The weekly school assembly meeting in the main hall at Lushers College for Ladies was as boring as the last assembly and the one before that. The Principal, Mrs Clutch, praised the good works of the favoured few and prattled on, as usual, about gloves and hats while the girls in the audience passed notes in conspiratorial silence.
Jane Thomas was sitting next to her friend and rowing companion Ruth, while Annabelle Purvis and the brat-pack maintained their distance by sitting at the other end of the row. On their way into the hall that morning, Jane and Ruth had both noticed the excessively chirpy way the brat-pack members were fluttering around their horse queen.
“Finally, I have some excellent news,” the Principal proudly declared. “We will soon have our Equestrian Centre as the result of a very generous donation from Annabelle Purvis’s parents, Mr and Mrs Ray Purvis. The Centre will, of course, be appropriately named.”
“Tinker, after the brains in the family, the horse.” Ruth whispered to Jane, causing a ripple of giggles from the surrounding girls and a glare from the brat pack.
Ray Purvis knew the turning of the first sod for the Purvis Equestrian Centre would be an ideal opportunity for him to pursue the purchase of the Thomas deli. After all, he thought to himself, Annabelle and the Thomas girl went to the same school. Ray told his wife Raelene to put the Thomas family on the invitation list.
“Aw Dad,” Annabelle whined, “She’s a dag. Everyone knows I hate her.”
“I don’t care; I want Dean Thomas to be there.” Ray Purvis insisted. “Might as well get something for my money.”
“You are cordially invited to join the official party at the inauguration of the Purvis Equestrian Centre,” Jane Thomas read aloud to her parents. The whole idea horrified Jane, she was only going because it was compulsory for everyone in the same year as Annabelle Purvis to attend, and now it looked like she would have to sit on a stage with the Principal and other dignitaries.
The effect of the invitation on Jane’s father couldn’t have been more different. Dean Thomas was flattered to be invited to accompany one of the country’s most successful businessmen. A man, he told his wife and daughter, that he liked and respected.
“The ‘official party’, how about that!” Dean said proudly.
“I know dad, I can read,” Jane replied, resigned to her fate. At least the day might be an opportunity for her parents to meet Ruth’s father.
The day of the inauguration arrived and for the first time in years Thomas Delicatessen and Fine foods was closed on a Saturday. Dean, with a greater degree of mania than usual, had got up early, washed and polished the old Holden ute and was ready an hour before it was time to leave.
Jane got dressed slowly; cursing Annabelle Purvis for condemning her to what she felt would be one of the worst days of her life. Just before leaving, she consoled herself by putting Annabelle’s name into the freezer compartment of the kitchen fridge once again.
Everyone agreed that the equestrian centre would be a perfect addition to the small semi-rural holding the school owned on the outskirts of the city. The property was already used as a sporting and outward-bound complex, with basic accommodation for twenty or so students and staff.
One of the sports fields was the designated site for the riding arena and the proposed stables. Preparations for the inauguration had all been made; a marquee erected, caterers appointed and two of Annabelle’s favourite horses groomed and tasselled for the occasion.
On the official dais stood a speaker’s lectern in front of a row of plastic chairs, each with a card bearing the name of its designated occupant, the hard plastic of each the chair softened for the delicate dignitary rump by the addition of a cushion. No such luxury had been added for those lesser individuals destined to sit in the rows of chairs facing the dais.
Between the dais and the audience, was an area of grass enclosed with a ribbon strung between four posts, each topped with a fluttering school flag. Near the grass, on a small table, was a small garden trowel, chrome plated for the occasion.
Ray Purvis watched Dean Thomas drive into the property and carefully park the Holden ute between a Bentley and the latest model BMW. He suggested his wife and daughter might like to check on the horses and then walked over to greet the Thomas family.
After the barest of introductions, Jane suggested to her mother that they go for a walk and set off in search of her best friend, Ruth, leaving the two men alone.
Ray knew he had plenty of time and so allowed Dean Thomas to initiate the conversation and set its pace. It couldn’t have worked better. After some idle chat about the weather, the property and the proposed equestrian centre, Dean tentatively asked if he could get Ray’s opinion on a matter of business.
Purvis could barely contain his glee, “What are mates are for, Dean?” he replied. “Fire away.”
Dean explained that he and the wife had some money saved which they wished to put aside for their daughter’s education. “We’ve been thinking of a property trust with Regal Mortgage.”
“A wise decision. You’d be hard pressed to find a better rate of return and your money’s nice and safe,” Ray assured him, smoothly outlining how the company had grown into a highly respected financial institution under the chairmanship of Sir Murray St Clair.
“They certainly look very solid in the ads,” Dean said. “I just wanted to make sure there was something to back it up.”
“Solid as a rock,” Purvis said confidently. “Since Sir Murray took over, he’s spread their interests over quite a range of projects. As a matter of fact, Regal’s providing half the finance for the new shopping centre.” Purvis added, casually moving the conversation on to his proposed purchase of the Thomas deli.
In the next episode, “What goes around”, Annabelle and her friends set a trap for Jane and Ray gets a surprise drenching.