Pluto's Child

by DJ

Chapter 20

With the car heading back to Chilver Lodge at a tidy pace, Gypsy and Lorna had reckoned on having the place to themselves but, when they got there, they found to their annoyance that Terry was on their tail. Marla Frank, having suddenly found herself called back to her office, had gone off in a huff, leaving the unhappy photographer to record the afternoon's activities at all costs or face the sack. Gypsy smiled as he guessed that Marla's disappearance had something to do with Erskine. Ed was all for seeing the young man off as well, but Gypsy and Lorna were suntil in a wickedly volatile mood and determined to have some fun, while giving their unsuspecting victim a run for his money. The silly fool told them to ignore him but they had other ideas when they found out he wasn't too keen on dogs. They let him follow them wherever they went as they wandered round Chilvers; each time he was set to take a good shot of them they suddenly moved on or disappeared through a door. They dodged from room to room, and up and down staircases, before donning warm jackets and serviceable shoes and taking Erica for a walk. Out in the back yard, Gypsy showed Lorna the dogs that guarded his home; four large black and tan Dobermans. Lorna held back from them, even though they were penned inside a large mesh cage. Mike, their young handler smiled at Lorna. "It's all right, Miss, t hey're big softies really; they only attack on command, preferring to make a loud noise and bare their teeth. That's usually enough to make anyone wet their pants and run. "

Gypsy saw Lorna' s look of disbelief. "Do you think I would let Erica anywhere near them if they were dangerous? The two older ones have looked after her since the day she was born." He had Mike open the cage and Erica couldn' t wait to get inside to greet the dogs. Their stubby tails wagged franticly as they gathered round her and waited their turn to be fussed. Erica grabbed hold of the collar of the largest beast and began to drag it towards the gate. "Can we take them for a walk, Daddy?"

"All right; if we must. Come on, Butch. Good boy!"

The dog came to him obediently and Gypsy dropped to a crouch to fondle him. He glanced up at Lorna. "Offer your hand to him, palm downwards then wait until he wags his tail at you." Swallowing her fear, Lorna approached the dog, her hand outstretched, and waited as Butch sniffed it and pricked up his ears. Still the tail did not move, instead he sat down and offered her his paw and looked her straight in the eye, his jaws parting in a comical grin. "Oh ho!" Gypsy laughed. "The special treatment, eh? You're hon oured , Miss Basset."

Lorna laughed too as she shook the dog's paw, and the other dogs came sniffing round, not wanting to miss anything and hating to be ignored. Erica came to stand by Lorna and slipping her tiny hand into hers, she pointed to each dog in turn. " This one is Jake, this one is Britt, and that one is Devil. Butch is their daddy and their mummy is Bonnie, and she's in the shed with her new babies. Would you like to see them?"

Lorna was about to say yes when Gypsy interposed. "Sorry Erica, you know Mike said no one was to go into the shed except Mike and I. Bonnie will think you are going to harm her babies and will turn on you, and on the babies. Wait until she is ready to show you her babies herself. There's plenty of time."

Erica's lower lip stuck out as her brows drew closer. Lorna said gently, " It's all right, Erica. I' ll c ome back and see them another day."

Erica's eyes brightened, "Will you?"

"If you like."

"When?"

"Soon." Lorna felt her cheeks burn as Gypsy looked up at her. He smiled softly, stood up, and caught Terry getting ready for another shot.

"He doesn't give up easily, does he? Let's get moving; he won't want to get too close with the dogs loose. Come on, dogs, let's go for a walk."

The walk turned out to be a form of throw and catch combined with a game of hide and seek with the dogs, through the trees by the stream, along the bank and down through rough meadow that formed the northern border of Gypsy's tiny estate. More bushes and trees at the Eastern edge of the meadow afforded excellent places for Gypsy and Lorna to hide from Erica and the dogs, the latter party always winning just when Gypsy and Lorna thought they had time to get a little closer, and coming within kissing a few times. T hen there was Terry, still on their heels and now using a telephoto lens to avoid coming too close. At last, Gypsy decided he had to do something about the man. Winking at Lorna he whistled the dogs to him and fussed them for a bit. "All right, boys, time to go to work." They were standing on a broad path through a group of trees, each tree separated by dense tangles of brambles and so preventing any detour. Gypsy pointed the two youngest dogs towards Terry's distant figure. "Go play, boys, k eep him here; good dogs." The dogs sat down either side of the path, their sharp eyes on Terry as he approached.

