Ireland, 15th century
She’d busted him for taking bread from the castle kitchen. Caught him red-handed, a loaf in each fist. He should have run, he knew he should have run, but she was so damn beautiful, like a fairy from a poem in her long blue dress, golden hair spilling over her shoulders from under a snowy white coif. He stood, transfixed.
Then she spoke, and the spell was . . . not broken, exactly. But it was that moment in the poem when you knew she’d be a tricky type of fairy from then on.
“You’ve got ten seconds to tell me what you want those for, or I’ll be turning you over to the gatehouse for a whipping,” she said crisply.
“I,” he said, “well. Uh . . . you see, they’re for a demonstration.”
“A demonstration,” she repeated, frankly disbelieving.
“Yes. They’re soft, you see.”
“Of course they are. They’re bread.”
“But that’s the thing. My da—he lives with me, my da—he keeps saying bread shouldn’t be. He does the baking at home, and the bread is hard as rocks. I couldn’t abide it anymore. Thought I’d show him it . . . well, it needn’t be.”
“By stealing our bread.”
“No! Well, yes. But borrowing, mostly.”
“You were planning to bring it back?”
“In kind. You know, when Da gets the bread right. Then I could have brought . . . you know, replacement . . . loaves . . . aw, Hell.” He made an exasperated gesture with the bread.
All through his speech, her eyebrow had been ascending with a painful appearance of incredulity. At its profane conclusion, she smiled tightly, as if she were humouring a small child though her patience was worn thin.
“Very well. Here’s what we’ll do. You take the bread home with you, show your father, and return within the hour.”
“For the—ah—whipping? Because in the interest of Christian honesty, here, I’m not feeling too inclined to come back for—”
“No! Not the whipping. For a lesson. From the cook. On baking bread.”
“Oh!” his expression cleared. “Oh, well, that’s . . . yes, all right. That’s very grand of you, Missus, I must say.”
“That’s Lady Bennett to you,” she corrected.
“Right, right,” he nodded, and was heading out the door with his loaves when she stopped him again.
“And I . . . am . . . thankful?” he hazarded.
She sighed. “Your name.”
“Oh! Jacob Doyle. Jake. Much obliged to you, Lady Bennett.”
“Yes, well,” she said, “we’ll see.”
The baking lessons continued for a month. In that time Jake was promoted to county bailiff, and his father to the position of groundskeeper.
The next month they moved on from bread to cakes and pastries, and Jake was promoted to magistrate. His father became seneschal of the estate.
The third month they tried marzipan moulds, but Malachy Doyle missed that lesson, so somehow the marzipan got rather more on the bakers than it did the mould, and Leslie promoted Jake to fiancé.
They married one month later, and in addition to a fine assortment of meats, they served their guests moulded marzipan, pastries, cakes, and soft bread.
His da, of course, complained about the bread.
“Too soft,” Malachy muttered, poking at the offering. “A man shouldn’t eat a thing so soft. Be glad you’ve got her, Jake,” he added, inclining his head toward the bride. “Bread as soft as this, you need a woman as tough as that. She’ll keep you on the straight and narrow, boy, and no mistake about it.”
“Aye,” agreed Jake. He smiled across the room at his wife. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Ireland, 18th century
A rebellion is a damned inconvenient time to meet anybody, much less the love of your life and future mother of your children. Jake bemoaned this fact to his friend Walter as they were slung into the back of a cart and rattled down the road to be hanged.
“That seems to be missing the mark a little, Jake,” observed Walter. “I mean, isn’t it worse to meet the militia at a time like this?”
“No, Walter, it is not! I mean, anyone can meet the militia, can’t they? That’s nothing special. Happens every day. Even dying—”
“Such as we are about to do?”
“—seems pretty commonplace nowadays. But meeting a lovely girl who will hide you under a haystack in her farmyard—”
“Is that a metaphor, Jake?”
“—and feed you stew while you’re hiding from the English, and make you fall in love with her all in the space of a day and a night . . . well, that’s a rare thing.”
“Of course it’s not a metaphor, you don’t have a poetic bone in your body.”
“Eh?” Jake said absently, still clearly preoccupied with this image of an Irish farm girl.
“Jake, are you paying any attention to this at all? Any of what’s happening? We’ve been captured. We’re going to be tortured, hanged—Jake, are you listening to me?”
