I thought for a long while when I got back into my office: it was all getting out of hand. Denise was careless and desperate for me to take her out again. She could get us both into trouble. And Debbie: if I was true to myself, I was falling in love with her. I knew she loved me and, out of all of them, I would have loved to take her out again. I had been thinking about her a lot. John didn’t deserve her; she was amazing. Then Jane at the pub: she was desperate for sex; she would probably hound me for more, now we had done it once. I hadn’t seen Julie for months, which was a pity; I had fallen for her as well.
I opened the safe and counted the money again: there was still over £3000 left. I thought about Lucy for a while and decided that if I couldn’t have Lucy in France, I would have her in Devon, or at least I would try - I had to find her first.
Again, I lied to Liz. I phoned and told her I was going down to Southampton to collect a car in the morning, early. I did say I would try to come home on the night and that I would ring if I didn’t think I was going to make it.
I still had the same aggravation at work. I’d sold another car off the forecourt that day and paid the proceeds into the bank. I left for home about six but popped into the Hare and Hound for a drink on the way. As I walked through the door, I suddenly remembered that Jane was waiting for me to tell her when we were going out. I had forgotten all about it. I couldn’t stop, so I carried on up to the bar. She was standing there with a big smile on her face. I ordered my usual and sat on a stool.
“Well, when?” she asked, looking over her shoulder.
“I haven’t worked anything out yet, I’ve had a busy couple of days and I haven’t had the time to plan it properly. I’ve got to go out tomorrow but as soon as I get back, I will, I promise.”
Jane served another customer and I looked over at two lads playing on the pool table. I thought of Saturday night, then I talked to Jane a bit longer and left for home about seven.
I woke at four o’clock in the morning and got myself ready quietly. As I kissed Liz on the cheek, while she was sleeping, I heard her say, “See you later.”
I crept into Mick’s room, kissed him too, and with a snore, he turned over. Then I left with my overnight bag, just in case, and took off. I drove down the motorway smoothly, checking the temperature gauge all the way. Nothing went wrong. I arrived in Mortehoe at 8.30 and parked on the side of the road, overlooking the long sandy beach, and gazed out to sea. With the window open, the smell of sea air was strong and refreshing.
I loved the seaside; it had always intrigued me as a child, when I had visited with my parents for summer holidays. I locked the car, ran down the steps and slowly walked along the beach. There was a chill in the air and the breeze was quite breathtaking. It had obviously rained in the night and the beach was covered in small dents where the drops had bounced off the sand. There were only two other sets of footprints in the sand and they had evidently walked together, with a dog that ran off in different directions, no doubt to fetch a stick. I could see where the dog had brought it back and run off again.
I walked for about half an hour before deciding to turn back. There were other people walking towards me now and up on the road a number of cars were pulling up to look at the sea. I climbed back up the stairs and walked down to the cafe, just across the road, and sat by the window, still fascinated by the view.
I ordered myself a breakfast with coffee and sat staring out to sea while I waited. In the distance, I could see a few boats bobbing up and down and the sun was trying to come out from behind the clouds. It looked like it could be a nice day. The waiter walked up behind me and placed the tray on the edge of the table, then pushed it on a bit further. It looked delicious. I was so hungry I couldn’t wait and I started before he could put the bill under the ashtray. It was burning my mouth but I couldn’t stop. I devoured it in minutes and washed it down with the coffee.
I looked down on to the road in front of the cafe, watching all the cars go by, and noticed a white van with writing on the side pull up at the zebra crossing. It said ‘Sea view Caravan Park’. I looked at the passenger and was shocked to see Lucy sitting there. I couldn’t believe my luck. Here we were at last, together. I was so happy, I jumped up, paid the bill and ran to my car. Just as I started the engine, I could see in the distance the same van coming back towards me. I quickly pulled out and drove down the road to turn my car around and, as it passed me, I followed it along the winding roads to the caravan park and up the drive to the booking office. I watched the woman get out of the driver’s side of the van slamming the door and look down the drive towards me. As I pulled up behind her, she shouted, “We’re not taking any bookings for a while, I’m sorry.”
Lucy hadn’t got out yet. I waited patiently as the woman walked away. Then I realised she wasn’t in there. I shouted to the woman, “Sorry, I just saw your van on the sea front, I thought I recognised your passenger from Birmingham.”
With a very sad expression on her face, she forced a smile and said, “She is from there, I’ve just taken her to the station to go back home.” I was lost for words, except thank you. I got back into the car, reversed into a space, then drove off, back down the drive to the road, wondering what to do. I looked at my watch. It said 9.45. Then I thought, perhaps it doesn’t leave till on the hour.
I drove back into the town as quickly as possible along the winding roads, crossed the crossing where I’d first seen them and stopped just after, by the kerb. I let the window down and asked a man the way to the train station. “Just round this corner,” he said, and pointed. I drove off and pulled into the car park and found a space almost immediately, jumped out of the car and glanced at my watch again: it was just after ten. I ran across the car park and into the small station. The porter was walking towards me with a flag in his hand. There was a train pulling out of the station.
I asked if it was the train to Birmingham and he answered me with a Cornish accent. “It stops there, yes.” I was so annoyed, I wanted to hit him, although I knew it wasn’t his fault. Then he said, “Do you know, that’s the first time that train’s left on time for weeks.” At this point, I definitely wanted to kill him.
“Where does it stop next?” I asked.
“That will be Chapelton and after that Umberliegh.”
“Thank you,” I shouted as I ran back to the car and drove off like a man possessed. I screeched around the bends and drove like an idiot for a while and then realised after I’d nearly knocked four people and a dog over, that I wouldn’t make it. The roads were far too narrow. I turned the car around and went back, a lot slower. As I stopped at the same zebra crossing to let someone cross, a thought entered my head, like a bolt of lightning. Lucy had come down on the coach and would probably go back on a coach. “It’s the coach station, not the train station,” I said to myself. Again I turned the car around, nearly knocking over a bollard, and drove back in the same direction. Just before the train station was the coach station. My heart started pumping again. I parked the car and ran into the booking office. There were a few people waiting and some kids running riot around the seats. The smell of diesel was horrendous. Behind the desk was an elderly man, sitting there with a sandwich to his mouth, chewing slowly like a camel.
