Bradley Noakes glanced approvingly round the small Italian restaurant where Jessica had booked a window table for lunch. He liked the red and white gingham curtains and matching table cloths, the light timber furniture and wall panelling. Jessica herself had also dressed carefully in a light beige business suit which blended in with the decor.
They smiled at each other across the table and made small talk until the meal was before them. Then the fencing began again.
Thrust from Jessica; “so did you manage to solve your little mystery, or are you still working on it?”
Parry from Bradley; “funny you should mention that. When I saw you last week, I was just following up another lead on that case.” He twirled a forkful of spaghetti in the air and added, “this sure tastes good! We don’t eat like this at home. You see my family owns a chain of butcher shops, and Mum is a very plain cook, so she just cooks whatever Dad brings home — chops, sausages, steak, more chops! You name it,”
She paused, then thrust again; “what are you investigating, or is that confidential? Avril didn’t mention it after, so I presumed it was your little secret. But I must admit I’m curious.” She gave Bradley a dazzling smile.
He parried again; “no secret. It’s public knowledge actually, to do with the fire at the Cummings property a few years ago. My grandmother knew the family well, so inevitably I took an interest in them as I’d always heard so much about them, first the fire and then Harold’s remarriage.”
Jessica was an attentive listener, and now, feeling he was on safer ground, Bradley became more expansive. “I’ve been trying to find out something about Sarah before the fire,” he confided. “But there seems to be a dearth of information there.”
Jessica’s face lit up. “I may be able to help you. My older sister went to school with Sarah Cummings, although she wasn’t ‘Cummings’ then of course. I could probably find out a few facts about her for you if you like.” What luck, she thought as her mind raced ahead; forget Avril for the moment, it’s my chance to open up a deeper relationship with him.
She chose her words carefully. “I’ve got an idea,” she said, as Bradley laid down his fork on his now empty plate, and beamed at her. “Why don’t I arrange a little dinner party with my sister and brother-in-law. They live in Melbourne too — and then Coral can tell you what she remembers about Sarah Cummings. She may even have some photos from school days.”
No journalist could resist such an opportunity, as Jessica well knew. Congratulating himself that he was able to parry any questions about Avril. It was with a light heart and a bottle of wine, that Bradley arrived at Jessica’s unit on the appointed evening. He was a little disconcerted however when he noticed that the small round table in the dinette leading off the kitchen was laid only for two, not four as he had expected.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Jessica, following his gaze. “Coral and John were unable to make it after all.” She omitted the fact that they’d never been invited, as she added brightly, “but I think I can get you some school photos of Sarah.” She led him into the lounge, where she plied him with a cold beer and pre-dinner nibbles.
Jessica used a subtley seductive approach! She was casually dressed in a pale lilac sweater, and light grey pants, a frilly blue apron around her waist, her long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, her make up minimal. The “homely” approach! She was a good cook and had made a special effort for Bradley, introducing him to the delights of French cuisine. He repeatedly expressed his enjoyment of her version of Cog all Vin. No fly ever felt more comfortable entering the spider’s web than did Bradley Noakes that evening!
After dinner, feeling very much at home, Bradley helped himself to another beer from Jessica’s well-stocked fridge before assisting her to make coffee. (“Be a dear, Brad, I’m not much good with these gadgets.”) They sipped their coffee sitting opposite each other in the small, but tastefully furnished lounge chatting on a variety of subjects. Finally, after a visit to the bathroom, and a tantalising glimpse of something pink and frilly, as he passed her half-open bedroom door, Bradley reluctantly got up to go. It was 11pm.
Jessica fare-welled him in a casual but friendly manner as he gave her a light kiss on the cheek. She assured him that she would give him a ring as soon as she had procured some photos of Sarah Cummings, and Bradley went happily on his way, little realising that while they had discussed such innocuous topics as travel and journalism, his subconscious mind had been absorbing the comforts of the cosy unit, the delicious smell of cooking and the faint aroma of Jessica’s perfume — just as she had intended.