“It’s so doomed, Walter. Destined and doomed. Like that play we saw in town that time. About them two who could never be together. What was that play?”
“Tristan and Isolde?”
“No, that’s not the one. These two were fated never to be together. Very cruel. Stars and courses and forbidden love.”
“Romeo and Juliet?”
“Never heard of ‘em. No, this one was a real tragedy, it . . . oh! Yeah. It was ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore.”
“Jake, did you not understand what that play was about?”
“Maybe not. Anyway, it was a lot like that, I think. From what I remember of it. It’s only a shame it’s never going to happen, you know?”
“Because of us dying,” Walter deadpanned.
“Because of us dying,” Jake agreed morosely.
“Well, Jake, I am surely glad to see you’ve kept your sense of perspective,” Walter sighed. He made an awkward flapping gesture, which Jake correctly took to mean Walter would have liked to clap him on the shoulder in a friendly way, if only his hands hadn’t been manacled together in preparation for his incarceration, torture, and eventual hanging.
“Thanks, Walter, it means the world to—”
A sharp crack cut through the rest of his sentence. The cart they were in rattled, rocked, and tilted dangerously over to the side as the man driving it was thrown from his seat.
A second report followed; a second musket ball whined through the air and picked off the man guarding them.
“What was that?” Walter gasped, lurching to his knees, then overbalancing as the mule took another three hesitant steps and the cart rocked underneath them.
When no whip cracked to drive him on, the mule settled happily to grazing on the road side as a small figure in grey and blue unfolded from behind a hedgerow. Jake, spotting it, grinned.
“Hey! Hey, Walter, there she is! That’s her!” And he waved happily with manacled hands. “That’s the love of my life!”
“Jake,” Walter sighed, craning his neck to follow his friend’s gaze, “I been telling you, just cause a girl puts you into a haystack and gives you soup don’t make her the love of your—by Jesus. That her?”
“The one that just shot the men who was going to hang us?”
“The very same.”
“Marry that girl, Jake.”
“Brother, believe me, I intends to.”
It took a bit of finagling and relocating, given that the United Irishmen were not a popular group to have wandering free at that time. Several plans were considered, then rejected for subjecting Jake’s neck to more risk than his bride was willing to countenance.
Eventually they agreed that emigration offered the best chance for success, and so Mr. Doyle and Miss Bennett were married the day before they were to set out across the water for the small French colony of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon. They reasoned that the French were sympathetic to the Irish cause, and so surely they could live comfortably there.
Unfortunately a storm blew in as they were crossing, set them rather badly off course and washed their ship up on the rocks of some strange, windswept island called Newfoundland, which had nothing to do with France.
“Might as well bide a while here,” Jake proposed. “Get the lay of the land, as it were.”
Leslie was in perfect agreement. “You never know,” she added, “we might like it enough to stay.”
“Oh come on now,” Jake laughed, “I wouldn’t go that far.”
Jacob Doyle had just got clear of Detective William Murdoch when he ran into Leslie Bennett.
Quite literally. Rounded the corner on his cycle and smacked into her. Knocked her off her feet.
(again, quite literally. Leslie was not the type to suffer a metaphorical sweeping)
They went down in a tumble of wheels, skirt and muffled curses. Hers and his, if truth were to be known, though after the fact Leslie denied the cursing.
“Sorry!” he leaped to his feet, caught his ankle in the spokes of the cycle and went crashing down on top of her again. “Sorry,” he repeated, but this time the apology was rather more muffled by a mouthful of some soft, claret-coloured fabric.
“Will you get off me?” she cried, and he broke free of her again, scooting back on the pavement until they got a good look at each other.
“Jake Doyle,” she sighed. “Of course it’d be you.”
“Well, thanks,” he said. “I mean, if that’s intended to be a compliment.”
“Did you really think it was?”
“I was hoping it would maybe be less an insult than a kind of friendly observation.”
“There is nothing friendly about my observing you, Jake. Now will you move this contraption so I can get up? You’ll be making me late for my speaking engagement.”
“Oh, are you still working for the fishermen’s fund?” Jake wondered, heaving the cycle to the side and helping Leslie to her feet. “They must appreciate that, having you help raise money and suchlike. Widows and orphans always make for a nice cause.”
