Okay, the smarter reader will have figured out that for themselves, and I'm sure that you'll also have one of those moments that my English teacher so loved to point out; you know, the 'oh you couldn't possibly know what Lily was thinking at the time because she died and didn't tell us' - the criticism always spoiled my creative efforts at school. Obviously, as I am telling you the tale in the first person, my death wasn't quite the whole story.
For the sake of descriptive completeness, I have included here observations from other points of view that I did not know at the time (what with being dead and all), but were told to me later to fill in my gaps. I owe considerable thanks to the diaries of a certain flame-haired ancestress, who was able to fill in the back story in a way that will become clear later.
I was tired, cold and suffering from hypoxia. I knew that I had fulfilled my part of the mission; Chris would survive to have his second family, one child of which would be my ancestor, so I wasn't dying a failure, unless you count the bit about dying. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, just Chris' face fading away. A numbness spread through me until I couldn't feel my arms or legs or Chris' hand in my own. I regretted that the most, and squeezed as hard as I could, but the message didn't get to my hand. Light and sound retreated and the last thing I heard was Chris telling me to hold on.
The resultant loss caused my TPS to activate the emergency retrieval, and I shall be forever grateful that I was unaware of the agony of that little trip. The punch that had knocked me off my feet had been a bullet, as I'm sure you had figured out, even if I had not. With no hint of remorse, the projectile had torn through my left lung, carried away the best part of one lobe and smashed a few ribs. One piece of rib punctured one of the ventricles in my heart, creating a haemopericardium. Yeah, I know, I had to look it up too. Blood leaked out of my heart, but couldn't escape the membrane around it and the pressure stopped my heart from beating. Although the initial wound had filled what remained of my lung with blood (remember the gurgling?), having a heart that had stopped pumping what little blood I had left out of the hole actually gave my brain slightly more time.
The emergency retrieval took a few precious seconds to calculate my location; not as complex at the ones that would have brought me back at the correct time and alive, but good enough not to hasten my 'real' death; that is, one that I couldn't be recovered from.
In those few seconds, a crash team arrived pronto, and was ready and waiting for me when I was unceremoniously dumped on the floor of the transport chamber. Boy, did I make a mess.
My team were there too, waiting in the wings, present as they would have been for my routine return. As my engineer, Mike was the one who was most closely involved with the mechanics of retrieval, and I didn't find out until later that he had already started calculations for an early recall. This too contributed to my survival.
It also made for quite a crowd outside the chamber. In the split second of shocked incomprehension after my return, it was Mike that made it to my body first, closely followed by the medical team. I was hooked up to God knows what and re-started. I have a very vague and hazy memory of seeing Chris' face looking down at me with that same anxious expression that I remembered from the park where I had been shot, but I realised later that it must have been Mike's face instead.
The pain was excruciating and I promptly passed out. Go me. I was stabilised and transported to the in-house medical department, where I was taken straight to theatres. Medical advances have come a long way since the 1940's, but the human body still reacts badly to hot, fast bits of metal entering it.
I didn't realise at first that I had been dead. My first moment of awareness involved a tetchy whinge about the noise keeping me awake. The 'noise' was actually voices, speaking softly, not far from my location. Nothing of what they said made sense.
'...may be complications...we'll have to wait and see...(mumbling)'.
A different voice joined in, female, no-nonsense.
'...sure? I'll get them to check...(more mumbling)'.
Behind it all was a rapid but solidly regular thudding that was in danger of driving me nuts. I wanted it to stop until I realised that it was my own heartbeat. I asked nicely if people wouldn't mind toning down the noise just a smidgen.
Well, close enough.
I faded away again for a while.
When I surfaced again my ribs hurt. I ached all over. But I thought there was a possibility that I might live.
The thudding of my heart has dulled considerably, and I can't hear any voices, but I am not alone when I finally really wake up. My hand is being held, and there is a weight on the side of my bed. I try to lift my head and regret it immediately.
