BOOK 3 IN THE GRIPPING SUPERNATURAL SERIES BY THE BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE CHRONICLES OF ST MARY'S
I don't know who I am. I don't know what I am.
The identity of Elizabeth Cage has always been a mystery. Even she doesn't know who, or what, she is. But she's learned to live with it.
Until now, when what should have been a peaceful holiday turns into anything but, and Elizabeth is forced to recognise that she isn't what she seems.
But neither is anyone else. Has her whole life been a lie?
Someone very badly wants to know the truth about Elizabeth Cage. And they'll do anything to find out. But who will live to regret it?
Twisty, dark and incredibly gripping, the Elizabeth Cage novels are perfect for fans of Sarah Painter and Genevieve Cogman.
(P)2021 Headline Publishing Group Ltd
Release date: August 5, 2021
Print pages: 320
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Listen to a sample
My name is Elizabeth Cage. I don’t know who I am. Or even what I am. My adopted parents are both dead but they didn’t know either. No one does – although there are those who would like to find out.
I used to be able to say that I’d never caused anyone any harm in my life but that’s no longer true. My life took a strange turn after my husband, Ted, died, and now there are several people – alive and dead – for whom, because of me, things did not turn out well. Because I have a ‘gift’. Michael Jones calls it a talent. I call it a curse. I can see things. And yes, I can see dead people, but mostly I see people’s colours.
Years ago, when I was a child, I’d never heard the word aura, so in my head I called it a colour. Everyone has one. Usually they’re beautiful – a shimmering outline that constantly changes shade and shape as people react to what’s going on around them. Sometimes there’s a dark or dirty patch – usually around their head or their heart – and that’s never good. And they’re all different. Each colour is unique. Like fingerprints. Some are thick and vigorous and clearly defined; strong, throbbing, rich and deep. Some are pale and insubstantial.
It’s not unknown for some people to have very similar colours to their family and close friends. I recently encountered an entire village where everyone’s colours were all variations of the same blue, turquoise and purple. The colours of a mother and her baby are almost identical for the first weeks and then, as the child develops her personality, her colour develops too.
You might have come across people for whom you feel an instinctive liking – that’s because your colours are similar. Other people might repulse you – you feel an urge to keep them at a distance. You might not know why, but your colour does.
Your colour tells me things about you. Things you might not even know yourself. Perhaps things you’d rather keep secret, but give me a few minutes and I’ll know whether you’re happy or sad. I’ll know if you’re lying. I’ll know if you’re afraid. I’ll know whom you love and whom you hate. You don’t have to say a word but you’re telling me just the same.
And no – I’m not that happy about it, either. It’s a talent that hasn’t done me any favours at all. Think about it for a moment – do you actually want to know what people think of you? What they really think of you?
I’ve done my best to live a normal life. I married Ted and settled down to what I hoped would be peace and happiness. And then, suddenly and very unexpectedly, Ted died and my life changed overnight. I began to crash from one situation to another. I was imprisoned in a government-sponsored mental institution. I’d be there still if Michael Jones hadn’t got me out.
I’ve no idea what will become of me. Not only do I not know who I am or what I am, I don’t know where I’m going, either.
Well, no – that’s not strictly true. I was going to Scotland.
‘Well, this makes a nice change,’ I said as Jones shifted up a gear and we joined the motorway heading north.
‘Us. In a car. Unthreatened. Unpursued. Undead.’
‘I think you might be slightly confused as to the precise meaning of undead, Cage, but, worryingly, I understand your drift.’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been in a car with you when we haven’t been fleeing something horrible. Most recently, three homicidal standing stones and an impossibly peripatetic red armchair.’
‘And let’s not start on the dastardly Dr Sorensen.’
I shivered. ‘No, let’s not.’
‘Cage – why so gloomy? We’re on holiday. Scotland beckons. It’s going to be great. Men in skirts, good fishing, beautiful scenery, fresh air, good fishing, great food, more alcohol than even I can handle – by the way, Jerry says to bring him back a bottle or two of something powerful – and did I mention the good fishing?’
Jerry is a friend of Michael Jones. He’s also a very successful thief. I probably shouldn’t say any more.
‘It’s a fishing holiday,’ I said. ‘It would be hard not to mention the good fishing.’
