Home > Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #2)(15)

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #2)(15)
Jenny Colgan

‘Not too salty?’ sneered Malcolm. ‘You’re buying expensive salt that isn’t too salty?’

He marked something in his little book.

‘And this flour. Why are you buying Italian flour?’

‘It’s the best,’ said Polly again, feeling more and more worried. Jayden was in the shop, chatting to the early-morning customers and making the old ladies laugh. She had, she realised now, over-confidently expected that Malcolm would pop in, have a cup of coffee and a bun, say, ‘Wow, this place is fantastic, keep up the good work,’ and that would be that.

‘Yes, but punters don’t notice, do they?’

‘I think they do.’

‘No,’ said Malcolm. ‘I don’t think so. If I’m hungry, I’ll just buy a pasty in a motorway service station. I don’t care if it’s got poncey flour in it, or super salt that they magic out of not too salty land. I just want something to eat.’

Polly stared at the floor.

‘I’ve got all the accounts,’ said Malcolm, obviously thinking he was sounding really tough. ‘I’m going to be going through them with a fine-tooth comb. This place is barely scraping a living, and I want to know why.’

‘Because we’re a low-cost, high-volume business in a seasonal location with year-round fixed costs,’ Polly could have told him, had he looked like the listening type. Which he didn’t. You didn’t run a bakery for the money – well, maybe if you had a high-end cupcake shop in London or something, she imagined. Otherwise, you only did it because you loved it; because it was a good, solid way to make a good honest living, whatever this guy seemed to be implying. It certainly wouldn’t make you rich.

‘Also, I’m renting out the upstairs flat again.’ Malcolm sniffed. ‘It’s ridiculous it’s been sitting empty all this time. So you may have to be quieter in the mornings.’

‘We can’t,’ said Polly. ‘That’s when we start business for the day. You’ll have to find a tenant who doesn’t mind.’

‘We’ll see about that,’ said Malcolm.

‘You’ll lose money if you make us open later,’ Polly said, which seemed to have a slightly calming effect. ‘A lot of money. Most people want to buy bread first thing in the morning.’

There was another burst of feminine laughter from the front of the shop.

‘Does he just stand around chatting all day?’ asked Malcolm, nodding his head towards Jayden.

‘No,’ said Polly. ‘He works really hard, and it’s good for repeat business that the customers like him so much.’

Malcolm and Polly looked at one another for a moment. Polly knew she was being scrutinised, and she hated it, absolutely hated it: the implied criticism in his words, the suggestion that she was being at best profligate with her stock, and at worst criminal. It was all going much, much worse than she’d imagined.

‘Well, like I say, there’s going to be some changes,’ said Malcolm. ‘I’ll be having a look at the books and letting you know.’

‘Okay,’ said Polly, relieved that he was at least leaving. ‘Would you like to take anything for lunch? And we can go and look at the other bakery if you like.’

Malcolm shook his head. ‘I’ve seen enough,’ he said, obviously revelling in sounding like a bit of a hard man. He waddled back into the shop and headed for the door. Polly’s gaze followed him, and her heart sank.

Not now, she thought. Not now.

Neil was standing outside the door, hopping from foot to foot in a manner that he had learned generally got people’s attention, waiting for someone to let him in. Polly groaned internally. Couldn’t Huckle have shut him in the house for once? Well obviously he couldn’t; she couldn’t either. One, it was cruel, and two, he would go and revenge-poo in her shoes. But still, now, of all times. A billion puffins in the world who were flock animals, she thought crossly, and she got the one with a mind of his own.

Old Mrs Hackett was making her slow way up the harbour, pulling a shopping trolley. She came in every day about this time for half a loaf of brown, because she lived alone and liked a tin of vegetable soup and toast for her supper, so every morning Polly sold her half a loaf of bread at half price and threw the rest away. She had no doubt Malcolm wouldn’t approve of this strategy either.

Malcolm had got halfway to the door, trying to look dignified, but was obviously fighting a losing battle with himself. He turned back.

‘Actually,’ he said, ‘I will take two… I mean four of those doughnuts. And that little loaf with the bits in it. And a slice of that stuff with the cheese. I mean two slices. I just need to do… quality control.’

Jayden wrapped them all up efficiently, without a word.

‘And two buns.’

Polly’s heart sank. The Little Beach Street Bakery made the same amount of money every day, more or less, because they stayed open until they’d sold all their stock, then they shut. If you wanted something specific, you knew you had to come early. But if Malcolm was simply taking it all away, they were going to lose quite a bit of money. And she had absolutely no doubt he would have something to say about it if their takings were noticeably down, without necessarily connecting it to him walking out with his pockets overflowing with doughnuts.

Mrs Hackett was at the door now.

‘Hello there, Neil me lover,’ Polly heard her say from behind the heavy glass. She’d have to open the door for her too, she knew. Mrs Hackett had arthritis in her hands and wasn’t as strong as she’d once been. But she was a lovely old woman who’d taught at the school when it had still been open and was known by everyone in town. Meanwhile, Malcolm was juggling the packages Jayden was giving him one on top of the other.

With a sigh, and a warning look at her puffin, Polly pushed open the door.

‘Hello, Mrs Hackett,’ she said. She tried to be quick, but you couldn’t hurry Mrs Hackett, who in any case was pulling her trolley over the cobblestones and also wearing a floppy hat that would get stuck if Polly didn’t open the door a bit wider.

Neil eeped loudly and jubilantly and hopped into the shop, to a chorus of hellos from everybody there. Malcolm watched, clearly incredulous.

‘What’s this bird doing in here?’ he said. ‘We’ve already had a dog in, and dogs aren’t allowed in food shops, I’d have expected you to know that, Pauline.’

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