RETURN TO MAIN “A CANDLE FOR KATHERINE” PAGE
From: Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 01:26:05 GMT Subject: A Candle for Katherine (1/2)
CLASSIFICATION: V, A, MSR. RATING: PG-13 for language SPOILERS: None AUTHOR: ARCHIVE: Help yourself DISCLAIMER: Not mine, never will be, wish they were.
This is just a little harmless wish fulfilment.
A CANDLE FOR KATHERINE
With the best will in the world, I aint the sharpest knife in the drawer — but even I can tell there’s something wrong when I turn the corner into Villiers Terrace at 11pm and see yellow light boiling out my front door, a police car sitting in front of the house and hear Mama’s sobs echoing down the street.
That nosy old cow Mrs Carmody is on her front step, trying to peer over the snow-laden privet hedge to see what’s going on. “Joe, where you been?” she wails, delighted to do her bit for the great street drama. “Your mother’s been crying for you for an hour.”
I ignore her and barrel into the house, fear eating at me like acid. I hear scuffling and crashes from upstairs but I follow the sound of Mama’s voice into the front parlour. She is sitting on the best sofa, looking tiny and broken like she did after Papa died. My niece’s arm is draped across her heaving shoulders.
“Joseph, what have you done?” Natalie asks, looking furious with me.
But that’s just it, see? I’ve been in trouble with the law before. I’ve got a bit of a temper, I’m a big man and I used to drink a lot. I went a bit wild when I had to leave the navy and I got into a fight with some geezer who hurt a girl I knew. Well, long story short – I didn’t know my own strength and I hurt him right back. Got banged up for a three-stretch for GBH, but I swear to God he was asking for it.
Only since I got out I been straight as a die, not even a parking ticket. For the first time in years, I’ve done nothing wrong. Even so, I have a horrible feeling I know who this is about.
I touch Mama’s cheek and tell her not to worry, I’ll sort this out, just as a hefty man walks into the room. He is fat but smartly dressed, and looks as if he’d be pretty handy in a fight. Before he even opens his mouth I know he’s Old Bill. Sure enough, two little uniformed piggies come trotting in after him. He shoots them a look and the youngest one squeals: “All searched but no result, sir.”
“I’m Detective Sergeant John Chisholm,” the tub of lard says to me. “Are you Joseph Lipinski?”
“No I’m Daffy fucking Duck. Of course I am, this is my house aint it?” The swearing sets off fresh sobs from Mama and I curse myself for getting mouthy. “What do you want?”
“What can you tell me about Dana Scully, Mr Lipinski?” Chisholm asks.
“Nothing, since I don’t know who that is.”
“Your niece has already told us that you do.” I give Natalie the death stare. She’s almost 18 now, she should know not to admit anything to polizei.
“You do know that aiding an escaped felon is a serious matter for someone with your record?” He’s bluffing but Mama stifles a wail and my anger boils over.
“You’re upsetting my mother,” I shout, not caring if Mrs Carmody gets an earful to gossip about. “I’ve told you, I know fuck all, I never helped no one.”
“Perhaps this will help.”
He holds up a photograph of her and suddenly it all makes sense. I don’t know her by that name and she looks younger and happier in the picture but it’s definitely her. I try to keep my face straight but my brain never was quicker than my muscles.
Fat boy’s on a roll now. “Ah, I see it does, Mr Lipinski. Perhaps you’d like to tell me what you know…”
Perhaps I’d like to tell him what I know, he says. Jesus Christ on a bike.
Tell him how I met her? Tell him what it feels like to fall for someone you hardly know? Someone you can’t have? Someone you know you’re never going to see again… unless you tell some gutbucket of a copper what she told you?
– o O o –
The day I first noticed her was January 25, just another dull day like the thousand others before it.
“For the fiftieth time, Natalie, switch that shit off,” I roared as she turned the radio to Kiss 100 again. I hate dance music, especially that drum `n’ bass she listens to; sounds like two drunks pissing on a dustbin lid. She scowled at me — we have this battle all the time — and I switched over to the shipping forecast, like I do every night.