Gypsy grinned wickedly, took hold of Erica's hand and, signaled for Lorna to follow, then hurried along the path until he reached a gap in the bramble. Diving through, they turned and peeped out and saw Terry reach the path and halt a good twenty feet from the dogs. He came forward again at a much slower pace and Britt rose to his feet. Terry took a step to the right and Britt did the same. Terry took a step to the left. Devil rose to his feet and matched him. Terry tried a tentative step forward, and both dogs stepped forward. Terry jumped back twice the distance and the dogs sat down again. Terry sat down with his back to a tree to think out his next move and the dogs settled down in the middle of the path. Gypsy giggled. "They think he's playing a game with them. It's a bit like 'imon Says' " If Terry makes a move they'll match him.

Lorna felt sorry for the man. "Poor man, he looks petrified. They won't do anything to him, will they?"

"No. They love playing like this with anyone who's handy. They'll just match every move he makes. These dogs are only trained to attack under extreme circumstances, for instance if I'm attacked by an intruder. Most of the time they'll give chase and make a load of noise to scare someone off or keep him at bay until one of Barney's men arrive to deal with him. But most of all they love to play with anyone who's handy. All Terry has to do is turn round and walk away, something most people won't do for fear of being attacked from behind. The dogs will know then that the game is over. C ome on; let's leave him to work it all out for him self."

"Oh, you mean thing!" Loran laughed softly as Gypsy pulled her away from the path.

"S erve him right for trying to snoop on my private affairs. That wasn't in the agreement." Gypsy slipped an arm about her waist and pulled her close. They made a detour and came out of the trees by the meadow where Butch and Jake spotted a rabbit and gave chase. "That's another game they play. Chase the rabbit. They've never once harmed one but will chase it until it disappears down its hole, then it's game over." Gypsy and Lorna strolled towards the stream with Erica dashing about ahead of them, playing her own little make believe game. They walked in silence, each with their own thoughts; arms round each other's waists as they had on Blackpool Beach, and Gypsy hoped it would not end the same way. When they reached the stream, Gypsy broke away from Lorna, picked up a pinecone and tossed it at her. She threw one back and in no time at all they were pelting each other with anything they could lay their hands on, and Erica joined in the game while Butch and Jake barked madly and chased back and forward between them trying to catch the missiles. When they finally collapsed on the grassy bank they were covered in debris, which Erica dutifully picked off them before cuddling into Lorna and asking her if she had a mummy.

Lorna looked surprised at the question. "Yes, I have."

"Is she nice?"

Lorna laughed. "Yes, she's very nice, why?"

"I haven't got one but Daddy says I'll have one someday. Would you like to be my mummy?"

Startled by the child's sudden interrogation, Lorna was lost for an answer and Gypsy sat up. "Hey! Where are your manners? You don't ask questions like that."

"Why not?"

"Because you don't, that's why."

Erica's lips stuck out in a pout. "But I want a mummy."

"I know baby." Gypsy pulled her to him and cuddled her close. "I wish it was a simple as that, but there has to be lots and lots of love between your new mummy and me first; and she has to love you too."

"Like with my real mummy?"

"Yes, baby." Lorna noticed the way Gypsy turned his face away from her.

Erica's face screwed up and Lorna thought she would cry."But my mummy Shana is in heaven and she can't come back; you said so."

"I know." Gypsy could hardly speak. "And I still love her very much; that's why there has to be lots of love for me in your new mummy's heart, and for you as well. Now why don't you take Butch and Jake and find Britt and Devil, I'd like to talk to Lorna alone for a few minutes, okay?"

Erica slid out of his lap and began to walk away but turned, and said in a small voice, "Will you wait for me, Daddy?"

"Yes, Baby." Gypsy's eyes glistened with tears. "We'll wait."

Lorna watched the child walk away, calling the dogs to her. "At least she's honest. She knows what she wants and says so."

"Do you?" Gypsy asked her.

"Do I what?"

"Know what you want and say so."

"Sometimes." Lorna brushed the last of the debris from her jeans. "I'm afraid I lost my childish honesty a long time ago, and the way I lost it wasn't very nice. How else did I get the name Frigid Freda?"

Gypsy lay back and rested on one elbow and chewed on a blade of grass, waiting for her to open her heart to him, and Lorna found it so easy without knowing why, having never told a soul before about what had happened. "When I was eight, I had a nasty encounter with a man. When boys came along I couldn't bear them touching me, so I just let everyone believe I was protecting my virginity all the time. I suppose I was out for revenge as well. It became a game in the end and I'm afraid you were one of the victims."

