After all the excitement of Sam's rescue I returned to my little house. I feel a great sense of anticlimax now that it's all over. I won't get to finish the HG Wells I'm reading, but I'll re-read my own copy back in my warm flat. Time to say goodbye; everything is back on track.
Yet somehow I still feel…unfinished.
I know it's partly because I want to say goodbye to everyone at the station; to say good luck to Sam and Foyle, and to wish Chris well.
This is dangerous thinking. I'm too close to these people; they have become real to me and I've realised far too late that I have become attached to them.
Definitely time to go.
I've never been particularly tactile, but now I wander around the house, touching things; the kitchen table worn smooth with years of use, the wooden draining board, pale with repeated washing, the antique-by-my-time cooker and oven looking shiny and almost new, the books along the shelf, prematurely yellowing at the edges – probably from cigarette smoke -, the beautifully polished wooden clock ticking softly to itself, the much-rubbed balustrade a shade paler than the dark barley twist banisters of the stairs and up those same stairs, the squeaky bed and its cool crisp sheets.
In all too short a time this house had become quite dear to me; a living museum to be sure, but a home too.
I still feel restless. My wandering becomes prowling.
My eyes come to rest on my suitcase.
I have a sudden thought.
"I owe you an apology."
I looked up from my typewriter to see Chris – Foyle – standing in the doorway. He came into the room and stood in front of my desk.
Yes, I know, I should be gone by now, but I wanted one last day.
"Mmm, for standing you up last night. Carlo said that you looked very sad, seated all by yourself."
My gentle laugh was a work of art.
"Don't be daft; rescuing Sam and getting the poor young woman sorted out was far more important than a meal out. I'm just really thankful that she's okay – that you're both all right."
"You're being very gracious."
I waved it away.
"You know Carlo; he thinks my heart is broken and sees what he expects to see. I assumed – correctly, as it turns out - that you had pressing police business to attend to and so was not at all put out. Any less than happy expression he caught was simply due to the fact that I have been recalled to the family business and will have to leave shortly."
For once, Chris' famous poker face let him down. He looked as disappointed as I felt.
I carried on typing, which was stupid, because it was all nonsense, but I didn't want him to see how much I was bothered. I'd start again after he left the room. I made my voice sound quite chirpy and upbeat.
"How is Sam?"
The pause was long enough to be not only pregnant, but to have delivered twins.
"Erm…fine, she's fine. Told her to take the day off. Not going to, of course."
"But typical Sam, though."
I glanced up at Chris, but saw only Foyle. I typed more drivel.
"You should take her out to lunch; food always distracts her."
That got a glimmer of a smile out of him. Another pause. Without seeming to move, he rocked on his feet.
"So, my apology is accepted?"
"Of course. Don't give it another thought."
Foyle nodded once; just a small dip of the head, before turning to leave. I pretended not to notice him glance back at me.
As soon as he left the room several letters of the typewriter got caught up and jammed.
I swore a bit under my breath as I freed the stalks. I snatched the report out of the typewriter and tore it to shreds, dumping a fair bit of my angry misery into the effort. I chucked the bits in the bin and then put my hands to my face, hoping, I suppose, to hold my emotions in.
I was on the verge of a big 'waa!' when I heard a noise from the room the other side of the mirror. It was as good as a bucket of cold water over my head. It could only be Chris next door; I hadn't heard anyone else arrive in the corridor, and I'd been too busy shredding to hear if he had left completely.
Don't care – I'm fine – don't care – I'm fine – don't care…
The litany wasn't true, but it calmed me down. I know he cares enough to check up on me, but that's not the same as love. I can't afford to let him think that I care too much.
Even if I do.
I finished fixing the fresh report sheet into the typewriter and took myself off to the Ladies. The door to the room next to mine was closed. When I came back ten minutes later, it was slightly open. Whoever had been in there was gone.
I'd only just started typing again when I felt a tingling in the inside of my left forearm, about three inches from my wrist. It only lasted for ten seconds and then stopped. I rubbed the spot and sighed. I looked at my watch and noted the time.
I'd almost forgotten about the TPS. A small locator gizmo that had been injected subcutaneously before I left my own time, the Temporal Positioning System is similar in principle to the old global positioning system that used to track vehicles and stuff before the advent of the neural net. The TPS enables each team to keep track of their agents, wherever they are in time and space.
