Awfully Glad came out almost a year ago – where has 2014 gone?
To start the review of my releases of the past year, here’s an exclusive snippet:
A knock on the door and the arrival of the tea eased them past an awkward, potentially mawkish, moment.
“We met. Out there,” Browne said, when the secretary had left, closing the door behind her. “You won’t remember, I suppose.”
Time to get the guard up again. “I thought your face seemed familiar, but I couldn’t pin down a place or a time. Not the same regiment, I think.”
“No. And no reason you should remember, either. You must have seen lots of us.” He tipped his head towards the
photo of Madeleine. “We only saw one of you.”
Guard reinforced. “Some people would say that was just as well.” What next? Ask Browne to be discreet? Or would that be taking the first step down the risky path towards exactly why he was hiding his full war record from his colleagues? No, play it light. “She’s hung up her corset, now.”
“Shame. No, I take that back.” Browne raised his hand in apology. “She was of her time, a great shining ray of light against a dark background. I can understand why she’s not for peacetime, but I hope you’d never feel ashamed of
Too perceptive by half.
“Not ashamed, no. In some ways they were the happiest days of my life. Band of brothers, pals all looking out for each other. But she doesn’t go with the image, does she? People here think she’s my cousin. I haven’t seen fit to put
them straight.” As near the truth as he wanted to go at present.
“Probably wise. People make the most stupid assumptions.” Browne didn’t expand on what those assumptions might be. “Still, I’m grateful to you. And my fellow officers would say the same, if they could. Unfortunately I’ll have to say it for them. Some will never be able to say it to your face.”
“Ah. Many a good man never made it home. I’m never sure whether to think I was lucky or accomplished to have
survived.” Luck, surely. The same luck which hadn’t blessed either Miles or Harry, the boy he’d loved at school
and the man he’d loved at university, now neither of them lying in his bed but both under the turf of France. And one
of them probably in myriad pieces, given that his body had never been recovered. That beautiful, lithe body seen by the
dappled golden light filtering through a magnolia and piercing a college window, back in the days when war seemed to be something which happened to other people.
Sam realized he was being spoken to and had no idea what had been said. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that? I was miles away.”
“No need to apologize. I was just saying that one of the lads I was with when I met you wasn’t so fortunate. Captain Corry made it home, although you’ll know that.”
“He always had the angels’ luck—or the devil’s.” The last number in the combination fell into place and the door to the mystery opened. “Of course, I remember now. Backstage at that god-awful place, near Saint-Quentin, was it? Corry had three of you in tow. One had the most astonishingly ginger hair.”
“That would have been Cole,” Browne said sharply. “Have you seen him since?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
Browne still seemed on his guard. “How extraordinary that you remembered him then.”
“It was that thatch. Never seen anything like it.” He’d say nothing, of course, about the daydreams he’d had concerning two of those officers afterwards, especially as one of the pair was sitting not three yards from him. And
nothing about the note—maybe no chance, now, of finding who sent it. “Cole never came home?”
“No, he was the lucky one.” Browne’s eyes narrowed, as though in pain. “It was the other lad, Hampson, who didn’t make it into the next month. Sniper.” He reached towards his inside pocket, evidently feeling the need of a smoke, then stopped himself. “Sorry. I’m taking up your valuable time. I suppose you’ll send me a bill if I run over my allocated slot.”
“You know us too well.” Sam laughed.