Title: The Shelter
Content: Foyle and Sam; friendship
Disclaimer: Foyle's War was created and written by Anthony Horowitz.
A/N: First posted on the Nothing-Fancy Forum August 22, 2006
(Some revisions since posting.)
Standing before his shaving mirror at five in the afternoon, Foyle scraped the razor along the right side of his jaw, dipped it into water in the sink and lifted it to the other side. He paused, gazing at his reflection.
What had he been thinking?
He hated attending these formal receptions and usually made a plausible excuse to get out of the obligation. This time, however, he'd told the AC he would be there, and he had strong motivation for it – he wanted a closer look at the new Commissioner. This seemed the likeliest opportunity to meet him on what could be termed neutral territory.
But as a single gentleman he always felt at a disadvantage at these social affairs and he had been determined, on this occasion, to find a way to improve his position amongst his peers – and his superiors.
Foyle studied his face in the mirror – he did not normally consider himself to be a calculating sort of man, but that was undoubtedly the word for what he was doing. He badly wanted a more responsible, useful and – yes – more important position during this war, and if he could catch the new Commissioner's attention early…
He was still astounded by the recollection of his audacity three days ago.
He had asked Sam to accompany him.
Though he knew he had taken advantage of her generous and willing nature, there simply was no other woman he could think of to ask – well, no one as likely to help him achieve his purpose this evening. In the car he had tried, in a rather long and convoluted explanation, to make it sound as if it were merely an extension of their regular duties, but she had responded with that quirky smile he had noted in her expression several times before,
"You're asking me out, sir?"
"Sam, it's work, it's an official function… and I can't bear the thought of going to these things…" He left the remark unfinished.
"Moral support, then, is that it, sir?"
"And it's formal? Evening dress?"
She had been pensive for a few moments.
"I think I can find a suitable … There's just one thing, sir."
"What's that, Sam?"
She looked at him sideways,
"As it is work – official duty, as you say – well, there is some expense involved."
"Oh?" He turned to her with raised eyebrows.
"Yes, sir. I shall have to have my hair done."
He quickly turned away to stare straight forward out the windscreen.
"I think the, er… station can cover the, er… Well, I'll look into it."
"Thank-you, sir. Up, do you think, sir?"
"My hair – shall I have it done up?"
"I'll leave that to your expertise, Sam."
"Em, one other thing, sir. I shall have to wear heels, and, well, I can't drive properly in heels, sir."
Foyle shut his eyes. At that point he had begun to regret the whole idea and realised perhaps he hadn't completely thought it through; if she wasn't driving him then it would rather look as if…
"Oh. Can't you? No – I suppose not…, ermm…"
He had felt himself sinking into the seat.
"…I'll call for you by taxi, then, Sam."
"Would you, sir? That would be very good of you."
"Not at all."
They had driven on for several minutes in silence, he gazing with an uncomfortable expression out the side window and she going over in her mind the many essential feminine details of preparing for such an occasion. Noticing that he had become rather subdued, Sam glanced over at him two or three times before exclaiming,
"Oh, why didn't I think of it – of course I can drive you, sir! I'll simply change my shoes in the car."
Foyle's face brightened,
"Could you? You wouldn't mind, Sam?"
Once again it amazed him that she had willingly taken on another of his problems as if it were really hers as well.
She smiled, saying in a confidential tone,
"Not at all, sir. After all, we wouldn't want to give the wrong impression… I mean, it's not as if you–. Oh, here we are, sir."
She had been driving him to another of those interminable Coastal Defense Coordination meetings, and upon arrival their discussion ended.
Now here he stood, his evening clothes laid out on the bed, feeling an odd mixture of discomfort and anticipation. He was well aware that he was treading near forbidden territory, from any perspective. It didn't help matters that, over the past three days, he had found himself wondering what she would wear – that blue frock he'd seen her in once had been charming, but he wasn't sure if it was quite the thing for this sort of formal event – and he'd really felt he was in no position to enquire. He would have to rely on her judgement.
Dragging the razor through the remaining soap on his jaw line, he pondered that unfinished remark of hers, 'it's not as if you…' What had she been about to say? 'It's not as if you would ask your pretty, young driver out?'; 'It's not as if you would take any pleasure in escorting an attractive woman?'; 'It's not as if you aren't old enough to be my father.' Yes, probably the last one.
He finished washing and attended to his hair, combing it in place with the pomade he had purchased from his barber yesterday. He brushed the sides and back sleek but worked gingerly across the top on those precious few strands he was reluctant to disturb. After tidying away all the instruments of his ablutions, he grimaced at himself in the mirror, muttered 'Clark Gable,' and walked into the bedroom to dress.
