© BM 2008
Chapter Six – Episode 8
He awoke, not slowly, as was his manner, but immediately, to find he was lying on his back. He was cool, or at least his naked chest was cool. A stream of sunlight shafted into the room from a crack in the curtained window to his right, forming a circle of pale green on the darker green of the carpet. In this small cascade of light, tiny specks of dust danced, spiralling upwards against the cascade, reflecting the sun’s rays as they twisted and turned. He lay still, trying to savour the first stirrings of the day, and more pragmatically, trying to remember where he was. His lifestyle, and frequent travels, had together contributed to this almost invariable start to the day. This was always true when he was not in his own bed, and he was not in his own bed now.
From his left came a small noise, like that of a tiny animal, and he sensed movement. He turned his head and saw her, lying on her left shoulder, facing away from him. Her black hair curled at the neck, and just framed her small right ear. Her shoulders and back were naked, and he noticed the scatter of freckles across her shoulder blades and middle back. He remembered the old joke asking if one had ever slept with an ugly woman, which produced a negative answer, but added something about waking up with one. This was not the case now. This woman was still beautiful in the morning. He looked at his watch. It was six thirty.
He lay still, trying not to move and so disturb her. He held his breath so long that at last he was forced to breathe, with a kind of gasp. The noise caused her to move, turning on to her back, and to make the same small noise he had heard before, for all the world like a mouse or rabbit. She was still again, on her back, her head inclined to the left, her small breasts peeping over the duvet like two tiny pink nosed puppies. He watched as with her soft breathing, her breasts moved up and down, rhythmically. God, she was beautiful. Why had he not appreciated this blatantly obvious fact before? The days they spent together in Angola, what had he been thinking of? As he stayed silent, quietly watching her, he thought back to other women in his life; Sharon, all those long years ago in Singapore; Anne in the long decline of their marriage; and Charlie, in the fast flowing torrent that was their one year relationship. Was this different? Would this survive, or crumble into mutual recriminations like so many others? He could not answer, and decided not to go on asking questions. He knew, no, he thought he knew that this time it was different, this time was right. Certainly this moment was right.
He studied her face, quiet, relaxed, and almost serene in sleep. Francesca was not classically beautiful; the mouth was perhaps a little small, the lips a tad less full than they might have been, and the nose a fraction upturned. No, she was not beautiful, but she was by a long way the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He knew that this moment would never come again, and he wanted to savour and remember it. He studied her face for around ten minutes, trying to commit every detail to his memory. The only small regret he had in these quiet moments was that, by necessity, her eyes were closed. Francesca truly had eyes he could drown in. Daina, the doe, well named. Finally the need to relieve himself became overwhelming, and he slipped out of bed, as gently and quietly as he could.
When he returned, she was still in the same position, and he crept back into bed. She half opened her eyes, sleepily, like a cat.
“Hi. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
She closed her eyes once again, and when she spoke her voice had a cat like purring quality. “Please cuddle me.”
He put his arms around her, and she burrowed up against his chest. She laughed sleepily, “You are so hairy, it tickles.”
“I’ll shave it off, if you like.”
She slapped his chest playfully, “No, no, don’t you dare! I love it. You keep me warm.”
He closed his eyes, and the smell of her hair was in his nostrils as he fell asleep again.
They woke again about nine, and without speaking, made love once more in the same easy way of the previous evening, gently and naturally.
At breakfast she said, “Do you have to leave?”
“No, not unless you are kicking me out.”
“Well, you have been a good boy so far, I’ll let you stay for a while. Would you like to go for a walk?”
“What, just me, or will you be there too?”
She hit him with a tea towel. “Both of us, Mr Journalist. If I let you out of my sight it may be six months before I see you again.”
He took hold of the tea towel and pulled it and her towards him. She did not resist. “Daina, I have this strange feeling that we will see a great deal of each other.” He kissed her, and the tea towel fell forgotten to the kitchen floor.
They took the BMW and drove out into the Sussex countryside. He did not know where they were going, and he did not care very much either. He was content just to be with her. She directed him up to the Downs, and they left the car in a parking area on the top of a small hill. The wind whipped at them as they got out of the car, causing them to quickly don their jackets, and Alex to put a baseball cap marked ‘ Daily Telegraph’ on his head.