As he returned to the home where he lived with his parents and two sisters, Bradley’s thoughts turned to Avril, twelve thousand miles away. Could she cook like that, what sort of a homemaker would she be? He put such disloyal thoughts from his mind. However, he began to realise how little they really knew each other. There had been that spark between them; the moment he first saw her, he knew she was the girl for him. But their brief time together had been against a background of restaurants, their conversations centred on the topic of the Cummings family and the fire.
Bradley was practical rather than romantic, and to him, the fact that he had fallen for Avril and she had responded to him, was enough. He had no idea of how to conduct a courtship from such a great distance. So in his next letter, having previously told her about the investigation he began to ask about her daily life, not mentioning his visit to the Inspector or his meeting with Jessica.
A few days later he had a phone call from Jessica, “Brad, I’ve now got some photos of Sarah Cummings, school group, that type of thing, and I thought you might be interested to see them.”
Bradley was interested, and he was happy also to accept the accompanying invitation to dinner at Jessica’s unit. Together they enjoyed another tasty meal, and afterwards, Jessica produced a magnifying glass and spread the photo out on the table. “I’m afraid they’re not very clear,” she admitted as they studied them together. Bradley’s mind was still intent on studying Sarah Cummings, and that evening he had to leave early as he had a 6am assignment the next day. He felt however that he owed her a dinner; she was warm, intelligent and good company, She had stopped her probing questions about Avril, and Bradley still regarded her in the same way he regarded other females that he dated from time to time. A week later he accepted another invitation to dinner at her unit. “Oh Brad, I’ve just found a super new Italian recipe, and I want to try it out. It’s not much fun just cooking it for myself. Would you come and give me your opinion.”
Before he fully realised what was happening, they were meeting on a more regular basis, movies, theatres, dinners, either in a restaurant or more frequently in Jessica’s unit. She was very attractive, and although he knew he was not in love with her, Bradley soon wanted something more. The warm atmosphere, the subtle aroma of Jessica’s perfume, her ‘casual’ touches, and her now more seductive mode of dress were as inviting as her cooking.
Jessica was fully aware of his aroused desire; she was ready that night when he could hide his feelings no longer and took her urgently in his arms. She responded warmly, and although nothing was said, both knew that a line had been crossed in their relationship that night.
But the next morning, Bradley was overcome with guilt and embarrassment — guilt at he thought that he had betrayed Avril, and embarrassment as he wondered what Jessica was thinking about his uncontrolled behaviour. He would have been very surprised to know that her only thought had been, ‘why had it taken him so long’!
Now was the time to stop the relationship, but Bradley didn’t know how — or if he really wanted to. He dithered all day, and finally in the late afternoon, remembering they had planned to go to a movie that evening, he rang Jessica at the travel agency. “Are you still expecting me tonight?” he asked a little hesitantly.
‘Of course, why not,” replied Jessica. “I’ll expect you at seven.” (The future looked very promising!)
Bradley rightly recognised this as an unspoken acceptance of their new relationship. His desire grew in intensity each time they met, and Jessica made herself indispensable to him. But Bradley Noakes was not a happy man. His biological urges were well satisfied, but thoughts of Avril left him in turmoil. His letters to her became shorter and more infrequent. What could he say? How could he continue to express his love for her while he was sharing the bed of another woman? Optimistically he tried to convince himself that somehow it would all work out, even though he had no idea how.
As for Jessica — she had wedding bells in mind. But she was careful, determined that when she walked down the aisle to become Mrs Bradley Noakes, it would not be a ‘shotgun wedding’. She presumed his relationship with Avril was over, but she was well aware of her vulnerability. He was not in love with her as she was with him, and she still had no claim on him. Any day he might meet another woman.
So — while outwardly the relationship appeared one of mutual satisfaction, inwardly and privately, each wondered about the future, and its uncertainty for both of them. Bradley was unable to break away from Jessica, and she seemed unable to bring the affair to the satisfactory conclusion she wanted.
Matters were unexpectedly brought to a climax by a letter from Avril.