“I think they’d appreciate it more if I was able to raise any money for them. I’ve made my rounds of all the churches, but seems that Christian charity is a little thin on the ground, these days.”
“Nobody ever made much money off of Christian charity,” Jake reflected. “Still, that’s a crying shame. I’d like to help if I could.”
“Only way you can help me, Jake, is by finding enough money to keep the fund up and running next year. Otherwise it might have to close.”
“Would you settle for me maybe adopting one of the orphans? That’s got to be a little easier than saving a whole pension fund for ‘em after their fathers don’t come home.”
“Those kids would be better off shipped to the factories than trying to muddle through with you for a father!” Leslie said. Then she seemed to hear the way it sounded, because her tone and expression softened. “I mean, it’s nice you want to help. But please don’t try adopting them, okay?”
And Jake promised not to. Which left only money. And as luck would have it, thanks to Detective Murdoch he had a lead on a treasure map.
Detective Murdoch returned to the mainland, treasure map forever lost, at about the same time Jacob Doyle parked himself on a bench outside the building which housed the one-room headquarters of the Fishermen’s Widow and Orphan Fund.
Leslie found him moping there when a clerical worker, alarmed by the disreputable-looking vagabond, had raised the alarm inside.
“Jake?” She touched him lightly on the shoulder. “What are you doing here?”
“I am self-recriminating,” he said firmly. “Don’t try to stop me.”
“Shouldn’t you be doing that somewhere a little more private?” she asked. Then she saw his face, and sighed. “Sorry. That was supposed to be a joke. I shouldn’t joke when you’re . . . what’s wrong with you, anyway?”
“You mean, in general terms? Or just today?”
“Let’s start with today, and see how long that conversation lasts.”
“Well, I was . . . now don’t laugh, but I was trying to get you some money, like. For the fund.”
“You were? How? Jake Doyle, don’t tell me you went and held up some—”
“No! No, of course not. I . . . I kind of had this lead on a treasure map. Only it’s all gone now, so there’s nothing for it. And I am probably, somehow, the reason for all that, because I get the feeling when things go wrong in your life, somehow I’m usually the reason for it.”
“Well, yes,” Leslie admitted. “You are. But also,” her hand crept gently into his, “you’re the reason that anything ever goes right for me, too.”
He looked over at her, hope and disbelief warring for pre-eminence.
“Jake, you tried to save the fund. Because . . . why? You’re not really overflowing with Christian charity yourself, most days, so what do you care about the fund?”
“Because it’s important to you. You’re working all hours, stomping into churches and trying to put the fear of God in ‘em so these people will have an option, if their dads’ boats go down. You take ‘em soup and stuff . . . I mean, I guess you do. I don’t rightly know what you take to a lady whose husband’s been drowned, but it’s probably soup. And when the kids don’t have anyone to mind ‘em you scare them all witless, and I know that sometime down the road they’ll have to choose between a right thing and a wrong thing, and maybe, because you’re so powerful scary when you’re mad, they’ll remember you and pick the right thing. And that matters to you, so it matters to me, too.”
Leslie leaned her head on his shoulder.
“Jake, that’s about the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
“Yeah?” he said, pleased. Then some demon imp must have seized his tongue because the next words it said were “You want to get married?”
Thankfully an angel must have possessed Leslie at about the same time, because she only said, “yes, all right.”
Jake smiled, pleased.
“How ‘bout Thursday?”
“Jake!” she laughed. “Don’t be daft. We need time.”
“Oh. Right. Next Thursday, then.”
She laughed again, and he smiled. Given the choice, he would gladly listen to her laugh for the rest of his life. And now, it was looking like he’d be able to do just that.
“What do you mean, you want to be a rum-runner? You can’t be a rum-runner, you’re still in school!”
Jake had thought this was stellar logic, but Tinny did not agree.
“It’s summer holiday, Uncle Jake. Nobody’s in school. And I’d be a great rum-runner! I can handle a boat as well as anyone I know. You’ve said so yourself, I’ve got a real way with the tiller.”
“I was lyin’,” Jake said promptly. “Trying to give you a bit of confidence.”
“Well then you’ve only got yourself to blame,” Tinny decided. “I’ve got plenty of confidence, and I want to run a boat down to the States.”
