7

Leyton

Chapter 6 here

I

The man immediately pulled out his mobile and phoned for a cab for his wife and him, they’d adjust it at the cab itself in twenty minutes.

Leyton bought Jane and himself their tipples and a convivial few minutes filled in the gap.

The man’s mobile went, he checked the text, yep. They drank up, went to the garderobe and collected their gear, making their way out and there was their cab from a different company to that which had the concession, which had caused a bit of yelling, Leyton shoved Jane into the back seat, the other lady next and the husband in the front seat. The taxi took off.

The Youngs were dropped off first at their hotel, they gave profuse thanks, Leyton pressed over the odds into the man’s hand and turned to go in, there was a thud and Jane dropped to the tiles.

II

112 had been called, the ambulance had taken them to Hospital Kirchberg, she’d been shot and it was touch and go. Intubated and with an IV drip, she was wheeled into the foyer, about to go through the doors when there was another thud.

III

Four weeks on.

You never know until it happens how you’re going to miss someone but Leyton was inconsolable for weeks, well past what one would expect of a hardheaded law officer, well past the expectations of the patron. The patron simply couldn’t see why Leyton’s wife – Leyton maybe but his wife?

The patron visited over and over, took care of the funeral, had his people contact all the others. Leyton asked if he’d pulled off the deal all right. Yes, yes, it was great, let’s not look at things like that now.

On today’s visit to the ferry Leyton asked to be given one week more, then they’d talk and plan; the patron grunted.

IV

Sarah had kept away once they’d returned all those weeks back, she’d been distraught herself and Jenny had thereafter kept her away. Ever the pragmatist, Jenny knew exactly how it would look and frankly, she wanted to know herself.

It had gone through everyone’s mind, from the skippers to the crews to the clientele in various ventures, to former colleagues. His grief seemed to be the saving grace but things were certainly still being whispered.

‘You can’t see Sarah, you know why.’

‘Of course.’

‘When will you talk to me? I’m the one you have now, as long as you wish.’

‘How are … er … the businesses?’

‘They’re in hand, you can look those over once you can manage again. They’re thriving, your patron’s done a power of work on them, he hasn’t muscled in, he was as shocked as anyone. We’re all utterly devastated. She was the one who kept it all together and I never saw how much. I’m doing it as well as I can.’

She looked at him for half a minute, then reached into her bag and extracted a note. ‘I’ve read it. Here you are. I’ll be back this evening.’

‘Dear Leyton

I don’t have the words. I agree we should not meet, for all sorts of reasons but keep in your mind that I’m going nowhere, I am here for that day we can meet and talk again.

With a great deal of feeling
Sarah’

Just that.

Unworthy thoughts of the kind which wondered if she could have set this up, could have been there – those sorts of things went through his head. It was stupid thinking there was any plan as they could never come together, ever now, not this way.

And he didn’t want to see her, to face her.

And yet that was cruel. He wrote a quick note: ‘Thanks. Appreciated.’ He’d give it to Jenny when she came back.

He had to know for his own sake, he really did and he knew one or two over there he’d met at a copper’s conference, he’d put enquiries in hand and see what they came up with.

Jenny came home in the gloaming, laden with bags, she did the distribution, he helped, they sat and she had her Drambuie, he had his malt.

Said he, ‘Let’s work on dinner together, then we’ll talk.’

They got down to the makings and eventually ate.

She was just sitting demurely, expectantly and he asked her to begin.

‘You’ve been checking my sister, one of those officers I know, Etienne Dubois, he phoned me immediately. I don’t blame you, I’ve been checking on you too. And you’ll check on me. It was just so convenient, it had no strategic point, I still don’t know.’

‘The Will did nothing either – she provided for you two but it was hardly a huge amount, she left most to me. There was no reason anyone can see why. No one’s claimed anything over there, no one’s seen those people before – naturally.’

‘Thing was, we weren’t there, couldn’t recognize or not recognize. Why were we not taken with you?’

‘Patron felt you’d be hit, you were too well known.’

She pondered. ‘I’ll half buy that. I still think you lost your protection.’

