I can’t believe I’ve been dead this long, not that I know how long it’s been, that’s the trouble with eternity; it just seems a long time as I’m still waiting to register. Not sure if you will get this ether mail, I haven’t grasped the technology yet. I would not have promised to keep in touch if I knew how difficult it was going to be.
I can understand why they are so busy, more people than ever to process, what with the population on the earth plane increasing exponentially. Haven’t seen anyone I know yet, I was a bit miffed there was nobody to meet me, perhaps that’s why it took me a while to realise I was dead, which also explains why I am only just getting in touch.
Nobody else knows what’s going on either, lot of milling around, I gather the trauma cases get dealt with first which is fair enough. Can’t actually remember what I did die of, so can’t have been anything violent. When I say I haven’t seen anyone I know, I am not sure what they will look like. I can’t see what I look like, no mirrors. Hard to describe what people look like this side. Those we see in pairs or groups must have come over together, we’re all newbies, so not likely to meet friends and family till after we’ve registered. Right old mix we are too, from all over the earth plane; obviously only one portal. That makes us all equal, thought that would please you and language is no barrier as there is no language, just thought reading, a real babble, lucky we don’t feel pain as it would give me a right headache, interesting though.
Have to finish off now, looks like something is happening. Not sure what else to say… how are you, what you been doing, I can’t seem to remember what you did like doing. In fact I’m finding it hard to remember what you looked like let alone what our hou… ho.. what was the word? Where did we li.. where did I l…
Emelda Forsyte had little experience of hospitals until her diagnosis, so she looked upon her first chemotherapy session as an ideal opportunity for research for her next novel. Her diagnosis was treatable and curable, positive and hopeful, but she would give her heroine, Jolie Jansen, a very likely terminal prognosis. It would add a cutting edge to the fifteenth book in the series.
Jolie had not been nervous about her first chemotherapy session until the lady in the reclining chair opposite died.
‘Good morning.’ A nurse’s voice startled her out of the opening chapter forming in her head. What did that nurse say her name was? They all looked the same in their uniforms and masks.
‘Name and date of birth please.’
‘Emelda Forsyte, 5th July 1964.’
Even with a mask on the nurse looked very puzzled.
‘Oh sorry , I must have the wrong patient. I have you down as Jane Brown.’
‘No, I apologise, Emelda Forsyte is my nom de plume.’
The nurse looked even more confused.
‘I’m a writer, you know, my private detective novels, Jolie Janson, third series on ITV Sunday Drama set in the wilds of Bedfordshire.’
The top half of the nurse’s face still looked blank.
‘Ah, I’m not into all that crime stuff… so you are Jane Brown and your date of birth is?’
Emelda looked at the patients in the other three bays to check if they might be listening in, no doubt they were if they had heard there was a famous author on the ward. She removed her mask and mouthed something.
‘Sorry, I didn’t hear.’
‘10th May 1949’ Emelda whispered.
Emelda watched carefully as a needle was inserted into her hand, more than the slight prick she was told to expect, but hey, Jolie would not flinch, that was nothing compared to the injuries she had experienced. At least the blood being drawn out looked a good colour.
‘I suppose even those tiny phials of blood would be enough to clone me’ Emelda joked.
‘Oh no, they just go to the lab for testing, make sure you are well.’
‘Hmm, but if someone stole them from the lab I could be cloned.’
The nurse chose not to hear and slipped away.
In a short while she reappeared with a bag for the drip and another nurse who asked her name and date of birth.
‘I already answered that.’
‘We double check each time, just making sure the right patient is getting the right drug. This has just come up from the pharmacy with your name and details on it.’
‘That is reassuring, but have you ever had a rogue pharmacist, I mean there could be a fatal dose or a deadly poison in that bag.’
The two nurses exchanged glances.
‘Now dear, it’s quite natural to be nervous your first time, but you are in very safe hands, no need to worry.’
‘I am not nervous, just thinking about research for my next novel.’
‘Okay so let’s go through the prescriptions you have to take home. Now these injections must go in the fridge and on Friday the district nurse will start coming round to give you one injection each day.’
‘District nurses, do they still have them, she won’t be in uniform will she?’
