The inspiration is the bus scene from First Night and the challenge came from Dinah, way back in January 2001. Sorry it took so long to get there, Di, but you didn't specify exactly which Tuesday I had to post it <g>
Bodie: I'm going to pack this job in.
Doyle: And do what?
Bodie: Live off some rich woman.
Doyle: Oh, they can be very demanding.
Bodie: How do you know?
Doyle: I've tried it. Very boring, very repetitive.
Bodie: You little devil...
"...I needed was a friend to lend a guiding hand
But you turned into a lover and mother what a lover, you wore me out..."
The radio was on when I got in the car, and slightly pre-occupied it took ten seconds for me to identify the Rod Stewart tune, but only two to hit the radio off button and silence the tartan-clad rockstar. I had nothing against either singer or song but I didn't need anything reminding Bodie of our brief conversation the other day, and that particular track was just the thing to do it.
Ironically, it was one of my favourites. Not that it told 'our story', or anything daft like that; but I wondered all the same if Elizabeth listened to it with the same sense of nostalgia that I did.
Very boring, very repetitive, I'd told Bodie. That wasn't exactly true, of course, but the moment the first words were out of my mouth I'd regretted them, and I hoped to throw him off. I had succeeded at that moment, but it had more to do with the case in hand than any skill on my part. I knew he wouldn't forget, and also knew that as soon as I had several strong drinks inside me and defences down, he'd badger me for details.
So, I'd better have something to tell him. I considered. What could I tell him, to satisfy his thirst for gossip, yet leave the true story mainly untold...?
* * * * *
After Andy's death, things had never been quite the same at home. Somehow my parents, particularly Dad, knew that in my brush with the Law I hadn't been entirely innocent. Nothing was said but they seemed to be waiting; fearful that I was going to get into trouble and let them down. That one warning had been enough and I valued my liberty too much to risk it, but I couldn't exactly tell them that.
Once I'd left school things changed anyway. Jobs were easy to come by and with money in my pocket for the first time I had a good social life, but the work was tedious. I wasn't certain exactly what I wanted from life, but I was damned sure that serving behind a shop counter wasn't it.
My parents had differing views on what I should be doing; Dad reckoned an apprenticeship would be the best route to a proper job, but Mum was urging me to choose a college course and make some use of the brains she knew I had. I wasn't keen on either option. The apprenticeships locally were in factories and I couldn't see myself doing that sort of job for long, and having escaped the strictures of school life, college wasn't appealing either.
I drifted for far too long, but when an old mate got in touch and the opportunity presented itself I was away to London, and within days was fixed up with a job where Mick worked in a record shop just off Oxford Street, and a bed in his flat - not that the last would be permanent; the place was already overcrowded.
Although I was earning more, living in London was more expensive, and it wasn't long before I started looking for a second job to supplement my wages. Having just established myself in the London scene, taking a bar job - of which there were plenty available - would curtail my evenings out and seemed to defeat the object. I'd have more money to spend, but no time to spend it.
Instead, I scanned the small ads in the Evening News, and latched onto one indicating assistance was required by the St Martin's School of Art between six and eight in the evening. I applied somewhat dubiously since it didn't make it clear what the job entailed, but they only needed someone young and fit to help move tables and equipment around between the various workshops and lecture rooms as their head janitor was getting on.
I fitted the frame perfectly and soon established a routine; selling records during the day, then scooting around the college with bolts of cloth and projectors and so on, before hurrying back to the flat to shower and change and meet up with Mick and his mates at the pub, often ending the evening at a nightclub or late-night cinema.
Life was a bit of a roller-coaster but it was terrific fun as well; and it wouldn't be long before I'd saved enough for a deposit on my own place.
I'd seen her around the college before, usually with a few of her students in tow, and she seemed popular. I couldn't help but notice her - she was beautiful - but she only fully touched my consciousness the evening I burst into one of the art rooms, to find her sitting at her desk crying...
I froze, feeling awkward. Should I ignore her; just leave? Or say something? I took a step backwards, but the sense of chivalry instilled by my parents was still working well and I halted before I reached the door. Clearing my throat - she didn't seem to have noticed me - I stuttered. "Are - are you all right?"
Looking up, she brushed at her cheeks, trying to hide her tears. "Yes... I'm fine."
Feeling slightly more confident now that she hadn't haughtily ordered me from the room, I persisted. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." In control now, she stood up. "Thank you. I'll be fine."
I nodded, and fled. She might be gorgeous, but she was old enough to be teaching at college and her general air of authority reminded me of my schoolteachers. I supposed whatever was wrong, it was unlikely she'd confide in the young, part-time janitor - after all, what could I do to help?
It bothered me though. For the rest of the evening and throughout the next day, I was thinking about her. I didn't even know her name.
The last fact was easily remedied; whilst helping old Wilf shift tables the next evening I raised the subject of the art teacher. He winked at me. "The pretty one? Her name's Elizabeth Nash. Why? You thinkin' of making a move on her?"
I rejected his assumption indignantly. "No! Just she was talking to me the other night, and it's only polite to know someone's name..."
Wilf was nodding knowingly. "Course. I believe yer; fousands wouldn't. Come on, let's get on with fings..."
I followed him back to the storeroom in a sudden daze. Elizabeth. My vision now had a name.
