Stepping Back – It’s Official!

It was a short but very happy drive down to the Square; they waited patiently while Lou served some customers and tried to avoid holding hands or showing any signs of affection.

“Hello you two.” said Lou.  “I understand that you are ‘on leave’ Mark because of false complaints made against you.  You look remarkably cheerful under the circumstances.”

“We have some other news for you; much better news.”

Rachel looked over at Mark and took a deep breath. “How do you feel about me actually becoming a real member of the family Lou?”

Lou shrieked. “Are you two – are you really, truly an item now?”

Mark nodded. “Mrs K was a little disapproving when she found us sharing a bedroom this morning, but changed her mind when I announced that I wanted to make an honest woman of Rachel.  She has given us till midday to break the news to you, before it goes public.  In the meantime, we are off to find an engagement ring.  Any ideas Lou?”

“I’m too gobsmacked to think.  Oh Rachel, I am so happy I could skip round the Square!  There’s Ben! Call him over, you have to tell him too.  He’ll be over the moon. Go on Mark, go and get him.”

Rachel took Lou’s hands. “While you are being ecstatic there is something that I need to ask you about.  Pete’s funeral. I know it’s painful but the girls need to have a way of saying good bye, and so do many of the Villagers who knew him.  I will always be grateful that you let me help out with your Mum all those years ago, and now that I know she was Mark’s Mum too, it means even more to me.  Mark and I talked about it yesterday, and we want to pay for the funeral and organise it – if you’ll let us.  This is not something you need to go through on your own, and once it’s over and done with we can get on with happier events.”


“Well, I guess we should have an engagement party, and maybe, a wedding?  What do you think?”

“You’ve chosen the right day to drop this on me.  I suppose I do owe it to the girls to give Pete a good send-off.”

“Splendid.  According to Mrs K, you being a widow woman makes you even more attractive to Dr Hussein.”

“Did she really say that?”

“She did, and who knows better than Mrs K?”

Mark and Ben appeared in the tea shop doorway.  Ben swept Rachel up in a huge bear hug. “Rachel!  You shameless hussy!  You’ve gone and stolen the lovely Marky from underneath my very nose!  I take it that Mrs K hasn’t started up the Village semaphore yet?”

“She gave us till midday; after that, the whole world will know.” said Rachel managing to detach herself.

“We need your help though, Ben.” said Lou.  “Where can they buy an engagement ring?”

“Nothing flash or expensive.” said Rachel as Mark took her hand in his.  “Perhaps something antique?”

“You need look no further than my friend across the water.  He has some exquisite jewellery as well as those gorgeous dresses, one of which you just happen to be wearing today. It suits you.”

“One other thing Ben.  Who can we go to about Pete’s funeral?  Mark and I will be helping Lou and the girls, but I’ve no idea where to start.”

“I am your fairy godmother indeed!  I know a lovely couple of chaps who live up the road and run their own funeral service; cars, flowers, organising the service, and if you don’t want a religious do, one of them is a humanist celebrant.  Shall I give them a call and ask them to contact you, Lou?”

“Sounds good Ben, but I’d rather they dealt with Mark and Rachel for now.” Lou was looking rather overwhelmed by the whole situation, coupled with the fact that the early lunch hour crowd was heading towards the tea shop.

“We’ll leave you in peace Sis.” said Mark as he kissed Lou goodbye.   “I’m going to carry Rachel off on the little pink ferry to see if we can find a suitable ring on the other side of the river.  We’ll be back before closing. Concentrate on sarnies and cupcakes; everything will sort itself out.”

Mark took Rachel’s hand and followed Ben outside into the Square, where he was busy spreading their good news.  After numerous congratulations, they went down to the Quayside and took their places on the little pink ferry.  It was something that Rachel had been promising herself since she had arrived months ago, and she felt quite moved that Mark had remembered how much she wanted to make the short trip across the river. The boat trip was every bit as sweet as she had remembered; being able to look back at the Village and see the Marina in the sunlight, was just another memorable aspect of the day.  Mark sat with his arm around her, and looked every bit as happy as she felt.  The shop wasn’t far from the ferry dock, and Ben had already been on the phone to his friend, who greeted them with enthusiasm, as well as asking Rachel to do a quick twirl in her new dress.  He pulled chairs out for them both in the shop, and after passing over a tray of rings, went into store room, and brought out a bottle of champagne and three glasses.