Foyle came out his door the moment the Wolseley pulled up to the kerb, and greeted Sam in his usual manner, as if this excursion were nothing out of the ordinary. She was wrapped in some sort of evening cape, and he noted her hair was up in a new and very elegant style and that pendant earrings sparkled against her slender neck. It wasn't until they reached the hotel's coat check room that he realised how well she understood her rôle as his partner for this occasion.
He had handed over his dark evening topcoat and her cape and pocketed the claim tickets before he turned to her and saw the full effect. She was stunning, her gown was superb, and he was speechless; he could not possibly introduce her as Sam – tonight she was Samantha. She saw the admiration and approval in his expression and, blushing a delicate pink that highlighted the flash of her eyes, smiled shyly at him. All his apprehension over the evening evaporated as he offered her his arm and, smiling with a certain proud confidence, led her into the glittering reception hall.
Four hours later Foyle sat back in the seat of the Wolseley with a rare glow of contentment as Sam put the car in motion and they left the grounds of the hotel. Towards the end of the evening, knowing that he had only a twenty minute drive to his house, he'd accepted another whisky offered him by the Commissioner and he was feeling rather more relaxed than he usually allowed himself to be while in her company.
The evening had been a triumph, he felt, in terms of his goal of establishing a positive rapport with the Commissioner: it was uncanny how the presence of an attractive young woman – and Sam had certainly been one of the youngest and prettiest women at the reception – put all the men around her in the most convivial and accommodating of temperaments.
The Commissioner, in fact, had been drawn to her like the proverbial moth to the flame – not that he had shown any overt interest – but rather, like the other men, had simply enjoyed basking in her radiance. And talking with that quite sensible, intelligent DCS Christopher Foyle of the Hastings Constabulary was a reasonably legitimate occupation while he did so.
Foyle had been delightedly surprised by Sam's poise and demureness. Whatever her private thoughts about the people she'd met – and he knew she would have an opinion on each one of them – she showed only a polished and confident politeness that constantly won approval. Escorting her from circle to circle, introducing her to various people and watching her exchange the required pleasantries, he had been strongly, poignantly reminded of Rosalind's powers to smooth the way for him in what he had always regarded as a sort of social trial.
And he had danced with her. Several dances. He sighed happily and then, noticing that she had glanced at him with that same half-amused smile as at the beginning of this whole episode, he put that particular recollection away.
They were wending their way up Steep Lane when Foyle's mellow mood was abruptly sobered by the loud whine of Air Raid sirens sounding their warning.
Before Sam asked, Foyle answered,
"My house, Sam! The nearest public shelter's nearly ten minutes away."
She sped the car to his address and they both clambered out and up the front steps. As he unlocked the door, Foyle looked up at the search lights sweeping the grey-and-black-streaked sky and listened to the ack-ack guns firing not so very far away. Once inside, to Sam's surprise, he led her straight through the dark hall and kitchen and out the back door.
Taking her hand, he guided her along the narrow gravel path between the vegetable plots to the large high mound of earth that was the shelter in the garden. Stepping down and bending to the low doorway, he entered first to light a lamp before ushering her inside and, after one last look at the sky, secured the door. While Foyle moved back to light another lamp suspended from the ceiling, Sam looked about her.
Although she hadn't been in an Anderson shelter before, she had heard all about them, and she was quite certain that this was not what the inside of the average family's shelter looked like. Firstly the floor was not dirt, but was made of hardwood planks and even had a couple of small rugs along the length of it. He had fitted a thick, tufted sort of covering over the corrugated iron walls as well, and though this had reduced the inside width of the shelter somewhat, the effect was an unexpected degree of dryness, warmth and reflected light.
To the left there was a bunk with a mattress and neatly rolled bedding, to the right a bench seat with cushions. Wooden crates fitted as cupboards held tins and dry goods, and another crate served as a small table. On a shelf fixed to the far wall stood an old chess board, playing cards and a few books. In the back corner she noticed a curtained-off cubicle. The ceiling was easily six feet high down the centre, so she felt quite able to stand without stooping. Other than having the chill of an unheated room, the space was quite cosy.
She wrapped her cloak around herself and sat down on the bench. Foyle placed a lamp on the make-shift table between them, set their two gasmasks on the floor, and sat on the bunk.
He tilted his head towards the lamp,
"That'll give us a little heat, as well."
"This is rather nice, sir. You've put a lot of extra work into it."
"Well… had the time. And didn't fancy sitting in an iron box for very long. Andrew helped a bit, on a break from university."
"You know, it's rather like a Hobbit-hole."