‘Could be a he and they will be in uniform and PPE, you will be perfectly safe.’
All Emelda was worried about was the neighbours seeing, district nurses were what old people had visiting them. Hopefully they would have to park round the corner and not draw any attention. Then she had an idea.
‘How would I know they were real, could be an assassin in disguise with a lethal injection, like that chap who pretended to be doing Covid vaccinations.’
‘Just ring your surgery if you have any worries…’
Emelda examined the contents of the paper bag from the pharmacy and withdrew a box of tablets to read the instructions.
‘Read the leaflet inside carefully when you get home, you must take those tablets as instructed.’
‘So what would happen if you made a mistake, or your husband or daughter were in charge and intentionally gave you too many… or perhaps a wife might look at her husband lying in a drunken stupor and stick all those needles in him at once.’
‘Any mistakes and you must ring the hot line straight away or even dial 999. Who is at home with you?’
‘Oh I live alone, ditched Mr. Brown years ago and became Emelda Forsyte.’
‘I am sure you will manage your tablets fine, just remember to lock all your medication out of reach of you have grandchildren visiting.’
‘Noneof those thank God, humans under the age of twelve are to be avoided at all costs.’
Emelda was glad to be up and feeling fine, calling for a taxi and bidding farewell to the nurses who looked relieved to see her leaving.
‘Now take it easy and be prepared for the effects to kick in tomorrow.’
‘Oh I shall be fine, see you all in three weeks’ time.’
Before Emelda arrived back at the main entrance she was surprised to be stopped by a man in a suit who quickly produced a warrant card.
‘Mrs. Jane Brown?’
‘You would probably know me better as Emelda Forsyte, crime writer, is that why you stopped me?’
‘Never heard of her, I am only interested in Jane Brown; security gave us a call, your nurse rang the patient alert hot line about some inappropriate conversations and questions. Can you confirm you have just had a session of chemotherapy?’
‘Yes, it went very well, lovely staff, I don’tunderstand what you are saying.’
‘Hospitals have to be very careful that medication is not taken away to be misused, if we could go somewhere private to have a little discussion?’
‘No, you misunderstand, I was merely doing research, anyway I must go, taxi arriving any minute.’
‘I could invite you to come to the police station to help with our enquiries.’
For a moment Emelda was most offended, more because he had not recognised her as a famous crime writer than that he might think her a criminal. But this could be a research opportunity. Jolie Janson had more than her fair share of run ins with Bedfordshire Police, but Emelda had never actually been inside a police station…
She had done it, she really had done it, no one believed she would, but here she was on her first climate protest and she was the first of the group to turn up. It had been easier than expected, hardly any traffic and the few vehicles that passed had taken no notice of her. Come to think of it, it had ben a while since any vehicles passed, it should be getting busy by now and none of the others had turned up. She shifted awkwardly, having both hands glued to the motorway was not conducive to comfort. As she eased her hips a few degrees her phone slipped out of her pocket. On the screen the opening words of a message lit up…
Just to confirm you have all heard about massive pile up on M25, Junctions 24-26 closed to all traffic, protest to take place at J29, don’t forg…
Hanging’s too good for him, that’s what my grandfather would have said.
‘Have you had enough time to think?’
I blinked and tried to focus on my latest family liaison officer, ‘call me Nessa’. I had already lost two, one to Covid and one to stress, not surprising, talk about a poisoned chalice. Time to think, I had done nothing but think. But decisions? All decisions had been taken from me that night, our lives reduced to forensically sealed bags.
‘I have to ask you this again, I must be sure you understand, you cannot tell anyone where you are going, you cannot contact anyone at all. One slip and someone will find you, not her family, but some low life… We can inform your family that you are fi… okay.’
As if I would want to contact anybody, even if I did have the means. I don’t know where I am, let alone where I am going, though the ends of the earth would not be far enough.
‘Just please tell me Nessa, did he have any message for me? Are you keeping it from me, did anyone hear him say anything?’