“Since when does a bit of confidence lead to rum running? Who put this idea in your head, anyway? You can’t have come by it on your own. Was it that idiot kid you been hanging around?”
The idiot kid, standing quietly by, cleared his throat and raised a hand.
“Actually, I’m standing right—”
“Because I’ll break a bottle over that kid’s nose, if that’s what it takes to put this idea out of your head.”
The boy quickly lowered his hand. Tinny rolled her eyes.
“Des didn’t have anything to do with it. It was all my idea. Des is . . . actually he’s a bit scared to go along with it. Says he gets seasick.”
“Seasick,” Des clarified, “bein’ my particular word for not wanting to get shot full of bullets.”
“See, now, there’s a logical view to take of the matter,” Jake decided. “Not wanting to get shot full of bullets—and that’s just by the Yankee Coast Guard! God only knows what risk you’d be running when you was making the hooch. Stills blow up all the time, Tinny, how do you not know this?”
“Oh, we didn’t want to make the alcohol,” Tinny said quickly. ”We already have it.”
“You . . . wait, what?”
“We already have it. Buddy of Des got pinched for something—”
“Unrelated crimes,” Des put in. “Which isn’t to say he was guilty of them, of course. Well, I mean, he probably is. But I feel I shouldn’t say so, on account of I’m his buddy, you know?”
“—and it seems he’s left this whole barn full of liquor behind. Just sitting there. Seemed a shame to let it go to waste, you know? So we moved it all to our shed—”
“Moved it to the—”
“I heard you the first time! I just wasn’t sure you heard you. You mean to say you brought a haul of liquor to your Grandpa’s shed, of all places, like it was some litter of kittens you found under a porch? And you know how that turned out.”
“Why?” said Des. “What happened to the kittens?”
“This is different. I’m not five anymore.”
“You’re not much smarter than you were then, though, are you? Come on, Tinny. Show me where you put the hooch. I’ve got to make sure we don’t get pinched with it. Last thing you need to is to be making a court date just before your last year at the high school.”
Tinny made a face, but allowed herself to be prodded out of the house, into the backyard. Des trailed uncertainly along behind them.
“Guys?” he called. “Guys, why won’t you tell me what happened to the kittens?”
“Here,” said Tinny, stomping over to the shed. “I put it all right—hey!”
The woman who provoked this exclamation spun around. She didn’t look a likely candidate for a prowler—not only was her fair hair carefully dressed, her skirt and jacket those of a lady out to lunch and her purse entirely too small for storing valuables, but it was the middle of the day, and she made no move to run.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Only I think you have my liquor in there.”
“Your liquor?” Jake echoed. “Wait, Des, is this the friend of yours who got pinched?”
“No, no,” Des said quickly, “that friend is . . . not nearly as not-ugly as this.”
“Thanks,” said the woman. “I think.” Then she offered Jake her hand.
“I’m Leslie Bennett.”
“Jake Doyle. This is my niece, Tinny, who probably owes you an apology for nicking your hooch, and her . . . uh . . . this is Des.”
“I probably owes you an apology too,” Des admitted. “I mean, I’m not sure what for just yet, but you’ll come to find I owes most people an apology for something or other, and—”
“Des,” said Jake. “I think you were just leaving.”
“But the kittens, Jake! What happened to the kittens?”
“They thrived,” Jake growled. “Got all big and grown up and cat-god-like. Crime family they are, of dangerous proportions. They established their dynasty on the far side of the hill. If I ever wants to get rid of you, by, I'll be taking you over the hill as an offering to Tinny’s bloodthirsty cat-gods. We’ll never hear from you again.”
“Oh,” said Des. “Oh, right. Well, I was just leaving, anyway.”
Once Des had cleared out, Jake turned his full attention to Leslie. “You were saying this was your hooch?”
“Yeah, it’s . . . look, it’s a bit of a delicate position. My uncle has what you might call an import and export business on St-Pierre-Miquelon, and I help him with some of his interests in St. John’s. This is part of a shipment that was meant to go one way, but instead, it went . . . another.”
“Got to be awkward for you,” Jake said cheerfully. Leslie grimaced.
“You have no idea. So, naturally, I’d be very grateful if we could have it back. For a small finder’s fee, of course.”
“Uncle Jake—” Tinny began, but Jake cut her off.
“Don’t you have some homework you should be doing?”