“Has the bus for Birmingham left yet?”
He looked at me with a blank expression on his face and it seemed to take him ages to answer. Then he said. “No,” with a mouth full of food. “It’s just about to,” he said, spitting bread all over me.
I turned and ran out to where all the coaches were parked. I could see three men talking in front of the coach that was ticking over. The door was still open and there were people on it waiting to go. I asked one of the drivers if I could look on the coach for someone. By this time, the man from the booking office had followed me out, shouting, or spitting, “You can’t go on there without paying!” I quickly jumped up into the coach and slowly walked along the narrow aisle, looking from left to right as I went. At the back, I could see someone holding a newspaper up. I smiled and when I got to them, I pulled down the paper to find an Indian couple sitting there.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m looking for someone.” He nodded his head as I turned and walked back to the front, upset and disappointed. As I got to the top of the steps by the door, Lucy walked up them, with a look of astonishment on her face.
“What are you doing here?” she said. I was so pleased to see her, I grabbed her and kissed her in front of everyone on the coach, to a loud cheer. We climbed off the coach, embarrassed, and Lucy said, “What’s happened?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Where is your suitcase?” The coach driver was just putting it in the cupboard in the side of the coach. “I’ll take that,” I shouted. As the driver looked up, I pulled it out of his hand. I grabbed Lucy’s arm and said, “I’ll take you home with me in the car.”
We turned to leave and the man from the ticket office was by the door. “Hope you’re not going to ask for your money back,” he cried, waving his sandwich at me. I couldn’t be bothered to argue with him.
We hurried out to the car park and got in the car after I threw her case onto the back seat. Then Lucy said, “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
I started the engine and said, “Let’s find a nice little pub and I’ll explain everything to you over a drink.”
We drove inland for a while and found a place called the Sailor’s Arms. Lucy sat down while I got the drinks. It was a nice quiet old pub, dark and small, but warm and very cosy. We sat for hours talking. I explained about my ordeal trying to get to France and Lucy told me how she had waited in the bar in France for me to arrive, how she had worried about me and how when I spoke to her on the phone about Mick’s present, when she was at home, she had just got in and received the phone call about her friend in Devon. Luckily, her mum was still there with her and told her to go down on the coach. Then I told her about me thinking she’d gone back on the train and my rushing around to find her. We had a laugh and a couple more drinks and then I asked Lucy if she had phoned and told her mum that she was coming home on the coach.
“Yes,” she said. “I phoned last night but my mum said, ‘Stay for another day if you want, there’s no need to rush back’, and I left it like that. Why?”
“Well, I came down this morning, hoping to catch you and see if we could stay for that one night together.”
She smiled and said, “You crafty thing - where?”
“Well, I don’t know yet, we’ll have to find somewhere, won’t we?” We finished our drinks and left.
We drove down the coast, into Wadebridge, and found a quaint little harbour, called Padstow. I parked the car, and we sat looking out to sea. “Do you want to stay here?” I asked Lucy.
“Yes, I don’t mind,” she said looking out of the window. “It’s lovely.”
I looked at the clock on the dashboard in the car; it was just after six o’clock. “Wait here - I’ll book us into a hotel for the night then.” I got out of the car and, as I walked, I phoned Liz from my mobile. I told her I had collected the car but that it was too late for me to come back, so I would stay and travel up in the morning. She didn’t sound too disappointed. After I said goodbye, I turned the phone off.
The first place I tried said ‘No Vacancies’ on the window, so I tried the hotel next door. “Sorry,” the lady said. “We are fully booked this week, try the Ship down the road.” I thanked her, and left.
The Ship was fully booked as well. So I went across to the Harbour Hotel. “Hello,” I said. “Do you have any rooms vacant for one night? The lady behind the desk shook her head from side to side, breathed in noisily through her puckered lips, and then with a Cornish accent said, “’Tis the offshore party tonight, you see.”
“What is the offshore party?” I asked.
“Well, my dear, if you look out to sea, you’ll see a fine big white boat called Stow-away. ’Tis once a year it comes to the ’arbour and folk round err go out to the captain’s party on board. There’s not a room vacant this time of year.”
I had the feeling that she did not want to say she had a room, but there was a ‘maybe’ in her voice somewhere, so I asked, “Is there a small chance me and my pregnant wife who is in the car could attend this party?”
She puckered her lips again, drawing vast amounts of air through the small hole, and said, “Not without an invitation like this, you won’t.” Then she pulled two tickets out from behind her desk and held them up.
“Do these two tickets have a room with them?”
“Arr, that depends, don’ it.”
“How much would it depend on?” I asked.
She looked at me with a smile on her very lined face and said, “’Bout £30 each, would be the price.”
“Will this price enable my wife and I to have a room?”
“Well, you see,” she went on to say, “my ’usband and I got two extra tickets for my sister and ’er ’usband to attend, but unfortunately they can’t make it, see.”
“So, would it be possible for us to have their room?”
She looked me up and down and said, “You look like good folk. At £50 a ticket, it’s possible.”
I was so pleased, I said, “Right then, we’ll have them. Can we get something to eat before we go?”
“No need do that, there’s food aboard.”
“Thank you very much,” I said. “I’ll fetch my wife in.”
“What your names be?”
“Rodgers,” I said, looking at a picture on the wall painted by S Rodgers, “Simon Rodgers.”
“And your wife?”
“Lucy.” I walked towards the door, feeling shattered after all that, and went out to the car.
As I opened the door, I heard Lucy say, “Did you find somewhere?” I got in the car and started the engine, laughing. “What’s the matter?” she said.
“You would never believe me if I told you.” I reversed the car and drove nearer to the hotel and parked it in a space opposite.
“What happened then?” Lucy asked.
“You see that fine ship, as the lady in the hotel put it?”
“Yes,” Lucy said curiously.
“Well, we are going to a party on it tonight.”
“You’re right,” she said, “I don’t believe you.”
I laughed again. “The only way I was going to get a room here tonight was to agree to go to the captain’s party.”