Nearly a week passed before I saw her again. I'd just finished my shift and was heading for the door when she emerged from a staff room with another of the lecturers, and she stopped me with a word. "Ray, isn't it?"
Smiling her farewell to the other woman, she crossed the corridor towards me. "I just wanted to thank you for your concern last week."
I swallowed nervously. "That's all right." I was lost in those smiling blue-grey eyes, and missed her next words. "Sorry...?"
She laughed. "I asked, are you studying as well as working here?"
"Oh, no. I'm working; up Oxford Street. But I needed some more money - I'm saving up, for a place of my own."
"I see. Well, I won't delay you any further. Good night."
"Good night." I hurried outside, conscious of my heart pounding, and took a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm my excited - and disproportionate - thoughts. She'd only spoken to me out of politeness, nothing more. No way was she interested in me...
"Do you mind if I join you?"
My usual, childish response of 'I'm not coming apart' was quashed as I realised who was speaking. I hadn't seen her for several days, and the local coffee bar was the last place I expected to see Elizabeth Nash. Her age, style - and quality - of clothing was so different from the trendy young crowd that it set her apart, although to my eyes she stood out anyway.
Old habits die hard, and in response to my parents' training I leapt to my feet. "Please, yes... can I get you anything...?"
Smiling, she set a cup down. "I already have a drink, thank you."
"Oh yes." Great, I sounded just like an idiot. I consulted my own cup in confusion, then avoided her eyes by glancing around the crowded room. Behind her a group of Mods were pulling smoochy faces and making kissy gestures in my direction and I flushed, hoping she wouldn't see them.
"So have you finished for the evening, Ray?" Her eyes sparkled at me across the top of the cup balanced neatly between long fingers; nails neatly shaped and polished.
"Uh, yes. Wasn't much to do, tonight. Just killing a bit of time before I meet my mates. We're heading up to see if we can get in at the Roundhouse; there're some new bands playing and Mick thinks a couple of them could be really big..." I kicked myself and stemmed the babble. She was only asking out of politeness, I didn't need to detail my entire evening.
"I'm meeting friends as well. We're going to a concert at the Albert Hall." I almost asked who was playing, but realised just in time that it would be classical music.
"It's a mixed programme of Ravel and Debussy, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli."
Thanks to my father's efforts I at least knew who she was talking about; although it was doubtful that I'd've recognised the works. It wasn't exactly my scene. "Sounds interesting," I lied, politely.
"No it doesn't." Her eyes crinkled at the edges, with amusement. "It sounds boring. But I'll probably enjoy it as much as you'll enjoy your evening."
"Sorry." I grinned nervously, but it didn't look like I'd offended her. "I didn't mean -"
"I know. Each to their own. Although just for the record, I do have copies of all the Stones' LPs, so you can't call me a completely lost cause."
"I wouldn't do that." The words were innocent enough but I hadn't intended them to come out quite so fervently, and I cursed my sudden talent for putting my foot in it. I didn't usually have this trouble talking to girls.
Whether she didn't notice or was too polite to comment, I don't know. Glancing at her watch, she gathered up her bag. "I ought to go. Thanks for the company."
I watched Elizabeth leave; conscious of but ignoring the surreptitious nudging and sniggering going on around me. Of course, the main reason I was having trouble talking to her was that Elizabeth wasn't a girl - she was a beautiful, mature woman.
And I was growing increasingly besotted with her.
So naturally, I took every chance I could to speak to her. Hanging around the college longer in the evenings afforded me plenty of opportunities to exchange a few words here and there, but it wasn't enough. Elizabeth was friendly enough but there was an air of reserve, designed to keep me at arms length.
Far from being discouraged, I mislead her as to my true intentions by expressing an interest in art - although not an entirely spurious interest, it was something that had always appealed to me. Whether she was fooled or not I don't know; at least I got to spend some time in conversation with her. However, our relationship seemed destined to remain fixed in a teacher/student configuration since it was clear she didn't see me in any other light.
My chance to impress - although I honestly didn't see it like that at the time - came one Friday night as I was leaving the college.
Elizabeth had been working on some course papers and hadn't had time to talk, so I didn't expect to see her, but as I turned towards the tube I realised that she was ahead of me.
Before I could even think about hurrying to catch Elizabeth up, I watched in horror as someone lurched violently from the shadows into her, knocking her flying and snatching up her shoulderbag before starting to run, fortunately straight towards me.
I barely had time to register that he was older and bigger before he was in front of me; instinct alone stimulating me to lash out and bring him down, anger adding to any lack of strength.
Managing to seize the strap of the bag I simply held on, ignoring the blows designed to make me release it, and realising I wasn't a pushover he abandoned his booty, scrambled to his feet and fled.
I was shaking as I ran towards Elizabeth who was only just getting up. "Are you all right?"
"I think so." She hadn't seen exactly what had happened, but the fact that I now had her bag, coupled with my more than normal dishevelment, was explanation enough. "Did you fight him?"
I grinned modestly, wincing slightly as one of his blows to my cheek made itself felt. "Not really. Just tripped him and grabbed your bag."
A soft cool hand stroked my cheek. "You're bleeding."
