When they had first got together, Guy and Gemma Carstairs thought it was rather droll to call themselves the Gee-Gees, two people working in harness. Now, after four years of marriage, it was no longer amusing and even rather puerile. That they seemed to spend more and more of their time arguing made it less appropriate as well. Their arguments were never loud; acrimonious, yes, but loud, never. It wouldn’t do for the neighbours to hear them shouting at each other, and the walls in Princess Row were not the most soundproof. That, for Gemma, was part of the trouble.
She really had not wanted to be in Brighton this weekend. Her friend, Petra, the one who knew all the best people, had suggested that Gemma accompany her to a concert. The concert of baroque music was to be given by a string quartet and would, Gemma considered, be utterly boring B but she would get to meet people who mattered. Her career in public relations depended not on what she knew, but on whose names and telephone numbers were in her mobile phone contacts.
>I am most definitely not spending Christmas in this dump,= she stated emphatically. >You can if you like, but there is no way I am leaving London. I can=t begin to imagine whatever possessed you to buy this... this... oh, this place, anyway. And to think that you did it without even consulting me!=
>But I did it to please you. You=d been going on about wanting a bijou cottage by the sea...=
>Just watch my lips. Bijou B cottage B by the sea. Three things this place most certainly isn=t. It isn=t bijou, it isn=t a cottage B it=s a terraced house B and it=s nearer the station than the sea.=
Guy decided to seize the opportunity. >I was wondering about selling up,= he said. >If we add what we get for this place to the bonus I=m expecting next month, we should have nearly enough to buy a pretty decent boat. Nigel=s got a contact in the trade who=ll do us a good deal. You can trust Nige to know where to get a good deal.=
Gemma was momentarily last for words, but only momentarily.
>Have you gone completely mad? What do we want with a boat? And anyway, what do you know about boats? The only boats you=ve ever had anything to do with are the rowing boats on the Serpentine. You wouldn=t have the first idea of how to get it out of the harbour.=
>Nige says it=s just like driving a car B I=ll pick it up in no time. Just imagine, sitting on deck with a glass of wine as the sun goes down and the moon comes up. What could be more romantic? And we could drop over to Le Touquet for dinner. How about that? Leave here Saturday morning, an afternoon stroll along the prom at Le Touquet, a slap-up dinner, and sail back again Sunday. Wouldn=t that be great?=
But he was talking to himself. Exercising what she regarded as great self-restraint, Gemma had left the room. It was either that or she would start shrieking like a fishwife, and she wouldn=t want the neighbours to hear her doing that. Not that the neighbours in number 73 were likely to.
Ted Watson, a retired postman, was snoozing in his favourite chair. He had, as usual, been at the Porter=s Rest before lunch where three pints of Harvey=s had slipped down very well. Dinner had been a nice piece of pork, roasted to a turn, with some excellent crackling. This, on top of the beer, had induced a warm, somnolent feeling and Ted=s gentle snores just oozed satisfaction. Meanwhile, Val, his long-suffering wife, attended to the washing up with her hearing aid switched off in case the snores increased in volume a bit too much.
On the other side of the Gee-Gees, in number 71, Nikki Russell sighed as she got started on a pendant she was making to match the earrings already sitting on her kitchen table. There was no chance that she would hear Gemma shrieking like a fishwife or even a banshee. Nikki=s six-year-old daughter, Katie, was watching her favourite video of Scooby-Doo and she would insist on turning the volume up almost as far as it would go.
>Perhaps,= thought Nikki, >I should get the doctor to test her hearing in case she=s deaf. But no, she can=t be. She always seems to hear her teacher even though she sits near the back of the class.=
It was not easy being a single mother bringing up a young daughter. Her sole income came from selling the jewellery she made to a shop in the Lanes. Katie=s father had gone back to his wife just before Nikki had discovered that she was pregnant and she had been too proud to ask him to contribute towards the expenses. Maybe that had been a mistake, but it was too late now to do anything about it.