“Honest, what do you mean?”
“Let’s get into our room and I will explain.” We got out and I locked the car and walked around to grab Lucy’s bag and her hand, then we walked across the road to the hotel. “You’re married to me and your name is Lucy Rodgers, OK?” Just as I pushed the door open I said, “And by the way, you’re pregnant.”
I felt her pull me back. “What?”
I looked at her and said, “Just a little bit pregnant.”
We walked up to the desk and the lady came over to us. “Hello, my dear, do ee want to follow me up the stairs and I will show ee to the room?”
I couldn’t let go of Lucy’s hand, in case she ran off. I gripped it tight. I could still feel her trying to get free as we walked along the landing to the room. The lady opened the door and said, “What was your names? Sorry, I’ve got a terrible memory.”
“I’m Steven and this is Lucy,” I said as we walked into the room.
The lady looked puzzled and said, “I told you I’ve got a bad memory, I thought you said Simon earlier.”
I must have changed colour to a deep red. Just before she shut the door, I said, “My driving licence says Simon, but all my friends call me Steven, it’s a long story.”
“Oh, I see,” she said with a puzzled look on her face, then pulled the door closed.
“What’s going on?” Lucy said as soon as the door shut.
“All the rooms are fully booked because this time every year, apparently, that boat I showed you comes into the harbour and the captain throws a party for some reason, for the locals. Her sister and husband were going to the party and they got them some tickets, but they can’t make it, so I had to buy the tickets off them in order to get their room.”
“Why am I pregnant, then?”
“I thought it would sound better if there was a pregnant woman in the car and the old lady would help me find a room for the night. It worked for Joseph and Mary.”
“You’re amazing,” Lucy said, shaking her head. “What are we going to wear for this boat party?”
“I’m just going downstairs to find out.”
Lucy sat on the bed and I went downstairs and rang the bell on the desk. The lady came out from the back room. “Hello, my dear, is everything all right?”
“Yes, fine thanks. I was wondering what to wear tonight, as we haven’t brought a lot with us.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” she said. “I’ll ask my ’usband, just a minute.” I waited, and looked around the reception at the posters and pictures on the wall until she came back out. “My ’usband said he ’as a dinner suit you could borrow, ’e’s about your size, and I’ll ask someone in the ’otel if they can lend Lucy something, and bring it up.”
I thanked her and went back up to the room. As I opened the door, Lucy jumped up off the bed. “How did you get on?” she asked.
“It’s all sorted, they’re going to lend us something to wear.”
We talked for a while and then I put my arms around Lucy’s waist. I was just about to kiss her when the hotel owner knocked on the door. We both jumped. I opened it. The lady walked in, laid a suit on the bed and a dress for Lucy. “I thinks these will fit ye both, why don’t ee try them on and then come down and meet my ’usband in the bar, when you’re ready, and have a drink?” I thanked her again and she left, closing the door as she went.
Lucy picked up the dress and said, “This is nice,” and held it up in front of herself in the mirror, then looked at the label.
I picked up the suit and said “’Tis nice, is net?” We both laughed. I pulled Lucy on to the bed. She landed on top of me screaming, “Keep your filthy ’ands off me, you blackguard!” in a Cornish voice. Still laughing, we kissed and cuddled on the bed for a short time, then Lucy said, “Let’s go down and have a drink first, to get me in the mood.”
We stood up and quickly tried the clothes on, then went down to the reception. I rang the bell and the lady came out again. “’Tis you,” she said. “Follow me.”
“What’s your name?” I asked quickly.
“My name is Beth and my ’usband is Jim.” We followed her into the next room and up to the bar. Then Beth called Jim over. He was a tall, rugged-looking man, with a big thick silver beard and masses of hair to match. He shook Lucy’s hand first and said, “My missus tells me you’ll be coming aboard with us tonight.”
Lucy smiled and said, “It sounds lovely,”
Then Beth smacked his hand and said, “You can let the poor girl go now.”
He smiled and said to me, as he grabbed my hand and shook it with a strong grip, “’Tis a pleasure to meet folk from up north down ’ere.”
“It’s very good of you to let us come to such an exclusive party,” I said, still shaking his hand.
“You’ll ’ave ter tell me your secret,” he said. “’Ow did ee manage to get those tickets off the missus?”
“She’s a capitalist and a very fine judge of character,” I said, laughing again.
“’Oh, I can see us getting on splendidly tonight, I’ve been looking forward to the party for months.” Jim eventually stopped shaking my hand, luckily, before it fell off.
Lucy and I sat on the barstools as Jim went behind the bar. He said, “What would be ee poison then, me hearties?” I had a whiskey and lemonade, as usual, and Lucy asked for a white wine and soda. I looked at her and said quietly, so that no one would hear me, with a grin, “Is that a good idea, darling? Don’t forget the baby.” Lucy looked like she was going to kill me and then she kicked me in the shin. “Ow!” I shouted as Jim put the drinks down on the bar.
“Do ee be OK?” he said. I nodded, as Beth walked back into the room and sat by us.
“Jim,” she said. “I forgot to tell ee, Lucy is pregnant.”
“Congratulations, my lovely.” Then he drank a full glass of rum and slammed the glass down. “To the little one,” he said, leaning on the bar with both hands. I told him we’d only found out a couple of weeks ago.
“It was a bit of a shock, to be honest.”
Lucy reached for her drink and said under her breath, “It was a bigger shock to me.”
Beth suddenly stood up. “I’d better go and get myself looking pretty. I’ll knock on yer door when it’s time to be goin’, should be ’bout eight.” As she went, I looked at my watch; it said 7.30. We finished our drinks and went back up to our room. We didn’t have time for any distractions. We showered separately and got ready in our loaned clothes. Lucy looked lovely in her long red evening dress and I looked quite smart in my dinner suit, Lucy said.
We sat on the bed and waited. Beth knocked just after eight and shouted, “We’ll meet you downstairs in reception.”
As we stood up together, I kissed Lucy, holding her tight. She pulled back and said sarcastically, “Watch the baby.” I smiled and then she said, “Wait till I get you home, my lovely.”