I resisted the urge to wipe the trickle of blood in the hope that she would do it for me, but she seemed to realise the impropriety of the situation and dropped her hand away. I casually brushed the back of my hand over my cheek, smearing the blood and probably making it look a lot worse. "It's nothing."
"It's bad enough." There was a quiver in her voice, and I realised that whereas the incident had exhilarated me, Elizabeth was scared.
Almost without conscious thought I put my arm around her. "I'll take you home."
I was about to head for the bus-stop but Elizabeth had insisted on hailing a taxi, which I thought an unnecessary expense but I wasn't prepared to argue with her. I'd learnt something of London's geography but only certain areas; the route seemed circuitous but I already knew that with the number of narrow one-way streets the quickest route to a destination wasn't always what appeared to be the shortest.
The address Elizabeth had given of Grafton Street meant nothing to me but the taxi driver obviously knew it; his manner deferential, and when he pulled up after less than 15 minutes of driving I could see why.
It was a smart townhouse in what was obviously a posh area; certainly one that I'd never been into. At the top of the steps, Elizabeth turned as she opened the door and called to me where I stood on the pavement. "Come in."
Safely back on homeground, Elizabeth seemed to be recovering from her shock and took charge. While I gazed about me in disbelief, she directed me to a bathroom on the second floor so that I could clean up.
The bathroom was easy enough to find - it was so large I'd have had troubling missing it. Most of Mick's flat would have fitted inside it. Spotlessly clean; bath and shower, one of those strange low units beside the loo.
I stared in the mirror whilst lathering up the soap - a delicately-scented clear bar embossed with the expensive-sounding name of Floris, not cheap Lifebuoy - and dabbed tentatively at the cut on my cheek, considering what I'd discovered in the last half hour.
I'd have had to have been deaf and blind not to have realised she was in a different class to me. I just hadn't realised exactly how large that gulf was. This place, in Central London, spoke of Money. Not the sort of money that working at the college would bring in.
Terrified of getting even a speck of blood on the crisp white towels I dried my cheek with toilet paper, before making my way slowly back downstairs, taking in more of my surroundings.
By the time I reached the first floor I had resolved to leave, immediately; Elizabeth was out of my class in more ways than one. But she had other ideas and I found myself diverted into a large lounge.
"I could make tea, but I expect you'd prefer a proper drink; I know I need it." She held out a glass to me, a generous measure of what I discovered was whisky when I took a cautious sip. It wasn't something I'd developed a taste for; mainly because of the cost. "Sit down."
This room wasn't as lavish as elsewhere but everything was good quality, and I sank onto the sofa carefully hoping my clothes weren't dirty.
Elizabeth didn't seem to notice. "I can't thank you enough for your help tonight, Ray."
"It was nothing."
She dismissed my attempt at modesty. "It was brave of you to stand up to him; he might have hurt you. And it's saved me a great deal of time and trouble. If he'd got away I would have lost more than just my purse - all my keys, and my address book, were in my bag. Malcolm always says I carry too much."
"Malcolm?" It wasn't a name that had come up before. Something told me however that it was significant.
My eyes flew to her left hand, ringless as always. She saw the action. "I don't wear my rings to work. They're valuable; family heirlooms."
"I see." Suddenly Elizabeth's reserve made a lot more sense. I also saw I should be out of there; he could come home at any time. "I should go."
I scrambled to my feet, unwisely knocking back the rest of the whisky in one gulp. It hit the back of my throat, burning on the way down and almost making me choke.
When I managed to stop coughing, it was to find her regarding me with a mixture of amusement and concern. "Malcolm is away at the moment. And even if he weren't, we're not doing anything wrong."
No, but I want to. The thought came unbidden, and I suppressed it. I'd been brought up to believe in the sanctity of marriage, and no matter how I felt about her I had to respect it. "Your neighbours..."
"Even if they saw you, they wouldn't take any notice. You can be pretty anonymous, living here. I don't even know their names."
Probably true of most places in London. I only vaguely knew the couple living in the flat below Mick's; the two living upstairs (queers, Mick reckoned) had never spoken to us, and as for the houses on either side I wouldn't even recognise the residents if I walked into them.
I relaxed slightly. Her husband was away and my guilty conscience was all in my mind, after all. The temptation to stay was strong; but I caught sight of the clock on the mantelpiece. I was supposed to be meeting Mick; he'd lined us up with a couple of girls. "I'm sorry, I really do have to go. Meeting my mates..."
I wasn't good company that evening; thoughts still with Elizabeth. She'd seen me to the door, directed me to Green Park tube, and repeated her thanks while planting a soft kiss on my cheek.
Which had thrown me into turmoil. I was unsure of my feelings for her. What of Elizabeth's feelings for me?
Her teaching schedule meant Elizabeth only had classes Monday morning so I knew I wouldn't see her again until Tuesday, hurrying through the evening's tasks in case I missed her. I tapped on the half-open door as I entered in case she was busy, but looking up from her book Elizabeth greeted me with a delighted smile. "Hello, Ray."
Most of my weekend had been spent in thought; thoughts that in the main had revolved around the fact that Elizabeth was married, and daydreams of us getting together were fated to remain a fantasy.
But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to thinking her pleasure in my arrival was a positive sign, and with new-found confidence I asked her to go for a drink.
It wasn't easy to talk in the crowded pub, but after checking she'd been OK after the mugging, curiosity got the better of me and I asked about her husband.
