By Laura Wilson

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Come on, love, buck up. ’ Jenny jumped up and, grabbing a tea towel, went over to the cooker. ‘My saucepan! It would be the last straw if it boiled dry - it’s the only aluminium one we’ve got left. ’ After breakfast, Stratton kissed Jenny and strode, head down, through the now driving rain to the bus stop, reflecting as he did so that her frequent absences at the Rest Centre - which was where she was going today - made him appreciate her a great deal more. Not, he told himself, that he’d ever taken her for granted - at least, he hoped she didn’t think he had.

Then, standing on tiptoe, she gripped him fiercely round the neck and, kissing his cheek, whispered, ‘Be careful. Please . . ’ Letting go abruptly, she picked her way back down to Doris and Donald on the pavement, her nightdress flapping beneath the hem of her coat. Stratton watched her for a second, then clambered down the shaft, lit by torches from above, and a basket was handed in after him. The two men scrabbled with their hands, trying to free the debris from around the body, grunting as lumps of earth crashed down on their heads and shoulders.

He asked Sergeant Ballard, who was waiting for him in his office, perched on a corner of his desk. ’ Ballard, who was tall, dark, neatly handsome and unconsciously elegant in a way that Stratton secretly envied but could not resent because he was a decent bloke and not flashy, slid off the desk and stood to attention. ’ Stratton waved a hand at him and sat down. ‘Yes, sir. They’re all married to the same man. ’ ‘Likes the fuller figure, then,’ Stratton murmured. ‘Yes, sir. He’s a soldier. Got the three of them drawing allowances for him.

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