I lifted my eyebrows. “I can’t wait.”
Lucy slipped a thin jacket on and we left the room and went down to meet them. Beth looked lovely for an elderly lady. She was probably about sixty and Jim, with his thick silver-grey beard, looked like an old fisherman, with a row of medals attached to his chest. Jim shouted goodbye and we all left together.
It was almost dark now and we only had to walk across the road and wait until the little boat picked us up by the steps. I put my arm around Lucy while we were standing there. It was a still night but there was a chill in the air. Lucy pointed to some untidy lads fishing on the harbour wall next to us with bits of string dangling in the water. As we looked around the harbour there were different coloured lights above the shops and houses. People walked slowly looking in shop windows with their arms around each other; some were eating fish and chips out of newspaper. There were crowds sitting outside small bars, laughing and singing as they drank. A few fishermen were working in their boats, with people looking down on them from the top of the harbour wall. The sea was very calm and there was a perfect reflection duplicated around the edge. Lucy put her hand around my waist. I had a relaxed feeling as if nothing could touch me. We were looking forward to a nice night on board a big boat that we could see in the distance and we could hear the pup-pup of the smaller boat getting nearer and nearer.
As we waited, some other people had arrived that I hadn’t noticed. I was amazed by the view and quite excited.
The boat stopped at the foot of the steps with smoke puffing out from the small engine at the back. Jim got into the boat first and held his hand out for Beth. “Come on, my lovely,” he said. I was steadying her by holding her arm and she almost leapt in. Then Jim held his hand out for Lucy, as the sailor sat Beth down. Lucy wasn’t sure and grabbed my hand. I could feel her shaking as she stepped into the boat, very carefully holding onto Jim, and waited for me. Then I followed. We climbed over the seats, holding each other tight, and sat at the back with Beth while Jim helped some more people in carefully. Then when we were all seated the boat turned around and set off towards the ship.
As we got closer the music got louder and, looking back, the harbour got smaller. “Isn’t she a fine vessel?” said Jim.
Lucy held my hand all the way, as tightly as possible, and wouldn’t let go for anything. “Are you all right?” I asked.
“A bit cold,” she said with her teeth chattering.
I took my jacket off and wrapped it around her shoulders. “Is that better?”
“Yes, thank you.”
As we pulled up at the bottom of the ship’s steps, the music was quite loud and every now and again it got louder in short bursts. Jim stood up and grabbed the rails and helped everyone onto the steps at the side of the boat. Beth went first and then Lucy. As I got to Jim he said, “I will say to the cap’n that Beth’s kin couldn’t make it, so we invited our friends from up north, OK?”
“Yes, and thanks for letting us come with you both.”
He slapped me on the back and said, “Enjoy yourself, laddie.” I went up first and Jim followed. As we got to the top, I realised why the music had gotten louder and quieter. It was every time someone opened the sliding doors and walked into the party. We all waited for Jim to go first and then we followed. Lucy passed my jacket back and I slipped it on before I walked in.
The ship was massive. As we walked through the door I noticed a live band singing at the other end of the room. There must have been at least a hundred people in there already; a lot were dancing. Across the room I could see Jim bent over, talking to an Arabic looking man with two foreign girls on his lap, then he leaned to one side and waved. Lucy waved back. I couldn’t stop myself from looking around the room as we all shuffled past the bar in a line: it was magnificent. A waiter gave us both a glass of pink champagne; we stood and sipped it, amazed at the size of our surroundings.
Jim called us over and we shook hands with the Arab. “This is Mr Ahmed,” he said. Lucy smiled and commented on the boat. He grinned and said with a foreign accent, “Thank you, get yourselves some more champagne and please, have a good time.” He clicked his fingers and over came the waiter with a tray full of drinks.
Jim picked up a glass and said to me, “Do ee want to come outside?” Then Beth asked if they could get warm first and join us shortly. I picked up a full glass and we walked to the door. It automatically slid open for us to go out onto the deck.
We stood by the rails outside and I asked Jim about the ship and Mr Ahmed. “Well, as far as I can make out, ee was the kin of a very wealthy sheikh, and when ee was at university in England ee always came here for weekends. Now one weekend, ee meet a girl from the ’arbour, fell in love and one day they married. Ee took her off to Saudi with him to live, on the understanding that ee would bring ’er back at least once a year. Now ees father died some years back, in fact, folk round ’ere said ee was shot by Mr Ahmed in there, but no one knows for sure. Anyway, after a couple of years, he started coming back to England by sea. Hence the name of the ship, Stow-away. Ee took someone away from Padstow.” I smiled as he carried on. “Ee throws one large party for folk, while ee’s ’ere.” Just then the door opened and Beth and Lucy came out, I asked Lucy if she fancied a walk around the deck and she nodded. “I’ll see ee in a short while by the pool,” Jim said and we walked off.
“Are you warmer now?” I asked Lucy.
“Yes, thanks, it must have been the breeze across the sea in that small boat,” she replied. I stopped by the rail and grabbed Lucy’s hand. As she turned I put my arms around her waist and kissed her. I felt her hands on my back holding me tight as we looked out to sea. It was black; all we could see was the full moon and the reflection on the calm water. We carried on to the back of the boat arm in arm. The more we walked, the quieter the music got and we could hear splashing and laughing as we turned the corner. We could see a kidney-shaped swimming pool steaming and lit up, with a few people in there, swimming around, enjoying themselves. Standing on the side were four waiters with trays of drinks and towels over their arms so that people could dry themselves as they came out of the pool. We stood on the side watching for a while, and Jim appeared with Beth.
“Haven’ ee got any trunks, matey?” he said to me.
I flinched at the thought of it and said, “No, thank God.”
“Do ee want some?” Jim clicked his fingers and called a waiter over. “Can ee find my friend some trunks for the pool?”
I shook my head. “Don’t worry about me, I’m quite happy standing here, I hate water.”
“Well, I think ’tis time I went in,” he said, rubbing his hands together.
“Ee must be mad,” commented Beth. “’Tis in the warm my old bones need to be,” and she turned and left.
Jim disappeared into the changing rooms and I said to Lucy, “Let’s get out of here before he comes back.”
