Go to Chapters ...
The Moon and the Stars
Prize Giving
Band of Angels

Close your eyes, and you are alone in the dark.
Open them and look out into the daylight.
See how many stand beside you.


The Moon and the Stars

Happiness is very difficult to achieve; you may have the right to 'pursue happiness', but there no guarantee that you will ever catch it. Contentment is much simpler. You merely have to settle for limited needs. I had very few needs: food to eat, a place to sleep, and some gainful employment.
I was content . but I was not happy. Penelope Pillan was gone from my life. She offered no explanation. I could justify a thousand reasons; all of them, my fault. My autumn turned to winter.

There were better days. Students drifted in and out of my workshop all the time; asking my advice. I may have lost my title - 'The Don Juan of Methil' - but, somehow, they still thought that I had wisdom to offer. Some days brought unexpected visitors.

Not long in to the new term, a quiet knock brought my first surprise.
"Come in."
The door popped open an inch, then stopped. Hesitation. Must be one of the new students. Usually, students at the Lower Methil Annexe simply barged straight in. Not that I was ever up to anything 'inadvisable'. Not these days ...
"I said 'Come in!' The door opens all the way."
My visitor advanced slowly, into the workshop. It was Weronika Lewitsky. Her eyes flitted around the room. Then she looked at me.
"Is Miss Pillan here, today? I was hoping that ..."
She never finished the sentence. The answer was evident in my face.
"I'm sorry. She moved back to Kirkcaldy. Is there any way that I might be able to help?"
"No ... I mean yes."
My smile isn't too bad. It does offer encouragement. I wasn't doing anything in particular, and I was there to help people. I said nothing; silence can often draw out speech where talking can shut it down.
"I was hoping for a little personal advice."
"Oh dear! Possibly a tricky one!"
I am allowed to think this!
"It's about Campbell Hutcheson."
"Ah! Definitely a tricky one."
Still only thinking it!
I waited for her to continue, but she said nothing more. I could see her feet start to fidget, and I knew that, whatever I might say, she was on the point of turning. Ready to flee.
"Aw for heaven's sake!"
Now, there was a familiar voice. A determined figure pushed through the door; blocking all possibility of retreat.
"Just ask the man, will ye!"
Weronika's friend and classmate, Helen Anderson.
"Mornin, surr!"
That big, cheerful grin. Helen gave Weronika a 'gentle' nudge. Weronika stumbled across the floor in my direction, like a plaintiff thrust before the judge. Caught off balance, a look of panic entered her eyes. Then an inner strength steadied her, and a growing determination forced her to gather her wits, and speak.
"It's ab ..."
"She wants tae ask ye aboot Too Hot Hutcheson."
Helen's over-loud tones crashed across her bows. Weronika's determination flashed like burnished steel.
"Helen! I will ask Mister Collins!"
The voice cut off, instantly. Helen gave a quick, contrite smile. For a moment, I wondered if Weronika had been taking lessons from someone that I once knew.
"It's about Campbell Hutcheson, Mister Collins. He asked me to go the the Regent Cinema with him. To see a film."
She stumbled over the seemingly obvious, her balance upset. Gave me a moment to think. What else would you do in a cinema? I quickly answered my own question.
The Regent was a 'safe' cinema. You went there to actually watch a film. The Troxy was plusher; still reasonably safe but the seats were more comfortable. Now, if it had been the Rio in Kirkcaldy, with its double seats at the back ...
Hutcheson was being a gentleman. Not pushy on a first date. He may even have wanted to see the film! I prompted Weronika for more information.
"You know him, sir! Much better than I do. He has a terrible reputation. Mixes with all the shady characters around here ..."
"Like me, perhaps, Miss Lewitsky?"
I do quite a good poker face. Lots of practice!
She blushed, but bravely carried on.
"They all call him Too Hot Hutcheson, and yet, any time that he has spoken to me, he has been polite, well mannered, and considerate."
"It's no natural, surr!"
Ah yes! My recent advice to Mister Hutcheson ...
'Just play it straight - no ducking and diving. Drop the phoney image.'
Now, it would seem, backfiring nicely. My days as an Agony Aunt would seem to be fading. I slumped back in my seat, and rummaged around in my brain for an answer. I made that chin-holding move that ancient sages do, before stunning their pupils with an inscrutable but profound answer.
'When two cranes fly against the yellow moon ...'
... No! No! No!! Not like that, idiot! She wants a sensible answer."
Only in my thoughts, of course!
"Do you like Mister Hutcheson, Weronika?"
I don't think that she had expected so direct a question. The answer fell out before she could stop it.
"Er ... yes."
"Then don't worry about it. Campbell, or Too Hot Hutcheson, as others would have it, is indeed a crook, con-artist and peddler of dodgy merchandise. But he is smart, hard working and loyal to his friends. Who knows? With a little guidance in the right direction, he may, one day, turn out to be a very nice person."
Oh Mister Hutcheson! What have I done to you? Or Miss Lewitsky.
Well! They did ask!

