"Glad I’m not out there tonight. It’s practically Biblical."
"The lights keep flickering. Much more of this and I think the power might go out."
"Just as well I made this cocoa now, then, isn’t it." He put the tray down and handed her a mug, and she slid aside to give him room to get into the bed beside her. "Could get cold, if the heating’s going to go out."
"And what will we do to combat that?" She curled up close to him, and he leant back against the headboard, amused.
"You know, there’s a whole lot of this bed that we’re not using. Did space suddenly get rationed?"
"We’re following some of Bo’s conservation advice, and saving heat energy. It seemed like a good plan."
"Oh. Right. I can live with that."
"Thought so." She set her mug aside, more or less untouched. "I’ve got quite a few good ideas, as it happens."
"Sounds good. This conservation thing could really catch on." He managed to drape an arm around her without spilling any cocoa. "I have a great strategy myself for saving water."
"Honey, I know all about your methods of saving water. And as I recall, you had them long before Bo became interested in green issues."
"Yeah." His grin was sudden and swift. "But it pays to stay in practice."
"That’s very true." She smiled, nestling comfortably against him. "Looks like we’re both full of good ideas tonight."
"Looks like." There was a loud peal of thunder, and a moment later the lights all went out. Lost in blackness, John smiled to himself. "And I think I just got another one." Doing his best to find the bedside table in the dark, so as to rid himself of his mug, he lay back in the warm embrace of the bed. "Want to give it a go?" The only answer was a decidedly throaty giggle.
It was the sort of night when all sensible people were safe inside, mused Roman, wondering for the ninety-ninth time why he wasn’t with them. There had been a report saying that a group of walkers were overdue, and given the ferocious nature of the weather, the call had gone around for volunteers to search. No sooner had he left the town far behind him, then Roman had got a telephone message telling him that it had all been a false alarm. There were no lost walkers. No need to go battling the elements. Now there was a just a lost him, struggling down a narrow, unlit road in the pitch dark, with rain pelting down on him like some kind of fury from the heavens. His headlights were by no means weak, but even so they did him little good. Visibility was practically zero. He had just about decided to pull over and sit it out, when a gigantic peal of thunder seemed to make the very air around him shiver and shake. He slammed on the brakes, watching with a sense of awe as a great streak of lightning flared across the sky. It was the kind of storm people told their grandchildren about, he thought, glad that his own would be inside. They had more sense than him, perhaps. The thought came to him with a smile, and he started the car again, determined more than ever to get back to a place of warmth and light.
He had been aiming for the lights of Salem, but only when they failed to appear did he begin to suspect that he might be lost. He pulled the car over again, fishing out his cell phone and speed-dialling Bo. His brother answered, but through such a mess of static and peculiar noises that it was impossible for either man to make himself heard. Great. He hung up, thumping the steering wheel. Maybe just waiting it out was the better idea after all. It seemed silly to stay where he was, though, with so little shelter, and rather perilously close to some tall trees that looked like fine lightning magnets. It would be just his luck if this perfect evening were to wrap itself up with him being turned into a human firework. Starting the car once again, he pulled out onto the road, aiming for what looked like a natural rocky outcrop up ahead. It should give him some shelter from the worst of the weather, and perhaps even lessen the ferocious sound of rain slamming against his car. He might even get some sleep that way. Somehow he couldn’t help thinking that it was going to be a long night. The universe, however, had different plans. No sooner had he edged the car back onto the road when, with a terrific crack, one of the trees up ahead tilted magnificently, and began to sway. He slammed on the brakes, put the car into reverse, and careered back along the road just in time to prevent himself from being flattened beneath what seemed to be a tree with a hell of a grudge. Even so, several of the branches caught at the front of the car, giving it a powerful shunt, and sending it skidding sideways off the road. He hit the brakes again, struggling with the steering wheel, and brought the car to a shaky halt in a patch of mud. The wheels spun hopefully, but it was clearly a lost cause. All the mud in the area appeared to have congregated in this spot, with the clear intention of getting him stuck fast. He thumped the steering wheel again, and considered swearing. Clearly it really was going to be a very long night.
He tried calling Bo again, but wasn’t able to get through at all this time. Hopefully the younger Brady at least had made it home, or was on his way there. The idea of all of Salem’s finest dotted about the countryside like so many stranded sailors almost made Roman smile. Alone in the storm, though, he didn’t feel much like smiling. It was beginning to get cold, though he was wary about setting the heater going for fear of deadening the battery. His coat lay on the back seat, but it wasn’t especially warm - just a waterproof one that he had thrown into the car at the last minute. He pulled it on anyway, and settled down into his seat, preparing for a long wait. In theory it shouldn’t be any harder than being on a boring stakeout. He just wished that his colleagues were nearby, in radio contact, cracking their usual jokes and acting like kids on a day out. The desolation in comparison was immense.