We walked around to the other side and I noticed some spiral stairs that went down to the next deck. Still holding hands with Lucy, I said, “Let’s have a look down here.” We walked down as another couple ran up giggling. When we got to the bottom it was very quiet and a bit darker. We carried on walking for a while and stopped by the rail on this side of the ship. We could see the harbour; it was still lit up and, above the harbour in the hills, were houses with their lights on. It was so romantic. We kissed again. I put my hands on Lucy’s backside and tried to slide her dress up, but she stopped me.
“Someone might come,” she said.
“I will, if you let me,” I jokingly said.
“No, not here. Wait till we get back to the hotel tonight.” We kissed a while longer and walked some more. The further we walked, the darker and quieter it got. It was obviously the living quarters. All the doors were dark-coloured louvre doors and just up ahead we could see the light from a room shining though the slats in lines onto the deck. Lucy whispered, “Let’s go back now, it’s a bit scary.”
As we turned, I could hear someone talking. It seemed to come from that room, then the talking got louder. I put my finger to Lucy’s lips so I could hear what they were talking about and all of a sudden it stopped and went quiet. All we could hear was the water lapping against the ship and a very faint drum of the music up on the next deck. I kissed Lucy again and all of a sudden we heard two loud cracks. We both opened our eyes at the same time, staring at each other, still with our lips touching. We froze in that position for a second. The whites of Lucy’s eyes lit up. We didn’t know what to do. The light went off in that room. We were both terrified. I pulled Lucy backwards and tried the knob on the door behind me. It turned and clicked open. I pulled Lucy into the room and slowly closed the door. We were shaking with fear as we stood there in the dark waiting for something to happen. I put my hand over Lucy’s mouth when I heard a door creak and click and then footsteps. They got louder and louder. Lucy was shaking like a leaf. I put my other hand on the back of her head and pulled it into my chest. She grabbed my lapels and then the walking stopped outside our room. I could feel Lucy’s mouth open wide as if she was going to scream. I pressed her head as hard as I could into my chest and we heard another click. I turned my head to look through the slats. I could just see someone lighting a cigarette, then the walking started again and slowly got softer. We stood there for a little longer and I took my hand away from Lucy’s mouth and held her tight in my arms. She wouldn’t lift her head from my chest until I eased her away a little. I put my finger back on her lips. Her eyes were still big and staring at me. I turned around toward the door, feeling for the handle. Lucy was pressed hard against my back. I pulled the handle slowly and it clicked open. I could feel Lucy jump at the noise. Carefully, I pulled the door open enough to look down to where the light had been. It was total darkness. Lucy grabbed my arm. I pulled the door a little more to look the other way - it was dark and quiet that way, too - then I forced the door open all the way. Lucy was still holding my arm tight. We moved forward slowly and stopped looking up and down the deck, with our backs to the cabins.
“We must get back to the pool,” I whispered. Lucy nodded once, terrified, with her eyes still staring at me and nothing else, then slowly we eased our way back towards the stairs, one step at a time. I took a step and then Lucy took a step. It seemed to take ages. Not saying a word, we shuffled along the deck till we got to the bottom of the steps. We waited for a second until I was sure the stairs were clear. I slowly turned to Lucy and whispered again. “Give me your hand.” She placed it in mine. I could still feel her shaking. I looked up the stairs and turned back to Lucy. “When we get back by the pool, we will be all right.” I jerked her hand and ran up the stairs with Lucy close behind.
As we stepped onto the deck, we could see people running around and jumping in to the pool. We walked quickly towards them and, as we passed a waiter, I grabbed two glasses of champagne off the tray and we stood by the rail at the edge of the deck. I drank mine in one, as Lucy sipped hers, looking around. I put my arms around Lucy’s waist again and she laid her head on my shoulder, looking out to sea.
“What are we going to do?” she asked, then looked at me. “We will have to tell someone.”
I looked around the deck and said, “The best thing to do is get off the boat first and then we will decide what to do.” She put her head back on my shoulder and we stood there thinking.
All of a sudden there was a loud slap on my back. It made me jump and, as Lucy lifted her head, she threw up all over the deck. It was Jim. “Are thee both all right?” he said, then he grabbed the glasses out of our hands and said, “Oh, my dear, no sea legs, aye?” then laughed as he called the waiter over and pointed to show him what had happened. He put down his tray, ran off and came back with a big water hose and blasted the mess over the side.
I walked Lucy to a bench and sat her down. Jim followed us and sat next to Lucy. As she moved closer to me, she said, “I’m sorry, I-”
“Don’t worry,” Jim interrupted. “You aren’t the first tonight, my dear, and I’m sure you won’t be the last.” With that he stood up and walked off.
“Are you OK, now?” I asked, taking off my jacket.
Lucy lifted her head and said, “I thought it was-”
“I know, don’t worry.” I tried to be calm, as I placed my jacket around her shoulders and held it there. “Do you want me to get you another drink?”
Lucy nodded. “Please.”
“Do you want to go inside for a bit?”
“No, I’ll be all right, now,” she said, wiping her nose with her hanky.
I walked over to the waiter and he asked me, “Is the lady all right?”
I took two glasses and said, “Yes, thank you.” He stared at me; I had the feeling I’d seen his face before. I walked back to Lucy, puzzled, and sat down with a frown on my face.
“What’s the matter?” Lucy asked.
“Nothing, I thought I’d seen that waiter’s face before.” I gave her the drink, then we stood up and walked slowly back towards the dance room.
As we approached the doors, they opened and Beth walked out “Hello, I ’eard ee aven’t been too good, my dear.”
Lucy half smiled and said, “I feel much better now, thanks.”
We stopped by the rail and I looked into the room as the door shut. Then Beth said, “It’s too warm in there. ’Ave ee seen Jim on ee travels?”
I explained that he was with us about fifteen minutes ago and she walked off towards the back of the ship. Lucy turned to look out to sea and we held each other. I asked Lucy if she wanted to go to the front of the boat. “No, thank you,” she said. “I’ve seen enough. I’m staying here until we go.”