Rachel saw the ring straight away; a tiny diamond set in gold, surrounded by eight petal shaped sapphires. Gingerly, she took it from the tray and tried it on, anxious in case it was too big, or too small.  Just like Cinderella, it fitted as if it had been made for her.  Mark smiled and raised her hand to his lips.  Rachel gulped, and Ben’s friend handed her a tissue and a hastily poured glass of champagne.

Mark took the ring off her finger and knelt down. “I ought to do this properly.  Rachel, I love you more than I ever thought possible.  Will you marry me?”

“Yes! Oh Mark! Oh!  Is the ring very expensive?”

“It’s the right ring for us, so the cost doesn’t matter.”

Mark handed his credit card over, paid and pocketed the contents of a small blue velvet box as well.  He had a feeling that now the ring was on Rachel’s finger, nothing would remove it.  She sat staring at it and absent-mindedly sipping her champagne while the transaction was taking place. 

An engagement ring!  

Something she knew Sam would ever have entertained, and looking over at Mark, who was smiling happily, Rachel was glad that the subject had never arisen, and that she had made the right choice in the end. The pink ferry was getting ready to leave just as they got to the dock, and the journey back to the Village was even more magical.  Rachel kept looking at her hand, and at the blue and white stones echoing the bright blue of Mark’s eyes and the colours of the river around them. It was definitely the right ring.

“Tell me honestly Mark, was it very expensive?”

“Honestly. No.  The only other experience I had of buying an engagement ring was Sorrel’s.  She insisted on having it made from Cornish gold by a friend of hers.  It was abstract and ugly, cost me an arm and several legs, and I never liked it. The wedding rings were even worse.  It was a good job that I didn’t have to wear mine when I was working.  This ring is you.  It suits you and if I’d looked at the tray first, this is the ring I would have chosen for you.  True blue of the sea and the river, and an absolute diamond to all those who love you.  Pretty scary to those who don’t, though.”

He kissed her in a very thorough way that made her shiver and feel relieved that they were the only people on the ferry apart from the captain, who very discreetly kept his back to them and his eyes on the river.

Stepping Back – Rumbled

It was the sound of Mrs K vacuuming that woke them both the next morning.  Although it was wonderful to be curled up in bed in Mark’s arms at last, Rachel couldn’t help wondering what kind of reception they would get when her own empty bed was discovered

Mark jumped out of bed and pulled on a tee-shirt and jeans. “Mrs K has made me promise not to wander around the house naked.  I fear that we may have offended her sensibilities this morning. Stay put and I’ll try to pour oil on some troubled waters.”

Rachel grinned and slid back down under the duvet.

“Good morning, Mrs K!” said Mark cheerfully as he opened the kitchen door.  “How are we this morning?”

“’WE are fine.  I hope you aren’t playing fast and loose with our Rachel. We didn’t have that sort of thing going on in my day.”

Mark leaned against the kitchen table. “I have no intention of doing anything to upset Rachel, but yes.  We are now an item.  Lou doesn’t know yet, so if you could give us a chance to tell her before the jungle drums start beating, we’d both be grateful.  I am officially on leave due to the fact that I have had complaints made against me by Rachel’s ex, and the entire Davenport-Hooper family, and my boss needs me to keep my head down.”

As he had suspected, Mrs Kneller’s initially cool response to Mark and Rachel’s new sleeping arrangements turned to total outrage against the absolute cheek of Sam and the D-H family to make complaints about him.  He took the opportunity to nip down the corridor and fetch Rachel’s dressing gown before Mrs K had drawn breath.

“There’s orange juice there for the pair of you.  Make sure you remember to bring the glasses back.  Pluto’s been out for a wee and I’ve fed him.  I take it that Lou will be your first stop once you’re up and about?  I’ll finish off here and leave you to make your own breakfasts.”

Rachel was waiting behind the bedroom door and pulled on her dressing gown quickly before going into the kitchen.  Mark went back into the bedroom, sat on the bed and kept his fingers crossed.

“I know it’s not the way things were done in your day Mrs K, but please be happy for us?” said Rachel.  “You know that you are so much more to us both than the next-door neighbour who comes in and does.  You are the Mum that neither of us ever knew, and the last thing either of wants to do is upset or offend you.”

Mrs K looked at Rachel over the top of her spectacles; she shook her head but gave Rachel a hug of forgiveness. “Heaven knows, I’ve had my mind set on you two becoming a couple, but I thought there might be a bit more courting before you jumped into bed together.  This isn’t just a fling though, is it?”

“I can only speak for myself but I’m hoping that this will be a permanent arrangement.”