“Where did you get that awful thing?” She giggled with laughter.
“What’s wrong with it?” he demanded in an offended tone. “They pay my wages sometimes.” He took the cap off, and made a great pretence of examining it in a very anxious fashion.
“I can’t begin to tell you. It is not what you could describe as cool.”
“That’s OK, I’m not very cool. In fact, I’m bloody freezing. Come here, you!”
She made a pretence of running away, and he caught her in half a dozen yards, kissed her, and planted the cap on her head.
“I think I love you,” he said quietly.
She put her finger against his lips. “Shush, Alex. Maybe you do, maybe you do not. Don’t be in a hurry. If we are going in that direction, let’s go there slowly.” She kissed him, and the baseball cap was pushed back by his forehead, and blew away. They chased and caught it, and kissed again, laughing.
“Let’s walk,” she said.
He could not remember when he had last enjoyed a day so hugely. The sun was warm on their faces, and the wind cool on their bodies. They walked for around an hour, Francesca leading the way. Where they were going, he cared not, he was more than content just to be with her. They talked endlessly, their feet alternately crunching over the white chalk, or pushing through the tough wiry grass. She linked his arm, or they held hands, and in that hour on the Downs they seemed to have known each other for ever. A song kept reprising itself in his head. “And when I say how much I love you, you’ll think I’ve known you a thousand years.” He could not remember the title, or anything else about it, but the same two lines came to him again and again. This can not be the same lady you knew in Angola, he told himself. When did she change, or when did you?
“Are you still married?” She was diffident with the question.
“No, divorced about three years.” He, too, was diffident. “What about you?”
“It became final about three months ago.”
They walked in silence for a while before she spoke again. “What happened?”
“That isn’t all that easy to answer. I guess we just stopped loving each other. We had been married a long time, and we ended up as two strangers sharing a house. We didn’t sleep together, or go out together, or do anything together. Both the children were gone. She hated my job, any of my jobs, the Army, the Press, didn’t matter, she hated them all. Perhaps she just hated me at the end. She always blamed me.”
“Were you to blame?”
“Yes, I think so, probably. I mean, it can’t have been easy for her. First being a soldier, always away when she needed me. Then journalism. Not much fun for a woman.” He was silent for a while. “Yes, it was probably down to me. She never liked the Army, although her Dad was in the RAF, and I was a soldier when we met. Didn’t seem to matter to her, she hated the Army. I loved it, God help me. She encouraged me to take up my present foolish form of employment. Then she hated that as well.”
He reflected a little longer. “On the other hand, perhaps it really was just me that she hated.” He laughed, but without joy. “What about you, Daina? What happened?”
She seemed to shiver a little, perhaps it was the wind. “Alex, I would wish not to talk about that yet. It is very early, and I, I”, she broke off.
He squeezed her hand. “Agreed, let’s forget it. Do you fancy a drink? Any idea if there is a pub within ten miles of this place?”
“I’m only a photographer, you know. I thought you were a drinking man. Neil says you can find a pub, up to three miles away, just by smell, and Julie says”,
“Never mind what Julie says, let’s go find ourselves a drink.”
Twenty minutes later, they were seated in the corner of the lounge bar of the Duck and something. He bought two Fosters, a pint for himself, and a half for Francesca.
“Are you hungry?” He looked at her.
She shook her head. “No”
“Well, I’m a bit peckish.” He went to the bar and returned with a packet of crisps, and a packet of pork scratchings. He opened the latter and offered her one.
“What are those?” she asked horrified.
“Pork scratchings.” He looked at her, quizzically. “How long have you lived in England?”
“And you have never tried these?” He popped one in his mouth and crunched down on it. “Heaven!”
“What are they made of?”
He explained and said “Here, try one.”
She recoiled in horror. “No.”
“Come on, try just a little one.”
She accepted, reluctantly, and even more reluctantly put it in her mouth. “Oh, that’s not too bad.”
He shrugged. “There you are. I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. The height of British cuisine.”
She hit him on the arm.
They talked and laughed, as the bar room filled up. She looked at the rapidly filling room, and the attendant fog of cigarette smoke. “Come on, newspaper man, let’s get out into the fresh air.”
They tramped back to the car, and drove back to her place, had a light late lunch, and made love again. He left about six.