‘I’m sorry, he would not open your letter and he had no message for you or the children or any family…’
There wasn’t anything in that letter, no hate or anger, just one word, I almost felt like writing it in blood, WHY? I know what you are thinking, I must have known. I used to think that about the wives of murderers. We were a normal family, not perfect, he wasn’t around much, but we did things together when he was here; the kids miss him and their toys and our home, keep asking. There was his shift work, overtime and going out with his mates, I knew when I married him he needed his own space, to chill out. On the computer at night if he was home, everyone’s husband does that, don’t want to watch soaps on television with their wives, do their hobbies, photography, plan the next holiday, order DIY stuff from Amazon, do the Tesco order. Okay so occasionally I felt, wondered… but liven up your marriage, nothing wrong with fantasies those on line articles say. I dismissed those thoughts, must be me, just imagining those occasional looks from his colleagues on the rare occasions he took me to a Work Do. And I thought if there was anything they would know, his work colleagues, his superiors. A couple of times there was some sort of trouble at work but nothing came of it.
‘Why didn’t you lot confront him, you had the most evil man in the country serving as a police officer and you did not confront him. Don’t worry, you can’t feel as guilty as me, but I will not bear it alone.’
At least Nessa did me the service of not trying to answer. What I do have to bear alone is giving birth to Satan’s spawn. I have even been tempted to smother them in their sleep.
An adventure, we’re going to pretend to be a different family and I have reached a decision; I will choose a country that does not have English as its first language, rural life out in the provinces, hopefully few will speak English. If the children forget and start chatting about the past no one will understand them. They are young and they will forget, we will learn a new language together, refugees do that all the time. Other families must have done this before me, I’m not the only murderer’s wife. But no amount of pretence can change their evil DNA.
Nessa’s speaking ‘What have you told the children?’
We’re going on a big adventure to a new country safe from Covid. Yes I know, pathetic, but what would you have told them if you were in my place?
The canoe took them the short distance from the anchored boat to the gleaming white shore. Close up, the island lived up to the promise of paradise glimpsed at first light. Tina wanted to race up the beach, but as Ben helped her out of the canoe she stumbled and fell to her knees, feeling sick. She plunged her hands into the hot sand; weeks and weeks at sea and they were no longer land lubbers.
Their new guardian laughed. ‘Your first steps back on British soil and you kiss the ground.’
Ben tried to stand up straight with some dignity.
‘Is this really a British island?’
‘Technically I suppose it is no longer, since your good queen gifted it to us at midnight, but this is your home now.’
‘Home,’ said Tina ‘isn’t someone coming to fetch us soon, you said…’
‘I said we would deliver you safely from your kidnappers, what your government has arranged I do not know, but why would you want to leave this beautiful island, weren’t you seeking a dream holiday when you left home?’
‘Where are we?’
‘You don’t need to know that, a real desert island, but it is our new home as well so youwill not be lonely.’
He pointed out to sea where a strange fleet of boats old and new was heading for the shore. Tina stood up shakily and turned a full circle, taking in blue skies and palm trees; a dream island but her only thought was water, she knew only too well now how precious fresh water was.
‘Have you charted the island, are there streams, springs?’
Ben was looking out to sea. The boats were laden with bundles, supplies hopefully and once they had eaten breakfast they needed to plan, take in everything that had happened, slip away and search for an airstrip and the nearest village. He believed little of what the guardian had told them, this was hardly likely to be a real desert island.
‘What do you mean, more money, we gave them a whole island, what more do they want?’
‘Money to build an infrastructure Madam, the island was abandoned fifty years ago, there’s nothing there.’
‘That’s what they wanted, a peaceful island far from civilisation.’
‘They wanted a holiday industry to replace all they lost when their own island was burnt to the sand.’
‘Must be something there, who lived there before?’
‘A few thousand people, we forcibly evacuated them.’
‘Please don’t tell me it was one of those nuclear tests.’
‘No, no actually might have been chemical warfare development or some kind of scientific experiments, records destroyed, but we managed to track down one old navy chap through his nephew on the internet, nephew’s doing his own research on the island.’
‘So what are you going to tell the families, when are you meeting them?’
‘We’re meeting them in ten minutes.’
‘And in tonight’s headlines family and friends of the couple caught in a holiday nightmare kidnapping staged a protest at Downing Street, pleading
Fly Ben and Tina Home.