"From the children's book by that Oxford professor, Tolkien; Hobbits are small people who live in very comfortable holes in the ground."
"Ah, well, Andrew's... a bit past children's stories, you know. Do you…still read them?"
"Sir! I read them to my nieces and nephews – if that's what one calls one's cousins' children. I can never remember if those are grand-nieces or second cousins…"
"Afraid I can't help you."
After a pause she asked,
"Will we be able to hear the All Clear, sir? This must be quite sound-proof."
"Yes, I've heard it on other nights."
She nodded and pulled her cloak around her lower legs.
"Blanket? Would you like a blanket?"
He handed across one of the wool blankets folded on the end of the bunk, and as she arranged it over her lap and around her legs, she felt a slight dizziness from the wine she'd had during the evening. Not that she'd had much, since she was driving, but she always found that any amount of alcohol affected her a little.
She stifled a yawn behind her hand and then, opening her eyes wide for a moment to clear her vision, she asked,
"Was it a successful evening, sir? Did you find out what you wanted to know about the new Commissioner?"
Foyle raised his eyebrows.
"What makes you think I went to see the Commissioner?"
"Not just to see him, but to meet him, to learn something about him, see how others regard him."
"I'll ask again, what makes you think that, Sam?"
"Well, I was watching you, of course. And when you asked me to dance, it was always when he was on the floor with his wife, and you steered me in his direction."
Foyle frowned at her,
"Steered you –? Thank-you, that's a very elegant description of my attempts on the dance floor…" He poked his tongue into the inside of his cheek.
"I didn't mean that – you're a wonderful dancer, sir – I just meant that you seemed to have a motive other than being with me–. Oh! I didn't mean that either – Of course you weren't– I meant…"
Sam wrinkled her brow in confusion and he came to her rescue.
"Absolutely right, Sam; I did want a closer look at the Commissioner. And that part of the evening was very successful."
She smiled sleepily and, after a long pause, asked innocently,
"Were any other parts of the evening successful?"
He gazed at her with a quizzical expression, but in the quiet before he responded there was a loud, long, descending whistle overhead and they both froze, listening; when it abruptly ceased she looked at him in fear and he frowned in concern.
The ground suddenly shook with a violent impact that made Sam cry out in shock. Another descending whistle sounded, ceased, and in quick succession two more. Before the next impact struck, Foyle pulled Sam across to the bunk beside him and put an arm protectively around her. The bombs hit hard, one after the other, setting the lamp shaking on the ceiling hook, and jarring the table so that Foyle had to grab the other lamp and set it on the floor. Shadows swung crazily across the walls and Sam buried her face in his shoulder, muffling frightened outcries. As distant crashing noises subsided, more whistles descended from above. She clung to him and he held her close while the shelter shook and dust fell from ceiling to floor.
During a lull in the noise, without lifting her head she asked in a quavering voice,
"Aren't you going to tell me everything will be all right, sir?"
He answered quietly,
"Yes. Everything will be all right, Sam."
The falling whistles started again and she gave a little moan of dismay; he pulled another blanket from the pile of bedding and tried to drape it over her shoulders, but she wouldn't let go of him so he tugged it across his own as well.
With each explosion Foyle involuntarily ducked his head and he prayed that he wouldn't get the shakes that used to plague him during, and for several years after, the last war. He kept his eyes open to reassure himself that he was not in the trenches of France, but in his own back garden; that he wouldn't have to order the few remaining men over the top, and that he didn't have to go over the top either. He reminded himself he could just sit here and wait it out – though in a way this was worse: there was nothing to do, no action to take.
And here, instead of soldiers, this dear young woman was beside him, and her presence seemed to bring home to him how mad the world had become.
Sam muttered into his coat,
"Oh, I wish I'd had more wine, or something stronger."
"No, it never helps, Sam."
However, Foyle thought he was beginning to feel the effects of that last whisky, or perhaps it was simply the disorienting effect of sitting in a hole in the ground wearing full evening attire.
"What does help, then, sir?"
"Talking – about other things."
She thought for a moment,
"Didn't I ask you a question earlier, sir?"
"I thought I had – yes, I asked what other parts of this evening had been a success."
"Oh, er…" Foyle's mouth turned down at the corners as if he hadn't really meant anything by his remark.
"All of it, I suppose."
He arched an eyebrow at her,
"The car ran well; we didn't run out of petrol…"
She lifted her head and gave him a severe look.
"We have never run out of petrol, sir."
He grinned at her,
"That's true, Sam. Apologise for even suggesting the possibility."
"Apology accepted. Now tell me, what else was –."