“An engagement and wedding then?”

“Possibly but we need to focus on Pete’s funeral, and getting Lou and the girls through it first.  Whatever Pete became in the end, he was from this Village, and should be sent off by properly by his family and old friends.  Will you help us with it?”

“I suppose it will be a bit less work in this house with only one bed to make; the pair of you have known sadness in your lives, so you need to make up for it in your own way.  Your Mum indeed! Go and get our Mark, and I’ll put the kettle on for some coffee.”

“Thank you.” Rachel gave Mrs Kneller another hug, and almost skipped back to the bedroom where Mark, now fully clothed was waiting for her.

“I heard. Detectives need to have good hearing.  Rachel, you are indeed a clever wordsmith.”

“I meant it Mark.  Whatever other people may think of Mrs K, she has a huge heart, and I hated the thought of her being offended by our behaviour.”

“You gave all the right answers.”

“All of them?”

“If I had a ring on me, I would be down on one knee asking for your hand in marriage.  Perhaps we are both more old-fashioned than we realise?  Your being here has improved my life one hundred percent, and I love the thought of sharing the rest of it with you.”

Rachel wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, so she did both and buried her face in Mark’s chest.

“Is that a yes then?”

“No one’s every proposed to me before – with or without a ring – but yes, please.  You make me feel so happy, and able to do all the things that I want to do.”

“Get dressed then and I’ll put the toast on, and ask Mrs K for her blessing.”

Grabbing her clothes from the night before, Rachel downed the orange juice and ran down the corridor to her bedroom, hiding her face.  Mrs Kneller watched her go and turned to Mark. “You haven’t upset her already, have you?”

“I don’t think so.  Tears of happiness, I hope.  I just asked her to marry me and she said yes.  We need to go and buy a ring though, so I can do it properly.  You can release the news at lunchtime if you like?”

“Good lad.  Well, for what it’s worth, you have my congratulations.”

“It’s a blessing from you that we need.”

“Go on with you.  It’s what I’ve wanted since the first time I met our Rachel.  She’s pure gold.  I’ve put some toast on, and once Rachel’s dressed, I’ll strip and remake her bed.  She may as well keep her clothes in that wardrobe, you haven’t much room in yours with all that police stuff.”

“I thought about getting her a proper desk and chair so that she can write in there, rather than on the kitchen table or balancing on the dressing table.  If she wants one that is.  There’s a lot to think about, but Lou and the girls come first.”

Having dried her eyes and got dressed, Rachel came back into the kitchen to the welcome sight of Mrs K and Mark in a very congratulatory hug.  He raised his head and grinned. “Mrs K will wait till midday before making the official announcement; that should be enough time to put a ring on your finger, and make us both more respectable? You aren’t having second thoughts, are you?”

Rachel took Mark’s hand and shook her head.  “Not a chance. Perhaps I should go and put a dress on if there’s going to be an event?”

“Good idea lovely, and you Mark, need a shave.  It’s all very well being on leave, but no one likes to kiss a man with stubble.  I’m right aren’t I, Rachel?”

Rubbing her hand along Mark’s chin and cheek, Rachel nodded. “Designer stubble may be very trendy up in London, but I do love a nice clean shave.”

Remembering that Sam had been sporting a great deal of stubble when he turned up in the village, Mark hastened to the bathroom.  By the time he had returned shaven and smooth, Rachel was waiting for him, and wearing a dress that he hadn’t seen before.

“I like that one as well.  Is it new?”

“I bought it at Ben’s friend’s shop.  You waited outside in the car so that I could browse in peace, and make my own choices.  It was another thing about you that I appreciated.”

Mark put his arm around Rachel’s waist and gave her a squeeze.  Mrs K looked on with an approving smile. “Well, you certainly make a handsome couple, I must say.  If you’re going shopping you can leave Pluto with me. I expect the girls will want to come and take him out when they come home from school anyway.  Out of my way now, I have work to do!”

Stepping Back – Dark Wardrobes

Eating Shepherd’s pie in the kitchen with Mark felt like the epitome of a domestic bliss she had always wanted.  Rachel enjoyed the camaraderie of cooking together, and chatting about nothing in particular while they prepared the meal and sat down at the kitchen table to eat together.

“Thank you.” Mark said as he finished off the last of the Shepherd’s pie.  “This is definitely worth coming home for.”

Rachel pulled a mock-disappointment face. “Just the pie, or me and Pluto too?”