‘Come on, Cage, cheer up. A well-deserved bit of peace and quiet for both of us. Although I’ll tell you now, if anything odd happens – people rising from the grave, long-haired weirdos with a sword and a puppy, curses, ghosts, funny-looking people – then we’re out of there at top speed. This is a holiday. Got it?’
‘I don’t know why you’re blaming me,’ I said, indignantly.
He turned to grin at me. ‘Because you’re weird, Cage. There’s no getting around it.’
‘Just watch the road,’ I said.
He laughed, put his foot down and we headed north.
‘Are we there yet?’ I said, opening my eyes.
The engine purred, the tyres hummed. I fell asleep again.
‘Are we there yet?’ I said, opening my eyes.
‘No. Wipe your chin.’
I closed my eyes again.
‘Are we there yet?’
‘Yes. For God’s sake – yes. And wipe your chin again.’
We left the high hills and followed the road down into a thickly wooded valley, still lush despite the hot summer. The air was cooler and fresher under the trees. We’d had an amazing summer and it wasn’t over yet, even in Scotland. The leaves were turning red and orange and gold but they were still on the trees.
The road was narrow and steep and Jones drove slowly. I could see dilapidated buildings dotted around among the trees. I opened the window, enjoying the cooler, fresher air as we approached the river. I could hear the sound of rushing water somewhere close by. I could smell leaves and wet earth and water. This place was beautiful.
We emerged from the woods and there, on the riverbank, stood an old, abandoned mill. The leat – the millstream – had long since dried up and dark green ivy clambered over everything.
‘Brace yourself,’ said Jones and I looked ahead. We were approaching an old stone bridge. A very picturesque but very old stone bridge. Very, very old. I hoped it would bear our weight because there were a worrying number of metal ties holding it together. I wondered if it was actually safe for vehicular traffic and mentioned that to Jones.
‘It’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘The hotel’s somewhere on the other side. Keep your eyes open.’
He changed gear and we crept cautiously across. The bridge was barely one car wide. I disobeyed him and closed my eyes – all the better not to see the inevitable catastrophe if something approached from the other direction.
‘It’s probably been here for the best part of five or six hundred years,’ said Jones, amused. ‘I doubt it’s going to collapse just because we’ve turned up. Have you gone to sleep again?’
‘No, of course not.’
‘Only your eyes are closed.’
‘No, they’re not. Well, maybe a little bit.’
And then we were across. The hotel almost sprang out of the landscape at us, nestled among the trees on the banks of the white foaming river.
‘There it is,’ I said, excited. ‘We’re here. We’ve arrived.’
‘Well, of course we have. What did you expect?’
‘Death, catastrophe, blood, fire . . .’
‘That’s what I love about you, Cage. The way you always look on the bright side.’
I wasn’t listening. This was beautiful. A large sign among the trees welcomed us to the Old Bridge Hotel.
‘Fully licensed,’ said Jones, who has different priorities.
I suspected this had once been an old Edwardian hunting lodge. Its roof was thick with chimneys and gables. The front bedrooms would have spectacular views out over the river. I felt happier just by looking at it. There would be walks and scenery and good food. There might even be fish. This was going to be a wonderful holiday.
We pulled into the hotel car park which was carefully camouflaged with trees so as not to spoil anyone’s view. There were only two or three other cars parked there. I wondered if perhaps the other guests were all out taking advantage of the lovely weather and touring the area, but it wasn’t a large hotel anyway. Probably not more than ten or twelve bedrooms. They might not have full occupancy at this, the end of the season.
Jones switched off the engine and for a moment, we just sat. The way you do after a long journey.
He turned to me and grinned, his red-gold colour flaring up around him with excitement. ‘All right?’
‘Yes. I’m so looking forward to this.’
I opened the door and climbed out to see an elderly man marching determinedly across the gravel towards us. He wasn’t very big and most of him was covered in an Edwardian hall-porter coat in dark red that fell past his knees. A row of medal ribbons – to which I guessed he was certainly entitled – ornamented his chest. Golden epaulettes worthy of the generalissimo of the People’s Utopia of Somewhereorother adorned his shoulders. It was a miracle he could stand up under all the weight. His peaked cap rested on top of his very large pale ears and bore the legend Old Bridge Hotel.
Disregarding Jones completely, he stood in front of me and inclined his head in what might have been interpreted as an actual bow.
‘Good afternoon, madam. Welcome to the Old Bridge Hotel.’
‘Thank you,’ I said, closing the car door. ‘It’s very nice to be here. The hotel looks lovely.’
