“We’re locked in!” yelled Fi. “Come and open the door. PLEASE!” We heard the engine stop. “Hooray, they’ve seen us! It’s Julian and Carla. They’re coming!” “Well done,” I said. But I wished we’d been stuck in the shower a while longer. Then there was a bash on the door. “What have you done to my door, then?” laughed Julian. “The handle came off,” called Fi. “Marcus helped it along a bit though.” “Marcus is in there too?” Carla was intrigued. “Um, sort of accidentally,” I explained. “I don’t mind, mate,” said Julian. “Showering together saves on my water bills. I’m all in favour!”
Chapter 8 Breaking the Door Down
I surfaced about four, feeling slightly more human. I decided to take a shower, now that Julian reckoned he had fixed the door. Most of the guys were snoozing at their swims. Hah! Maybe I wasn’t such a fogey after all. I wasn’t sure where Fiona was. I couldn’t see her anywhere. She was a bit of a fitness freak so she’d probably gone for a walk. I grabbed my towel and shower gel and headed up the track to the shower room in the barn.
It was a beautiful afternoon, still and sunny. There was real warmth in the sun, even though it was October. It was proving to be a great week - good fishing, good company, good food – and was I maybe starting to get somewhere with Fi? I allowed myself a happy smile. Yes, I really thought I was.
My mobile rang. It could only be Adam. Damn, just when I was starting to relax and feel happy, he had to bring me back to reality. I glared at the phone then reluctantly answered it.
“Marcus, where the fuck are the figures for September?”
“How nice to hear from you,” I replied sarcastically. “I left them on your desk.”
“Well, I can’t find them.”
“Adam, they were there. On the top of the pile of letters. And anyway, they’re on the computer too. You know what file to look in.” Surely he could have worked that out for himself.
“Actually I didn’t think of that,” admitted Adam. “But while I’ve got you, what do you think we should do about that new rowing boat company? Buy a couple off them and see how they do?”
Oh, for heaven’s sake, we’d talked about his so many times. I’d told him to sort it out himself. So why was he bugging me? Just to be annoying, evidently.
“No, you make the damned decision, Adam,” I said angrily. “I am away on my one week’s holiday, the only time I ever get away from the business. Give me a break.”
I shoved the door to the shower room. So much for Julien fixing it. It was still sticking. I half turned and bashed the door with my hips. There was a bit of a crunch and the door came open and slammed against the inside wall of the shower block.
“Marcus, for God’s sake, I really …” Adam began to whine.
I leant heavily against the door, closed my eyes and leant my head back. I felt old and tired again.
“Adam, you know damn well you normally don’t give a shit about my opinion, so why is it suddenly so important. I’m going for a shower so you’ll just have to deal with this vital issue on your lonesome. Au revoir.” I snapped the phone shut angrily. I was so annoyed I threw my phone back out onto the grass. “Fuck you, Adam,” I shouted after it, adolescently. It didn’t make me feel better though. Adam’s intrusion into my little slice of happiness had really rattled me.
A quiet noise to my right made me turn.
Standing in the doorless shower cubicle, dripping wet and completely naked, with one arm very inadequately clasped across her breasts and her other hand dangling a flannel in front of her groin, was Fi. She was looking extremely surprised and not overly impressed at seeing me.
I stared at her in amazement – and admiration. Then I realised I probably shouldn’t. I quickly averted my gaze to the floor. But it crept slowly back.
“What are you doing in here?” I asked stupidly, to break the awkward silence.
“Well, I was having a nice relaxing shower until the part where you broke the door down,” she told me calmly.
“I didn’t break it down,” I protested. “It was sticking.”
“It was locked,” Fi informed me.
So that’s why it had taken such a shove to open. Wasn’t much of a lock, though, was it? I shrugged apologetically.
“Look, would it kill you to close the door?” Fi was starting to sound annoyed now.
“Oh, sure, sorry.”
I stepped away from the door and gave it a hard push. It crashed shut.
“There we are,” I said brightly.
Fi gazed at me incredulously.
“What?” Then the penny dropped. “Ah, I was meant to be on the other side of the door, wasn’t I?” God, what had I been thinking of?
“Well, that would be the usual arrangement.” retorted Fi.
“I’m sorry … I was a bit distracted by my phone call, and, um, then by, well, you!”
Suddenly Fi grinned.
“Go away and catch fish!” She lobbed her soap towards me.
“Sure thing!” I grabbed the door handle and gave it a good strong pull. It came off in my hand and then there was a thunk as the rest of the mechanism fell onto the ground outside.