“I told you, it’s summer holidays.”
“Get a head start then,” said Jake, in a tone that brooked no refusal. Tinny scowled from one to the other, but in the end she stomped back to the house, leaving them alone in the backyard.
“Finder’s fee, you says,” Jake smiled.
“Not a large one,” Leslie cautioned. “I don’t have a lot of ready cash. But I’ve got to get this onto a boat before midnight tonight. It’s expected off the New York coast by nightfall tomorrow.”
“You planning on getting it there yourself? I hear them go-through guys are a nasty bunch to tangle with.”
“My family’s not much more fun,” Leslie said. “Given a choice of the two of them, I’ll take my chances with the go-through guys and their guns. Look, do we have a deal here?”
“Sure,” said Jake, “yeah, sure. You bring a truck around here at eight o’clock tonight, and we’ll get you squared away.”
“Thanks,” Leslie breathed. “Look, you really are saving my life, here.”
“Well,” said Jake, “not every day a fellow can say that, I’m sure.”
Leslie showed up at five minutes to eight with a truck and a driver.
Jake showed up ten minutes before her, with a dozen able men of the local constabulary. They swarmed the vehicle and announced the arrest of its occupants. Leslie and the driver were taken without incident.
The shed of booze was crated, loaded onto paddy wagons, and the driver, in the custody of a constable dressed like a rough dockworker, was ordered to lead the police directly to the rest of the liquor.
When the paddy wagon trundled off, Jake and Leslie were left behind with only two policemen. One of them, clearly the senior of the lot, cleared his throat and looked back and forth between the two.
“Thanks Dad,” Jake said. “I think I’ve got it from here.”
“Well,” said the senior Mr. Doyle, tone thick with sarcasm, “I’m sure you’ve never given me any cause to doubt that’s true.” But he stepped back all the same, and gave them a little privacy.
“You double-crossed me,” Leslie said, almost conversationally.
“Well as you can see, my dad’s on the police force,” Jake said apologetically. “That kind of complicates things. I did explain you didn’t seem to be very high up in the organisation, if that’s any help to you. I think if you keep a low profile, Dad won’t be coming after you.”
“It’s not your dad I’m worried about,” Leslie sighed. Jake ran a hand through his hair, clearly feeling the need to apologise further.
“Look, I’m—I’m really sorry. Tinny wanting to run a bit of rum—that was something maybe I could have talked her out of without having to bring Dad into it. And if not, I know he could have handled it nice and quiet. But all this heat? Shed full of the stuff, and you poking around with some kind of big family operation in the background? It needed to be dealt with. I can’t have people like that coming after my niece.”
“They won’t! They’re gonna kill me,” Leslie moaned, pressing her palms to her face. “If I don’t get this lot on a boat tonight, they’re gonna kill me. You don’t know my family.”
“That’s fair,” Jake said. “But come to that, you don’t know mine, either.” He moved in closer, eyes bright with excitement. “Listen, Leslie. I’ve got a plan.”
Three hours later, he and Leslie stood on the dock with Malachy Doyle, watching crates of bottled vinegar and petroleum pull away from the shore, a long fuse burning slowly toward the homemade explosive tucked under the boards.
“She’ll be a beautiful sight when she blows,” Jake said wistfully. “I almost wish I could be there to see it.”
“That’s all right,” Leslie comforted him. “I find the view from here’s not so bad, either.”
He looked down at her in some confusion. “Oh?” Then she smiled up at him, and he coloured a deep scarlet. “Oh! Well. Oh.”
He boldly put his hand out. She took it, just as boldly.
“Well,” he said, “you’ve met my dad. I suppose it’s only fair if I push round and meet yours.”
Three months later, he did exactly that. Dressed in his Sunday best, Jake Doyle presented himself at His Majesty’s penitentiary, that he might introduce himself to Mr. Bennett and request the honour of his daughter’s hand in marriage.
“Go to hell,” advised Mr. Bennett.
Jake, who had a real optimistic streak where Leslie was concerned, chose to take that as a ‘yes.’
Canadian Pacific Railway, 1942
“Is this seat taken?”
Jake looked up from his newspaper. The woman standing in the doorway of his compartment was neatly turned-out in a dark blue suit and hat. Her hair was styled in careful victory rolls, and everything about her looked so carefully put-together, Jake was overcome by an inconvenient desire to take it all apart.
