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This had to be some horribly realistic nightmare. It couldn't be happening. It couldn't.
Daisy closed her eyes and pinched her arm.
When it hurt, the sick feeling in her stomach intensified, and she opened her eyes again to face the facts.
Someone really had broken into the fairground museum. Several people—and pretty drunk, too, judging by the number of smashed bottles around the gallopers and the vomit sprayed nearby. Yobs who'd thought it would be a laugh to cut off the horses' tails and spray-paint obscene graffiti along their sides. And they'd used the café as a coconut shy and lobbed stones through the plate glass, wrecking it.
Daisy had always been practical and could fix almost anything, but she couldn't fix this—at least, not fast enough. No way could she open the fairground today. It would take days to sort out this mess and make it safe for children and families again.
Who on earth would do something like this? It was completely beyond her. Why would anyone want to wreck such a beautiful piece of machinery, an important piece of heritage, just for kicks?
With shaking hands, Daisy grabbed her mobile phone and called the police to report the damage.
When she'd finished, she called her uncle. She hated having to call him on his day off—the day when she was supposed to be in charge and opening up—but this had stopped being a normal Sunday. And she wasn't the only one who had a huge stake in the museum; Bill had given it half a lifetime.
'Bill, it's Daisy. I'm so sorry to ring you at this time on a Sunday morning, but…' She swallowed hard, not knowing what to say, how to tell him such awful news.
'Daisy, are you all right? What's happened?'
'Vandals must've got in last night. I don't know how.' Daisy knew beyond all doubt that she'd locked up properly the night before. 'But there's a lot of broken glass and they've damaged the gallopers.' She bit her lip. 'The police are on their way. We'll have to stay closed for at least today, probably tomorrow as well.'
This would have to happen so early in the season. As they ran the museum on a shoestring, this was going to put a major hole in their budget. It could all be fixed, but it would take time, and they'd have to pay the insurance excess, which wouldn't be small. Not to mention the missed takings until the fairground was back in action. Disappointed tourists might be put off ever coming back to the museum, and they'd tell their friends, too, who would then shelve their own planned visit. And that would hit future takings.
Without a decent amount of visitors through the gates, there wouldn't be money for their planned restoration programme. The ride she'd managed to rescue last autumn would have another year for rust to creep through it, another year that might mean it was too late to save it. So instead of having a working set of vintage chair-o-planes that would absolutely thrill their visitors they'd be left with a heap of useless scrap metal. All that money wasted, and she'd been the one who'd stuck her neck out and persuaded Bill to buy it in the first place. So much for proving that she could take over when Bill retired in a couple of years. She'd spent money they should've kept as reserves in case of situations like this.
'The police want statements from me, obviously, as I'm the one who discovered it. But they said they'd like to talk to you as well. I'm sorry, Bill.'
'All right, love. I'm on my way,' Bill reassured her. 'I'll be there in twenty minutes.'
'Thanks. I'll put up some signs saying we're closed today and then start ringing round the staff. See you in a bit.' Daisy slid the phone back into her pocket and stared at the gallopers, the Victorian roundabout that her great-grandfather had built, complete with its original fairground organ. Part of her wanted to go over to each of the mutilated horses in turn and hug them, tell them that everything was going to be OK. Stupid, she knew. Apart from anything else, it might damage any evidence the yobs had left behind. And the horses were wooden, had no feelings. But she'd grown up with them, could remember riding them as a toddler, and it felt as if someone just had smashed something from her childhood and trampled on it.
She'd spent ten years of her life helping to build this place up: ten years when she'd taken a tough course in mechanical engineering, having to justify herself to her parents, to her tutors, to the other students on the course. Ten years when she'd had to persuade people that she was doing the right thing. Half the time they'd thought they knew better, and Stuart had even made her choose between the fairground and him.