“Julian’s DIY isn’t too hot, is it?” I said, turning back to Fi, holding the handle out to show her.
“Are we stuck in here?” gasped Fi.
“Uh-huh, unless I can find something to jemmy the door open with.” I scanned the tiny room. There was just the washing machine, the bait fridge and freezer and the unfinished shower cubicle. “That’s not looking too hopeful.”
I stole another glance at the vision in the shower.
“Could you pass me my towel, please?” demanded Fi, frowning at me. “I feel a tad underdressed.”
I picked the towel up and held it out.
“Ah,” said Fi. She didn’t have a free hand. “Do you mind closing your eyes for a second?” she asked.
“Yes,” I smiled. Fi rolled her eyes. “But I will.”
“Properly now,” warned Fi.
I reluctantly did as I was told. I felt her take the towel. I gave her enough time to wrap it around herself.
“Opening … now!” I announced. Fi’s dignity was restored. Shame.
“So, how do we get out?” she wanted to know. “The window’s not an option.”
It wasn’t. It only had a small opening flap at the top. Even slender Fi couldn’t get out through that. And anyway, there was a deep bank of stinging nettles that side of the barn. Getting out, even if possible, would be extremely painful.
“Have you got your phone?” I asked.
“Nope, I left it at my swim. And we both know where yours is, don’t we?”
“Yeah, well Adam pissed me off!” I defended myself. “A lot.”
“I’m sorry,” she told me. “I wish you two got on.”
“Some hope,” I sighed. “I hoped to get a full week away from him. He only phoned up to be annoying.”
“OK, so we can’t phone. Do we wait for someone to realise we’re missing?” wondered Fi.
“They were all asleep when I left,” I said. “And it’s only about fourish. They won’t be getting hungry for a few more hours. They’ll notice I’ve gone by then all right, when food doesn’t appear as if by magic!”
“Maybe someone else will come up for a shower?”
“Nah, not our group anyway. Derek, Greg and Andy will only have a shower the last night, and Norm washes himself in that icy stream every morning.”
“Oh, well, I hope you know lots of jokes!” said Fi, finishing drying herself. “Now, turn around and have a pointless tinker with the door while I get dressed.”
I turned around, unwillingly it has to be said, but there was no point tinkering, there was nothing I could do with the door. We were stuck until someone came by.
“OK, I’m done,” chirped Fi after a few minutes. “Your turn.”
“Sorry?” What did she mean?
“Well, you might as well have your shower while we’re waiting to be rescued,” she grinned.
“It’s OK, I think I’ll wait,” I demurred.
“Chicken!” teased Fi. “You got to look at me in the shower. So, it would only be fair if …”
“What do you call a secret agent who hides in a bottle of washing up liquid?” I quickly interposed.
It worked. “I don’t know,” said Fi, successfully sidetracked.
“Bubble 07,” I told her. “What do you call …”
“Stop it, you’re just changing the subject. Your turn in the shower.”
“Promise you won’t look?” I appealed to her.
“Like you didn’t look at me?” asked Fi, arching an eyebrow, and crossing her arms.
“Well, you’re impossible not to look at, Fi,” I pointed out in my defence. “You’re gorgeous. I’m, well, I’m me.”
She went red but looked chuffed.
“You’re easy on the eye too, you know,” she said, avoiding my gaze.
That was nice to hear, if not entirely believable.
“Actually …” there was a pause. “Actually, you’re very sexy.” She looked me straight in the eye this time.
Ooh. Hadn’t expected that. My throat went a little dry.
“Yes, Mr Fishing-For-Compliments. You know you’re good looking.” Fi was laughing at me now.
“Paul is,” I said, bashfully. I wasn’t used to getting compliments. “He did a bit of modelling for a clothing catalogue when he was a teenager. He’s a slimmer, blonder version of me. Cheekbones.”
“Well, I’m sure he’s lovely, but I like your version of you,” announced Fi.
I was starting to feel a bit hot and bothered.
“So did you check me out that time at judo?” I suddenly remembered what Jordan had said when Fi had come into the male changing room by mistake.
“You bet,” admitted Fi, grinning.
“And …?” I enquired.
“And … hey, I can hear an engine!” cried Fi.
Bother, trust it to come now.
“Quick, let’s wave something out of the window to get attention.” She grabbed the towel out of my hands. “Come on, give me a piggy back, then I can reach the top window.”
“No, you’ll have to go right up on my shoulders,” I judged.
I squatted down and Fi stepped over my back. It was rather nice, feeling her warmth on the back of my neck. I held one smooth, firm, bare leg in each hand and stood up easily. She was so light!