He cleared his throat, adjusted his newspaper, and shook his head.
“No, not at all. Please sit down.”
She arranged herself neatly on the opposite bench. Every action, from the placing of her case to the crossing of her ankles, was careful and precise.
Intrigued, Jake lowered his paper.
“You, uh, you travelling far?”
His new travelling companion smiled. “Is that the sort of question they warn you against answering in wartime?”
“Oh, probably,” said Jake. “But I’ve never been much of one for warnings. Though look, if you’d rather not answer, or even say too much about yourself, that’s fine. We don’t have to share information. Hell, we could even have codenames if you like.”
She looked mildly intrigued. “Codenames? Like what?”
“I don’t know.” He cast about the car for inspiration, and settled on the magazine peeking out of her knitting bag. A fluffy cat scowled ominously out at the world, imposing even in black and white. “You could be Kitty. How’s that?”
“It’s not bad,” she admitted. “It would be easy enough to remember; it could even be a real name. But who would you be?”
“Oh, you know,” Jake grinned, “Bogart.”
She laughed, and he felt absurdly pleased at being the reason for that.
“All right, maybe not Bogart. How about you can just call me Jake.”
“Jake,” she agreed. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise, Kitty,” he agreed. She cringed at the sound of the name and shook her head.
“On second thought, don’t use Kitty. It’s too absurd. Like something in a book. Just call me Leslie.”
“All right, Leslie. Are you travelling far? Or does the embargo on information-sharing still extend to travel plans?”
“I’m travelling far enough,” she said. “Going out west for training.”
“Training? What, like secretarial courses? Army nursing?”
“Something like that. I’m a little nervous, though.” She looked out the window at the manicured farmland rolling past. Dense copses of trees, neat split-stick fencing and tidy red brick farmhouses did not seem to charm her as they should have. “I’ve never been this far from home before.”
“That can be rough,” Jake agreed. “Look, as long as home isn’t really Germany, and you aren’t a spy of some kind, you have my full sympathy.”
Leslie looked back to him long enough to smile and shake her head. “Home definitely isn’t Germany,” she promised. “Actually, by the sound of it, my home isn’t all that far from your own.”
And sure enough, she spoke with the broad vowels and abbreviated blends that Jake had not heard much of in too many years.
“Yeah,” he allowed, “I doubt as though a German spy would know how to fake that accent. Still, that’s part of the fun of travelling right now, don’t you think? The intrigue. I mean, not to say I hopes anybody blows us up, but there’s something a little fun in looking at everybody and just . . . wondering. Any one of us might be—”
The train, jerking to a painful, screeching halt, cut him off mid-sentence. Both looked out the window, but saw no station, only the brick and clapboard houses of a small, southern Ontario town.
“That’s odd,” Leslie muttered.
A few minutes later came the clomp and clatter of heavy boots, and uniformed policemen appeared in the corridor.
“Hey,” said Jake, “Excuse me, uh, constables. What’s going on here?”
The constable squinted at him. “What kind of accent is that?” he demanded, resting his hand on the butt of his revolver.
“Newfoundland,” said Leslie. “Same as mine.”
The man’s gaze swung back and forth between them. “You’re travelling together?”
Jake hesitated. Leslie did not.
“Yes. Why? What’s all this about?”
“Prisoner escape, Ma’am. We house war detainees at a farm not far from here, and one of them broke out this morning. We think he may have boarded the train at the last crossing. Please stay in your compartment until we give the all-clear to move on.”
Then he headed away down the corridor, leaving Jake and Leslie to trade glances.
“Why did you tell him we were travelling together?” Jake wondered.
“He didn’t look like he would have been able to appreciate the subtle nuances of two people with odd accents sharing a train car,” Leslie said dryly. “Any officer of the law who’ll share that much police information with a pair of strangers isn’t what I’d call well-versed in discretion.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” Jake allowed. “Wonder who this—hey!”
This last exclamation was not directed at Leslie, but at the stocky man in an ill-fitting shirt and trousers who burst into their compartment, sending both Jake and Leslie leaping to their feet. The newcomer was not a police constable, but he, too, carried a gun. He aimed it first at Jake, then at Leslie, then at Jake again.
“No noise,” he ordered. “You understand.”
