Stepping Back – Sam Outmanned

Sam followed the signs to the beach. Beach!  This was unlike any beach he had visited abroad, especially on his recent holiday with Adele.  A short stretch of shingle and stones interrupted by concrete boxes and some kind of ancient artillery.  He intended to stop in the car park and check out Rachel’s piece on his mobile but there was hardly any reception, and little room to manoeuvre due to the number of aging trucks with boats and trailers attached to them.  He drove a little further down the beach and found that he could get a signal on the other side of the boxes.

Grudgingly, he had to accept that Rachel had written a good piece; it captured the spirit of the Village unity, and mixed facts with good humour.  Of course, there were changes that he would have made for her, but it gave him a better idea of how he should be angling his own piece of investigative journalism on the drug smuggling racket. So engrossed was he, that he failed to notice that the tide was coming in, and that there was a very good reason why no other cars had parked at this end of the beach. He started up the car, but the muddy shingle gave the slick tyres little purchase.  Perhaps taking Adele’s new red BMW sports car had not been the best idea.  He had thought that the villagers would be in awe when they saw it, and willing to answer his questions.  

Wrong on both counts.

A couple of the fishermen from the car park wandered over and asked if he needed a hand.  Noting their barely hidden smirks, Sam’s first instinct was to refuse but he was no Canute and the waves were moving closer.

“It’ll cost mind.  The time it takes to get a car like this safely off the beach will eat into our fishing time.  Would you be the bloke who’s come down from London to interview people about the drug smuggling?”

“Yes.  Just get the car out of here without it getting damaged.  I borrowed it from a friend.”

“Oh.  No insurance then?  Better not let the local bobbies know that.  Rachel says that we are to help you but only if you pay up.  Says that you can afford it.”

Damn Rachel and damn her village idiots!

Sam got out of the car and tried not to wince as the grubby fisherman and his extremely muddy boots sullied the immaculate interior of Adele’s latest present from her daddy. After revving the engine and putting the car into reverse, an increasingly large group of men leaned on the front end of the car, and pushed.  Hard. Once free of the mud, the car sped backwards until it was safely in the car park, and greeted with cheers and applause from the other occupants.

“Nice little car mate,” said the largest and most imposing looking of his rescuers. “But I think it’ll need a valeting before you give it back to the owner.  Might be a few dints on the bonnet where we leaned on it.  I think a ton should be a suitable fee for rescuing it from the sea. Cash only.”

Sam knew that he only had credit cards on him, and wondered how easy it would be to escape without paying.

“Nearest cash point is at the bank next to the Gun.  My brother Jeff here is the landlord, and will give you a lift while we look after your friend’s car. Bear in mind that if you want people from the Village to talk about the drug smuggling, they’ll need paying too.  May as well draw out enough to cover all your costs at once, eh?”

“Is there anyone that doesn’t know Rachel in this village?”

“Might be a few incomers, but everyone knows Mark, Lou and the kids.  Those kids need every penny we can raise now that their Dad has died.  That’s where the money will be going – just in case you thought that we were out to make money out of you for ourselves.”

“When did their father die? What happened?”

“Best talk to Lou or Mark about that.  It’s police business so I’m not sure how much can be disclosed.  Here’s Jeff now.”

Sam got into the passenger seat of an incredibly smelly truck.  Jeff grinned at his discomfort. “The girls didn’t half smell after I rescued them from the beach.  I suppose I ought to give the tarps a bit of a hose down one of these days.  I don’t notice the smell anymore, but strangers coming into my pub say that it niffs of fish a fair bit. Here you go, I’ll hang on and give you a lift back to the car park.”

Relieved to be out in the fresh air, Sam drew a sizeable amount of money out of the cash machine using more than one of his cards to overcome the limitations. He spent the journey back leaning out of the window, much to Jeff’s amusement.  The bill for safe removal of the car was settled, and a few extra £20 notes doled out to the lads who had watched the entire arrest of the drug smugglers from behind the safety of the boat park fence. Jeff advised Sam that Mrs Kneller would be his best source of information, but to be careful about what he said, as she was very fond of Lou and her family, and that included Rachel.

In the meantime, Lou had received a phone account of Sam’s stranding on the beach from one of her friends at the boat yard, and a warning that someone had let slip about Pete’s death. Mark and Rachel were still ensconced in the back room, and while she didn’t want to disturb them, she badly needed advice.  Just as she was about to get Sally to knock on the door, it opened and Mark emerged looking sheepish, followed by Rachel, who was smiling. “Sorry Sis.  We had a few things that needed sorting out.  Are you okay?”

