© BM 2008
Chapter Three – Episode 5
The telephone jangled into his consciousness, waking him with a start, the more so because he had not realised that he had been sleeping. Alex hauled himself to his feet, glancing at his watch as he lumbered into the kitchen. “Quarter past nine. Who the hell is ringing at this time when a man is watching television?”
He reflected that he had not actually been watching the dammed thing, merely sleeping in front of it. “Good evening.” He knew, even as he said the words that he sounded as if he was growling, like someone who had just woken up and was not totally sure what day it was, where he was, or even who he was.
He quickly added, to try to dispel any such thoughts, “Can I help you?”
It didn’t work!
“Alex, you old bastard, I have just woken you up. I apologise.”
“What’s your problem, Neil, do you really think I would be asleep at this time of day?”
“In a word, old boy, yes. You are getting old before your time, mate, dozing in front of the TV. Are you wearing your slippers and cardigan, and is the cat sleeping in your lap?
“Neil, did you call to give me a load of crap, or was there a purpose to all this? In any event, I don’t have a cat, and if I did, it would be the only pussy I see around here.”
“Listen mate. You are such a miserable bastard no self respecting cat would put up with you, and the same goes for the other kind of pussy as well.”
“Neil, get to the fucking point, or I will shove this phone up your….”
“OK, OK, cool down. Julie and I are giving a little dinner party on Saturday night, and we wondered if you would like to come along?”
“Neil, that is very kind, but you wouldn’t want a miserable bastard like me there, spoiling things for you, and frightening the children and horses. That’s just to quote the views of a friend of mine.”
“Will you stop talking bollocks, you know how much Julie cares about you. She would like you to come. As far as I am concerned you can please your bloody self. I don’t know why she has such a high regard for you, clearly the woman’s judgement is unsound.”
“Clearly it is, mate, she married you.”
“Will you come?”
“Who else will be there? Jesus, I couldn’t stand another night with, whatsisface, Colin, your Socialist mate, and his gruesome little Irish wife, the one with the four kids?”
“Sinead, and they have five now. No, they aren’t invited. I think Colin loathes you as much as you do him. Anyway, there will be a few new people for you to meet. Come on, you miserable bastard, say yes.”
“Neil, please tell me that Julie is not trying to pair me up with one of her divorced or single mates. I am perfectly well off on my own, thank you very much.”
“Come on, Alex, would she do that to you?” Alex said to himself, “Neil Willis, may God forgive you. You are a lying bastard, you know exactly what she is up to.”
Alex prevaricated a little further, but he already knew that he had lost. “All right, mate, thanks, I’ll be there. Usual time?”
“Good boy, about eight. Oh and Alex, if you are tempted to bring a couple of bottles, please do not bring any more of that Israeli rubbish you brought last time. I used it to strip the paint in the living room.”
Alex laughed. “You ungrateful bastard. I’ll bring some Australian this time.”
He went back to the TV, but not to sleep. Neil was OK, he didn’t have a devious bone in his body, but Julie was a different matter. She was a sheer delight, intelligent, witty, poised, and beautiful. She also took it as some kind of personal insult to know of any man who was on his own, deprived of the company of women. She believed that any man would be better off with a woman. He wondered if it would help him to tell her he had become homosexual. He knew that it would not. She would look him straight in the eyes, and say, “Don’t be so bloody stupid, you’re not queer. Women know these things.” And she would have been right on both counts. Firstly, he was not queer, and secondly, women did seem to know just about everything. Still, he had said he would go, so he had better go, and see what Julie Willis was up to on this occasion.
“What was the sod on about? I didn’t take any Israeli wine.”
On the appointed day, he arrived at Neil and Julie’s about ten minutes late, which counted as being early for him. He lived about two miles away from the Willis’s, and he had taken the cab, rather than use his own car. There was the added advantage, he told himself, that he could have a drink without worrying about the drink drive laws. He came armed with a large bunch of flowers for Julie and two bottles of wine for Neil.
The door was opened by Julie, who put her arms around him, and hugged him tightly.
“Hello, sexy. You’re as dishy as ever.” She seemed to mean it, and to be glad to see him, and Alex was pleased to see her.
