Fay’s interview with the man in the Russian Embassy didn’t take very long, because he seemed to know all about her and Tony already. He was delighted to receive the evidence, and admitted that if the courier had been Tony himself, he would have found refuge in the Embassy straight away, as a valuable witness.
But Fay – although he was grateful for what she’d done – was now of no further use. So he advised her, quite kindly, to go home.
She had a dreadful sense of anticlimax. But what had she expected? A gold medal? Russian citizenship? No! So why was she disappointed? What she had done was good. Apart from the business with the smart phone, obviously, which made her go hot with embarrassment whenever she thought of it. But otherwise, she’d successfully completed her Mission. She should be satisfied with that, and go home, as the man said.
She emerged from the Embassy to find that the helicopter had disappeared. You see? Nobody wants me, thought Fay. And laughed. And immediately felt better.
Edward must have seen her car pull into the drive, because no sooner had she walked in the door than he rang, inviting her for a cup of tea. He sounded hugely relieved – maybe he’d had visions of her wandering the world with amnesia or collapsing with an aneurism while driving.
The idea of tea with Edward was so appealing that she almost said yes, till she realised that he would want to know where she’d been and what she’d been doing, and she had enough to think about without having to make up a story for him. So she pleaded tiredness.
While she was heating some soup, her smart phone buzzed at her. It was a text from an unknown source, and it said, ‘Midnight on the hill.’
Oh no. She’d been thinking it was all over, but it wasn’t, was it? She could hear her heart beating as the adrenalin started pumping round her body.
So was this an invitation? And if so, from whom? If it was from Tony, wouldn’t he have given her more of a clue to his identity? Something that she would recognise as him and nobody else?
If it was from the Cabal, why would they still be interested in her, now that she’d delivered the evidence? Did they have the resources to expend on vengeance, pure and simple? And if so, why bother trying to lure her onto the hill at midnight, when they could just as easily break in and murder her in her bed? It was an unfortunate idea, which made her stomach cramp and drove her to the rescue remedy bottle.
So should she reply to the text? Ask for more information? Ask where he’d been? No. If it was Tony and he’d thought it was safe to say more, he would have done so.
She checked the time. It was seven. Five hours to go. The text must be referring to Lark Hill. It was only a five minute walk to the base of the hill, and another five or ten to climb it. But she couldn’t risk going up there on her own. Then again, what if Tony was in trouble and asking for help? She couldn’t just ignore it.
Help. That’s what she needed. How about asking her neighbours to come with her? The man from the BMW didn’t seem to want any witnesses, so if they went up there in a group he’d probably walk away. And if it was Tony, she didn’t think he’d mind.
But this meant she’d have to take her neighbours into her confidence. She hadn’t done so before, because she’d assumed no one would believe her. But was that really true? Wouldn’t their first-hand experience of the fire support her story? And Edward had seen the crumpled Mercedes, too. So how about confiding in him first, and see how he took it? After all, he was the important one to convince. Everyone else in the hamlet loved him, and would help if he asked them to.
So she rang him and asked if she could change her mind about the cup of tea, and he said, ‘Yes, of course – come on over.’
Before going, she printed off a copy of Tony’s evidence. Otherwise it could all be put down to this bang on the head that Edward was so sure she had received.
‘What’s this?’ Edward asked.
‘Tony gave it to me. It’s evidence that Tombola is a man-made disease.’
‘You’re joking.’ ‘No, I’m not. He was out in Zimbwana when it started. Look, I know you think I had a bang on the head and therefore everything I say is suspect, but I want you to just listen to the story until I’ve finished, and then tell me if it doesn’t add up. Okay? Just listen.’
‘Very well. If I must.’
So he listened without interruption for the next half an hour. Then there was a pause while Fay made the tea and Edward scanned the evidence.
‘Okay, now you can ask questions,’ said Fay.
‘I don’t know what to say.’
‘Don’t know what to say because you think I’m bonkers and could turn dangerous if you say so?’
‘No,’ he replied, laughing.
‘Don’t know what to say because you don’t want to admit you’ve been completely wrong and it’s all too humiliating?’
‘No! Well, yes. A bit, maybe. But are you sure?’
‘Look, Edward, I’m not asking you to believe me on the basis of what happened in London, because you weren’t there. But you saw what happened to Tony’s car, didn’t you? And it didn’t make sense in terms of black ice, did it?’
‘Come on, you were the one who was puzzled by it, not me!’
‘Alright. Fair enough. No, it didn’t make sense.’
‘And please take into account my mysterious lack of injuries, which I could hardly have faked, could I? I mean, I didn’t have a scratch!’