Lou relayed Sam’s sorry tale to much laughter, then the conversation turned more serious as she explained that Sam knew about Pete and wanted to find out more.

“He’s always had a nose for a hidden story I’m afraid.  He won’t pull his punches either.” said Rachel, wanting to spare her friend as much exposure as possible.

“Can I suggest that the three of us talk to Sam together?” said Sam.  “I can give him the official version; Rachel and I can support you Lou, and stop him if he digs too deep.”

“What can I say? My ex-husband was involved with drug smugglers who beat him up so badly that he died from his injuries.  There’s no way you can sweeten that, is there?”

“Isolate the facts as people know them.  Pete was beaten up and turned up here in desperation.  I took him to hospital, but he never regained consciousness so we won’t know how much involvement he had with the smugglers until it goes to court.”

“I can’t do this Mark.,” said Lou, torn between fury and sorrow.  “I’m angry again with Pete and what he’s put us through again.  I’m sad that my children have to watch their father’s name being dragged through the dirt and, I’m sorry Rachel, but I’m so furious with Sam after the way he’s treated you, that I just want to punch his lights out.”

Rachel put her arms around Lou and held her very tight. “Mark, you are more than a match for Sam – personally and professionally.  Would you speak for Lou and the children? I’m afraid Sam tends to home in on vulnerabilities and could probably use Lou’s feelings to write something damaging.”

“You can tell him Mark, that if I talk to anyone about anything, it will be Rachel.”

“You are so capable Lou.” said Mark. “But having been absent for so many years, I welcome the opportunity to be a real big brother and stick up for you and the girls.  Any tips Rachel? You’ve been Lou’s sister for a long time, and you know Sam better than anyone.”

“He’s just pulled onto the driveway in a red BMW that I’ve never seen before.  Are you still under cover Mark or are you allowed to be a proper policeman again?”

“No need for pretence for now.  What did you have in mind?”

“Start off by checking his insurance.  I have a feeling he may have borrowed the car from Adele, and he won’t have bothered about such a trivial thing as arranging insurance when he’s in a hurry.  Get him on the back foot; who knows you may even have the grounds to get the car impounded.  Does that sound vindictive?”

“No, it sounds really cool.” said Lou.  “While you have a chat with him in the backroom Mark, Rachel, the girls and I can take Pluto for a walk into the village and say thank you to our friends.  We’ll wait in the living room until the coast is clear.”

Mark grinned and went outside. He introduced himself to Sam, personally and as a detective inspector, taking out his official mobile as he admired the car.   “Nice little car.  You must be making a good wage to buy one like this.”

“It isn’t actually mine.  A friend lent it to me as I was in a rush to get down here.”

“It’s fully insured in your name then?”

“Ah.  I’m not sure if she put me on the insurance actually.  Is that a problem?”

“It might be.  Would you come inside please, while I make a few calls?”

“Where’s the dog?  I don’t think he likes me.”

“He’s going out for a walk shortly.”

Mark looked over to the living room window and suppressed a smile as he saw the curtains twitch. He led Sam into the back room, closed the door very firmly and made some calls to check out the status of the car.  The sound of giggles and Pluto’s happy bark as they left the house, gave Mark the opportunity to explain to Sam that he would be speaking on behalf of his sister, and officially as the detective in charge of the investigation. News from the station came through very quickly; not only was the car uninsured, but Adele, in a fit of pique, had reported it stolen.  The car also had several unpaid congestion and parking fines.  Mark took the car keys from Sam, and arranged for a tow truck to remove it to the police pound.

Sam was not happy. “Is Rachel behind this?  Just because we split up; I didn’t think she could be so spiteful.”

“It’s you that’s broken the law Sam, not Rachel.  You’ve taken a car without permission; you aren’t insured and there are a number of fines that your girlfriend couldn’t be bothered to pay.  How is any of that Rachel’s fault?”

“The Rachel I knew would never have done this to me.  She used to be such a compliant person.”

“I don’t know Rachel as well as my sister does, but what I do know is that she has been a good friend to Lou and the girls.  I think that she is more concerned with their welfare than yours, and according to Lou, it’s good to have the real Rachel back again.”

“Hang on a minute!  Aren’t you Rachel’s landlord as well?  Is something going on between you two?”