‘It is, madam. A beautiful spot. If I could introduce myself – my name is Clarence. May I assist you with your luggage?’
Jones, having thrown an assessing glance at Clarence’s less than imposing physique, was already pulling the cases from the car himself.
‘Is the hotel very old?’ I asked, more for the sake of conversation than information – and also because I didn’t want to hurt Clarence’s feelings.
‘Built in 1905, I believe, madam. As a private hunting lodge.’
I frowned. ‘The reign of Edward the . . . Seventh?’
‘Did he ever stay here?’
‘Several times. For the fishing and the shooting. We don’t do the shooting any longer but the fishing is as good as ever.’
‘Well, that’s good news,’ said Jones, closing the boot. ‘What can I expect to catch?’
‘At this time of year, sir, trout. Plenty of them around. Practically throw themselves out of the water, they will.’
‘They’ll have to,’ I muttered.
‘I heard that,’ said Jones.
‘You forget I’ve seen you fish.’
‘Most importantly,’ said Jones, turning back to Clarence, ‘and not as stupid a question as you might think – are there any spooky goings-on? Moving furniture? Carelessly concealed bodies?’
I blushed but fortunately Clarence laughed in genuine amusement. ‘None of that, sir.’
‘No headless Highlanders or wailing ladies looking for their lords? No clocks striking thirteen?’
‘Not at all, sir,’ he said, entering into the spirit of the game. ‘No ghostly battles fought in the dead of night. No mysteriously levitating objects hurling themselves across the room. Not even a Black Dog howling at the moon foretelling a death in the family.’
‘Did you hear that, Cage?’ said Jones, wheeling the suitcases across the gravel as Clarence trotted alongside. ‘Nothing for you to get your teeth into here. You might as well wait in the car.’
He and Clarence began to talk fish. I dropped back to give them room, grinning at their backs.
Clarence abandoned us at the front door, which stood open to welcome guests. The porch was full of boots, waterproofs, walking sticks, dog leads, umbrellas, wicker baskets and odd bits of what I assumed were fishing equipment. A polite notice requested muddy boots and wet outerwear not be worn inside the hotel; a drying room was provided.
Jones rummaged in his pockets.
‘Oh no, no, sir,’ said Clarence, backing away. ‘No gratuities expected. Enjoy your stay.’
Spotting another car pulling into the car park, he trotted off, presumably to watch them struggle with their suitcases as well.
I don’t know what made me do it, but I paused for a moment to watch the car manoeuvre itself into a parking space and the passengers alight. They were a young couple, by the looks of them. She looked very frail, emerging from the car and looking uncertainly about her. Definitely not capable of handling her own luggage. He, on the other hand, looked more than able, so I turned back to the hotel.
We pushed our way through the inner doors. ‘It’s like stepping back in time,’ I said, looking around in delight.
‘No, it’s not,’ said Jones, firmly, possibly remembering our encounter with Evelyn Cross when she’d whipped us both back to a moment in WW2. ‘Nothing like.’
We were standing in what had surely been the original hall. Fashionably shabby rugs covered a stone-flagged floor. To our right, a magnificently ornate wooden staircase curled off out of sight. You had to hand it to the Edwardians, they could certainly do a staircase.
To the left of the staircase stood a matching wooden counter – obviously more modern but nicely done. Two rows of pigeonholes faced us from the back wall. An ornate but electric chandelier hung from the high ceiling and the two full-length windows were curtained in a tartan material that contrived to be both traditional and modern at the same time.
A gleaming circular table with a striking arrangement of bronze, orange, cream and yellow chrysanthemums stood in the middle of the room. I couldn’t help thinking that apart from the desk, the telephone and the computer screen, the hall must look very similar to the way it had a hundred years ago.
A slim, grey-haired woman sat behind the desk. Her soft heather colour was almost motionless. Very serene and still. She looked up as we approached.
‘Good afternoon. I am Emily Kirk. My husband and I welcome you to the Old Bridge Hotel.’ She had a lovely, soft, lilting accent that matched her colour.
‘Good afternoon,’ said Jones. ‘We have reservations in the name of Jones and Cage.’
‘That’s right,’ she said, clicking away at the keyboard. ‘If you could just complete and sign these, please . . .’
She passed over two sheets of paper.
‘I’m afraid you’re too late for afternoon tea,’ she said, to Jones’s everlasting regret, ‘but dinner is served from seven onwards so you’ll have plenty of time to unpack and settle in. Have you come very far?’