Inside the front door they kissed, and stood with their arms around each other.
“Will I see you again, Mr Journalist?”
“Oh, yes, and I will see you, again and again. Your face will be the last thing I see at night, and the first thing I see in the morning.”
“Very romantic, you English,” she mocked him.
“I told you, I’m not bloody English.”
She opened the door. “Ciao, Ulsterman. Sleep well.”
He drove home, and the BMW seemed to share his elation. He and the car both seemed about three feet above the ground.
Work was difficult to concentrate on the following day. He was due to work at home, and at least the ‘home’ part of that situation applied. Suddenly the political situation in Zaire appeared to be unimportant; Mr Mobutu less attractive than Signorita Paglioni, or should that be Signora. Francesca occupied his mind totally, and concentration on anything else was quite impossible. Finally he gave up; the assessment of Zaire’s future would have to wait. He phoned Julie Willis.
“Good morning.” She answered brightly.
“Julie, it’s Alex.”
“Good morning, sir. How are you?”
“I’m fine. No, I’m bloody marvellous. And I sincerely hope you are the same, my lady. Are you doing anything?”
“No, not much, just the usual scrubbing the kitchen, making the beds, washing and ironing and….”
“OK, OK, I’m sorry. Can I put it another way? Can I take you away from your drudgery, for an hour, and force you to share a glass of wine with me?”
“Hmmm, if it is for what I think it is for, it will take longer than an hour. I suspect you want to lean on Auntie Julie’s shoulder a little, and seek advice on the meaning of life. That does not come cheap, you know. It will cost you lunch, and, of course a promise not to tell Neil what I get up to during the day.”
“It’s a deal. I’ll pick you up in half an hour. By the way, what do you see in that dead head?”
“Better make it an hour. If I need to change from kitchen skivvie into glamorous Agony Aunt, I’ll need an hour. Oh, and I think I like him because he reminds me of you.”
He did most of the talking, she listened, and occasionally contributed. He needed to talk, to straighten things out in his own mind. She seemed to understand. Alex did not understand. He was fifty-two years of age, and seemed to have fallen in love with someone over twenty years younger. That was not a surprise, men do it all the time. He could not, however, comprehend why it had happened, to him, and at this time. He had spent five days in the closest possible proximity to Francesca, and had then not seen or thought of her for six months, and now, he had been struck by a cyclone.
Julie raised her glass of Chablis, and studied it before sipping. She then looked at him.
“This is better than your normal Tibetan red.”
“Do not start, I get enough of that from your old man.”
Julie smiled and put down the glass. “Alex, have you ever seen Barbara Streisand?”
“The singer? Sure, in the odd film, and on TV. Why?”
“What do you think of her?”
“Great singer, she can send shivers up my spine.”
“No, not as a singer, as a woman. Do you think she is attractive?”
“No, she’s a bit ugly if you ask me. Big nose, and, no, not very. Why?”
“Well, my dearly beloved used to feel like you, and then about six months ago, we saw ‘The way we were’ on TV, and Neil baby suddenly starts popping his corks for her.”
“So, the guy’s mad, but I’ve always known that. What is the point you are making?”
“It’s elementary, my dear Watson. It is all a matter of timing. The timing was not right for you six months ago, and today it is.”
“And what about Francesca, is the timing right for her?”
“I don’t know the answer to that, Alex. I do not think she would know the answer either. You will have to find out. I do know that she is a lonely, frightened girl, and she needs someone just now. I have no idea if you can fill that role on a long term basis.”
He dropped her at her house, and went with her to the door.
“Like to come in? A coffee, perhaps?”
He hugged her, and kept his arms around her. “No, thanks, I need to get ready to go to Amsterdam tomorrow, and I have some work to do. Thanks for the chat. I would like to say how much you settled my mind. I’d like to say it, but it would not be true.” He kissed her on the cheek, and said as he got into the car, “Where were you twenty years ago?”
“I was having babies, while you were off saving the free world. Only you can sort out your mind, Alex. I am simply a sounding board. Now, get out of here.”
His two days in Amsterdam seemed like an eternity. He bought some postcards, and sent them to his son, and daughter, and to Francesca. He thought hard about what to write to her. He wanted to express something of how he felt, without putting himself on a limb, which might get chopped off. He settled for, ‘Miss you lots, love, Alex’. He reflected that for someone who made a living with words, he was frequently wanting when it mattered.