"Malcolm works for a merchant bank. He's working in their New York office at the moment. In fact, he seems to be in America more than he is here." Her tone was wistful as if she was missing him.
"Why don't you go with him?" She blinked at the challenge in my voice, which had probably come from the jealous stab I'd felt. A good job, fine house, and Elizabeth. "Malcolm must make a packet for you to live in that house."
"I like my job at the college. I might not need to work, but it's important to me. Anyway -" Elizabeth paused, as if considering how I might take her next point. "Malcolm inherited the house, from his grandparents."
I think it was intended to be encouraging, to prove that Malcolm was just an average working man. But it backfired, showing instead that Malcolm didn't just have Money, he had Background.
Realising her mistake, Elizabeth tried again to reassure me. "Of course, he's been working for years now; he's nearly ten years older than I am. Actually, he'd prefer it if I didn't work either. But he understands how I feel - at least, most of the time."
I didn't like the shadow which fell across her face at some memory; but it was fleeting and Elizabeth smiled it away. "I suppose you're another of these men who think women should be tied to the kitchen sink."
I refuted the accusation with a laugh; women were liberated in my generation. However, what I was learning about Malcolm wasn't impressive. I was building up a picture of an overbearing banker-type, head full of figures and no time for a pretty, creative wife. They sounded completely incompatible, and I wondered how they'd ever got together.
Almost as if she'd read my mind, Elizabeth continued, smiling as she reminisced. "And I was quite happy with that, to start with anyway. I had only just left college when I met Malcolm. It was at one of those house parties; we spent practically the whole weekend together. Malcolm swept me off my feet, and down the aisle."
Her smile faded. "It was wonderful at first, but Malcolm's very busy at work, so I decided to get a job. I was lucky to get in at St Martin's."
I decided I'd heard enough about him and changed the subject. "Are you busy on Saturday? I wondered if you wanted to go out, to the pictures, maybe?"
She gave it just enough consideration before replying for me to start worrying that I'd overstepped the mark. "Why not?"
That was to be the first of our outings. Although I (conveniently ignoring the absent husband) was inclined to see them as dates, I don't think Elizabeth ever saw them that way; to her we were friends, enjoying the same things. Through her, I started to see more than the latest James Bond release, joining her at small cinemas showing foreign films. We visited galleries where I learnt more about art, and once or twice I accompanied her to some highbrow evening events at private galleries in Burlington Street.
Those were possibly the hardest for me to attend. Not only did I stand out, even in my best gear, but she knew the people there, and talk was invariably based around her and Malcolm. I was introduced as a protégé, the impression given that I was one of her students; a deception I wasn't particularly happy about. But she had her reputation to consider and I wouldn't willingly damage that.
Malcolm had, inevitably, come back; only about three weeks later. Elizabeth was delighted when she told me, although apparently it was only for a couple of weeks, which she wasn't so happy about.
I made myself scarce while he was around. I don't think she was planning to introduce us but I didn't want to give her the opportunity. She might believe there was nothing but friendship between us. If Malcolm was any sort of a man he wouldn't fail to see how I felt about his wife.
In seeing more of Elizabeth I'd been seeing less of Mick and his friends, but one evening I arrived back early to find him exchanging money with two men.
I waited until they'd left before I tackled him. "What's going on?"
"So what were you paying them for?"
"They're from the landlord. Rent."
"The rent's not due." I knew he was lying even as he glanced furtively at a large envelope on the table, and snatched it up before he could beat me to it.
Spilling the contents out, I stared at him. "Is that what I think it is?"
Mick shrugged. "Probably. What's the big deal? Everyone's doing drugs."
I wasn't. I'd smoked pot along with the others, but the rest of the drug scene was too much trouble. And the amount lying on the table meant big trouble; this wasn't just for Mick to use - he was dealing. "I don't want any part of it."
He snatched the envelope from me and began to shovel the packets back into it. "Don't worry. You're not getting any part of it."
I left him to it, and retreated to the tiny room I called mine. I couldn't do much about it. My only option was to move out, and although I might be able to afford the rent on a place of my own, as yet I didn't have enough for a deposit. I'd just have to save up for a bit longer. Maybe the college would give me a few extra hours, if I asked.
Whether it was because I now knew the truth or just because I was around more I don't know, but suddenly all the strange people arriving at the flat looking for Mick made sense. I kept out of the way as much as possible, scanning the Lettings ads in the paper each evening.
And killing time until Elizabeth's husband went back to the States. I saw her at the college of course, but she didn't have time for more than a few words before rushing home or to meet him somewhere.
No time for me. I'm not sure what I'd expected; she was married to him after all, but part of me had been hoping she would miss our evenings more than she appeared to be.
Arriving at the college on Monday evening I found her there, waiting for me apparently. "Malcolm went back to the States yesterday. I fancy a night out."
She'd only had two weeks with her husband but her manner was telling me that she was glad he'd gone. Maybe the shine was rubbing off the domestic bliss? I rushed through my tasks for the evening and we left the college together.
Once outside however she changed her mind about going out, and asked me if I'd take her home.
It was the first time I'd seen Elizabeth in this kind of mood, but it wasn't hard to guess her husband was behind it. Back in her comfortable lounge, I probed for a reason. "So what's going on? What's Malcolm said?"