“Malin… Hebrides… Bailey… Viking… North Utsire… South Utsire…”
Sea areas and gale warnings… they are my litany and my prayer and my poetry. Times like this I miss the navy so much I can almost taste sea salt and engine oil on the air. Only that’s not my life any more so I go back to clumsily chopping tomatoes in time for the dinner rush.
Rush. That’s a laugh. I promised I’d keep the café running when Papa had his first heart attack four years ago — it was the least I could do after all the trouble I’d caused — but the only place it’s running is downhill.
The rent is killing us and as the area slowly shifts upmarket, fewer and fewer people seem interested in good, cheap food. Once our entire family worked here. Now my brother has a real job, Mama won’t set foot in the place since Papa died, and I am waiter, cook and bottlewasher 12 hours a day, six days a week.
So… Joe Lipinski, 37, living at the arsehole end of the twentieth century, no wife, no kids, lives with his mother and runs a caff near Victoria that’s going down the pan.
What a catch.
The bell on the door rang. “Oh God, she’s back,” Natalie said with that bored to the bones weariness only teenagers can pull off. “Endless coffee and a bowl of Napolitano, I bet you, and she never tips.”
Well a customer like that wasn’t going to make our fortunes but I peered out through the serving hatch anyway. No one else was in but Kipper, who always eats here when he finishes his shift down the station.
It was dark outside and the wind-driven sleet was beating the windows as she walked in, small and soaked in a battered dark brown leather jacket that was about three sizes too big for her.
Her short, dark hair was plastered to her head and she looked so tired and cold that I wanted to sit her by the radiator and pour hot sweet tea down her neck. Instead she sat shivering under the buzzing pink neon sign that reads Joe’s Place and polished a hole in the condensation with her fist so she could see out towards the station.
Something about her got to me. Can’t explain it. I went out to the back, pulled out a freshly laundered kitchen towel from the cupboard, and took it through. Kipper and Natalie, who were trading their usual insults in the corner, gave me a “get him” look.
“Here,” I said gruffly, embarrassed I suppose. “You look wet.”
Well done Joe. State the bleeding obvious, why don’t you?
But she looked up at me with surprised, wide eyes and murmured her thanks; rubbing her hair with the thin towelling. I felt my ears go their usual shade of scarlet, gave her a quick smile and then retreated to the kitchen.
Natalie wasn’t that far behind me. She slapped the order book down on the counter and poured out a mug of coffee, all the while giving me that cat-that-ate-the-frigging-canary grin. “Got much of a crush, Joe?’ If she weren’t family I’d sack her, swear to God.
“Just trying to be nice,” I replied. She smirked again and pinned up the order. Sure enough it was for a bowl of Napolitano and a coffee.
– o O o –
I usually leave it to Natalie to take the money; whatever her faults, she’s better at maths than me. Only this time, when the woman comes to pay, it’s almost 10pm, and it’s me sitting by the till. We were empty again — no change there — and she brought her bowl back to the serving hatch and laid the folded towel next to it. “Thanks,” she said.
Half the pasta was congealing in the bottom of the bowl. I felt oddly disappointed. “You didn’t like it?”
She shook her head. “No, it was good. I just wasn’t hungry today.” Nice low voice and an odd accent. American, maybe, but clipped like she was trying to hide it. She was one of those women who don’t look particularly spectacular when you first see them. You know you think, yeah, nice figure, pretty fit, wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating crisps, then your mind moves on.
“I’ll have to try and impress you more tomorrow then,” I said with as much of a smile as I dared.
Then suddenly she smiled back and I felt the breath whoosh out of me. She had gorgeous eyes, blue-green like coastal waters on a sunny day, and when she smiled… I don’t know, it sort of altered the way I saw her…
…anyway, stop dribbling Joe, you’re a bleeding embarrassment.
So I told her the damage — and she counted out the cash slowly from a pile of coins she had drawn out of the pocket of her jeans. Then it struck me. She had ordered the cheapest thing on the menu. And I looked at her, taking in her scuffed boots, the battered jacket, the shrapnel in her palm and most of all, how very thin and tired she looked and I realised that she’d not got much money.
She softly bade me goodnight and I sat for a good minute staring stupidly at the pile of coppers and silver in my hand.
