Thursday, 27 March 2008

Episode 24 - Martin comes home

‘Where have you been, I thought you said you would be here at 11 o’clock’ grumbles Martin as I hurry into his hospital room.

‘Sorry, I needed to sort something out with the girls before I left’ gosh that sounds feeble even to me but it seems to have satisfied Martin who is dressed and waiting for me to take him home ‘Have you seen the doctor this morning’ I ask as I start packing his pyjamas and soap bag into the holdall.

‘Yes he said he was very happy with the progress I’m making and as long as I remember to take the tablets I should be fine’

‘The car is just outside that door, will you be OK to walk or do you need a wheelchair?’ I ask slinging his holdall onto my shoulder. My god it weighs a ton what does he have in there.

‘I’ll be fine walking, don’t fuss Fliss,’

‘It’s such a lovely day I thought you would like to drive along with the hood down’ I explain to Martin who is looking horrified that I had left his precious BMW in a car park without putting the roof up.

‘Yes, that’s fine; I could do with feeling some air on my face. You wouldn’t believe how stuffy it was in that room.’

As we drive out of the hospital Martin is sitting uncomfortably in the passenger seat fiddling with the radio ‘Why is it that you can’t find any decent music when you need it’ he moans

‘Here, why don’t you put this CD on’ I say passing him his favourite Genesis album

It isn’t long before Martin falls asleep. He must be exhausted; I know that he didn’t sleep very well in hospital, he said that there was too much going on through the night for him to settle properly.

I wasn’t at all surprised when Martin’s doctors said that they think that his heart attack could have been stress related and he has to change the way he lives if he wants to avoid another one. I suppose all the problems he was having with the loan repayments were just too much for him.

‘What are you thinking about?

‘Martin you gave me a start, I thought you were still asleep’

‘I was just dozing; I’m sorry I was so grumpy earlier, I was just tired and couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital’

‘I know Darling, don’t worry we’ll be home soon.’

‘Have the girls gone back to London yet?’

‘No’ I hesitate ‘they wanted to see you home first.’

‘Good I need to talk to Sophie about this loan she’s arranging with Crabtree and Wright’

‘Sophie’s got it all in hand. Martin you must remember what the hospital said, no more worrying about the business. Sophie and I have everything under control. All the invoices for last month have gone out and the loan will cover any shortfall until the outstanding bills are paid.’

‘I am very grateful you know’ says Martin putting his hand on my shoulder ‘I don’t know what I would have done without you this past week. I’m so sorry that I didn’t tell you about the mess earlier’

‘Don’t worry about that now let’s just get you home’ I say as I pull the car into our drive.

Standing on the driveway waiting for us is Ella.

‘Dad welcome home, let’s get you indoors.

‘Come and give your old Dad a hug first’

Sophie must have heard the car pull up and is standing in the doorway watching as Ella and Martin stand laughing on the drive.

‘Welcome home Dad. Here let me take that case off you Mum, shall I put it into your bedroom?’

‘Yes please Sophie, come on you two let’s get in and settled.’

Sophie barely looks at Martin as she picks up his up his holdall and walks back into the villa.

‘Martin what are you doing, I thought that you were resting’

‘I was only looking for my mobile phone. I thought that I’d left it in the pocket of these trousers.’ Martin says as he closes the wardrobe door.

‘You did but I gave it to Sophie so that she could get in touch with your clients. It’s in the study. Do you want me to get it?’ I ask

‘Has she read the texts’ he asks shaking and turning pale.

‘Yes Martin, she read them.’

‘So you know. You know about Laura?’

‘Yes I’m afraid I do.’

‘Fliss my love, I am so sorry. Let me explain’

I cut him short ‘No Martin, not now. There’ll be plenty of time for explanations later. Right now I think that we should concentrate on getting you better.’

‘But Fliss, there’s so much I need to tell you.’

‘Martin I’m sorry I can’t cope with this right now. Let’s just get through the next few days, and then we’ll talk. Come on let’s go onto the patio, Olivia and Grace can’t wait to see you. They’ve missed their Grandpa and have lots to tell you.’

Martin looks at me with the saddest eyes I have ever seen and quietly follow me out to his waiting family.


‘You’ll have to speak to him sometime Sophie’

‘I know’ says Sophie looking at Ella ‘but not just yet. He’ll be fine with Alistair and the girls while I get our cases packed.’

‘The packing can wait Sophie, go out and see Dad.’

‘Why? So he can lie to me, tell me it was all a big mistake.’

‘But it was a mistake; he could never have left Mum.’

‘How do you know that Ella, how can any of us know what he was thinking of?’

‘You’re right, I don’t know, but you are only punishing yourself by not talking to him. It’s down to Mum now. If she can forgive him I think that we should at least give him a chance. Come on let’s go out together; we’ve only got a couple of hours before we have to leave for the airport. Let’s show Mum that we’re behind her. I think that she’s going to need us to be there for her over the next few weeks.’