She gave me a rueful smile, slightly annoyed that she was obviously so transparent. "We had a row just before he left. He can be so pigheaded."
"Why? Did you tell him about me?" Fairly conceited, to assume that I was the cause, but it was a logical deduction.
"No. I mean, yes, I did tell him about you, but that wasn't what we argued about. He's not jealous or anything daft like that. I told him how interested you were in art, and that we'd been going to the galleries together. Anyway, if I hadn't told him about you, someone would have. We've seen several people that have met you."
So Malcolm thought I was a protégé as well? "What did you argue about then?"
Although she'd initially seemed keen to talk, suddenly the conversation was getting too personal for her and she shrugged the question off. "Oh, just some marriage stuff. Right now I need some company in the form of someone who isn't going to hassle me."
"I'm your man. Guaranteed hassle-free; no more questions."
Elizabeth grinned at me. "Are you hungry? I could do some spaghetti..."
"So what have you been up to for the last couple of weeks?"
We'd chatted in the kitchen while I'd watched her concoct her own version of Spaghetti Bolognese, and were now back in the lounge, plates on laps and half-heartedly watching a variety show on TV.
"Not much. Not much seemed worth doing without you." The comment was out before I remembered I was supposed to be hassle-free.
She gave me a glance but let it pass. "What about Mick? I thought you'd have caught up with him and gone to clubs."
"Well..." I considered. Elizabeth wasn't an innocent for all her class status. "Mick's got himself mixed up in drugs."
She was alarmed, all the same. "He's not involving you?"
"No way. I'm keeping my distance from him; looking for a place of my own to move to. It was only supposed to be a temporary flatshare anyway."
"Have you found anywhere?"
"Not yet. I don't have enough for a deposit yet anyway. A few more weeks, I suppose."
"You could always move in here."
I think she was as surprised by her words as I was. "I mean, if things get difficult, while Malcolm's away... There's a couple of spare rooms, and I wouldn't want to think of you sleeping on a bench in Hyde Park."
I grinned. "I hope it doesn't come to that. But thanks - I'll keep it in mind."
Which at the time, was where I intended her offer to stay. It'd be asking for trouble to move in with her. But I'd reckoned without the local fuzz.
As I made my way home the very next evening I realised that the car with two occupants sitting near the flats was the same one that had been there for the last three nights. Suspicion made me slow as I passed it, and glancing in I saw a radio which was definitely not just for listening to Radio 1.
I made my way upstairs quickly. Whether they intended to pick Mick up tonight or not, I'd be wise to get out of there. Anyone at the flat would be tarred with the same brush and I had no intention of going down on a drugs charge.
I hadn't accumulated much during my stay there, and packing my stuff took no time at all. I hoisted my holdall and headed for the door.
And paused. I should leave Mick a note. I wasn't sure he deserved a warning, but he was a mate. But if the police found a note...
I grabbed a pen and scribbled on the pad by the phone before I could change my mind. "Got a new place to go. Watch out for the guys outside." I left it unsigned. No sense in telling the fuzz who I was if they didn't know, and there was no reason they should; I wasn't on the rent book.
There wasn't much I could do if Mick or one of the others decided to give the police my name. But time to deal with it if it happened. I made my way down the stairs to the first landing and opened the window there, exiting onto the fire escape; not wanting the coppers in the car outside to see me leaving with my bag.
I reached the station before I stopped looking behind me. And started thinking about what to do next. I didn't have anywhere to sleep tonight...
"Ray!" It was nearly eleven, and Elizabeth was obviously surprised that I'd arrived on her doorstep at that time of night.
I gestured to the bag on my shoulder. "It was here or a park bench."
Opening the door wider she beckoned me in. "What's happened?"
"Nothing yet. But I have the feeling it's about to; so I decided to get out before it all blew up. Hope you don't mind?"
"Of course not." I got the impression she would have preferred some warning, but she covered it well. "I offered, after all. Come up to the lounge."
Elizabeth waved me into the lounge while continuing up the staircase. "Get yourself a drink. I'll go and make up the guest room."
Dumping my bag by the door, I collected her sherry glass from the coffee table to pour her a refill, before pouring myself a small whisky. Returning the sherry glass, I noticed a letter that she'd obviously been reading when I knocked on the door. The envelope beside it bore the embossed monogram of MJN in a florid black script.
Malcolm's handwriting was bold and extremely legible even from a standing position, and before I knew it I'd read the first two lines on the uppermost sheet, which obviously wasn't the first page. 'When you've had chance to think about it I'm sure you agree it will be for the best. Carrying on as we are simply doesn't make sense, and it's what we both want, after all.'
Feeling myself flush with embarrassment that I was reading a private letter, I forced myself to move away before I read any more.
I flicked through the evening paper whilst waiting for Elizabeth, but the words continued to buzz around my head; the implication being that Malcolm wanted a divorce.
When Elizabeth returned, her first action was to fold up the letter and stuff it into the envelope, expression irritated. I risked a question. "Bad news?"
"Malcolm. He posted it from the airport before he left. I just don't see why he can't give me some time to think." Giving a grimace, she shrugged while pushing the letter away in the desk drawer. "Anyway, what happened to you?"