‘I don’t disagree. There are two things running through the mind – firstly there was perhaps some continental reason we can’t know, secondly someone here had a very good reason – it was pursued – aggressive wasn’t it? No way it was random. My thought is that Jane was up to something or she’d discovered something and had to be stopped.’

‘Don’t take this the wrong way but it has not stopped the ventures, the businesses, you’re still in charge when you wish to start again, the only change is your personal loss and it’s very bad, that loss.’

‘Thanks, Jenny. Now say it, say what’s been on your mind, say the thing you could never say to your sister. I swear I’ll not be angry, I need your thoughts.’

‘All right. Did sis do it? Could she do it? You two got close not long before the end. I love you in a Jane way, sis loves you in a way which makes you feel a man, she does have contacts over there and they may have felt … well no, I can’t see it, seriously I can’t. I did have another thought though and you won’t like it.’

‘Yes?’

‘Jane – she was all for you, she saw the whole picture, saw the two of us, how you felt …’

‘It’s been on my mind too, the ultimate altruism – thing is, I simply haven’t got a clue. Mistaken orders? Not mistaken identity but someone gave the wrong order?’

‘Could be, I can see that one. I’m certain it was deliberate. Jane’s past as far as you can say?’

‘Ah, yes, how much we do and don’t know the one we love.’ He thought long and hard, Jenny refilled the glasses.

‘Jane was not always the calm, mature, loving wife – in the early days she was here, there, everywhere, even feisty -’

‘A bit like me.’

‘Yes, it’s been mentioned. Look, I don’t buy that line. For a start, it’s far more likely she’d have something on someone over there and was doing her own bit of blackmail, not the other way around. You see, nothing would shock me. We knew it was always a chance in my work and so we had a rough few weeks when she told me – I think all of them – her sins of the past. I did too. Unless it’s someone with a real reason in his or her own head, then that’s the only other one I can think of.’

‘Leyton?’

‘Yes?’ The tone worried him as he thought he knew what was coming – the one suspect not openly mentioned so far. Jenny was silent but was gazing at him.

‘No,’ he told her. ‘No, I didn’t. My thoughts were finding partners for you two – Robert Landers for Sarah, who knew for you?’

‘Me?’

‘I hope to God it wasn’t you who arranged it, Jenny, because I’ve had thoughts about you, about your future, about mine.’

‘Sis is your style, she’s the one who would make you happy.’

‘Yes of course, you wouldn’t want.’

‘Did I once say that?’ He looked at her sharply. She went on. ‘It would tip sis over the edge though, I don’t want that. Not unless she was sorted.’

‘Here we are, weeks after she’s gone -’

‘Jane was the most pragmatic of any of us, she hated bullshit emotion, just because people must. She would want it resolved, for the ship to then sail on, so would all of us want that.’

‘What am I going to do with your sister?’

‘Can’t help you, Leyton. Only she and you can sort that one.’

‘You met Robert Landers – what did you think?’

‘Nice boy, solid, dependable – sis needs someone like him; sis won’t go for him because he’s not near the centre of operations, he’s not the main man. You do see the issue.’

‘And I don’t like it – I want to be wanted for me.’

‘Can’t believe a man of your age is saying that – teenagers say that.’ She paused. ‘You are a bit teenage in some ways. All right, I’ll lay my cards on the table. Neither of us want to leave, be sent away but as for marrying you – that’s a whole different ballgame. She has advantages – is more openly sexual, wants an older man – don’t get on your high horse, I mean relatively – but I’m more dependable. And we’re both ex-killers.’

‘You’re frightening at times.’

‘I know. Also, you have to think about waking up in the morning to one of us, sitting across the breakfast table, the conversation, what our expectations are. Also, our protective strength is when we work together, sis and I. If I become surplus to marital requirements, then what’s still in it for me? It would be such pain. Same for sis if you reject her. I think you must have a long talk with her, find out about her, see how much she releases, how much she holds back, how honest she is … or not … don’t have sex because at this stage it only clouds things. You need to have that time with her, serious time, no flirting.’ She thought about it. ‘Assuming you want of course. Oh and find out if she can cook and likes it.’