He saw her again on Saturday, the intervening week having seemed like a year. She drove to his place in the battered white Capri. He noticed that the rear bumper had been stove in by a collision.
“What happened here, Daina?”
She examined the back of the car studiously, like she had never seen it before. She screwed up he face, and shrugged, characteristically. “I do not understand cars. I do not know. It is a modification.”
He laughed. “It is like no modification Ford ever put in.”
“I did not say it was done by Ford. It was all my own work, as a matter of fact.” They both laughed.
They had dinner in a Chinese restaurant, and she stayed the night.
The following day he drove to London, and they walked in Green Park and had tea at the lakeside restaurant. On the way out of London, they stopped at Richmond Park, and walked until they were both tired. They studied the fallow deer, grazing unconcernedly.
“There are your mates, Daina.”
She chuckled. “Come on, Ulsterman, let’s go home.”
Back home again, at his place, she sat down on the settee, and Alex went to make coffee. When he returned she was sleeping, her head on the arm of the settee. He did not wake her, but sat opposite, watching and drinking both the coffees.
Eventually she stirred, and stretched, like a cat. “Oh, have I been asleep?”
“Yes, for about half an hour.”
“Why didn’t you wake me?”
“You looked so peaceful and I must confess that I like watching you sleep, and in any event, I had two coffees while I waited.”
“You pig! Let’s go to bed.”
A little later, as she lay sleepily on his shoulder, he said, “I have to go to Florida next week to cover a convention. I was wondering if you could take some time off, and join me for a few days. We could hire a car, and drive down the Keys to Key West. We could….”
She hugged him, and interrupted him. “I’d love to go.”
The convention was not riveting, and probably would not have been so even if Francesca had not been expected on the Friday. He filed his copy back to London, and went to the Avis desk at Orlando International Airport to hire a car. He wanted, and got a Pontiac Grand Am, with a soft-top, as he had always been very impressed by it, even if he was somewhat staggered by the price.
He looked at the mass of auburn hair busied over the computer screen. “Are you sure about this price?”
A pretty face with brown eyes appeared from beneath the mass of auburn hair. “Oh, yes, sir, that is the correct price.”
“I only want it for a week you know.”
“Yes, sir, you’ve got it for a week. If you wish, I can set you up with a cheaper vehicle.”
“No, no, thanks, that’s fine. Thanks for your help.”
“Sure.” The pretty face disappeared beneath the auburn hair again.
He had over an hour before her flight was due, so he took the shuttle bus to the Avis depot, and inspected the Grand Am. It was a fine car, and he enjoyed playing with it for ten or fifteen minutes. While he was engaged in these activities, innocent activities, he considered, he was suddenly aware of a presence blocking the sun, and looked up to see a very large black man dressed in an all black uniform. Millar noticed that he was carrying a sidearm, and that his right hand was resting on it.
“Good afternoon, officer. Can I help you?” It was probably a smart move to be polite, just in case.
“I ain’t no poe leese man, I’m with Security. You having some kinda problem with that there vee ache cule?”
Millar spoke nervously, not liking the way the security man was affectionately caressing his firearm. “No, I ‘m meeting a lady off a flight, and it is not due for another forty minutes or so. I was just checking out the car.”
“May I see your papers?”
“Certainly.” He produced them with alacrity.
The guard checked his papers thoroughly. “OK, they all check out. You need to be careful around here.”
Millar smiled at the unconscious humour in the security man’s statement. “You certainly do. Thanks for your help.”
The guard returned the documents. “Uh huh. Where you come from?”
“UK”, and then, seeing no understanding on the guard’s face, “England.”
The big man smiled, “OK, England.” He walked away, repeating “England” to himself, as though that explained everything.
The BA flight was, more or less, on time, and touched down just after three in the afternoon. He waited in the Arrivals Hall, pacing up and down nervously, like an expectant father. US Immigration officials were not noted for the effusiveness of their welcome to their homeland, although his entry a few days earlier had been much friendlier and more efficient than at other airports. He had bought a New York Times, and now wished he hadn’t, as he found he could not concentrate on it, and was frightened that he might trip over it, and break a leg.
She came through into Arrivals at about four, and they hugged and kissed.
