The pub came into view around the next bend, and proved to be determinedly unpicturesque, being a sixties brutalist concrete structure. But the garden was spectacular, and the place was buzzing even early in the evening.
“My. It’s ugly,” Bill said as they drew to a halt.
Somebody must have been on the lookout for them because a tall ginger-haired woman in very tight jeans and a blindingly-patterned t-shirt ran out to greet them.
She stuck her head in the driver’s window.
“You Anna’s crew?”
“Follow me then,” and she galloped off.
“Chris,” Anna supplied as Rod drove carefully after the sprinting woman.
“She always like this?” he asked genially.
“Mostly,” Anna said. “Belle is much more reposeful.”
“Good,” Sam grunted. “This one is already giving me a headache.”
“That’s just the t-shirt,” Bill said gravely. “She has a kind face.”
“Thanks Bill.” Sam smiled over his shoulder. “I needed reminding not to jump to conclusions. It’s just that my ex-wife had a t-shirt just like that one.”
Rod patted him.
“If Anna likes her, this Chris ain’t a bit like Christina, though I can see the name and the shirt might have been a bit of a facer.”
“Sorry Sam,” Anna said. “Bad shit?”
“Water under the bridge.”
Bill opened his mouth and Anna put her finger to his lips.
“It’s okay,” he said somewhat indignantly “I wasn’t going to”.
“Sorry,” she whispered into his ear.
He smiled forgivingly as the camper came to a halt and patted her hand.
The door flew open and a ginger head poked into the camper.
“Hello Anna? How’s tricks? Where’d you get all the man flesh?”
“Yo Charlie. Driver is Rod Cracksman. Passenger Sam Henderson, buddy of Rod. And the handsome one sitting next to me is Bill Cracksman, aged seven.”
“Meetcha,” Charlie grinned and offered Bill a high five. He responded gleefully.
“Right. You can throw your lekkie cable through that window and plug in. There’s a tap just here you can have to yourselves. Dump your waste water down that drain. And just around the corner is an old outside toilet where you can empty the khasi.”
Anna smiled and Rod unwound himself from the driving seat. He offered a huge hand. She took a pace backwards.
“Blimey. You’re a big boy. Even for a Cracksman.”
“Granny calls him Gogmagog…”
Charlie recovered her equilibrium and smiled at the assembled company.
“Will you lend me Anna for a few minutes?”
Bill wrinkled his forehead in thought.
“Is it girl talk?”
“Yes,” Anna said.
“Okay then. You get ten minutes. Then I need her back.”
Charlie laughed and dragged Anna off to a bench in the garden. As they crossed the grass, Anna’s phone beeped. “Text from Jim.”
She read it then passed the phone to Charlie.
“That name mean anything to you?”
Charlie’s face went still.
“Oh yes. He’s Armenian. Has a penchant for little boys. Who usually wind up dead. He is persona non grata with the Putin administration, because they can’t stomach his appetites. So why does Jim Cracksman have an interest?”
“He had Bill.”
“Indeed. Rod and Sam were part of the rescue party. Now we’re taking him home.”
“Right. No more questions. Though there are some people in Russia who wouldn’t mind killing him if that would help.”
“Thanks. But somebody is already killing him. They’re just taking their time about it.”
“Good. Now I’d better go back to work. Supper at seven?”
“Lovely. And thanks.”
Anna sent Jim a quick text with the gist of what Charlie knew, then went to supervise setting up the camper for the night.
At a quarter to seven they locked up and headed for the pub. Sam held out his hand and Bill grabbed on firmly.
“You OK, mate?”
“I think so. It’s a bit easier than this morning.”
“Good. It’ll get easier every time.”
‘I guess. But I don’t like strangers looking at me.’
“We’ll pull faces then. That’ll stop ’em.”
“Sam. That’s rude…”
“You are,” he said “being a bad influence. Don’t let Mummy catch you or she’ll box your ears. And now we’re inside and I didn’t even notice…”
“We are,” Sam said placidly. “And Anna’s found our table. It’s a nice one by the window. Where’d you want to sit?”
“Bill bagsies an inside seat please.”
Rod went to the bar and got menus.
“What are we drinking? Anna?”
“Red wine please.”
“If they have J2O, I like orange and passion fruit.”
Bill tugged Anna’s sleeve.
“What’s a ditto?” he whispered.
“Oh. It means the same.”
He looked puzzled.
“I said I’d like red wine, and Sam said ditto, which meant he would like red wine too.”
Bill’s face cleared.
“So it’s kind of shorthand.” He picked up his menu. “Oh good this is nice sensible writing, and English words. I can read it for myself.”
“You do that then matey,” Sam recommended.
Rod returned with a tray of drinks. He was followed by two waitresses who put a small plate and a napkin in front of each diner, then lots of dishes of nibbles in the centre of the table.
“They asked if we wanted tapas while we sorted out our order. I said yes please.” He grinned at his nephew. “Tapas is a Spanish thing. It’s appetisers. When you go bar cruising in Madrid, you have some tapas in every bar so you don’t get too pissed.”
Bill looked pleased.
“I am learning new things tonight. Ditto. Tapas. What’s that stuff?”
“Another new word.”
“Squid,” Rod said.
“Oh. Is it nice?”
“I think so. You may not. Just try a bite. If you don’t like it you don’t need to eat it. There’s plenty of other things.”
Anna smiled down at Bill.
“Is there anything else you don’t recognise?”
He looked at the dishes.
“Calamari, prawns, potato salad, olives, mushrooms, ham, cheese, tiny bits of pizza, tomatoes, red peppers, spicy-looking sausage. So there’s just one more I don’t know.”
“That’s hummus. It’s a dip made from chickpeas.”
Rod grinned at Bill.
“You are living the high life, young sir, and no mistake. Now eat some nibbles while you decide what you want as a main course.”