Not that it had been much of an ultimatum. Any man who wanted to change her and stop her doing what she loved wasn't the right man for her. She knew she'd made the right choice, turning him down. The right choice for both of them. He was married with small children, now, children that he regularly brought to the fairground.
Funny how he could see what she saw in it now.
But it was too late. Even if Stu hadn't been married, she wasn't interested any more. When her next two boyfriends had turned out to be from the same mould as him—wanting her to change and be a girly girl instead of a skilled mechanic—she'd decided to cut her losses and concentrate on her work. At least here she'd been accepted for who she was—once she'd persuaded the older volunteers that she was a chip off her grandmother's block. She'd proved that she could listen and work hard, and that she was good at her job.
She'd fixed the notice to the gates stating that the fairground was closed due to unavoidable circumstances and was sitting at her desk, working her way through the list of volunteers, when Bill and Nancy walked in. Bill was grim-faced.
'I can't believe this,' he said when she put the phone down. 'I'd like to get my hands on whoever did it and give them a bloody good hiding.'
'I'd rather stake them out, smear them in jam and leave them to the wasps,' Daisy said. 'Or maybe use the road-roller and squish them. How could they do it? I mean, what did they get out of it?' Her fists balled in anger and frustration. 'I just don't understand why anyone would do something like that.'
'I know, love.' Bill hugged her. 'All that work everyone's put in, wrecked.'
'And all the people who were planning to come here today—they'll be so disappointed.' She dragged in a breath. 'Maybe I should ring Annie.' Her best friend was the features editor of the local newspaper. 'She'll know how to get it onto the radio news-desk, so it'll save some people a wasted journey.'
'Good idea, love,' Nancy said.
'I've been ringing round and telling everyone to stay at home today,' Daisy explained. 'So far, everyone's said to call them when the police say we can start clearing up and they'll come in and help.'
'We're lucky. We've got a good crowd.' Bill sighed. 'You call Annie, and Nancy and I will keep going with the volunteers' list.'
'I'll put the kettle on first,' Nancy said. 'I know we've got milk in the office fridge; I'll go and get some more later, or when they let us back in the café, but it'll keep us going for now.'
Annie turned up in the middle of the police interviews with chocolate cake and a photographer. 'Cake because it makes everyone feel better, and photographs because this is probably going to make the front page. And you're perfect for it, Daze.'
'You want photographs of me?' Daisy asked, mystified. 'Why? I mean, doesn't the scene out there speak for itself?'
'You know what they say—a picture paints a thousand words,' Annie said. 'And you're really photogenic, Daze—plus you wear your heart on your sleeve, so everyone's going to be able to see how upset you are. Your face will get a huge sympathy vote.'
'I don't want sympathy. I want my fairground back the way it should be,' Daisy told her.
'I know, hon, and it will be,' Annie soothed. 'The local radio and television will pick up on this. You can get the word out through them and the paper that you're closed for the rest of the week, and it'll also remind people that you're here. With any luck, you'll get tons more visitors than normal next weekend because they'll want to come and rubberneck.'
Daisy grimaced. 'Annie, that's horrible.'
'It's human nature,' Annie said. 'You know, that policeman over there keeps giving you the eye. Give him a smile.'
Annie!' Daisy looked at her best friend in disbelief. The fairground was in trouble and Annie was thinking about fixing her up with a man?
'Daze, working here you don't exactly get to meet many single men, let alone men below the age of fifty,' Annie said, sounding completely unrepentant. 'Seize the day. He's very cute. And he's definitely interested.'
Daisy blew out a breath. 'Well, I'm not interested in him, thanks very much.'
'Mind if I go and have a chat to him?'
'Do what you like, as long as you don't try to fix me up on a blind date with him.' Daisy scowled. 'Not everyone wants a life partner, you know.'
And you're happy with just your cat?' Annie asked, looking unconvinced.
'Yes, I am. Titan's good company and he's not demanding.'
Annie scoffed. 'Not demanding? This is the cat who has a plush bed in every room of your house and a taste for fresh poached salmon.'