– o O o –
She came in every day the next week and a half, always at the same time, always sat at the same table under the sign, staring out at the station plaza as the rush hour traffic poured past in a smear of double-decker red and taxi black. Ate the Napolitano and then wandered out again. We even talked four or five times, about the weather, the traffic, nothing that mattered.
I found myself watching her whenever she was in, wondering what she was thinking and why she kept looking out towards the toytown clocktower by the station plaza. Little Ben was a gift from the French government and it’s been a meeting place for decades. Who was she waiting to meet?
And why did she look more and more beaten down every day that went by?
I told Natalie to keep her coffee mug filled up — and not to bloody argue about it — if the woman was going to stay in here for three hours she might as well have something to drink. Gave her some bread and butter with the meals too, told her it was a special offer that month.
We get fresh bread every morning and we always throw undrunk filter coffee out at the end of the evening anyway.
– o O o –
Sundays we’re shut. It used to be because Papa insisted we rest on God’s day, now it’s just because I need the rest.
I still head into the city every now and then to go to mass at Westminster Cathedral. I know my mind isn’t supposed to be on worldly things, and a house of God is a house of God whether it’s made of mortar or marble, but being under that great vaulted ceiling helps me feel as though there is a larger power at work somewhere.
It was a foul night again — our weather has gone mad this year, it’s so snowy and cold. The bookies lost a fortune because we had a white Christmas. The Thames even froze over for the first time in decades.
I tumbled blinking out of the tube station entrance into a fierce northerly that was making the shop signs sway and whipping a mixture of snowflakes and litter through the bus station. No one ever tells you that when you go bald on top, you feel the cold more, so I stopped for a second to pull my jacket hood up, and that’s when I saw her.
She was sitting on one of the benches looking as if she was about to pass out. Nearby, even old Harry was shivering on his usual bench as he swigged from his cider bottle — and his blood is nearly 100% proof. Hardly thinking about what I was doing I walked up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder.
In a millisecond, her left hand was around my fingers, twisting them backwards until it felt like she was wrenching them off. A moment later something very bony and hard — her elbow at a guess — slammed back into my stomach and I doubled over, falling to my knees in the snow, which pulled my arm into an even more contorted position. I looked up and she was standing on the bench seat, one foot on the upright like she was about to spring, her right hand poised at shoulder height, ready to smack me into the middle of next week.
“It’s me,” I hissed — stupid, since she didn’t know me from Adam, not really. I tried to get to my feet but collapsed again. I couldn’t catch my breath.
Instantly she dropped my tortured right arm and her hands flew to her mouth. “Oh God I’m sorry. Are you okay? No, of course you’re not. Shit.” She reached out a hand to help me up.
I sucked in a painful lungful of air and waved my uninjured arm, in an attempt to signal that it was okay.
And of course, on the next bench Harry was pissing himself with laughter at seeing a 6ft 4in ex-Royal Navy hard case getting lamped by woman who looked like a stiff breeze might blow her away. “Met your match there, Joe,” he yelled, showing off his three remaining teeth.
I gave him the single-fingered salute and hauled myself to my feet. “Aint you got a homeless shelter to get to, Harry?” I wheezed, bending at the waist to get my breath back. “I’d shut your bloody face, if you want me to feed you tomorrow.” He carried on cackling.
“I”m so sorry I overreacted,” she repeated, “you startled me.”
“Never. And there was me thinking that was your usual greeting,” I said but I wasn’t angry, not really. I should know better than to sneak up on a woman like that. I sat heavily on the bench, massaging my mangled hand and she moved next to me.
“Do you want me to look at it? I’m a… I have some medical training,” she finished, her voice trailing away.
I looked up at her, surprised, and nodded. She brought the hand close to her face so she could look at it. Then, expertly, her fingers ran along the bones in the back of my hand, and she flexed my fingers so gently.
‘Some medical training’ my arse; she knew what she was doing. And that little manoeuvre on the bench — I learned something similar in basic training years ago. Questions hopped round in my head, breeding like bunnies.
“No bones broken,” she said finally, adding carefully: “Do you want me to look at your stomach?”