Very handy. Also useful is the early warning tingle that advises the agent that retrieval is thirty-eight hours away. It'll give another warning in twenty-four hours, then after another twelve, and the last one half an hour before. Each warning will get slightly more insistent. I've told this to agents over the years and not thought much of it, but if the next three reminders ramp up the wattage, it could get quite painful. The TPS is powered by my own electrolytes, like a battery. If you think that it wouldn't provide enough 'oomph', you've obviously never had a static shock off someone. Because it's powered by me, it also can tell if I'm dead, in which case an emergency retrieval is activated. It won't do me any good (Hello? Dead here?), but it will prevent anyone else finding inappropriate technology about my personage.
But enough of the fun stuff. I now know that retrieval is slightly less than thirty-eight hours away. I did a quick calculation. Absolutely sodding great - that means I'll have to be at the rendezvous point at midnight in a town that has an eleven pm curfew. My boss has obviously established that I have corrected the timeline and it's safe to bring me back, but I wished he'd thought it through a bit better.
Time to say goodbye.
I'm ashamed to say that I was significantly slower typing up the reports during the morning. Only Sam's bouncy presence cheered me up at lunchtime, when she stuck her head around the door and grinned.
"Come on slowcoach; doesn't do to keep Mr Foyle waiting."
I looked up and there she was; spick, span, and, yes, tickety-boo.
I couldn't help grinning. She didn't look like a great-times-eight grandmother.
She nodded, her grin widening.
"Rather! We're going to the Royal Victoria; it's a treat because I didn't get blown up. Come on; spit spot or he'll go without us!"
"How can he do that? You're his driver."
While we were bantering, I quickly checked Sam's diary in my memory. Had she mentioned that she and Foyle had gone out for a meal together after the Bexhill incident?
Yes, she had.
Dear Mr F took me to the RV for lunch! A celebration for not ending up in bits. It was lovely, just the two of us; almost romantic, but I shouldn't say that. Despite the beastly war the food was quite good. We had…
Sam went on to list the modest meal in detail. It actually made me feel peckish.
"Well, the Royal Victoria. Sounds rather splendid, I think I'd like to see what it's like there…"
I still had Sam's diary in the forefront of my mind and to my surprised dismay I saw the words written there melt and flow, changing into new sentences.
Went to the RV to celebrate not ending up in bits yesterday. It was quite fun, Lily can be very amusing, if a little odd, but much as I enjoyed her company, I almost think that I would have preferred it if it was just dear Mr F and me. I feel quite mean to even think it, but I do think that he likes her rather too much.
My gaze flew to Sam's face. She was still politely waiting for me to finish my sentence, but armed with my inside information, I could see the conflict in her eyes.
I sighed with real regret.
"…but I'm afraid it will have to wait until later. I have several reports to finish before lunch. Have a drink for me; a toast to your longevity!"
Sam had the grace to look convincingly crestfallen.
"Oh, must you work? Please can't you come with us?"
I shook my head and watched the words in my mind flow back into their previous form – thank goodness!
"I'd love to, Sam, really I would, but this needs to be done today."
Still she hesitated, but she was clearly weakening.
I waved towards the door.
"Scoot! The boss is waiting, you said so yourself."
With a last cheery 'Bye then", Sam left for her lunch date.
Cripes, even now things were still in a dangerous state of flux. I didn't realise that I could still mess things up. In many respects it would probably be better if I could be retrieved now. I can't remember the last time that I felt this conflicted.
I finished up the last couple of reports, took them to Foyle's office and left them on his desk.
I took a long look around, committing everything to memory. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, taking in the combined aroma of old paper, polished wood, leather and ink; the 'office' smell that didn't completely overwhelm the subtle whiff of Chris' soap or cologne, whatever it was that permeated his hankies and made my knees feel weak.
Goodbye, my dear Christopher.
I opened my eyes, gave one final look, and left the room.
I collected my coat, saying a casual ''bye' to the Desk Sergeant on duty. I should imagine he'll assume that I'm off to a late lunch.
I walked in to Hastings proper and found a bank that I knew still existed in my time. I opened a savings account – still very easy in 1940 – and deposited nearly all the money that I had brought with me under my real name, I just kept sufficient back for an emergency. I was assured that my investment would prosper and grow, despite the war.
My next stop was with a reputable looking solicitors firm. An hour or so later I walked back to my place, taking the longer walk via the seafront, past the silent guns and their guards, then finally up the hill. It was sunny, warm and pleasantly quiet.
I felt almost peaceful.
That is, until I got within sight of my front door and saw that Chris was waiting there. I couldn't even veer off and pretend that I hadn't noticed him - he had already seen me.