Another series of whistles began and she squeezed her eyes shut. At the first impact she again hid her face against his shoulder and he repositioned his arm and the blanket around her. Her voice was muffled against his coat lapel.
"What else was successful?"
"Well, certainly not this part." He spoke over the thud of the bombs.
"No. Come on, sir – you said we should talk about other things."
"Right, I did. Well, really, er, the whole thing was successful, Sam. It wasn't nearly as tedious as on past occasions."
"You enjoyed yourself? Why do suppose that was, sir?"
"Sam, beginning to suspect that you have an ulterior motive for this line of questioning…I'll remember to bring you into the interrogation room with the more difficult suspects."
"I've really only asked one question –."
She didn't see his smile before he sighed as if exasperated,
"Sam, look, I very much appreciated your coming along tonight; you were – are – very pleasant company; your presence was a great help to me and the evening… went very well; mmmore than that: it went extremely well. But the simple fact is that you are my driver, I'm your boss, and it wouldn't be proper for me to make any further comment."
He inhaled deeply and spoke on the exhale, his words just a little slurred,
"…or say anything at all about how stunning you look tonight in that lovely gown or how you dazzled everyone who met you, and how beautifully you moved about the room, or that your hair seemed to glow in the lamplight…"
Sam had slowly lifted her head and now, sitting upright with colour in her cheeks and her mouth agape, was staring at his profile.
He put out his hand in a gesture of finality,
"It wouldn't be proper so I'm not about to say anything like that."
He looked off in the direction of the chess board on the shelf and she answered faintly,
"No, of course not, sir; it wouldn't be proper…"
"Good, glad we understand each other. What else shall we talk about?"
"Well, ...before we finish with what we're not talking about, sir, I want to make it clear that I would never say anything about how much I enjoyed tonight with you, or that I thought you looked very distinguished in your dinner jacket, and certainly nothing to the effect that…I've never had such a gentlemanly, confident dance partner. Because it wouldn't be proper, as your driver, to make such remarks."
Though his face was turned away, Sam thought she saw the edge of his ear go pink. She smiled to herself and rested her chin in her hand.
After a few moments she sat up straight, cleared her throat, and introduced a new topic,
"Tell me about your father, sir."
Foyle dropped his head in his hand.
"Oh, good god. Look, how much wine did you have, Sam?"
"Sir! Only two glasses… I think. Well, DIC Martins kept topping me up, so I rather lost count…"
She stifled a yawn behind her hand.
"Yes, I noticed. I think you meant DCI Martins, Sam."
"Oh. What did I say?"
"Won't you tell me something about your father, sir?"
"Just one thing."
"Curiosity is not always a good trait, Sam."
"Except in police work."
"Is this an investigation?"
"It's only that I'm interested…"
They both paused and looked up, listening as the low irregular rhythm of heavy bomber engines grew louder overhead. For the first time Sam heard Foyle mutter an impatient grunt of annoyance and she thought her impertinent questions might truly have irritated him under the circumstances; she decided to stop. Soon the falling whistles resumed above them, and she leaned forward and covered her face with her hands.
These bombs were larger – their tremendous impact, wherever they were falling, jarred the ground so violently that the whole shelter seemed to shift in the earth and Sam felt the concussion in her chest and head. With her eyes shut tight, she covered her ears and rocked back and forth as five more exploded. After the last explosion she opened her eyes to see the chessboard drop off the shelf fixed to the back wall. A moment later there was a great crack like a rifle shot and then, with a terrible bang, the ceiling above the now empty shelf suddenly crumpled down nearly two feet.
Sam cried out and Foyle instinctively shielded her head with his arm. Dark earth tumbled in through the torn insulation and broken joins of the corrugated iron sheets and a gust of cold air brushed their faces and whirled around their feet. Bizarrely, the lamp still hung swaying from the hook in the ceiling. In the numbing silence Sam looked fearfully to Foyle and saw the perspiration gleaming on his brow and the concern in his eyes.
"Oh god! Sir, it's an unexploded bomb! We've got to get out!"
She struggled for the door but Foyle held her down.
"It's not, Sam, it's not! Listen to me; I know exactly what it is."
She stopped struggling and stared at him.
"Are you listening?"
"Yes." The word came out as a sob.
"It's not an unexploded bomb. It's a tree from next door's garden. Do you understand? There are three large old trees that overhang the fence. It's probably the middle one. I'll show you."
He gently disentangled himself from her and the blanket and, treading into the dirt, stooped under the crushed ceiling. He reached an arm into the gap between the iron sections, felt around and pulled something in. Returning to the bunk he sat beside her and opened his hand to reveal a perfect green leaf.