‘You’re right, of course you are. Come on then little sister, let’s go and play happy families.’

Ella turns and hugs her sister ‘You know sis, with us on their side there’s no way they can fail.’

Holding Ella hand as they walk out of the bedroom, Sophie sighs ‘I hope you’re right, I really do.’

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Episode 23 - The Truth Hurts

‘Do you want any more coffee Mum?’

‘Sorry Ella, I was miles away, what did you ask?’

‘Coffee Mum, do want any more?’

‘No thanks, I’ve got to get dressed. The hospital said that I could pick up Dad about 11 o’clock’

‘Would you like me to go?’ asks Alistair getting up from the breakfast table.

‘No, its fine I’ll go. Martin’s asked me to take him some chocolates and flowers for the nurses and I’ll have to stop at the village and collect them’

‘As long as you’re sure Fliss?’ Alistair asked again.

‘Yes quite sure, you’ve done enough for me in the past few days. Why don’t you and Sophie take the girls up to the farm I know that Liam and Cassy are looking forward to meeting you?’

Sophie looked up from the papers she had been reading ‘Would you mind going without me Darling, I need to have a word with Mum and Ella before Dad comes home?

‘No problem. Come on squirts let’s go and see all these lovely animals you’ve been telling me about.’

Isn’t it strange how things work out? This time last week I was dreading that Sophie and Ella would be getting on each others nerves and squabbling all the time. Now it’s as if they are joined at the hip. It’s been years since they have been this close. In a funny way Martin’s heart attack seems to have brought the whole family closer together. I don’t know what I would have done if Sophie and Ella hadn’t been here. They have been such a help.

‘Mum, before you get dressed can I have a word please?’ asked Sophie ‘and Ella, I think that you should hear this as well.’

‘Sophie what’s the matter? Is it Dad, have the hospital phoned again?’

‘No Ella, it’s nothing like that.' Sophie hesitated 'Mum, you know when I was trying to get in touch with Dad’s clients I asked you for his mobile phone.’

‘Yes darling, I collected it from the hospital and gave it to you’

‘’Well when I was looking at his contact list I checked his text messages to see if there was anything that needed an urgent reply’

‘Oh god, I’d forgotten about his text messages. Was there something from Tony Eagleton is that why you are looking so upset’

‘No Mum, it wasn’t messages from Tony, it was texts from someone called Laura’

‘Laura? I didn’t know he had a client called Laura.’

‘She isn’t a client Mum’

Ella reached across the table and took hold of my hand ‘Who is she Sophie?’

‘Oh Mum’ cried Sophie ‘I am so sorry. It looks like Dad’s been having an affair’

‘An affair? No Sophie you’re mistaken, Martin wouldn’t do that’

Sophie passed Martin’s phone to me ‘He did Mum. It’s all here. It’s been going on for months. After I’d read the texts I wanted to delete them, pretend that they’d never existed but Alistair said that you had a right to know.’

‘I’m sorry girls I can’t take this in. I think I need some time alone, I need to think, I’m sorry’

Leaving the kitchen with Martin’s phone still in my hand I walk slowly up stairs. My god just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse. Martin having an affair…well I suppose that explains why he’s been so cold with me. No wonder he didn’t want me around. What did he need me for when he’d found himself a new model.

I don’t know whether I can bare to look at the texts, why punish myself further? But if I don’t look I know that I’ll always wonder. Turning his phone over and over in my hands I flip the cover back and select My Messages.


Standing under the shower I let the hot what run down my face. It’s as if I need to wash the memory of those intimate text messages from my head. How could Martin be so stupid? Did he honestly think that this Laura woman was after anything other than his money? What am I talking about it wasn’t his money she was after, it was our home. The manipulative little bitch was working with Tony all along. Once she’d realised what a mess Martin was in with his gambling she must have laughed to think how easy it was to fool him into signed for the loan.

How could Martin be so stupid? Did he hate me so much that he was prepared to give up his home and his family for someone he’d only known for five minutes?

I suppose she’s pretty, probably young and blond and slim. Let’s face it everything I’m not.

I couldn’t have blamed Martin if he’d just had a fling. After all who am I to criticise. But surely there’s a difference between my one afternoon with Paolo and Martin deciding to give the bitch a set of keys to our flat.

So what now, where do we go from here?

‘Mum, are you OK?’ asks Ella as she walks into the bedroom ‘can I get you a coffee or something?’

‘Don’t worry darling, I‘m fine. In fact I’d better get ready, Dad will be wondering where I am’

‘Mum, how can you be so calm? Surely you’re not going to pretend that nothing has happened?’

‘Ella my love, I think that the first thing I have to do is collect Dad. We’ll have plenty of time to sort all this out later. It’s not as if he’s going anywhere in a hurry.’

‘Wouldn’t it be better if I collected him’ asked Ella

‘No I think that Dad and I need some time alone. It looks like we’ve lots to talk about’

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Episode 22 - Reluctant Retirement

Ken rolled over on to his back and blinked against the brightness of the morning sun. Far too much to drink last night, he thought ruefully, have to start cutting back, don’t want to end up like Martin, nearly pegging out at your own birthday party.