I concentrated on finding the key in my bag rather than look at him watching me.
I was far too aware of twitching curtains nearby to keep us both standing on the doorstep, so as soon as I'd got the door open I invited him in.
Chris removed his hat as he entered the front room, but didn't make any move to sit down. I wasn't certain if this was manners or reluctance, but then, I didn't know why he was here yet.
"Please, have a seat."
He remained standing.
"Aren't you going to ask me why I'm here?"
I felt my hopes rise and a grin trying to sneak out. I squashed them both.
"Well, I was trying to find a tactful way of asking if I'd made a typing mistake, but couldn't come up with a way that didn't sound like I was -"
"Why didn't you come with us to the Royal Victoria? I know Sam asked you, just as I know that you didn't have that much more work to finish."
I bet I looked as surprised as I felt. It was unusual for Chris to cut in; he was unfailingly polite, especially to women.
"If you must know, I thought it would be better if just the two of you went."
I avoided his eyes.
"Well, it wasn't anything to do with me, really. Sam called you, you rescued her."
"Nonsense. I didn't specify that you had to be involved to accompany us. It occurs to me that if you hadn't detained me, I wouldn't have been in my office to get Sam's call, so you were involved."
That's what you get for fancying a detective. Too smart for his own good.
I could hardly mention that I felt as if I'd be playing gooseberry between the two of them. It's far too early for Chris – Foyle – to admit his feelings for Sam, and she definitely won't want the cat out of the bag yet.
I need thinking time and space. Ironic, really.
I made myself look at Chris.
"Would you like a cup of tea? I was just going to make one for myself."
He actually looked like he'd bitten off an epithet. He shook his head.
"No, no tea, thank you. Just some answers."
"Well, I'm having tea. Come through to the kitchen if you wish, or have a seat."
I turned without waiting for an answer and went into the kitchen. I took the kettle off the stove and shoved it under the cold tap. I was so busy thinking that the kettle overfilled and I had to tip some out. I hadn't heard Chris follow me and assumed that he had taken a seat in the other room, so when I turned away from the sink I wasn't expecting him to be standing behind me, and smacked him right in the chest with the wet kettle. Water slopped everywhere, but mostly over his jacket, tie, waistcoat and the front of me.
I was horrified. And soaked.
"Ohmigod, I'm so sorry! I didn't hear you follow me."
Chris brushed ineffectually at his chest in an effort to stop the water soaking in.
"Quite all right. My fault."
I quickly dumped the kettle on the stove, grabbed a tea towel and dabbed at Chris' clothes.
"No, no, it's my fault, I was miles away, I'm so sorry. God, you're soaking."
Our hands collided as we got in each other's way, until Chris grabbed my hand and held it still.
We looked at each other in one of those endless moments so beloved by romantic fiction. Beloved, I guess, because it does actually happen just like that.
I wanted to weep.
But instead I tried to be practical and act as if nothing magical had happened.
"You can't go home like this. Take the wet things off and I'll dry them in -"
No handy household drier in 1940. Sonic or even tumble. Bugger.
"…in front of the fire. Yes, I'll get them fire going, while you get off – them off, your things. Off. Yes. Fire. Going now."
I'm all too aware that I'm babbling.
Chris, damn him, is amused.
I quickly get the fire going, but it will be a few minutes before it's warm enough to dry anything. Chris, ever practical, brings the clothes-horse from the scullery to put in front of the fire.
He looks quite different in shirtsleeves. More relaxed and approachable.
Though not as approachable as he did in pyjamas.
Note to Self; Stop thinking about Chris out of his clothes.
I'm uncomfortably aware that my wet blouse is not only cold, but probably see-through.
I point over my shoulder in the direction of the stairs.
"I'll, um, just get out of, that is, I'll get another towel. Back in a moment."
I run away. Again.
Upstairs I realise that I don't have another blouse fit to wear. I grab my dressing gown instead, and rummaged for a couple of towels in the linen cupboard, before trotting back downstairs.
"Sorry, Chris, I couldn't find a spare -"
I stumbled to a halt.
The front door was open – obviously I hadn't heard the knocker while my head had been in the linen cupboard – and Sam stood on the step, her face white with shock.
In all honesty, I could see how it looked to her.
Chris had answered the door and was sans jacket, waistcoat and tie, and I, to all intents and purposes, appeared to be dishabille. With the towels in my hands, Sam wouldn't see that I was still half-dressed underneath my dressing gown.
And I'd just called him Chris.
Sam didn't say a word. She just turned and walked away. Quickly.