IV

Leyton had the patron over for lunch, Sarah was due about 14:00.

They went over pretty well what Jenny and he had and came to the same conclusions, which were inconclusive. It was a catered lunch and a good one but there was nothing much else on that topic now and there were one or two administrative things to sort out.

They did that.

The boat pulled into the dock about 13:50, the patron stepped off, he nodded to Sarah as she went aboard, lightly skipping along the gangplank. She worried him a little, that one.

‘Leyton.’

‘Sarah.’

‘Sis says I’m not to come onto you, you’re not to come onto me. We’re to talk like adults … so talk.’

‘Is it in the ballpark, you and me? Are you even looking at that?’

‘What do you think from last time?’

‘No circular questions, no games, yes or no.’

‘Yes.’

‘Could you stand every single day looking at me in the morning -’

‘Across the breakfast table?’ She smiled. ‘I’ve been thinking about it, yes. How can I say? I think so.’

‘Would you tell me the real story of your past? All of it? If I do too?’

She considered that. ‘You’re serious, aren’t you? About us I mean.’

‘Cuts both ways. I’m only serious about you if you are. If you’re not, then let’s leave it.’

‘Same here. Think about if you could stand being in bed night after night after night – you haven’t slept with us, you don’t know our sleeping patterns but you should think about that. And about waking up … and that breakfast table … and the way I talk, sis talks, our manner, our manners. You want someone to take to a ball or to run a business? Just what do you want and do you think I can give it?’

‘My thoughts too – can I satisfy you?’

‘Sis does the calm, dependable woman better than me but don’t forget she’s the real killer. You’ve seen her in action. I trust her with my life. She trusts me. You can trust both of us together. I give my heart and then there is no one more dependable -’

‘Until someone else comes before your eyes?’

‘I think not but that’s life. Don’t be so sure sis’s eyes will just be for you.’ His eyebrows went up. ‘I mean she’s married to her situation too.’

‘She speaks of you, you speak of her. No one speaks of what they want from me.’

‘I want your love. If I fall in love with you, then I need your love in return. All the rest is just details. I’m glad we haven’t made love today. I’m talking about love.’

‘We don’t know one another yet. Jenny’s been constantly with us, you less so – we’ve not done projects, we’ve not worked together, I don’t even know your interests and skills.’

‘This is a job interview? An audition?’

‘You know what I mean. Not standing off like this, less of the repartee, more of the working together.’

‘I’m sorry,’ she suddenly said. ‘Have you not noticed I’m nervous? I act lighthearted when I’m nervous.’

‘Come over here.’

V

They’d taken two torpedoes who worked for the patron, not Jenny and everyone understood why not Jenny, not least that she had to run the business.

It struck Jenny in turn that if she could do this well, it might improve her own prospects. Like many people – maybe like most people – no one wants to compete for someone’s hand, particularly if he’s not some zillionaire Adonis and she particularly didn’t wish to compete with sis … and yet it was becoming apparent that this was the business end of her life now and she needed to pull out all stops.

She did sort of love him – well, she loved him like crazy in one way but this other way – a married partner, ah – now that brought in all sorts of past ghosts, didn’t it? More ghosts than Sarah had, aside from that trauma in Holland. But that could cut both ways – Leyton was compassionate, and she felt he did love her.

She didn’t want him inside Sarah, looking into her eyes. Not with sis, not when she, Jenny, had only had eyes for him while sis was off with Jan. And others. And yet she, Jenny, had urged the two of them to go. She sighed and put the kettle on, then decided on a Drambuie instead.

How much was sis telling him?

Tenerife at the south-west corner seemed quite defendable and their village remote enough for an enemy to have to telegraph their moves, the patron had tabs on the airport.

Callao Salvaje had an apartamento of one of his colleagues, and a staff with it – the two lovebirds would not want. There was enough entertainment, the Italian bar seemed safe enough, they could walk most places but they had to understand the torps would follow at a discreet distance.