‘Pass me the suntan lotion babe’ he called out to Lizzie who was busy watering the flower beds around the patio. ‘You know it’s a waste of time doing the watering now you should leave it until the evening when its cooler’

‘I don’t want to leave it, I want to do it now’ Lizzie answered through gritted teeth.

‘But I’ve told you before. You’re just wasting your time by this evening the soil will be rock hard and you’ll have to do it all over again

‘So I’ll do it again, what’s your problem? I’m not asking you to do it am I and let’s face it it’s not as if I’ve got much else to do.

‘Don’t start that again babe, why can’t you just learn to relax. That’s what retirement is all about isn’t it, taking it easy, enjoying the sunshine, having a drink when you want one. Don’t you think that I deserve a bit of peace after all those years driving a cab around London? And look what happens when you don’t know how to relax, you end up like poor old Martin. Just think he’s five years younger than me, far too young to have a heart attack’

‘I don’t begrudge you your retirement Ken but I’m too young too young to be doing nothing all day, I’m bored. I’m not ready to retire. I need something to do with myself, I want to keep busy. All this sitting round is driving me up the bleeding wall.’ She shrieked as she grabbed the suntan lotion from the table ‘Here and put your hat on or your brains will boil in this heat’

Ken looked at Lizzie standing over him waving the bottle like a club to hit him with. His wife left him baffled sometimes, after all the years of hard work providing for his family the best way he knew, he just couldn’t understand why Lizzie wanted to start working all over again. He was quite happy with his life just the way it was, thank you very much.

‘What kind of something were you thinking about then,’ Ken asked as he pulled himself upright ‘charity work?’

‘No not charity work, you plank, I want something of my own, a business’

‘Didn’t you have enough of work when we lived in Ilford? You were always moaning about working all hours in the hairdressers’

‘But that was my sister’s salon that was her business, not mine. I want to do something for myself’

‘And where is the money coming from to set up this business?’ Ken asked

‘Don’t start Ken. You know we are comfortable for money. When we sold our house on the Cranbrook Road we made a very tidy profit’

‘But that has to last us for the rest of our lives Lizzie. We can’t afford to loose it’

‘Well thanks for having so much faith in me’ Lizzie cried’ what you makes you think that my business would loose money, you never know it could make us rich’

‘How many people get rich from hairdressing, your sister certainly didn’t’

‘Who said I wanted to do hairdressing? And anyway, you know that Lottie is sitting on a gold mine. The hairdressing mightn’t make her rich but the shop and the flat above it are worth a bomb now, especially with the 2012 Olympics. She’s planning on renting them out and making a fortune. No, I’ve been thinking about this and I want to open a shop’

Ken looked up at her in disbelief ‘What do you know about running a shop?’

‘I know what people want and that has to be a good start. Look at the all people who move out here from the UK, they buy villas and apartments with bare white walls and spend ages trying to make them more homely. Well I thought if I could have a shop that sold pictures, rugs and trendy ornaments I would clean up.’

Lizzie sat down on the lounger next to Ken and looked into his eyes. ‘I’ve been thinking about this for ages babe, people like to have things that are trendy and modern in these new villas but there is nowhere around here to buy them. I could start off small by bringing a few things over from England and selling them in the Market and if the demand is there then we could start looking around for something more permanent’

‘How long have you been hatching up this little plan?’ Ken grumbled as he stood up ‘and when were you planning on letting me in on the secret’

‘Don’t be like that babe. It’s just something I was talking to Frankie about’

‘Frankie, I might have known you brother was involved somehow’

‘He’s not involved with anything’ Lizzie sighed ‘I just wanted to have it all thought through before I told you’

‘Oh so you did intend telling me then. I suppose I should be grateful that you didn’t raid my bank account first and then tell me what you’re up to.’ Ken shouted as he stormed into the house.

Lizzie raced after him yelling ‘Your bank account!! Since when was it your bloody bank account’

‘All right stopping yelling at me, our bank account’ Ken turned to look at Lizzie ‘I just wish that you had spoken to me before Frankie, that’s all’

‘And would it have made any difference? You’d still have thought I was mad. I have really thought about this Kenny’ she cajoled ‘It will work, I know it will’

‘The next thing you’ll be telling me is that your Frankie has arranged for stuff to be shipped out already’

Lizzie smiled as she kissed Ken on the cheek ‘He should be here with the first van load on Tuesday’

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Episode 21 - Ghosts from the Past

(Deep in the Cheshire countryside- 1993)

Clara Hale wrapped her big woollen cardigan around her as she watched the red lights of the Rover pull out of the gate. When they had disappeared up the lane, she turned back into the farmhouse closing the thick wooden front door with a satisfying thud. Geoffrey was in the kitchen, his small suitcase ready on the chair.