“Hi, gorgeous.” His reply was equally effusive. “Careful,” he warned her. “Your old man may come out and catch us.”
“Don’t worry about him, he’s slumped in front of the box.”
“OK, OK.” He disentangled himself. “Have a thought for the flowers, then.”
“Alex, you brought me flowers. What a surprise!”
“Come on, Julie, I bring you flowers every time.”
“I know, I know,” she said, “I’m just keeping our romance alive.” She took the flowers from him, and taking his hand, led him inside. Neil was not in front of the television, but preparing something or other in the kitchen.
“Hi, mate.” Neil Willis was fiddling around with some kind of mixture in a bowl. It didn’t look very appetising. They shook hands, reminding Alex of his father many years before. “You made it then?”
“Really can’t slip anything past you, mate.” Banter between the two men had been going on for so long, each accepted it as second nature.
Neil grinned. “That’s right, sharp as a tack, me. What’s that you have under your arm? Not more of your Outer Mongolian Chardonnay?”
“No, but before I give you this, please tell me something. What the hell have you got in that dish? I hope it is not something we are going to eat.”
“No, it’s too good for you, mate. It’s the dog’s dinner. She’d get really upset if I gave it away, especially to a cat lover. OK, mastermind, now let’s see your current choice of vino.”
Alex produced his two bottles from a plastic Tesco bag. “Voila! The best that Australia can produce. Bottle of red, Rawson’s Retreat, and a bottle of white, also Rawson’s Retreat.”
“Not much imagination gone into that, then. And who was Rawson, when he was at home, and what was he retreating from?” Willis took the two bottles, and put the white into the fridge. “I’ll just open this Aussie red, and we’ll have a glass.”
“No you bloody well won’t, matey.” Julie took the bottle from her husband, and placed it firmly on the kitchen work surface. “Neil, go and pour Alex a proper drink, and both of you get out of my kitchen. I have had enough of listening to you two kiddies squabbling. So, go! Go on, get out.”
Neil held up his hands in mock surrender, and took Alex by the shoulder. “Come on, pal, the Sturmbahnfuhrer has spoken.” They went into the lounge, passing the dining room on the way. The dining table had been set for four people.
“Neil, how many guests do you have? I thought this was more like a party.”
“Alex, me old mucker, don’t make waves. You know who the gaffer is in this house, and it isn’t me. Now, we did originally have plans for eight of us, but two couples cried off. Well, that’s the party line, or non party line, more like it”. The last sentence was said apologetically. “Alex, do me a favour, and do not make a fuss. Don’t upset Julie. She is really very, very fond of you, and you could really upset her.” His voice took on a pleading note. “Come on, mate, you’ll enjoy the evening, you will.”
“You sound like a German camp commandant. You vill enjoy yourself. Vee haf vays to make you.” He accepted the Bacardi and Coke, and chinked the ice at the embarrassed Willis. “OK, I promise.”
There was, he realised later, inevitability about the second guest, and when the doorbell rang, he just knew whose voice he would hear. He rose, putting down his drink, and faced the door. There was a minute or so of conversation with Julie, and Francesca entered the lounge.
“I believe that you two know each other?” Julie spoke brightly, a little too brightly, thought Alex.
“Hello, Alex. It’s been a while. Six months, to be precise about it.” She held out her hand, which was soft and cool, and not how he remembered it from Angola. Her hair was longer, curling a little at the neck. It suited her. Alex thought she looked stunning, and wondered why he had failed to see it before.
“Francesca, how delightful to see you again, and looking so lovely.” He added quickly, as she blushed a little and tried to remove her hand, “I nearly said ‘ with your clothes on.’ ”
She smiled, and withdrew her hand, but more slowly. “You have put on a little weight, perhaps?”
“A little, perhaps, although you were not meant to remark on it. I haven’t eaten chicken since I got back from Angola.”
She made a face. “That dreadful chicken! I thought I would die.”
“Well, our old chum, Major Fernandes seemed to like it. He ate yours, if I remember right.”
She smiled again. “He was welcome to it.”
