Authors: Barbara Spencer
âThey had sort of. But the present man thinks Europe is heading for trouble so he reinstated it. Today, it proved its worth. I bet they've got the front entrance well and truly tied up. Still, they won't hang around long in weather like this. When night hits, the temperature'll drop like a stone. They'll give up after a couple of hours, convinced you've already left the country.'
The ramp jerked to a standstill opposite what looked like a solid wall. Scott was just beginning to form the words â
where do we go from here'
when the wall slid to one side, exactly as if someone had called out âabracadabra'. They were in a working garage, an air-gauge hanging off its walls, with a rack of spare tyres beneath it and a petrol pump next to the open doorway.
The chauffeur casually, as if passing through walls was as normal as buying a sandwich from a street-vendor, headed out into a yard full of cars, its surface criss-crossed with frozen tyre tracks, parking next to a wall. Intrigued, Scott released the catch on his belt and climbed out, watching the wall draw silently back into place. You'd never guess. Even knowing it was there it was pretty much invisible, the wall no different and equally as solid looking as the rest of the garage.
Swivelling on his heel, he examined the building at the far side of the yard. Even its rear view was imposing. With squared-off windows, it extended several stories high, its walls a gleaming white to match the snow that now covered every available surface to a depth of ten centimetres. He didn't need to be told they'd arrived, even though he'd never visited the American Embassy in Geneva before. In the middle of a wide driveway, leaning against a gated entrance that led out to the street, stood a figure that he recognised. No overcoat, despite the whirling snow and a bitter wind, his collar tight and buttoned down and his tie askew: Sean Terry.
Scott gazed out through the window of the four-by-four, a low mist curtailing his view. It didn't matter, every inch of the road was seared into his brain after cycling it almost daily for the past three years, ever since he had turned thirteen and decided he was quite old enough to ride the five miles into school on his own. It was a pleasant road especially on a fresh summer's morning, a tidy dual-carriageway bordered by fields in which the occasional horse or cow peered over the top of a gate; but he was still grateful that school was located on the edge of Falmouth and he didn't have to struggle through packed lanes of vehicles inching their way into the centre. Only when he was staying with Jay did he head straight through the town to his friend's house.
He still felt tired. It had been a long journey back to Cornwall and he'd slept badly too, concern for his father keeping him awake. It was all very well for Tulsa and Sean Terry but his dad had a family, who incidentally had seen very little of him in the past fifteen years. If he went back to his computer fixing other countries' problems, they were likely to see even less of him in future.
Their luck in getting the last two seats on an early-evening flight to Bristol had quickly changed to a desperate desire to be anywhere except circling a fog-bound airport. They had circled for a couple of hours before the pilot had been diverted to Gatwick, explaining to his exhausted passengers that the fog was persisting without an end in sight and the fuel situation now made landing a priority â a remark not particularly welcomed by nervous flyers. That morsel of information hadn't bothered Scott. Planes didn't run out of fuel in a country as small as England with more airports than days of the week. What did rankle was not being offered free food to compensate for the delay. The flight attendants had offered a dismal selection of sandwiches; chicken with slabs of bacon that looked and tasted like cardboard, tuna and sweet corn, or plastic cheese and pickle, all of them carrying a price tag which Scott considered an insult and, by the time he set foot on terra firma, he was absolutely starving. As promised, they had been met at Gatwick by one of Sean Terry's agents, but hadn't bothered to stop and eat wanting to get home. The fog had added a further hour to their journey and it had been almost two in the morning before they turned into the lane that led to their little cottage.
The west of England had been badly damaged by the tsunami sixteen years before, which had swept across the Atlantic leaving a dramatically changed coastline. Somerset had been worst affected and, for several years afterwards, tales of the Abbot of Glastonbury fishing for sea bass seemed self-evident as tourists gazed into lakes of salt water fifteen miles inland. Conversely, to the delight of historians and palaeontologists, in other spots the water table had dropped leaving areas of marshland never seen before. Fortunately, despite operating problems in heavy fog, Bristol airport had continued to operate during this period of world-wide turmoil without any closures at all.
During the flight, his father and Tulsa had chatted about everything under the sun except what had taken place in Geneva, another clue as to how serious those conversations were likely to have been. Although to be fair, a conversation about gangsters trying to rub you out and taking pot shots from a moving car was hardly the right topic for a plane loaded with a hundred nervous passengers.
âWhat's going to happen now, Tulsa?'