I went to go after her, but Chris stopped me. He quietly closed the front door.
"What are you doing? I have to explain!"
Chris shook his head.
"You would do no good to run after her. Let her go for now."
"But you don't understand! She mustn't think that anything is going on between us!"
Hardly were the words out of my mouth before I realised what I'd said.
Chris' searching gaze was very Foyle.
"Setting aside for the moment the fact that even I am not sure what is happening between us, what has it got to do with Sam?"
"I can't explain. Please go after her. Tell her whatever you need to; hell, the truth would do; I got us both soaked and you were drying off."
Chris indicated his clothes.
"I'm afraid that I am just as poorly placed to go after her as you are."
He was right, of course. The neighbours, again.
"Okay. You stay here and dry off, I'll find Sam."
I didn't give him chance to reply.
I ran back upstairs, dumped my gown, shouldered my way into the creased spare blouse and put my cardigan on. It would have to do.
Using a spot of 'unseemly haste' I galloped back downstairs.
Chris looked a little bemused at my quick reappearance, but nodded once when I gave him my key and asked him to sort the fire and lock up if I wasn't back before he needed to leave. I opened the front door.
I looked back. His expression conveyed more than his words.
"I still have questions."
So do I.
I left before I changed my mind and stayed.
A few minutes later I turned onto the road leading to the beach.
Fortunately Sam had chosen to walk along the seafront; although she was a good way ahead of me, I could still see her. I started a modest jog, the only thing I could manage in my shoes.
I slowed to a walk before she would hear my heels tapping. Sam's sturdy brogues would put quite a distance between us if she chose to run.
"Sam! Sam! Wait up!"
She turned, looked at me, and much to my surprise, stopped and waited for me to catch up.
She was still pale, but at least she wasn't in floods of tears. I tried a small smile.
"Thanks for stopping."
She ignored the smile.
"May I ask what you want?"
I nodded, still catching my breath.
"Sam, it wasn't what you think; let me explain -"
Her expression was haughty perfection. I wish I could do that.
"You have no idea what I think, and I do not want to hear your explanation, thank you."
Despite my admiration of Sam's hauteur, a bout of sarkiness stirred within me.
"So, you don't want to hear that I accidentally soaked Mr Foyle with water from an overfull kettle and then offered to dry his clothes for him?"
Sam folded her arms.
"Why? You'd rather hear that we spent the afternoon testing the springs on the bed and the sound-proofing of the windows?
Sam was shocked out of her icy composure.
"All this debauchery despite the fact that he'd only been at the house ten minutes, tops, before you turned up?"
"Whatever Mr Foyle was doing is none of my business."
"Sam. If it was really none of your business, you wouldn't be so cross. Look, nothing was going on. I know I called him 'Chris', but we shared a table at a crowded Carlo's my first night here and I couldn't keep calling him 'Mr Foyle', it was too stuffy. Think about it – he was with you for your lunch celebration; I've spent my afternoon in town; ask the neighbours if you wish; their curtains must be a twitch with all my visitors today."
Okay, I bent the truth a little, but it was for a good cause.
Sam's stance softened a little, but she hadn't been won over by any means.
Time for a change of subject.
"What was it that you wanted me for, anyway?"
There was a long moment where I didn't think that she would answer me.
"It doesn't matter now."
"Yes, it does. Please tell me."
"Rather ironically, I felt guilty for not pressing you harder to join us for lunch at the Royal. I came to ask if you'd like to come out for a drink tonight."
Sam's frostiness had barely dipped.
"But it's quite all right. I should have realised that you were previously engaged."
"I – what? What do you mean?"
Sam looked uncomfortable but determined.
"I heard you and…and Mr Foyle, earlier today. I was coming to see you when I heard his voice from your office, apologising about standing you up last night. I wondered what was going on, but someone was coming and I didn't want to appear to be eavesdropping, so I ducked into the room next to yours…"
So it wasn't Chris I'd heard.
"Where you discovered that you could see into the next room through the two-way mirror."
Sam nodded, her cheeks pink.
"Oh, Sam. You could have just asked me."
She gave me a look that was easily interpreted.
"Forgive me for saying so, but you are a bit of an odd fish, Lily. You seem to live by quite a different set of rules to the rest of us…I couldn't possibly ask; it's absolutely none of my business."
But so dear to your heart, hmm?
I suddenly felt very weary. I turned and looked out to sea. The water appeared quiet and still. No-one could see the raging currents beneath.
I could relate.
I didn't turn back to face Sam. I felt guilty enough.