“Rachel has been staying in my spare room since she came down.  I’m away a great deal so she’s been looking after the house – and Pluto – in my absence.  I’m afraid that I’m going to have to arrest you once the car has been taken away, and transport has arrived for you, so feel free to ask me some questions about the drug smuggling ring before I read you your rights.”

Stepping Back – Sam

Lou’s Sunday roast surpassed all previous reputations; whilst Rachel had worried that the news of Pete’s death might have cast a pall over the day, the girls seemed to have accepted the loss of their already very absent father with some alacrity. It was probably easier for Sally and Sarah, whose memories of Pete were scarce, but for Jenny there was still anger because he had put his family and her friends in danger by becoming involved in the drug smuggling ring.  As Lou had said, her own grieving took place when Pete first abandoned them, and after last night she had no more tears left.

Mark took the opportunity to fill in the gaps about the investigation and arrest; at least as much as he was allowed to share officially.  Rachel’s news about managing to get the village’s story told before Sam could get his hands on it was greeted with hilarity, especially when Jenny got the online version up on her tablet. She was particularly pleased that Rachel had been economical in her retelling of how Jenny had managed to get down to the beach with her friends, and hadn’t revealed her escape route in the garden.  She made her excuses, left the table and ran off upstairs to tell her friends to log onto the newspaper’s online site. Sally and Sarah settled in front of the TV, while the adults ferried the leftovers and washing up back into the kitchen.

“That will boost our circulation and my popularity a bit.” said Rachel, pleased that Jenny had liked the piece, and even happier when Lou gave her a big hug. “This is the Rachel I remember from Uni and your early days in journalism.  It’s honest, and very kind about our Village and the people who live here, but it also shows how easy it is for drugs to creep in and ruin people’s lives. Did you read it Mark?”

“I did, and I’m very glad that I held back and didn’t jump out from the trees to rescue the girls, and Rachel yesterday. She has the respect of the rest of my team for making it all look so effortless.  Just a woman, walking a dog on the beach.  We might ask her to do some undercover work for us?”

“No thanks,” said Rachel, horrified at the very thought. “I can admit to you both that I was terrified, especially when I saw the men coming back down toward the beach.  I just kept thinking that if I was scared, the girls must be even more frightened.  Which reminds me, I need my rape alarm back and we need to buy up a batch for Jenny and her friends.”

“Mum!” Jenny’s far from dulcet tones roared down the stairs.

“What’s up Jen?”

“There’s a really grumpy-looking old bloke standing outside the house.”

Lou shrugged her shoulders and went out to the front door, followed by an equally curious Pluto, who immediately started his bad person barking. They came back very quickly. “Rachel.  I think it’s Sam.  He’s asking to speak to you. A very unhappy Sam, and Pluto definitely doesn’t like the look of him.”

“So we hear.  I suppose I ought to speak to him.  Can I use the little room at the back, Lou?”

“Of course, you grab Pluto, Mark, and I’ll show Sam through.”

Rachel went into the small room that looked out onto the back garden.  She had expected to feel those butterflies, or at least some element of excitement but annoyance had the upper hand, especially when Sam entered the room, looked around in ill-disguised disgust and flung himself down into one of the old wicker garden chairs that were stored there during the colder months. “What the hell is going on here Rachel?  I’ve come down to get the story on this drug smuggling, and no one will talk to me. They all direct me back to you and say that they will only talk if you give your permission, and if I’m prepared to pay them first.  Is this the Village of the Damned or what?”

“Hello Sam.  How are you? How is Adele?  I’m very well thank you, and I’m not sorry that our friends in the Village are refusing to speak to you.  I’m afraid that your reputation has preceded you.”

“My reputation!  You mean these yokels know about my private life as well?”

“No.  They know about my not-so-private life.  You dumped me and ran off with a much younger colleague.  I don’t mind admitting that I was in bits when I first came down here.  Luckily, I have a very efficient support system. How did you know where to find me?”

“I got your address from one of the girls in reception; Tony wouldn’t let me have it and I couldn’t get into the flat to check your address book.  You changed the locks – on our flat!”

“My flat.  You moved yourself in, and you moved yourself out while I was away at a conference.”

“Irrelevant details.” he said, waving his hand as if swatting flies.   “I called at your address here and some old woman came out and gave me the third degree.  She refused to say where you were, but then I went down to the Square and an old lady with paintbrushes stuck in her bun offered to tell me but it would cost me twenty quid.”