“We aint even been introduced,” I said in mock horror and she smiled a little. “Nah, I had worse beatings when I was…” I halted. Introducing prison into the conversation is not the best way to impress a girl. “It’s fine. Where did you learn to fight?”
She didn’t reply.
“Look, this is brass monkey weather,” I said. “Why don’t I open up the caff, get us both a brew? I’m Joe, by the way. Joe Lipinski. Don’t be offended if I don’t shake your hand, I know how strong your grip is.”
“My name is… Katherine,” she said after a pause. “Katherine.”
– o O o –
The heating warmed the place up in less than 10 minutes, which was just as well since she was shivering uncontrollably.
“How long you been out there?” I asked.
“Three, four hours.”
“What are you doing it for? I see you every evening; in here, out by the station. Are you begging?”
She looked offended and actually pushed her chair back as if to walk out but I held a hand up in a gesture of surrender. “Sorry, but you don’t look like a pro or a pusher and no one hangs around out there for fun.”.
She shook her head, her teeth still chattering as I awkwardly poured out the coffee with my left hand. “No,” she said. “No they don’t.”
“So you’re waiting for someone. Let me guess, it’s a bloke.” She looked up at me, her face blank, her eyes warning me not to push my luck. “Well if he’s stood you up, he’s a bloody fool.”
She let out a little snort of laughter, which I took as an acknowledgment that I’d guessed right. “Thank you,” she said.
“Not at all. I’m going to make myself a bacon butty; want one?”
I waggled my eyebrows, which is weird because I never flirt, and said in a bad French accent: “Finest breakfast meat placed between two slices of bread avec…” I waved a ketchup bottle under her nose, “le sauce rouge.”
“I can’t pay.”
“Did I mention money?”
“Then thank you,” she replied and the corners of her mouth twitched. “Garcon.”
I switched on the cooker and started frying, then turned on the radio in time for the shipping forecast. The BBC announcer’s sober tones made it sound even more like a poem than usual:
“Finisterre: north or north-east, four or five; thundery showers, moderate or good… Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey: south-westerly, six to gale eight, decreasing four or five, moderate with fog patches…”
I closed my eyes and imagined slate grey waves on a choppy sea.
Her voice broke into my daydream. “What’s that?” she asked gesturing at the radio.
“It’s the weather forecast for shipping around the coast. Storm warnings and all that. I was in the navy for ten of the best years of my life and it reminds me.”
For the first time she smiled. “My father and both my brothers were in the navy.”
“US navy I imagine.”
Her eyes glinted. “Very good, Sherlock.”
“Your secrets are safe with me. It’s a code of honour. Café owners, barmen and priests. We all have to keep schtum.”
“I’ve never heard of that one before.”
“What, you’ve never heard about priests? That’s a shocking lack of education, that is.”
At last I got a laugh as I piled the bacon between the bread, and clamped one big hand on top to squeeze out the juices. “Scuse fingers,” I said, handing it over. She wolfed it down like she hadn’t eaten anything all day. She probably hadn’t.
– o O o –
Later I stood at the kitchen door, watching her as an impulse hardened into a plan in my brain. We had talked for a while and then I had gone out back to clean up.
When I finished she was sitting in the chair by the neon sign, her arms folded across the checked table cloth, her right cheek laid against her forearm. She faced the hole she’d polished in the condensation on the window; out towards the empty station plaza.
Only she was fast asleep.
I walked up the back stairs to the floor above the café. The main bedroom was converted into a storeroom years ago but back when I was drinking a lot, I used to use the box room to crash out after a night in the pub. That way Mama wouldn’t get all upset over the state I was in and I wouldn’t be late for work.
I moved the cartons of serviettes and drinking straws onto the small chest of drawers and rolled back the sheets on the narrow single bed. They were clean on, but a good three or four months ago now. There was still a faint smell of washing powder though.
I wandered back downstairs. Sleep had smoothed out the lines of worry on her face. Charcoal circles still surrounded her eyes but she was younger than I had thought.
I sat opposite and looked at her, noticing this and that.
She had good skin, a dusting of freckles on the bridge of her nose. I noticed that her eyebrows and eyelashes were auburn and that made me look at the crown of her head. Sure enough the roots were a dark auburn, the rest of the hair a dull brown. Why would anyone with hair that colour dye it?