“You look tired.”
“Thanks,” she replied shortly. “It’s been a long flight.”
“Sorry,” he acknowledged. “Let’s get to the hotel so you can shower and rest.”
They caught the shuttle to Avis, and picked up the Pontiac. The big security man was on duty at the exit gate, and took and stamped his papers. He waved them goodbye with a warm smile, repeating to himself as he did so, “England,” and nodding his head.
In the car she closed her eyes and laid her head back against the headrest. They did not exchange any further conversation until they reached the hotel. When they reached their room, Francesca had a shower and went to bed. He sat for a while watching a muted television, but even with sixty-eight channels, he could find nothing of interest. At last he turned it off, and glanced in the bedroom. She was still asleep, so he went down to the bar, and had a beer.
He had planned dinner with an Australian colleague from Melbourne, whom he had known since his attachment to the Australian Services in the 1970’s. It was not a success, and Francesca did not sparkle. It was not just the jet lag; there was something else that Alex could not identify. They made their excuses and left. Francesca went straight to bed. He watched TV again, but there was still nothing he wanted to see.
They checked out at 9am, with Francesca still groggy and uncommunicative, even though it was 2pm in the UK. They had the Pontiac driven round to the front of the hotel and then successful negotiated Orlando’s traffic to drive west. About half way to Tampa, on Highway 4, they stopped for coffee, and while in the roadhouse, it started to rain. ‘Rain’ was a mild and inaccurate word to describe the weather. It was so heavy that he was reminded of Africa, or his time in Malaya. They remained in the café, pretending to drink coffee, for an hour, when the rain eased.
“Thank God I had the top up,” he remarked, trying to sound cheerful. She did not reply.
“Well, pardon me for breathing,” he thought to himself.
They completed the journey to Tampa, and found their way to Clearwater Beach where he had booked a motel. As they were unloading the Pontiac, she turned to him and took his arm.
“Don’t worry, Alex, it’s not you. I’ll be OK soon.”
“Francesca, what’s going on, where have you been since yesterday?”
“Alex, I will explain, but not now. OK?”
They checked in and her mood began to improve. By dinner she was almost her old self, and by Sunday morning the cloud had gone. Alex had been frightened by the change he had seen in the last day and a half. He had not known this woman, and hoped she got around to explaining things to him soon.
They spent Sunday morning in St Petersburg, and the afternoon on the beach at Clearwater. The water was clear and fresh, and they swam and lazed for two or three hours. They walked back to the hotel, and stood arm in arm watching the antics of the pelicans. They made love that evening for the first time since she had arrived, and Alex was prepared to convince himself that everything was back to normal.
The following day they drove slowly south, over the spectacular Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which soared majestically over Tampa Bay. They stopped at Sarasota for coffee, and a slow tourist’s wander around the shops. In one of the many cheap souvenir shops, she fell in love with a toy elephant, which was operated by batteries, and waddled across the shop floor bellowing and waving his trunk and ears. He had wanted to buy it for her but she had refused saying it was a child’s toy. Outside the shop, he made an excuse to buy a film, and left her looking at swimwear. He slipped back to the souvenir shop, and bought the elephant, which went into the boot of the car. On his return, he was reprimanded for being so long. Alex meekly apologised.
They stayed at Sanibel Island that evening, and just before they went out for dinner, he presented her with the elephant. He was reprimanded again, but kissed warmly as well, so he was satisfied. On the following day they hired bicycles to sightsee on the island. They paddled in the sea, kicking water at each other, and collected shells and driftwood. There had obviously been a storm recently, the rain they had encountered being the tail, because the beach was also littered with dead fish, which they examined with morbid curiosity. Francesca insisted that he carry her growing collection of shells, pebbles, and driftwood.
“I don’t know why we are doing this,” he grumbled, “We will only throw them all away before we go home.”
She put her finger to his lips, in a way he had come to know well. “Don’t talk of home. Plenty of time for that later. Come on, let’s have an ice cream. I’ll race you.”
She took off down the beach with Alex struggling behind. Francesca won by several yards, and turned, flushed in the face. “I won. Easy!”
“You won because you started before me, because I have three tons of driftwood and shells to carry, and because,” he tailed off.
“Because what?” she demanded.
“Because I am an old man.”
“You did not seem like an old man last night.”
