Chapter 1 Petunias

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Chapter 1 Petunias

All hell broke loose in the next street.

Amaryllis took a moment to swear silently and comprehensively before setting off at a run towards the source of the disturbance, wresting the gun from her shoulder holster as she did so.

She dived down a lane between two houses, accelerating into the darkness, and ran full tilt into someone coming the other way. She yelped - and was silenced by a large hand slapped over her mouth. Another hand chopped the gun out of her grasp and before she could do anything her arms were pinned behind her. She struggled instinctively, trying to get her tired brain to come up with an escape plan. Her captor dragged her in the direction of the action. They walked from the darkness into the flickering light of the flames.

'Hey!' he yelled in a deep voice that carried above the sounds of crackling, wailing, screaming and the rest.

It was hard to make sense of what was going on, but Amaryllis saw a few random figures in the smoke - figures in and out of uniform: some of them standing still, apparently too stunned to do anything, others staggering around as if injured, while a few people had recovered quickly and were helping the rest to safety. The uniforms were British army. Amaryllis and her colleagues had been tipped off that something was about to happen, but they had been too late to prevent it.

'Hey, English!' shouted her captor. 'I have one of yours - do you want her?'

Two figures emerged from the smoke. They stopped short. At first Amaryllis thought her captor was holding a gun on them, but, twisting in his grasp to look at him in the firelight, she realised that he had explosives packed round his body. 'Nice,' she thought, and realised she had said it aloud.

Nobody was going to rescue her at the risk of blowing everyone else up. She sighed. She was going to have to do it herself again as usual.

In this region men didn't expect women to put up much of a resistance, which was one thing in her favour. Another thing was that she had come top of her class in spy school when it came to working with explosives. And the third, decisive thing was that she had a syringe in her pocket containing a drug which, if only she could use it, would put her captor to sleep for a very long time - perhaps not long enough for a prickly hedge to grow up round him, but near enough.

Before the others even had time to recall their hostage situation training, she had wrenched one hand free, hooked a finger round the trigger mechanism he held, disabled it in one practised movement , extracted the syringe from her pocket and used it. She had seen the man slump to his knees without even knowing anything had hit him, and she had decided to retire.

It was just too boring and predictable being a spy. She would retire and grow petunias in a window-box.

She would retire and take up knitting, embroidery and pigeon breeding.

She would retire to a small community and provide nibbles for church socials.


For once even Christopher was satisfied with the range of nibbles on offer at the regular monthly meeting of the Pitkirtly Local Improvement Forum in the village pub, the Queen of Scots. There were cocktail sausages, samosas, carrot sticks and Pringles, and he had even caught a glimpse of two different varieties of dip at the other end of the bar. He took this as a sign that western civilization had finally arrived in Pitkirtly. The Queen of Scots wasn't exactly a cosmopolitan wine bar, but it was undoubtedly the nearest thing this side of the Forth Bridge.

He had just stuffed a handful of Pringles in his mouth when the door of the bar swung open. All eyes, including Christopher's, swerved to look in that direction, and stayed swerved. A tall red-haired figure clad in deep purple stood in the doorway for a moment before walking lithely forward into the room. The door clicked shut behind her. An unusual - and uneasy - silence spread through the room, wafting across people's heads rather like the veil of smoke that had, in less enlightened times but still within Christopher's memory span, emerged from Jock McLean's pipe in these very premises.

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