A special Chronicles of St Mary's Christmas short story that is sure to entertain. If you love Jasper Fforde or Ben Aaronovitch, you won't be able to resist Jodi Taylor.
It's Christmas at St Mary's and time for the traditional illicit jump. Except this one is perfectly legal. It's Major Guthrie's last jump. To the Battle of Bannockburn, no less.
An important moment in history for two nations — one that warrants everyone's full attention. But Max soon finds herself grappling with a near-lethal game of pooh sticks, another avian incursion and two turbulent teenagers intent on piloting their own illegal jump. And that's all before they even get near 14th-century Scotland.
For this is St Mary's, and nothing is ever simple.
December 25, 2019
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Major Guthrie was leaving us. We all knew he would, sooner or later, but the confirmation was a bit of a blow just the same. He was as recovered as he would ever be. His leg had healed well but not well enough for him to resume his duties as Head of Security. And nothing could replace his lost eye. I believe the Time Police had offered him some kind of cosmetic prosthetic which, typically, he’d declined on the grounds he wasn’t Borg, and instead adopted a black eyepatch which he thought gave him a sinister and menacing air but actually made him look like a battered hero in one of those bloodthirsty online computer games. I’d mentioned this and he’d huffed indignantly at me and ten minutes later I’d caught him checking out himself and his eyepatch in the nearest mirror. We never spoke of that moment.
His leaving filled me with dismay. It wasn’t that Markham was doing a bad job as his replacement – he was bloody good at the job, actually – it’s just that . . . well, Ian Guthrie was Ian Guthrie and we all owed our lives to him many times over.
When he told me that he and Elspeth Grey were taking over the pub in the village, the Falconburg Arms, I was pleased for him because he would be so good at running a pub – and he’d be just down the road should we ever need him. Typically, Peterson and Markham’s thoughts were far more Peterson and Markham-centric. Free drinks for life. Or so they thought.
‘Not a chance,’ said Ian when they broached this pleasant subject. ‘In fact, my business manager –’ he nodded at Elspeth, who looked up from her laptop and scowled at them both in a way that made it clear that, while she might have attended the brewery’s official Customer Care Course, she hadn’t actually believed a word of it in general and certainly not in connection with two customers in particular – ‘my business manager has recommended I levy a St Mary’s surcharge of at least twenty per cent.’
‘What?’ demanded Markham.
‘Why?’ demanded Peterson.
‘Oh, all sorts of excellent reasons. Compensation against lost revenue because no one locally wants to share a bar with you lot. A deposit against potential breakages because you know what you’re like. But mostly because we’re the landlords and what we say goes.’
Peterson and Markham were convinced he was joking. I wasn’t so sure. And Leon was certain he wasn’t.
Anyway, Guthrie and Elspeth had done their training – although as Peterson said, ‘Putting liquid in a glass and handing it to someone – how difficult can that be?’ – and now they were all set to go. There was the official opening night – from which St Mary’s was banned – and it all went very well, apparently, although there was some St Mary’s muttering that we weren’t good enough for Guthrie now he had a pub. Which was definitely not true, he said. We hadn’t been good enough for him before he had a pub.
We were worrying unnecessarily. A week later, as part of our run up to Christmas, we were to have our own official St Mary’s dining-in night. The conservatory in which they served food had been reserved just for us. We responded by turning up in force because, as Markham informed him, they needed the business.
We began with cocktails – which, yes, with hindsight, might have been a mistake. There was a tab running for everyone because none of us could be bothered with money. Indeed, as Ian had cruelly remarked, most of us couldn’t count properly anyway. Everyone was colour-coded. I overheard Peterson charging his drink to green and promptly followed suit. I had a couple of margaritas which went down very well, let me tell you, and then we wandered – or lurched – into the conservatory to eat.
The food was gorgeous – they’d hired a new chef – and Elspeth showed she hadn’t wasted her time at St Mary’s by handing out the dessert menus first because there is nothing more heartbreaking than stuffing yourself on the first two courses and then realising you haven’t left room for your favourite pudding. In fact, after I’d given a talk about the Battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings at a local school recently, one of the teachers had asked me if I had any advice for young people and I’d said yes, always eat dessert first, which I don’t think was what she’d meant at all.
Anyway, menus were carefully scanned and dishes carefully chosen. Everyone was in good spirits. We were all here. Even Kal, who had come down from Thirsk. I hadn’t seen her since the day she pushed me into the lake, an event she didn’t appear to remember at all, telling me I’d been pretty much out of things at the time and I must have imagined it.
It isn’t often most of St Mary’s is present and uninjured, but at that precise moment we were. All that remained of Dottle’s treachery was just a tree stump and a stain on the memory. Peterson had the steam-pump jump under his belt and seemed happier for it. He and Lingoss sat side by side, chatting away to each other and I was pleased for them. Bashford and Sykes sat opposite each other – he with the naked and vulnerable air of a man who has, reluctantly, had to leave his chicken at home and she with the cheerful chirpiness of one whose man has been induced to leave his chicken at home. And I had Leon with me which is always my definition of a perfect evening. And yes, all right, we might have been a little bit noisy, but we had a lot to be noisy about.
I ordered Leon a beer and then another. He commented on my generosity. I smiled benignly and signed the green chit with a flourish.
There were some absentees. Dr Bairstow wasn’t here. He tends not to frequent this sort of event, leaving us to let our hair down without embarrassment. It’s a shame because it was a good evening and he would have enjoyed himself. It occurred to me that he must sometimes be quite lonely and then someone said he’d gone into Rushford with Mrs Partridge. Everyone said, ‘Aww, that’s nice,’ and Peterson whispered to me that he probably just wanted to be as far away as possible when the obligatory midden hit the inevitable ventilation system.
‘Plausibuble deniabilility,’ he said, wagging a wayward forefinger for effect.
I ordered him another drink and winked at Lingoss whose seemingly casual attitude towards Peterson was fooling no one. Today’s hair was a festive red and green.
Mikey and Adrian weren’t here, either. Well, they weren’t old enough to drink for a start. Old enough to have built an illegal pod and gallivanted all over the timeline. . .
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