Do I remember anything of those days? It’s as clear as if it was yesterday. I remember the first time she noticed me. It was at Johnny Morgan’s going-away party. He’d just joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers and he was being sent to France. I thought he looked the cat’s whisker in that uniform. All the girls did, too. They were all clustering around him, giving him their addresses and promising to write to him. Then She came into the room. I didn’t recognize her at first. Then someone said, “Mwfanwy? It’s never Mwfanwy Davies.”
And she laughed and said, “You’re right. It’s not Mwfanwy Davies. The name’s Ginger from now on, honey. Ginger, like Ginger Rogers.” She did a pretty good American accent, too.
The girls all crowded around her. “Your mam’s going to kill you,” Gwynneth Morgan said.
“She’s already tried, but there’s not much she can do about it, is there?” She put her hand to her platinum blond hair. “I can’t unbleach it. She’ll have to wait until it grows out. And anyway I like it and she can’t tell me what to do with my own hair.” She pushed through the circle of girls and went over to the punch bowl. “Just wait until I get to Hollywood, then she’ll be sorry, won’t she?”
“So how are you getting to Hollywood, then?” one of the boys asked. “I don’t think the train from Blenau goes there.”
Some of the other kids laughed; but Ginger looked at him coldly. “I’ll get there,” she said. “Some way or other. I don’t know how yet, but I’ll get there.”
Then she looked at me. She had the clearest blue eyes and they sparkled when she smiled. “Find me a cigarette, will you, Trefor love?”
I was too young to smoke, but I ran all the way to the corner shop and bought a packet of Woodbines with all that was left of my weekly wage packet. I’d just started as an apprentice at the mine and it was only a few shillings a week. I only kept enough for the cinema and a beer or two for myself. The rest went straight to my mam.
Then I ran all the way back from the shop. By the time I got back, Mwfanwy was sitting on the sofa with Johnny Morgan, smoking one of his cigarettes, and she had forgotten all about me.
That’s the way it was with Ginger. I knew I should stay well clear, but it was too late. I was already in love with her.
Trefor Thomas, memories of World War II, recorded.
“Is this it?” Grantley Smith roused himself from the backseat and peered between the two occupants of the front seats as the Land Rover slowed. Rain was peppering the windscreen too fiercely for the wipers to handle, but the frantic swishing allowed brief glimpses of a steep, narrow road lined with gray stone cottages. A couple of bedraggled sheep cropped the grass beside the stream as the Land Rover went over a stone humpbacked bridge. It was early evening and the light was fading fast, yet no welcoming lights shone out from windows. In fact, the village gave the appearance of having shut down for the winter.
“This is it,” the driver said without looking around. “The sign said ‘Llanfair.’”
“Surely you jest,” scoffed Grantley Smith in a voice that had been compared to that of the young Larry Olivier. He swung around to the girl beside him in the backseat. “You must have given us wrong directions, Sandie. I thought I told you to get a printout from the Internet. This can’t be right.”
“I did get a printout, honestly, I did, Grantley,” the girl said, gazing at him with large, pleading eyes. “This has to be the right place. We’ve been doing exactly what it told us to, all the time you’ve been asleep.”
“You must have taken a wrong turn somewhere,” Grantley insisted. “I mean, really, I know we have to get the feel of the place because we’re going to be shooting up here, but that doesn’t mean that I actually crave a bath in front of the kitchen fire with the slate miners … . .”
If he expected a laugh, he didn’t get one. The other occupants of the vehicle had taken turns at the wheel all the way from London in driving rain while Grantley slept, sprawled in the back.
“If the site is up here, then it makes sense to stay somewhere close,” the driver said in a clipped voice. In contrast to Grantley, who worked at looking sleek and mercurial like a young Lord Byron, Edward Ferrers was pink and solid, like an overgrown cherub. “The only big hotels are on the coast and you wouldn’t want to commute up this pass every day, would you? I have to be on the spot to keep an eye on the salvage crew. I don’t want anything touched when I’m not around.”
“Edward and his precious plane,” Grantley muttered. “Nobody’s touching my toys!” He took out a packet of Gitanes and lit one, filling the car with pungent, herby fumes. Edward looked back in annoyance as the smoke wafted over him.
“Jesus, Grantley, so it’s not exactly Beverly Hills up here,” the passenger in the other front seat drawled in a voice that betrayed transatlantic origins. “I just don’t think you’d have found any better accommodation even if we’d stayed in one of those hotels on the coast.” He was an older man, dressed in a checked shirt, old jeans, suede waistcoat, and a faded black French beret. If the words “Movie Director” had been printed across his back, his profession could not have been more obvious. “This place is supposed to be okay.”
