011 Orders From Above: Episode 11 ‘a fateful meeting’

To read from the first episode click here: Episode 1

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3 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon and the high-spirited group of schoolchildren were being herded by their teachers to the coach waiting outside. In an upstairs room historian and archaeologist Dr. Stephen George heard them leave in a cacophony of scuffling feet, shouts and laughter, then all was blissfully quiet. For the past two hours he’d been scribbling notes for his forthcoming lecture on excavation techniques to university students and it wasn’t coming together. Several A4 sheets were scattered across his desk, covered with his untidy writing. The scrawl was scribbled-out here and there and double-headed arrows shot from one paragraph to another where he couldn’t decide whether to swap them round. When the intercom buzzed he gladly threw down his pen, grateful for the interruption.

“Yes, Stella?”

“Miss Dove is here to see you.”

“Oh, yes, the coin found in the churchyard at Ham-Under-Lymfold. I’ll be right down.”

The first thing that caught his attention as he entered from the stairwell was a cloud of shiny, dark red curls. The second thing was a very trim figure. The third, fourth and fifth things were the dazzling smile, creamy skin and pair of luminous eyes the colour of cinnamon. By the time she spoke, softly introducing herself, Dr. Stephen George was utterly lost. It even seemed, in the moment that he took her outstretched hand and didn’t want to let it go, that the usually dim, cool interior of the Heritage Centre reception was suddenly very bright and very warm.

“Miss Dove.” Had there ever been such a beautiful name? “I’m Stephen George. Won’t you come up to the lab?” It all came out in a rush, and Stephen didn’t miss Stella’s raised eyebrows and knowing smirk as he led the way back upstairs to his office.

“Here we are, please do go in.”

She preceded him with another dazzling smile that made his heart pound like it was being pummeled by a pile driver. Why had he never met her before this? Where had she been all his life?

“The last discovery was brought in by your uncle, I hope he is well?” he said with a voice half an octave higher than usual.

“Uncle Hartley is fine, thank you. It was easier for me to come this time as I work just up the road, at the Art College.”

Just up the road! And he had never seen her.

“Have you worked there long, Miss Dove?”

“Please call me Lorelei.”

Her name sang in his brain. Lorelei. Lorelei Dove. A perfect name for a perfect woman. Would she one day be Lorelei George?

She was answering his question, forcing him to wrestle his mind back from his ridiculous reverie and give his full attention to this vision of loveliness.

“It’s been just over a year, actually,” she said, “I moved from Reading when my aunt died; she left me her cottage in Ham-Under-Lymfold and I was lucky enough to get a teaching job here.”

Maybe it could be lucky for me, too, Stephen thought, coming over all daydreamy again.

Lorelei said, “I saw a group of schoolchildren leaving as I came in, and it reminded me of a school trip to London, a long time ago. We went to look at a Bronze Age collection, but I was fascinated by a display of crystals in the foyer, and a huge amethyst geode in particular. I really loved that, probably because purple is my favourite colour,” she laughed and swept a hand over her t-shirt, fringed scarf and long skirt in various shaded of purple then waggled her fingers to show off glittery lilac varnish. “I had to save up for it, but I have a super geode at home almost as tall as me.”

Stephen cleared his throat so he could speak properly. “Oh, we have geodes here, too. You must have a look at them before you go. But let’s have a look at this coin, shall we?”

Lorelei pulled a small, bubble-wrapped lump from her shoulder bag and placed it on the table. The bubble-wrap unravelled to reveal another lump, this time of cotton wool. Inside that, the coin gleamed under the overhead lights.

Stephen fetched a magnifying glass from a drawer and leaned on his elbows to study the uppermost face of the coin, a crowned king sitting on a throne. But he was distracted by the nearness of Lorelei, by the scent of her, her unwavering gaze and air of curiosity and anticipation. He didn’t want to bother with the artifact, he wanted to talk to her. To find out everything about her. To find out if she would have dinner with him. Soon.

She smiled at him, frightening Stephen into believing she could read his mind, but she said, “Uncle Hartley has a book about coins, and he thought this resembled a gold florin. It was called a Double Leopard, if I remember rightly.”

Inwardly giving himself a firm shake to make himself concentrate, he traced with a fingertip one of the two leopard heads near the kings elbow and felt excitement stir. “It could be that your uncle is right. If this is a Double Leopard it will be pretty valuable. Let’s have a look on the internet.”

