29th May

The Diners

Joe was doing his usual thing, studying the wine list as if he knew something about wine. Isobel, by slightly raising her eyebrows, indicated to the waiter that they were ready to order. Jane was still trying to make up her mind but Isobel had lost patience.

She ordered scallops followed by the cod. David said he would have exactly the same – his way of saying he fancied her. Jane went for the goat’s cheese salad and the chicken. Joe opted for the chicken too, preceded by soup. No message to anybody was intended by Joe’s choice. Isobel understood this and despised him a little more.

‘White okay for everybody?’ Joe asked, and when they all agreed he said, ‘A bottle of the house white, I think,’ and snapped the wine list shut like an expert. Isobel noted and immediately dismissed the ‘I think’.

‘Don’t look now,’ Jane said, ‘but there’s a couple over to your left, Izzy. Isn’t that that guy?’

They all looked, except Joe.

‘Who?’ David asked.

‘He was in the news last year,’ Jane said. ‘They arrested him.’

Isobel said, ‘Oh God, yes, but he’s completely changed. He had weird hair and weird clothes, didn’t he? That’s why he was arrested. He looked like he could have done it.’

‘Done what?’ David said.

‘What’s she doing with him?’ Jane said.

‘Is she famous too?’ (David again, completely hopeless.)

He’s not famous,’ Jane said.

‘He nearly was,’ Isobel said. ‘Maybe she’s interviewing him for Newsnight or one of those shows. Doesn’t she present that sometimes?’

‘But what did he do?’ David wanted to know.

‘He didn’t do anything,’ Joe said, suddenly and sharply. ‘That’s the point. He was arrested on suspicion of murder, his face was all over the tabloids with lurid headlines, then he was released and he sued them for damages. He got plenty too, quite rightly, because you know what? He was completely innocent. So just leave him alone.’

He stood up and went out for a cigarette.

‘Whatever’s the matter with him?’ Jane asked.

‘Nothing,’ Isobel said. ‘It’s just Joe.’

She caught David staring at her adoringly.

‘Anyway, no smoke without fire, that’s what I think,’ she said.

Reader: Gerda Stevenson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harp: Esther Swift
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