Weronika thought on my 'profound wisdom', smiled, then thanked me. She turned and headed for the door. Her friend was smiling, too.
I called out to Helen.
"How are things going with you and Podge?"
Helen's grin could light up a theatre. Her eyes glowed.
"Just great, surr! Just great!"
All in a days work.

[When two cranes fly against the yellow moon - is it day or is it night?]
The moon can appear in the sky, day or night. It could be either.
When two lovers join together, it is impossible to tell what might happen.
Phan Van Hien (Henry Lo) 1954

I found this piece of Oriental wisdom on a scrap of paper that had fallen beneath Penny's desk. It was the only thing that she had left behind.
Apart from myself.

There were unexpected days. Winter days where the sun insisted on shining, despite all my determined gloom. For that, I have to thank Catherine.

Catherine Napier was born, a Down's Syndrome child. Conventional 'wisdom', of the time, held that the parents were just 'unlucky'; nothing could be done, and it was 'best' if the child only had limited exposure to the general public.
What a load of utter nonsense! Did the 'experts' think that it was catching!
Rico Napier, and his wife Anne, disagreed!
Rico believed in education. Education for All. Catherine would never fit into the standard School Curriculum, but she could learn. Rico made sure that she had every chance.
When the College became co-educational, he pushed for more educational opportunities for other, neglected groups in the community. The main College in Kirkcaldy resisted, citing 'budget constraints'. The Principal argued that 'one step at a time was enough'. As Rico quietly, but persistently, fought his case, he found a way to bypass the System.
Catherine was 'allowed' to visit the Annexe on a regular basis. As in more than a few Annexe Ways, Rico simply 'forgot' to keep Kirkcaldy informed on the situation. Should anyone visit; she was only there for the day. Rico's Day Release.
She sat in on many of the classes. Nobody minded. She never caused any disruption. In some ways, she was much quicker than the rest of the class. She could repeat parts of the lesson, word for word, the next time she came.
Jimmy Baxter taught her the Noble Art of Golf, in the Colour Television Room. She had her own putter, and her handicap was rapidly approaching that of the Annexe Professionals.
Sam Leckie provided Catherine with a 'made-to-measure' boiler-suit. Whoever said that 'girls don't like to get their hands dirty'?
Davie Ward taught her how to be safe around electricity, how to use hand tools, and shared his vast stock of dreadful schoolboy jokes. To Catherine, if a joke was funny, it was always funny. If you found that joke to be funny - even the once - then she would make a point of telling it again. And somehow, it was funny again!
She would always pop into my workshop, if she could. To her, I was 'The Man with the Magic Light'. I had built an electronic light for Christmas, in the shape of a star. I used some of the new Light Emitting Diodes that I had acquired from one of my sources. Little red lights without filaments or heat; the latest in technology. On a Christmas tree, it looked like a village version of Red Square in Moscow. I had designed, and built, a special electronic dimmer for the light, so that I could vary the brightness, make the star flash on or off; even make it pulse to music.
My first attempt did not work as I intended. The LEDs only came on dimly, but, if you touched the star, the brightness would flare up. If you took your hand away, the star would dim.

Catherine came into the workshop, un-noticed, as I struggled to analyse the problem. I thought that the circuit might be over-sensitive to electronic noise generated by my hand. Catherine had no electronic theories to offer; to her it was a wonder.
"Hello Mister Collins."
I turned to see Catherine standing there, gazing intensely at the light.
"Hello Catherine. Didn't see you come in, there."
She gave me that grave look that teachers reserve for students who are not conforming to expectations.
"Silly. I am not ..."
She searched for a suitable word.
"... invisible."
She looked back at my defective star.
"Is it a Magic Light?"
I sighed.
"No Catherine. Just something that doesn't work quite right."
Catherine thought about my unfortunate statement.
"Like me?"
Catherine had no illusions, and I had nowhere to hide.
"Can I touch the Magic Light?"
I stopped mentally kicking myself around the room and moved to the one side. Catherine reached out to touch a star.
The star flared out for Catherine. Not a defective star; just one that was different. She took her hand away, and the star dimmed.
A Magic Star.
I never 'fixed' that star. I gave it to Catherine, to put on top of her Christmas Tree. Like Catherine, it worked 'just right'. It shone.