He went to a dusty laptop and typed in ‘Double Leopard coin’. Within seconds, he had a picture of one on the screen, and Lorelei leaned in close as they both studied the actual coin and the large, clear picture in front of them. He breathed in the apple-scent of her, and longed to reach out and touch her hand, her hair, her face.

“It looks just like it, doesn’t it?” she breathed. “And look, it says it could be worth more than a hundred thousand pounds!”

“Yes, indeed. But let’s not make assumptions. I’m not an expert in coins, ancient pottery is more my line, so I’d like to suggest that we send this to an expert I know in London. Would that be all right, do you think?”

“Of course! Please feel free to do whatever you think necessary. Oh, Uncle Hartley will be over the moon.”

She was picking up her bag. She was going to leave. Desperately, he rooted about in his brain to find something to say that would really impress her, something intelligent, scintillating and witty. He blurted, “Oh please, don’t go!”

Lorelei looked a little startled, and he inwardly groaned that he was behaving like an idiot. Taking a deep breath, he started again, “I’m sorry, what I meant was, please stay while I photograph and document this. And I need to give you a receipt for it.”

She smiled put her bag down again, and as he looked into her golden-brown eyes he felt the floor tilt beneath his feet.

For the next quarter of an hour, Lorelei stood patiently by while Stephen photographed the coin and made notes about it. The high-windowed room started to heat up, and Stephen couldn’t help but stare at her as she removed the fringed scarf from around her soft, white neck. Her fingers were long and slender, the lilac nails quite short. Stephen, wanting to kiss those fingers very badly indeed – noted the absence of a wedding or engagement ring – but surely such a lovely woman was already taken? How could he find out? He shook himself before she caught him gazing at her, wrote out a receipt and handed it to her, saying, “That’s as much as I can do right now. It could be a week or two before the expert I have in mind is available to take a look at it, so may I, that is, may I take your, er, your telephone number to let you know when we have the, the, er, the results?”

Good grief, he thought, now I’m stuttering like a lovesick teenager!

Lorelei stated her home number, twice, very slowly, and leaned over to watch him write it down. Her incredible hair smelled of apples. Or was it her skin? “If you, er, need to, um, ask me anything, Miss Dove … Lorelei … then do call. I’ll be here most days, that is when I’m not lecturing at the university. But anyway, I shall telephone you the moment I have any news. Or before if I need to ask you something. About the coin, I mean.”

“Right. Yes. Fine. Well, I’m sure you’re busy and I have to get going, so …” Lorelei wound the purple scarf round her neck and picked up her handbag.

“I’ll show you out-”

“Oh, there’s no need. Really. I can find my way.”

And she was gone. Too late, Stephen remembered that he’d offered to show her the geodes downstairs. Bereft at the missed opportunity to spend more time with the enchanting Miss Dove, he stared at the doorway until Stella appeared there, her sleek blond bob blotting out his memory of Lorelei’s auburn curls tumbling down her slender back. Stella was looking at him with a knowing expression.

“Lovely young woman,” she said, barely able to contain her laughter at Stephen’s dumbstruck expression, “I hope you got her telephone number.”

“I did, as a matter of fact. But don’t you go getting any ideas, Stella. She might be married, or engaged, or-”

“Nope. I happen to know that she’s free as a bird and looking for her soulmate.”

“How?” he croaked, “I mean, how could you know that?”

“Because I know her Uncle, and I saw him just a couple of weeks ago. He told me that she’d just come out of another disastrous relationship and he wished with all his heart that she could meet a nice man.” Her face full of mischief, she said, “You’re a nice man, Stephen. A very nice man.”

“Now, Stella, I think we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves …”

“Stephen, you are nice. You’re kind, intelligent, you have a great sense of humour and on top of all that you’re very good-looking, a veritable Indiana Jones. And from the rapturous look on her face as she left here, I would say she was rather smitten too.” She turned on her heel, “I’ll make some tea.”

Stephen wanted to punch the air for joy at even the possibility he might be of interest to the wondrous0 Lorelei Dove, and debated with himself how soon he should call her. What would be the right amount of time to wait? Two weeks… no, far too long. One week? Yes, he thought that would be about right.

He lasted three days.

Next episode: Nigel learns the truth

~~~~~

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