I noticed that she was very beautiful in sleep.
She had a small white scar just on the nape of her neck and before I realised what I was doing I was reaching down to touch it. Her eyes sprang open, wickedly blue and angry until she recognised me.
I stepped back. “I’m sorry, you were well out of it.”
She shook her head wearily and yawned. “I should be going.”
“Then I’ll walk you home.”
“Thank you but you don’t have to, I can look after myself.”
“Bollocks. Least I can do after you nearly broke my arm,” I said with a grin.
“It’s really not necessary.”
And that was my cue. “Because you’re sleeping in that station, aint you?”
She looked very pissed off. “Thank you and goodbye,” she said curtly, walking towards the door.
“Let me guess,” I called after her. “You got your stuff in a left luggage locker and you crash out on one of the benches near the chemists. How much longer do you think you can pretend you’re waiting for the last Eurostar to Paris before the station staff start recognising you and chucking you out with the rest of the dossers?”
Her hand clenched and unclenched around the door handle but she stayed silent and so I went on: “Look I know you aint got much money and this is a terrible city to be broke in. You’re knackered and if you go out in this you’ll freeze to death. We got a small room upstairs…”
“No. Absolutely not.” Her eyes were flint hard and I could see her muscles tense.
“Let me finish. We got a box room upstairs, no one sleeps there any more. Why don’t you take it tonight just until this storm is over. You’ve proved you need the sleep.”
“What about you?” The unspoken question was clear and I was almost offended. As if I’d take advantage like that…
“What about me? I’m going home to my nice warm bed in Dulwich. And I’ll never sleep if I think you’re stuck out in this weather. You wouldn’t want to do that to me would you?”
I saw her eyelids droop as her brain contemplated the possibility of a bed. The pause seemed endless.
“Okay,” she whispered, but like it was a surrender. “Just one night. Thank you.”
She stayed three weeks.
– o O o –
– o O o –
Often I made up excuses to stay late at the café, told Mama I was doing the books. I’d send Natalie home early, spread the accounts ledgers across the checked tablecloths, leave the pot of coffee steaming on the hot plate, and hope I might hear her footfalls on the stairs.
I just loved talking to her. Couldn’t say why. I’m not the world’s greatest conversationalist — don’t really get the practice.
Mostly we talked about ships and the sea. She’d talk about her father, who had been one of those strict officer types — a captain, no less — and I’d tell her the less obscene anecdotes about my time in the navy.
I also told her all the silly stories Papa told me about his time as cook on a cargo ship sailing from Gdansk via London to New York; and about how he used to bring me back baseball caps and the Hershey Bars that made me a playground millionaire.
Once I even told her about the war, I don’t know why. I was only a teenager when I went to the Falklands, but I remember when the missile hit the HMS Sheffield as if it was a minute ago. I told her about jumping for the life rafts as we were being strafed by the Argie planes. About the heat melting our clothes and the foul smell that we knew was burning flesh. Terrible things that I’ve never told anyone. But I was more alive then, when I was serving with those lads, than I ever have been since.
She listened in silence and she seemed to understand it all. And I mean really understood, which made me wonder… Katherine, just who the bloody hell are you?
I never found out too much more about her than I had learned that Sunday night in the café. She was too cagey for that. She’d admitted she was waiting for a guy to turn up.
All the time we talked, no matter what we were speaking about, his name would slip in — Mulder — usually accompanied by a little smile and the beginning of an account of some wild tale, then she’d stop herself.
“You don’t have to stop saying his name to me,” I said.
She gave me a look that suggested I had gone too far. I didn’t give a toss.
“If you want to talk about him, do. I aint going to say anything to anyone and I aint going to ask you questions if it makes you uncomfortable.”
She wrapped her fingers tightly around the coffee mug and nodded.
“Well except one. Surely Mulder’s not his first name. Why do you call him that?”
“Always have,” she said and her smile was as dazzling as it was brief.
– o O o –
“Sometimes, he’s like a maddening boy,” she told me once. “He gets these ridiculous ideas and you can’t hold him back. You might as well tell the tide to stop coming in.”