I explained about the cop car and the feeling I'd had, and to my relief Elizabeth didn't seem to think I'd over-reacted. "If Mick shows up at work tomorrow I suppose I'll feel a bit stupid. But better that than arrested. Anyway, I'll find somewhere else as soon as possible."
"There's no hurry. I'll be glad of the company." She sounded wistful and lonely, and I longed to ask her about Malcolm's letter. But I couldn't let her know I'd even glanced at it.
Once in bed - the most luxurious bed I'd ever slept in - I turned events over in my mind. If Elizabeth wanted me there, and Malcolm was divorcing her, maybe staying here for a while wouldn't be such a bad idea...
"Elizabeth!" I called to her as she left the lecture room, surrounded by her students. I'd not been in the building during the day before and it was busy and crowded.
"Ray?" We somehow managed to wade across the swathe of students and met in the middle of the corridor, where people continued to flow around us. "Has something happened?"
"Is there somewhere quiet we can go?" I'd had a nerve-racking morning and really needed to talk to Elizabeth.
"Not really." She checked her watch. "But I don't have another lecture until two, we could go out."
We ended up in the coffee bar and in a quiet corner I broke my news to Elizabeth.
"When I arrived at the shop this morning it was closed. Couple of policemen outside were talking to Mandy; they all saw me before I had time to walk away. So then they started talking to me." I took a sip of hot coffee. "Turns out Mick was getting his drug supply from Travis, the guy who owns the shop. They're both under arrest."
"What did the police say?"
"They wanted to know if we'd seen any dealing going on in the shop - and neither of us had. And they wanted our addresses - I had to give them yours." I wasn't happy to see her recoil from the implications of that; the last thing she wanted was the police on the doorstep.
Mandy didn't seem to know the address and hadn't reacted, but the two policemen had eyed me suspiciously. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find they came round to check it out. "Anyway, Mandy fortunately didn't drop me in it by saying I was Mick's friend or anything, so I think I'm in the clear."
"I hope so." Slowly drinking her own coffee, Elizabeth looked troubled.
I had something else to worry about. "My problem now is, with the shop closed I don't have a job. No job, no wages. Very much doubt I'll get paid for this week either."
"You still have your college job."
"End of term this week," I reminded Elizabeth gloomily. "Services no longer required."
Perversely, that seemed to cheer her up. "Well, you can stay with me, so you don't need to worry about paying rent for a while. And while I'm not working during the holidays, we can go out and enjoy ourselves."
I wasn't too sure about that; I liked having my own money and independence. Still I supposed a short break wouldn't do any harm.
Malcolm had phoned on the Monday evening. I headed for the kitchen, not wanting to intrude on a private conversation although I was riddled with curiosity to know whether Elizabeth would mention me.
When I returned, she was curled up on the sofa, whisky glass in hand.
I went to get myself a drink without asking, having just about reached the stage where I felt at home. "Everything OK?"
"Yes. He's fine." She held out her glass, and I wordlessly poured her a refill. Whisky wasn't her usual tipple. Malcolm might be fine, but Elizabeth was obviously upset.
We weren't yet close enough that I felt able to press her into an explanation; but maybe now I'd moved in that would change. Instead, I picked up the Evening News and began to read the recruitment pages. In spite of my decision to take a break I couldn't ignore the fact that I was going to need work soon, and it would be daft not to at least look through the ads.
Elizabeth broke in. "What shall we do tomorrow?"
"I should really be finding a job."
"Not yet. Take a few days off with me first." Unable to deny her since I wanted to spend time with her, I agreed.
It was the first real break I'd had in ages, and we quickly fell into an easy routine, sharing the household tasks in the morning before venturing out for the rest of the day. The weather was in our favour as well, and a week disappeared before I even noticed.
We'd exhausted the galleries and museums before I managed to persuade Elizabeth that there were other, more fun, things to be done. I took her shopping in Carnaby Street and we hung around the coffee bars hoping to see some famous celebrities or popstars.
Battersea Pleasure Gardens was a spontaneous venue. I'd always loved the thrill of fun fairs; particularly the adrenaline rush of big dippers. It transpired Elizabeth was slightly less keen on them and although she didn't refuse to come on, she clung to me all the way through the ride.
Afterwards, it seemed natural that we stood close together, me holding her whilst her knees stopping shaking. We watched the cars shooting up and down and round, other young couples shrieking with the same excitement we'd felt.
And when the time came to move on, it was only natural that I kept my arm around her. We walked along beside the river, watching the sun set, and it seemed Elizabeth felt the same magic as I did.
It was just a kiss. I'm not even sure how she felt about it; she didn't push me away but I couldn't exactly say it was a positive response either. For a few minutes I wondered if I'd pushed my luck and the park bench loomed, then she simply smiled at me.
We didn't talk about it, but when Malcolm phoned later that evening I stayed in the lounge. I tried not to show I was listening; not that I could tell much from her side of the conversation anyway.
"Yes, I'm fine. How are you?" She listened dutifully to his response; her next words, sharply said, drawing my attention. "I have been thinking about it. I haven't been doing much else."
It was hard not to react, but I kept my eyes on the paper. "Of course. But I can't talk now. Lucy is here."
At that I did lift my head to catch her grinning at me, and I stuck my tongue out. I had my answer; I wasn't sure I liked my new name though.