I smiled and kissed her as Jim and Beth walked towards us. “You found him, then?” I said.
“Ee’s always somewhere else.” Jim laughed and they went inside. We followed and I asked Lucy for a dance. The music was a lot slower now and we walked onto the dance floor. We held each other and danced for a while, not speaking a word. As we turned around and around, I was looking at everyone in the room, thinking to myself, it could have been anybody; any one of these people could have been in that room. I’m sure Lucy was thinking the same.
The record stopped and we waited for the next to start when I heard Jim behind me. “’Tis my turn,” he said pulling Lucy off me. She smiled and held her arms out as a waltz started. I turned to walk off and Beth was behind me.
“May I have this waltz?” I asked her.
“I thought ee would never ask.”
We moved around the room like Fred and Ginger. I caught a glimpse of Lucy, frowning and looking disgusted with me for letting Jim step in - and on her toes a number of times.
Knackered, I sat down with Beth. A waiter came over and placed some more drinks on the table in front of us. I asked him to leave two more, as Lucy came over limping with Jim holding her arm.
“I mus’ be pissed,” Jim said as Lucy sat down and held her right foot.
“It’s probably me, I haven’t waltzed for ages,” Lucy said politely.
Beth looked up at Jim and said, “You’ve always had two left feet.”
He sat down and asked Lucy if she was all right and she smiled at him. We sat drinking and talking for a while as the room started to empty. “Where is everyone going?” I asked Beth.
“Oh, ’tis that the time already?” she said and stood up. “Come outside, ’tis the firework display.”
I pulled Beth’s chair back, as Jim did for Lucy, and we went outside. The fireworks had already started. The black sky was covered with coloured sparkles from the exploding rockets. Lucy stood, leaning on the rail, and I stood behind her with my arms under hers and our cheeks touching each other’s, looking up at the fireworks as they fell down into the sea.
After five minutes, Beth said she was going back in and Lucy shivered and said, “I’ll come with you.”
As she turned, I whispered, “Don’t say anything to Beth.” Lucy shook her head and followed her.
The crowd of people around me was thinning out and I noticed Jim had disappeared again. I made my way back into the dance room and sat down next to Lucy. Beth was dancing and looked like she was enjoying herself. The door opened and Jim walked back in and sat down. He looked over at Beth and then he looked at his watch. “I think it’s time we were making a move.”
Lucy stood up and said, “Yes, it must be late,” grabbing her coat off the chair.
Jim looked up at Lucy and said, “’Tis no need for thee to be comin with me and the missus; thee can stay a while if thee want and come back on ’nother boat.”
“No,” she insisted. “We’ll come back with you. I need my rest carrying this around.” She patted her stomach. I dropped my head in case Jim saw me smile and Lucy walked off to the toilet.
“Does she be OK, now?” Jim asked.
“Yes, she gets tired easily,” I said, still smiling.
Then Beth came back. “Lucy be all right? She went past me like a hungry shark.”
“Yes,” I added. “She’s tired.” Jim stood and held Beth’s jacket up and she gracefully slipped it over her shoulders and then Jim walked over to Mr Ahmed as Lucy came back.
We collected our things and in turn thanked Mr Ahmed for having us at his wonderful party and then we waited by the doors until a waiter came over and told us the boat was ready. Jim thanked him and we left. As we walked back down the steps, I looked back at the harbour. I could see it wasn’t as lively as it had been earlier. There were just a few streetlights on and some coloured lights above the shops and bars. We slowly climbed back into the boat and started our journey back. It was even colder than before. I held Lucy as tight as I could in my arms; I had given her my jacket again on the steps getting into the boat. I sat there, with only the thought of a cosy bed and Lucy all to myself, keeping me warm. Jim was trying to sing ‘row the boat ashore’ and Beth was trying to hide behind Lucy in embarrassment.
It wasn’t long before we reached the harbour. I had to admit I was looking forward to putting my feet back on land again. Jim stood up first, a bit shakily, and the boat started to sway a bit. He climbed up the steps almost on his hands and knees and stopped by the streetlight just above us. I helped Beth up first, then Jim came back down the steps and held his hand out for her. Over she went and up the steps. I moved over and Lucy squeezed past me, hanging on, and Jim held out his hand again. Lucy was just about to grab it, when all of a sudden she stopped and gasped.
“What’s the matter?” I asked as she turned, still holding me.
“He’s got blood on his cuff,” she whispered.
A cold shiver went down my spine but there was nothing I could do. I grabbed his hand and jumped onto the steps, pulling Lucy behind me, and we ran up the steps together.
“What’s the matter?” asked Jim.
“Lucy felt sick again,” I said quickly.
“Let’s get her in the warm,” Beth added as she grabbed Jim’s arm and hurriedly walked across the road to the hotel.
Lucy pulled my hand back as we followed and said, “I’m not staying there with him.”
“Let’s not jump to any conclusions yet, we don’t have anywhere else to go remember and besides, he could have slipped shaving.” I must admit it started me thinking. Where was he when Beth couldn’t find him? Did he really like swimming? Or was that just to get rid of Beth? He looked dry enough when we were talking to him afterwards. And what was he whispering to Mr Ahmed?
By the time we got to the hotel, he was guilty. We walked in and Beth told Jim to get us all a warm drink. As soon as he said those magic words, “’Tis time for brandy, how’s about a nightcap, my lovelies?” he was excused. I’d let him off. I didn’t care if he had got anything to do with it, if, in fact, anything did happen.
We all walked through to the bar and sat down; there was no one else in there. Jim got the drinks. Beth stood up and said she would be back soon. Then Jim said, “What would ee like to be drinkin’?” I ordered a double brandy, and Lucy had a single.
Lucy turned to me and said, “What are we going to do?”
I held her hand and said, “Nothing at the moment.”
Jim came over and put the drinks down on the table. He pulled the chair out as if he was going to sit down and said, “Just a minute, I must make a phone call.”