“Everything.  The house feels far more like a home than the flat I shared with Sorrel. Mrs K cleaned most of the apartments in the block, but I did the cooking.  It wasn’t Sorrel’s thing. Mrs K kept me sane when Sorrel’s antics got too bad.”

“Mrs K is rather special.  Apart from Lou – and you – she’s the only person who ever really looked after me because they wanted to.”

“I’m so glad that you two get on…”

“If the last couple of days have taught me anything, it’s that I am well and truly over Sam, and that I don’t want to go back to working in London.  I feel happy and welcomed here.  It isn’t just the old memories, it’s the new ones too.  The way people have rallied round to support Lou and the girls – and me as well. If I sell the flat in London, I’m burning my boats, but with the money in the bank I can concentrate on writing.  I may have to buy more long and flowing scarves though.”

Mark laughed and leaned back in his chair.  Rachel could tell that there was something that he was burning to say, but didn’t know whether or not he should.  Mark’s work mobile rang out in the hallway and he jumped up to answer it.  Rachel cleared the table and tried not to listen.  It didn’t sound like it was very good news, but Mark’s voice remained calm, low and level.  She started on the washing up in order to distract herself and had managed to wash, dry and put away before Mark returned to the kitchen looking annoyed but not furious. “I’ve been asked to take some gardening leave.  Sam has put in an official complaint about me, so has Adele’s father and the entire Davenport-Hooper family.”

“No!  Mark!  I’m so sorry! This is all my fault!”  Rachel turned around and leaned against the sink feeling as if the whole world was crumbling again, and just when she was beginning to feel safe and happy.

“Come here Rachel?” He put his arms around her, and gently turned her so that her face was nestled against his chest. “Shush.  None of this is down to you.  It’s the work of arrogant and power-hungry people who think that that money and influence can break the law.  My job is very important to me, but ensuring that I do things by the book is just as important.  Regarding Sam, I made sure that I recorded everything I did and submitted it at the time of the arrest.  Although Sam initially broke the law by taking Adele’s car without permission, that charge has now been dropped, and she has paid the fines that she owed.  I couldn’t overlook the lack of insurance however, and that’s why the car was impounded.  Adele’s father is just annoyed about having to get someone to come down here to collect it.  As for the D-H’s; on two of the occasions where the twins were spoken to by the police, I was not involved. Apparently, our Daw has said that the boys are minors, and should have had an appropriate adult when they were interviewed.  That needs checking out, but again that’s for someone else to do.  There have also been questions about why we didn’t report Damaris for nearly knocking us down, but I was still working undercover at the time, and making too much of a fuss might have blown the whole operation.  Daw has been spoken to about transporting her sons (especially if they are minors) to our house knowing that they had offensive weapons that they intended to use on you.  Daw also got another speeding ticket which means that she’s used up all her points and will now be disqualified from driving.  With all this against them, the D-H collective has decided to fight back and accuse me of harassment.  I am angry, but my boss feels that it will disappear once an investigation is started.  Look on the bright side Rachel. I’m on holiday again until it all blows over.”

“But none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for me!”

“I don’t see it that way and neither does my boss. In fact…”


“He’s read your pieces online, and says he found them very entertaining, and informative.  He also said that you must be someone very special.  I’m inclined to agree with him.”

Rachel pressed her forehead against Mark’s shoulder and breathed in the scent of him that she had come to know so well. He stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head. “I miss the pigtails; they’re yet another quirky aspect of you that I…Oh Rachel, why can’t I say what I want to say?”

Rachel smiled. She stroked the side of his face and looked into those beautiful blue eyes. “You could always try kissing me instead?”

Mark needed no other invitation; it was the kiss that they had both been waiting for.  She was where she wanted to be, in Mark’s arms and feeling every fantasy turning into a rather wonderful reality. Pluto had other ideas however.  All this hugging and kissing just made him feel left out, so he leaped around the kitchen barking and yelping, until Mark and Rachel had no choice but to pay some attention to him.

Mark looked at him sternly. “That’s enough now Pluto.  You’re just going to have to get used to this. Isn’t he, Rachel?”

Rachel reached down and ruffled Pluto’s ears.  “We’ll have to be discreet and confine ourselves to a Pluto-free space.”

“Does this mean what I think it means?”

Rachel smiled and nodded. “Looks like we’ve really become an item now Mark.  It isn’t just Lou and the Village that makes me want to stay. You’re an even bigger part of it; have I got a future with you?”