"Well, perhaps you should make it your business."
She didn't, of course. I walked back to my place; I have no idea where Sam went.
I half expected Chris to have left, but when I tried the front door it opened to reveal him sitting in the armchair, reading my book. He looked up at me, then carefully laid the book down, the piece of paper I was using as a marker neatly in place.
He stood, polite as always.
"Did you find her?"
"Didn't help though. You were right, I should have let her cool off for a while."
The concern on his face made me feel warm and fuzzy and guilty.
"Are you all right?"
Mr Mind Reader crossed the room in three paces and stood in front of me.
I was looking at the floor, so the first thing I saw was his shoes.
"Lily. Please look at me...I think that the time has come for us to talk."
I looked up from his black shoes and their smart shine, to his blue eyes.
"Okay, but I can't promise that I have any answers for you."
"Mmm, perhaps. Perhaps not. We'll see."
Quite without thought I moved a little closer to him and rested a hand on his shirtfront. I could feel the warmth of his body through the material. Without my permission my heart skipped and fluttered excitedly. I searched his face for a clue to what he was thinking.
"Just to make it clear; I have officially resigned, I no longer work for you. I have to leave soon. Very soon."
I like to think that some of the light died from his eyes at my bald statement; that he might at least miss me a little when I'm gone.
"Do you? Do you really?"
How could he, when I didn't understand it myself?
He lifted his right hand and moved back the hair that was resting against my left temple and cheek. It took a lot of willpower to stop myself from tilting my head to his hand. He'd barely touched me and yet my knees were wobbly. I really didn't want to 'talk' right now. What I wanted was to shove my dear Christopher back onto the small sofa, climb on to his lap; my knees either side of his hips, and exchange some serious kisses.
And that was just for starters.
Chris' voice was quiet.
"You are an enigma, Lily. A puzzle. I like answers to puzzles. It's partly why I do what I do."
He scanned my features closely.
"But there is also something else going on here."
I think I'm in trouble.
"Oh, don't worry, I'm quite certain that you are not working for 'the enemy', but you are working for someone. And although whatever it is that you are doing is important, it leaves you conflicted."
I hope my expression wasn't as panicked as I felt.
His hand moved from my hair to my shoulder; his touch was light and I could have been free in an instant. When he realised that I was not going to pull away, the hand turned and cupped the back of my neck. My eyes fluttered closed. Goosebumps prickled across my shoulders and down my arms – it was like electricity feathering over my skin.
I think I might have moaned.
I forced my eyes open and discovered that Chris was regarding me in a way that had my insides quivering.
The buzzing in my ears faded when I realised that his lips were moving.
"…so I find myself thinking 'Persuade her to stay'…"
I started to shake my head, but his hand still held me.
He half-frowned, closing his eyes briefly, as if in pain.
"…but you won't stay, will you, Lily? No matter what I say?"
His response is too quick – too hopeful.
"But you would? If you could?"
Shake your head girl! Tell him 'no' and mean it.
My traitorous head gave a single nod and I heard him sigh.
"Then that will have to be enough."
I wasn't aware of taking the last step that narrowed the distance between us, but I felt his other arm slide across my back and gather me closer still.
I'd like to say that his kiss didn't move me at all and that he apologised before he left.
I say I'd like to say that, but then I'd be lying.
The following day was bright and sunny; almost too picture perfect for there to be a war on. I tried to sleep in, knowing that I wouldn't be going back to the station again before I left, but it was impossible. I made a pot of tea and took a mug of the sweetened brew with me out into the back garden.
It was all very Zen.
Modern life – that is, my life, is fast. Everything is coming at you all the time; imagine a cross between...oh, I dunno, one of the really old flicks like Bladerunner, or that other one with the short guy my mum hated...I forget his name now, but it doesn't matter, it was the film with the retinal scan advertising I was thinking about. Everything greets you by name; even your lift talks to you, as if you're incapable of watching the numbers.
It's something I don't miss, all that immediacy. Despite the war, it's peaceful here. The quiet is seductive.
And the last thing I need is to be seduced.
But if there is one thing that I have learnt from my being here, it is that it's a waste of precious time waiting for the perfect moment to start following my dream. There will never be the right time to do it. I have to make time; seize it by the scruff of the neck and not let go until I'm where I want to be.
My newly determined inner coach was distracted by a barely heard knock at the front door. I was tempted to leave it unanswered, but it could only be one of two people, neither of whom I wanted to ignore.