"Do you want a joke, Mister Collins?"
Catherine could see that I was upset. She knew that a joke would make it right. We could both laugh together.
"What holds two frogs together?"
I followed the standard joke formula.
"I don't know!"
"Rivet! Rivet!"
We danced together under the star. We laughed.

Everything was all right.

Prize Giving

We all have our favourites in life: films, books, cars, football teams, toys, people, whatever. Even things like work. In the Lower Methil Annexe, where we devoted our time to teaching crafts and trades to a multitude of students, I must admit that my favourite was the end-of-term holidays: no students, no teachers, only the occasional janitor. Just me, a little work, a lot of time and a lot of books.
Psychologists may wish to question my place in the educational system? I don't care if they do. It was my reward for all that I did during the College year.

Soon, it would be the end of the last term, and I could look forward to the Summer Holidays. Two weeks of actual time-off, and five weeks of me and my own, personal College play-park. I could build whatever project took my fancy: a bit of welding on my car, build a Hi-Fi system, watch colour TV, read a book. As long as I did the work allocated by the College, I was free to fill my days as I wished.
This year, it would undoubtedly be 'Car Repair'. My Mini was only three years old; barely old enough to rust! The engine was in reasonably good condition (serviced regularly by the Motor Vehicle Maintenance Department).
Unfortunately, the bodywork had been comprehensively re-designed by an idiot in Kirkcaldy. I had driven through the traffic lights on green; he had driven through on red, and several pints of McEwans India Pale Ale. There were no witnesses; traffic light colours come and go, and it was impossible to prove who was at fault.
I was unhurt. The other driver sustained only minor injuries: a burst lip, several loose teeth and a black eye. Though that might have happened after the collision, when he started shouting, swearing and waving his fists at me. Sparse satisfaction for the repair bill that my Insurance Policy Excess would not cover.
At least, the date was easy to remember. May the 7th. My birthday.
Not a good year. Not for motoring. Not for romance. Not for me.

All I had to do now, was struggle through the Annual Prize Giving: arrange a few seats, herd a few students, hide in the shadows and walk home when it was over. I wasn't on the list of prize recipients, so no fuss and no personal commitments. Easy.
In fact, if I could wangle it, I was thinking of not bothering to go!

I looked through the list of speakers:
David Falkland Orr. Principal.
Probably the same speech as the year before. No wonder he boasted about never reading from notes!
Charles Gordon Kinnaird. Procurator Fiscal, Kirkcaldy.
Speaking on 'The Importance of New Laws and Regulations, as Pertaining to Industry and Commerce'. As opposed to prosecuting drunk and disorderly football fans after the local Football Derby. I used to wander in to the Sheriff Court on the Monday, if I had time. Best comedy show in town. Highly recommended.

On the prize list, were two names that came as no surprise:
Best Student - Campbell Hutcheson.
Hard work, brains, and a drastically reduced crime rate. Thanks to ...
Best Pre-Apprentice Student - Weronika Lewitsky.
Bright, attractive and determined. Very determined if she intended to make anything respectable out of Too Hot Hutcheson. I had a ££2 bet on the Principal getting her given name and her surname disastrously wrong!
On the list, there was a pencilled-in note, to the effect that she would be accompanied by her grandmother. The writing was faint; I struggled to read the name.
'Steward ...' No, that can't be right.
'Sve ... Svet ... Svetlana!' Ah! That must be it!
'Svetlana Simpson' Now there was a coincidence. How many Svetlanas could there be in Methil? Imagine that ...
Eventually, the brain fired up. Started to think.
Svetlana Simpson.
Svetlana McCrory. Married to Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson. The model for 'The Fallen Angel'
Weronika Lewitsky must be the granddaughter of Svetlana McCrory! No wonder, her face looked familiar. Looks often skip a generation. I had looked at that face, every day that I had attended the Annexe.
The Face of an Angel.
She was beautiful.
I had found a reason to attend the Prize Giving. I wanted to meet an Angel. In my excitement at the prospect of meeting a legend, I failed to read the rest of the list. Also present, would be ...
Miss Penelope Pillan PhD. Secretary to the Principal.