âWith your dad, you mean?' The agent didn't look round, concentrating on the road ahead, their fog-lights making little impression on the lingering mist. Tulsa had always found driving on the left difficult. More at home in Switzerland, he had confided to Scott that people there understood
which side of the road was which,
referring to the quaintly narrow Cornish tracks with their solid hedgerows as
every time an oncoming vehicle forced him to back up. âYou'd better ask him â he won't thank me for telling you. Didn't he say anything before you left?'
âYou know my dad, cheerful subjects only at breakfast. Besides, I got up late.'
Scott muttered the words, not wanting to admit he'd got up late on purpose, needing to talk to Jameson before putting forward his reasons why his dad shouldn't get involved. Jameson was brilliant at giving advice even if he hated taking it. And Travers and Mary would understand his point of view and sympathise. They'd travelled with him and Hilary to Holland, and knew first-hand about being scared for someone you love. Anyway, it was stupid to get involved in an argument with a morning ahead of geography and maths. âA' level maths was difficult enough, without starting the day with a row. But what his dad was planning was bang out of order and all the explanations in the world didn't make it right. No way could he forget the last fifteen years, scarcely ever mixing in village life, the warnings relentlessly drilled home â
say anything about your family,
Scott, even to best friends
. If he had grown up in some ordinary family, without this huge weight of secrets on his back, he might have been like Jameson, easy-going, able to attract girls like they were bees and he the honey pot.
Scott twisted his head round, pretending to be absorbed in watching the countryside, impatiently waiting for the familiar outline of the school building to appear. Being a proper familyâ¦ that's what had been promised. Now it was going to be snatched away.
Tulsa swerved the heavy vehicle around the carcass of a badger, its innards splattered across the carriageway. âI miss possums, noisy chattering critters but friendly somehow.'
Scott's face broke into a reluctant grin. Tulsa was so laid back it was difficult to take stuff seriously when he was about. Whatever happened in the future, he would never regret having the agent as part of their little household â even if the house was really too small for three guys. Even that hadn't fazed the American for long. Within a few days of his arrival, he had installed a thin plywood partition across the living room to make a third bedroom, explaining to Scott that his family had been carpenters for three generations. âMy dad wanted me to go into the family business. I wanted to be a soldier.'
The last few months, Tulsa had taught him a lot. Responsible for his welfare while his dad remained in hospital, he had driven Scott to and from school, the silhouette of the four-by-four unfailingly parked by the entrance to the school yard, well in advance of the bell, although it became quickly apparent that no one was interested in him, the little country area as peaceful as it had always been. One week, for lack of anything other than births and deaths, the front page of the local newspaper had shown a picture of a heifer that had trampled down its fence and galloped wildly along the village high street, stopping only to munch flowers and grass as it passed, leaving gouges on lawns like the devil's pitchfork.
âWhen you finish with us, why don't you go back to the States and become a possum warden. It'd make a change from guarding people,' he said, half-joking. He didn't particularly want Tulsa to go but his absence would mark a turning-point; freedom from danger â something he prayed for every night.
âDo you want me to pick you up at the usual time?' Watching out for stray pedestrians, Tulsa indicated and slowed.
âWow! There's Hilary.'
Before the agent had a chance to stop, Scott opened the door and leapt out, waving at two girls strolling towards the school gates. The taller of the two, Jenny, had been swimming captain all the way up the school. Not content with that she had recently added
school sports captain
to her growing list of titles, competing in both swimming and athletics at national level. To a stranger, Jenny would have been marked down as the tough one. Tall and athletic, she made Hilary walking beside her look quite petite and yet, as Scott knew, Hilary didn't scare easily and was a crack shot. Exempt from school uniform, sixth-formers were permitted to wear casual clothes, provided they were clean and tidy, and nearly all the girls now wore their hair long and loose. Even Hilary had given up on her pony tail, her ash blond hair sweeping across her shoulders in the light wind.
âYes, that's fine. Thanks, Tulsa,' Scott spoke over his shoulder, not paying any attention. âHi, Hilary. Good half term? Did you miss me?' A delighted smile swept across his face.
âNot long enough â but it was good to see Mum.'
A dark-haired, serious-looking boy, his heavy spectacles refusing to stay put like his hair, which flew up and down as he moved, jumped his way through the queue of cars waiting in line to deposit their load of students. Placing his hand on the bonnet of a Range Rover to stop it moving, he peered through the passenger window on his way past, smiling perkily at the driver.
âWhat's your sister doing here, Travers?' he called to a tall, well-built youth busily dragging his sports kit and school bag from the back seat.