Julie seized her husband’s arm. “Come on, Neil, we have things to do in the kitchen.” She turned to Alex and Francesca. “Alex, pour a drink for Francesca, and make yourselves comfortable.” She dragged Neil off with her. He appeared to be about to say something, but saw his wife’s face, and closed his mouth.
“Yes, dear.” The answer seemed the only one possible in the circumstances. As he walked past Alex, he raised his eyes towards the heavens.
Alex began to prepare drinks. “Did you get your watch?”
She looked at him in that direct way he remembered so well from Angola. “Yes, thank you. I thought you might have delivered it yourself. I do not live on the moon, you know.”
He stopped pouring, and turned to her. “I had no idea that you might want me to call. As I remember it, in Angola, you hardly wanted to talk to me.”
She shrugged, another little mannerism he recalled from Angola. “Angola was Angola. England is England. Did you not want to see me again?”
He completed pouring her drink and handed it to her.
“That was hardly the point, whether I wanted to see you again, or not. Again, unless my memory is faulty, you told me you were married. I seem to remember that I had enough problems of my own, at that time, without making up a few extra ones.”
Again she shrugged. “I was separated from my husband when I met you in Angola.”
Somehow, Alex was losing track of where this conversation was going. “You didn’t tell me that. All you said was, and correct me if I have got this wrong, was that you were married to an Englishman.”
“No, I did not tell you I was separated, and yes, I did tell you that I was married to an Englishman.”
“Are you still separated?”
“Oh, I see.”
“No, you don’t see. I am divorced.”
“Ah.” It was not the brightest remark he could have made, but he did not know what else to say. He was unsure where the discussion was going, and he decided to move it into safer waters. “Anyway, you got your watch. I knew that Bill Menzies worked with you from time to time, and he would get it to you.”
“Yes, Bill is a nice man. Would you have wanted to see me if you had known I was not married?”
Jesus, but the woman was direct, and he was back in dangerous waters. “I really do not know, Francesca. In Angola, you gave a very good impression of regarding me as something one of the village dogs had dragged in from the bush.” She started to reply, but was cut short by Julie’s arrival back in the room.
“Dinner in ten minutes, is that all right?”
Francesca got up. “I will help you, Julie.” She picked up her glass and went into the kitchen. Almost immediately, Neil came from that direction.
“Been kicked out, mate?” Alex grinned at him.
“Yes, not wanted on voyage. Something to do with girl talk.”
“Neil, you’re a bloody sod, do you know that? You knew all along that this was a set up, and you allowed me to walk into it. Some mate you are.”
“Alex, come on. She’s a nice looking girl, and she’s on her own. You’re a reasonable sort of guy, some of the time, and you are on your own. If I had told you, you wouldn’t have come, would you? And, in any case, I bet you had a pretty shrewd idea all along what the SP was here. Jesus, you know Julie, and you know what she’s like. Since you and Charlie split up, she has had her antenna out for someone for you.”
“Neil, I’m old enough to be her bloody father.”
“Alex, old son, you’re old enough to be my bloody father. That isn’t the point. She is a lovely girl and you could sure as hell use some company.”
“Neil, I love Julie to pieces, but can you not persuade her that I can find my own birds?
“You bloody well know that no one can persuade Julie to anything at all, unless she wants to be persuaded. And, no, you couldn’t pick up a bird in a brothel.”
“Right, OK, I give in. Pour me an other Bacardi, will you?”
Dinner was an exceptional meal, good cooking and excellent wines, but most of all the company just sparkled. Whether it was because of the wine Alex was not able to say, but he felt in very good form, and, at least for the rest of the evening, the depression, which had been hanging over him for months, lifted. The conversation drifted naturally to Angola, and to their five days as guests of UNITA, and their commander, Martino Fernandes, who from a distance now took on a charismatic and heroic stature, which they had not noticed at the time.
Francesca was enjoying herself, and was displaying a sense of humour that Alex had not suspected from their bush days. “I was frightened I would be raped.” She said this with an expression on her face which suggested that the fear was still with her.
Julie shared her concern. “The soldiers must have been awful.”