Mark held her so tightly that she thought he was going to squeeze the life out of her, and she tapped his shoulder in protest. He loosened his grip. “I’m sorry; I’ve just been waiting for you to give me a sign that I was in with a chance. I was attracted to you right from the very first moment you sat on the bed while I picked broken glass off your legs.  The more I’ve come to know you, the stronger my feelings have grown. You and I made the wrong choices the first time around, didn’t we?”

“Second time lucky, and I think we’ve both learned from our mistakes.  I’ll admit that I found you very attractive right from the start too, but Sam kept getting in the way.  I love the way that you let me be me, whether it’s the clothes I wear, or the words that I write. Ease up on the bear hugs though, I don’t want to find myself having Ben and Dr Hussein treating me for cracked ribs.”

“Sorry Rachel. I just can’t believe it’s true.”

“Let’s take Pluto out for his late-night walk and put him to bed, and then…”

“And then?”

“I think it’s about time you showed me around the rest of the house, and I’m not talking about the sail loft.  After all, you have become very familiar with my bedroom, but I’ve never set foot in yours.”

Once Pluto was settled on the sofa and the living room door firmly shut, Mark opened his bedroom door, and walked over to switch on the bedside lamp. Rachel stopped on the threshold for a moment and surveyed the hitherto unknown territory. The room was dominated by a set of built-in wardrobes in very dark wood surrounding Mark’s bed. “It’s functional.” he said.  “I just sleep in here and keep all my police kit in the wardrobes. The curtains on the road side are kept drawn all the time, but I have a good view of the garden through the other windows.  I toyed with the idea of having doors out onto the patio, but I’ve never got around to it. It isn’t very romantic in here I’m afraid.  Your room is much nicer; Mrs K picked up some things to make it more homely when we knew you were coming to stay.”

Mark shut the door and leaned against it; looking a little embarrassed by his sombre surroundings.  Turning towards him, Rachel reached up and held his face between her hands as she kissed him. “You and I are alone in this room, and that’s what makes it romantic.  I don’t care where we are as long as we finally get the opportunity to get to know each other properly.”

“There’s another thing, Rachel?”


“I was about to ask you if you had anything on under those pyjamas but as you’ve just taken them off…”  

Stepping Back – Remembering

By the time Mark arrived home, Rachel had written three separate pieces, spell-checked them and edited them before sending them off to Tony.  Half an hour later she received a very happy email advising her that she had scooped Sam yet again, and that numerous colleagues in the office were still laughing about his beach escapade and subsequent rescue.  The longest of the three pieces was about Lou and Pete; Tony had promised to sit on that one until the funeral had taken place, in order to give the people of the Village the opportunity to pay their last respects without any outside interference. News travels fast on the police network and Mark already knew about the arrest of the D-H boys.  He had texted Rachel earlier to let her know that the boys were being bailed but to their school address rather than home, so there would be no more hassle from them for now. He didn’t ask her if she was okay, because he knew that she would be, and didn’t want her to think that he was being patronising.  He did put several ‘x’s’ at the end however, which made Rachel smile and type a little bit faster.

She changed out of the lilac dress into a pair of the short pyjamas bought on her shopping trip with Lou and the girls, and was settled on the sofa with a fed and dozing Pluto, when Mark came back.  Pluto jumped to his feet when he heard the sound of Mark’s key in the door, and was waiting in the hallway with his tail wagging happily.  Rachel decided to stay where she was until Pluto had finished his welcoming, and Mark had washed the affectionate slobber from his face and hands.

He sat down next to her on the sofa and took one of her hands in his. “It’s been a hell of a couple of days, hasn’t it?”

Rachel nodded and leaned her head against his shoulder with a sigh. “We’ve got through it though, all of us.” she said.  “Except poor Pete.  Even now I can’t hate him; I’d rather remember him as he was in the old days when we all used to hang around the Quay.  Perhaps that’s just as well; I haven’t discussed the funeral with Lou yet. Jeff and the lads have already raised a fair sum courtesy of Sam’s payments, but it will take more than that to giver him a good send off. Lou’s the only family I’ve ever had; I’d like the girls to have a memory of what Pete used to be like.  He was so funny and lively in those days, and it was only when he got into debt that he had to turn to other means of making money.”

Rachel was aware that at some point during the conversation, Mark’s other arm had encircled her shoulders and she liked the feeling very much. She smiled as another thought of the day occurred to her. “I bet Sam was really fed up about being arrested and sent back to London on the train.”

