A welcome call
Laura’s phone vibrated then jingled on kitchen counter. Laura ignored it, frowning in deep concentration, then she gave in, and flung her cards down on the table.
“But I still don’t understand, why can’t I play the king?”
Mrs Patterson put down her own cards and smiled patiently across the table.
“Perhaps we should play a different game my dear?”
“No.” Laura tried not to sound too much like a petulant child. “If I’m going to be stuck in here I might as well do something useful, and my father always said that learning to play bridge would be a social asset.”
“But you can’t play just with two, and the saucepan and the jug are not making ideal partners are they?”
“I suppose not,” Laura conceded, and she went to look at her phone. In any case, contract bridge would be of limited use if the city was flooded and they were all facing imminent death by drowning.
The message was from Rani, again. Over the days that she had been hidden in the flat, or imprisoned as it now felt like, Rani had sent lots and lots of messages, and as instructed Laura hadn’t answered a single one of them.
Instead she had tried to make the best of her situation by persuading Jeannie to bring her a laptop. There was no internet in the unfinished block of course, but Bill had provided some sort of signal booster which allowed her to pick up the wifi from one of the cafes in the street below. She had been able to do some more research, and what she’d found had made her feel ever more uneasy. Stories were starting to appear about water quality across the east of England: fish were dying in the Thames for the first time in years and the bathing ponds were still closed. Problems had also been reported in some of the freshwater marshland habitats in the estuaries along the east coast, with real fears growing for their fragile ecosystems. The Sea Mer had said they’d show what they could do, and this must be their doing.
Laura did not discuss what she’d found with Mrs Patterson, she didn’t want to worry her old friend when she was trying so hard to make things bearable in the flat. It had only taken a day or so for her to get Colin and Harry eating out of her hand, and the two security guards seemed to spend as much time running “little errands” for her landlady as doing any actual guarding.
Not that there seemed to be any danger. The two men had neither seen nor heard anything untoward at all, and Laura was beginning to think that any risk to her must have passed – surely They would be back at sea or wherever it was they came from by now, busy with their scheming?
As for Joseph, not a word from him. At first Laura vacillated between distress and defiance, but within a couple of days she’d told herself that she could simply pretend that nothing had happened between them. This worked for the most part, but she had not been able to bring herself to take a bath again. And at night she found herself standing at the window looking out at the moon, counting down the days in its cycle and carefully ignoring the reflection of the bed in the glass.
The latest text from Rani sounded even more frantic than the last, begging her to get in touch. She decided to appeal to Mrs Patterson one last time.
“Please Mrs P, please can I just call her? We could meet up somewhere safe, somewhere nearby. You can even come with me if you like.”
Mrs Patterson sighed. This had been a daily argument since she’d come to watch over Laura. Her charge was now fully recovered from her ordeal and was going stir crazy in the confines of the flat. She’d never been much of a one for television, and there was a limit to the number of times she could send the guards off to buy or borrow books. She’d even sent Harry over to Elizabeth at the Transport Museum Library – there was no reason now why Laura couldn’t have those books she’d been asking about all those weeks ago. Laura had appreciated the effort and devoured them gratefully, but she’d had enough.
“I’ll think about it Laura,” she said finally.
‘I’ll think about it’ was an improvement on a flat no, Laura said to herself, retreating to her room and the pile of gossip magazines that Jeannie had brought over the day before. She said she only bought them for the customers in the café, but Laura wasn’t convinced. They were full of rubbish, obviously, but after reading enough of them she caught herself actually wondering about what would happen to the soap star and the footballer after the disaster with the doves at their lavish castle wedding (pictures on pages 5 to 25).
She could hear Mrs P talking quietly. Her landlady had acquired a very basic mobile phone of her own, which she treated as if it were booby trapped. It was kept in a Liberty print spectacles case, and plugged in for its ‘charge up’ for half an hour each morning. Laura had never actually heard it ring, let alone receive any messages, but once or twice it had been used to make a call, always when Laura was out of the room.
Mrs Patterson didn’t mention the phone call when Laura emerged from her bedroom at supper time. She poked about in the fridge for a minute or two and about twenty minutes later had produced Spanish omelettes for them both. While they were eating, the mobile phone rang. The unexpected sound startled them both, but by the time the phone had been found in the drawer and taken out of its flowery case, the ringing had stopped.
“Oh dear,” Mrs Patterson said, looking at it with a forlorn expression on her face.
“Were you expecting a call?” asked Laura.
“Yes I think so.”
“Well they’ll probably call back,” she reassured her, imagining, correctly as it turned out, that the caller would guess what had happened and give Mrs P another chance to answer.
When the phone rang again a few minutes later Mrs Patterson held it gingerly in one hand and poked at the keys hopefully with the other.
“Hello?” she said into it eventually.
Laura heard a muffled voice coming from the receiver.
“Yes, I’ll tell her, thank you. Good bye.”
Mrs Patterson inspected the phone to make sure the call had really ended, before putting it back into its flowery case. Then she turned to Laura:
“I understand that you feel trapped in here, and that you are worried about your friend, so I sent a message to the Margrave, to ask his advice.”
“Really?” Things were looking up, thought Laura, “what did he say?”
“He believes that you could arrange to meet Rani, but there are a few caveats.”
“Of course, anything.”
Anything to get out of the wretched flat, even just for a couple of hours.
“You must go in the middle of the day, and meet at a café or other busy place. Sit outside, in the sun, and don’t stay long. No tube so you’ll have to walk there, and do not tell her where you are staying. Does that sound alright?”
“Alright? It sounds bloody marvellous,” and Laura practically skipped out of the kitchen to go and ring Rani.
Rani couldn’t hide her relief when she saw Laura’s number come up on her phone, but she covered it up in her usual style.
“So where have you been hiding yourself stranger? Been building a little love nest with the mystery man perhaps…”
“What mystery man?” bluffed Laura.
“I spoke to him on the phone, he was asking for you by name so you can’t bullshit me.”
“When was this?” Laura gave up any attempts at denial.
“Nearly two weeks ago now. He sounded quite anxious so I’m guessing he’s keen.”
That must have been before he’d found her. Before… but that night hadn’t happened, had it?
“Where the hell are you anyway? I went to your house but it looks like no one’s been there for ages. What’s happened to your lovely landlady?”
“She’s fine, she’s here with me.”
“That doesn’t sound very romantic Laura!”
“Listen there’s no love nest, okay? But I do want to see you and catch up. Can we meet up, maybe tomorrow lunchtime?”
“Great! You know I’ll wheedle all your secrets out within half an hour don’t you? It’s Saturday tomorrow so let’s go somewhere nice, how about Regent’s Park, or I know, what about that new bar that’s opened on the old Paddle Steamer by Hungerford Bridge, it will be lovely on the river.”
Finally Rani paused for breath and Laura could get a word in.
“Not the river, sorry. How about the café in Hyde Park, we can sit on the sun terrace. Midday?”
“Sun terrace? Really? That’s not like you with your delicate complexion! I’ll bring a parasol just in case. See you tomorrow then.”
Rani hung up and Laura sat for a moment replaying the call in her head, then she went back into the kitchen to clear her plans with Mrs Patterson. Relieved to be getting out of the flat at last, she smiled to herself and shook her head at Rani’s interrogation, love nest indeed.
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