“No, the soldiers were fine, it was Alex I was worried about.” She and Julie roared with laughter, while Alex and Neil looked on bemusedly. She was making fun of him, and Alex wanted to come back with a lightening shaft of repartee to even the score. He could think of nothing to say, and smiled weakly.
Neil sensed his friend’s embarrassment, and tried to steer the conversation to other subjects. “What about you, Alex. What were your concerns?”
Alex was grateful. “I think I was most worried by the possibility that the FAA, the Angolan Army, would be following up and would take us all out on a search and destroy mission. Those boys don’t mess about out there, either side, and they don’t always collect prisoners. I wanted to get the hell out of there before the cavalry came storming in.”
Neil sensed he was on to a winner, and ploughed on. “Was your Army experience any good to you in coping?”
Francesca looked at Alex, and said quickly, “You didn’t tell me you had been a soldier?”
“I’m sorry, it never seemed relevant, and, anyway, you didn’t ask. I seem to remember you were asleep when the galloping major and I shared our military reminiscences.”
Neil chimed in, “Yes, and a bloody hero as well, wounded in the Falklands.”
Julie looked at Alex and asked with a straight face, “What part of you is your Falklands, Alex?”
She and Francesca howled with laughter, and Alex smiled weakly again.
Julie was serving dessert. “Come on Francesca. What was it really like, five days deep in the jungle, alone with all those sex crazed soldiers? No one but you and them.”
Alex objected. “I was there!”
Julie ignored him. “What was it like?”
Francesca hesitated. “Well, firstly, it was not really jungle, with wild animals and so on. There may have been wild animals, but I didn’t see any.”
“Apart from the tigers,” Alex interrupted.
Francesca reacted, “What tigers?”
Alex grinned, “Sorry, that was a porkie, there are no tigers in Africa.”
Julie rounded on him. “Shut up, you, let the lady talk.”
He held up his hands. “OK, OK, I’m out numbered. Please carry on.”
Francesca smiled at him, a sort of sisterly “we are superior” smile. “No jungle, no animals, and a kind of bush, really. Is that what you would call it, Alex?”
He nodded. “Yes, the bush.”
“We didn’t have any problems with anyone. They all seemed too busy to be concerned about us. Life was very hard in the village where we stayed. They took us to other places, to see a school, and a hospital. Very poor, very sad, no medicines, yet everyone we met was very positive about the future. I, we, couldn’t understand that, to have so little, and in many ways to be happier, and better off than we are in Europe.”
“They believed in something, unlike us, that was the difference,” said Alex quietly.
Neil contributed, “Great pictures you took, Francesca. I suppose you are a millionaire now.”
She shook her head. “Sadly, no. You need to take pictures of Princess Diana’s boobs to do that. Pictures of children starving to death do not earn much. I am not certain this is how I want to go on earning my living.”
They were all silent for some minutes as the coffee was served and drunk. The discussion turned to other matters, and the days in Angola were left behind. Eventually it was time to clear up, and Alex and Francesca helped Julie and Neil with the work.
“Do you have a dishwasher,” asked Francesca, looking round the kitchen.
“Yes, but he’s in the dining room at the moment.” Julie indicated with her thumb.
“I will wash up.” Francesca was insistent.
“I’ll dry.” Alex could be gallant when pressed. He steered Julie gently towards the lounge. “Go and join your beloved, before he has withdrawal symptoms.”
She agreed laughingly.
They washed and dried in a companionable silence for a while, she occasionally chiding him over his slowness, he remarking that being slow was better than having broken dishes, especially when they were not your dishes. They finished, and were wiping and drying around the sink.
He leaned back against the workbench and watched her. She pretended not to notice. “I suppose that you know that all this has been stage managed for our benefit?”
“Yes, I know.”
“We’re supposed to make a date and go out to dinner.”
“Yes, I know that, too.”
“Would you like to?”
She looked at him for the first time, and he saw once again how very straight and direct her gaze was, and how very brown, and beautiful her eyes were. “Yes, I would. It has taken you six months to get around to asking, and you needed help, but yes, that would be nice.”