A friend of the couple gave a statement saying We have been told they are safe on land, on an island and arrangements are being made, but they won’t even tell us where they are. If we can evacuate thousands from Afghanistan why can’t we send one little plane to fetch two British citizens? Even Richard Branston has offered to fly them back in a private jet as soon as we know where they are.’
A government spokesman said ‘The British government never pays ransoms, but after careful negotiations a British couple, who can’t be named for security reasons, are safely off the boat and out of the hands of the pirates. We cannot reveal their whereabouts while negotiations continue.’
How did Ben and Tina end up in the hands of pirates? Find out here in a previous tale.
‘…well not exactly sore, my tongue is sort of tingling… and when I took my temperature this morning it was 36.9 and then thirty minutes later it was 37…’
‘Okay Harry, it sounds as if there is nothing to worry about, just let us know if…’
‘…and I didn’t go this morning do you think I should take the laxative?’
Harry the hypochondriac had never been so happy since being diagnosed with cancer; after forty years at last somebody believed he was ill. He was no longer worried he might have cancer now he actually had it. Now he had started chemotherapy he even had his own hot line to call anytime, twenty four hours a day, if he had any symptoms. That was lucky because he had a lot of symptoms.
At the group chat for chemo beginners he had been the star pupil, it was rather like being back at school only with tea and cake. The nurse praised him for asking plenty of questions, though his classmates kept looking at their watches. She emphasised they must ring the hot line, even if they did not think their symptoms were important.
At home Harry checked his home made charts. He had a good collection of lateral flow tests which he did daily, one could not be too careful with Covid. He took his temperature every hour after the nice chap on the hot line said there was no need to take it every thirty minutes. But he was still worried when he thought of all those white blood cells that had been destroyed. When he had told Pam across the road all about his diagnosis, treatable and curable, she had patted his arm…
‘That’s what they said about my John, but his immunity was shot to pieces and it was the pneumonia that carried him off.’
He liked Pam, she understood his worries.
‘Now Harry, you be careful that district nurse gives you the right injection, our Julie went into that anaphallic shock…’
The district nurse came every day to give Harry an injection to boost his white blood cells. They were very nice and listened sympathetically when he updated them on all his symptoms, though he seemed to get a different nurse each time, so he would have to tell the story of his diagnosis right from the beginning… If they were not there by one o’clock he would ring to check they had not forgotten.
He was quite sad when the seven day course was complete, but at least he would see them again after his next chemo session. He kept the yellow plastic ‘sharps’ tub on the mantlepiece so visitors would appreciate the seriousness of his condition.
Harry began to worry again… supposing they had got his diagnosis wrong. Surely they should have operated first, those scanners might have missed something, perhaps he had another tumour of a different sort…
Tina looked out at the wide expanse of empty ocean and sighed.
‘I never want to see the sea again.’
‘If I had a pound for every time you have uttered those words,’ said Ben ‘I could pay our ransom.’
‘We don’t even know if they have asked for one, I mean they don’t seem very good at being pirates.’
Ben didn’t answer, his thoughts hung in the hot still air unspoken. Did the fact that the motley crew seemed to be first time pirates act in his and Tina’s favour or not? They didn’t appear to understand English and he and Tina had no idea what language they were speaking. Perhaps the old couple with all their missionary experience might have guessed, if he hadn’t dropped dead with a heart attack on the beach. The new widow had been reluctantly rescued by a tiny fishing boat and Ben and Tina had happily waved them off assuming they would alert another boat or the authorities.
Night had not brought darkness as the fire raged behind them. They took cover from the swirling hot ashes in the shallows. Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink. The wretched lines had gone round and round in Ben’s head as he licked his parched lips.
Strangely, just before dawn came, it finally became dark; the flames died down with nothing left on the island to consume. The morning sun revealed the stark ruins of the hotel against the blackened hills.
Ben walked round the deck of the small boat again as if the view might have changed. At least they weren’t tied up in the hold, there was no need, no chance of escape. When they were rescued, wading then swimming out to the boat and being hauled aboard, they had been pitifully grateful; the proffered tin mugs of tepid liquid tasted as sweet as bottled spring water.
That had been four weeks ago, though they couldn’t be sure, it was timeless out on the seas. But they could no longer hope they were being rescued. It was not kidnap for robbery as they had nothing to take. The diet of fish and rice was monotonous, but they had not died in the fire or drowned, they were still alive.