The Lower Methil Annexe Prize Giving Ceremony took place on Thursday, the 3rd of June. I could say that a cast of Glittering Celebrities were attended by a huge crowd of adoring fans; in truth, the 'Usual Suspects' turned up for a bit of free publicity (the reporter for the Fife Free Press was there!) and the opportunity to have a 'few drinks' (all at College expense).
The prize winners turned up. They had been told that 'no attendance equals no prize' - not a great incentive when the prize was a book-token of modest value. When I had been a prize winner at a previous occasion, I had declined the honour; I always paid for my own books. I was promptly ordered to attend. If the staff wouldn't turn up, how could they force the students?
The audience had been carefully selected. For them, attendance equalled 'a degree of forgetfulness' when it came to totting up the year's misdemeanours. One or two turned up because it was the day before pay-day, and they had no money to buy alternative entertainment. On a dull summer's evening, with the drizzle steadily falling, only the damned and the desperate would be there.
This time, I was there to make sure that the wheels, on the Principal's car, would be there when it came time to go home. With 'official' blessing, Rico Napier had liberated some 'dash' from the Petty Cash Account. It was officially termed a 'Car Security Contribution'. In case of need. The students considered a visit from the Principal as a challenge; a Rite of Manhood. Bets were laid on the winner.
That was my official duty; find the culprits before a crime was committed.

I hung around the Annexe door, wearing my 'Cloak of Invisibility'; my one remaining super-power now that 'Don Juan' and the 'Agony Aunt' had failed. And no, I have not descended into drivelling fantasy! I did have the ability to remain un-noticed in a group. If you stand there looking anonymous; never staring, never making eye contact, just blending in to the background, people stop noticing you. Never obstruct, never make any kind of erratic movement. Animals do it all the time ...
"I'm not here. I'm not interesting. I'm not tasty."
I learned to do it so well that I could stand in a group of half-a-dozen people, and one of them would give another a message to pass on to me! Undercover policemen practice the art. I would imagine that professional assassins would find it useful. Try it yourself, sometime - the 'invisibility' bit, not the 'assassination' bit!
Nobody noticed me. The students swirled around the foyer, without a single 'Surr!' in my direction. The Principal and his guest speaker - the Procurator Fiscal - swept past me without even a blink. Even the teaching staff failed to spot me. Jimmy Baxter bustled by; though, to be fair, his mind was undoubtedly focused on other weighty matters. Like the putting practice that he would have to forgo tonight. Sam Leckie was busy adjusting his tie to hide an oil stain. He would rather be elsewhere, but one of his class would be awarded the honour of 'Best Student'. Even little John Rankine slipped by with barely a mutter.
"Effin Prize Givin!"
He needed to improve his attendance rating.

Just then, the front door opened, and Rico Napier came through. He stood to one side, holding the door. His wife, Anne, and their daughter Catherine, came in. Catherine looked straight at me. Always a smile.
"Hello, Mister Collins!"
Catherine had no illusions; none would ever fool her.
"Hello Catherine."
I turned to Rico and his wife.
"Mister Napier. Mrs Napier. Good to see you all here tonight."
Anne Napier was a wonderful person. It was easy to see from where Catherine had received her joy for life. Rico Napier was a lucky man.
"Thank you, Mister Collins, it is very nice to see you."
She gave me a quick once-over.
"You seem to be well. No problems after the car accident, I trust?"
"No problems! Apart from the car, of course."
I doubt that my levity had convinced her, but she smiled and let it go. I think that she was more concerned about what she was planning to say next. In the event, Catherine beat her to it. Her face aglow with the revelation, Catherine announced ...
"Penelope came to the Prize Giving with us!"
I might have fumbled some satisfactory answer, but I was staring at the figure that had just pushed in through the door. Penelope Pillan was in the process of folding her umbrella. She began to speak.
"It's just started to rain ..."