When they left, he kissed her chastely on each cheek, and promised to phone the following day. It was a promise he knew he would keep. He declined the offer of a lift from Francesca, and Julie, with thanks, and from Neil with, “Don’t be daft. You’re pissed.” He also declined the offer from the Willis’s to call a taxi, and loosening his tie, and jamming his hands in his pockets, he walked home. He felt elated, he felt like skipping one or two dance steps. However, he merely whistled. He felt that his life was about to change, and he couldn’t know yet whether the change was for the better or worse.
He remembered a nurse a long time ago in Belfast when he was fourteen, and the way he had felt. He had been in hospital for an operation on his foot and had fallen in love for the first time in his life. Now he couldn’t even remember her name. This nervous, jittery, not knowing whether he wanted to laugh or cry feeling he had experienced it before. He had known it seriously, only twice, with Charlie, and Anne. He had married Anne, and been divorced by her, and wanted to marry Charlie, who had left him. Will this be different? I am going into the washing machine again, and I have no idea how, or when it will sling me out. He knew he wanted to try.
He spoke to the night sky, “Julie Willis, you are a clever witch, and you have got your way.” He added to himself, “As we all knew you would.”
As each knew would happen, Alex phoned Francesca the following day, and they agreed to meet for dinner on the Wednesday, in a pub in Sussex, not far from Horsham, which was close to where Francesca lived. He did no know the place, but assured her he possessed an A-Z, was a big boy and could probably find it. She, in turn, assured him that the pub also boasted a perfectly respectable restaurant, at least by English standards.
He passed three very trying days, constantly reproaching himself that he had not made a date for Monday, instead of Wednesday, which seemed to be an eternity away. Several times he toyed with the idea of phoning her, and, on one occasion, even keyed the first four digits of her number before he stopped himself. “Come on, man. It’s only a girl.” But even at this stage he sensed that she was more than only a girl. He could not understand why he felt this way. From December 1990, in Angola, until June 1991, in Surrey, he had hardly thought about Francesca Paglioni at all, and now his every waking moment seemed to be filled with her.
“Come on, wake up to yourself. You have been here before with Charlie. You know what they can do to you. They can cut yours balls off, and walk away without a second thought. Don’t get into this mess again.” He knew what his mind was telling him, and his mind was right, but other parts of his body were giving him different messages, and he thought he preferred their advice.
Wednesday was a fine sunny day, and he was obliged to go to the agency office for a meeting on a project coming up in Africa. His attention was not totally in sync with the discussions, and once, his boss, Harry Sawyer said sharply, “Hey, Alex, pay attention, where are you at the moment?”
Alex apologised. “Sorry, Harry, I was wondering what the Test match score was.”
Somehow the meeting finished, and at about three in the afternoon, he was ready to leave.
“Alex.” Sawyer called to him as he was preparing to leave.
“Alex, the fucking Test match does not start until this Thursday.”
Alex stopped at the door. “Ah, probably that’s why I couldn’t get the score then.” He departed quickly.
He left himself plenty of time to find the pub, which he did, successfully, some thirty minutes before the time of the rendezvous. He parked up in the car park for a few minutes, but grew impatient, and started the engine on the BMW. “All right, Alex, old son, a quick trot along the Queens Highway, and back again in twenty minutes.” It was only after he started on this plan that the thought struck him that he might get involved in traffic, and end up late. He didn’t, and drove back into the pub car park at about ten minutes before eight. Quickly he scanned the other cars for a Capri, but there was no sign of Francesca’s car.
He entered the pub, and decided not to bother going into the bar, but went, instead, directly to the restaurant, to be greeted by an elegant youngish woman, in a long skirt. “Millar, Alex Millar, I have a table reserved.”
She smiled, “Ah, yes, Mr Millar. A table for two. Do you prefer smoking or non smoking?”
He suddenly realised that he didn’t have a clue. Did Francesca smoke? He hoped not, but he was not sure. At that moment he appreciated how very little he did know about the lady. Did she have children, for example? How old was she? She was clearly younger than he was, but then, as he reminded himself frequently, and as Neil was also anxious to inform him, nearly everyone was these days.
Long skirt was speaking again. “So, was that smoking, or non smoking?”
He returned her smile, thinking as he did so, that she was not nearly as attractive as he had first thought. “Sorry, non smoking, please.”