So here they were, hand in hand, on Urbanizacion Sueno Azul, turning right onto the grass strip between two buildings, giving them access to the rocks. They were silent, just drinking in the sight.

At the rocks, they sat and gazed out to sea, it has been so positive so far. She was a delight, to be frank, obviously on her best behaviour and so was he.

‘You a club person?’ he asked.

She was no fool and said, ‘I’ve danced till the dawn and had some lovers but then gave it away about six years ago – just seemed a fool’s game to me and then … well, that thing in Holland happened.’

‘No point being on best behaviour,’ he said. ‘Sooner or later you’ll chafe at the bit. I can take a certain amount of it but I’m no dancer. Just hold and move about.’

‘You like cheek to cheek, not standing facing each other and pumping the arms?’

‘I hate that, I want to hold Ja … my woman.’

‘Then I think we’ll get along. Sis can dance a bit, I’m a bit better but not very good, neither of us are. I love cafes, walks, dinner, some dancing, making love.’

She’d seen the fare on offer in this village, he knew she’d seen and she knew he was thinking about it. ‘Some girls want to do what their man wants, Leyton, maybe they’re not that exciting, they know what they want in a shop but apart from that, they’re happy just to do anything really. I know what we can and can’t do in this village and we can’t go anywhere else, I know where the clubs are because I googled the place – remember who we are. Don’t see that as evidence I’m being dishonest. I like to fit in, that’s all.’

‘I’ve been surprised by you, really I have. You give off this image of a goodtime girl, fast -’

‘Before Jan started with … that … what do you think I was doing? Apart from making love, I sat in the apartment, went for walks, we went to cafes. Even a femme fatale, a difficult one, has to do something during the day.’

‘If you and I tie the knot, what of Jenny? What will it do to her?’

Her face clouded. ‘Ah, that’s the thing. You see, she does love you and she’s not very good at this type of thing. I am because I was always more outgoing but neither of us are social creatures. She’s not at all – it will cut her up. But Leyton, it will cut me up too if you reject me and go to sis.’

‘What’s the solution?’

‘There isn’t one. The boy you were palming off on me?’

‘Ah. Yes.’

‘Neither of us likes this audition thing, this testing out – in fact we hate it. Sooner or later, you have to say how you feel about one of us – maybe neither of us – as women, as your partner. And the other one has to move on. Sis and I have been inseparable as you know. Don’t think for one moment that she will live with us, nor me with you two.

Either way, this breaks the bond, breaks up the two Jennys and the patron might have something to say about that.’

‘You don’t think he had anything to do with … Jane?’

‘He might have, how would I know? I’ve got contacts, yes, but not for that.’

‘Are you free of the demons?’

She thought. ‘I’d say yes but there’ve been no triggers lately. Even if there were … I think I’m OK. The issue is more that they might try to capture me, take me back in, for the rest of my life with you … I’d need to be covered from behind. Not all men would be prepared to do that. You’d need to love me, you see, as I said.’

‘I do.’

‘And you refuse to look at our past – we were killers, Leyton. I couldn’t stand you always looking at me a bit strangely, wondering if I’ll murder you in your sleep. You need to explore my past in detail – as you’ve been doing,’ she smiled, and it was a becoming smile, ‘find out, make your decision. Jenny’s no different so that doesn’t help you.’

‘You’re very gentle.’

‘Oh Leyton, Leyton. You’re like a teenage boy, you really are. We can be anything, much depends on how you treat me, whether I still love you. If you treat me halfway decently, if I know your eyes are for me, I’ll love you until I die, I’ll look after you.’

She stood, he stood, they were wrapped in each other, intertwined in seconds, a shot rang out and hit him in the leg, he fell, pulling her with him and that in itself put them behind the rock, there was a second shot and a cry, the next thing they knew was one of their torps calling out, asking if they were Ok.

They sat up. ‘Fine, I was hit.’

The torp came up to them and saw the trickle of blood. ‘You were lucky. Bloody pain this, we didn’t need this aggro, we didn’t need Plod. Damn.’