We faced each other, neither of us knew what to say next. The long silence was broken by Catherine.
"Say 'Hello', silly!"
Ridiculously, we both spoke together; saying the same thing.
"Hello silly!"
Anne Napier looked at the two of us, then slowly shook her head. Rico Napier just laughed. The ash on his roll-up never moved. He took Anne and Catherine by the hand.
"We had better go and find our seats, and leave these two to get re-acquainted."
Anne gave a knowing smile. Catherine rolled her eyes in a very deliberate manner. One last, parting word.
We both looked at the other, circling warily, like opponents in the world's most-reluctant knife fight. Unwilling to close; unable to break away. At last, Penny spoke.
"Thomas and Anne gave me a lift. My MG is in for a service."
Normally, all the College staff in the know, bring their cars to the Lower Methil Annexe for a service. Before I could query her statement, she continued.
"Not here of course. It's still under warranty. I had to take it to the Main Dealer."
"Of course."
Somehow, I just could not get a grip on this conversation. Penny turned in the direction of the Students Common Room, where the Prize Giving was due to commence.
"I really must go. I'm sorry ..."
She looked as miserable as I felt. I forced myself to make the effort.
"When you get the chance, could we get together, and talk? Just talk."
I gestured towards the stairs.
"In private. Upstairs. Just for a few minutes."
Penny searched my face for any emotion. Her usual mind-reading talents failed her. Despite my heart's insistent demands, my face showed nothing.
She nodded. For a moment, I thought she would say something, but the moment passed. Then she walked towards the Common Room. And was gone.
There was a bridge between us - I only had to cross it. Logic said that my first step would be a step into the void. Instinct gibbered at me, screeching in fear and disbelief, that such a fragile structure could ever hold a heart so heavy.
I stood there. Frozen. It could have been forever.

Suddenly, the door was flung open. In came Weronika Lewitsky. She shook the raindrops from her hair, as she held the door open. There was a hint of anxiety in her stance as she watched a frail, grey-haired lady navigate the front step, aided by only a slim black walking-stick. I stepped forward, and opened the matching door, giving her more room to manoeuvre.
The step was treacherous with damp, and I almost moved to give her a hand. Then I stopped myself. Whatever age she might be, this was a lady who radiated determination to make her way through life by her own efforts.
She rewarded her helpers with a gracious nod. She could have been a princess. Once she was safely in the foyer, we released the doors. She waited to be introduced. Weronika did the honours.
"Mister Collins, this is my grandmother, Mrs Svetlana Simpson. Grandmother, this is Mister Neil Collins. The College Laboratory Technician."
If the mention of my lowly occupation disturbed a princess, she made no sign.
"Very pleased to meet you, Mister Collins."
Incredibly, she winked!
"Always good to meet the workers first, I always think!"
This was the incredible woman that I had waited so long to see. She might be old, she might be frail, but there was an enduring strength in her. Her face was wrinkled but the eyes were clear. Like the sculpture of the Veiled Lady by Raphaelle Monti, I could clearly see the young face behind the veil of age.
This was the Fallen Angel whose face had graced the Lower Methil Annexe for over forty years. She stood there, looking up at that plaster Angel; pure and virtuous, kneeling in humility but with wings proudly spread.
There was only one thing that I could say.
"Miss Svetlana McCrory. Welcome back to the Methil Mining College."
Her face held a measure of surprise and delight. She considered for a moment, then ...
"Mister Collins. I have other duties to attend to for now, but we must have a little talk, later."
The cane tapped on the floor as she stepped a little closer.
"We have much to talk about!"
With an unerring sense of familiarity, she swept across the foyer towards the Common Room, accompanied by a mystified Weronika Lewitsky and the regular tap of a slim, black cane.

I suspected that the evening, having set out to be a dull affair, might well become much more interesting.

Band of Angels

I didn't bother to take a seat at the Lower Methil Annexe Prize Giving; I had other things to do. The Principal's car was parked outside, in front of the College, and I had been tasked with preserving its security. It sat there in the glare of a newly-fitted floodlight. A bit like putting it on show in a shop window; an attraction for interested passers-by.
I warned off the casual scavengers by going for the occasional stroll in the evening drizzle. Both the rain and myself served to dampen their enthusiasm. I varied my timing, making it difficult for the more determined thief.
Normally, the area around the College was perfectly safe for the average car parker. Considering some of the clientele that favoured the nearby Miner's Welfare Institute, it would be a very brave or desperately foolish larcenist who tampered with any car. I'm told that broken arms can be very painful.
The Principal's car was the exception. It was a challenge!

Between patrols, I spent a little time; eavesdropping at the Common Room door, keeping track on the procession of events. The Principal's opening speech was entirely predictable; exactly the same as the year before. I could have turned down the sound and repeated the words from memory. The first award was for 'Best Pre-Apprentice Student. The Principal called out the name of the winner.
"Wee Ronnie Winkie!"
Knew it. A guaranteed certainty! Given name and surname totally wrong. I had won my £2 bet! The evening was not a total loss. And Weronika Lewitsky was now the life-time possessor of a new nick-name!

