“Have you noticed the woman in the navy blue Mac?” Gillian asked Ryan as they made their way toward the exit at Dr. Samuel Johnson’s house.
“Which woman?” Ryan returned her question with another, turning a 1-80 to better see the people behind them.
“Oh Ryan, stop turning and gawking like a tourist from the US. Sometimes you’re simply way too cool and excessively too urbane.”
“I prefer ‘too cool,’” Ryan echoed.
She gave him a mock jab to his ribs and both of them laughed.
They left the building and stood off to one side on Gough Street, enjoying the architectural sights. “Look,” Gillian said, poking Ryan, “See? There she is.”
“So,” Ryan replied, “there’s a woman in a navy blue raincoat. I assume you want me to make something of that fact? Is this in either your ‘too cool’ or the ‘too urbane’ category?”
“One more thing,” Ryan added with a smirk, “your spotting this mysterious woman in a dark raincoat is something out of a Class B movie in the US. I expect better from you.”
“Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, she was behind us this morning on our walk toward the East Putney tube stop.”
“Dear,” Ryan answered, “as a London native you should know the London Regional Transport exists to move some of the city’s 25 million people from one place to another place. Some of the riders could very likely be headed in similar directions.”
“Yes. Yes. This I know, Ryan. I simply find it rather odd that she’s following us. That’s all.”
“She’s not necessarily following us, you know; could be it’s merely a coincidence the three of us are headed in the same general direction,” Ryan replied, “she could be a tourist from the States who directs a media center in the high school in Lander, Wyoming, visiting the house in London where Samuel Johnson wrote his famous dictionary.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps. Just never mind. How about some lunch? My breakfast of tea, toast and jam is failing me.”
They walked the 20 yards to 17 Gough Street for lunch at Ye Olde Chesire Cheese, reputed to be London’s oldest pub, dating back to the 1500’s or 1600’s, depending on whose history of London pubs seems more persuasive.
After entering the pub a host seated them at a harvest-style table with benches. Four people were already seated at the table.
“Reminds me of the communal seating at Durgin Park in Boston,” Ryan said.
“Having never visited Boston,” Gillian said, “about all I can add to that observation is ‘Hmmm.’”
At that, a server emerged, asking, “Drinks?”
“Two lagers, please, “ Ryan answered. “That okay with you, Gill?”
Gillian was staring over Ryan’s shoulder, her brow furrowed. She didn’t hear his question.
“Gillian,” Ryan began, “is a lager okay for you? Harp Irish lager?”
Gillian dismissed Ryan’s question with a semi-regal wave of her hand. “Whatever.”
Ryan turned to the server. “I guess we’ll have two Harp Irish lagers.”
“Very good. I’ll take your lunch orders when I return with your beers,” the server said as he turned and left.
Gillian sat more upright in her chair, craning to see over Ryan shoulder. “Don’t turn around, Ryan, but Lady Blue Coat is sitting two tables behind you.”
“Gillian, this game of Clue is getting tiresome,” Ryan said. He reached across the table and gave Gillian’s hand a squeeze. “I love you very much, you know. But I’d rather be your Romeo than your Dr. Watson. Would that be acceptable to you?”
“Despite Romeo’s fate?” Gillian chuckled.
“Everything I do, I do for you, Gillian,” Ryan offered. “I’d even drink hemlock.”
“Oh Ryan, give us break. You’ve used the wrong character! Romeo didn’t drink hemlock. He was Italian. I think he preferred Amadeo Chianti as his drink of choice.”
Gillian laughed at her joke while underneath the table she rubbed the toe of her boot flirtatiously against the inside of Ryan’s thigh.
“Back to The Lady In Blue, Ryan, her recurring appearances during today’s sight-seeing bothers me to no small degree. Her presence can’t be that circumstantial. One sighting might go unnoticed, two sightings are coincidental, but three sightings make one wonder what’s going on. At least, that’s how I fancy it.”
Ryan smiled one of his I give up smiles. “Gilly, the number of her appearances tallied alongside the sites we’ve visited this morning couldn’t be statistically significant.”
“I married a statistician?” she asked aloud.
Before Ryan could reply, the server returned with their Harp beers. In accord with Ryan and Gillian’s post-nuptial agreement, each ordered something basic to their new partner’s food traditions and heritage, So, Ryan ordered the Steak and Kidney Pie. Gillian had a Steak Burger, chips, Guinness onion comfit, and horseradish crème fraiche.
After ten minutes of eating, they traded lunches.
Two months earlier . . .
Gillian and Ryan were married in the Putney Methodist Church at the intersection of Gwendolyn Avenue and Upper Richmond Road, not more than a five minute walk from Gillian’s detached house.