Mark nodded and grinned. “He was not happy at all.  I had to supervise his phone calls.  Interesting though, that he called your editor first to say that you had sabotaged his attempts to get his story. Judging from his response, that didn’t go as planned because he slammed the phone down.  The call to his girlfriend was totally different.  He was SO apologetic and almost grovelling to her, but when he came off the phone he was smirking.  I’m sorry Rachel but I had to walk away from him or I’d have punched him.  Hard.”

“Why are you apologising?  Perhaps if I’d had the courage to stand up to him, we would never have stayed together.  I was beginning to understand what was wrong with our relationship, but this has made me see him for what he really is.  An arrogant little bully.”

Mark held his breath for a moment, considering what he wanted to say against what he thought he ought to say. “What happens next?”

“I’m starving.  I was waiting for you to come home before I started cooking anything.  Mrs K has left the makings of a Shepherd’s pie in the kitchen.  It would probably take me about half an hour to knock up, especially if you peel the potatoes for me?”

“That wasn’t what I meant, but I do love Shepherd’s pie. With garden peas and gravy?”

“Of course.  I haven’t exactly had much chance to cook for anyone but myself for the last few years but Shepherd’s pie was one of the few things that Lou would allow me to make when we shared the house.”

“Can I ask you something Rachel? What happened to the nightshirt?”

“Mrs K said that I should invest in more attractive nightwear. Pyjamas are more practical for taking Pluto out in the garden – and for cooking dinner. Do you like them?”

“I do.  There’s one other thing I wanted to ask you, though?”

“Do your worst?”

“You told me that Lou was your only family, but surely you had parents at some stage?”

“Lou said that you were brought up by your father’s parents.  I never knew who my parents were either. When I was born my maternal grandparents took me on.  I say that loosely.  They were rarely home, and until I was old enough to be sent off to boarding school, I had a number of nannies to look after me.  My grandparents were involved in ambassadorial work, and spent most of their time travelling abroad.  When I turned eighteen, the solicitors advised me that my grandparents felt they had discharged their obligation to me and wanted to cut off all contact.  I had a more than generous settlement to cover living expenses, and all my university fees were paid.  I met Lou and she took me under her wing; she didn’t have a lot of money at the time, her father had just died, and your mother was quite poorly so we looked after each other.  It hit Lou hard when your mother died.”

“I never knew her.  What was she like?”

“She was funny and sweet.  She was a wonderful singer and that’s how she met Lou’s dad.  He played bass guitar in a band that performed in most of the jazz clubs. He was a lot older than your mother when they met, and when he developed Parkinson’s Disease, he had to stop playing altogether.  He died about six months before Lou was due to start Uni and at first, she didn’t want to go but your mother insisted.  We were both oddities at Uni; Lou with her black curls and the stigma of racism, me the plain Jane from a boarding school who didn’t know what a real home was.  We clicked somehow, and teamed up against the snobs and the racists that we met.  I had sufficient money from my grandparents to rent a cottage in the Village when we moved out of halls in our second year. Lou often took me home with her; your mother always made me feel welcome, but by the time we were in our third year, she had faded away as the cancer took hold.  Lou let me pay for your mother to go into a hospice near to our Uni.  It meant that she was safe and well looked after, it also meant that we could visit her and take in little things to make her smile.  She didn’t live to see Lou married though.”

“I take it that you probably helped Lou out with the wedding then?”

“It was one of my greatest pleasures, and I told Lou that if she insisted on putting me in a bridesmaid’s dress, then I’d be the one who paid for it, and all the other things that a wedding required.  I had plenty of money once the hospice fees were paid up, and by then I was well and truly part of Lou’s family. She promised to pay me back when she won on the Lottery; that was our standing joke. We didn’t go mad anyway; a marquee outside the yacht club and a disco provided by a friend from Uni.  I look at the amount of money people spend on weddings nowadays and I wonder if they can possibly have as good a time as we did that day. Come on.  I’m hungry, in which case you must be absolutely starving!”

Pluto followed Mark and Rachel into the kitchen to watch the preparations.  He settled down on his bed and fell asleep feeling safe and happy. Just until the Shepherd’s pie was ready and he could eat up any leftovers.

Stepping Back – No More Secrets

The first sight that greeted Pluto’s dog walkers when they reached the Square was a jolly bunch of men sitting on the benches outside the Gun. Jeff was the first to spot Lou and Rachel, and sent up a cheer at their approach. “Come on over for a drink, ladies; they’re on the house! Has your snotty friend gone back to London yet, Rachel?”