“Wow, you’re strong!” she gasped. I didn’t let on that she made the job easy.
I basked in the admiration. I carried her over to the window. She flipped the top part open and flapped the towel around.
“We’re locked in!” yelled Fi. “Come and open the door. PLEASE!”
We heard the engine stop.
“Hooray, they’ve seen us! It’s Julian and Carla. They’re coming!”
“Well done,” I said. But I wished we’d been stuck inside a while longer.
I crouched down and Fi climbed off. She ruffled my hair while I was still down.
“What a team!” she grinned.
I looked up at her. “Yeah, we make a good team.” Our eyes held.
Then there was a bash on the door.
“What have you done to my door, then?” laughed Julian.
“The handle came off,” called Fi. “Marcus helped it along a bit though.”
“Marcus is in there too?” Carla was intrigued.
“Um, sort of accidentally,” I explained.
“I don’t mind, mate,” said Julian. “Showering together saves on my water bills. I’m all in favour!”
They were definitely sniggering out there. Fi pulled a face.
“There go our reputations,” she laughed.
“Sorry,” I said.
Fi looked at me. “You’ll have to play me a load of lovely songs tonight to make up for this.”
“No problem.” I was getting off lightly.
“Think we’ve sorted the problem!” called Julian.
“Are your clothes back on?” giggled Carla.
“Well, mine are,” teased Fi.
“Quick, get it open now!” we heard Carla hiss.
Sure enough, the door swung open a few seconds later. Julian and Carla followed swiftly.
“Darn, too late, you’re both decent.” Louise looked disappointed. “Does this phone belong to either of you? You must have dropped it.”
“Thanks, the phone’s mine,” I acknowledged, and took it. ”Now, about me and Fi in the shower…
“… it’s not what it looks like, honestly!” Fi finished for me.
“No, of course it isn’t, love,” grinned Julian knowingly. He inspected the door. “Blimey, did the lock break too? Bloody Chinese crap. Tell the others to give me a couple of hours to get this fixed.”
“Thanks Julian,” I said.
Fi and I wandered slowly back through the sunshine to the lake.
“So, what are your plans?” I asked conversationally, and also to stop the talk going back to me breaking into the shower.
“I’d still like to beat my PB this week,” replied Fi. “I haven’t yet.”
“I meant longer term,” I went on.
Fi looked at me puzzled.
“You know, most people seem to want to start their own multi-national conglomerate these days,” I explained, “or cycle round the planet, or try for world domination, or at least get onto a reality TV show!”
“Nah, not me,” confessed Fi. “I’m not the ambitious type. All I ever wanted to do was get an interesting job I could do well, have time to go fishing, meet a nice guy and have a happy family life. Miss Exciting, eh?”
“Sounds perfect,” I told her. It did. All domestically blissful. “And you’ve got the job and fishing bits sorted, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, I have, haven’t I?” she smiled. “Halfway there! What about you?”
“Pretty similar I guess. I’m running a bit behind on the family side of things, though.” I pulled a face. “You know I’m 37, don’t you Fi?”
“I actually had you down for 33, 34,” she admitted. “You’ve worn well, despite the smoking and drinking!”
“Now, this week isn’t typical,” I defended myself. “I don’t normally have a hangover every morning. Or smoke so much. Thank God!”
At that moment, Norm tore into view. He was running up the track towards us.
“He’s caught something else huge, I bet!” cried Fi.
We began to run too. But as we got closer, we could see Norm wasn’t looking happy at all. Oh God, what had happened?
“Mark!” he panted when we met. “I’ve got to get home. Tala’s in hospital. Soraya just rang me.”
“What?” I was horrified.
“Appendicitis. It came on today, out of nowhere. Soraya called the ambulance, they rushed her to St Mary’s and they’re going to operate as soon as they can get everything ready. Shit, Mark, I should be there. Soraya says she’s coping OK but I know she’s scared stiff. I need to get back.”
Poor Tala. I loved my little goddaughter. She was the sweetest kid.
I thought quickly. “OK Norm, let’s go to the house and borrow Julian’s computer. We’ll see what flights we can get you on today.”
“I’ll come too,” offered Fi. “You might need my French.”
“Brilliant, thanks darling,” said Norm distractedly.
He looked worried sick. He was a true family man. His wife and kids were everything to him. His one indulgence was this holiday with the fishery team each year, and he only ever came because Soraya insisted he did. She wanted him to keep his hobby up and have some bloke time. Talk about bad timing for Tala to get sick while he was away.