‘Never heard of the place or its people, can’t we just ignore the messages?’
‘No Madam, they have two British Nationals who were reported missing eighteen days ago. The photos taken by the pirates appear to match the couple’s work ID photos and pictures put in the media by the family. We can’t put off informing their families any longer.’
‘Certainly not, their demands are outrageous. The British Government never pays ransoms, it would set a dangerous precedent and if the media get hold of this story… Negotiation is still the key. Have we found out any more about their wretched island?’
‘Their nascent tourist industry, in fact the whole island, was destroyed by the wild fire, that’s why they want us to give them a new island.’
‘Oh it’s just that I, we were wondering… we haven’t been able to contact him.’
‘Why do you need to contact him?’
‘We don’t, we just wondered why none of us had heard from him and they missed the quiz evening again.’
‘I didn’t know my brother was so popular.’
‘Perhaps I could ring your mother?’
‘I hardly think so as she’s been dead for eight months.’
‘Oh er I am so sorry, she looked fine at the wedding.’
‘She was fine at the wedding, anyway, I must cut you off, conference call coming up…’
‘Louise, Tina’s sister, chief bridesmaid, top table?’
‘Louise, of course, sorry I didn’t get back in tou… answer your messages.’
‘That’s not why I’m calling. Have you seen Ben?’
‘No. I’ve been ringing round everyone, no one’s seen or heard from him, phone’s dead.’
‘Oh Ali, I’m really worried now, same with Tina, she hasn’t been on Facebook for weeks.’
‘You were right to call me, but don’t panic; what about your parents?’
‘They’re worried, I mean we’re not one of those families who call all the time, but she’s not answering in our WhatsApp group or anything.’
‘Has anyone been round their flat?’
‘No, Mum and Dad are isolating and I’m on a Scottish island.’
‘Oh so you did get that croft? What about her work?’
‘Now don’t worry, I’ll get in contact with Ben’s company, even if he’s still working from home they would know if he’s on leave. ’
‘Tina would have said if they were going on holiday, she was always talking about going on a proper holiday again.’
‘TG Services, how can I help?’
‘Can I speak to Ben Chambers please?’
‘Chambers, chambers… ben? Chaos here, everyone working from home, except me… I don’t know the name, what department?’
‘Actually I’m afraid I have no idea, can’t you look him up on the computer records?’
‘No, confidential records cannot be shared with members of the public…’
‘Tom, it’s Ali, have you had any luck? No, nor have I, not a trace of either of them. Have you been round their flat? No of course not, you would have popped round last week if you weren’t in Belfast. I’m a hundred miles away so who’s nearest… Gemma’s in hospital, what happened to her? Call the police? I don’t think it’s that serious yet, I mean they could have gone on holiday, stuck isolating goodness knows where and we’re panicking for nothing. Okay, okay, I’ll drive down tomorrow morning make a day out of it. Have you got their new address? No, nor have I, have to message Louise, no I didn’t see her again and now she’s on some bloody Scottish island.’
‘Louise? It’s Ali again. I’m in their road, the neighbours are already regarding me with suspicion. I couldn’t even get in the building let alone find their flat, yes used to be the old asylum, very smart. I have been lurking to catch anyone going in or out, no luck so far, nobody seems to know them, so not likely to find a friendly neighbour with a spare key, not that you can just go waltzing into someone else’s home uninvited… and what did the police website say? Surely the only option is to have them break in and … no I’m sure they are fine, but there could be a clue where they have gone on holiday, somewhere warm knowing them. Not that warm, no, I’m sure they didn’t end up on a Mediterranean island with a wildfire raging. You call the police then, more likely to take notice of a relative, and you will have to give permission for a search… ’
‘I don’t care where, as long as there is a beach and sunshine…. Make that a decent hotel with a pool and a private beach… any country that will let us in and let us out again… no I don’t care if we have to isolate when we get back, working from home is no big deal.’
Ben scrolled down the computer screen, Tina was right, they were both desperate for a holiday; two weeks away and they would worry later about getting back.