My battered and bruised body lets me know that it is not happy.
I attempt to enquire about my condition.
Lucid it is not, but I have conveyed sufficient.
The head resting beside my knees moves, but the hand does not.
"Lily! Thank God!"
The expression on his face is best described as uncertain joy.
It is my engineer, Mike. At first I'm puzzled as to why he is here, then it all filters back to me. My face crumples, and Mike looks plain uncertain now.
"You're crying. Are you in pain? Shall I call the doctors?"
They came anyway; all my electronic surveillance had already given the game away.
They fussed and congratulated me as if I was a gifted four year old, but I was more interested in what I could find out from Mike. I couldn't wait to be alone to question him.
Eventually, and not a moment too soon, my medical entourage departed; I was exhausted.
1940 – Aftermath.
With a tremendous clap of sound and pressure, DCI Foyle was catapulted backwards both literally and metaphorically. He landed flat on his back; for the longest moment he thought he was back in the trenches during the Great War again, with the stinging buzz of a near miss rattling his ears. Dazed and winded, he tried to make sense of what had just happened.
Although he had no concept of what had occurred, he had been caught in the nimbus of Lily's retrieval. The bubble of displaced time that surrounded the traveller had 'nudged' Foyle out of the way. Safeguards in place meant that no-one came in contact with the actual displacement (they would be vaporised), but its shield still packed a wallop. Usually anyone within five hundred yards of a delivery or a retrieval simply 'forgot' that they had seen or heard any such thing, but Foyle's close proximity would grant him a different view.
He would remember.
When the world righted itself, Foyle got to his feet, albeit unsteadily.
His own voice made his head hurt and he hoped the high pitched whistle in his ears was temporary.
A large circle of scorched and gouged earth had removed any trace of blood on the ground where Lily had fallen.
Foyle remembered a bright light the instant before he had been knocked aside.
Was it a mine?
His mind instantly dismissed that option for two reasons; because he didn't want to believe that it was true and because he was still breathing.
He looked around and spotted the two guards, both on the ground, and he hoped, merely unconscious. He moved towards the nearest one and checked that he was alive. Satisfied in this, he moved to check the other one. Relieved, he headed for the gate as quickly as he could and made his unsteady but cautious way home to Steep Lane.
Foyle saw no reason to alert anyone to the strange goings on. He was not certain that he could explain anything in a way that didn't make him sound insane. Unconscious guards and vanishing women.
If it hadn't been for the blood on his hands and clothing, Foyle would almost have thought that he was mad and that he had imagined the whole evening.
But his overriding emotion was that of fear. Fear of what had happened to Lily. He knew only too well what a bullet could do. No-one could have lost that much blood and survived.
As he washed the blood out of his clothing with cold water, he prayed that he was wrong.
Much later than was usual for him, Foyle readied for bed. After finishing in the bathroom he returned to his bedroom. He paused in the doorway and recalled Lily lying in his bed; close by but untouched. He remembered her smile, her wit and her oddness. The not-quite-fit-ness that marked her as unusual.
He frowned with distraction as he remembered how right she had felt in his arms; how wonderful it had been to kiss her.
He knew with certainty that he would never see her again.
Out of habit, he walked across the room to check that the blackout was still secure before he returned to the bed. Something in the room registered as off-kilter in the back of his mind; it was not 'off' enough to do more than niggle at him, but he was too weary to sift through to find out what it was. He would do better to remember in the morning, after a good sleep.
It didn't occur to him that he was suffering from shock. Post traumatic stress had yet to be invented.
Despite my exhaustion, I needed answers. Mike had been summarily shoved to the back of the queue around my bed when the med bods had invaded, but he had remained in the corner of the room even after they had left. When our eyes met as I sought him out, he stepped forward. He didn't take my hand this time and I found it disquieting that I noticed and minded. Odd.
"You got shot."
I pulled a face but it hurt, so I stopped.