Lou and Rachel looked at each other and giggled like a pair of schoolgirls.  Jenny decided that someone needed to act in a responsible manner under the circumstances. “Uncle Mark has just arrested him for twocking, no insurance and non-payment of fines and congestion charges.  The BMW is going to the pound, and will need to be recovered by the owner.  Stop giggling Mum, and you, Auntie Rachel.  You should know better!”

“Sorry Jenny. You shouldn’t have made the comment about Uncle Mark though.”

“That’s okay Lou,” said Jeff grinning.  “Most of the Village knew that Mark was a copper anyway.  Apart from the Dick-Head family that is. Some of the boys have been helping Mark out with a bit of snooping concerning the comings and goings at the Quayside.  What will you have?  That includes you girls as well, but soft drinks and crisps only. I don’t want to lose my licence.”

“Two draught ciders please Jeff?”

“Water for Pluto too? Probably got a few dog biscuits knocking around.”

“I’ll come in and give you a hand Jeff.” said Lou, following him into the pub.

“Sorry to hear about Pete, Lou.” said Jeff as he started to pour the drinks.  “He may have gone to the bad but he was still a part of the Village.  If it’s okay, we’d like to make a donation to the funeral.  Rachel’s ex has already made a sizeable contribution, but there’s more coming in.”

Lou gulped and had to turn away.  She had been trying so hard to push Pete’s death to the back of her mind, but the thought of a funeral and how to pay for it made it all seem real.  Jeff came round the bar and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. “I know it’s a shock Lou, but you have a lot of friends here and we know that since Pete left, you have worked like a trojan to give your girls all that they need.  You make the world’s best cupcakes too!”

Lou laughed. “I’ll pop over to the shop; I’ve got stock in the fridge for tomorrow, and I’d far rather share it with you lot than the tourists.”

Having taken all drinks outside and given Pluto his reward, Lou took Sarah and Sally over to the tea shop.  Jeff sat down next to Rachel, who was halfway down her pint of cider already. “She’s worried about organising and paying for Pete’s funeral; bad enough that he pushed off and left them, but having to sort out his funeral is a double blow.  I’ve said that we’ve already raised some money from your ex, but that’s only a drop in the ocean.”

“Mark and I talked about it this afternoon,” said Rachel reassuringly.  “He will sort out the police side of things; there will have to be a post mortem because of all the injuries, but I’ll see to the practical stuff.  Lou is the only family I have, even if we aren’t actually related, and she’s been there even more for me, since Sam and I split up.  I’m in the fortunate situation of having a good salary, low overheads, and dead relatives who left me very well off.  Mark has refused to let me pay rent all this time, and I’ve made some extra money out of the articles I’ve written.  I’ve been asked to write a book about the Village, so any tales you have to tell will be very welcome.  I was going to rent out my flat in London, but … well I might be making the move permanent, so selling it would be more sensible really.”

“You’re definitely staying then?  Sammy boy didn’t persuade you to go back to London?”

Rachel laughed and shook her head. “Jenny looked out of the window and said there was a grumpy old man outside.  I looked at Sam with different eyes at that moment, and she was right.  A very unpleasant person who expects everyone to do as he says.  I don’t want that kind of person in my life any more.  Despite falling into a prickle bush and being threatened by Damaris’s little brothers, I’ve been very happy here, happy in the same way that Lou and I were when we were younger.”

“And what about our Mark?”

“Time will tell, but he’s everything that Sam isn’t. He’s also been an extremely good friend.”

“Best way to start off I always say.  Here’s our Lou with a load of cakes and scones.”

Lou and the girls put the trays of food on the tables, and stood back watching them disappear rapidly.  Rachel’s phone rang and she got up and walked a few yards further up the Square where it was quieter.  It was Mark, and though the news he gave was a little disappointing, he had a second piece of news that was more promising.  She told him where they were, and what Jeff had said about the funeral and the reluctant fundraising courtesy of Sam.

Rachel went back to spread her news. “It seems that the car wasn’t stolen after all; Adele ‘forgot’ that she had lent it to Sam, she has also settled her parking fees and congestion charges.  The car is still impounded however because Sam wasn’t insured to drive it.  Adele’s daddy will be sending a fully insured member of staff to get it released.  Sam has been fined and got points on his licence, but was very kindly taken to the train station so that he can get back swiftly to Adele’s loving arms.”

“And how does that make you feel, our Rachel?” asked Jeff.