"Oh… an apple tree. What a shame."
She inhaled shakily and let it out slowly,
"I'm sorry, I…"
"Not at all."
The sound of bombs landing had moved farther away now. Sam studied the leaf he had put into her hand and wiped at the tears running down her face. Foyle rested his back against the wall, pulled apart the knot of his black tie, and stared up at the partially collapsed ceiling of the shelter.
Quietly, he began to talk to her.
"…Mmy father was a police sergeant - here in Hastings. He thought he'd reached the pinnacle of his career at that rank; never considered the possibility of going higher. And he thought I'd do well to do the same. It…upset his view of the world that I felt I could do more – take on more responsibility. At first I tried to accept his judgement."
He scrubbed a hand over his brow,
"When I returned from the war, we still held the same opposing views – and he only saw that my promotion to Officer was temporary, whereas I saw it as proof that I had it in me to hold higher rank. Each time I was promoted, my father had less to say to me. He died a year after I was made Detective Chief Inspector… and we had hardly spoken for six months."
"That must have been–."
Foyle glanced into her eyes, took in a breath and declared,
"He was an excellent gardener, cabinet-maker, and a first-class fly fisherman. That's four things about my father. Your turn."
He gave her a brief expectant smile.
Sam frowned at the leaf she held in her lap, then, understanding that he had said as much as he would, forced a smile in return,
"Well, you have to ask me a question, sir."
"Do I? Usually you're more than willing to tell me all manner of things about yourself, Sam, without being asked."
She gave a little laugh and dried her face with an edge of the blanket,
"Yes. Well, I am trying to be a little less frank about... things."
"Oh, don't; it's one of your–." He caught himself and, leaving the remark unfinished, considered the challenge.
"A question for Sam? Well …tell me something about your mother."
"It seems only fair. And I've met your father."
They listened to a distant rumble like rolling thunder, perhaps a building collapsing somewhere in the town. Sam shivered in a sudden cold draft of air and Foyle rearranged the woollen blanket around her shoulders. When she lifted a hand to cover another yawn he gently drew her over to lean against him, his right arm around her.
"Put your feet up; you'll be warmer."
With another blanket over her legs on the bunk, Sam rested her head on his chest.
She sighed heavily,
"Hmm, my mother. I love her dearly, of course. She's not in the best of health, I'm afraid. Sadly, that's the way it's been most of my life and… I'd had to take on many of her parish duties as vicar's wife; she trained me very well and I was happy to help – but then my aunt came to us five years ago, after my uncle passed away. She needed something to do..."
She played idly with a button on his black topcoat.
"And I wanted to make my own life – to do something – I just didn't know what it would be. Then the war came and I rather took advantage of it, I suppose. A chance to get out. But Mum… well, she relied on me and I– I suppose I've let her down."
After a thoughtful pause Foyle said softly,
"Sam, you can't be expected to live someone else's life."
Seeking to lighten the mood, he continued,
"If we all did that there would be no change; Foyles would always be policemen and Stewarts would always be vicars and vicars' wives. The RAF would be short a pilot and… I'd have to walk."
He smiled down at her and she turned shining eyes up to his and somehow everything went very still around them. They gazed at each other and the moment held; Foyle saw her eyes stray down to his mouth, saw her lips open slightly to him; Sam saw the tenderness in his expression and felt his breathing deepen; she began to move her hand up towards his face – but then he looked away, swallowed, and stroked his hand up and down her arm in a platonic manner.
Sam bit her lip, laid her head on his chest again and drew her hand inside the blanket. Neither spoke for several minutes. Foyle looked at his watch.
"What time is it, sir?"
"Half past three, Sam."
And then the All Clear sounded. Sam closed her eyes briefly, feeling a strange mix of regret and relief.
"Oh – Jerry's gone home for the night."
"Well, let's hope not all of them got home, eh, Sam?"
It became apparent that neither was in a hurry to leave the shelter.
"I'm… I'm not sure I want to see what's happened out there."
Foyle drew her closer to kiss the top of her head,
"Not even for the chance of a cup of tea? Come on."
As he rose to extinguish the ceiling lamp, she folded the blankets on the bunk and tucked the leaf from the fallen tree into the pocket of her cape. Foyle pushed open the small, low door, and Sam followed him out by lamplight into a familiar but forever changed world.
Consisting of fourteen sheets of corrugated iron, the Anderson shelter formed a shell 6 feet high, 4½ feet wide and 6½ feet long. It was buried to a depth of 4 feet and then covered with at least 15 inches of soil.
The Anderson shelter was issued free to all earning less than £250 a year and at a charge of £7 for those with higher incomes.