Jake nodded, and angled his body until it was between Leslie and the line of fire. Then he said, in what he hoped were calm and reasonable tones—but really, what did he ever know about calm and reasonable. Maybe they were downright inflammatory—“now let’s all just stay calm about this, okay? No need to be waving the gun around like that.”
“You don’t tell me what to do!” screamed the armed man. “You try to tell me what to do,” he levelled his gun at Jake, “and I’m going to—”
A sharp report sounded, and simultaneously Jake was knocked off his feet. He cannoned backward into Leslie and they crashed to the ground.
For a dazed, disbelieving moment, he sprawled there. Then he patted his front down hastily, said “hey—you all right?” and rolled to the side to see if Leslie was still breathing.
“I’m fine,” she said, “but I’ll be better still if you could get off of me and let me see if I hit him.”
“If you hit—” Jake looked over his shoulder to the man lying on the ground about six feet away, moaning piteously. “Well I’ll be damned.”
He levered off her enough to see she still held a tiny derringer in one hand. “Where did you have that hidden?”
“That’s really not the relevant question, Jake. Let me check him.”
“He’s not moving anywhere just yet,” Jake promised. “But you go ahead. Check if you like.”
She squirmed away from him to approach the prone man, nudging him first with her toe, then her hand, and finally frisking him expertly as he garbled at her. She found nothing.
“Clothes fit him badly,” she reported. “Probably stole them off a line somewhere. It must be him—their man. Unless there’s two . . . but they’ll be able to check on that. They don’t need our help there.”
“Are we not missing the very obvious question here?” Jake wondered. He gestured at the recaptured prisoner and his seeping wound as footsteps sounded along the corridor, policemen pounding toward the source of the gunshot. “Where the hell did you learn how to do that?”
“I’m a good shot,” Leslie said simply. “I always have been. That’s why they recruited me.”
Jake stared at her, comprehension dawning.
“You weren’t talking about secretarial work.”
Leslie smiled just a little, and shook her head. She appeared to weigh the wisdom of answering. It was wartime, after all. But there’s just something about somebody who sounds like home.
“His name is Sir William Stephenson. And he said they need people like me . . .”
Camp X was not an army training camp. It was so much more than that.
Jake joined them on the strength of Leslie’s report of the incident on the train. They specialised in a type of warfare that prized quick thinking as much as marksmanship, and apparently, Leslie’s report of his part in the fracas had been glowing.
It was not an easy life. It was rarely fun. But it was worthwhile, and it was impossible not to feel that, no matter what you did.
“Maybe I really should start going by Bogart,” Jake reflected. It had been a day of marksmanship and homemade explosive devices. They were filthy and malodorous, coming off ten hours of gruelling training, and he was bone weary. Leslie, her hair bound up in a dark rag to prevent it getting in the way while she shot, smiled through her fatigue.
“Codename Bogart. That again? And what, you’d have me go by Kitty?”
“Naw,” said Jake. His exhaustion emboldened him in a way no amount of preparedness could ever do. “I was thinking, if you were okay with it, I’d have you go by Doyle.”
And the way she smiled up at him in the glow of the summer sunset told him she’d been thinking that, too.
Newfoundland, Present Day
They were married.
Jake turned that idea over in his head, trying to make it seem real.
They were actually, finally married.
With Leslie and him, for the longest time it had never been the right time. That was the God’s own truth of it. It had seemed like running up a sandhill for far too long, until the only reason you kept on going wasn’t nerve, or willpower, or anything admirable like that. It was just the sheer desperation of knowing she’d be worth the climb.
And when it happened—when it really all happened for them, the baby on the way and the wedding and now the honeymoon and being about to begin their lives together—he just had a hard time believing it was all really happening for them at last.
“You got the tickets?”
Jake, jarred from his reverie, swivelled to stare at his wife in injured exasperation.
“Come on Leslie, what is that—the tenth time you’ve asked me?”
Leslie, unfazed, jogged down the steps to join him at the curb. “Twelfth, actually. And do you?”
“For the twelfth time, I do! Shame we’re leaving so bloody early, or else you might have time to ask me twelve more.” Jake stood back from the car, eyeballing the trunk space. “That all the bags?”
“Last one.” Leslie tossed a shoulder bag into the trunk and let it land on top of its fellows.
