new look suited her short and plump friend.
After admiring the stunning view from the veranda Tilly suggested they might like to take their places and give their order. She had reserved a corner table near an open window, which offered a delicious cool evening breeze. Its position also gave them some privacy. The old friends sat down and looked around at the new taverna. It was a typical mountain restaurant with local stone and pine giving it a distinct Alpine feel. The walls were adorned with ‘antiquities’ of Aphrodite’s Island; leather wine sacks, wooden bread carriers, black and white silk pictures, yellowed photographed moustachioed men in black hose and bandoliers, paintings of churches, donkeys and gilt religious icons. The tables were set with blue tasselled tablecloths and yellow paper serviettes. The cheap glass cruets contained lemon juice and olive oil. A terracotta jug stood waiting for the wine and each place was laid with impossibly thin spindly cutlery with plastic handles. Little sprigs of fresh basil and bougainvillea adorned simple jam jars. Their chairs were the usual uncomfortable, backbreaking raffia covered wooden uprights. It was so familiar and yet completely right. The five all loved it.
Delighted to see the group Michael made them welcome with small bowls of olives and nuts to nibble before their meal. A jovial man, he had long been a favourite of expatriates and Cypriots alike when he ran a taverna down on the coastal strip; they were delighted to see him again. They took time to congratulate him on his fine choice of venue for his new restaurant. Michael beamed at their praise.
Bernard ordered litre carafes of both the local village red and white wine. There was no need for bottled water, as they were used to drinking the sweet water that came straight down from the Troodos Mountains. It was filtered through the rocks until it ran crystal-clear.
The dishes were an experience taken only with a loose fitting waistband; Greek salad and dips, accompanied by warmed toasted pitta breads stuffed with Halloumi cheese. Peasant vegetable dishes followed; a stew of black-eyed beans with courgettes and okra in tomato sauce. Cypriots loved their meat ration and the five diners became almost glassy-eyed as their meat dishes arrived. Just when they thought they were winning Michael swooped in with a complimentary plate of fruits and sugar rich baklava that finished their meal perfectly. He gave a deep throaty laugh at the look on their faces. The three women groaned, but Bernard had no qualms. He finished his sticky sweet in record time and then greedily pounced on Tilly’s when she declared herself incapable of eating another mouthful.
‘You have it, Bernard,’ she said, smiling at his unabashed grin of delight.
‘Don’t mind if I do. Good job I’m still skinny. It was a great idea of yours to come here. We’ll certainly come again when we’re feeling flush.’
‘I don’t think it’s expensive really. The wine’s a bit pricey, but the delicious food makes up for it, don’t you think?’
‘Mmmm it’s been lovely,’ agreed Jenny taking another sip of her white wine.
There was a companionable silence as they sat back watching Bernard polish off the crumbs on his plate. With his enormous appetite he was the envy of all their friends. He could eat as much as he liked without gaining an ounce. It caused plump Jenny and Ann no end of irritation. The taverna was full, and lively with the conversation of the other diners around them. When Bernard had finished the baklava and placed an order for some coffees Tilly took her opportunity to address them.
She looked rather nervous as she glanced around the table. ‘Actually, I wanted to talk to you all about something. I need to ask your advice about a problem.’
Jenny and Bernard immediately exchanged uneasy looks with Pete and Ann before turning their attention back to Tilly. Their apprehension was obvious.
’Of course, my dear you go right ahead, you know we’re only too willing to help if we can.’ Jenny said.
Appearing agitated and embarrassed, Tilly paused as she looked, one by one, at those seated around the table. ‘It’s a little - difficult. Umm. Look, I shan’t beat about the bush, but I have been having a bit of a fling with Leslie,’ she burst out, her voice low but audible.
They all looked slightly stunned for a moment. Tilly had their full attention.
‘Well, Pete and I had noticed that he hung around you a lot, especially during the last lot of rehearsals,’ Ann confessed. ‘But, I must say I didn’t know it had got that far.’
