Won’t Be Fooled Again . . .
An unexpected hazard brings surprises in Alyson Hilbourne’s amusing complete 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