"Yes, I'll speak to you next week. Take care."
"Who's Lucy?" I asked as soon as the phone went down.
"One of the other lecturers. She's the one who dresses like a hippy. Malcolm doesn't like her, so I knew he wouldn't ask me any more questions or want to speak to her."
"You haven't told him I'm staying then?"
"No. He wouldn't understand. And I don't need any more hassle from him at the moment. Besides, what's to tell?" As she said it, she clearly remembered what had occurred between us just a few hours ago, and blushed. "I mean, we're just friends."
At the moment. That was going to change. "Of course." I changed the subject. "Do you want to watch TV?"
As we parted on the stairs that night I caught her hand to pull her close and gently repeated the kiss. And this time, the response was positive...
It would have been easy to have persuaded her further at that moment. But I wanted Elizabeth to come to me of her own free will, and not without some regret I wished her goodnight and let her go.
And went to my bed alone to spend an uncomfortable night...
The pattern of our days didn't change, but our mood did. We were closer in spirit; touching frequently, walking hand in hand or arms around each other.
The real turning point came just a few days later. Elizabeth had produced tickets for another French film at the Curzon Street cinema and persuaded me to go.
"More subtitles." My knowledge of the French language was limited to what I could fit on a matchbox; it had never been a favourite subject. But we'd seen some French films before and I'd enjoyed them, and the discussions we'd shared.
I'm not sure whether Elizabeth knew in advance what it was all about but I hadn't got a clue what I was going to see.
Buñuel's Belle de Jour was an erotic film. There was virtually no nudity and nothing explicit; it wasn't pornographic. I'd seen a few of those and this was in a different class; it was a film for adults, rather than an adult film.
In other circumstances we'd probably have discussed the characters and plot, and what exactly the director had intended by this scene and that. But Catherine Devenue's portrayal of Severine stimulated desires other than intellectual ones, and not just in me, either...
Elizabeth had come to me.
Now, she was lying asleep in my arms; resting quietly and peacefully.
She'd cried. The only words I had been able to make out were something about Malcolm, something about how he didn't make her feel that way...
I had no doubt that I'd satisfied her, but I think I understood. Even if Malcolm wanted a divorce, she was conventional enough to feel she had broken her marriage vows and betrayed him.
I'd help her get over that guilt. Now we'd slept together, she would confide in me about Malcolm's plans, and I'd persuade her we should get a place together. I was assuming that she would leave the house unless he was staying in the States, but it was Malcolm's by right.
I'd prefer to move out anyway. Leave her memories behind.
I was alone when I woke.
She was sitting in the kitchen, looking out on the small garden and nursing a cup of coffee. It wasn't hard to see that she had regrets.
I made myself a coffee before I spoke to her, making an offer I hoped desperately that she wouldn't take up. "Do you want me to leave?"
"No, of course not. It's just all so complicated..."
"It doesn't have to be." I knelt beside her chair. "I love you, Elizabeth."
My declaration made the tears well in her eyes. "You don't understand. You're so young..."
"Not too young to know what I feel."
She reached out to stroke my cheek. "What you think you feel." Pressing a finger to my lips she prevented any protest. "Don't say anything else. Let's just - be together..."
I thought that the situation would push her into giving Malcolm her decision; expecting that now she had me and knew how I feel, she would be happy to agree to a divorce.
Her refusal to discuss anything puzzled me. Elizabeth kept telling me that she needed time, and I began to understand how Malcolm felt.
Unlike him, however, I would give her time. I wasn't unhappy with the way things were and it was easy to delude myself into thinking that things would work out the way I wanted them.
So we carried on as before. But closer, and together at nights. For all that she'd been married for nearly nine years her approach to sex - which meant Malcolm's, since she'd been a virgin when she met him - was unimaginative. I'm not sure whether Elizabeth had ever realised she should enjoy it.
I changed all that. Since we didn't have to get up for work we frequently stayed in bed, often at Elizabeth's suggestion. I didn't mind. Most of my previous sexual activities had been in the nature of quick fumbles, rarely in the luxury of a bed, and I was learning what lovemaking was all about, rather than just sex.
All of this had driven the thought of finding a new job and flat out of my head. As far as I could see, I needed to plan for two of us, but only when I knew what I had to plan.
I bided my time. Elizabeth would make her decision soon. I was here, and I loved her. Malcolm didn't stand a chance.
Things never quite work out the way you want, do they?
Looking back, as I did many times in the following few months, I suppose I should have realised how unlikely it was that Elizabeth would leave him, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
At the time, I just knew I was happier than I'd ever been; and I believed Elizabeth felt the same.
The bombshell came less than a month later. Collecting the post from the mat I saw the airmail letter immediately, and didn't need to look at it closely to recognise Malcolm's writing. As far as I knew, Elizabeth hadn't spoken to Malcolm.
I took the letters up to our room and handed them to her, the airmail envelope on top. She touched it gingerly, before glancing at me. I took the hint. "I'll put the kettle on."
I wasn't sure whether I should wait for her to come down, or take a coffee up. It wasn't a thick letter, it wouldn't take that long to read, and after half an hour had elapsed I picked up the now-cooling drinks and headed upstairs.
Elizabeth wasn't in our room.