The torch beam that bobbed into life up ahead was so startling that for a moment he just gaped at it, taken aback. It danced briefly across the front of the car, shone through the windscreen with a brightness that made him flinch, then disappeared for a moment. Seconds later it came back, clearly growing closer, before finally the black shape of a person loomed into being behind it. A hand scrabbled at the passenger door, and a large, soaking wet man all but fell into the car. Water seemed to pour off him in torrents, and peeling off a broad-brimmed black hat, he beamed hugely at the stunned Roman.
"I’m dripping all over your car," he said after a moment. Roman nodded.
"Sure are. Hi."
"Hi." The man had a neutral accent, almost impossible to place, and beneath a soaking wet fringe of greying hair, bright, warm blue eyes shone back at the startled detective. He had a broad, friendly face, and his smile seemed warm and unending. A hand launched itself out in greeting, pumping Roman’s up and down with an enthusiasm that was rather endearing. "Name’s Brady."
"Hi, I’m--" Roman frowned. "Sorry, did you say Brady? That’s quite a coincidence."
"It is?" A grey eyebrow quirked merrily. "How so?"
"My name’s Brady. Roman Brady. I live just near here, and there’s quite a few of us about. Round here, if you’re a Brady, then you’re probably family."
"Well that’s incredible." The older man’s broad, amiable face broke into another grin, and Roman felt his hand seized and shaken once again. "That’s incredible. To think that it was your car... My own broke down, you see. Back there a way. I’m not good with cars, and I’m always forgetting to fill them up with oil, or water, or something. They break down on me in all sorts of awkward places. I was just thinking that tonight beat all, and now I find myself in a car with you. Son, I hope this doesn't sound too crazy, but I came here looking for you. I’ve been researching my family tree - and yes, I know. Everybody’s doing it nowadays, right? I couldn’t resist, though, and I found out about a group of relatives in a little town called Salem. I was going to call, but..." He shrugged, beaming contentedly through a continuing curtain of drips from his sodden fringe. "I think I’m your cousin."
"Yeah?" Roman half-expected to have to endure another gargantuan handshaking. "It’s... good to meet you. Just a little unexpected..."
"Isn’t an unexpected meeting always the best kind?"
"Well you might have a point there." He smiled, still baffled, but unable to resist the other man’s charm. "It’s certainly always nice to meet another Brady. I wish I could offer you a drink, but the hospitality’s not great in this joint."
"Yeah. About that. It’s kind of the reason I dropped in." His companion smiled patiently, apparently taking a moment to study Roman’s face. "You’re not the nervous kind, right?"
"Not generally, no. Why?"
"Well, it’s just that this car is... well, it’s rather close to the edge of the cliff. I’m guessing you got your bearings a little turned around, and that fallen tree can’t have helped, but the way you were spinning your wheels before had me just a little worried. I don’t want to alarm you, son, but--"
"This car is in danger of falling over a cliff, and you got into it for a family reunion and a chat?"
"I wouldn’t say it was in danger, exactly. Not now you’ve stopped spinning the wheels, anyway. And besides, running over and yelling and waving my arms in the air is just a little theatrical." He smiled on, clearly not too concerned himself about the supposed danger. "So, you reckon between the two of us we could shift this thing? I know I’d feel a lot safer if it were on more solid ground, and maybe if we can get it unstuck, we can see about getting into town. I don’t mind telling you I’m sick of this storm, and I reckon it’s about time I got dry."
"We’re really on the edge of a cliff?"
"Fairly close, it’s got to be said."
Roman frowned, not at all sure how he felt about this. "How big a cliff?"
"Oh. Well, it’s a little hard to tell in the dark. You’re the local, son, not me." He gestured vaguely in the air. "About average. Probably."
"Right..." Clearly this evening was still determined to make life difficult for him. He nodded. "Okay. In that case, getting out is probably a good plan."
"It’s a good start, certainly. Don’t think about the cliff, though. Think about getting unstuck, and getting back to town. Somewhere warm and dry. A little whisky wouldn’t go amiss."
"It wouldn’t." Roman smiled, if somewhat grimly. "Or even a big whisky come to that."
"That’s my kind of thinking." Wiping rain from his face with a big hand, the older Brady raised both eyebrows. "So you up for a little hard work out in all that rain?"
"If it’ll stop me falling backwards off a cliff, you bet."
"That’s the spirit. Just don’t be too energetic about getting out, yeah? Be a shame to send us over just as we’ve got a plan all worked out." His guest’s apparent complete lack of concern made Roman extremely curious about just where exactly the car was. He nodded.
"It sure would. I plan to see out the rest of the night warm and dry in the family pub, not getting winched up by Mountain Rescue." He pulled up the zip of his waterproof jacket, and wished for a pair of gloves. "Say, you never told me your first name."
"Sorry. All caught up in the excitement. I’m a hopeless guest, I know." His companion smiled at him, features suddenly lit up by another impressive burst of lightning. His torch was dimmed to blackness in comparison, and barely seemed to shine at all when the light of the storm had vanished again. "Name’s Ryan. Now, are we going to get this car shifted or what?"