‘Rushford,’ said Jones, handing her his completed paperwork.
‘Quite a long journey then. Now, I’ve given you Rooms Six and Nine. They’re opposite each other. One looks out over the river and one across to the mountains. I’ll leave it to you to decide who has which.’ She looked up and smiled. ‘Please, no bloodshed.’
‘Does it often come to that?’ enquired Jones.
Her colour swirled towards him, soft and gentle. ‘More often than you might think, Mr Jones. Let’s just say we’ve found it advisable to take down our collection of antique weapons. The lift is behind the stairs.’
‘I can manage the stairs, I think,’ said Jones, hefting the suitcases.
‘I’ll bring the keys,’ I offered.
‘Don’t strain yourself, Cage.’
‘I don’t intend to,’ I said, heading across the hall.
The stairs were what I call luxury stairs. Very wide and shallow and thickly carpeted with lovely old-fashioned brass stair rods. Getting up them was easy, although as Jones pointed out, I was burdened only with a handbag and two keys.
The corridor at the top stretched left and right. We turned right. Portraits hung on the walls. Pale faces peered out of dark canvases, watching us look for our rooms. Their expressions were uniformly gloomy.
‘They probably didn’t catch any fish either,’ I said.
I unlocked Room Six first. This was the room at the front with the view over the river. Jones followed me in. The furniture was dark and old-fashioned and very solid. Everything was polished to a high shine. A green and gold bedspread matched the curtains hanging at the windows.
‘Nice,’ he said, looking around.
‘Hm,’ I said, crossing the corridor and unlocking Room Nine. This one was almost identical except the bathroom was on the other side and the colour scheme here was red and gold. The view from the window was full of rolling heather hills and jagged mountains.
‘Nice again,’ said Jones, dropping the suitcases. ‘Which one do you want?’
‘Your holiday – your choice,’ I said.
I’d bought him this fishing holiday as a Christmas gift and he’d asked me to join him on it. Since then, we’d had what Jones frequently referred to as an incident-heavy year and this was the first opportunity we’d had to get away. Plus, we were avoiding the law after a red armchair had shown us where a woman’s body had been concealed. No, don’t bother reading that again – you got it right the first time.
And as if that wasn’t enough, both of us were also avoiding the attentions of Dr Sorensen after Jerry, Iblis – don’t ask about Iblis – and I had broken Jones out of Sorensen’s clinic. And then the Three Sisters had had a go at us – so all in all, quite a crowded year. And that’s not even mentioning the troll. And it wasn’t over yet. For someone who only ever wanted a quiet life, I did seem to attract trouble wherever I went. To be clear, I don’t actually do anything. Things are done to me. There doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it.
As I said, I’m Elizabeth Cage and I was married to Ted Cage. My lovely Ted. We lived happily and quietly, and I had no idea how much he sheltered and protected me until he died, when all sorts of things began to happen to me. I only escaped with the help of Michael Jones – yes, the same Jones currently complaining about the weight of my suitcase. Before anyone feels sorry for him, he’s the biggest man I have ever met. He could probably lift both cases, me, and half the hotel without even breaking a sweat. He has fair hair just beginning to grey at the temples and works for the government, in which capacity he knows a large number of very dodgy people. And seems quite proud of it. As he’d once said to me, ‘I work for the government, Cage, of course I know some dodgy people. Have you ever actually met an MP?’
He’s irritating but cooks like a dream so one makes up for the other. He’s friendly, outgoing, and for some reason, people like him.
Unlike me. I’m not friendly and I’m definitely not outgoing. I like to keep my distance from people. At school I was the weird one. At work I was the one shoved down into the basement by myself to digitise the council’s records. The job no one else wanted to do. It didn’t bother me. I liked being on my own. Sometimes, for me, people can be a little difficult to handle.
Once, when I was a child, I saw a woman. She looked perfectly normal. Nice, even. Well dressed and smart. But her colour was black and oily and full of violence and instead of swirling gently around her, it stabbed in and out in vicious spikes. I hid from her. She stopped. I knew she was aware of me. I held my breath and after what was, to me, a terrifying few minutes, she went on her way. I ran all the way home to my dad.