The distraction did not stop me from spotting the first, serious challenger. A small figure, relying on my interest in the ceremony and the silent walk of a pair of sand-shoes, tried to slip unseen from the Motor Vehicle Department to the front door. That was his first mistake; sand-shoes squeak on polished linoleum floors. The heavy canvas shopping bag was his second.
"Rankine! Drop the bag!"
A clatter of heavy metal. A car jack and wheel-brace spilled out on to the floor.
"Going somewhere, Mister Rankine?"
"Aw surr! Ah wiz just gaun tae throw the bag intae Methil Docks, and ah needed somethin tae weigh it down."
"I trust that there are no small, furry creatures in it?"
John Rankine was shocked. He did have his standards.
"Aw surr! Ah would never dae that!"
I did believe him, and he did deserve marks for the first stupid excuse of the evening.
"Do you feel lucky, punk? Put them all back. Now, please!"
You would have thought that, as a regular film goer, he would have appreciated the reference to the recent Clint Eastwood block-buster. But no, he simply muttered as he dragged his shopping bag back to its rightful place.
"Dirty Effin Harry!"

After seeing off Mister Rankine, I paused for a quick listen to current events in the common room. The Procurator Fiscal was on his feet, droning on about 'Laws and Regulations'. Most of his audience were half asleep; they had heard most of it before, when summoned to Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court for a bewildering variety of offences. Regular customers, you could say.

I managed to put in a few more patrols while the Prize Giving ground on to its conclusion. I was chasing at shadows, most of which moved away when I approached. By the time the ceremonies were over, and the audience granted absolution, the would-be car-jackers had given up and retired to the drinking den of their choice. The sudden out-rush of the once captive audience meant that the moment had passed. Amateur night was over; only the professionals were left.
I waited until Too Hot Hutcheson appeared.
"Mister Hutcheson, I have need of your services."
Hutcheson's internal cash register began to ching. I obliged by briefly flashing my wad of notes. A glance was enough.
"Always happy to oblige, Mister Collins! What can ah dae for ye?"
"I'm going to be busy. Keep an eye on the car for me."
He pretended puzzlement.
"What car would that be, surr?"
"Ha! Ha! Very funny. Just make sure that none of the bits walk."
His hand made an involuntary twitch towards the cash.
"Afterwards, Mister Hutcheson. Afterwards."
I changed subject for a moment.
"Congratulations, by the way. 'Best Student of the Year' You should be very pleased. You deserved it."
Somehow, his expression lacked any enthusiasm. He reached in to his jacket pocket, and drew out a small white envelope. He opened it, and handed me the book-token prize.

East Fife Technical College, Lower Methil Annexe.
Best Student of the Year.
Campbell Too Hot Hutcheson.

I'm sorry, but there are times when it is difficult not to laugh. I wish that I had put a second bet on him. Campbell Hutcheson looked at me with an air of resignation to his fate.
"It's fame, surr! So it is!"
I left my noble guard to his new duties. An honest crook is one who stays bought. I trusted him.
An angel awaited me in the foyer.

I escorted Svetlana Simpson, and her escort, Weronika, up the stairs to my workshop. I could tell by the look in her eyes, that she wanted to throw question after question at me; but the passing of years had taught her patience. Only the faint tapping of the cane betrayed her silence. I led her to my chair, and gestured for her to sit. Weronika stood beside her.

"Miss McCrory, I have something to give you."
Weronika's puzzlement grew at the unexpected form of address. Svetlana smiled, but said nothing.
"Not so much a present, as something that belongs to you."
From the shelf, I pulled down the old, wind-up gramophone, and placed it on the desk beside her. I slid out the storage tray, and selected one of the records. The gramophone had been wound earlier, so all I had to do was set the stylus and move the switch.

Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson is your man!
He's doing the best, as best he can.
Vote for him, Lads and Lasses
He defends the Working Classes.
Yes! Randolph 'Hughie' Simpson is your man!