“Relieved to see the back of him, and I can’t help wondering if he’s realised just how big his bald patch is now? The other piece of news came from my editor Tony. Mark spoke to him about Sam’s predicament, and he said that Sam could sort his own messes out but that he needed some copy about the incident from me, and as soon as possible.  I’d better make tracks and get my laptop booted up.  Shall I take Pluto girls, or do you want him for a bit longer?”

“Please leave him with us for a bit, Auntie Rachel?  We’ll bring him home after tea.”

Rachel said her goodbyes and set off home, smiling at the bunch of happy munchers and drinkers. She was just getting her front door key out when she was aware of a noise behind her.  Turning around she saw the two D-H boys who had been hiding in the bushes.  One was holding a cricket bat, and the other was brandishing a riding crop.  What Rachel could also see was Mrs Kneller, peering over her garden fence and making telephone signs with one hand.

“Not so stroppy now that you haven’t got your dog to protect you.” said the twin with the cricket bat.  “You’ve upset our sister and got us banned from the village.  We aren’t going to let you get away with that.  We’ll make sure that when you’ve recovered from the thrashing we’re going to give you, you’ll go back to London and never come here again.”

Rachel assumed that Mrs Kneller had phoned for help but in the meantime, she surreptitiously felt in her pocket.  Jenny had returned the rape alarm and very kindly put the new batteries in it.   She felt that stalling for time just a little bit longer might give the cavalry a chance to arrive. “Why is your sister upset? She was never engaged to Mark.”

“Yes, she was!  He came to our house for dinner once, and he took her out a couple of times, and besides, our Mother said that they were engaged.  Damaris has been and had some work done on her face so that Mark would fancy her again, but it went wrong and now she can’t leave the house. That’s your fault and you’re going to pay.  When we’ve finished with you, Mark won’t want to look at you ever again.”

The cricket bat wielding twin took a menacing step closer, and Rachel pressed the button on the rape alarm.  The ear-splitting noise made them both jump back, although they had both heard it before.  At the same time Mrs Kneller popped up from over the garden fence and directed her garden hose at them both.  Rachel took the opportunity to move to the safety of the front porch, and as she did, Jeff’s pickup roared into the driveway, loaded up with his brother and several other fishermen, all carrying high-powered water pistols that they aimed at the boys. From the horrendous smell, the liquid in the pistols had come from the water tanks near the Quayside, redolent of old fish and mouldy seaweed.  Not long after after the water battle commenced, a police car screeched to a halt in the driveway, and the skirmish ended with the D-H boys cowering by the bushes, wet and extremely smelly.  Not surprisingly, he beat policeman was reluctant to have them in his car, and called for a van to collect them.

“Are you alright Miss?” he asked Rachel, seeing the cricket bat and riding crop on the floor.

“Thanks to Mrs Kneller and the lads, these boys didn’t have a chance to attack me, but they made it quite clear that they intended to give me a beating with those weapons.  I’m quite happy to give a statement.” said Rachel.

“And me.” said Mrs Kneller.  “I saw them being dropped off outside by their mother.  You might find her parked down the road waiting for them so that she could dispose of the evidence.  That makes her an accessory before the fact, doesn’t it?”

The policeman forced a smile and took out his notebook. 


Jeff and the lads returned to the square, giving Mrs Kneller the opportunity to hose the driveway down and get rid of the smell of elderly fish.  “I’m not wasting good water on those two,” she said.  “I expect you’ll have to put them in those white Noddy suits when you get them to the station.  I wouldn’t put it past them to have knives or something in their pockets as well.  You’d better frisk them too!”

When the police van arrived, the boys were reluctantly patted down, and as Mrs Kneller suspected, they were both carrying Swiss army knives. Rachel shuddered, thinking what damage they could have done her, and astounded that their mother had colluded with them in such an evil pursuit.  All because of Damaris and her fantasies about Mark.  The all-seeing Mrs Kneller put her hose away and came round the fence. “Come on, my lovely.  We need to get you inside and away from all this.”

“Oh lord! I almost forget.  I need to set up my laptop and send some copy up to London before Sam gets back.”

“You get in the kitchen and do your writing; I’ll get you a drink.”  She turned to the police constable. “You don’t need us for now do you? Come round later on for the statements.  I’ve got a nice fruitcake just out of the oven.”

By the time Mrs Kneller had poured Rachel a generous glass of sherry, the laptop was up and being frenetically typed upon as the day’s events tumbled out onto the keyboard.