They had a pleasant meal, and Bill enjoyed himself greatly. He chose chicken and bacon pie for himself, but claimed the right to steal a trial forkful of everyone else’s. He thought Rod’s steak was too rare, and Sam’s curry was too hot, but he liked Anna’s lasagne so much that he pinched a bit more. She laughed and flicked his ear.
“Eat your own. Or don’t you like it?”
“I do like it. It’s almost as good as Mummy makes.”
“That good?” Rod grinned at his nephew. “I may have to try a bit.'”
“Mine! And I only got a kiddy portion.”
By the time the dessert menu was on the table, Bill was full.
“Oh drat,” he said, “I really wanted lemon meringue, but I don’t think I’ll be able to eat it.”
“Tell you what.” Anna smiled, “I’m pretty full, too. Why don’t we share a lemon meringue?”
“Oh you are a kind girl. I would like that.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do.”
By the time the grown ups got to coffee and mints, Bill was about on his last legs. Rod got the bill and paid up, grinning at his sleepy nephew.
“We fit for bed, Bill?”
“Let’s go then.” He tucked a note under the cafetière and picked the tired little boy up.
Bonnie slipped out for her ablutions, while Anna made Bill ready for bed. His head had barely hit the pillow before he was deeply asleep.
“Now what do we grown-ups do?” Rod asked.
“We can sit outside and chat if you want” offered Anna, “I’ve got chairs in the garage. And if we’re just outside the door the little man won’t wake up alone.”
“That’s a good idea. If Sam gets the chairs out. I’ll go and get some drinks from the bar. Brandy Sam? What for you Anna?”
“Brandy too. And a cappuccino.”
“What a good notion. Three brandies and three cappuccinos. I’m on it.”
He cantered off leaving a laughing Anna to hand Sam the garage keys. He got out three chairs and a smallish table, before quietly closing the door.
“I don’t think we’ll get Rod to bed as early as last night.”
“No. I’m sure we won’t. But I’m glad to see it. Last night he was wiped. And hurt. Today he’s more like himself.”
“He is that,” Sam concurred as he watched the huge figure striding back across the garden with a tray balanced professionally.
They sat down and Anna took a sip of her brandy.
“Tell me how you two met. The cage fighter and the orthopaedic surgeon seem like an odd couple to me.”
“The first time I saw Sam he was wearing a pair of not too clean drawstring trousers and some flip-flops. It was in Thailand. I’d been offered an obscene amount of money to fight two Cambodian brothers. So much that I couldn’t refuse. Win or lose it would set me up for life. I was just sitting waiting for my fight when an English voice spoke behind me. It warned me to watch the smaller of the two Cambodians around my nuts, if I didn’t want them bitten off. I nodded, and my informant moved off. That piece of information was the last bit of the jigsaw and enabled me to beat the crap out of the Cambodian boys. Carelessly, I managed to dislocate a knuckle, and I was wondering what to do about it when the English voice spoke again. I turned around and saw this scruffy looking bugger, with two Chinese girls on his arms, and a doctor’s bag in his hands. Cut a long story short he fixed it, and his companions came back to my hotel with me. The girls were nurses, who worked for Medecins sans Frontiers. They clued me to the fact that Sam was actually not a local, which I found funny. So I sent him a bottle of single malt to show my appreciation. He reciprocated with a can of Red Stripe. And that’s how we became friends.”
“I see. But why was Sam dressed so scruffily?”
“I was blending. I enjoyed the real Thailand. Though it can be fucking brutal. A big black guy dressed like a local could go anywhere in relative safety. A Caucasian doctor not so much. If it wasn’t whores and beggars, it would be con men and muggers. I was safer…”
Then Anna grinned wryly.
“I’ve never seen Rod fight. I always wanted to, but never been brave enough to go.”
“I could watch him all the time. He’s incredible. It’s not just how big and strong he is, he’s graceful, and unbelievably fast. The Lin twins – the two nurses in the story – had a theory that he could pluck flies out of the air if he wanted. Mind you, they also said he was a prodigious lover and had the best tattoos they had ever seen.”
“Oh yeah. Except your dragon.”
Anna raised her eyebrows. Sam got up and pulled the t-shirt over his head to reveal a broad, hairless chest, decorated with a rampant dragon, which started on his chest ran around his rib age and finished just above his navel.
“That is an excellent dragon. But. On an orthopaedic surgeon?”
Sam grinned and put his shirt back on.
“That’s the whole point isn’t it? Everyone needs a small rebellion. Smaug here is mine. Wanna show me yours?”
“I don’t have one. And what’s Rod’s excuse? He’s got more ink on him than the Sunday Times…”
“I dunno. It has a bit to do with the cage fighting culture. But mostly I just like the way it looks.”
“On girls too?”
“Especially on girls.”
“Doesn’t it hurt?”
“Yes. It does. I nearly gave up at times, but once I started…”
“True. The worst bits are the sleeves, the underside of your arms is mightily sensitive.”
“If I live to be nine hundred I will never understand men. Talking of which will somebody look and make sure the little man is asleep?”
Rod got up and looked into the camper.
“Oh aye,” he grinned. “He’s got his face pillowed on his jumper and his back against Bonnie.”
“Good. Then we need to talk a bit about what is going on in Scotland.”
“We do” Sam agreed. “Are we all up to speed?”
“I’m not sure,” Rod said. “I know that Mairead’s boys are dishing out justice. And what was planned for the wee man. Is there more?”
“A bit,” Anna said quietly. “Chris and Belle worked in the Russian Federation for a lot of years. Chris recognised your man’s name. He’s Armenian. Even persona non grata with Putin’s boys. She texted me while we were eating to say a list of his known associates is on its way from some people she knows in Russia. She will send it to Jim when it arrives.”
“Good,” Rod grunted. “Mayn’t be of much use now, but information is always to be prized.”
“Jim said Geordie gave him the name of the man they are sending the body back to, though he doubts that’s the top of the tree,” Sam remarked. “So maybe the list will help…”
“Yes,” Anna said soberly, “but what it boils down to is there’s nothing we need to do except take care of Bill. So can we change the subject. Even thinking about…”
She stopped and her eyes were haunted.
Sam put a comforting arm around her slim shoulders.
“It didn’t happen,” he said strongly. “Just hold on to the fact that it didn’t happen.”
She winked away a tear.
“You are so right. And thanks.”
Rod looked at the pair of them and a thought entered his head. He pushed it firmly down. Not your business Cracksman, he admonished himself, though they did look good together. Before he had time to work out something anodyne to say, Anna looked over his shoulder and grinned.
“Here come our hostesses.”
Rod screwed around in his seat, to see Chris and an elegant companion coming towards them, laden with many things. He pushed up from his seat, about a second ahead of Sam and they went to help.
“Thanks,” Chris said, “you two are real gents. Most of our customers figure that at least one of us is a bull dyke, so we should be capable of carrying anything unaided.”
“Plus, of course, this area is still one of those economies that runs on the physical prowess of little old ladies in black dresses.”
By this time they were at the door of the camper, and Sam was efficiently setting up chairs while Rod and Chris loaded the table with booze and nibbles.
“Ah. Here comes the coffee” Chris grinned as a black-uniformed waiter carried over a huge tray laden with enormous cups of cappuccino.