It’s important to say there are no good colours or bad colours. Nice people do not necessarily have pretty colours and bad people are not necessarily a sinister and murky black like the woman I saw when I was younger. Philip Sorensen’s colour, for instance, is a kind of bluey-white, like thin, greasy milk on the turn. Jones’s is a golden red, so thick and vigorous that it can light up a room.
Or sometimes a colour is faint and fragile – like Mrs Barton’s, my next-door neighbour, whose mind is usually somewhere else these days. Her robin’s-egg blue colour grows thinner and more brittle by the day. I don’t think it will be very long now.
My own colour? I can’t tell you. I can see everyone’s but my own. I don’t know why. Perhaps I don’t have one, which is worrying because every living thing has a colour. Except, possibly, me.
I was roused by Jones demanding to know if the furniture was communicating with me again and were we going to stand here all day. I said, ‘No, obviously not,’ and to show him I was in complete control of everything, took the key to Room Six and its view of the river.
It was dark outside when we went down to dinner. They’d drawn the curtains to the dining room, which was done out in the same misty purple and grey as the mountains and was welcoming and cosy. Circular tables were scattered around, each with a crisp, white cloth. Light winked off the cutlery and glassware.
We weren’t the first people in. Two of the other tables were already occupied.
‘Please sit wherever you like,’ said the very young waiter, his chest swelling with importance in what I guessed was probably his first job.
Jones selected a corner table. I knew he would. He never sits with his back to a room. Especially one with an open door. He seated himself to face the room. I took the seat opposite, which gave me a very nice view of the wall and curtains, and looked at the menu while he busied himself with the wine list.
‘What do you fancy, Cage?’
‘Tonic water, please,’ I said vaguely, my mind already on whether to have the pâté or the prawns, followed by the pulled pork or the salmon. Or even the venison. Or the steak. Not all problems are a problem.
He sighed. ‘Am I drinking alone?’
‘You usually do.’
‘We’re on holiday, Cage.’
‘A glass of white wine then, please. And the pâté and the salmon.’
‘Are you sure you want fish tonight?’ he said. ‘It’ll be trout tomorrow, don’t forget.’
I put down the menu. ‘You’ll be catching tomorrow’s dinner?’
‘Of course,’ he said, offended. ‘Didn’t you read the brochure?’
‘Only the relevant bits. You know – descriptions of the hotel, the facilities and surrounding area.’
‘We bring home our catch . . .’
‘Not sure who you mean by we. Or even what you mean by catch.’
‘. . . And they cook it for us. There’s a tray with your room number on it in the tackle room by the kitchen and we just leave them there.’
‘It says in the brochure I can expect to catch anything up to six fish a day. Although I have to throw the little ones back. Which reminds me – think of a number under ten.’
I regarded him with some misgivings. ‘Are you going to start doing conjuring tricks?’
‘No – we have to choose a beat number. The place we’ll fish from. Normally they hold a draw to allocate beat numbers but there aren’t too many of us staying at present so we can choose. Which number did you think of?’
‘Three,’ I said, on the grounds that the lower numbers were probably nearer the hotel.
‘Three it is,’ said Jones, cheerfully, filling in a card.
‘Have you ever actually caught a fish?’
‘Catching fish is not the point.’
‘What is the point?’
His colour subsided a little. He didn’t look at me. ‘To sit in peace. To drink in the silent hills. Listen to the murmur of the river. Breathe in the clean air. A chance for the things I’ve seen or done to be picked up and rolled away and buried deep.’
In a way I knew what he was saying. Once, when my world had become too dark to endure, my mind had taken refuge in a box where everything was white and still and safe and no one could find me and I didn’t have to come out until I was ready.
I smiled at him. ‘You go ahead and not catch all the fish you want.’
He grinned and his colour brightened around him. ‘How’s your room?’
‘Very comfortable. Nice bathroom. Great views.’
The waiter arrived to pour our wine.
Jones lifted his glass. ‘To us, Cage.’
I nodded and sipped. ‘Actually, I’m really looking forward to this. Life’s been quite difficult recently and it will make such a pleasant change not to be menaced by trees and trolls . . . and other things.’
‘Don’t think about any of it, Cage. We’ve got five days here. A spot of R & R for both of us. And much needed, I think. No one’s going to drug us or kidnap us . . .’
The young waiter waiting nearby to take our order was trying so hard to maintain a professional indifference but I was certain I could feel the draught from his flapping ears. His face was quite still but his browny-green colour, shot through with gold, was swirling with excitement.