‘I’ll be off now then Clara, you staying the night here then?’ he asked as he shrugged into his long overcoat.

‘No Geoffrey, I’ll be heading off shortly myself.’

Do you want me to wait awhile?’ he asked more out of courtesy than any great wish to spend more time away from his family.

‘No thank you I’ll be fine, you get off, it’s getting late’

‘OK then me dear, it’s been good working with you again. I suppose we shall see each other soon’

‘Probably not, this was my last assignment. I am, as of midnight, officially retired’

‘You retire, never. You’d miss the excitement too much’

‘My dear Geoffrey I have had enough excitement to last me a lifetime’ Clara sighed as she tidied away the last few dishes off the draining board.

Clara locked the back door after Geoffrey. She swept through the farmhouse making sure that all the windows were locked and the water and heating had been switched off. Finally standing alone in the kitchen, she pulled off the tight band that had been holding her hair in a severe bun at the nape of her neck. As she shook out her shoulder length hair she shed at least ten years off her age.

For her cover as part of a husband and wife team with Geoffrey, she had to look at least sixty years old. To look her real age might have alerted their neighbours that this comfortable remote farmhouse was more than just a smallholding. They might have realised that Geoffrey was hunting for more than rabbits for the pot when he went walking the fields at dusk.

The Service needed a secluded sanctuary, well away from London, to be able to debrief their foreign ‘guests’ in safety. Clara and Geoffrey were considered to be the best in their field. They made sure that the guests were well fed and relaxed before being whisked off down to MI6’s headquarters at Vauxhall Cross for the real fun to begin.

(Monday morning)

‘Good morning Mrs Hale, have you heard how Martin is?’

‘Good morning Michael, yes I’ve just spoken to his daughter and she says that the doctors are hopeful that he’ll make a full recovery’

‘Oh that is good news, if you’re not busy would you like to join me for coffee, I have just been to the market and could do with a rest’

‘That’s very kind of you but I really must catch the bakers before they close for lunch’

‘No problem, maybe some other time’ said Michael as he watched her stride off.

Clara turned the corner and stopped in her tracks. She had been sure that she had recognised Michael before but hadn’t been able to place him. But standing talking with him just now it had come to her.

She was sure she had seen him in Century House, MI6’s old headquarters before their move to Vauxhall Cross in 1995. He had been taking notes at a procurement meeting sometime in the early 90’s. Clara rested her head against the cool marble of the water fountain. The last thing she wanted was for anybody from the past to recognise her. Her past was a lifetime away. She was a different woman now. Apart from Christmas cards from one or two old colleagues, she had hoped that her links with MI6 were well and truly severed.

‘Signora, are you unwell’ asked Maria spotting Clara from her café.

‘I was just feeling a little hot’

‘You should put your wrists under the water Signora. It will cool down your blood’

‘Thank you, I am feeling a lot better now, it’s probably all the excitement from the party catching up with me. I’ll go home for a rest before lunch, get out of the heat for a while’

‘Would you like me to get Marco to give you a lift?’

‘Oh no thank you dear I am quite well now. Thank you again for your concern’

Clara pulled her shoulders back, lifted her shopping bags and set off for home without a backward glance.

‘Mad old English woman’ thought Maria as she hurried back to the lunchtime rush in the café.

Clara’s house was cool and spacious sitting as it did in the heart of the village. The little courtyard garden was a riot of colour with all the flowering plants neatly growing in large pots against the walls. This house was her sanctuary, after so many years staying in grotty hotel rooms or cramped into her small flat by James Park in Westminster.

She was grateful to have her rambling home in Spain. This was the first place since going to University that had actually felt like a home and not just somewhere to sleep. She had filled it with tasteful contemporary furniture and took great delight in tending the plants in her courtyard. Joining the residents committee and eating at Maria’s each night gave her a sense of belonging that she had been missing since leaving work.

Clara sat at the small desk in her study at the back of the house. Dialling the number for Vauxhall Cross she was promptly put through to Justin Crowther.

‘Clara how’s Spain?’

‘Fine Justin, thank you, but I am worried there may be a little unforeseen problem on the horizon. I would be grateful if you could run a check on a man called Michael Angers. He’s living just outside the village here with his partner Sonny Lansford. It may be nothing but he seems familiar’

‘Do you think that it could be trouble’ asked Crowther

‘I’m not sure. If he is who I think, then he was a middle ranking civil servant in the 90s. I don’t think that he recognises me but I want to be sure of my suspicions before I have to consider my next move’

Putting down the phone Clara sighed, she hoped that she was wrong about Michael. The last thing she wanted to do was to leave all this, her lovely house and the friends that she had made. She didn’t relish moving on and having to start again somewhere else. Somewhere new, where she would have to reinvent a past for herself, all over again.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Episode 20 - Secrets and Lies

Wiping her hands on the tea towel in the kitchen, Sophie turned to answer the phone.