VI

It had killed the holiday – there was the hospital, then the investigation. The dead man was curious – when Sarah saw him, she’d blanched and then clammed up.

They’d eventually got back home and despite that ending, it had taught both of them a lot, it had been well worth it in both their eyes. And they’d not once made love. Curious in itself.

As it was part of Jenny’s job to look after him on the boat and at home – a job she’d taken on gratis – they had plenty of time to talk.

‘I’m coming to your bed tonight, not to make love – you and sis didn’t so I’m not either – but I want you to know how it feels and I want to know some things about you. I might get out of this race tomorrow.’

‘I’d never have been able to ask you to bed. Thanks.’

‘You mean that?’

‘I do.’

She climbed in all right in her pyjamas and then stayed over that side. When he moved towards her, she backed away and then realized – firstly, there was no more bed left to back into and secondly – she was here to be held, not left alone.

Sighing, she came over into his arms and she was tense. ‘I’m just not used to it, Leyton.’

‘Nothing happens you don’t want. Let’s get that clear. Let’s talk.’

‘I’m all or nothing. I can only do this thing if you’re mine.’

He smiled. ‘I thought we’re not doing anything.’

‘Well, not yet. You know what I mean.’

‘I won’t say you want to be mine but you do want to be part of everything we are, if I put that right.’ She nodded. ‘And you’re worried that if I go with your sis, you’ll have to leave this scene.’

She was quiet at that. He went on. ‘Sarah knew the man. Did you send him?’

She pulled away and started sobbing. People who never cry, when they do finally cry, sometimes are uncontrollable and can’t stop it, though they try. He tried to comfort her, pulled out a laundered handkerchief but she brushed it aside.

After some minutes, she turned on her back and looked up at the ceiling in the half light. ‘Not to shoot you, not to hurt you, just to stop you being with her. He interpreted it like in the old days.’

‘And now he’s dead.’

That started it again.

After what he judged enough time, he said, ‘You try far too hard and you can kill what you want, strangle it. I’ve always been soft on you but that intensity of yours has been difficult for me. Everything else is right in my book – it’s just that intensity. And your black and white sense of right and wrong.’

‘Yes, but you’re like that too, that right and wrong. That’s why I wanted you, that’s what I like so much about being in – in all this.’

‘You’re a bundle of nerves.’

‘I can be quite calm, you saw that with Amelie, you’ve seen it since. Just not when it gets so personal like this.’

‘And I say again – let it breathe, let it happen, that’s if it’s going to. If it’s not, that will become obvious. Can you stand being in my arms for a start?’

‘You tell me.’

‘Sarah did that. I asked her yes or no.’

‘Yes. I don’t want to make love to you if you’re not mine.’

‘Yet you would like, as I would like.’

‘Yes.’

‘You want to know what I really think of you?’

‘Yes.’

He dropped into a kiss, he could feel her power and passion, she could feel devotion and it might have gone further but he gently let her go and suggested she go back to her bed. It was not time yet for anything else.

And agreeing with that thought, she scrambled out and ran for her own cabin. He lay on his back and stared at the cabin roof, then slowly released his breath. She seemed to be the one, Jenny, he really liked her in his arms, she was also the one who had so much to lose.

But then there was Sarah.

VII

What Leyton Young needed more than anything was an ‘in’, inside information, to be able to have someone inside who could check, whom he could talk to, compare, thrash it out.

He used to have Jane and Miles but now … no one. The nearest was the patron but one didn’t approach him on things like this. One thought was someone in London, someone part of the business of the island but they were all pretty much dead – there may have been a secretary or whatever but they might not know both Jennys.

He needed someone who knew both and could speak on them.

The nearest he could get was someone in Lytton itself, Madeleine at the pizza place. She was experienced, seemingly happily married, a keen observer, plus she’d seen both girls quite often enough, plus Laura, so it seemed logical. It was early afternoon now, near the end of her lunch opening and well before the evening.

He’d come ashore and do it. Jenny and Sarah were both on jobs, it was a good time to go. He took one of the ship’s boats.