Tilly flushed. ‘Was it that noticeable? Oh God! Well it’s all over now. I know he’s married and I shouldn’t have got involved. But he was very charming and sweet-talking. I was going through a low period and he just picked his moment. I was feeling a bit depressed over Keith’s death and needed some old fashioned comfort. I know! I know! I feel really bad about it now, but at the time I enjoyed his attention and flattery.’ Tilly looked down at the table in front of her, too ashamed to meet their gaze.
‘It’s okay, really, Tilly. You don’t have to explain it all to us. You’re unattached, and as for him being married, well honestly Sonja is such a plain, cold fish. I’m sure Leslie jumped at the chance of an affair with a pretty girl like you. You’re not the first my dear. He’s always chased women, dozens of them. And you’ll not be the last. I’m sure everyone here agrees with me.’ Bernard consoled her with a pat on her hand and a twinkle in his eye. Despite Tilly’s shocking revelation there were murmurs of concurrence from around the table. Leslie’s affairs were well known.
‘Yes I’m sure you’re right. It’s just, well I feel disgusted with myself. That’s why I broke it off. I suddenly saw myself in someone else’s eyes. I didn’t want to steal anyone’s husband; it was a passing moment of weakness.’
Bernard continued. ‘I really don’t think you would have gone that far would you? Besides, as I said, he has always rather chased the ladies. It’s part of his raison d’etre. As for feeling disgusted with yourself, don’t. He deliberately makes a play for attractive young females. You would have found it difficult to keep him at arm’s length once he’d made up his mind anyway.’
Tilly considered Bernard’s words; she wasn’t entirely convinced. ‘Mmm maybe.’
She glanced across to Ann and Pete. ‘You say you noticed he hung around me at rehearsals, do you suppose anyone else noticed? If that’s right, then I might have a problem playing Lady Macbeth. I wouldn’t want any tittle-tattle especially if he does get involved with the set. It’s more than likely he will once he’s got over his paddy.’
Jen intervened as chief gossip for the village and the drama group. ‘Nobody else has said anything in my hearing. So don’t worry. I think you can keep it quiet. Of course Bernard and I won’t tell a soul,’ she looked across at Pete and Ann as if asking for affirmation. They both nodded.
‘Thank you,’ said Tilly. Despite her words she still looked anxious.
‘I don’t think you’ve told us what’s really worrying you though, have you? There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?’ Pete studied Tilly over the rim of his wine glass.
‘You’re right. There is something else,’ her voice had a slight quiver. ‘Ever since I ended it, it’s become difficult. Or rather Leslie’s become difficult.’
‘Ah! He’s playing a male that’s been scorned. He’s suffering from a wounded pride and all that testosterone stuff. Serve him right my dear. Bring him down a peg or two,’ Pete scoffed as he took another quaff of red wine.
‘No, you don’t understand. He’s become a real nuisance. He’s an absolute pain and a - a nightmare.’
Pete lowered his glass slowly, his wine forgotten. He frowned at Tilly. ‘What do you mean exactly?’
Tilly paused. She looked down at the crumb-covered tablecloth before raising her tawny-coloured eyes to meet those of her friends. She looked miserable and on the verge of tears.
‘I mean that he’s constantly ringing me at all hours. Sometimes, when I answer the phone there’s no one there, just a silence. But I know it’s him. I’ve seen him sitting in his car just along the road from my house, spying and waiting for me to come out. Then he’s followed me. Sometimes he comes to my door, where he might or might not ring my bell. I tell you it’s unbearable. I now lock all my windows and doors – in this weather too. And I draw my curtains while it’s still light. The back garden is insecure. He sometimes wanders around when I’m sitting there and he unnerves me. It’s creepy. He’s creepy! And I’m scared.’
Her last line she whispered. With some alarm, they watched as tears filled her eyes. Ann looked horrified and covered her mouth with her hand.
Jenny was shocked into momentary silence. Her face had gone pale despite her tan and her own eyes had filled with compassion and concern for Tilly. She gasped. ‘That’s awful!’ and then turned to her husband. ‘What can we do, Bernard?’ Not waiting for his reply she looked back at Tilly and continued. ‘Oh, you poor thing. It’s simply dreadful. What a stupid horrid man!’