“Howard, we all know that you are the intrepid one.” Grantley rested his elbows on the two front seats so that his face was now between them. “Your definition of quite good is sleeping in a tent on the African veldt when the hyenas aren’t biting your toes. Your idea of luxury is probably an outhouse with running water.”
“It will be fine, Grantley. Just shut up,” Edward said tersely. “I’ve made the reservation and if you don’t like it, you can find somewhere else in the morning, okay?”
“Keep your hair on, Edward,” Grantley said. “If you two have discovered this little gem, then I’m sure it is just perfect. My only question is, where the devil is it? We’re almost out of the village again.” He moved across to the side window and cleared a circle of condensation with his hand. “This really doesn’t look like the kind of place anyone in his right mind would build a luxury hotel. Wait—there’s some kind of sign on the left. In front of that big white building … .”
The sign was swinging wildly in the wind and it took them a while to make out the red dragon on it.
“It’s only the local pub,” Edward said.
“Thank God. It looked positively dismal.” Grantley gave a long, dramatic sigh. “In fact, everything about this place looks dismal. Look at those shops over there. R. Evans. G. Evans—you obviously have to be called Evans to live in this place, and what the devil is ‘Cigydd’?”
“It has a window full of meat, Grantley. I think even you can figure that one out,” Howard muttered, but Grantley went on, “It’s a bloody foreign country! Whose crazy idea was it to come to Wales in the middle of winter anyway?”
“You were excited when I told you about it,” Edward said. “You were the one who thought it would make a great documentary.”
Howard put his hand on Edward’s arm. “Let’s stop and ask someone.”
Edward laughed. “Any suggestions? The place isn’t exactly pulsing with life.”
As if on cue a door opened, light shone out, and a young man in uniform appeared. He was wearing a navy raincoat and when he noticed the severity of the rain, he stood in the doorway, turning up his collar, before heading out into the street.
Grantley gave a delighted laugh. “Incredible. They even have policemen in this godforsaken place. Don’t let him get away, Edward,” as the policeman was clearly about to sprint for cover. “Now let’s just pray he speaks English. People do speak English here, don’t they, Edward?”
“It’s not Kazakhstan, Grantley. It’s Wales,” Edward said. “I expect they’ll understand you if you wave your arms a lot, like you do in France.”
“My French is bloody good,” Grantley said. “Go on, catch up with him.”
They pulled to a halt beside the policeman, who stopped obediently, rain plastering dark hair to his face. He was a young man, broad shouldered, with a pleasant boyish smile. “Can I help you gentlemen?” he asked. His voice betrayed just a trace of a Welsh lilt.
“We’re trying to find a hotel called the Everest Inn.” Howard leaned across Edward. “It’s supposed to be around here but I guess we must have missed it somehow.”
The policeman gestured to his left. “It’s just up the road past the village. You’ll come to the big stone gateposts. Turn in there and you’ll see it off to the right. In fact, you can’t miss it.”
“Is it all right? A decent sort of place?” Grantley leaned forward from the backseat.
“I haven’t stayed there myself, look you, but it’s very posh,” the constable said. “I understand it’s got five stars.”
“Well, thanks a lot, Officer,” Edward said. “We mustn’t keep you. You’re getting very wet.”
“Oh, we’re used to that kind of thing around here, sir,” the constable said. “It rains quite often.”
He gave them a friendly grin, then crossed the street behind the car.
“There you are. All that panic for nothing,” Edward said as they drove on.
“Panic? Who was panicking? It was just concern born from exhaustion.” Grantley sank back into his seat and took another draw on his cigarette.
“I like that. You’ve slept all the way here.” Howard gave a dry chuckle.
“Ah, but we don’t all have your stamina, Howard,” Grantley said smoothly. “All that endurance built up tramping through jungles at night, avoiding E. coli and cholera and not getting hacked to death with machetes by gangs of child soldiers.”
“One of these days you’ll go too far, Grantley,” Howard said.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Grantley said. “I don’t think so for a moment.” He leaned forward again, grabbing their shoulders as he peered out of the windscreen. “Oh look, there it is!”
To their right the shape of a large building loomed through the rain, lights twinkling on the wet tarmac of the car park.
“Christ, Edward,” Grantley exclaimed as they swung off the road up to the car park. “You see, I was right. You did take a wrong turn somewhere. You’ve landed us in bloody Switzerland!”
The building revealed itself as an overgrown rock and timber chalet, complete with carved wooden balconies adorned with boxes of late geraniums.
“Either Switzerland or Disneyland, I’m not sure which,” he went on, giggling like an overgrown schoolboy. “It’s delightfully monstrous, isn’t it? You know, I think this is going to be fun after all.”
Howard Bauer and Edward Ferrers exchanged a quick glance that Grantley, still gazing up at the building, didn’t notice.
EVAN CAN WAIT. Copyright © 2001 by Rhys Bowen. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.