Svetlana McCrory sat there, unmoving. Her mind, her heart in another time, another place. When the music stopped, the only change was a tear that formed, then slowly ran down her cheek. I waited, with more than a little apprehension. Had I done the right thing?
"Thank you Mister Collins. It was so long ago. I thought that it was lost for ever."
She only had one question for me.
"Tell me, Mister Collins. How did you know?"
I reached back to the shelf for the cardboard box that had sat beside the gramophone. I placed it beside her. She looked at it with growing wonder, then reached in and pulled out a bundle of letters. For the first time that evening, I saw her hand tremble.
"Miss McCrory, I must apologise. I have read through the letters. All of them. I wanted to know all about the history of the College. I ... "
She stopped me with the lightest touch of her hand. I felt as if a songbird had alighted on my arm.
"No apologies are necessary, Mister Collins. It is all history, as they say."
For a moment, the age was gone, and Randolph Simpson's Angel sat before me. There may have been regrets, but they had been beautiful moments.
"What can I say, Mister Collins ... "
"Nothing, Miss McCrory. They are yours. They all belong to you."
Just then, I saw another two faces at the workshop door. Penny and Catherine. I had no idea how long they had been there. Whatever the outcome, there could be no hesitation, this time.
"Miss McCrory. I must apologise again. There is someone else that I must speak to."
Svetlana stared at the letter in her hand. She was seeing far more than I had ever read from that piece of paper. Then she looked up at me.
"Thank you again, Neil Collins. I never, ever expected this. Please go and talk to your friends." A hesitation. "Do you mind if I sit here and read for a while? Weronika will help me, if I need it."
"Of course. Take all the time you need."
A hint of mischief sparkled in her eyes.
"The next time we talk, you had better call me Mrs Simpson."
She glanced at Penny.
"People might think we had an affair going. People might talk!"
I am sure that people would always talk about Mrs Simpson. She was a wonderful person to talk about.

I stepped outside, into the corridor. Penny had brought Catherine with her. I didn't mind. Catherine could stand there beside you, yet never intrude on a personal conversation. I started to speak, but Penny placed a finger on my lips; forbidding me to say a word.
"Neil. I just watched you there; heard what you said. That was the kindest gesture that I have ever seen."
I made another attempt, but the hand was raised again. Stopped me. Penny could enforce her will, just as firmly as Miss Pillan.
"I truly owe you an apology. And an explanation. I knew that you had your doubts. Was I merely the older woman looking for some disposable affair with a younger man? Perhaps just an office romance; nothing more. Or were you just a substitute for a love, long lost, that I could never leave behind in the past?"
Penny's ability to read my mind, left me staggered. At least she left out the one about a man so obviously transparent that nothing between us would ever remain unread.
"That night when I walked away from you, I was so afraid. For all sorts of reasons. All those memories came back to me; finding someone, then losing them. I wanted so much to be with you, but the memory of losing Albert choked the thought that I might get close to someone again. I did care for you, but I was terrified that, once more, it would be possible to lose someone. Even worse; that you might not care for me."
I could see her courage start to buckle again, but Catherine reached out for Penny's hand. A grip that would never break. "I loved Albert, all those years ago . but Albert never loved me. He was a wonderful man - so kind, so gracious - but Albert was ... Albert. He was a journalist, and he would always follow the story. All those years ago, Albert's one true love claimed him for her own."
Catherine reached out for my hand. Drew us together. Penny looked directly at me, as she continued.
"I was afraid that you might be another Albert: Smart, witty, determined to solve whatever mystery that you might care to follow. Charming, and very nice to know. Thinking of others by only thinking of yourself. And yet, tonight, I saw you give it all away. Not for gain or profit; simply to return a memory to where it belonged."
I expected sadness, but there was none.
"Neil Collins! You are a rogue and a trickster. If you had been born a long time ago, you would have been accepted into that band of Merry Men by Robin Hood himself! I really do not know what to do with you!"
A little voice piped up between us.
"You could always kiss him!"
She did!
I stepped out into the void.

I have no idea how long we stood there, before it dawned on us that we had an audience: Catherine, wide-eyed with joy at the emotional havoc that she had initiated; Weronika, overwhelmed by the possibilities of future romance; Svetlana, smiling, secure in the memories of the past.
Any awkwardness was adroitly brushed aside by Svetlana.
"Love is not love if you are afraid to show it."
She allowed us a reasonable moment to organise our thoughts.
"Mister Collins, if you could be so kind. Perhaps you could fetch some assistance to help carry the boxes?"
She raised a delicate eyebrow in the direction of Weronika.
"Perhaps that nice, young Mister Hutcheson?"
My directions were clear.
"Penny, and myself, will find something to talk about while you are gone."
I was half-way down the stairs before I even thought to question her!"