She indicated to a young waiter, and said, “Table six.”
Table six was ideal, near the window, and not too close to the other diners.
“Thanks,” he said, and sat down. He declined the menu, and also declined a drink, preferring to wait for Francesca.
She was late, not very late, but late. He believed that, like changing her mind, it was a woman’s prerogative to be late. He watched her arrive, and speak to long skirt, who smiled charmingly to Francesca, and led her to the table. Long skirt favoured Alex with a smile which did not extend to her eyes. He could not work out if she disapproved of Francesca, or him. Undoubtedly, it would be him. He could not remember anything he had done, or said, to offend her, and he didn’t give a shit.
He was on his feet to greet Francesca, and kissed her on either cheek. She smelt good. “Hi, I am pleased to see you.”
“Hi, yourself, it’s nice to see you again.”
“Any difficulty finding the place?” He helped her into her seat
“No, simple really, I don’t live too far away.”
They ordered their meals, and a bottle of wine, which was Italian, on his insistence, and they talked, it seemed endlessly. They chatted a great deal about a great many things, and never seemed to run short of things to say. They laughed a great deal, and just once or twice, in little bubbles of silence, they found themselves looking into the other’s eyes. At first, each looked somewhere else, but, at the end of the meal, perhaps made a little bolder by the shared bottle of wine, they each held the other’s eyes.
“Do you know,” he said, “and I know this must sound awfully hackneyed, but you have the most extraordinary eyes?”
“I don’t know what hackneyed is, but am I to believe that you are giving me a compliment?”
“Yes, it is a compliment, and by hackneyed I mean, you must have heard it many times before.”
“Well, perhaps, but it is still pleasant to hear. Thank you.”
“They are very dark, and they are shaped like a doe.”
“ What is a doe, is it good?”
He laughed, “Oh yes, it is very good. A doe is a deer, a female deer. You know, like Julie Andrews sings in “The Sound of Music.” Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray, a drop of golden sun.”
She laughed. “You did not tell me that cabaret was also included this evening. You have a nice voice, but I am sure that Julie Andrews did it better.”
“You are laughing at me. Julie does have a better voice, and has better legs, and your eyes are still doe shaped.”
“Daina. That is one word in Italian, a doe is daina. There is also cerva, or…”
“No, no, daina, I like that.” He repeated the word several times, rolling it around in his mouth. She watched, amused. “Yes, I like daina. I will call you Daina, the doe.”
And so she became Daina, almost as often as Francesca.
He waved to long skirt, and got the bill. He put his MasterCard on the plate.
“I’m sorry, sir. We do not take those.”
He replaced his MasterCard with his Visa card.
“No sir, we do not take any credit cards.”
“What, you don’t take any cards?”
“That’s correct, sir, cash or account, only.”
He seemed to detect a certain satisfaction and superiority in long skirt’s voice, as he took out his wallet. “Give me a moment, please.” He smiled at long skirt, and to Francesca, “Look, I am so sorry, but could you lend me £10. I don’t have enough cash?”
She reached into her bag, and took out her purse. “Is £10 enough? I have plenty with me.”
“I am seriously embarrassed, but thanks. Yes, a tenner will do.”
They left the restaurant together, with faces as straight as they could manage, but, once in the car park, they collapsed against each other in fits of laughter, which only stopped when they kissed.
“Can I see you on Saturday, Daina?”
“Yes, please. I will phone you tomorrow with my address.”
Once again he spent an agony of three days, waiting for Saturday, a waiting made worse by Francesca’s failure to phone him. What was wrong? Had she changed her mind? Had he done something wrong? He played over and over in his mind everything they had said and done, trying to find a clue. He could identify nothing, which might account for it, unless it was his borrowing the ten pounds. She had seemed to enjoy his company and to like him. Perhaps it was all an act. You never know any bloody thing with women. He was an idiot, and an idiot who had been right all the months ago in Angola. She was a stuck up, bolshie, little, feminist cow. No, no, she wasn’t! She was, she is, a stunningly attractive, intelligent, sexy lady, with eyes he could drown in. She was a lady he wanted to see again, and again; a lady he could not get out of his mind; a lady he did not want to get out of his mind. But why had she not called? Should he call her? Had she lost his phone number? Oh, God, please, please call!