“That will be Miss Sharp; resident landscape and graffiti artist.  The twenty quid will probably go in the charity box. Have you seen the piece I sent to Tony this morning?”

“No.  I was sat outside the flat waiting for you to turn up and clear your things out.  If you have no other plans for it, I’d like to move back in.”


“Adele’s father isn’t happy about us living together.  He has quite strong principles.”

“Obviously Adele hasn’t inherited them then.”

“That’s very bitchy Rach.  That’s not like you at all.  You need to come back to London.  We should share the flat again?”

“Shows how very little you know me, Sam.  I have spent years of my life being what you wanted me to be, allowing you to criticise and mould every aspect of my life.  Coming back here, coming home, has helped me to find myself again, and to realise who my real friends are.”

“Oh, bully for you! Well, I hope you’re happy now that you’ve given up on your career.”

“Did Tony not tell you that I’ve had a book offer as well as a further six-month extension? How remiss of him. Have you said all that you came to say Sam?  I’ll put the word around that I’m happy for the villagers to talk to you, provided you give them at least twenty pounds a head.  Jeff at the Gun and his brother might ask for more though.  They’re quite fit, so I wouldn’t bother arguing with them.  Take some time to read the online piece I did this morning.  Tony won’t be happy if there’s too much duplication.”

“You’re really going to leave it at that Rach? The very least you could do is let me move into the flat.”

“No.  I bought the flat with my inheritance, and I will probably sell it.  You have no claim on it at all.  Goodbye Sam.  It won’t do you any harm to find your own accommodation for a change instead of battening on foolish women like myself who fall prey to your charms.  I used to think that you had the most beautiful brown eyes, but our dog Pluto has far more honest and loving eyes.  He is usually very good tempered but he does have a nose for unpleasant people, and he definitely had you marked down as soon as he saw you.  I’ll show you out.”

Sam found himself ushered through the front door, without so much as a goodbye kiss or hug.  For the first time in his life, he actually felt defeated, and went off to the car to drive down and look at Rachel’s piece, as well as the infamous beach while she got the locals to talk to him.  Rachel leaned back against the front door and heaved a huge sigh of relief.  It had gone.  All the feelings that Sam had previously evoked in her had vanished.  Lou poked her head around the living room door. “Are we okay?”

“We most certainly are. Sam has gone off with several fleas in his ears, and safe in the knowledge that our relationship is over and there is no way on earth that I am going to let him move back into my flat.”

“Bloody cheek!  Things not going to well with the lovely Adele then?”

“She is more than welcome to him.  Jenny is a very good judge of character; when I set eyes on Sam, I saw what she was seeing.  A grumpy old man who just wants his own way.  Good riddance.”

Pluto and Mark poked their heads around the door jamb too. “Is it safe to come out now?  Pluto’s been growling.  I wanted to come out when I heard raised voices, but then I cast my mind back to yesterday at the beach and I thought, ‘No, Rachel can handle herself’.”

Without a second thought, Rachel threw her arms around Mark’s neck and gave him a resounding kiss, not really the kind of kiss that friends give each other.

“I have washing up to do,” said Lou, laughing.   “You two take it in the back room and sort things out a bit.  Pluto! You come into the kitchen with me and I’ll find you some leftovers.”

“Before you do that Lou, could you phone Mrs K and tell her that the bottom line is twenty quid and if they can screw any more out of Sam, good on them.”

The atmosphere in the small back room was tense but in a different way.  Rachel leaned her head against Mark’s shoulder and though he wanted more than anything to kiss her, he held back. She would tell him when the time was right. “How do you feel Rachel?”

“Relieved.  Slightly hysterical. Very sure that whatever I felt for Sam has gone, though.  He’s got a bloody nerve!  Coming down here and expecting me to give him information so that he can get all the glory!  You and your team caught the smugglers after months of hard work; Mrs K, Lou and the Village worked together to keep Jenny and her friends safe.  Sam rocks up here in a flash car and expects it all to be laid at his feet.  I am also very angry with him, but that’s one of the best emotions to have under the circumstances.  I’m quite looking forward to packing up the flat, and selling it now.  I feel free.”

Mark wasn’t quite sure how to respond.  He was pleased that Rachel had seen Sam in his true light, but what did she really mean by free? For the moment he felt that being there for her, as her rock and supporter, was the best that he could do but oh, he so wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her.


