The men returned carrying a couple of bottles of Californian Zinfandel.
“I didn’t know we had this,” Sam remarked, “i guess it’s down to Anna.”
“Is. You only had some generic slop. I’m not a wine snob, but I know what I like.”
Sam lifted his shoulders in defeat.
“Do you know,” he said darkly “she had only been in the house ten minutes when she had me chained to a trolley in Waitrose. I only forgave her because she shops very fast and cooks like an angel.”
“Twit. Are you going to open one of those bottles or stand cuddling it until it has babies?”
Sam grinned and went over to the worktop where a corkscrew and selection of glasses stood ready.
“Oh look,” he said happily “nibbles!”
He poured four glasses of wine and brought them to the table.
“Inside? Or shall we sit out while it’s still warm enough?”
“Out please,” Sandra voted.
“Out it is.”
Sam and Esmond carried two glasses each and the girls brought the nibbles. They settled themselves around the outside table and Bonnie came out to chase a crowd of small, grey moths around the orchard. The conversation was lighthearted and humorous, with the men vying to tell the goriest and most disgusting medical stories.
“It’s a good job,” Anna remarked “that we all have strong stomachs, even if some of us don’t have the faintest idea what you pair are jibbering on about.’
“Oops. Sorry,” Esmond apologised. “For some reason I assumed you would be a healthcare professional too.”
“God no,” Sam said with simple pride. “Anna’s an accountant and a computer geek.”
The others looked impressed.
“You mean you can do numbers? And make computers behave?”
“What sort of a bribe would it take for you to take my laptop in hand?” Esmond declared theatrically “I can do nothing with it.’
“Just bring it over and I’ll have a look. I make no promises, though. If you treat it like Sam treats his it’ll just be broken.”
“I could cope with that. What I can’t cope with is not knowing!”
“Idiot,” Sandra snorted, before continuing. “It’s a bloody good job you don’t treat your patients as cavalierly. Especially when you consider where you are looking.”
Anna looked puzzled.
“He’s a gynaecologist.” Sandra explained. “And his bedside manner is second to none. It’s only electronics he swears at.”
Not long after that, they moved inside to eat Anna’s excellent four-cheese roulade, followed by large portions of Eton Mess. When Sam got up to make coffee, Esmond raised the last of his wine in salute to Anna.
“That was superb. Thank you.”
“It was just supper.”
“That’s the point,” Sandra explained. “We all had the same supper. Nobody made a great production about having something for the weird veggies to eat. Usually, we get pizza or something frozen from the food for saddoes shelf in Aldi.”
“Oh. I see. Didn’t even occur to me to do anything differently. Way I see it you don’t invite folks round if you don’t want them to enjoy themselves. So.”
“Now you see why I’m nuts about her,” Sam remarked from his station by the coffee machine. “What’s your coffee preference?”
“Cappuccino please, love.”
“Me too,” Sandra said greedily.
“Black for me.”
“Americano or espresso?”
They had their coffee and Sandra looked at the clock.
“Is it really half-past eleven? The evening has flown. Aren’t we keeping you up?”
“No,” Sam grinned. “My list doesn’t start until noon. And madam here is a lady of leisure.”
“Nevertheless we should be off home, before Mamma sends out a search party. Can we help to clear up first?”
“No. But thanks. Sam and I only have to load the dishwasher. If you are sure you have to go we’ll walk you to the gate.”
“We really must. But thank you for a truly splendid evening. You must come over to ours soon. And bring Bonnie so Poh can see how a dog is supposed to behave.”
They all walked to the back gate, and Sam unlocked it to let their guests out. Goodnights were said and Esmond produced a businesslike torch from his coat pocket. He and Sandra set off hand in hand, and Sam shut the gate.
“What nice people,” Anna said happily.
“Aren’t they? I really enjoyed the evening. And thanks for making them feel so welcome. I never thought about how people feed veggies, but I guess it is usually a bit grudging. You just produced a superb meal that everyone could enjoy. You are a special lady.”
He saw her teeth as she grinned in the darkness.
“When we’ve loaded the dishwasher I’m sure I’ll think of something you can do for me!”
When he came home the next night Anna greeted him with a big kiss and a wry grin.
“Sandra and Esmond brought his laptop over.”
“Oh. That’s my fault isn’t it. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned computer geek. If people know that about you they’ll be beating a path to our door with their sickly electronics. Sorry.”
“Not a problem with those two, though I have sworn them to secrecy, but it might be good policy not to mention my magic fingers to anyone else.”
Sam looked a bit puzzled.
“It’s like this,” Anna said seriously, “I can do stuff with computers you probably wouldn’t even begin to imagine. Most of it is immoral and almost all of it is illegal. There are a lot of bad guys out there who would like nothing better than to find a hacker of my quality, and they wouldn’t be particularly bothered about the means they used to ensure my cooperation. One of the young guys I met on a training course wasn’t careful who he talked to. They killed his dog when he wouldn’t do what they wanted. I was careful before, but that made me paranoid.”
“Oh my god. Anna. I never thought.”
He pulled her to him in a rough hug. She hugged him back hard.
“My fault. I should have thought to tell you. And Esmond and Sandra just assumed that I had the average accountant’s computer skills. I didn’t disillusion them. I just looked at the heap of dog crap he laughingly calls a laptop.”
“Did you fix it?”
“No. To use a purely technical term, it’s fucked. I got his data off it and sent him off to buy a new one. Then he has to bring it for me to set up. I’ll make it simple for him to use. And difficult to break.”
“Will you do the same for me?”
“Almost. Though you aren’t quite as hamfisted as him!”
Sam roared with laughter.
“Just don’t tell his patients that.”
“I most certainly won’t,” she said severely, “I wouldn’t want somebody who can break solid state electronics messing around with my fanny!”
This time Sam laughed until he actually had tears running down his cheeks.
“It’s a shame those two won’t be at the fecking charity bash, they might have leavened the mix a bit. But Esmond was crafty enough to plead a prior engagement.”
“Yeah. I know. He says he’s grooming the horse they don’t own!”