She did call, on Friday morning, at about eight thirty, as he was moodily drinking tea and eating toast.
“Alex, it’s Francesca. I’m glad I caught you. I thought you might have left for work, and I don’t have the agency number. I don’t think I even know which agency you work for.” She sounded breathless.
His spirits soared. “Hi, Daina. I am truly pleased to hear from you. I’m not working today.”
“Oh, sorry, did I wake you? I just wanted to apologise for yesterday, I got tied up in a shoot, and couldn’t get away. Is it still OK for Saturday?”
He wanted to shout, to dance. Mentally he said “Yes” very loudly, and clenched his fist. However, when he spoke, it was in a tone which he hoped was interested but not too frantic.
“Saturday is fine, I am looking forward to it. You were going to let me have your address, and I will pick you up in the BMW.” Why did he say that? He would not have said “Vauxhall” or “Ford.” Did he think she would be impressed by a beemer?
“Oh great, I thought you might like to go to Brighton? They have some really nice little restaurants there.”
Lady, he thought, Bethnal Green would be heaven if you were there. “Yes, that’s a great idea. I like Brighton. By the way, I have been to the bank, and I have some money this time. Remind me that I owe you ten pounds.”
“Alex, please do not worry about the money. I will pay this time. I do not want you to pay all the time. I am not that kind of girl.”
They had a good natured argument about this, for a minute or two, and he was delighted to discover that the atmosphere between them was unchanged from long skirt’s pub. And what did she mean about ‘all the time’? She must have made up her mind they were going to be more than just one or two dates.
They drove down to Brighton on a calm sunny evening, and walked around the Lanes for an hour, window shopping, as the daylight died in the west. She had been working in the open, and the sun had touched her face, giving it a perfection he thought he had never seen before in anyone. He realised that he was falling in love. Oh, be careful, Alex, you have travelled this road several times before and it has always ended in a cul-de-sac.
They had dinner in a small Italian restaurant, and shared a bottle of Chianti. Afterwards they strolled along the beach, and he plucked up sufficient courage to hold her hand. She made no objection. They drove back in a private cloud of well being. Near Haywards Heath, the bulb failure light came on and he stopped the car in a lay by to check the problem. It was one of the filaments on the headlight. He climbed back into the car, and turned to her. “I will get it fixed tomorrow.”
She leaned over and kissed him. “Thank you for a beautiful evening.”
On the outskirts of the town he was stopped by a police officer, who pointed out that one of his headlights was defective.
Alex thought, “You are great at stating the bleeding obvious, mate.” Instead he said, “Thanks, officer. I know, it has just happened. I will fix it tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow is Sunday, sir.”
“Oh, yes, so it is. Monday, then.”
“Have you been drinking, sir?”
“Drinking, no, I haven’t, but I did have a glass of wine with my meal.”
“I’m afraid I will have to breathalyse you, sir.”
“Please yourself, but you ‘re wasting your time.”
“Nevertheless, sir, please blow into the tube, and do not stop blowing until I tell you.”
Alex did as he was told, and waited with some anxiety as the policeman examined the crystals. “Thank you, sir, you are clear. Please get the light fixed as soon as possible.”
“Yes, thanks, I will. I did say you were wasting your time.”
“It’s my time, sir. Good night.”
At that moment a white Cortina blasted by, loudspeakers thumping, obviously in the wrong gear, and in excess of the speed limit.
“He might make a better target for you than me.”
“I was just thinking the same thing. Goodnight, sir.”
“Goodnight, officer.” Under his breath he said, “Pillock.”
The police car departed in the direction of the errant Cortina.
“Well, Daina, you are having a hell of an effect on my life. First, I bring no money to a restaurant, and then, I get a breath test for the first time in my life.”
“Poor Alex. Let’s go home, and I will make you a cup of coffee.” He drove to her new, semi detached house. She made the coffee, and he stayed the night. They made love, gently, easily and naturally, and fell asleep in each other’s arms.
Chapter Four – Episode 6 Tomorrow