“You would make Methuselah feel young, Daina.”
“Nonsense. Buy some ice creams.”
They left Sanibel and continued down the Gulf coast, turning east along Alligator Alley on Highway 75.
Francesca had the map on her knees. “You said we were on 75, but that sign said 84.” Have you got us lost, Mr Journalist?”
“You have the map, little Italian person. What do you think?”
“I have no idea, I’m only a photographer, not a navigator.”
“That’s very helpful, Daina. I think one is a Florida number, and the other is a US number, a Federal number. It probably does not matter a toss anyway, because there is a sign for Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and that’s the direction we should be going”
“All right, genius, I will accept that. Now there is a sign for an alligator farm. Shall we go and talk to the little darlings?”
They spent half a day at the alligator farm, looking suitably impressed by the big ones, and holding the little ones, albeit a trifle gingerly. On their way east once more, they stopped at an Indian Reservation, and visited the gift shop. Both were greatly disturbed at the air of apathy which hung around the place like a fog. They bought some trifles they did not want, from a sense of duty, and departed feeling depressed. Fort Lauderdale and Miami with their urban sprawls were avoided, and they stayed over night at Key Largo.
“Didn’t Humphry Bogart make a film called ‘Key Largo’”, he asked her at dinner.
“Who’s Humphry Bogart, old man?” she teased him.
“Shut up, kid.” He did not believe his Bogart mimic was the greatest in the history of the world, but she laughed anyway.
They drove slowly, and without any pressure down the Keys, and stopped at every opportunity. They were fascinated by the constant glimpses of the ocean on their left and the Gulf of Mexico on the right. The Keys consisted of a string of small islands joined together by causeways or bridges. In small communities, frequently hidden from the road, they browsed in many of the small shops tucked away in unexpected places. They bought some exotic shells and Francesca chose a black bikini, from a sales woman who seemed to approaching her seventieth year.
“Can I help you put that on?” he enquired, grinning as Francesca held up the bikini against her body and looked in a full-length mirror.
“If I know you, I will be doing the putting on, and you will be trying to take it off.”
He put up his hands. “All you have to say is no.”
She glared at him in mock anger. “I didn’t say I didn’t want you to do it. I just want to complain a bit. It’s a woman’s right.”
“Oh, well, I’m glad we settled that,” he responded.
The woman sales assistant had listened to this exchange with interest, and now she counted out Francesca’s change. “Where are you folks from?”
“England.” Alex replied.
“Italy.” Francesca chipped in at the same time.
“The lady is from Italy, and I’m from the United Kingdom, England.” Alex explained.
“But I live in England.” Francesca hastened to make the picture clearer.
The sales woman looked at them like they were a dangerous pair of escaped mental patients. “You folks married?”
Alex spoke to the woman, but looked at Francesca. “I regret to say we are not.”
The woman looked at Francesca, then at Alex, back to Francesca and finally spoke to Alex. “I’d hurry up, if I were you, son, she’s a mighty pretty lady.”
“Thank you ma’am. I agree totally with you.”
The woman had by this time decided that neither of her customers posed a threat to her life or liberty. “Where you folks headed?”
“Well,” said Francesca, “We hope to get down to Key West. We’ve heard it is the place to go.”
“Yes, and the place to come back from, if you ask me. Can I give you some advice?” She spoke in hushed, confidential tones.
“Go ahead,” Alex and Francesca spoke as one.
“It gets awfully crowded down at Key West at this time of year, and motel rooms are sometimes hard to find, and they are expensive when you do find them. I suggest you stay at Marathon, about an hour from here, and drive into Key West when you need.”
It was sound advice and they followed it, checking into a smart new motel in Marathon where they booked for two nights. They spent much of the rest of that day, and all the next in Key West, which they enjoyed immensely, while agreeing that it was somewhat spoiled by being over tourist oriented. They visited Hemingway’s house, and photographed each other standing next to the sign pointing to Cuba, less than a hundred miles away. The got to the harbour early, and long before the sun started setting in the west. The actual sunset was a let down, and nowhere as romantic and picturesque as they had been led to expect. Nevertheless, there was much pleasure in sitting at the edge of the dock, with bare kegs dangling over the side, drinking beer, and chatting with the hundreds of tourists from all over the world who had come to enjoy the sunset at Key West, and were determined to do so. The dying sun streaked the peaceful waters of the harbour, and fringed the evening sky pink.