‘I hope you don’t mind me ringing, but I was wondering if you had any news from the hospital’

‘Mrs Hale, yes its good news, the doctors have told Mum that they expect Dad to make a full recovery. It does mean though that he will have to cut back on his work commitments and take better care of himself. But they did say that if you hadn’t acted so quickly things could have been so much worse. I know that Mum will want to see you herself as soon as she can but from all of us I’d like to say a very big thank you’

‘That’s very kind of you to say, but it was nothing, I’m just glad that Martin is going to be fine’

All morning Sophie had been answering calls from Martin’s friends. It came as shock to realise quite how popular her parents were out here in Spain. After living in the same house in London since marrying Alistair, Sophie was embarrassed to admit that she didn’t know the names of her neighbours never mind being on speaking terms with them.

Cassy Stratton had even called earlier and offered to take the girls back to the farmhouse with her for the day. Olivia and Grace were thrilled at the prospect of spending time playing with baby Abi and helping Cassy pick fruit and look after the hens. Sophie was touched by her offer of help and knowing that Fliss wouldn’t be in a fit state to deal with anything other than visiting Martin, she reluctantly agreed that the girls would be better spending time on the farm rather than being cooped up indoors at the villa with her all day.

The only way that Sophie knew to be useful was to be practical and, after phoning Alistair to tell him about Martin’s heart attack, she decided that the best way she could help would be to make sure that Martin’s business was taken care of. Even if she only managed to reassure his clients and try to answer any outstanding emails she knew that it would help take some of the pressure off her Mum.

As she waited for Martin’s laptop to fire up, Sophie empty the bag that Fliss had brought home from the hospital. In the pocket of the trousers that Martin had been wearing at the party was his mobile phone. Putting the phone on charge to deal with later she pulled up Martin’s contacts list on hotmail.

She found it hard to write an email that would both advise and reassure all of Martin’s clients. The tone has to be just right, she thought, the last thing Dad needs is to loose his business. After sending a note advising them of the situation and details of her email address and telephone number for urgent enquiries she switched to Martin’s inbox to check his emails.

Sophie couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw that Martin had been corresponding with Tony Eagleton. It was the worst kept secret in the square mile that Tony’s business activities were suspect to say the least. Surely her Dad couldn’t be doing business with him?

Her incredulity turned to horror when she followed the email trail back to the start. How her Dad could ever have gotten himself into this situation was beyond her. Defaulting on a £250,000 loan with the villa as security, it could mean the end of everything that he had worked so hard far. Poor Dad must have been out of mind with worry, she thought, it’s no wonder that he is ill, that kind of stress could have killed him. Sophie knew that she had to do something at once if she was to salvage anything from this terrible mess.

Why didn’t Dad go to his bank for a loan? She wondered, or failing that, why didn’t he come to me? I am sure that I could have arranged something for him with Crabtree and Wright. Sophie couldn’t understand what Martin had been thinking about. He must have known that it would have made far more sense for him to borrow short term from Crabtree’s rather than Eagleton. Was he trying to spare Mum from the worry, or is there something more behind all this, she wondered, after all the easiest and simplest way to get the money would have been from his own bank.

Anxious now to see if there were any more surprises in store Sophie switched on Martin’s mobile phone.

Looking through all the recent text messages that Martin hadn’t had a chance to read yet from Laura, Sophie felt that her world had turned upside down. This was her Dad, she thought, having an affair with a woman in London.

Going back through the old messages she realised with horror that their grubby little liaison had been going on for months. How could he cheat and lie for so long? Did his family mean so little to him that he was prepared to give it all up for this Laura woman? How could he do this to Mum after nearly thirty years of marriage?

For once in her life Sophie felt helpless and alone, she decided that Fliss couldn’t know about Martin’s double life, not when she went to so much trouble arrange the party for him. Sophie felt out of her depth emotionally. She couldn’t imagine breaking this kind of news to her Mum or even her sister Ella. She knew that she needed support, she needed her husband. Picking up the phone she dialled Alistair’s office number.

‘Darling, it’s me, I’m sorry, I know you are busy but could you come over here please, I really need you right now’

‘Sophie what’s the matter, is Martin worse?’

No darling he’s going to be fine. It’s his business, Oh Alistair everything is such a mess. I really need you here.’

‘I was just tidying up a few things in the office before I left for the airport. I booked a flight as soon as I put the phone down to you earlier’ said Alistair
‘I wasn’t going to let you face this on your own.’

‘Oh Al, what would I do without you’ sobbed Sophie as she looked again at Laura name against all the text messages on her Dad’s phone.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Episode 19 - Heart to Heart

I don’t have much experience of hospitals. Apart from Maternity Units and the odd visit to Casualty with the girls when they were little I’ve never really had much to do with them. Is this usual then to be left alone in a corridor waiting for news? It’s been two hours since they took Martin into the room in the High Dependency Unit, what are they doing, why won’t they let me go in to him, why isn’t anyone telling me anything?