Lucy looked at me, and as he walked away she said, “I told you there was something funny about him. Who is he ringing at this time of night? He’s going to-”
“No, no ... don’t be silly, you won’t sleep tonight. On the other hand, I don’t want you to.” Lucy half smiled. “Look,” I said. “We were tired and perhaps our imaginations got the better of us. We are off the boat now. We only heard a couple of clicks, we didn’t see a dead body. Perhaps whoever it was in there was listening to the radio, turned it off, closed their suitcase, turned off the light and left.”
Lucy looked at me and said, “All I can say, then, is it was a bloody big suitcase.”
I took a sip of brandy as the door flew open and in came Beth with a plate of sandwiches. She placed them on the table and sat down. “Where’s the old fool?” she said.
“He’s gone to make a phone call,” Lucy answered.
“Oh, ee’s gone to ring ’is sister in America. ’E rings about this time every week, ’tis the only time ’e knows ’e can catch er in, ’tis tea-time over there.”
Lucy looked at me again and smiled. It was the first time I had seen some colour in her face since it had happened. Then, after a few seconds of silence, she said, “He doesn’t shave.”
“These look nice,” I said as I picked up a sandwich and bit into it. Lucy took a sip of her brandy as Jim walked into the room.
“’Tis all shipshape over there. Everyone seems to be splendid,” he said smiling. As he approached, he threw a gun onto the table. Lucy coughed and nearly choked on her brandy. “Do ee like that?” he said. “I found it in the ’arbour, ’twas on the sand one day when the tide was out.”
I looked closer while Lucy was still coughing into her hanky. It was a rusty pistol-type gun that was very old and looked as though it hadn’t been fired for hundreds of years. Then Beth said, “Not that old thing again, put it away and ’ave a sandwich.” Lucy calmed down after she realised what it was, and we all sat talking for a while, until Beth said, “’Tis my bed I be needin’. ’Tis me to be up in a few hours for the breakfast, so I’ll see thee both in the morning.”
Then Lucy said, “I think I will come up with you,” and kicked me in the other shin under the table as she stood up. “Don’t be long, will you.”
“No, I’ll be up in a minute,” I said, rubbing my leg with tears in my eyes.
As they left Jim said, “One more?”
I held my empty glass up. “Just one,” and he went behind the bar with it. I was feeling a bit worse for the amount of drink I’d had and my eyes were getting very heavy. When he came back, we sat and talked about the pistol, Cornwall, Birmingham, Devon, his family in America, then all of a sudden I heard a noise - the sound of glasses banging together - and a lady spoke to me.
“It won’t do ee any good sitting there all night.” I opened my eyes as Beth pulled the curtains back. With a headache, and squinting my eyes, I realised it was morning. There was a half-empty bottle of brandy on the table in front of me and as Beth picked it up she said, “Do ee want to have a quick wash before your breakfast? Lucy is eating hers.” Then it hit me. I closed my eyes and dropped my head in my hands, shouting to myself, you’ve missed your night with Lucy again!
I went into the breakfast room and Lucy was sitting on her own at the table, eating. “I’m sorry,” I said and sat opposite her. “I must have fallen asleep talking to Jim.”
“It doesn’t matter, it was not meant to happen, was it?” she said with a look on her face that would have burnt anybody’s toast.
Beth came in with my breakfast and put it down on the table in front of me. “What time did Jim come up?”
“’Twas about four in the night, I'd be thinking. He stumbled across the room and got into bed fully clothed, he did. ’Twas the second his ’ead hit the pillow he moaned like an old shipwreck and I couldn’t be wakin’ him. So I ’ad to put up with it till I gets up, don’ I.”
“I’m sorry, we had a good chat.”
“Well, if ee’s makin’ a noise, I know he’s not dead, dun I.” she said with a grin, then she turned and left. She looked remarkable considering she’d had no sleep.
We didn’t speak for a while, then Lucy said, “To be honest, I fell asleep straight away, as well. The door was locked on the inside and there was a chair wedged against the handle.”
“Was that to keep me out?”
She leaned forward and whispered with a serious look on her face, “No - Jim. I’m still not sure he didn’t have something to do with that murder.”
I tried to laugh it off and said, “Just because he had blood on his shirtsleeve.”
“Shhh!” Still whispering, she said, “Before we went downstairs to the lower deck, he said he was going for a swim. Did you notice he wasn’t wet when we were talking to him after I was ill? And didn’t you wonder where he kept disappearing to? It was all a bit strange, don’t you think?”
“Let’s just forget it, we can’t tell anyone. If we told the police, we would end up in the papers and what would Ivor and Liz say to that? Let’s just finish our breakfast and head for home.”
Beth took our plates away and Lucy and I sat talking for a while. We finished our coffee and I went up to our room first to get changed. I left Lucy talking to Beth, hoping she wouldn’t be long; we still had some time left. I showered and got ready. After thirty minutes I went back down. Lucy and Beth were still engrossed in conversation. I sat back down and listened for a while. From what I could make out, they were taking about having babies and things like that. I tried to interrupt - there was an empty bed upstairs - then Jim walked into the room holding his head with both hands and groaning, “’Tis help I need.” I pulled the chair out for him to sit down as the waitress came over with a black coffee. I couldn’t stop smiling; he looked awful.
Beth turned to him and said, “’Tis your own fault,” then she turned away and carried on talking to Lucy.
Jim poked his tongue out at her with a disgusted look on his face as he scratched his chin through his beard and said, “’Ow do ee feel?”
“All right,” I said.
“I ’eard ee slept in the chair all night. I tried to wake ee but there was no response.”
“I’m used to sleeping like that at home,” I explained.
Then he turned and called the waitress back. “’Tis my bacon and eggs I be needin,” he shouted.
“It’s coming in a minute,” she replied and walked off into the kitchen.
“’Twas a good night on board,” Jim said, looking at me for a response.
I noticed Lucy’s ears prick up as he spoke. Then she looked at me as if to say, “It wasn’t for me”. “I enjoyed myself, I’ve never been to a party on a boat before.”
Lucy looked at me again as she stood up and said, “Shall we make a move? It’s getting on.”
I nodded and drained the last bit of coffee from my cup. Beth stood up and said, “I must be get’n’ on, too.” Jim still sat with his head in his hands.
“I’ll settle up with you when I come down. We’ll collect our things and meet you at the reception desk.”