I was pleased to see that it was Sam standing on the doorstep. She looked a little taken aback at the fact that I was not properly dressed yet; but I invited her in and offered her some tea. She accepted, probably out of habit; one never passed up a brew.
Although she wasn't her usual chatty self, she didn't appear to be holding a grudge about yesterday's events. While I poured her tea she talked about the weather and the shocking price that some shopkeepers were charging for non-ration items. I began to relax, relieved that Sam was still speaking to me. I invited her to sit with me at the table in the kitchen and she accepted.
After ten or fifteen minutes I was no closer to finding out why Sam had come to see me. She was in uniform, so was still on duty, but even so...
Just as I was about to ask, she abruptly stood up.
"Well, I must be off, duty calls and all that."
I stood up too. I didn't know what to say to ease the residual awkwardness that lingered.
"Of course. It was nice to see you. Thank you for dropping by."
I didn't want to leave things like this; I'd probably never see her again after today. I had to put a hand up to my lips to physically prevent the words from leaving my mouth.
She got as far as the door to the front room before she stopped.
Sam turned back towards me and I could see she was girding herself up for a difficult task. I wondered what it was.
"I need to ask you something quite important, Lily".
"Go ahead, fire away."
"What are your intentions towards Mr Foyle?"
Wow. I guess I should have been expecting that...
Sam nodded, her action brisk.
"Yes. You see, I have decided that you were correct yesterday when you suggested that I should make it my business. He is my boss and I respect him immensely. I wouldn't like to see him hurt in any way."
I managed a smile, although I think it would be classed as tremulous.
"I can assure you that we are in agreement there."
Sam nodded once, but seemed to be having some sort of internal debate.
"Please don't upset yourself Sam; I wouldn't dream of hurting him. You have both come to mean a great deal to me in such a short space of time. I can hardly understand it myself, but it's the truth."
She looked at me for a few seconds. Her expression gave me the impression that she was assessing the truth of my words.
"It's the War, you know. It does that."
"Yes, I suppose it did. Does."
I hoped she didn't notice my small slip. I hurried on, just in case.
"Anyway, despite what you thought was happening yesterday, I would still like to consider us friends. It would mean a lot to me."
Sam still hesitated. I wondered if I was adding more moments to her eventual realisation that she must love Foyle in order to feel this put out about someone else finding him interesting.
"You haven't answered my question."
Sam was a picture of patience.
"Your intentions. Towards Mr Foyle."
I don't think that I have ever felt this conflicted in my whole life. On one hand there was my life until now; exciting in some respects, terrifying in others – certainly my responsibilities in the Timeline were occasionally hairy, even if it didn't risk my life and limb. Well, until this little adventure, at least. But other parts of my life I know realised were stunningly boring and, I can admit at last, rather lonely. Here in the past I had found friends that I would like to have kept in my life. Friendship and...love.
Just as I opened my mouth to reply, I was zapped in my arm by the second of the TPS warnings.
I slapped my arm without thought, trying to rub the pain away. Sam's reserve dropped away as her concern surfaced. The pain was worth it just for that.
"What is the matter? Have you been stung?"
I continued to rub my arm, but I didn't pull up my sleeve.
"Possibly, but it's gone now, nothing to worry about. I'll be okay in a minute."
Sam didn't look convinced, but I changed the subject.
"I don't have all the answers for you Sam, but what I can tell you is that any attention that I paid to Mr Foyle was entirely honourable and without prejudice. I think he's a lovely man, and any woman that snaps him up will be a very lucky person. However, that lucky woman is not me."
Sam's relief was almost comical.
I followed Sam to my front door, opened it, and stood to one side so that she could leave without the whole street viewing me in PJ's.
"Yes, 'Oh' just about covers it. Your Mr F is safe and sound from me..."
Sam turned quickly in the doorway, looking a little shocked.
"He's not my Mr Foyle."
I contrived to look overly innocent.
"No? Oh, okay then. My mistake. Sorry."
I looked at Sam for the last time and tried to memorize her features. I wish I'd got a camera.
I grinned to let her know that I was supposedly joking. Her smile was uncertain.
"Goodbye, Sam. You take care."
She gave me a funny look, which I couldn't interpret, but her farewell was jolly.
I waited a moment before closing the door, but didn't leave it long enough to see if she looked back. I went back upstairs and packed my things together. I brought the case back downstairs and left it by the armchair. I got washed and dressed and tidied the house, leaving it as I'd found it.
Driven by an impulse I didn't understand, I went back into the town and wandered up the high street, turning left into Robertson Street and browsed at the limited things available in the shop windows. I had no idea what I was looking for, but I felt I'd know what it was when I saw it.