'OK, but he's still not as demanding as a man would be.' Her cat didn't want her to change and be more feminine. He loved her for herself, not for who he wanted her to be. 'Though he's not very happy with me right now because I've locked him in my office to make sure he doesn't get broken glass in his paws.' She frowned. 'Why are we talking about this? Annie, I know you're happy with Ray—and I'm really happy for you—but I'm fine as I am, really.'
'Hmm.'Annie looked at her. 'Right. I'm going to chat to that policeman, because I need some information for my copy. And while I'm gone Si's going to take a picture of you looking distraught.'
'I'm not sure it's a good idea to have my picture in the paper.'
'Tough. I've already cleared it with Bill. He says you're prettier than he is, so you're doing it.' She smiled.
Daisy sighed. 'You're such a hard-nosed journo.'
'Annie Sylvester, Super-Hack: that's me.'Annie gave her a hug. 'And once the police say we can start clearing up I'll give you a hand dealing with the glass and scrubbing all the paint off. I'll give Ray a ring and he'll come and muck in, too.'
'Thanks. I owe you,' Daisy said.
'Course you don't. That's what best mates are for. You'd do the same for me.' She paused. 'Have you called the rest of your family yet?'
'No.' Daisy lifted her chin. She was perfectly capable of running her own life, and most people realised early on that she was the kind of person who fixed things efficiently and without a fuss, but her family still insisted on treating her as the baby, the one who had to be bailed out of things. It drove her crazy, even more so than their insistence that career progression and earning a good salary was more important than job satisfaction. If she called them, of course they'd come—but she'd be living up to all their prejudices. 'Bill, Nancy and I can manage.'
'Sometimes,' Annie said softly, 'you can be too proud, you know.'
'Let's agree to disagree.' Daisy sighed. 'Look, I love them, and we get on fine—most of the time. But I don't want a lecture or an I-told-you-so speech, and that'd be the price of them helping. You know that, too. So it's better to keep things smooth and keep them away from it.'
'If you say so, hon. But wouldn't it be better that they heard the news from you than saw it on the front page of the paper tomorrow morning?'
Daisy knew her best friend was right. 'OK. I'll talk to them tonight, I promise.' When she'd fixed as much as she could.
The rest of the day seemed to be spent giving statements and making cups of tea while they waited for the scene-of-crime team to finish gathering evidence so they could start fixing the mess the vandals had left. By the time the light had gone, the café windows were boarded up temporarily, the glass had been swept up and they'd made a start on removing the graffiti.
But Monday morning brought more bad news. 'The insurance company says we're not covered,' Daisy told Bill, settling on the edge of his desk. 'Apparently vandalism's been excluded from our policy for three years.' She sighed. 'It seems they changed our policy terms when Derek was ill, and nobody picked it up at the time.' Derek was Bill's best friend and their insurance broker.
'So we have to pay for the damage ourselves?'
She nodded grimly. 'They can recommend a glazier, but we'll have to pay the full cost of repairs.'
'And plate glass costs a fortune.' Bill muttered a curse under his breath and shook his head. 'I know we can't afford not to fix the café, but we can't afford to fix it, either.'
She dragged in a breath. 'Because I talked you into buying the chair-o-planes.'
'Love, they were a bargain, and we would've kicked ourselves if we'd missed the chance. It's not that.' Bill sighed. 'The way the stock markets have gone, my investments are worth practically nothing now, even if I cash them in—and you know as well as I do we run this place on a shoestring. If we go to the bank and ask for a loan, they'll laugh us out of the office because we couldn't pay it back.'
'Not from the museum takings,' Daisy said. 'But there's my house.' The two-up-two-down terraced house her grandmother had left her. 'I can talk the bank into giving me a mortgage to release some of the equity.'
'On the salary you draw from here, they wouldn't lend you a penny.' Bill shook his head. 'And I wouldn't let you get into debt for this anyway. No, love.'