Stirling lifts her goggles and wipes the dirt and sweat from her forehead with her leather jacket sleeve. She reaches back, pulling an insulated steel flask from one of the saddlebags behind her, and takes several gulps of water. It's hotter than she expected, especially considering how near the sea she is. She is enjoying the shade of the tall tree she is stopped under.
She glances in the sidecar beside her. Bucephalus continues to snore on his blanket, his head stretched out to rest on Stirling's rucksack. He hasn't even noticed they've stopped.
It's the view that made her apply the brakes. She had drove down a tunnel-like road, the trees and vegetation growing tall on both sides, descending a long hill, twisting and turning several times. Near the bottom, she had turned right, following the signs to the village centre. And, as she glanced to the left, she had seen it, a brief glimpse between trees and houses – breathtaking. Across the River Fowey, clinging to the hills above the water like a collection of brightly coloured birdhouses, is a town, a village really – Polruan. It's the most beautiful village Stirling has ever seen. Certainly more picturesque than the greyish-green hamlet she grew up near on the foggy Yorkshire moors. It's so bright and vibrant and mesmerizing.
With a honk, a car whizzes past her, waking Stirling from her trance.
Glancing at her watch, Stirling notes the time. She has 45 minutes before her appointment. Better keep moving. She puts the Triumph in gear, adjusts her goggles and continues along the road, turning several times before entering the enchanting little river and seaside town. As she approaches the town centre, she slows to a crawl, the streets narrowing drastically, winding and congested with people. Holidaymakers, she notes with interest. She easily steers the Triumph around the small groups of walkers and window shoppers. She notices an open area ahead between the quaint buildings and suddenly she can see the River Fowey and a small quay jutting out with boats moored to it.
She steers the Triumph down the short side street just off the town's main market thoroughfare, stopping near a small herd of outdoor tables outside a pub and restaurant. Turning off the bike's ignition, Stirling unsnaps the top two closures of her light leather jacket and reaches in for her notes. She is just unfolding the paper when a commanding voice comes from behind her.
"Sir, you can't park here."
With all her riding gear on, Stirling struggles to look behind her, searching for the person who belongs to the voice.
"As you can see, this is clearly marked as a no parking area. I'm going to have to ask you to move your vehicle or I'll be forced to write you a citation."
Frustrated, Stirling pulls up her goggles and unsnaps her helmet, pulling it off in one smooth movement. She's positive her hair is standing on end, her plait frizzy and soaked with sweat from being shoved in the crash helmet for hours. But at least now she can swivel her neck.
She turns and finds herself face-to-face with a uniformed police constable. At least, she thinks he's a plod. He wears no telltale bobby hat or Sillitoe Tartan peaked cap like the coppers in London. He also has no stab vest or hi-visibility jacket. Instead, he wears a blindingly white, crisply ironed short-sleeved uniform shirt with a black tie and silver shoulder numbers on black epaulettes – badge number 333, she notes. His short dark hair is grey at the temples and his heavy dark eyebrows try their best to give his puppy dog green-brown eyes a severe look. He's not smiling as he grips his black notebook and pencil in hand.
Stirling's eyes widen with recognition. Suddenly, she's back in the Bristol Bobby pub a month ago, sipping a glass of ice water and chatting with Inspector Lecherous Landry and his cute little brother – Simon!
He looks different in a uniform, she thinks, blushing as she recalls what he looked like without most of his clothes on. But there's something about the uniform that makes him look even more bang-tidy than he did that night and the next morning. And I never noticed it before but I love his accent.
"Hello," she says, feeling strangely awkward as he stares at her, the realization that she's not a man washing across his face. At first he looks surprised, then shocked and ultimately embarrassed.
"I, I, I beg your pardon, miss," he stutters, looking somewhat abashed at his mistake. He looks around, as if ensuring no one has overheard his gaff.
Stirling smiles. He doesn't recognize me, she realizes. And he's acting like a dog that's just been caught digging in the garden.
"No problem. It's hard with the goggles, the helmet and the jacket. Actually, I'm glad you stopped. I'm hoping you can help me." Maybe you can explain to me why you stood me up the next night at the Bristol Bobby, you wanker, she thinks.
The constable is suddenly all officiousness again. "You need to move the bike," he says, trying hard to look stern but not really succeeding. He looks at her more closely. "You do have a driving licence for this vehicle?"
"Yes I do," says Stirling, an edge to her voice. What is it with men when they see a women driving a motorcycle? she thinks. They never seem to believe we can actually control one.
"May I see it please," the constable commands in a clipped tone.
Stirling feels an argument welling in her throat but she pushes it back with a deep breath. Humour him, she thinks. Just humour him.
She reaches into the sidecar for her rucksack, wrestling it out from under Bucephalus' head. With a snort and a grunt he awakens and glares up at her. As Stirling digs in the side pocket of the bag for her wallet, the dog sits up with a yawn and a shake so powerful, it rattles the sidecar and shifts the Triumph slightly. The shriek that follows causes Stirling to drop her wallet in alarm.
"WHAT is THAT?" Simon demands, backing away while clawing at his duty belt, digging for his pepper spray.
"It's a dog," says Stirling wryly, bending over to retrieve her fallen property. "I have a licence for him as well."
She's surprised to hear a sprinkling of laughter and looks over to find a handful of people seated at the tables watching the action. Great, now I'm part of the dinner entertainment, she thinks.
