Home > Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #2)(14)

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #2)(14)
Jenny Colgan

Right in front of the glass, staring in at her, was the large man with the messily cut hair from Gillian Manse’s funeral: Malcolm, of course. She didn’t know why, but she hadn’t expected him till later, and even though she’d lain awake worrying about it, once she’d got into the everyday rhythm of work that morning, she had completely stopped thinking about him. She’d certainly not expected him to be standing sinisterly, peering in through her door window.

Once she’d jumped back a little, she calmed down and managed to plaster her smile back on, and unlocked the heavy glass door that had been replaced after Neil had rolled through the old glass and into her life one stormy night two years ago.

‘Hello!’ she said, as jauntily as she was able. ‘I wasn’t expecting you!’

Malcolm stared crossly at his watch.

‘I know. God, it’s SO early. How on earth do people get up at this time?’

Polly didn’t want to point out to him that she’d been at work for three hours already.

‘Would you like a coffee?’

‘Yes. Three sugars,’ said Malcolm brusquely. He marched into the shop. Like last time, he was dressed like an unmade bed, a creased shirt half hanging out of a crushed old pair of chinos. He hadn’t done up the bottom button, so a portion of soft, squishy tummy was plainly visible over the top of his trousers.

‘Are you married?’ asked Polly politely.

Malcolm sniffed. ‘Not going to get caught like that, no chance,’ he said, derisively. ‘Ha, won’t get me tied down. Not a chance.’

The fishermen trudged in, looking bone weary.

‘Good morning!’ said Jayden. This was the absolute high point of his day. ‘Cold out there? Freezing, I’ll bet. Pretty tough, huh? Catch much, or were they too fast for you? Cor, wouldn’t like to be in your shoes.’

‘Shut up, Jayden,’ they all said, as they did every morning, and Polly set the coffee machine to work yet again.

‘Are you licensed to sell this?’ grunted Malcolm.

‘Uh, hmm,’ said Polly, suddenly wishing she was a bit better prepared. ‘Not exactly, but Mrs Manse —’

‘Whatever Mrs Manse did and didn’t tolerate,’ said Malcolm, raising his unpleasantly nasal voice, ‘and however much advantage you took of her good nature, she’s not here now. Things are going to change around here, right?’

The fishermen looked at Malcolm, who compared to them seemed incredibly soft and lily-handed. Archie glanced at Polly with concern, but she didn’t catch his eye.

Jayden was scooping pastries into a bag and didn’t seem to notice the awkward undercurrents in the little shop, for which Polly was grateful. She was slightly worried that if she went to take the money, her hand might tremble a little bit.

The boys had departed, as well as Patrick and his old dog Pen, who still trotted faithfully across the lighthouse rocks every day, even though his limbs were arthritic. Polly always kept a bit of leftover bun for him. She normally didn’t allow animals in the shop, but Pen was different. Malcolm was leaning nonchalantly on the glass window at the front, watching her beadily with his arms folded. His eyes were very pale, almost colourless, and his skin was doughy. He looked like he spent a lot of time indoors.

‘What are you interested in looking at first?’ asked Polly carefully.

Malcolm picked up one of the largest loaves, an unsliced white – not everyone liked it sliced. The big slicer in the back clattered away early in the morning, then they left it up to individuals. Polly watched him, wondering what he was going to do with it. To her amazement, he brought up the other large, soft-looking paw and pulled a great chunk off the top, just ripped into it, then put it into his maw before she could offer him butter or anything else. He chewed slowly and contemplatively, crumbs falling on to his already messy shirt. Jayden busied himself with washing up the tins whilst Polly simply waited.

She made herself smile again.

‘Well?’

Malcolm shrugged, his mouth still full.

‘Hmm, yeah, well.’

He put the rest of the loaf back on top of the counter, spreading crumbs everywhere, but not before ripping off another bit and sticking it into his masticating mouth.

‘Back,’ he grunted, and indicated the ovens at the rear of the bakery.

Polly led him through.

‘So, this is where the magic happens!’ she said, still trying to sound light and unconcerned. Malcolm took out a pen and pad and started jotting things down. He inspected the flour she used – 00 grade; the salt. He looked at the sourdough yeast she had growing in the fridge; the milk, and the many bags and boxes of produce – local, almost all of it, from round and about: herbs and fruit and nuts and honey – and everything else she used to flavour and differentiate her various types of bread.

‘What’s all this rubbish?’ he said. ‘You’re not running a bloody restaurant.’

‘Yes, but we make different types of bread,’ explained Polly carefully. ‘All sorts of flavours. As well as pies, sometimes, and flatbread and things. Different savouries and a few sweets, so it takes a lot of ingredients. Flora does most of the sweets in the other shop.’

Indeed, Flora’s way with a cream horn was one of her main weapons against her ever losing her job. She had an astonishingly light hand with pastry, and a neatness of touch Polly envied massively.

‘Well, as a businessman,’ said Malcolm, which he’d offered absolutely no evidence of, but Polly wasn’t in any position to query his credentials, ‘this all seems a total mess and incredibly inefficient and wasteful.’

Polly tried to keep her voice calm.

‘It seems to work all right with the customers.’

Malcolm sniffed. ‘What, those brain-dead yokels? Yeah, they’ll take any old crap. But I don’t want to be… I don’t want my mum to be cheated out of what these shops are worth.’

‘I would never do that,’ said Polly.

‘Yeah, well…’ He picked up a pot of fleur de sel.

‘I mean, what’s this? Salt?’

‘Uh, yeah. Most bread has a little salt, and there are bagels, which have a little more, and —’

‘Is this the cheapest you can buy? It’s not even ground.’

‘I know,’ said Polly timidly. ‘But it’s the best you can get. It’s got a real fullness of flavour and a delicate… It’s not too salty.’

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