It was bliss; by the pool, on the beach, al fresco dining and the staff were fabulous, glad to have guests and so few guests Ben and Tina were given plenty of attention. They were more relaxed than they had felt in years, their worries left at home. Ben had suggested leaving their phones at home as well, but Tina thought that was going a bit far. They would need the internet to sort out the return journey, but a good compromise was to leave phones and iPads in the hotel safe, along with their passports, as they didn’t trust the staff, plus a few bits of Tina’s jewellery in case a local business person invited them for dinner.
So far the only locals they had met were the staff, but they were enjoying the novelty of spending time together, sauntering through the grove of trees to the beach with its quaint collection of fishing boats and locals mending nets. Or they could look up at the rolling hills that were the backdrop to the gleaming new white hotel. This was a real get away break, no television, no news, no discussions of climate change or Covid. Perhaps tomorrow, their fifth day, they would hike up the hills or venture into the local village, if there was one. They would have to ask that friendly waiter, who had a good smattering of English, what lay outside the high hotel walls and how you actually got out.
The sunset that night was a delight, Ben was almost tempted to request the night manager to open the safe so he could get his phone out and take an Instagram shot, but Tina insisted no digital image could capture the rich reds and dark streaks in the sky.
They woke late the next morning, surprised the sun was not streaming through the window. Out on the balcony the sky looked dull and the sea had lost its sparkle.
‘Perhaps it’s going to rain,’ said Tina ‘does it rain here?’
‘No idea, the air doesn’t feel damp, in fact there is a strange scent in the air, I can’t smell the sea like I usually do.’
‘It’s very quiet this morning Ben.’
Ben felt an unease; it was always quiet here, but now it was silent, unnaturally so. He felt that tingle in his spine that told him he was outside his comfort zone, he had an urge to be reunited with his mobile phone. He chivvied Tina to hurry so they wouldn’t miss breakfast.
Their footsteps echoed on the marble staircase and as they swept round the curve they saw the snooty elderly couple who had not exchanged a single word with them. Now they were poised expectantly at the foot of the stairs.
‘Hey ho, nobody on the desk’ said the husband.
‘And the dining room is empty’ added his wife.
‘It’s late, we slept in’ said Tina, ‘we must have missed breakfast.’
‘No, completely empty, no sign of life, no food, no indication anyone had breakfast.’
‘Ben, there must be something wrong, what shall we do?’
‘Forage in the kitchen’ said the old chap.
‘I don’t think things are that drastic yet,’ said Ben ‘the staff are very attentive, I’ll ask the manager what’s going on.’
Ben strode over to the reception desk as if someone would pop up instantly at his approach, but there was nobody there. He skirted round the desk and rapped loudly on the door of the office, no response. A hefty push sent the door flying open to reveal the empty office and a computer with a dark screen. Ben fiddled with the keyboard and the mouse to no avail, the old chap laughed as he tried the light switch on the wall.
‘Power’s off by the looks of it.’
Ben was staring at the very solid door of the safe. The manager was the only person allowed to open it, but where was the manager? If there was a crisis Ben wanted to get Tina back to the airport and home. Without their passports and phones they were stuck.
‘Right, there must be some explanation. Tina and I will search the grounds you two check the rest of the hotel.’
Leaving the air conditioned building they knew instantly what was wrong, the air had a dry crackle, an acrid scent. The sky over the sea had a thick haze and as they turned to look up at the hills real fear gripped them as they stared at the glowing crest.
‘There must be an evacuation plan’ said Tina.
‘I think love the evacuation plan has already been carried out, but it’s okay, that private beach is a godsend.’
Ben was saved from heroically rescuing the old couple from the hotel building, they were already stumbling out on to the terrace.
‘Are you certain nobody is in the hotel?’
‘Certain, bloody staff have deserted us.’
‘Forgotten,’ said Tina ‘or perhaps about to come and fetch us, they’ll be down on the beach organising the evacuation in all those boats.’
She patted the arm of the elderly lady, proud she was keeping calm in an emergency.
As they trekked through the grove, ash was already floating down. The beach seemed much further away, they could have done without the slow old couple Ben thought to himself.
‘Reminds me of that time we were stuck in…’ the old man tried to wheeze out the words while his wife shook her head to silence him.
