‘From the look on his face I think he thought I ought to be still chained to the kitchen sink.’ When they were out of earshot the constable murmured: ‘She’s a looker. Bloody Yanks get all the best women.’ His sergeant turned on his heel and began pacing towards town again. ‘Did you see his medals?’ The constable snorted. ‘They get them for just being here, don’t they?’ The sergeant shook his head. ‘He’s got a DFC, they don’t give them out willy nilly, I can tell you. So he deserves anything he can get in my book.’ After Silver Street bridge, Mary started down the sandy path which in the moonlight looked to him like his own yellow brick road. He put his arm around her shoulder, and Mary responded by holding on to his waist. They walked in silence until she said; ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to go back the long way round.’ He squeezed her shoulder. ‘I’m not tired.’ ‘Neither am I.’ She took a deep breath. ‘I don’t think I’ll sleep a wink – I’ve had such a lovely time.’ Bill kissed the side of her head. ‘Me too.’ Later, as they turned into her road of three-storey terrace houses, an increasing roar began to fill the heavens. He felt her shiver, so he stopped and drew her into him and heldher tightly. ‘It’s the RAF – Round The Clock. Now the Army boys are over there, Fortress Europe is nearly finished.’ Her voice came up from his chest. ‘What will you be doing when your leave is up?’ He was evasive. ‘Oh, back on the job.’ She pulled away and looked up at him. ‘Look, Bill, I’m not daft. Tell me what you do exactly – if you can – it matters a lot to me.’ Bill thought for a moment. ‘OK. I’m in a fighter squadron. We escort bombers.’ Her face fell. With a sigh, she said, ‘I had hoped that, perhaps, you weren’t in the fighting; liason or something like that.’ He pulled her close again, cuddled her. ‘It’s not like the bomber boys. Compared to them it’s a piece of cake.’ If she hadn’t felt so miserable, she would have chuckled at his use of RAF slang. He didn’t say anything about the targets of opportunity. The word had come down to strafe airfields on the way home – any aircraft destroyed would now be credited as kills. It made sense, but airfields were heavily defended…. They walked in silence until they reached the gate to her digs. Bill was anxious. The roar in the sky had diminished to a distant hum, but it was still casting a shadow over the end of the evening. ‘You all right? You’ve gone quiet.’ ‘Yes.’ She did not intend to tell him that her brother had died in the Battle of Britain. He’d got his wings, and three weeks later his Hurricane had gone down in the Channelafter his first dogfight. She’d sworn then that she would never get friendly with anybody in the services – especially the Air Force. She reached up and hugged him. ‘Yes – of course.’ It was finding out the precarious reality of their situation that gave her the urge, but she kissed him passionately on the mouth. She pulled back, said: ‘I’ll see you tomorrow then – say seven o’clock at the hotel?’ He pleaded: ‘No – I’ll pick you up here at, say, six-thirty. We had better get there early, it’s going to be crowded.’ She frowned, was going to say that her landlady, Mrs Chick, wouldn’t approve, and then thought: damn it, and said: ‘I look forward to it.’ With that she gave him an affectionate peck on the cheek, turned and ran up the stairs and opened the door. Just as she closed it behind her she waved with her fingers. Bill caught sight of a curtain twitching. He stood for a moment in the empty dark street, then walked away as another roaring in the sky started to build. When she reached her room Mary leaned back against the door, tears rolling down her cheeks as the unlit room reverberated to the same angry sky.
CHAPTER FOUR Bill couldn’t get to sleep; his mind kept going round and