Abandoning the mugs, I went in search of her. The door to the master bedroom stood open; Elizabeth was sitting at her dressing table aimlessly brushing her hair.
"What did Malcolm have to say?" Please let him still want a divorce.
"To know if I'd made a decision yet." Elizabeth looked past her reflection in the mirror at me.
"And have you?" She continued to gaze at the mirror. "If he wants a divorce -"
"Divorce?" Startled, Elizabeth spun quickly to face me. "Who said anything about divorce?"
"But what about his letter..." I admitted my knowledge, uneasily.
"You read Malcolm's letter?"
Ashamed I'd read as much as I had, I refuted the accusation. "No, I didn't. I saw just a couple of lines; I'm sorry. I didn't read any more."
Elizabeth's anger was already fading. "No, you couldn't have done. If you had, you'd know that he wasn't talking about divorce. That's the furthest thing from his mind."
"Then what...?" I didn't understand. What else could he have been referring to?
Without replying, Elizabeth moved to stand at the window. It was raining, the first wet day for weeks...
I followed her across the room and slid my arms around her. "Elizabeth, please tell me."
"Malcolm has been offered a full-time job in the States. He wants me to go out there with him and start a family."
She felt the tremor I couldn't prevent. "I'm sorry, Ray."
I was having trouble understanding this; remembering the words I'd read. "If it's what you both want... What decision did you have to make?"
"Moving to the States. Leaving my home and job, and starting a family in a strange country. It's not a decision to make lightly, Ray."
"And if you don't want to go..."
"Then Malcolm would turn the job down. He's not leaving me, Ray. I'm sorry."
I pulled away from her. "And you won't leave him. Whether you go abroad or not..."
Why hadn't she told me? What about what we had? Had she just been using me? "What about us?"
"I love Malcolm." She turned to face me. "I do care about you, Ray."
"But you don't love me. I'm just a fling while he's away..."
"That's not true..." She flushed. "We were friends, Ray. I didn't go looking for someone to have a fling with. I wasn't looking for anything like that."
And I was the one who'd made all the running, after all. Without my obvious encouragement, Elizabeth would never have thought of me as anything but a friend.
"I'm not sorry it happened, Ray. You helped me see what's important in my life. Malcolm loves me."
"I love you."
"No, you don't. You think you love me, but it's not what I've got with Malcolm. One day you'll really fall in love, and then you'll know the difference."
I wasn't sure she was right, but I wouldn't argue. "Will you go to the States?"
"I don't know. Malcolm is coming home tomorrow. But whatever I decide, we'll stay together."
"There's not much left to say, then." I glanced around the bedroom; it was symbolic that she'd chosen to retreat to their room, cutting herself off from me. "I'll get my things together."
It didn't take long. Elizabeth stopped me as I headed for the door, holding out a cheque.
"I don't want your money. I've taken enough from you already."
"Ray, please. You haven't worked for a month, you don't have a job or anywhere to live. And I know you don't have that much in savings. Be sensible; take the cheque."
The practicalities of my situation bore in on me. Elizabeth was right. Reluctantly, I took the slip of paper, trying not to think of it as a pay-off. "I'll pay it back."
"I know you will. When you can; no hurry."
I nodded, wanting to say more; wanting to tell her that I'd always be there if she needed me. But that was impossible.
I didn't even feel I had the right to kiss her goodbye...
Outside, I looked at the cheque, horrified by how generous Elizabeth was. Her bank was just down the road, but instead I folded it and slid it away in my jacket. I'd only cash it if I was desperate.
I'd headed for Euston, that being the area of Mick's flat and where I knew best. Fortune was the only thing smiling that day, but by mid-afternoon I had a room courtesy of a card in the newsagents' window, and a job at the local off-licence.
For the next three weeks I worked and slept. And I did a lot of thinking.
It hurt; no doubt about that. Elizabeth was right to stay with Malcolm but I did love her. I supposed everyone got their heart broken at least once; I'd get over it.
* * * * *
A car horn jolted me back to the present.
I hadn't seen Elizabeth again; I'd moved on and got over her, and I never did cash her cheque. I haven't found that one person I was supposed to fall in love with, but I suppose there's still time.
A few years ago my determination never to seek her out had weakened, and although I had no intention of making contact I'd used CI5 resources to check on Elizabeth. The years of wondering were finally resolved; she and Malcolm were still together, living in New York with their three children.
I thrust aside my reverie as Bodie trotted across the pavement towards the car, and swung himself into the passenger seat.
"Ready to go?" Without waiting for an answer I started the car, forcing myself not to react as Bodie reached for the radio. The song would be finished by now.
The radio blasted into life with one of the new punk songs, and Bodie hastily adjusted the volume downwards. "Ugh! Can't see what there is musical about that..."
Pulling the car into the traffic, out of the corner of my eye I saw Bodie's fingers twiddling with the tuning button, and almost immediately he picked up another of the commercial stations springing up all over London.
"...morning sun when it's in your face really shows your age
But that don't worry me none in my eyes you're everything..."
I cringed. Wouldn't you just know it?
"Oh, I love this song..." Tapping in time on the dashboard, Bodie suddenly stopped his accompaniment, and stared at me. "Oh yes, Raymond. Wasn't there something you wanted to tell me...?"