“I take it you’re Canute in this scenario,” I said, sliding the huge lasagne dish into the oven.
She laughed and her tea sloshed up the side of the cup. “Exactly. Only a lot of the time he turns out to be right.”
“That must be bleeding annoying.”
“You have no idea,” she replied darkly, then went on: “I never told him this, but most of the time I… I love it when he goes off on one of his tangents. He’s nuts but he can really spin a tale.”
She bit her lip and looked up into the kitchen’s roof light, a smile curving her mouth as she remembered.
“How long have you been a couple?”
She looked across at me, surprised at the directness of the question, I suppose. “Not long. We were just friends for a long time. Well, not just friends…” She paused. “Oh, I don’t know.”
“How long were you “not just friends” then?”
“Seven years. Give or take a few months.”
I nodded. “Long time. And when was he supposed to meet you?”
“January 23 or 24. 7-8pm. At the clock.” Her tone was flat again.
“You don’t think he might have…?” I stopped. Might have what? Stood her up? Decided against whatever thing they had going and stayed at home? Spun her the biggest tale of all?
“No, he promised,” she said with force. “Something’s gone wrong but he’ll be here. It just might take him a while.”
Then she tipped the dregs of her tea down the sink, gave me a tight little smile and left. The door slammed behind her like a slap.
– o O o –
Once or twice, I thought I heard her crying. I tiptoed to the top of the stairs and rapped on the door, thinking maybe I could comfort her.
Perhaps I hoped she’d open the door and it might lead to something else. I don’t know. I aint exactly proud of it.
“You all right, love?” I asked softly. “Anything I can do?”
She always said she was okay. I never felt I had the right to contradict her.
I couldn’t imagine what it was like, sitting there day after day, waiting for him to arrive at that silly clock at 7pm and dying a little with every hour that he didn’t appear.
And she never said a thing, never broke down; nothing.
I hoped that when this Mulder did finally did turn up, he had a good excuse ready or I was going to kick his bloody arse for him.
– o O o –
The day before it all ended, we were chatting about some crap or other as I stirred the pot of pasta, when she suddenly asked: “Why?”
“Why are you helping me?” I thought about it for a second but I couldn’t say why myself. Natalie thought I was mad but it just seemed like the right thing to do.
“Why not?” She raised an eyebrow and I smiled. “I’m a Catholic, it’s good for my immortal soul — karma and all that.”
“I think that may be more Buddhism than catechism,” she replied dryly.
“Whatever works; I aint particular.”
A beat of silence.
“I usually find it difficult to trust people,” she said quietly. “There are so few whose kindness comes without debt. I always look for ulterior motives. So just in case I haven’t said it already, thank you.”
“A pleasure. Least I could do,” I said, meaning it. The blush crept across my cheeks again at the thought of ulterior motives.
– o O o –
I should have known it wouldn’t go on forever.
That night she was sitting by the pink neon ‘Joe’s Place’ sign, looking at the accounts. I’d admitted the night before that I had trouble with them and she’d said she was all right with numbers and she’d have a look. Said it was the least she could do in a tone that let me know she was mocking my favourite phrase. It was good to see her smile.
I left her with a plate of pasta primavera and the ledgers as I listened to the 6.30 comedy show on Radio 4.
We weren’t busy — what a surprise — only Kipper was in the café. It was Natalie’s night off; she had her mock A-levels in a week and her father was threatening to ground her unless she managed to pass this time. I prepared the vegetables for the next day’s dinner time, feeling content.
Then I heard a stifled gasp and a bang. I ran out to the front to see a chair knocked over on the floor; a pool of coffee swilling round the edge of the ledgers. Katherine was already at the door.
I knew it was him, as soon as I followed her line of sight across the busy road to the station plaza.
Well he weren’t much to look at. He was slouching, his back against the clock, looking down at his trainers scuffing up the hardened snow on the pavement like it was something he had to concentrate on. He was dead thin and he had this bloody awful buzzcut that made him look worse — he nearly had less hair than me. He was only wearing a light coat and jeans so he must have been freezing.
