The Christmas Gift by Jan Jones by Jan Jones - Read Online



It is the run-up to Christmas, and Leo and Penny are investigating the mystery of a Christmas gift left in a 'safe place' as mentioned on the back of a WW2 wedding photo. Meanwhile, Leo's son Daniel has come to stay for the festive season, there have been a spate of petty thefts in Salthaven, snow is falling thickly, the vicar's wife is perilously close to giving birth and Terry Durham is trying to buy up the Salthaven Boating Society clubhouse land so he can build a tourist marina.
Published: Accent Press on
ISBN: 9781681468228
List price: $2.99
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The Christmas Gift - Jan Jones

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Chapter One

Penny Plain was sitting in the foyer of the Salthaven Messenger building waiting for Leo Williams and trying to avoid being prodded by an oversized, over-decorated Christmas tree every time the door opened. Despite the hazard, she loved the fact that the foyer was so busy. She especially liked that in these days of the internet and rapid-fire messaging, the local paper was still where ninety-five percent of Salthavians chose to share their news.

In the short time she’d been waiting, three adverts had been placed, an obituary had been brought in to comfortable sympathy from Mrs Matthews the receptionist, a small, bouncy man had rather cheekily requested spare copies of the previous week’s issue because his little girl was in the potholes protest photo, and a woman had handed across a report of the local ballet school show.

Penny’s pocket emitted a muffled warble, making her jump. She wasn’t used to her new phone yet, but the old one had never been the same since she’d dropped it in the freezer when she was talking to Leo one time. Her son Noel had recommended this smartphone, saying it was the most suitable one on the market for her needs, and that she’d pick up how to use all its quirky little features in no time. Penny was touched by Noel’s faith in her, but had the uncomfortable suspicion that the smartphone was actually a good deal smarter than her.

Now she surveyed the screen warily and prodded the text icon.

Leo’s picture appeared. Sorry, Penny, got caught up. Won’t be long

Penny’s finger hovered over the reply arrow. She typed ‘Hi L –’ and started guiltily as Leo appeared in the predictive text box. The nerve of this phone! She hadn’t sent that many texts to him.

She told him to hurry up, pressed send, and then hurried across the foyer to open the door for a very pregnant woman who was struggling with a toddler and an excitable dog.

A cold blast of air carrying a hint of snow swirled in with them. Behind Penny, the Christmas tree swayed. ‘Thanks,’ said the woman gratefully, as the child pulled in one direction and the dog in another. ‘Excuse me,’ she said to the receptionist, ‘I’m Emma Henderson. I brought in a photo of my prize-winning cake for the letters page the other week. Could I have it back, please?’

Mrs Matthews hefted a large box up in front of her. ‘The castle cake, would it have been? I remember that. Yes, of course, dear. Did it have your name on?’

‘I can’t remember, sorry. Sit, Pippi!’

The dog and the child both ignored her, the dog sniffing enthusiastically at the bottom of the counter and the little girl straining to get to the Christmas tree.

 Mrs Matthews started to go through the box, then the phone rang.

‘Shall I take a look?’ Penny asked the young woman. ‘I’m only waiting for a friend and you seem to have your hands full.’

‘Everything is full,’ said the woman despairingly. She hauled at the dog’s lead in a futile attempt to regain control. ‘I wouldn’t be out at all if Pippi hadn’t got a vet’s appointment.’

There were a lot of photos in the box, all stacked upright and looking to be roughly in date order. Happily, there was a Hogwarts chocolate cake very near the front. ‘Is this it? Aren’t you clever? It looks lovely.’

‘It tasted luscious,’ said the woman. ‘It was for Jack’s birthday and the kids were completely quiet while I was decorating in case it went wrong. All three of them. Absolutely silent. Bliss.’ She gave a sigh of reminiscence and left, thanking Penny over her shoulder as she was towed out by child and dog.

Penny riffled through the photos. ‘Are all these unclaimed?’

‘Yes,’ answered Leo, pelting down the stairs. ‘Some of them go back decades. If we put them on eBay as collectables we could top up the coffee fund for six months.’

‘Not that we would,’ said Mrs Matthews, fixing him with a gimlet eye. ‘A reminder goes out in the paper every few weeks.’

Penny wrinkled her nose. ‘I’ll bet the owners have forgotten they brought them in. They’ll read the plea reminding people to come and collect photos, but they won’t even consider you might be referring to them. You need a way of jogging their memory.’

Leo drummed his fingers reflectively on the counter. ‘A ‘Forgotten Photos’ feature? Print two or three out of the box each week and ask if anyone knows who or what they are, or who they belong to? I’ll run it by Harry, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t. It ticks all the boxes: reader interaction, makes inroads on our unclaimed file, and by getting folk to talk about a picture they’ve seen in the paper, it gets the Messenger on people’s lips and our circulation figures might go up. You’re a local, Penny. Find me something good to start with.’

‘Easy.’ Penny scooped a photo out from midway along the first row. ‘The Women’s Institute outing to Dalemain House about five years ago. You’ll get loads of replies. I know most of the people in it myself.’

Leo grinned. ‘You amaze me.’

‘Hush. What would you go for?’

Leo flicked through them. ‘Something topical. This will do – a children’s nativity play.’

‘Oh, perfect. Bless their little hearts.’ Penny’s hand moved down to the further reaches of the box. ‘And how about a really old one to make people giggle at the clothes? There’s a wartime wedding photo here, by the looks of it.’ She tugged out a grainy photo of a young man in an air force uniform and a laughing girl in a narrow, white dress with a long bouquet of flowers. It must have been summer, thought Penny, looking at the slightly overblown roses interwoven with trailing columbine. Were flowers rationed during the war? She didn’t have the faintest idea, but these could have easily come out of a garden.

Leo nodded. ‘Weddings are good. Hey, there’s writing on the back of it.’ He tilted the slanting lines to the light and read them out loud.

Dearest Jeff, This is the last letter I will write to you before I leave. I am so excited! I can’t wait to be with you again. I have bought your Christmas gift! Obviously I can’t bring it with me, but I promise you it is in a safe place! You are going to love it. A boy is coming for letters, so I will finish now. Until I see you again, darling,

Your loving wife, Caroline.

‘How romantic,’ said Penny, feeling a little misty-eyed at the long ago glimpse into this couple’s lives. ‘I wonder how long they’d known each other or whether it lasted? There were a lot of hasty marriages during the war.’

‘We might find out with any luck. Should we be going, by the way?’

Penny’s eyes flew to the clock and