From the sound of it, the man was in the hallway, near the stairs. With that thought he got up quickly almost upsetting his tea and walked back through the living room to the hallway.
When he got there he stopped in surprise. There were two men there. Neither of them looked like the criminals he was subconsciously expecting in spite of Lizzie’s common sense which had almost persuaded him. In fact he was not sure what they looked like, if he discounted the thought that they looked like perfectly healthy and robust peasants from the mediaeval period. One was tall and thin and the other of average height and a sturdier build. They both looked bronzed from working in the sun, which was unusual for this time of year.
They looked as surprised as he felt when he burst into the hallway but made no move to attack him.
“What are you doing here?” he blustered. “How did you get in?”
The thin one looked almost enquiringly over to the other who answered hesitantly.
“We had a key. Stolid gave us the key so that we could look after the garden.”
Timonthy felt his heart sink just a little. These were Stolid’s friends then. He found it annoying that they were so attractive: and even more so that they appeared to be full of life and good humour in marked contrast to his own last memory of Stolid.
“I’m trying to find Stolid,” he said. “Have you been in contact with him recently?”
“My name is Will, by the way and this is Gerard,” the sturdier one said. “I was working in the garden with him yesterday. Why do you want him?”
“He just vanished,” Timonthy said. He had a sudden rush of relief just to hear that Stolid was alive: somehow he hadn’t expected that. He realised he had sounded a bit neurotic and tried to explain properly.
“We knew he was going to work in Scotland. We thought that once he was up there and settled he’d let us know his address and how he was doing. That was three months ago and we’ve heard nothing.”
“Where he’s working is a really remote place,” Gerard spoke.
Will interrupted him, “We don’t get mobile phone signals, and we don’t have a landline. We very rarely get post unless Peter goes to pick it up from the nearest town. He’s probably just not managed to get a letter to you.”
“Well, how did you get here? And if it comes to that why are you here?”
“We travelled all night. It’s a long way but Peter’s got some sort of deal with Stolid that we look after his house and garden and use the address to pick up supplies. It seems to work for both of them.”
Timonthy was reassured by Will’s lack of concern. The story was odd but possible he thought.
“What’s happening?” They all turned as they saw Lizzie coming down the stairs in a dressing gown, followed closely by Paris who was properly dressed and looking grimly stern.
“Well these two are here to pick up the deliveries today and to do some gardening,” Timonthy jumped in to explain. Paris looked ready for a fight. “They saw Stolid yesterday. So he’s alive at least.”
“We still need to talk to him,” Paris said. Timonthy was glad she had said it. He didn’t want to imply that the two men were lying but it was possible after all.
“Peter’s wife, Elena, she’s here too,” Will added. “She dropped us off and went shopping, I think. She’ll know how to get in contact with your friend.”
“Is he well?” Paris asked.
“Well?” Will repeated and looked confused, “Physically he’s fine; he’s working hard. He’s got some great plans and things are really beginning to move in the garden but he does seem a bit distant, as if his mind is off somewhere else.”
He looked anxious as if the news might displease them but Timonthy couldn’t help but smile and say,
“It sounds like he’s his normal self then.”
Paris gave him a confused look but he ignored her.
“Well, we’ll let you get on with whatever it is you do. We’re going to wake up properly and find some breakfast somewhere. Will you tell Elena that we want to talk to her before you go?”
Will nodded and they both turned away, heading for the kitchen door and then the dining room door out into the garden. They closed the door behind them and walked out of sight even for Timonthy who had watched them as far as the living room in an abstracted way. He then returned to Lizzie and Paris with a confused expression.
“Why are they dressed so oddly?” Lizzie asked. “It looks nice but I can’t imagine that it is fashionable even in remote parts of Scotland.”
“Oh, Mother!” Paris exclaimed as if thinking fashion was the least of her worries. Timonthy agreed with Lizzie. It was disturbing. He was beginning to wonder whether Stolid had fallen in with some sort of cult. Their clothes were odd and surely they couldn’t walk around normal streets dressed like that without attracting attention. Their manner was peculiar too.
“I’m going to have a shower,” Lizzie pronounced.
Timonthy looked at his watch. It was still only half past seven and he was still wearing the same clothes from yesterday. He wondered where Elena had found to shop this time in the morning.
“Me too,” he said.
“Shall I go and buy some breakfast?” Paris asked Timonthy. “Or are we going out for it?”
“We’ll go out. It’s weird being here with those people hanging around.”
He followed Lizzie upstairs and waited as she investigated the airing cupboard and handed him a warm towel with a smile.
“Which one are you heading for?” she asked.
“I’ll use Stolid’s shower,” he decided. He made his way into the main bedroom overlooking the garden and the bay. He had a momentary illusion that there were three men huddled together in the garden but when he looked again he only saw two. He shook his head and carried on to the bathroom.
He felt more alert after the shower. The water seemed to drain the mist from his head as well as dirt from his body. He didn’t bother dressing as he came out into the bedroom. The glass wall in here was coated so that no-one could see him. He rifled through his bag to find some clean clothes to put on.
There was something satisfying about standing naked and surveying the world in front of you, knowing that the world wouldn’t shame you with its outrage. He looked at the two intruders in the garden with suspicion. They were working hard: separately concentrating on a different area. They seemed to be talking, judging by the way their heads turned to each other. He wished he could hear what they were saying but they were too far away, even if he could open the window without their noticing.
The more he thought about it their story just wasn’t credible. He knew that the modern world was becoming more accessible. He saw how easily Lizzie had reached them from France. Surely though you wouldn’t send someone from Scotland once or twice a week to look after a garden on the south coast of England or choose that place to have your garden deliveries made. It wasn’t efficient and it would tire people out. Neither of the men sounded Scottish either. Will had a definite English accent, almost bucolic, and Gerard sounded French with a hint of something exotic thrown in.
It was a very peculiar situation all round, he thought. Gerard looked up suddenly. It looked like he was staring at the window. Timonthy suddenly felt exposed but then Gerard’s eyes travelled across the sky towards the sea as if he was following something in the sky. It was the coastguard’s helicopter, Timonthy noticed. Gerard looked unduly excited as he said something to Will.