"That much I know now. I meant to the Timeline."
Mike's expression twitched with amusement.
"Typical Lily, all business. There's more to life than that, y'know."
I closed my eyes and remembered another life.
"Yes, I know. But humour me. Pretend for a moment that it's just another day of return."
Mike looked at me, seeing more than I had intended. If only he didn't look so much like him.
"Okay. You sorted whatever the glitch was. As far as we can tell, nothing we did before you went back caused the problem. The Chief has confirmed your opinion that it was a paradox."
"I said that?"
"Yes; in your letter to Zak the day before yesterday. Remember? The letter you sent to him that got you sent back?"
"That was only two days ago? Christ, that seems like weeks ago."
I promise to give returning agents more sympathy in future. No wonder they always seemed a bit out of it when they get back. For those who had been gone for weeks or months, it must be really disorientating to come back to within twenty four hours of leaving.
"With a few minor differences – well within tolerances – your line is back on track. Foyle married Samantha Stewart after the war ended. She had left the MTC and his employ by then. Had a couple of kids, one of whom was an eight-G of yours. So, here you are, safe and sound."
Instead of faded pictures and dusty pages, my mind's eye could see Sam and Chris in all their colourful glory. I began to smile, but that hurt too. Then I felt a little guilty.
"Yes. One or two little shifts in stock purchases that meant they had a comfortable retirement instead of an adequate one. Nothing massive that would change things, but enough to see that they ended their lives without debt or discomfort."
I looked down at my bed covers to avoid eye contact.
"That's all right then. I'm glad that things worked out for them."
There were several seconds of silence and I could feel Mike's contemplation. I had the disquieting feeling that I knew him better now than before I left, but when he did speak he didn't say what I expected.
"Do you know why you failed the assessment to become a Field Agent?"
I'm sure I looked as surprised as I felt. How had he found out? Some people go straight into this job; it's not a foregone conclusion that we all try to be TA's.
"Yes. I couldn't kill to restore the order."
"That was part of it, yes, but that wasn't all of it. Despite the image you project to the world, you are a very emotional individual."
"I most certainly am not. They call me The Ice Queen behind my back."
Mike half grinned in an achingly familiar way. My stomach twisted.
"Okay; spot test. Answer without thinking. The people you met yesterday, are they dead? Or alive in the past?"
Alive in the past.
"That's an old trick for newbies. They're dead, of course. What's your point?"
Mike raised both eyebrows sceptically, and looked amused.
"One day you will realise that you are very in-touch emotionally, but because you worry that people will think that you're a softie, you have to present this tough exterior. The Powers That Be knew that you would be too emotionally involved when you went back. You'd see them as real people. You also have a very high score for justice; fairness, if you will. You want things put right, which is what you currently do in your work, remotely. TPTB were worried that you would put things right, rather than correct for the Timeline. All these factors worked against you for the job of TA, but that doesn't make you wrong, or a bad person, it just makes you wrong for that particular task."
I think this is probably the longest conversation that I have ever had with Mike.
But his words touched a raw spot deep inside me, and for no real reason I could verbalize, I felt very...naked.
"Why are you telling me all this? And how do you know about my scores? Isn't that all supposed to be confidential?"
"Yes, it is, and it still is. I was only told on a need to know basis, to help you with your recovery."
This was a day for surprises.
"My recovery? I thought I'm as patched as I can be."
Mike's expression moved to genuine sympathy, but I flashed on a micro-expression of pain underneath it.
"Your emotional recovery."
"What rot! My emotions are just fine."
The fact that I had carried that expression back to the present spoke against me. I guess I deserved the skeptical raised eyebrow again.
"Lily, I've worked with you for a long time."
"That much is true. But that doesn't mean that you know me."
"Then tell me you're not in love with Foyle."
Foyle surfaced from sleep in a succession of layers.
Consciousness...he knew he was waking.
Reluctance...he didn't want to wake up yet.
Awareness...he knew what day it was.