“OK, my dear,” she said and walked away as Jim’s breakfast arrived.
“We will leave you to enjoy your breakfast and see you in a while,” Lucy said as she walked off, then Jim nodded and started to eat.
I followed Lucy up stairs, hoping we could spend a little time together. I pushed open the door to find Lucy packing her things away in a small suitcase. Quickly I did the same and pulled Lucy onto the bed and said, “How about it, then? We still have some time left.”
She looked up at me and smiled. “’Tis too late, my lovely, last night was the only chance you had for a few days if you know what I mean.” I was still annoyed with myself for falling asleep last night.
We messed about on the bed for a few moments and then we collected our things and made our way down to the reception desk. Lucy pinged the bell and out came Beth looking a little worse than she had earlier. “All set, then?” she said as she opened a drawer and reached for the bill. “All together it comes to £128 with the drinks that you had.”
I paid her in cash and Jim walked in from the dining room, still holding his head. “Just off, are we?” He lowered his arm just long enough to shake our hands and then he put it back on his head. “’Twas lovely to meet thee both,” he said. “Come back some time and see us again.” He turned to Beth and said to her, “Give them a card so they can tell us when the baby arrives.”
I took the card from Beth, kissed her on the cheek and said, “Thank you for all your help and a lovely night, we enjoyed it.” Then we turned and left, waving as we opened the door and walked out onto a busy road and towards the car.
We made our way out of the town and up the hill towards the main road, looking back at the view of the sea. I turned the radio on softly and Lucy said, “Can you stop somewhere? I’d like to ring my mum.”
“I’ve got to get some petrol, so you can ring her from there.”
“OK,” she said, and let her head fall back against the headrest.
We had been travelling for about five minutes when I pulled into a station and Lucy got out, just as the news was about to start. I opened the glove box to get my cheque book and the man on the radio said, “Good morning, everyone, this is the ten o’clock news.” Then he paused: “A man was found washed up on the shores of Devon this morning by a passer-by. He had been shot twice in the head. Police are treating it as murder and-” I turned it off quickly, as a horrible feeling went through me from head to toe. I could just see Lucy in the window of the filling station on the phone and hoped that the radio wasn’t on in there. I got out of the car, put the petrol in as fast as I could and ran in to pay. As I wrote the cheque out, I could hear Lucy talking on the phone, then she put the receiver down, went out of the shop and got back in the car. I followed and, as I approached, I could feel Lucy’s eyes following me.
“You will never guess what,” she said as I got back in the car.
“I know, I’ve just heard it.” I started the car and pulled away.
“Well, what am I going to do?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Just forget it.”
Lucy was quiet for a second, then she said, “What are you talking about? I will see him when I get home.”
“Ivor, he’s back early.”
“Oh, I thought you meant...” I stopped and thought, shall I tell Lucy or not?
“What did you hear?” Lucy said with a worried look on her face.
“I’ll tell you in a minute. What’s wrong with Ivor?”
“Mum’s just told me he came home yesterday and phoned Jackie in Mortoe to talk to me. She must have told him I left yesterday for home on the coach.”
Again I went cold, then hot, and I felt worse than when I’d heard about the man that was found dead. I pulled over into a lay-by. “Do you know her phone number?”
“Yes, it’s in my diary.” Lucy searched through her handbag and pulled it out. “What shall I say? I can’t tell her I spent the night here.”
“Tell her you missed the coach and you stayed in a hotel for the night and that you didn’t want to bother her because of her bereavement, etc.”
Lucy looked puzzled. She sat there thinking with her finger in her mouth, tapping her teeth with her nail. “Can you find me another phone box, then?” She was still deep in thought as I pulled away.
“Do you want to use my phone?” I held it up in front of Lucy.
“No, I’ll ring her from a payphone.
It wasn’t long before we found a phone box in the town. I pulled over and waited nervously while she called her friend.
It was a while before she came back and got in the car smiling. “Is everything all right?” I asked.
“Jackie didn’t speak to him at all yesterday, she was out till late at her friend’s caravan. She hasn’t spoke to Ivor since the night before her husband died, so I don’t know what mum was on about.”
Feeling a little bit better, we pulled off again. “Why don’t you ring Ivor at work and tell him you’re on your way home soon and you’ll see him tonight?”
“That’s a good idea. Will you stop again? I’d feel better if I knew.”
“Let’s have a drink and you can ring from there.”
We found a place with a small door into the lounge called the Duck Inn. I ordered the drinks and Lucy made the phone call.
With a big grin on her face, Lucy sat down, took a sip from her drink and said, “He tried to ring last night but couldn’t get through. He assumed that we were out together.”
“So everything is OK, then?”
“Yes,” she said, with a sigh of relief.
We finished our drinks and headed for home. We pulled on to the motorway and Lucy seemed to get a bit randy; she started to stroke the inside of my leg with the tip of her fingers softly and worked her way up my leg. I wasn’t sure if I should tell her to stop, so I pulled over into the middle lane and slowed down a bit. Then she fumbled about with my zip. I slowed down even more, between two large trucks. The one behind me started blowing his horn, while Lucy was trying to find mine in my pants. I drove on, pretending to take no notice, and the truck behind me pulled out and started to overtake me still blowing like mad. I must have cut him up. Then I realised it was too dangerous, so I told her to stop before we had an accident. She looked up at me and said, “’Tis a feel I’d be wantin’.”
I pushed her hand away and tried to fasten my zip back up and said, “You will have to wait, then, won’t you, till next time.”
We laughed and joked about me falling asleep and Lucy locking the door. Then Lucy said, “What were you going to tell me earlier?”
I’d forgotten about the news report and I’d hoped Lucy had too, but now we were miles away and it didn’t seem to matter so much. I said, “On the news, when I had the radio on and you were on the phone to your mum, they said that a body was discovered on the beach in Devon.” Lucy breathed in sharply, put her hand over her mouth and stared at me with those big eyes of hers. “It doesn’t mean it was from the boat, they just said that someone found a body. It could be someone who’d had a heart attack, or just drowned.” I didn’t think it would be wise to tell her about the two bullet holes.