‘Mr Jones is a writer,’ I said. I didn’t see why Jones should get to tell all the lies. ‘He’s trying out a plot.’
‘Ah.’ The waiter nodded wisely and his colour retreated a little and became tinged with disappointment. We might have been his first serial killers.
We placed our orders and settled back.
Jones was toying with his cutlery – straightening it, lining it all up in a row, moving it and then lining it all up again. His colour, now more red than gold, was twisting around him. He had something to say, and for someone who always gave the impression of knowing exactly which words he wanted and the effect he wanted those words to create, he was having some difficulty getting going. I waited.
‘Cage, do you remember, back in that café in Rushby . . . I said I wanted to ask you something?’
‘Yes, I remember.’ And I did. We’d sat in the sun, under the striped awning, watching the fishing boats come in, and he’d said he wanted to ask me something. He never got around to it because, once again, we’d been overtaken by events. ‘Wasn’t it about spending Christmas at my place? That was what you said later.’
‘Yes, but that was because I bottled out.’
I was conscious of my heart beginning a slow thump. It wasn’t like him to bottle out of anything. His colour was deepening by the moment.
‘The thing is, Cage, I want to talk to you about something quite important and I’m not sure what you’ll say.’
I put down my glass. His colour was massing around him. To protect him. He wasn’t sure of my reaction to whatever it was he wanted to talk to me about. His unease made me uneasy. Suddenly, I didn’t think I wanted to know.
‘Look, Jones, you don’t have to . . .’
The waiter arrived with our starter. We sat in silence as he served us. I think he was disappointed we weren’t discussing disembowelling someone or plotting to overthrow the government.
We ate in silence for a while and then Jones said, ‘How’s the pâté?’
‘Good,’ I said, shovelling a slab of it on to my toast.
He frowned. ‘It’s pâté, Cage, not tarmac. Have some finesse.’
I watched his colour settle down around him. He’d bottled it again.
We ate our starters in silence. It wasn’t an awkward silence. He was concentrating on his food. I was concentrating on mine. Which was delicious. Everything was perfect. The setting, the food and that lovely first-day-of-the-holidays feeling. I finished my starter first and looked around while I waited for Jones to finish.
We’d come down to dinner early and the room had filled up while we’d been eating. I could hear people chatting behind me, hear the chink of cutlery on plates. Occasionally, someone would laugh. I was feeling so relaxed it took me a while to notice, but there was something . . . At first, I ignored it, but it was growing . . . A red thread of cruelty curdled the room.
I felt a sharp stab of resentment. This was my holiday. Why couldn’t I just be left in peace? But this wasn’t something I could ignore. Under cover of sipping my wine, I let my mind drift . . . just a little . . . frustration . . . red . . . anger . . .
Jones started to say something. I can’t remember what it was, but before he could get more than three or four words out, I said, ‘What’s happening behind me?’
I sometimes forget he does this sort of thing for a living. Without even looking up from his plate, he said quietly, ‘A couple. Rings – so married. Probably to each other. They look miserable enough. Late twenties. He’s some sort of young executive, I think. Wearing too carefully casual clothes. Not sure about her. Long hair hiding her face. They’re having a row. Very quietly. He’s furious. She’s in tears.’
I sipped my wine again. Only a sip because I don’t like getting drunk. There are things out there that lurk on the edges of our consciousness. Sometimes they stay quietly in the background, but sometimes, in the no man’s land of not quite drunk but not quite sober, they can make their presence felt, so I don’t drink a great deal.
I’d like to have ignored the young couple and their problems. I was on holiday. I’d had a tiring year. I deserved a little peace and quiet. But something was happening in this room. Something that couldn’t – shouldn’t – be ignored. I could feel it building. Something very nasty was in here with us. I risked a look around. The couple were two tables away to my right. They’d been served but neither had even started their meal. He was gulping down his wine, his face flushed. His colour was a deep crimson with scarlet and orange flitting around the edges. She was sitting, head bowed, twisting her napkin in her lap. I could see tears on her cheeks. Her colour was grey, tight, still and watchful.
I turned back again.
Jones continued to eat, saying quietly, ‘Problem?’
I sighed. ‘Actually, I think so, yes.’
‘What do you want to do?’
‘I don’t want to do anything but I might not have a choice.’
‘We,’ he said.
‘We might not have a choice.’
‘It might not come to that,’ I said.
‘You sound doubtful.’
‘I am. What’s happening now??
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