âHi, Jay, she's got a shoot.' Travers slammed the back door and raised his hand in a salute. âThanks, Tash. See you at dinner.'
Flashing a friendly smile at Scott, Jameson wrapped his arm around Hilary's shoulders, planting a brotherly kiss on her cheek.
Okay, so it was only Jay, and he saluted all girls this way. It was part and parcel of his character, over-the-top excitability that gathered people around him in droves. It was only when Hilary became involved that Scott felt a twinge of jealousy, rather like indigestion circling his guts, wishing he could be as casual.
âThe problem with you, Hilaryâ¦' Jameson began.
âOh! So now I have a problem,' Hilary retorted, a spot of pink erupting on both cheeks. Even after nine months in an English school, she still found it difficult to relax and let the ragging wash over her.
âMy dear girl, we all have problems. Scott, as you well know, has about two zillionâ¦'
âHey â I protest!'
Travers grinned. âJay's spot on. Everything with you is so serious.'
âHang on a minute.' Jameson regarded Scott, a bewildered expression on his face. â
Is this a doppelganger I see before me?
You're not supposed to be here. You said you were back Saturday. What happened?'
âIâ¦' began Scott.
âSo, what's my problem?' Hilary interrupted, smiling gamely.
' Jameson beamed down at her, instantly diverted. âWhen a guy asks if you've missed him, not only is it impolite
to respond â after all, common sense will tell you that he wouldn't have asked the question in the first place if he hadn't missed
but when someone like Scott who openly adores youâ¦'
âDeny it, and go to hell,' Jameson retorted, a wicked glint in his eye.
âI'm not going to hell.' Scott suddenly grinned, his grey eyes leaping into life.
âYou must let him down gently,' Jameson continued his lecture. âPointing out that it was good to see your mother, is not the way to go about it.'
Hilary glared around the circle of friends. âHonestly, you lot, why I ever became friends with you in the first placeâ¦'
âBecause we're the nicest guys in the class.' Mary, her dark hair now shoulder-length tiptoed up behind Travers, placing her hands across his eyes.
He knocked them away and, wrapping his arms round her, dropped a kiss on her hair.
Mary smiled at Hilary. âDon't take any notice of Jay, he obviously ate sugar for breakfast.'
âI did not,' Jameson said, switching his manner to lordly, âI will have you knowâ¦'
âNew girlfriend!' Scott exclaimed, remembering that Jay mostly got out of hand when he'd met someone new. âA new girlfriend â I bet you. Someone he met at half-term. So who is it? Come on, Jayâ¦'
Mary kicked him on the ankle, surreptitiously jerking her thumb.
Scott caught the direction and his eyes widened. He swallowed down the words âtell us all about her'.
âSo let me tell you my news,' said Hilary quickly, picking up on Mary's gesture. âYou'll never guessâ¦'
âHang on a minute, you lot. Get in line.' Jameson darted to where Jenny was standing next to Hilary, head bent, pointedly scrabbling about in her bag trying to give the impression she hadn't been listening. Jameson grabbed her hand, raising it in a victory salute. âThis, in case you have never met her before, is Jenny â my new girlfriend. Jenny, meet my friends.' He gave a mock bow, ignoring Jenny's discomfort, her face scarlet.
âFor the last time, Jay, I am
your girl-friend,' she retorted in a flustered tone. âWe happened to spend last weekend together, that's all.'
âWhoa!' Travers backed away, his hands up in the air as if fending her off. âCome off it, Jenny. You can't go round spending weekends with guys and then say you're not their girlfriend. I mean â think about your reputation.' Travers grinned mockingly.
âShut up, Travers. You know perfectly well it wasn't like that, because you were there. It was indoor athletics, you know, the nationals,' she quickly explained. âTravers' brother Beau was scheduled to compete in the hurdles so Jay and Travers went along to watch. I was in the four hundred, and we sort of got talking. But don't you dare tell people I'm your girlfriend â I'll sue.'
Jameson placed his hands over his heart. âIt's not for want of trying. Give me the word, tip me the wink, and I'll be there. I have been your devoted slave, ever sinceâ¦ umâ¦ help me out here, someone!' He gazed dewy-eyed round the little circle of friends. Removing his specs, he batted his eyelashes at them, and even Jenny spluttered with mirth at his antics.
Scott could tell his friend had, once again, fallen under the spell of a girl and was covering his real feelings with play-acting. That's what girls never cottoned on to with Jameson, believing him shallow and flippant when they first met him, not realising that his charm and gaiety disguised a very serious and quite brilliant thinker. Eventually, though, even the most resistant succumbed to his charms.