Then as if she’d shouted to him, he suddenly looked up and straight at her. He stared for the longest time — past the rushing river of cars and the streams of commuters heading home — as if he wasn’t quite sure what he was seeing. Then suddenly he was pushing his way through the crowds, weaving through the speeding cars to the blaring of horns, right into the path of an oncoming taxi.
The taxi skidded to a halt in a hail of icy water but he just carried on walking, oblivious, a smile on his face. “Use the crossing, you fucking moron,” the taxi driver shouted before roaring off.
Katherine had a hand over her mouth, then she laughed, like the pealing of bells. “Welcome to London, Mulder.” She took his hand and drew him inside the café. I tried to look busy, clearing away plates and wiping tables.
So this was him.
They slipped into seats opposite each other. He cast a glance at me, but she waved away his worried look. “It’s safe. Where were you…”
“I’m sorry. The traffic was terrible, Scully.”
“Be serious Are you all right?” She was so calm now he was here that it was eerie.
“I’m fine. Fine.”
She gave him this quirky little smile and then frowned at him. “What happened?”
“I don’t want to talk about it yet…” She was looking him up and down, her hands sliding down his face, her eyes on the way he was moving. He stopped talking as she ran a hand tenderly across his head. He didn’t so much have a haircut as an all-over five o’clock shadow.
“How did you get away?” she asked finally.
He gave a peculiar laugh and said some weird name. Began with a K. Sounded Czech or Russian or something. “He’s on our side.”
She shook her head. “He’s on no one’s side but his own.”
“Which, for now, is ours.”
“Well that’s something. I’m sorry. I would have come to find you, you know.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“You made me promise. Well that and the fact that they’ve found the London bank account.”
His hand slapped down on the table. “Fuck,” he said softly. “What about the others?”
“Decided not to touch them until you got here. Didn’t want to blow all the accounts. Some may still be secure “
“What if I hadn’t got here?”
“I’d have managed,” she said sounding slightly annoyed.
“I’m not disputing it,” he said gently. “But what did you do for money?”
“You know I took some with me.”
“But not enough for six fucking weeks.”
“Sold my watch, some other stuff,” she said. He reached forward and pulled down the cloth of her T-shirt at the neck, then let go and sat back on his seat.
“Oh Scully, tell me you didn’t sell it.”
“It was gold Mulder,” she said flatly.
“Even so, it wouldn’t have brought much. What have you been doing?” he asked, sounding agitated.
“Relying on the kindness of strangers,” she stood up, took her eyes off him for the first time since he had appeared by the clock and turned to me. “Joe, this is Mulder.” Then she turned back to him. “Mulder this is Joe Lipinski, he’s been letting me stay upstairs here.”
He cast a glance at her and I got the feeling that the most was being said in the times when they said nothing at all. I held out a hand to him and he took it and shook it firmly. My hand dwarfed his. I felt clumsy and awkward.
He met my eyes coolly. “Thank you.”
“S’all right,” I replied. I sounded gruff.
There was a long pause, tense and uncomfortable.
“Thought you was never going to turn up,” I said finally.
A second later there was a strange sound from behind him and he whirled round.
Her hands were clamped across her mouth tightly and you could hear the air whistling in through her nose as her lungs spasmed and struggled to draw in breath. Her eyes were panicky, so very blue and absolutely dry.
He was useless, just fluttering around her, his fingers spindly with shock, eyes wide; he obviously wasn’t used to this kind of reaction.
Bloody hell, I wasn’t either .
“God, what is it? Tell me what it is…” he asked.
Give her a hug you stupid sod, I muttered to myself angrily.
Maybe he heard me or maybe he just understood. He stopped hovering in front of her, and touched her under the line of her jaw until she looked at him. He smiled gently. “It’s okay, it’s me,” he said. “I’m here. We’re here.”
Then he pulled her towards him and put his arms around her. Her hands flew from her mouth and wrapped around his back. She buried her face in his chest and suddenly I could hear these terrible, tearing sobs.
“Please don’t cry, I can’t stand it when you cry,” he was whispering over and over again into her ear.
She stepped away a little and their eyes locked. He moved in and kissed her, slow, long and gentle. Then he pulled her to him in a hug and she started crying again.