She turned suddenly and kissed him. “I think I might love you too.”
The world seemed perfect.
The final day of the holiday dawned clear and sunny, and they spent it sunbathing and swimming on the Gulf side of the motel in clear sharp cool water. They loaded the Grand Am, and headed towards Miami. Alex saw a BP service station on his right, and pulled in.
“We’d better fill her up, they always want their cars back full.”
They both walked into the shop, Alex to pay and Francesca to browse.
“Where are you folks from,” said the elderly woman taking Alex’s credit card.
“Oh,” was her uninformative reply.
“And I must say we feel at home in this service station.” added Alex, trying to be friendly.
“Oh” said the cashier, “You got BP sites in England?”
Alex looked hard at her, but there were no signs of mischief. “Of course, what do you think BP stands for?”
“I’m sure I don’t know, son. I’ve never really thought about it.”
“It stands for British Petroleum.”
“Really? Well I never knew that.”
As Alex and Francesca left the station he said. “Do you think she was having me on?”
“No,” said Francesca in hushed tones. “I think she was deadly serious. Scary, isn’t it?”
A short way out of Key Largo, they heard the wailing of Police sirens, and saw the lights flashing blue behind them.
“God, Daina, I think we’re in trouble.”
“What do you mean ‘we’, Englishman, you are doing the driving.”
He lowered the driver’s side window, noticing as he did so, that the black uniformed police officer approaching him was also having a love affair with the butt of his pistol.
“Good afternoon, officer. Is there a problem?” Millar smiled what he hoped was an engaging and non-threatening smile. He noticed that a second police officer had also got out of the car, and was walking around the Grand Am. He too had his hand resting on his side arm.
“Good afternoon, sir. You were speeding. This is a thirty-five zone, and you were travelling at forty six miles an hour. Please step out of you vehicle.”
Alex did as he was asked.
“ I’m sorry. I just didn’t realise it.”
“May I see your driver’s licence, please.”
He produced it.
Alex felt that this was an inappropriate time to try to explain the constitutional set up of the United Kingdom, its constituent parts, and the differences of the peoples within those parts. “Yes” he said.
“May I see your passport, and the lady’s?”
Alex was not totally sure that this was a legal requirement, but, again, he was disinclined to argue. He opened the glove box and passed over the two passports, one British and one Italian. Francesca also got out of the car.
The police officer studied both passports carefully, with particular attention to the US Immigration date stamps, showing entry dates several days apart. “Where did you meet her?” He indicated to Francesca with his thumb.
“Luanda” replied Alex with a straight face.
“Luanda? That’s in Georgia?”
“No, it’s in Angola, as a matter of fact.”
“Where’s Angola?” the police officer enquired suspiciously.
“Africa.” Millar stood there, suppressing with great difficulty a desire to laugh. Francesca was on the right side of the car, looking straight ahead, and saying nothing. Alex dared not look at her face, knowing he could collapse in uncontrollable laughter if he did. He added, “ We are colleagues in England. We are journalists, and have been covering a convention in Orlando last week. This is just a few days holiday.”
The policeman seemed inclined to pursue the matter but abruptly changed his mind and returned the passports and driving licence. “All right, sir, but see you abide by the speed limits in Florida. Have a good vacation.”
The two officers returned to their car and drove away. Alex and Francesca were silent for perhaps ten seconds and then exploded into gales of laughter.
“You said you were English, you an Ulsterman.”
“I would have said I was from Mars if he had wanted me to. Did you see how his hand never left that bloody gun? Do you realise, Signorita Paglioni, in the short time I have known you, I have been blown up by Unita, held captive for five days, failed to pay my bill in a restaurant, and been twice stopped by the Police? In three different countries!! Are you a witch? Are you casting spells?”
“Dear simple Alex, of course I am a witch. All women are witches. Didn’t you know? Oh, and by the way, it is nice of you to call me signorita, but I think I am now a signora.”
Eventually they controlled themselves and drove on to Miami, and the London bound BA flight. They were both tired, and after take off had a couple of drinks and settled down to sleep, their shoulders touching.
“Enjoy it, Daina?”
“Hmmm, yes.” She was then asleep.