Julian was still working on the broken door, so Carla ushered us onto the laptop. Fi sat at the keyboard, taking control of the situation.
“Where’s the nearest airport?” she asked Carla.
“Limoges, about two hours away,” was the reply. “Just Jets and Murphy Air have daily flights to a few places in the UK. Air France always goes via Paris, which is a pain.”
Fi got typing.
“What time is it?” she asked suddenly. “Oh, duh. There it is, on the computer. 15.35. No, we’re too late to get flights from Limoges for today. Damn.”
“Poitiers is next nearest,” said Louise. “Good three and a half hours, though.”
Fi’s fingers flew across the keyboard again.
“Aha! We could get the 21.25 flight with Just Jets. Eighty-six euro?” She looked at Norm.
“Price don’t matter, darling.”
“OK. I have to phone up, it’s too late to make the reservation online.” She jotted down the phone number and reference numbers. I handed her my mobile and Norm gave her his credit card. She took control. After an agonisingly long call in extremely animated French, Fi snapped the phone shut with a flourish.
“All done. We have to pick the ticket up at the desk when we get there. And I got them to waive the late booking surcharge because of the circumstances.” She looked pleased.
“Thanks darling,” said Norm gratefully. He rang Soraya up straight away to tell her the news but couldn’t get through. He left a message with his sister who was about to go to the hospital herself.
“OK, let’s get organised,” I said briskly. “I’ll top up the van’s oil and water. Norm, just take your passport and a few things. I’ll drop your stuff round to you at the weekend.”
“Take our car,” ordered Carla, tossing me the keys. “It’ll be a faster and comfier drive than that ancient van of yours. It’s insured for any driver. You’re OK with left hand drive, aren’t you?”
“I will be by the time we get back,” I joked. “Thanks, that’ll be brilliant. The van’s not in the greatest shape.”
“Good luck,” said Carla to Norm as we bustled out of the farmhouse.
We hopped into the car and drove it down to the lake to save precious time. Norm shot off to get his stuff. I roused a snoozing Andy and told him what we were doing. I grabbed my wallet and a jumper, and got some CDs out of the van. I had to have decent music to drive to. I was pleased and relieved when Fi joined me with her rucksack as well. I hadn’t liked to ask her to come along as it would be a long, tedious drive there and back, and it would mean missing a night’s fishing, but she’d be helpful at the airport and I’d be grateful for her company.
I smiled at her. “Thanks Fi.”
Norm hurtled into sight. Fi got into the back and I started the engine. Norm leapt in and slammed his door shut.
“Passport?” I enquired.
“Check,” he nodded.
“Then we’re good to go.”
Andy, Derek, Rob and Nat had gathered by now. They waved to us as I reversed the Renault round and headed up the bumpy drive.
I soon got used to the left hand drive. It made for much easier driving, obviously. Overtaking wasn’t a problem anymore. And the Renault was a nice car. A couple of the controls eluded me for a while until Fi flicked through the French owner’s manual and told me how to operate them. Norm fidgeted in the front seat. He kept trying to reach Soraya but still couldn’t.
“Why do they make you turn your phone off in hospitals?” he demanded angrily. “I saw something on telly that says they don’t make the machinery go funny. It’s a pain.”
“I know,” soothed Fi. “It’s really frustrating.”
Norm complained and worried all the way there, but Fi was constantly calming and reassuring. We made good time, but it still felt like an age before we pulled into the airport. I swung by the entrance so Fi and Norm could hop out, and then drove around to find somewhere to park. There were no free spaces, but lots of other cars had pulled up onto the grass verge, so I did the same thing. Norm was checked in and about to go through the departures gate when I got inside the terminal building.
“Thanks mate,” he said, shaking my hand.
Fi gave him a hug and kiss, and we both told him to give our love to Tala.
Then, looking suddenly young and scared, he went to get his flight. We watched him till he disappeared out of sight.
“Poor Norm,” sighed Fi. “He’s really upset.”
I nodded. Hopefully everything would turn out OK.
“So, we’d better get back and fish I guess,” I shrugged.
“No. You need a proper break. You’ve been on the go nearly four hours non-stop. And I don’t know about you, but I’m starving! I’ll buy you dinner.”
“Sounds good – but the café’s shut,” I pointed out.
“Not here. Ugh, wouldn’t eat airport food anyway!” She wrinkled up her nose. “We’re right on the edge of town. Why don’t we walk and see if we can find somewhere?”
It sounded like a plan. And I wasn’t in a hurry to get behind the wheel again.