Bernard appeared thoughtful for a moment as he took one of Tilly’s hands in his own before he replied. His mouth was pursed as if in anger but he appeared calm when he spoke.
‘I’m not sure what the best course of action is. He’s probably only doing it to annoy you in a fit of pique, and he may well stop when he realizes he’s not getting anywhere. How long has this been going on?’
‘Going on? Oh for about a couple of weeks. But now, he’s coming more and more often. I can’t relax, knowing he may be lurking around outside. He frightens me,’ she gave a quiet sob and bit her lip.
‘Have you thought about telling the police?’ Ann asked, always one for action.
‘Yes. I wasn’t sure if that was a bit extreme at first. There is a police inspector that lives down the road. I wondered if he would help. But, I don’t want it to be official. That would mean the police taking him in for questioning. Surely he’s just a silly old man and I’m afraid Sonja would find out. How upsetting would that be for her? I don’t want to cause any more trouble than I already have.’
‘Okay, what about unofficially then? How well do you know the inspector?’ asked Pete.
‘So-so. He’s always polite if not particularly friendly. I’m not sure he likes us Brits much,’ Tilly gave a half-hearted smile.
‘That doesn’t matter. The important thing is you tell him. He’ll know what to do. We’ll come and give you moral support if you like,’ Pete looked at the others for confirmation. He was big and soft hearted, always a champion for females in distress.
‘Thank you. You are kind. Yes, I will have a word with him. Maybe he can warn Leslie on the quiet. Tell him to back off and stop making a nuisance of himself. That is, unless he thinks I’m being an over hysterical female,’ Tilly looked more forlorn than ever at the thought of what she had to do.
‘Don’t be downhearted. I bet he won’t think that at all. He’ll probably agree a few words will frighten the life out of Leslie. It will do him good. I’d love to see it.’ Rubbing his hands together with glee, there was a note of gloating in Bernard’s voice. ‘You contact the police and let us know the outcome. Now, the first thing is not to worry about it. I’m sure Leslie is no threat really; he’s just an arrogant bully. He’ll soon run off scared if there’s a whiff of the law onto him.’
‘I hope you’re right,’ Tilly still looked scared and depressed. Her hands restlessly pleated the tablecloth in front of her.
‘I think another glass of something my dear. Would it help if you spent the night with us? We’ve plenty of room,’ Jen asked, laying her arm around Tilly’s shoulders.
Tilly made an effort to smile before answering her. Her mind was clearly elsewhere. ‘No thank you. I’ll be fine at home. As Bernard said, Leslie’s probably no danger really. Just a big bore.’
She looked away from the others; out into the darkness beyond the warm glow from the taverna. What if the police wouldn’t help her? If they didn’t believe her, then she would have to think again. One way or another Leslie had to be stopped. Tilly had had enough. She was terrified at the thought, but she was now desperate enough to put an end to this herself....
My Own Chilli Jam Recipe. (Cool underpants required.)
To make 4-5 jars you’ll need: 2lls ripe tomatoes, 30 Thai red chillies, 12 cloves of garlic, 5 inches of fresh ginger, 6tbsp of fish sauce, 5 cups of caster sugar and 1.0 cup of red wine vinegar.
Roughly chop the tomatoes, all the chillies (with their seeds), garlic and ginger and chuck it all in a blender – I also added a couple of teaspoons of cayenne pepper for an extra kick. Whizz everything to a pulp and pour into a heavy bottomed pan. Turn on the heat, add the vinegar, sugar and fish sauce and slowly bring to the boil. Once the mixture has come to the boil, reduce to a simmer, skim off the foam that will have formed on top of the mixture, and leave it burbling away for 2 hours. Every now and then, give the mixture a vigorous stir and scrape the bottom and sides of the pan (the pectin in the tomato seeds acts as a natural thickener). Pour the hot jam into clean jars and turn upside down to create the vacuum. Once cooled, pop in the fridge and start eating it with everything! Warning! Let your guests know in advance that this will be hot!