Won’t Be Fooled Again . . .

An un­ex­pected haz­ard brings sur­prises in Alyson Hil­bourne’s amus­ing com­plete story.

The People's Friend Special - - LIGHT-HEARTED STORY -

ALANA was on au­topi­lot. It was just as well her car ap­peared to know where she was go­ing be­cause she was hav­ing trou­ble con­cen­trat­ing, af­ter spend­ing the pre­vi­ous night toss­ing and turn­ing, try­ing to erase the mem­o­ries of this time last year. Her eyes were scratchy and she sti­fled a yawn as she turned the car into York Road.

Last July she’d been on hol­i­day in the Greek Is­lands with Terry, fairly sure he was go­ing to pop the ques­tion at some point. They had been go­ing out to­gether for two years and had looked in es­tate agent’s win­dows at houses, to see what they could af­ford.

“We’ll have enough for a de­posit when I cash my shares.” Terry had squeezed her hand. “But in the mean­time can you pay for the hol­i­day, babe?”

Alana gripped the steer­ing wheel so hard her knuck­les whitened as she thought of the last day of the trip, when Terry told her he’d de­cided not to re­turn to Eng­land. He was go­ing to stay in par­adise.

She won­dered, grimly, if he still thought of it as par­adise . . .

She pushed the car sharply into fourth gear. Sim­ply think­ing about Terry put her in a foul mood. She wouldn’t let a man fool her again. She pressed down on the ac­cel­er­a­tor just as a man in khaki cam­ou­flage and steel hel­met stepped out into the road, his hand up in front of him.

Alana braked hard and the car shiv­ered to a stop.

Her heart was beat­ing fast. The man walked to the side of the car with an easy, bouncy step. He was tanned and mus­cu­lar, and from the badges and in­signia on his clothes, Alana de­cided he must be mil­i­tary. She pressed the win­dow but­ton. “Sorry, miss, I’ll have to ask you to turn back. This road is closed. Un­ex­ploded bomb.” “A bomb?” “Yes, from World War Two. Bomb dis­posal are work­ing on it now.”

“Oh, no! I have to get to my great-un­cle on Dover Road. He’s ex­pect­ing me for break­fast.”

“Ev­ery­one has been evac­u­ated from the area. You’ll find them at the com­mu­nity cen­tre.” Alana gasped. “Oh, he’ll be up­set! This will put his whole rou­tine out. He hates any­thing dif­fer­ent. He’ll have had a fry-up ready for me.”

If Alana said she’d be there by eight, then Great-un­cle Stu­art ex­pected her at eight. The sol­dier winced and shrugged. “Sorry, miss, noth­ing I can do.” His voice trailed off.

“No, no, it wasn’t your fault. Thanks. I’ll turn around and find the com­mu­nity cen­tre.”

The sol­dier stepped back, grinned and threw her a half salute. Alana mo­men­tar­ily wished she’d paid more at­ten­tion to her ap­pear­ance and wasn’t wear­ing her un­flat­ter­ing nurs­ing agency uni­form. But then she thought about Great-un­cle Stu­art and pushed the car into re­verse.

It took her an­other ten min­utes to work her way through the back roads. The cen­tre car park was busy and she had to park in the street. Just in­side the door­way sat a po­lice­man, and a po­lice­woman was hang­ing around the kitchen counter.

The hall was a hub­bub of ac­tiv­ity, with peo­ple chat­ter­ing and laugh­ing. There was a lively at­mos­phere and from the strong smell of toast and coffee, Alana guessed Grea­tun­cle Stu­art wouldn’t be hun­gry.

Fam­ily groups hud­dled to­gether, sur­rounded by bags and pet bas­kets; peo­ple sat wrapped in blan­kets while young­sters danced around, mak­ing the most of the early-morn­ing op­por­tu­nity to play with friends. Alana was sur­prised. There must have been nearly a hun­dred peo­ple crammed into the cen­tre.

She scanned the room for Great-un­cle Stu­art. There was a tight­en­ing in her chest when she couldn’t see him, but then she recog­nised his grey shirt and shock of white hair. She hur­ried over. “Un­cle Stu­art! I’m so glad you’re OK.”

“Alana!” He clutched her arm ur­gently. “Alana, have you heard? A bomb! I told them I was in the Army and worked in bomb dis­posal dur­ing the war, but they wouldn’t lis­ten. Come on! I have to go and see if I can help.”

Her great-un­cle’s eyes sparkled and his face was un­usu­ally an­i­mated. He eased him­self up, us­ing the chair as a sup­port and rock­ing for­ward, wait­ing for his joints to work.

“They won’t let you near it, Un­cle Stu­art,” Alana said gen­tly. “I’ve been turned back from your street al­ready.”

“Non­sense!” Great-un­cle Stu­art waved a hand. “They’ll need my help. I tried to tell that young sol­dier chap­pie stand­ing at the end of the road but they hus­tled me away. When they know I did this work dur­ing the war . . .”

Alana looked around, but ev­ery­body was busy. Un­cle Stu­art was her re­spon­si­bil­ity.

She took a deep breath. What was the worst that could hap­pen? He’d be re­fused en­try as she pre­dicted. Maybe he’d lis­ten to the nice young sol­dier, even if he wouldn’t lis­ten to her.

She hitched her bag more firmly on to her shoul­der and al­lowed her­self to be pro­pelled to­wards the door, but when they got there, she stopped sud­denly. “Un­cle Stu­art, are you sure about this?” “Needs must!” He car­ried on, hold­ing the rail and mak­ing his way down the out­side steps.

As far as Alana was con­cerned, there was only one trust­wor­thy man in her life . . .

SLOWLY but firmly Alana found her­self zig-zag­ging through a maze of streets she didn’t recog­nise un­til they reached York Road, where she’d been not half an hour be­fore.

“We won’t be al­lowed any closer,” Alana warned.

Great-un­cle Stu­art didn’t an­swer. He was look­ing around. The same sol­dier stepped out in front of them.

“Sorry, folks. You can’t go any fur­ther. We have some un­ex­ploded ord­nance.”

“I know, I know.” Great-un­cle Stu­art peered round the sol­dier. “What is it? Ger­man, I sup­pose. Aim­ing for the docks, d’you think? A one-thou­sand pounder?”

Alana stared at him, her mouth slightly open.

The sol­dier grinned at Alana but quickly

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