I found Too Hot Hutcheson lurking outside. It was easy; I just looked for the shadow that moved. A little more experience required.
"I need you upstairs, to give a hand. Weronika and her grandmother need someone to shift some boxes."
He didn't move; just looked at me as if I had turned up in a clown outfit, complete with wig and comic nose.
"You and Penelope Pillan are back together again, aren't you."
His ever-widening grin told me that 'Yes! It was that obvious'.
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" He even clasped his hands together, in a one man applause.
"I'm flattered, Mister Hutcheson, that you are so interested in my welfare."
The head shook 'No!', but the grin widened even more.
"It's no that surr! Ah've got money on you and her. With all the faffin aroond that the pair of yiz has been up to, I've managed to get some real guid odds in the 'Penny Lope Stakes'!"
"The what? Mister Hutcheson!"
Too Hot Hutcheson was totally unabashed.
"Yon Massimmo Marietti's been runnin a book, over in the Miner's Welfare. Ever since you and her played that Snooker match. Ye ca' beat a bit o' a lover's tiff for jackin up the odds."
So much for a quiet, little romance.

As Too Hot Hutcheson stood there in the evening drizzle, I turned around to look back through the College doors. Penny, Catherine, Svetlana and Weronika were now outside the workshop, standing at the top of the stairs. I could see them through the rain-smeared glass; the lights sparkled around them. And around the Fallen Angel.

It must have been like this at the Woodstock Festival, the year before. Joan Baez standing on a midnight stage. The rain falling down on a hushed multitude. I could almost hear her haunting voice, singing a capella ...

And I looked over yonder, and what did I see,
Coming to carry me home?
So a band, a band of angels, were a coming for me,
Coming for to carry me on home.

I made my decision. I turned to Too Hot Hutcheson.
"I need a car!"
He looked at me, then nodded. From his pocket, he produced a metal nail-file, and turned it with an 'unlocking' motion.
"There's always the Principal's car?"
I laughed.
"No! Mister Hutcheson. That probably would NOT be a good idea!"
He thought for a moment, then, with a flourish, produced a set of Jaguar car keys.
"Well, for one of our regular customers, we could possibly offer ... the Procurator Fiscal's car?"
He swung into the warm familiarity of a second-hand car dealer.
"It is in for an 'Annexe Special Service'."
And then, the clincher.
"He has pre-arranged a lift home with the Principal. Which is why no-one has stolen that particular car tonight."
I took the keys, and Too Hot Hutcheson accepted the Principal's 'Car Security Contribution'. He had earned it. Though she didn't know it yet, Penny and I had a date tonight. I intended to show her my personal art collection.
'Bathsheba and the Grapes' - A private viewing.

I wasted no more time. Campbell Hutcheson was quickly installed as a Personal Assistant to Mrs Simpson and party. (The 'party' seemed perfectly happy with the arrangement!). Penny and I took Catherine back to Rico and Anne Napier; but not without one, last joke.
"What holds two frogs together?"
Penny and I chorused the reply.
"We don't know!"
"Rivet! Rivet!"
With Catherine, A joke was always funny. And what would a Frog Princess and a Frog Prince do without a Rivet? The Kingdom would be lost!

I unlocked the passenger door of the metallic-red Jaguar XJ6. Penny looked in at the tan leather upholstery, and the burr-walnut dashboard.
"Oh! Mister Collins! This car has reclining seats! A girl could lose her virtue in a car like this."
Penny could play the beautiful fool when she wanted. She sat down in the approved Finishing-School manner, then slid those delightful legs into the foot-well. I held the door as I watched. She had to remind me to close it.
I walked around the front of the car. This was a car with presence; entirely suitable for the occasion. I must have been mad, but mad people rarely care about their condition. I opened the driver's door, and slid on to the seat. The door closed with a dignified 'thunk'.
We looked at each other; nodded. I started the engine. It settled immediately to a contented purr. I reached forward, to push the gear-shift into 'Drive' ... then hesitated. I needed to banish that last, tiny doubt.
"Will you run away, this time?"
That glorious chuckle; a flutter of those beautiful eyes.
"Veux-tu acheter un petit dejeuner pour moi?"
The gear-shift engaged with a click. This one, I knew!
"Will you buy me breakfast?"
Albert encouraged boldness in a woman.
'A French girl would wait to be served breakfast before she ran away.'

"Merci, Albert, tout de bon."
[Thank you, Albert. I wish you well.]

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The Moon and the Stars
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