‘Are you OK Mum?’ Ella asks as she sits down on the hard plastic chair next to me outside Martin’s room ‘here, drink this, I found a coffee machine’

‘Thank you for coming with me to the hospital darling. I do appreciate it’

‘I’m just glad that I can be here for you. Have you had any news?’

‘Oh Ella I don’t know any more than you do. I’ve been left here waiting since we arrived. I wish to god someone would tell me what’s happening’

‘Try and keep calm Mum, the best thing we can do is to just let them get on with their job. I’m sure that they will tell us as soon as they can’

What a way to end a party. I hadn’t even realised that Martin had gone outside until Cassy Stratton had come running in to tell me that they had found him unconscious in the car park.
It was lucky that Cassy and Liam had been leaving the party early to give Clara Hale a lift home.

Funny the things you find out at a time like this. I don’t think that any of us knew Mrs Hale’s first name before tonight and I certainly didn’t realise that she would be so good in a crisis. Apparently as soon as they spotted Martin collapsed in the car park she just took charge of the situation, sending Liam off to telephone for an ambulance and administering CPR on Martin while Cassy ran in to get me.

I’m not sure what happened after the ambulance arrived. Everything is a bit of a blur. I can remember the paramedics turning up and taking over. I can even remember travelling to the hospital in the ambulance but everything else is a nightmare of men in white coats running down the corridor, machines being pushed at high speed into the examination room and Martin lying there looking for all the world as if he was just asleep.

I promised that as soon as I know anything I would phone Sophie. She has been so good. Apparently she managed to calm everyone at the party and stop them from getting in the way. Ella said that she quickly arranged taxis for everyone that needed them and promised to stay by the phone back at the villa for updates. She also found Ella a lift with Malcolm’s wife Gloria who followed the ambulance all the way to the hospital.

I was useless, I could only stand there stunned, incapable of even rational thought never mind organising anything. It was the shock probably; the shock of seeing Martin lying there and praying that he wouldn’t die.

‘Mrs Brooks would you like to come through now.’ The nurse holds the door open for me as I walk slowly into Martin’s room. I’m trying my very hardest to keep it together but it’s such a shock to see him lying there naked to the waist and attached to all those drips and monitors. Opening his eyes, he smiles as he sees me standing there quietly by his side.


‘Oh Martin, I was so worried’ unchecked the tears start to roll down my cheeks. Very gently I take his hand in mine and carefully bend down to kiss his cool brow.

‘Mrs Brooks, we were just explaining to Martin that he has suffered a heart attack ‘I hold my breath as the doctor continues ‘He was very lucky that your friend was on the scene so quickly otherwise it could have been much worse for him. With rest and medication he should make a full recovery but you must take this as a warning. As I explained to Martin he must change a lot of things in his life, more exercise, a good diet and less stress’

‘Don’t worry Doctor I’ll make sure he does.’

‘I’ll be back to see you in the morning Martin. Nurse, can we have 15 minute obs through the night please?’ Turning at the door the doctor continued ‘You must try to get some rest now, maybe your wife would like to go home for a while and get some rest too’

‘Please doctor, can I stay with him for a little while? I promise I’ll leave soon’

‘Ok, just for a little while. I will see you both in the morning’
As the doctor and nurse leave the room I can see them talking to Ella who is still waiting outside the door.

‘It’s true what the doctor said Martin, we must take this as a warning. But let’s not worry about anything tonight; we’ll have plenty of time talk tomorrow’

‘There is something I must tell you now Fliss, it’s about the company’

‘What ever it is can wait. Let’s just concentrate on getting you better’

‘No Fliss, this can’t wait. I'm so sorry, I’ve been very stupid and have run up debts on the business.' looking at my horrified expression Martin hurriedly continues 'I managed to arrange a short term loan to cover the shortfall but I wasn’t able to repay it on time. I’m worried now that we may loose the villa’

‘You put the villa up as security? But how, surely you needed my signature for that? I can’t believe the bank would be that sloppy’

'I didn’t borrow from the bank ‘

‘Where did you borrow from?'

‘Tony Eagleton’

I feel my legs buckle and sinking into the chair next to his bed I am still in a state of shock as I look at Martin lying there covering his face with his hands. What have you done you silly fool. After everything that you’ve told me about that gangster, how could you even consider asking him for a loan? I can’t say any of this of course. The last thing Martin needs is to be told what an idiot he’s been.

‘Let’s not worry about it now. We’ll talk about again in the morning’

‘I’m so sorry Fliss, for everything’

‘Shush now, remember what the doctor said, you need to rest. Everything will be fine, I promise’ and raising from the chair I bend over to kiss him goodbye hoping that he doesn’t realise quite how scared I really am.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Episode 18 - The Party

‘The taxi’s here’ called Ella opening the front door ‘hurry up everybody, we don’t want to keep him waiting’

Martin closed his laptop and sighed, why was everyone making such a fuss about going for a meal for heavens sake, he grumbled to himself.