Twenty minutes later I stopped outside the pawnbrokers on the corner. It was the only shop with a plentiful display in the window. I looked at the things and my gaze was immediately drawn to a little pale blue box. It looked familiar, which was absurd, but I just couldn't take my eyes off it. The delicate trinket box rested on a silver filigree frame with tiny ball feet, and there was a tiny clasp that held the lid closed. The lid was painted with exquisite roses and the whole thing just captivated me. I knew that I had to get it.
There was no price on the item, so I feigned nonchalance as I went in the shop and looked at other stuff for a few minutes. Eventually I gave in and enquired about the box in the window. The guy behind the counter was courteous enough, but became a lot more receptive when he realised that I might be in the shop to buy instead of sell.
We haggled a little over the price – it was quite expensive, even if it was old, but I won out in the end, though it took all my 'emergency' money. The box was wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. Such extravagance in wartime!
I put the little package in my handbag and walked down to the seafront, avoiding the guarded area where the guns were sited. I looked at the sea for a long time and wondered about life, love and complications.
Eventually I walked back up towards St Helen's Road. None of the roads were named, but I'd begun to get my bearings around Hastings, and knew that this was the road that Sam had picked me up from when I arrived here. The large area of greenery that was off limits was a park; I didn't know its name now, but it became Alexandra Park later on. I'd heard from reading as I was typing 'Police Reports' that there was thought to be 'something' in the park that was kept quiet. All I knew was that I had to be in that park at midnight tonight.
When I had learned all that I could about access to the park from the road I walked back to my digs. I confess that I did wish that Chris would be there waiting for me – preferably without a warrant for my arrest – but no such luck.
I made myself a cup of tea with the last of the milk and settled down to wait. It seemed endless – the wait, not the tea. Ten pm rolled around, along with my TPS warning, that made me hop up and down and grit my teeth. I will never be so casual about briefing agents in future. The bloody TPS hurt!
Shortly after I'd calmed down, I turned off all the lights in the house and checked the blackout was secure before I opened the front door and picked up my suitcase. I was wearing dark colours, trousers with flat shoes, and trying to look like I belonged outside an hour from the curfew. I walked with purpose but not in a way designed to attract attention. The night was dark with some cloud and there wasn't much moonlight. Some of the Gods were on my side.
Twice I passed a couple of men, soldiers I think, standing in the doorway of a shop, having a sneaky smoke. I saw no light, but fortunately the smell of cigarettes carries and I was able to get around them without being seen.
I finally made it to the road at the edge of the park and knew it to be before eleven-thirty, because I hadn't had the warning go off yet. I hoped to whoever the patron saint of time travellers was that they would look kindly on my journey and not make me leap around like a looney when my arm buzzed. I planned to have several words with the boss when I get home about the TPS. Some of the words could possibly be deemed offensive.
I just hope I get to use them.
After a careful look around me, I looked for a gap in the hedge to get into the field. After a minute or two I was starting to get concerned. Defeated at the last minute by a thorn hedge. Bloody typical.
Just as I was about to panic I found a hole where part of the hedge had died back at the bottom. I shoved my case through first and wriggled through after it. I got scratched to Hell and back, but not enough to stop me getting through.
I rested on the damp grass for a moment and looked up at the stars. I was too old for this malarkey. Give me my nice safe desk.
"But I haven't had this much fun in ages."
My voice was the barest of whispers, but I shouldn't have spoken aloud.
"Fun? This is your idea of fun?"
I jumped out of my skin and only just managed not to scream. Some part of me realised that it was Christopher Foyle's voice whispering. I looked around me and watched in dismay as a dark blob detached itself from the hedge that I'd just breached and moved towards me.
Given that he too was whispering, I wondered just how 'busted' I actually was. My heart climbed down out of my throat, but it was still hammering.
"What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing."
"I'm going home, like I told you."
"Via a restricted area after curfew?"
His whisper sounded sceptical.
"Not my choice. Are you going to turn me in?"
There was no answer. Even with my dark adjusted eyes I couldn't see exactly where he was.
I looked around me and sat up.
I was flat on my back again, with a hand over my mouth and a body lying over me. I did what I should have done a moment earlier and shut up.
It was while I was taking inappropriate pleasure in the hand over my mouth and the body pressing me into the grass that I heard what I should have heard before.
They came closer and closer and I held my breath when the boots scraped to a halt on the road not more then two yards away from me. If they looked over the hedge they would probably see us.