Relief...he still had a roof over his head.
Anticipation...he was looking forward to seeing...
Bloody hell...it wasn't a dream.
Foyle lay awake for several minutes, going over the past week in his mind, wondering what to make of everything. The facts just didn't add up. He had no idea how to explain what had happened last night.
His forehead creased in thought, Foyle gave up the idea of staying in bed. He threw back the covers and reached for his dressing gown. Without bothering to tie it, he padded barefoot to the shuttered windows. As he reached for the curtains to pull them back over the wooden shutters, he remembered the odd feeling he had experienced last night; the idea that something was 'off' in the room.
He folded back the shutters and looked – properly looked – around the room.
Nothing seemed out of place, nothing was missing.
At least the ringing in his ears had dulled a little.
Across town, in a somewhat miserable establishment, Sam Stewart was trying not to grimace as she attempted to eat her fried pilchards on fried bread. Mrs O'Neill, her landlady, had left them a trifle long in the pan; the pilchards were black and hard, the fried bread so crisp that each time Sam stuck her fork into it, a piece would shoot off the plate. She had lost two such bits to the dog already. Just as she was debating whether or not this could be classed as animal cruelty, Mrs O'Neill returned from the kitchen. She was holding an envelope in her hand in such a way that Sam was half convinced that her landlady didn't want to part with it before she knew what it contained.
"I forgot. This came for you yesterday, found it on the mat. Feels heavy. Something in it, like as not."
Sam laid down her knife and fork with reluctance. Her breakfast may have been unpalatable, but it was slightly better than nothing at all.
She took the envelope but didn't make any effort to open the letter.
Arms folded, Mrs O'Neill sniffed.
"Aren't you going to open it? It might be important."
So why didn't you hand it over last night, hmm? You went to bed before I did.
Sam gave a cheery false smile.
"Oh, it's probably nothing. I'll open it later, when I get to work." She looked at her watch. "Speaking of which, I need to get going."
Grateful as always to get out of the house these days, Sam hurried on her way, having paused only briefly to collect her gas mask box and her regulation sized handbag. Her pace was brisk, mainly due to the downhill momentum, but she was young, fit and not in the least short of breath. As she walked she tore open her letter, taking care not to damage the envelope so that it could be re-used. Pulling out the folded notepaper, Sam's eyes flew to the name at the bottom, confirming her suspicion as to the writer.
By the time you get this, I'll be well on my way home. I'm really sorry that we didn't get to say goodbye, but
it had to happen this way – I'm not good with long goodbyes anyway.
The enclosed is the front door key to my place. I have transferred the rental agreement into your name
and paid up to the end of the year. Pity I won't see old misery O'Neill's face when you tell her you're leaving!
Take good care of yourself Sam, and look after the Boss. I'm so glad that we met.
With deepest affection,
Sam checked the back of the letter, but there was nothing else, then she tipped the key into her palm. The letter was unsatisfactory; it posed more questions than it explained. Why had Lily got to go? Why couldn't she tell her goodbye to her face? Why was there no forwarding address or any way of contacting her again? Did she dislike her so much that she had just cleared off?
No, that was silly.
Sam admonished herself. Lily had cared enough to send her a letter.
Sam looked at the key in her palm and felt a smile pull at her lips. It was one of the few days in her life since meeting Mr F that she hoped that there were no unfortunate happenings that would prevent her from going home early.
By the time she picked up the car to go and collect Foyle, she was still humming a little tune under her breath.
Foyle had expected Sam to be more upset about Lily leaving and was surprised by her cheerful greeting on the doorstep of his house. As he wasn't quite ready, Sam came inside to wait as was usual. Foyle finished doing his tie and buttoned his waistcoat. He glanced at his appearance in the mirror just for form's sake and noted in the reflection that Sam was looking at something in her hand and smiling. His curiosity was peaked.
He moved into the hall and picked up his hat and coat.
She startled and turned towards him.