‘Well, well, well,’ smiled Madeleine, alone today, no girls.’ then she remembered. ‘Mr. Young, I’m sorry, I did hear. Tragic. You just eating?’

‘Yes and no – I need to talk to you, Madeleine, ask your advice, you’re the best person I know to do this. Plus eat pizza.’

‘Give me 20 minutes to close up shop ready for later, my son is coming in to open, plenty of time. You sure you want pizza, as I’d have to fire up the oven but I can microwave a lasagne and join you.’

‘Perfect.’

‘OK, we’re better off back here – enough lasagne? Speak.’

‘I’m thinking of marrying one of the girls.’

‘I see.’ Long pause. ‘Which one?’

‘I don’t know. Need advice.’

‘Aha.’ She thought how best to put it. ‘People did talk about your wife’s death, tragic, and about your grief. I’m wondering if this is not a bit too soon.’

‘Thanks for being straight. I understand that completely but I also know that to have this still to do, both of them plus me unsettled, business unsettled – why not settle it? Good form? The gossips in the town?’

‘I wouldn’t dismiss it like that. Goodwill is needed with your business – people see things, turn a blind eye … or help you out. It can turn for you or against. Not many would think marrying one of them would be a great move at this time. Mr. Young – they’re not liked, not trusted. I’m sorry.’

They ate for a minute.

Then she added, ‘I know it’s easy for me to say – you’re with them day in, day out. You know the good side we don’t see. We see sharp little madams who, to be fair, are loyal. At least the one called Jenny is, the other is less well known. I’ve heard they’ve been involved in some hardnosed business as well down south, for the government but then again, you’d know that.’

He nodded and she went on. ‘You’re running a few ventures from what we gather. If you sign on the dotted line, those businesses at least partly go to the one you married. You must hate me saying this.’ He didn’t reply, so she went on. ‘Having said that, I’ve no good reason, only instinct, to say she’d do that, that either one would do it.’

‘Jenny’s been half running the businesses since the time of Miles. She knows she’s not popular, she’s hard all right but also anxious.’

‘And the other?’

‘She’s easier going.’

‘If you want my advice, you have to come clean. Have you slept with either?’

‘How far does this go?’

‘Walls of this room.’

‘Sleep, not the other, not yet. Neither would accept it, they want to know first, then that’s on the table.’

‘I see. Principled man, principled girls. All right, when each is in your arms in bed, which one do you feel best confiding everything to, asking advice of – I’m flattered you chose me by the way – which one gives you more confidence?’

‘Jenny, but I know her better.’

‘why don’t you know the other?’

‘Lived in Holland.’

‘With a boyfriend? And if so, why did this Jenny not have one?’

‘Hang-ups, not inclination.’

‘You’re sure of that?’ He didn’t reply. ‘All right, let me say this – you’re a widower, a well-off widower, still young for most women, you’re quite eligible, speaking as a girl. You could hold out, you could wait, women would come to you, those girls could still run the business. But you know and I know they wouldn’t stay. How badly would you miss them?’

‘Terribly but maybe not so much if there was a wonderful person.’

‘Like Jane.’

‘It’s not easy.’

‘I want to be fair to the girls, they need a fair chance to catch you, they’ve earned it – well, one has – and you need to be sure with what’s riding on it. We’ve had the crews in here for lunch and they were not saying good things about your Jenny.’

‘Part of that is they feel it’s not a woman’s place what Jenny did. They’re not exactly reconstructed.’

‘Give it time, Mr. Young, don’t rush in.’

‘Leyton if you like.’

‘Give it time, Leyton. It might be fine but don’t be rushed into it – the one who’s genuine will wait. If she’s waited this long, she’ll wait a bit longer – the issue is what her reasons were in the first place. You’ll find which is genuine or not soon enough. Also, by standing up to the pressure, you attract more than lose the real one – if she knows she can’t use her power with everything, it will work better for you. I know you want a pair of arms through the night right now but I’m not sure you should sleep with one, then the other, then back to the first. Cuddle, be warm, don’t let them into your bed. Not yet.’