‘And then that very same night – that very same night! – comes the arson attack. And it was the lab that confirmed arson, not me. Wasn’t it?’
‘It was, dear girl. But you don’t need to get so excited. Calm down. Drink your tea.’
‘Edward, please don’t patronise me.’
‘But don’t you agree that it all stacks up?’
‘Alright. I agree. It does stack up. Now will you drink your tea?’
‘I will. Cheers.’
‘But look, there’s something I still don’t understand.’
‘Why are you telling me all this now when you didn’t tell me before?’
‘Ah. Well now, I’m glad you asked me that…’
There were seven of them in the end who gathered outside Edward’s cottage at eleven thirty – Fay, Edward, Julia, Trish, Gordon and both of the Jims – dressed in their warmest clothes and carrying torches.
‘So what is our role in this little expedition?’ asked Gordon.
‘To be witnesses, basically,’ said Fay.
‘Whoever is there, and whatever they want. If it’s Tony, he might need help of some kind. But to be honest, I don’t know who sent that message.’
‘Okay then. Let’s go and take a look.’
Fay sensed that they were humouring her, and didn’t really think there was any cause for concern apart from the possibility of encountering the drug-dealers who used the layby at the base of the hill. But she didn’t mind. The main thing was that they were there.
They set off up the single-track road. Once they emerged from the trees at the base of the hill they didn’t need torches any more; moonlight suffused the thin cloud cover, and the glow of the nearby town was reflected from its underside. The night was cold, but the climb warmed them up, and they reached the top at eleven fifty.
‘What now, Fay?’ asked Edward.
‘We wait,’ said Fay. ‘At least till five past twelve. Then if nothing happens we can go home again.’
‘Fay?’ came a familiar voice out of the shadows. ‘Is that you?’
‘Tony! Where are you?’
‘Over here… Fay, who are these people?’
‘My friends from the hamlet. They’re here as witnesses. My insurance.’
And suddenly he was in front of her, and they were hugging. Then she held him at arms’ length to peer at his face. In the dim light it still looked haggard, but more peaceful than it had three and a half days before. Three and a half days! How much could happen in three and a half days.
‘So it really is you,’ she said. ‘I’m so glad. Tony, you’ve met Edward. This is Julia, Trish, Gordon, Jim and Jim.’
Mutual greetings were exchanged.
‘God, I’m so relieved,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t be sure that text was really from you.’
‘“Midnight on the hill.”’
‘No, Fay, it wasn’t from me.’
‘What! Who was it from, then?’
Fay went cold. Had she led her friends into a trap, after all?
‘It could have been the Alliance, though. They told me to come up here and wait to be picked up.’
‘The Alliance? Have they been in touch with you?
‘Yes. They rang me on the landline after I got back from Africa. Gave me advice and instructions.’
‘So why didn’t you tell me? And how did you know they weren’t the Cabal? They can be very deceptive!’
‘You’re always telling me to use my intuition, aren’t you, Fay?’ said Tony, with a lop-sided smile. ‘And since my intellect let me down, I decided to follow your advice. And my intuition felt good about these people. They asked me if I knew anyone who might be able to get the evidence into the right hands, and when I told them about you they suggested I get in touch. And that felt right, too. But they asked me not to tell you they’d been in touch with me.’
‘But where have you been, Tony?’ asked Edward. ‘Fay said you’d disappeared.’
‘I’ve been up here. Camping among the trees.’
‘You’ve been here all the time? So that’s your hire car in the layby?’
‘Yes. The Alliance told me not to go home after meeting with Fay. They said I should jettison my smart phone and come up here, camp out, and wait to be picked up. So I abandoned the Micra where I didn’t think it would be found for a while, caught a bus into town, hired a car and some camping equipment and came out here.’
‘Look Tony, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news,’ confessed Fay. ‘About your car. I’m afraid it’s a right-off.’
‘My God – was it that remote-control thing you were talking about?’
‘Oh Fay. Are you okay?’
‘Yes, I’m fine. I managed to get out. They also tried to kill me by fire, but that didn’t work, either.’
‘The fire in the woods – that was them?’
‘Yes, it was arson. They tried to shoot me too, but they failed at that as well.’
‘Wow. That’s some pretty good protection you’ve got there!’
‘I know!’ grinned Fay. Her guardian angel had really been working overtime.
‘Have you still got the evidence?’ Tony asked.
‘Not the original. I delivered it to the Russian Embassy.’
‘Really? Oh well done, Fay!’
‘But haven’t you got another copy?’ asked Fay.
‘Yes, I’ve got one with me.’
‘Because now I’m wondering why the Alliance bothered to involve me at all. If they always intended to pick you up and take you to safety, surely they could pick up the evidence at the same time, couldn’t they?’
