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. 

Touché.

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!”