‘Grandpa, are you ready yet?’ asked Olivia standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips ‘we’re going to be late’

‘Just coming’ sighed Martin as he followed his little granddaughter out into the hall. ‘OK everybody I’m ready let’s get going’

As everybody was climbing into the taxi Martin’s mobile phone began to ring

‘Oh who can that be now’ I asked, trying my very best not to sound as exasperated as I felt. Just once it would be nice if he could switch the damn thing off, or better still leave it at home.

Glancing at the callers name on the screen Martin switched off his phone ‘Nothing important’ he blustered ‘they can call back later’

Sophie and I had been up to the golf club this afternoon to check that everything was going to be ready for tonight. We’d told Martin a little white lie about going down to the village for some shopping and I am sure that he still doesn’t suspect a thing.

The car park is busy’ commented Martin as we arrived at the golf club ‘I hope you didn’t forget to book a table Fliss or we will be waiting all night to be fed’

‘Stop grumbling Dad’ laughed Emma, pushing her father into the doorway of the club ‘anyone would think that you weren’t enjoying your birthday.’’

As we walked into the club Olivia asked ‘Mummy why aren’t there any lights on?’ ‘Probably another bloody power failure’ mumbled Martin as we carried on through to the restaurant.


Martin’s face was a picture when the lights came up and he saw the huge banner across the room with Happy Birthday Martin and all our fiends laughing and cheering. Within seconds he was joining in with the laughter and shaking the outstretched hands of all his golfing buddies. ‘Whose idea was this’ he asked looking at Ella and Sophie, ‘You can blame Mum’ said Sophie ‘it was all her idea. I don’t know how she managed to keep it from you for all these weeks’ ‘No laughed Ella ‘we were sure that you would find out’

Turning to look at me for the first time since we had arrived Martin said ‘I knew she was up to something, but I never suspected this’

I can’t tell you how relieved I felt. I had been worrying all day whether I should start dropping hints to Martin about the party. He has been in such a funny mood. It’s as if having the house full was all too much for him. He spent ages this morning shut away in the study. I know that he is very busy with work at the moment but surely he could have afforded to take one day of to be with his family. I was terrified that when we arrived he would go mad and storm out.

It’s strange but looking across the dance floor at Martin laughing and joking with his friends I’m getting a strange feeling about tonight. Nothing tangible, but you can’t be married to someone for a long as we have and not pick up on their moods. It’s as if Marin is acting the part of the convivial host. The smiles and back slapping all look a little to contrived, the enthusiasm for his presents a bit too enthusiastic.

‘Wonderful party Fliss’ slurs Ken Jessel ‘Martin is a very lucky man to have you. I’m sure that Lizzie wouldn’t go to all this trouble for my birthday’

‘Oh Ken don’t be silly of course she would. Any fool can she how much she loves you’

Putting his arm around my waist, Ken laughed ‘let’s face it, I’m just a typical man, can’t see what right in front of my face sometimes’

Is that it? Does Martin just need to be reminded that he has a family that loves him?

‘You look miles away’ I must have been, I hadn’t noticed Ken staggering away to the bar and Michael coming over to me. ‘You must have worked very hard putting all this together. It is a super party. I was just saying to Sonny I hope that Martin appreciates all you hard work.’

As long as he is having a god time that’s all I want’

‘Well he certainly looks like he’s enjoying himself, who’s that he dancing with?’

‘That Sophie, our eldest daughter, she’s been over here all week her children. Speaking of which I’d better go and see that they are OK’

The wine was flowing and the buffet looked fabulous. Everyone was enjoying themselves. And I must admit, even Martin looked more relaxed and happy than I’d seen for a long while. Maybe it was time for me to chill out and enjoy the evening, after all what could go wrong now?


Martin glanced at his watch and making his excuses to Malcolm Westbury hurried out of the side door of the club. Even at nearly midnight it was still warm and Martin could feel his palms sweating as he flipped open his mobile phone. Six messages from Laura, dear god, he thought, what’s wrong now.

‘I’ve been trying to phone you all evening’ Laura snapped as Martin finally managed to get through to her ‘all hell’s broken out here. Tony’s livid; you haven’t answered any of his emails.’

‘What do you want from me’ growled Martin trying not to shout ‘I told you that the girls were over here for my birthday and we were all going out tonight. I can’t just ignore my family’

‘And you can’t ignore Tony either’ she countered ‘You promised that you would get the money to him by the end of the week. Where is it? You have got it haven’t you?’

‘I explained this all you the other day. Most of the money was being sent from Japan on Friday but with the time difference I wouldn’t get it until after close of business. You can tell Tony he will have his money on Monday’

‘Monday will be too late. You had a deal Martin and Tony doesn’t like it when people renege on a deal’

Martin closed his eyes; he could feel his heart beating as if it was trying to fight its way out of his chest, he started sweating and as he felt himself falling he grabbed his arm in terror.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Episode 17 - Sisterly love

‘Look who I found loitering around Stanstead Airport’ called Martin as he paid off the taxi.