I’ve read about couples where they say you can see the sparks flying between the man and the woman but I always thought that was a load of old crap… until I saw them. I suppose the writers mean it’s a love that’s worth any amount of pain. Something you find once in a lifetime and then only if you’re lucky.
It’s not for the likes of me.
I turned away and knew there was one thing I could do.
“Come on Kipper old son, time to leave,” I said briskly.
Kipper’s ratty face screwed up; the nosy little chuffer was enjoying the show. “But I aint finished my tea,” he whined. “And what’s up with Katherine?”
“She’s won the fucking National Lottery,” I snapped. “Everything’s on the house but only if you piss off right now. Your choice, Kipper.”
“Well, if you put it like that,” he said and legged it before I could change my mind.
I twisted the lock, turned the sign on the door to closed and put two cups of coffee on the table next to them but I don’t think they even noticed.
Then I went out to the back and turned up the shipping forecast, trying not to hear her sobbing like that.
– o O o –
After ten minutes or so, I wandered back through. Their hands were still clasped together across the red and white tablecloth and they were just… looking at each other with such intensity and focus that it was almost uncomfortable to be in the same room; you’d start to doubt your own existence.
“Look why don’t you two…” I waved my hand, trying to think of a way of phrasing it, “catch up here. I’ve got some errands to run and it will take me a couple of hours.”
“Joe, you don’t have to…” Katherine began as she looked up.
“I know,” I said, staring into her eyes to make it clear that I knew where I stood and that it was okay. “I know. Will you be here when I get back?”
He shook his head. She looked at him and you could see the conversation flashing in their eyes: her wanting to stay a little longer, him telling her that they had to leave.
She walked over to me and took my hand in hers, the one she nearly broke just three weeks ago. “I can never thank you enough, you know,” she said softly.
I brushed away the comment. “It was fine. It was the least I could…”
“No, Joe,” she interrupted. “You did the most you could do.” She took my face in her hands and planted a small, sweet kiss on my lips. “Thank you.” I felt stirrings in areas that had no right to stir and the blush pooled hotly in my cheeks and ears.
There’s no fool like an old fool.
As I pulled away I caught the man’s eyes as I looked over her shoulder; his expression was peculiar. There was gratitude but threaded through it I thought I saw jealousy too. Oh, if only you knew, you lucky bastard…
“Get your family away from the city, Joe,” she said, unaware of our wordless exchange. “Trust me. Bad things are going to happen. You need to get your family as far away from the cities as you can.”
And I don’t know why, but I believed her.
I gave them both a nod and locked the café door behind me. She waved and then turned to him.
I watched through the glowing neon frame of my name as she led him by the hand through the door to the back stairs, and tried not to imagine what it would have been like if she had looked at me in that way.
– o O o –
It only took me two minutes to walk through the grubby, scuffed snow to the cathedral. I arrived just as the monks were filing in for mass; vespers I think. The chants and the shuffling feet and coughs of visitors echoed round and round the chapels until they blended into one seamless hum. It was dark outside and they had turned down the electric lights so that the candles shone that bit more brightly.
I felt calm again. Happy almost. Maybe I’d done something right, for once.
I decided to give them two hours before I walked back to the café, glad that it was Natalie’s night off so I could do as I pleased.
But before I left the cathedral to get a pint in the Duke of Cumberland, I lit some candles: one for Papa and Mama, as always, and one for Katherine.
As an afterthought I lit one for him too, but my only prayer was that he would keep her safe.
I suppose it was my way of saying goodbye.
– o O o –
So… do I tell Detective Sergeant Chisholm how I met Katherine — or whatever the hell she’s called?
Tell him what she told me? Tell him what it feels like to fall for someone you hardly know? Someone you can’t have? Someone you know you’re never going to see again…?
I don’t think so.
– o O o –
These places exist and are geographically correct: Little Ben is near Victoria Station in central London as is the magnificent Roman Catholic cathedral. Only Joe’s Place would be hard to find
Apologies for taking M and S out of their usual habitat, but they needed a holiday
With thanks to one Carrie from another for judicious wielding of the pointy stick (and a million cred points if she can spot the Bunnymen ref <g>) and also Lisa for being very nice about this
Please feel free to send comments and any inquiries about bizarre slang to
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