"You hear something?"
"Nah, you're hearing things. C'mon, let's go. Fred and Charlie'll be here at midnight; we can have a fag and get a brew on."
"You and your tea. You'll cop it one of these days."
I heard a laugh.
"Yeah, well, we've all got to go sometime, but I'll have my tea first."
The sound of boots faded as the two guards moved away, and I could breathe again.
"Told you; going home."
"Where is home?"
"Does it matter? It's not Germany."
"That much I'm reasonably sure of, or neither of us would be here."
I had wondered. Chris must trust me a little.
"Sam told me you'd said goodbye. She said it sounded like goodbye forever."
Ah, that expression I couldn't read.
"So you had to stop me?"
"Are you stopped?"
Well, no, I was not. We crouched as we made our slow way across the open grass before the park proper.
"Thought you'd do something stupid; I was right."
There was a long pause. I could almost hear him thinking.
"You're not local. I...needed to be sure that you got home."
Gawd, he was a marvel, a unique man and I was getting him into so much shite.
"It's okay. I'll be home soon enough. Please go before anyone sees you, please!"
"I can't -"
Before he could utter another word I squawked aloud – I couldn't help myself. The unexpectedness of the TPS reminder and its severity exceeded my tolerances. I managed to keep to my feet as I grabbed my arm and tried to keep my mouth shut, but it was too late.
'What the hell was that?"
A sentiment no doubt expressed by two guards not that far away. I could hear the scrabble of boot-clad feet running back towards us.
I wanted to run but there was no cover near us. Chris pushed me towards the park.
"Go! Run; I'll distract them."
I was frantic with worry, but not for me.
"But you'll be caught!"
"Doesn't matter; I'll be all right. Run! Do as you're told for once!"
So I did. And I did what every dumb bird has done in every thriller since they were invented.
I looked back.
And fell arse over tit.
I was so mad and so scared. I could hear shouting behind me.
Why does anyone think shouting the word 'stop!' will make people stop?
I scrabbled to my feet and retrieved my case. From the corner of my eye I could see Chris making for the north side as the guards came from the south. Although they had yet to get through the hedge, it was extremely unlikely that I would evade capture for another thirty minutes.
The first shot was fired seconds later and I jumped out of my skin. It sounded so loud and so close! I couldn't help turning back to see what was happening.
Chris hadn't stopped moving. But one of the guards had. He was standing still and raising his rifle to his shoulder again. I could see the barrel of the weapon move in Chris' direction.
I was moving before I knew it and screaming 'no, no!' at the guard. In a heroic (or stupid) moment, I figured that I was expendable, but he most certainly wasn't. He had two more children to have, for a start.
I dropped my case and ran like the devil was after me. I went across diagonally and tried to stay in the guard's line of fire. Two more shots rang out, and I heard them zing into the trees even over my laboured breathing.
Everything I could see was slowing down, like I was running in molasses.
I couldn't make myself run any faster. I think it was the most terrified I've ever been.
A moment later something punched me in the back; it was so hard that it knocked me off my feet.
As I fell I could see Chris stop and turn back to look at me.
I felt quite odd. I frowned at Chris.
Don't stop – you should keep running.
I felt really winded. I'm so out of condition.
The shooting had stopped and all I could hear was someone breathing heavily.
Chris dropped to his knees beside me.
You'll get grass stains...they'll never come out.
"Lily? Can you hear me? Lily?"
'Course I can silly, no need to shout...
I really wish that whoever was gurgling so horribly would pack it in; it sounded revolting.
I heard the guards challenge Chris and he really savaged them, telling them 'for God's sake man, she's not going anywhere' and something about calling for an ambulance.
Someone turned me over and I really really wished that they hadn't. That punch was really beginning to hurt. I was probably going to have a massive bruise when I got home.
I suddenly thought of the trinket box. I needed my bag.
I moved my arm - which for some unaccountable reason was very heavy – and pulled the package out.
'Gift for you..."
I felt the weight of it leave my hand.
"Lily, we can talk later; never mind it now."
"No, now...promise me! Keep...keep it in the family...promise!"
"Very well, I promise. Hush now, my dear one. Save your strength."
My dear one...
His lovely, crumpled, anxious face looked at me while he held my hand. I smiled up at him. Thank goodness he wouldn't be alone.
"Sam...she can't...breathe without you, Chris...look after her..."
"Lily! Hold on, help is coming."
Was that choked voice really his?
I'm so tired and so cold.
"I...think I'd like to..."