"Sorry, Sir. I just can't get over Lily's generosity."
Foyle's eyebrow went up.
Sam showed him the key.
"Lily has passed her lodging on to me. Paid up until Christmas. It's rather splendid of her."
Foyle experienced mixed feelings when Lily's name was mentioned. Somewhere in the complex mix of strong emotion there was a hint of jealousy that Sam had heard from her, but that he had not.
"Yes, it it."
He contrived to appear innocently interested as they left the house and got in the Wolseley.
"Heard from her, have you?"
Sam shook her head as she started the engine.
"Not really; I mean not by post or anything. She dropped a note in at my digs last night, though I only got it this morning."
Foyle was disappointed, but tried not to show it.
Sam seemed to take that as permission to natter on, but most of it washed over Foyle while his mind was somewhere else.
It was a long day.
Sam wasn't so happy over the next week that she didn't notice that Foyle was not himself. In her opinion, he had been very subdued since Lily left. On the one occasion she had wondered aloud about how Lily was getting on, Foyle had replied that he was sure she was fine, wherever she was.
But to Sam's finely tuned ear, he had not sounded as convinced as he might. Sam confided only in her diary, and then only in a circumspect manner. Just in case.
Sam settled into her new lodgings with a happy heart. Within a short space of time she had got a vegetable patch on the go, and life started to settle back into its usual pattern.
Ten days after Sam moved into Lily's house, Foyle came home after a long and wearisome day of catching up on paperwork, to a house that seemed too quiet. He realised with a start that he had finally stopped hearing the ringing in his ears that had plagued him since the night of Lily's disappearance.
I must stop calling it her 'disappearance'. She went home.
But she did disappear. Vanished into thin air.
Foyle wished that he had a drink in the house. He didn't fancy making the effort to go out to the pub or a restaurant and he didn't feel all that sociable.
In the end he made himself some supper, then settled down to read the paper and listen to the radio.
Eventually it was time for bed, and Foyle went through his usual routine, finally ending up at the bedroom window to check the blackout was secure. Once again he got to the window and experienced the vague feeling of disquiet that assailed him each time he crossed the room.
As Foyle lay in bed, more awake than he would like, he finally gave some thought to what it was that was bothering him. Looking around the room for inspiration, he found that his eyes were constantly drawn back to the small bookcase that housed some of his reading material for the nights he couldn't sleep. He noticed that there was one book slightly protruding from the ordered ranks of fiction.
Unable to leave it be, Foyle got out of bed, padded across the room and pushed the book back in place with its companions. The title caught his eye.
The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Foyle returned to bed and settled down. As he put out the light he thought about the book; something was prodding his memory again.
He was just drifting off into sleep when the central conceit of the story popped into his mind.
There had been no sound from the hound.
Foyle was wide awake again. He reached for the light and got out of bed. He walked, barefoot, around the end of the bed. He walked back.
For no reason he would yet admit to himself, Foyle began to get excited.
There was no sound!
The floorboard that had creaked every time that he had walked over it for more years than he cared to mention, no longer made any sound at all.
That was what had been unsettling him every night. The sound was so familiar that he barely even noticed it anymore, but his brain had registered its absence. With care, Foyle knelt down on the floor and examined the floorboards within his reach. Within moments he spied the shiny new screw in the place of its predecessor nail. He got to his feet and hurried downstairs to the cupboard in the scullery that contained his toolbox. A brief rummage found his screwdriver and a putty knife. The latter would do for lifting the floorboard after he had removed the screw.
Making haste, Foyle practically ran up the stairs to his bedroom.
All the while his hands were working to undo the screw his brain raced on ahead, wondering what it was that he expected to find. He knew that it must be Lily that had done this. She was the only person that had been in his house and more specifically, this room, recently.
Finally, his efforts were rewarded and he had the screw removed, and the floor board up.
Inside he found...nothing.
