Father O'Hara eyed the fete committee at the final meeting before this year's event. His pastiche smile greeted them all: the doddering parish council; the decrepit, moustachioed W.I. members; the entourages from the cubs, scouts and guides; the unshakable do-gooders who exaggerated placing their envelopes onto the collection plate each week. In the priest's mind's eye, the word 'Pharisees' floated; he hoped it didn't corrupt his smile.
In turn, he addressed each respective member, assuring and ensuring last minute prep sailed plainly. Their fawning turned his stomach, over-egging their pitches, conspicuously sycophantic. If this was The Apprentice, he'd fire the lot.
Irony drew his first genuine smile of the evening. It wasn't as if, for all their efforts, they'd break the bank with their combined takings on the day. With that thought, his grin spread, recalling Owen Newitt's suggestion to just have a whip-round and forego the faff of the fete in Dibley of yonder.
Silence around the table interrupted his reverie. If he'd had a conscience, he'd have blushed. But he hadn't and wanted to wind up A.O.B. A.S.A.P. Midsummer loomed; race meetings ran well into early evening. John Doody, a fairweather parishioner, had given Father O'Hara a dead cert for the 6:30 at Wolverhampton and he needed to get his bet on. If only the fete committee had more parishioners like John…
So, at 6:11, Father O'Hara thanked everyone for their wonderful input and blessed them on their way. Before any of them could waylay him, he was out through the vestry, disrobed and had Paddy Power loading on his laptop by 6:19. Twenty minutes later, his horse finishing nowhere and his account balance £25 lighter, he revised his thinking about filling the committee with tipsters of John's ilk.
Despite his overindulgence in Tullamore Dew, Father O'Hara hadn't slept well. Roasted barley clogged his sinuses as he dressed to take confession. It was only apathy that kept his face straight before those of his flock who bared their souls to him: pitiful, bizarre and downright criminal the lot. What burdens would they offload this morning?
First in was Josephine Doody (it always was). "Bless me Far-der, for I have sinned. It's bin seven days since me last confession…"
Father O'Hara ummed and arred in the right places between her trifling misdemeanours, almost by rote. But then she surprised him out of his half-sleep.
"I lied to you, Far-der," she mumbled.
"How so, child?" he asked, genuinely interested.
"Me prep for the bake stall's not going so grand. What with me man and his horses, I'm a bit short on the ingredients, Far-der."
Father O'Hara didn't need reminding about 'her man' John and his horses, but he sympathised. "Leave it with me, Jo, mm, child. I'm sure if you leave a note at the presbytery asking for what you need, the Lord will provide." 'And he'd provide more ably if I didn't listen to your husband's dead certs,' he thought.
The unfortunate Mrs Doody dismissed with a meagre penance, Patrick Donnolly was next in the confessional. The troubled youth's permanent cloak of residual cannabis wafted through the grill, silently announcing his presence.
In one way, this was a good thing. Patrick knew not to enter the confessional unless there was no one else left to seek the Lord's forgiveness. Conversely, Patrick's visit could only mean trouble. To break the chain of monotony, Father O'Hara wasn't averse to a bit of that.
There was no preamble with Patrick, "Father," he started, edgy, "you've got to help me. I've landed 10 kilo of opium poppy seed and the filth are on to me. Is there any chance you can hold onto it for me?"
This was a bridge too far, even for Father O'Hara. He was just about to tell Patrick where to hide them when a delicious idea came to him.
"You know what you're asking of me, Patrick?" he asked.
"Yes, Father, but I'm desperate," he begged.
"Would you be averse to me sequestering some, if I were to help you keep them safe, Patrick?"
"As long as it's not too much, Father."
"In that case, leave them in the confessional box. God bless you, and be on your way."
"I don't know how to thank you, Far-der," Josephine gushed as they decanted the shopping from the boot of his Nissan.
"Think nothing of it, Josephine. And I insist you use my kitchen to cook your wares," he said.
"It's cleaned down, but you might want to bring your own utensils. I fear mine won't be up to your demanding standards."
At that, Father O'Hara took the shopping in; Josephine trotted home to fetch her Tupperware, baking trays and everything she'd need for the big day.
During that short absence, Father O'Hara liberally sprinkled his 'cut' of Patrick's poppy seed haul throughout the unwitting Josephine's pie, bun and cake ingredients.
True, she did comment that the sesame, pepper and poppy seeds they'd bought looked darker than usual. But when Father O'Hara insisted it was so because they were organic, she accepted it unquestioningly and cracked on.
The fete was indeed a success. It's amazing how a little natural morphine and codeine can not only relax uptight parishioners' attitudes, but also the grip on their wallets. The bake stall sold out; many other stallholders posted record profits for the day, too.
The congregation walking into the next morning's mass were, understandably, a tad more downbeat than usual. But the muffins that Father O'Hara had asked Josephine to bake but not sell at the fete (priced at a 'giveaway' 50p each and placed in the narthex inside the front doors) soon alleviated their spirits.
Again, the flock dug deep, contributing to two generous rounds of collection. As Father O'Hara thanked everyone on the way out of mass, all he could think about was the recipe for unleavened bread he'd found on YouTube. It was time he had a go at this baking lark himself…