“There is one thing though Mark?” said Rachel, trying to resist the urge to grab him.

“Yes. Anything?”

“Pete’s funeral.  We’ll need to help Lou, emotionally and financially.  The Village will expect a send off for him; he’s one of their own whatever happens.  Will you help me?”

“Of course I will.”

Rachel leaned against his shoulder again and sighed, but it was a happy sigh.

Stepping Back -Picking Up Some Pieces

The insistent buzz of Rachel’s mobile woke her just after nine o’clock the next morning.  She picked it up and groaned when she saw the time. “Hi Tony.  What can I do for you?”

“Write me a very quick piece on the drug smuggling ring that is based in your village.  I take it that you have more information than the official stuff that is currently filtering through online?”

“How about the plucky teenage girls who rescued their friend from the wicked Portuguese bad men, hid behind the Bofors gun on the beach until the local pub landlord and some fishermen brought them back under some very smelly and fishy tarps in the back of a truck.  The drug-smugglers went down to the beach to grab the girls as hostages, but by that time they were long gone, and the police were able to catch them without anyone being injured.  I can’t give you the official police version but I guess our readers would rather go for the human touch anyway?”

“How soon can you get 500 words to me?”

“I’ll set up my laptop in the kitchen.  Will half an hour do?”

“Rachel, you are a star.  I take it that you won’t be popping up to town today then?”

“No.  After yesterday, I intend to write this piece, eat some breakfast, have a shower and tidy up a bit.  Then we are all off to Lou’s house for a late Sunday afternoon roast.”

“Good.  I have to warn you that Sam was intending to meet up with you at the flat today.  He had some idea that you might let him have the flat rent free for old times’ sake.”

“Not a chance.  That’s why I got the locks changed so quickly.  How are things with Sam and dear Adele anyway?”

“Decidedly dodgy.  I think Adele’s daddy is one of the few people that have failed to be charmed by Sam.  That’s why I wanted you to get a piece in quickly.  Sam is bound to be champing at the bit to get down there and scoop all the best parts of the story.”

“Again, not a chance.  My landlord played a very important part in the arrest, our next-door neighbour rallied the local troops, and my best friend’s eldest daughter is one of the plucky teenagers.  Pluto and I played a bit of a role in it too.  You could tell Sam not to waste his time; the rumours about how he dumped me have been widely circulated in the Village, and if he wants information, he will have to pay for it, and no, we do not have a spare room for him.”

“Rachel my dear, I would say that you are well and truly back to your old self.  Now get on and write me a piece that I can get online asap.”

“Will do. And thank you.”

“You are a far more valuable commodity than you realise.”

“You say the sweetest things.  Bye!”

Pulling on the dark blue velvet dressing gown that Lou had persuaded her to buy, Rachel gathered up her laptop and set off for the kitchen.  Pluto was still asleep and so was Mark, so she shut both doors, and sipping some very welcome orange juice, set about turning the previous day’s events into something that would convey both the danger, and the loyalty of all concerned.  She had almost finished the first draft when a yawning Mark emerged with Pluto nudging at his heels.  Seeing her engrossed in typing, he put the kettle on for coffee, dropped a kiss on top of Rachel’s head, and took Pluto out into the garden.

As was her habit, Rachel ran the spellchecker through the piece and then edited it again.  This would usually be enough but she felt that this time, Mark’s opinion was particularly important.  She got up from the chair when he returned from the garden. “If I make some toast, will you have a quick read through this piece before I send it off – please?”

“Are you sure?”

“I don’t usually ask anyone to check my stuff now – that’s up to Tony, but I want to make sure that I haven’t said anything legally unwise.  I don’t want to jeopardise the smuggling investigation.”

“Thank you.”

Before sitting down at the laptop, Mark dashed into the hallway, and took something out of his coat pocket.  Curious as to what he has trying to hide, Rachel peered over his shoulder and noticed that he was wearing spectacles.  He caught her looking and stared down at the keyboard. “My guilty secret.  I only wear them for very close work. Even Lou doesn’t know about them.”

Rachel sat down on the other chair so that she could see him better. She nodded and smiled. “They suit you.  Studious, but rather cute?”

She smiled even more at the sight of Mark blushing. 


She couldn’t resist kissing the top of his head in return.

Rachel made toast and coffee, giving Mark a glass of orange juice and putting some food down for Pluto.  It was another step away from the past when Sam had checked everything.  There had been too many occasions when he had rewritten a piece and sent it off to Tony before she had been able to look at the changes herself.