‘Thanks, Madeleine. How much do I owe?’

‘On me this time.’

VIII

Leyton Young was trying desperately to keep libido out of his calculations, he tried to think of the businesses – the ferries, the fishing boats, the online of the girls, tried to put those things at the forefront and their preservation more important than any feeling or need he had.

He urgently needed Jane to run things by, to hear her considered and always accurate opinion.

He ran scenarios – the one with Jenny looked best. The businesses still looked after by her, her form against him in the night but one small voice in his head kept nagging at him – Jenny didn’t actually want him. She’d do it if she had to, she did love him, but in a different way. Sarah had no qualms about bedding him but the issues with her were the others she was equally as free with. He’d be guaranteed nightly nooky but the cost would be her constant susceptibility to the male of the species. And she wasn’t wedded to the whole operation the way Jenny was.

And which sister would get savage once he chose? And what if he passed both over and went for some new lady who had not yet appeared?

In the middle of this thought process, the matter took itself out of his hands. Madeleine had phoned – yes they’d got that far – and asked if he cared for a pizza around 4.30 p.m.? Bizarre request and he rightly assumed there was far more to it than that.

When he got there, there were two tables occupied – a local pair at one nearer the window and at the back of the room, a lady alone, a young lady, not a million lightyears from the look of the Jennys, and she was looking at him.

He wanted to go to her straight away and drop a throwaway comment but Madeleine appeared, saw he’d seen and smiled enigmatically, she nodded to the lady in the corner and things took their course.

‘May I?’ he asked and she indicated he sit down opposite her, but that would have put his back to the door and people of his working line did not do that, so he sat adjacent on the bench along the wall. Madeleine brought the cutlery etc. and said, ‘I know what Jane wants, I know what you want, it’s on its way now. Usual drinks?’

Both nodded, Madeleine went to do the biz and he looked at her. ‘Jane, eh? You’re really named Jane?’ She nodded but said nothing more. ‘Phew.’ then, ‘OK, do I pass initial muster?’

She laughed a laugh he could quite get to like and the uncanny resemblance to his erstwhile showed the way Madeleine’s brain cogs had been turning. ‘We could probably cut straight to the chase do you think … Leyton?’

‘You’ve been backgrounded?’

‘I think fairly fully, even to the Jennys and their story.’

‘So now to your story and I have a lifetime to hear this.’

‘Fifteen minutes might do it.’

The drinks came and the pizza would be ten minutes behind that.

The first thing which impressed was her thorough – well Ok, her seeming – honesty. PA to a local tyre magnate, one of these decentralized ventures of the Labour years, she’d come to like Lytton very much, to the point of buying the flat over the now closed Post Office and general store two doors from Madeleine’s. She was heading back down there tomorrow morning.

It did look a good situation he had to admit to himself and she was by no means averse but there were obstacles, not least the Jennys in his case, which was hardly helped by Jenny herself now coming in through the door, seeing them and walking straight out again.

‘As far as that girl could tell, Leyton, I’m a client. There was nothing untoward in what was happening.

Jenny was sitting in the wheelhouse when he returned and she’d been weeping. ‘Are you going to tell me?’

He did. All of it, from Madeleine’s call till now. Jenny had been getting more and more anxious. He needed to speak. ‘This whole afternoon focused my mind on how much I do love you, despite all the things in your past, plus the overwhelming thought that you don’t really want me as your man, you’re wedded to the whole scene here.’

She went to speak but he put a finger to her lips. ‘Let me just finish this. I’m either employing Jane to manage the businesses or part of them and making you my wife. Or else I’m employing you to manage them and will look to make her my wife. You have first choice.’

She was shocked, quite shocked, both gratified and concerned. ‘And Sarah?’

‘She would have as much or as little of the business as you wanted to let her have. Ideally, she’d run one of our away ventures which we haven’t created yet. I’m going to tell Sarah this too, alone, at that pizzeria. Tomorrow at the same time.’

For once, she was without words. Then she wrapped her arms around him and almost squeezed the life out of him.

Chapter 6 here

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