‘Well, I assumed it was insurance. You know, in case I didn’t make it.’
‘Yes, of course. That must be it.’
‘Although maybe…’ and as a suspicion started to grow inside her, Fay could feel the heat rising to her face. ‘Look, don’t get me wrong, Tony – I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m just thinking out loud. Isn’t it possible that their main reason for involving me was to divert the Cabal from going after you? To draw their fire?… After all, you’re the one that needs to be kept safe. You’re the one who needs to appear in court and testify about Tombola… So I’m wondering, was I just a decoy?’
‘Which would explain,’ she continued, ‘why they didn’t want you to tell me they’d been in touch with you. I mean, if I’d known they were going to be collecting you and the evidence themselves, I wouldn’t have been so motivated, or so convincing in my role, would I?’
But Tony was spared from having to reply, because at that moment the cloud cover above them brightened, and a flying saucer emerged from it and began to descend silently towards the top of the hill, while the group stared upwards in astonishment and backed away.
‘Fay?’ came Edward’s voice, sounding a bit strangled.
‘Edward,’ replied Fay, not shifting her gaze.
‘There seems to be a flying saucer descending from the sky.’
‘Yes, I know. I’m watching it.’ The craft continued its silent descent.
‘You are allowed to say, “I told you so”.’
‘That’s very good of you, Edward.’
‘Think nothing of it, dear girl.’
‘I told you so.’ The craft decelerated as it approached the top of the hill.
‘Should we be running away, do you think?’
‘Well, I’m not going to, but you can if you like.’
The craft settled softly onto the grass. But when the hatch slid open, instead of the weird-looking alien which the neighbours were half-expecting, an ordinary-looking woman stepped down onto the turf and spoke to them in ordinary English.
(Well, she was wearing a jump suit and the insignia of the Secret Space Program Alliance, but apart from that she was ordinary-looking.)
‘Tony Harris?’ she said, reading from an ordinary, low-tech piece of paper. ‘And Fay Woodruff?’
‘That’s me,’ said Tony.
‘And me,’ said Fay.
‘We’ve been asked to pick you up and take you to a safe location, as part of the witness protection scheme. Pending the Cabal Tribunals. Are you ready to go?’
‘Well, I knew I was going to be collected,’ said Tony, laughing with relief and a touch of hysteria. ‘But I didn’t expect a flying saucer.’
‘We’re taking you to an off-world location. Earth isn’t safe at the moment.’
‘So I’m invited too?’ asked Fay.
‘Yes, you’re invited.’
She looked round at her friends – Tony wide-eyed with excitement, and Edward frowning with concern.
‘Do you have to go?’ he said. ‘I thought the danger was over for you. Isn’t that right?’ he asked the woman.
‘It’s certainly less than it was, and much less than for Dr Harris,’ she replied, and said to Fay, ‘The offer is there, but you don’t have to take it.’
How nice, thought Fay. Everybody wants me, and I seem to have a choice.
She turned her attention to her guides. Is it true that I have a choice? Yes, they agreed, you have a choice. And is it true that my Mission was to be a decoy? she asked them while she was at it. Yes, they said, your Mission was to be a decoy. And she could feel their amusement. You didn’t tell me that, she pointed out. You didn’t ask, they replied. Typical.
So, an unwitting decoy. Well-protected, beautifully taken care of, but a decoy all the same. It really was a bit humiliating.
But never mind. True, her Mission hadn’t turned out to be as important or as glamorous as she’d first imagined. But the main thing was that she’d been of service. And helped to keep Tony safe. And in doing so, helped with bringing the Cabal to justice.
But right now? Well, more than anything else she just wanted to go home and sleep in her own bed, with the spring tinkling outside the window and the owls hooting in what was left of the woods. And go back to making a more spiritual kind of contribution to the transformation of the world. And not press her guides for any more Missions, any time soon.
‘Look, thanks for asking,’ she said to the woman from the Alliance, ‘But I think I’ll stay here, if you don’t mind.’
‘You sure?’ asked Tony.
‘Yes, I’m sure,’ she replied. ‘But you know, I reckon I’ll be seeing you again in the not-too-distant future. So go along and have an adventure. Fly to the Moon or whatever. Stay safe, get some rest, then sock it to the Cabal, okay?’
‘Don’t worry. I will.’ They hugged, Tony and the woman went aboard, and the saucer lifted up through the cloud cover and disappeared.
After a while the seven neighbours stopped staring at the sky, and stared at one other instead.
Edward took a deep breath. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘That seems to be that. Anyone for cocoa?’
© Sue J Davis 2015
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