Stirling pulls her licence from its sleeve and holds it out to the constable. He seems hesitant to touch it, his eyes glued on Bucephalus. "He won't hurt you," she assures him.
"Are you sure that's not a pony?" he asks nervously, stepping forward slowly to take the paper from her. "I'm not very keen on horses."
He scrutinizes the slip. "I see you're down from London," he says. "That's a long trip. Just yourself?"
"And the pony," she says, nodding to the hulking form in the sidecar.
"Left the hubby and kiddies at home?" he asks.
"I'm not married; no children."
"Stir-ling," he says, reading from the slip of paper. "That's an interesting name."
He's quiet for a moment, staring at the licence, and then looks up at her, his eyes widening.
"Stirling," he says again.
"Yeah, that's my name," she says, smiling, enjoying his confusion and discomfort. Remember me, you tosser?
He's really staring at her now and she stares back. "Hi, Simon," she says, giving him a little wave.
Suddenly, Simon's back in the Bristol Bobby pub with Justin, kissing a beautiful singer with auburn hair and being treated to a fantastic view down her shirt. And then he's waking up next to her at the Premier Inn, sharing her pillows, her blankets, her shampoo, her room service and another kiss, that mind-numbing, knee-weakening kiss that went on forever but still was not long enough.
He's thought of that night and morning and that woman many times in the past month, wondering what she's doing, whether she ever thinks of him, whether she ever wonders why he never showed up to see her at the pub the next night. And now she's sitting in front of him, on the main street of Fowey, on a motorcycle, a dog the size of a workhorse sitting in the sidecar.
"Stirling," Simon says for the third time. He doesn't know what to say. "I still have your Oxford University T-shirt."
You git! he thinks.
"I know," she says, staring into his eyes, daring him to explain him self.
"I've taken excellent care of it," he says. "I washed it and folded it carefully. I considered hanging it in the wardrobe but I thought the hanger might stretch and misshapen the shoulders. I've been storing it in my clothes dresser instead. I contemplated mailing it back to you but I didn't have your address or any way to contact you. I considered sending it to Justin or the pub so they could forward it on to you but I was worried it would get misplaced or forgotten."
He's running off at the mouth, blathering on about nothing, and he knows it. He clears his throat and gets back to the business at hand.
"I can't believe you're here. What brings you to Fowey?" he asks, handing her back the licence.
Stirling slips it into its sleeve in her wallet, throws the wallet into her rucksack and then the bag into the sidecar. She's suddenly feeling shy.
"I have an appointment at the surgery. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction."
Simon looks surprised, like she's asked him directions to the local crack hangout or smugglers' den.
"The surgery? You're here to see Doc Kenan?"
"Are you ill?" he asks, looking very concerned. He steps forward as if he expects Stirling to fall in a faint from the Triumph. Suddenly, she's concerned too.
"Do I look ill?" she asks, worry in her voice. That's all she needs – to look like she has the lurgy during her interview.
"No, no," Simon says emphatically. "You look right fit. Very tidy."
Stirling looks up sharply. A bright red blush is scaling his neck and face; his cheeks are flaming, and his eyes are squeezed shut in what appears to be mortified embarrassment. He opens them, and gives an apologetic look.
Loud snorts of laughter emanate from the area of the outdoor tables.
"What I mean is, you look – well."
As Stirling sits waiting for Simon to recover his dignity, a petite brunette comes skipping out of the pub, tossing her straight bobbed hair.
"Hiya Simon," she says with a sexy throaty voice, reaching up and straightening his black, clip-on tie. "Who's your friend?"
He sighs in frustration. "When I'm on duty, you're to address me as PC Landry, Rose," he says in an irritated voice. "And you're not to touch my person or uniform, even if you do think my tie is crooked. It could be construed by the public as you behaving in an overly familiar manner with local law enforcement. People might think I'm showing you favouritism."
Stirling watches in disbelief as Rose puts on a big pout. "But we are familiar, Simon. We've known each other since we were in primary school. We used to swim naked together off my da's boat just up the river. How can you expect me to call you PC Landry when I've seen you starkers? And aren't I your favourite?" she asks, batting her eyelashes and running a finger down his shirt's front.
Several giggles are heard from the people seated outside the pub.
"You're such a silly-willy, Simon," Rose says, reaching up on her tiptoes and kissing him on the cheek. "Ta-ta. Nice meeting you, whoever you are," she adds, giving a little finger flutter wave as she walks away, swaying her bum so outrageously, it looks like she might throw her back out.
Stirling is gobsmacked, staring open-mouthed as the bizarre woman disappears around the corner. She looks back at Simon, who has turned a peculiar shade of purple. He looks like he's about to do a runner for home.
"The surgery?" she asks, hoping to get an answer before he bolts.
"Yes, yes," he practically shouts. He gestures to the road in front of them. "You go straight here. Follow the road around a big turn to the left and then up a hill. You're looking for a road to the left called Rawlings Lane. Turn there and follow it until you pass a complex of buildings. The surgery is on the left hand side, fairly modern, brick, single-storey building. There's a sign out front. You can't miss it."
"Thanks," Stirling says quickly, donning her helmet and starting the Triumph with a roar. She has to get away from this weirdness. Plus, she's late.
As Stirling rides away, Simon follows her route with his eyes. He watches her as she disappears around a slight curve in the narrow street. He stands for another few moments, gazing wistfully after her, before heaving a lonely sigh and continuing on his rounds. He does his best to ignore the giggles and laughter echoing behind him.