Foyle couldn't believe how disappointed he felt. He slumped back on his feet as he regarded the small rectangular hole in the floor. It was the space between the ceiling below and the floor here, and it was about six inches deep. It was also surprisingly clean. The next section along to the right was quite dusty by comparison.
Feeling the anticipation build again, he noticed that the next section to the left was also clean.
Cleaned so you wouldn't notice drag marks in the dust. Drag marks from something like...
Foyle smiled as he leaned down and reached into the next section to the left.
"A small metal box."
It was locked, but turning it over he found the key taped to the bottom. He quickly opened the box and found inside a letter addressed to himself.
It was the work of a moment to have the envelope open and the letter inside in his hands. He looked at the last page.
The letter was dated just before her disappearance.
My dearest Chris,
If you are reading this, I'm not surprised! You are a great detective and I would have been disappointed if you hadn't found it. I pulled the book out of the tidy ranks, knowing that it would eventually get noticed and make you think.
I don't know how much time has passed since I (reluctantly) left Hastings, but I know that I will never see you again, and could never explain why. Please don't worry about me, I know that I'll be okay where I'm going.
I've written down a few pieces of information that I want you to take note of; nothing bad, just a few hints about sensible choices for your future. PLEASE keep these to yourself, don't even tell Sam.
Sam. Darling girl, I do so like her. I expect by now you know that I gave her my rented accommodation up until the end of 1940 -
At this point Foyle frowned. 'Up until the end of 1940' jarred with him; it seemed an odd thing to say.
- she had a frightful dragon for a landlady. But I digress. I never could write a decent letter; kept ambling off sideways, but I always did like that form of communication.
Did. Past tense. Was that relevant?
Anyway, back to the point. I want to thank you for the most wonderful time in my life – so far. To be able to add those last two words means more to me than you will ever know. You have given me something that I had no idea I had lost. A sense of hope for the future, a willingness to chance my heart in someone else's care. It will take a while for me to get over loving you,
Foyle's heart skipped over the plainly written words. 'Loving you'. She had felt something for him too. He wiped his nose before reading on.
- but that's my own fault. I knew going in that I would not be able to stay with you, but I couldn't help myself. In one glorious afternoon, I realised that you have to live for the moment, because you never know when you are going to see someone for the last time. You made me see that my life wasn't over, that I'm not lost to at least the possibility of a different future. By that admission, I want you to see the same thing for yourself. Don't close out the possibility of marrying again; Rosalind wouldn't want you to grieve for the rest of your life. How would you feel if you realised that you had let your soulmate escape because you had been looking at the ground instead of the road ahead? You will have to be patient for a few more years, but keep your courage close and your hope high.
Okay, lecture over. On the other page, I've written some stuff for you in order that you have a comfortable retirement. Do not spend more than I have suggested; I don't want you drawing attention to yourselves.
I've just re-read this letter and it probably makes no sense, and it's a terrible love letter. Bottom line; I love you. There, I said it at least once to your face. I wish that I could see you again, just...God, I'm breaking so many rules here. You will always have a place in my heart, no matter what the future brings for either of us.
Give my love to Sam too, she will have to carry the torch for all of us.
Foyle found himself frowning again.
'Carry the torch for all of us'? What the dickens does she mean?
By the way, the reason I wanted to call you 'Chris' is because no-one else is likely to; you are 'Christopher' to your friends, and always will be. That is the one thing I allowed myself to bring back with me, the knowledge that your soulmate will call you Christopher, and you will not think of me. Be happy, you deserve it,
Fondest regards, Lily.
'Fondest regards' had been neatly crossed out.
Love always, Lily.
Foyle remained seated on the floor for some time, re-reading the letter again and again. Eventually he realised that he was cold and beginning to cramp. He climbed stiffly to his feet, leaving the floorboard open for the moment. He got back into bed and read the letter one more time before putting it to one side. He switched off the light to settle down, but it was a long while before he managed to get any sleep.
Where are you, Lily?