“Hey, hey—thought we agreed, no slinging luggage while you’re pregnant.”
“No, you agreed. I told you that I’m only five months along, everything’s fine, and you’re just being unreasonable.”
“Yeah but you say that ‘unreasonable’ part so much, I’ve kind of learned to tune it out.”
“Well that explains a lot,” said Leslie. “All right, so that’s bags in, mail held, newspaper cancelled and half a carton of milk we gave to the neighbours. We ready?”
“You locked up?”
“Locked up, and made Des promise not to check in on the place while we’re away.”
“Good. Might actually still be standing when we get back.”
“It’s a nice thought.” She smiled up at him, and as was usually the case when Leslie smiled at him, Jake was overcome with the need to kiss her.
There had been a time in the not too distant past that kissing her would have been out of the question. Those had been the times she’d been with somebody else, or the times she’d been with him for a while but then he’d gone and cocked it up (there had been a lot of those times, actually. A lot. Sometimes it seemed like he’d spent lifetimes just wrecking it for them) and a few other times that it just hadn’t been the right time.
But now, given that just last week they’d exchanged vows in front of God, their families and—through no fault of anyone in particular, though if he had to name somebody in particular, maybe it might have been him—a group of Federal cops chasing a reluctant witness through the chapel, if he wanted to kiss her, he was finally allowed to do that.
So he did.
“Mm,” Leslie sighed into the kiss. “Now that was nice. Much better than the ceremony.”
“I’m never going to live that down, am I?”
“It was last week. Give it a month and we’ll see.”
“Come on, Leslie, I’m a PI. We do all sorts of collars for bail jumpers and witnesses who get cold feet. How could I possibly have known out of all those fellows, he’d be the one to come gunning for us?”
“Right before you threw him in the trunk he was cursin’ you up one wall and down t’other, screaming ‘I’ll get you for this if it’s the last thing I do’.”
“That’s my point! How can you take a fellow seriously, when he says stuff like that? That’s movie talk.”
“So you threw him onto a pile of our wedding invitations—invitations you were supposed to mail three weeks before—which gave him a date, time and location when we were guaranteed to be available for picking off.”
“Like I said, if I’d’a known . . .”
“Wolf called you an idiot.”
“Well, that’s just his way of—”
“Jimmy called you an idiot.”
Yeah, that one had stung.
“Look,” he said, locking his hands around her waist, “I’m sorry. Okay? I know I say that to you a lot—I know somehow I also don’t say it to you enough—but I means it. I’m sorry about buddy tearing up our special day. I’m sorry I’m . . . kinda the reason he knew when and where that day would be. But,” as he flicked a curl off her forehead, “I’m not sorry we’re married, and I’m not sorry we’re going on our honeymoon. Can we at least agree on that?”
The way Leslie smiled and kissed him told him that yes, they could at least agree on that.
“All right,” she sighed, when he finally broke the kiss. “Let’s get to the pier. Boat won’t wait.”
“Boat won’t be leavin’ for another five hours, Les.”
“Then how come I feel like we’ll be damn lucky if we gets there in time?”
“Just looking for something to worry about, you are,” Jake accused.
“Maybe,” said Leslie. “But I know you, Jake Doyle. You’d show up late for your own funeral. You need a keeper.”
“Couldn’t agree more,” Jake said cheerfully. “That’s why I have you.”
“Flatterer,” Leslie accused. “And what’s with this ‘have’ me, anyway? I’ve heard of community property, but—”
“Aw, Leslie, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m so—”
“I know, Jake.” She didn’t give him a chance to pull her in for another kiss; she was the one who pulled him in for this one, threading her fingers through his hair, tugging his face down to hers. “How’s about, for the rest of our lives together, you don’t have to say it anymore. From this day forward, you can just . . . kind of assume I know.”
“Or maybe,” he said optimistically, “maybe I can try to quit messing up and having to say it so much in the first place?”
She could have told him not to kid her. Could have said that would never happen, not in a million years: that Jake was a born screw up, and that was okay because she loved him despite that . . . or maybe, sometimes, even a bit because of it. It was the kind of transparently cynical comment she was good at.
But Leslie didn’t feel like saying any of that.
“Sure,” she said. “Anything’s possible.”
And this time, when he kissed her, she could actually believe it was true.