On the beach, clear of the grove at last, they instinctively turned to look up at the hills. The flames were marching down with a speed that seemed impossible. Relief that they were well clear of the hotel was short lived as they turned back to look at the beach and the sea. There was not a single boat in sight, with the ever darkening sky it was hard to tell if smudges on the horizon were boats, but the churned up sand and foot prints leading from the trail through the grove to where the water lapped the beach, indicated a hurried departure by a good few people.
‘They’ll come back for us,’ said Tina ‘we’ll be safe by the water, have you two got your phones, ours are in the safe.’
‘No, it’s on charge in our room, not much help if the power’s off… no reception here anyway, we’re on our own… he started to splutter his words as the air thickened.
A loud crack made Tina jump and grab Ben’s arm. No one spoke as they watched the flames take hold of the grove, behind it the hotel gleamed white for a second before being engulfed in flames and smoke.
The back door flew open to reveal my husband dressed in his bright holiday shorts and business shirt and tie.
‘Where did you think I was, I told you we were going to fill up the paddling pool.’
‘Nice to be some…’ said Tom.
‘Come and join us later, surely you’re allowed a break?’
‘Depends how long the conference call goes on for, I just came to tell you we’re out of coffee.’
Covid had a lot to answer for, especially the idea of working from home.
‘Can’t you get it, I can’t leave the little ones with the water. Why don’t you have a cup of tea or a smoothie for now?’
Tom spluttered in disgust.
‘A green broccoli smoothie is not going to get me through that conference call… anyway you know what we always get.’
‘Okay, you stay out here and keep an eye on the hose and the children… and put your phone away.’ I dropped my voice and mouthed ‘it only takes a minute for a child to D.. R.. O..W.. N.’ then raised it ‘Oscaar… hose in the paddling pool not on Daddy.’
‘Don’t be long’ pleaded Tom.
‘Do you want the variety box, latte, expresso, americano…?
‘Yes, yes the biggest box they do.’
I went upstairs, pausing on the landing to look out the window and make sure Tom had not forgotten he was in charge. The hose was now snaking out of control across the lawn. In my so called office I logged in to Coffee Zone, repeat order, multi pack, check delivery times… Yes, coffee would be here in time for his bloody conference call. What did they actually do on conference calls? Probably played X Box like my forty year young brother. I had no idea what Tom actually did at work when he went to the office every day and now he worked from home I was still none the wiser. Whatever he did he had been head hunted a couple of times and with the amount he got paid I didn’t mind spoiling him. My on line upcycling craft business hardly brought in enough to feed the dog and the cat.
I looked at my watch, twenty minutes to get ready for the coffee. I dashed back into the garden.
‘Tom, where’s the dog?’
‘You only told me to look after the children.’
I waved a packet of dog treats and Zeus bounded out of the herbaceous border, he was soon locked in the laundry. The children would be harder to get under control.
‘Ten minutes then indoors.’
‘But we haven’t done paddling yet.’
‘Why don’t you come in and watch Octonauts and have some parsnip crisps while the sun is warming the water. Then you can come back out after the coffee has arrived.’
With the children safely indoors I still had to find the cat, but there was no time to look. Hearing Zeus’ frantic barking I rushed back in and locked the door, the dog always heard it before me. Keeping watch through the patio door I saw a glint over the trees. 10.45am, exactly on time. The Coffee Zone Drone circled, I hoped it’s aim would be better this time. My stomach lurched as, too late, I saw a familiar black and white shape slink across the lawn then freeze as the warning siren started. The drone was higher than usual when its undercarriage opened, the large bright orange box dropped down onto the lawn, narrowly missing the paddling pool. I dashed out, but as I got close my mouth went dry. Sticking out from under the hefty box was a black tail. I knew from previous deliveries the box was too heavy to lift on my own and I was thankful to hear Tom’s voice. I turned to see him holding the cat and laughing.
‘He’s a quivering wreck, he doesn’t like drones does he?’
My relief was short lived, had we killed the neighbour’s cat?
‘Quick, lift the box.’
I closed my eyes. When I opened them Tom was holding up the squashed body of the shabby toy cat the children had insisted on buying from the charity shop.
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