The sound of Mark chuckling made her smile, and realise that she’d made the right choice of reader.  He got up and hugged her; a friendly hug, tucking his spectacles back into his jacket. “I love it!  I don’t know that we could use it all in court but it certainly shows how a small village can get together and support each other in a crisis.  Were the tarps really that smelly?”

“Foul.  It took me and Lou ages to fumigate Jenny’s bedroom after her friends had left.  Coffee is ready, and I’ve done some toast.  I just need to send this off to Tony so he can get it into the online version.”

With a press of the button, it was gone.  Rachel barely had time to butter a slice of toast before the answering ping showed that the piece had been read by Tony and accepted. “There’s something else I need to tell you Mark.  Sam may be on his way down here to get a ‘scoop’.  I’ve told Tony that there is nowhere for him to stay and that he might have trouble getting the people in the village to talk to him, once they realise who he is. Perhaps we should get Mrs K to spread the word and tell everyone to make some money out of him?”

“Somebody taking my name in vain here?” said Mrs Kneller as she popped her head around the back door.  Rachel grinned. “My ex-boyfriend is probably going to turn up and start poking around for information.  He can pay for it, but make sure people don’t sell themselves short, nor say anything that they could get into trouble for.”

“Consider it done.  You two finish your breakfasts and make sure you put your clothes in the wash from yesterday.  I can still smell fish, and that bathroom was in a right state.”

Mark looked guilty. “Sorry. I had to bag up Pete’s clothes for evidence; that’s when I found the drugs, so I needed to get him down to the station as soon as possible.  He wasn’t happy about the handcuffs.  I’m afraid he was very ill and died without regaining consciousness even though we got him into hospital so quickly.”

“Poor Lou.  She and the girls are better off without him though.  Leaves the path clear for Dr H anyway, her being a widow woman is more respectable for a doctor’s wife than being a divorcee. I’ll come in a bit later anyway.”

And she was gone, still leaving Rachel and Mark a little dumbstruck.  They cleared away the breakfast things, ready to be washed up later, if Rachel could get them done before Mrs K returned.  The vagaries of the elderly plumbing system meant that having a shower at one end of the house and a bath at the far end, resulted in a lack of hot water in one room or the other. Mark waited for Rachel to yell that she had finished before he went to run his bath; smiling as he thought about how quickly the two of them had fitted into routines that complimented each other, the house, and Mrs Kneller.

Showered and having totally banished the aroma of old fish, Rachel rummaged in her wardrobe for something suitable to wear.  True to her word, Lou had managed to get the lilac dress invisibly mended, and although there were newer clothes, as well as those that dated back to Uni days, this was the dress she wanted to wear, and she wondered what Mark would think. Who was she kidding! She hoped that Mark would be pleased to see her in her favourite dress again.

He was.  The sight of Rachel coming up the corridor in the lilac dress brought back a host of memories and feelings. He smiled and bent down to check that the scratches on her legs had fully healed from the pyracanthas attack. “I haven’t had a chance to tell you before, but we were waiting in the trees behind the beach yesterday, and when I saw you, my first instinct was to call to you, to get you out of there. Then I realised that you’d spotted the girls, and that the best thing I could do was to trust you.  You looked so relaxed when you and Pluto sauntered back to the Quay, and then we saw Jeff just as casually trundling down in his truck.  The rest of the team were very impressed by the way you got the girls out safely.  The gang were intending to get hold of Maria and Jenny, and use them to get to Pete.  Whatever happens between us Rachel, I will never underestimate you again. I promise.”

Rather stunned by this speech, Rachel didn’t really know whether to blush, laugh or cry in response.  Saved again by the timely arrival of Mrs Kneller and the vacuum cleaner, she chose to smile instead. “Dirty clothes are in the wash Mrs K,” said Rachel. “I’ve stripped my bed too; I didn’t have a chance to shower last night and we were too busy cleaning up the girls at Lou’s first.  We’ve been invited down to Lou’s for Sunday lunch so we’ll get out from under your feet, if that’s okay?”

“That’s lovely.  I’ve put the word out about your nosey ex.  Are you taking Pluto with you?”

“Of course.  The girls would be very cross if we left him at home.”

“I don’t think he likes the vacuum much either.  Have a nice lunch and don’t go falling into any more bushes now!”