Running out from the kitchen where I had been putting the final touches to the salad for our BBQ supper, I hug my youngest daughter as she rushes up the drive.

‘Ella, how lovely, I wasn’t expecting you to arrive till after midnight’

‘I phoned Dad earlier in the week to find out which flight he was getting, then I managed to swap my shift so that I could finish at lunch time and we could travel together. Don’t shout at Dad, I swore him to secrecy, I wanted to surprise you Mum,’

‘Oh it’s a lovely surprise’ I can’t stop smiling as I pick up her rucksack and follow them both into the villa. ‘Olivia, Grace, come here quickly, Grandpa and Aunt Ella have arrived’ I call out to the children who had been busy in the kitchen making Welcome Home banners.

Scrambling into the hall clutching the still wet posters, the girls fling their little arms around their Grandpa’s legs. ‘Where’s Sophie?’ asked Martin as he bends down to kiss his granddaughters and admire their artwork.

‘She’s in the study Darling, I think that she might still be on the phone to her office. I’m sure she’ll be out in a minute’

‘I thought she was supposed be on holiday. Doesn’t she ever switch off?' asked Emma putting a large gift wrapped box on the hall table.

‘Now don’t start, I want this to be a lovely weekend and I don’t want you two squabbling as soon as you get together’

‘Oh Mum’ laughed Ella putting her arms around me ‘you wouldn’t want us any other way’

Don’t you believe it, I mutter, ‘Oh Ella it is lovely to see you again, I’ve missed you so much, it’s been far too long since we’ve all been together.’

‘I’m sorry I couldn’t get here any sooner but it’s been a nightmare trying to get this time off work. We are really short staffed at the moment and everyone is working silly hours.’

‘And you have the nerve to call your sister a workaholic. You are both as bad as one another’ I sigh

Ella laughs as she sits on the floor hugging her little nieces ‘Yes but I don’t have these little princesses waiting for me. It’s easy to stay in work when you’ve nobody to go home to’

I look on wistfully as Ella rolls around the floor tickling Olivia and Grace. Ella would make a wonderful Mum. She has so much love to give. I can’t believe that she is still on her own. She is so pretty and full of fun. It’s been a long time since she split up with Jake, I wonder if there is any one special for her in London. No. I’m sure there can’t be, she would tell me if there was.

Ella is now laughing fit to burst as the girls scramble over her trying their best to tickle her back. As if on queue, Sophie storms out of the office. ‘What’s all the noise about? Mummy is trying to work’ spotting Martin leaning against the wall she looks embarrassed as she says ‘Oh I’m sorry Dad, I didn’t know that you were home’ and glaring at her sister who was still lying with her giggling nieces on top of her, she snaps ‘Don’t get them over excited Ella or they won’t eat their supper’

Immediately the giggling stops and the atmosphere in the hall changes, Sophie stands motionless in the doorway of the study with her arms folded and I know that Olivia senses her Mother’s quiet disapproval. Not tonight, I pray, please no arguments, for Martin’s sake if not for mine. This is supposed to be his special weekend, not a war zone.

With a self control that I could only wonder at, Ella looks up from where she was still lying on the floor. Angry beyond belief that Sophie could spoil such a happy welcome, Ella looks straight at her sister and then fixing a big silly grin on her face said ‘Hi sis, good to see you too’

Closing my eyes I whisper a silent prayer of thanks. Looking up the hall I can see the children who must have run to sit at the bottom of the stairs as soon as they had seen Sophie glowering at their funny Aunty. My heart sinks when I realise that they’re sitting holding hands nervously. Glancing at Sophie with the contempt she deserves I call with a brightness that is pure acting ‘Right girls, who wants a BBQ?’

‘Me, me’ they shout in unison running over to pull at Martin’s hands ‘we want a BBQ don’t we Grandpa’

‘Yes my little darlings, a BBQ and a very large Scotch' answers Martin glowering at Sophie as he let’s himself be pulled out towards the pool.

Looking at Sophie and shaking her head, Ella walks through to the kitchen to pour herself a large glass of wine.

Turning to Sophie with my anger only just in check I say ‘Don’t ever let me see those girl’s frightened of you again. I don’t care how busy you are or how tired you are, they come first. Do you understand?’

Sophie glared at me as I continue ‘And nothing is going to spoil this weekend. So it’s no more work Sophie, no phone calls to the office, no faxes to America, you are going to spend time with your daughters.’

‘You will never understand Mum what’s it’s like to be me. I have to win this contract, don’t you understand if it falls through I can kiss goodbye to being made a partner and then everything I have worked so hard for will be for nothing’

'No Sophie you're wrong, I do understand. You're my daughter and I love but what you are in danger of loosing is irreplaceable. If your not careful you will loose something far more important than any contract. Olivia and Grace need you right now, not when you have made partner, they need to know that their Mummy loves them and has time for them. Your family is what’s really important and believe me if you loose sight of that you really will have lost everything.'