The church has a fully operable pipe organ that survived WWII, which is more than can be said for the roof. A nearby bomb blast lifted the roof, leaving it some 4-degrees off-kilter. A repair to the Gothic structure would cost astronomical values in British Pounds Sterling, so repairing the roof had been on the Trustees’ agenda through many generations.
At coffee and tea following a Sunday service, a long-time congregant pointed out some water-stained pews to Ryan, “If you’re sittin’ there when it’s raining, move yer arse cheeks. It’s simply better wisdom not to sit there.”
A typical British Occam’s Razor! Ryan stifled a chuckle.
The newlyweds spent a four-day weekend in the south, mostly in and around Winchester, then they returned to Gillian’s house, which had been renamed with a possessive pronoun: our house.
Gillian resumed her duties in the Wandsworth University’s Department of Linguistics; Ryan still had six months remaining on his academic-year sabbatical and spent his time working on his research.
Late Friday afternoon Ryan closed the book he was reading, rubbed his eyes and then looked at his watch. It was 5:30. He went to the kitchen cabinet where their liquor supply was kept. He took down a bottle of Booths gin, the dry vermouth, and made a four-finger martini.
“Can you make that two?” Gillian asked as she came through the front door. She put her coat and scarf in the closet.
She went into the kitchen; Ryan handed her drink.
They touched glasses and took their first sips. “The martini is well done, Professor Mixologist, but I can’t understand why you add the dry vermouth. You Yanks just don’t want to admit you drink gin, do you?” Gillian took another sip.
She continued: “Turning to another topic, if you don’t mind, have you given thought to what we’re going to do at the end of this academic term? I don’t want us living an ocean apart.”
“No, Gillian, neither do I, of course. We’ll go to the States when your current term is over; I can find a visiting professorship somewhere, I think. Then, I’m obliged to return to my regular position in Columbus in the fall. Now it’s my turn to change the subject. How about some dinner?”
“We haven’t a thing in the fridge, I’m afraid. Take out?” Gillian asked.
“Something like that.”
They drained their glasses, went to the closet and pulled on their coats, walked to Upper Richmond Road and waved down a taxi.
Ryan held the right rear passenger door open for Gillian. After she sat in the backseat Ryan got in, pulled the door closed, and sat beside Gillian. She snuggled closer and linked her right arm with his left.
“The Telegraph Country Pub, on Telegraph Road,” Ryan told the cabbie.
“Yes, sir. The Telegraph it is. And just where else might The Telegraph Pub be, sir, if not in Telegraph Road? Have you ever wondered?”
The cabbie laughed as if had had just been anointed the best Christmas Pantomime Comic south of the Thames.
In the back seat, Ryan and Gillian gave each other an unvoiced God have mercy roll of their eyes and a shrug of their shoulders.
The Telegraph Country Pub is a lavishly refurbished pub set in the middle of Putney Heath, near Roehampton. The menu is a culinary adventure. The wines and beers are equal to the menu.
“What goes here? The Telegraph Country Pub? I thought we’d get something simple tonight,” Gillian said quietly as they stepped out of the cab. She didn’t want the cabbie to hear her.
“It’s not that fancy, you know. Remember, The Telegraph Country Pub is a pub. It isn’t Claridge’s five-star restaurant with Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen. But, neither is it Mike’s Fish & Chips in Paddington. I’m not apt tonight to take out my bride for either shepherd’s pie or for fish and chips,” Ryan said as he paid the cabbie.
“How long will I be your bride, Ryan? When do I become your wife?”
“Rich Dr. Graves, he has a new life, when can he call his bride his wife.” Ryan sang an improvised melody.
“It takes 12 months I hear, “Ryan replied with a chuckle. “The first year of marriage you’re a bride. After one year, the bride becomes a wife. By the way, new bride of mine, I have a marvelous conjugal idea; let’s eat, afterwards go home and then we can . . .
Gillian finished his sentence and whispered, ” . . . Yes, we can, but only if you’re nice and behave like a gentleman at dinner,” She leaned her head against Ryan’s breast.
“That sounds like an offer I can’t refuse. Do I have to behave like a gentleman when we’re home?”
“Ryan, you’re hopeless. Yes, I believe you’re also handsome, desirable, smart, somewhat famous, and I love you very much. But still … you’re hopeless,” Gillian giggled.
A woman was standing farther back in the taxi rank. She was wearing a dark blue raincoat and watched Ryan and Gillian walk from their cab to The Telegraph Country Pub entry. She flicked a cigarette into the circle drive’s gravel.