"And there was I, thinking I had all the prob lems."

Lorna gazed round at him, studied him for a moment. "Are you really gay?"

Gypsy shrugged his shoulders. " How do you define the word gay?"

Lorna blushed and didn't answer.

"I don't go around looking for quickies in public toilets or hang around gay bars hoping for a pickup, even if I had the time. What I did before I met Tony Grafton I was forced to do; and if Tony hadn't been killed I would still be with him today. Then Don Clooney came into my life; he had problems too, and we tried to help each other out. It didn't work and he went back to the States to marry his girlfriend. If Sandy were single and there were no children involved, I would probably want to live with him and I would be the happiest man in the world, but it can't be; and I don't have any intention of involving myself with any other male. Sandy has made his choice and I've made mine. Shana and I were more than lovers; we were best friends, professionally as well as privately. That's the most important thing about living together; you have to be friends. I know Erica needs a mother but I wouldn't marry someone just for that reason; it wouldn't be fair. I was lucky; Shana understood my hang-ups and accepted my situation. Erica's new mother would h ave to do the same." Suddenly Gypsy sat up, his face turned away from Lorna. "Am I asking too much?"

Lorna's heart began to beat faster. "Are you...proposing to me?"

Gypsy plucked at the grass between his knees, and smiled sheepishly. "I' m sorry, I shouldn't have. I was being selfish, putting my priorities before others."

Lorna reached out to touch him on the arm. "It's all right, Gypsy, I understand."

Gypsy looked at her, his eyes suddenly hard. "I don't think you do. I'm sorry, I should have told you; I really am looking for a mother for Erica. I have a growth on my spine and they don't know if it's-malignant or not, but it makes no difference. I could end up in a wheel chair for the rest of my life or I could die. You see, they don't know if they can operate. Whatever happens, the Royles will try for custody of Erica, and the only way to stop them is for me to marry and for my new wife to adopt Erica." Gypsy's eyes softened as he added gently, "I know you would care for her, and love and cherish her as if she were your own. But I don't want you to marry me out of sympathy or pity; but if you could learn to love me just a little bit, I-."

Lorna shook her head to cut him off. "I don't have to learn to love you, Gypsy Diaz O'Riley, I always have." She smiled, and moved closer. "That day at Blackpool, I acted like a fool. Do you know where I went after I ran away from you? I went back to the coach. I stayed there until it was time to go to home, bawling my eyes out. I didn't even go to the theatre. When everyone came back to the coach I boasted about what had happened to make you look the fool and not me. It was me who spread it around the coach that not even Romeo Diaz could loosen up Frigid Freda. But when you arrived back on the coach you turned the tables on me and I hated you for that, but not for long, and I've loved you ever since."

Gypsy shook his head at his own stupidity. "I almost came back to the coach too." He kissed her gently, then he put his arms about her and forced her back until she was lying in the grass, and they kissed and clung to each other until they were forced apart by four sniffling dogs who wanted a piece of the action. Laughing and fighting off the determined beasts, they rolled apart and sat up to find Erica standing a few feet away, watching them with a finger in her mouth. Her large brown eyes had seen enough and her question confirmed it. "Have you got lots and lots of lovins now?"

Gypsy glanced across at Lorna and saw the love in her eyes. "Well, Miss Basset what do you think?"

For answer, Lorna placed her arms round Gypsy's neck to kiss him again. Gypsy smiled at Erica. "Yes, mi Muchacho, I think we have."

Erica's solemn eyes looked directly at Lorna. "Are you going to be my new mummy now?"

Lorna's cheeks went pink as she gazed back at Erica. "Yes, Erica, if you want me to." The child ran willingly into her arms, and gazing at Gypsy, Lorna asked, "What happens now?"

Gypsy shrugged his shoulders, his smile widening into a grin. "What do you want to happen?" He stood up and helped her to her feet. "Come with me; I want to show you something that might help you decide; and maybe give Terry a chance to get one over on Marla. I bet he'd give anything to score some brownie points." Taking her hand and telling Erica to gather the dogs, he led her back to the path where Terry was searching for them. Gypsy beckoned to him and told him to follow them. Lorna wondered where on earth he was leading her as he led her down a narrow path between fragrant bushes until Erica gave a squeal of delight and ran ahead with the dogs chasing after her. She disappeared from sight round a bend in the path, and Lorna rounded the bend to find the little mite standing against the old oak door of tiny chapel. "Mummy's place!" the tot shouted as she tried to push the door open.

"This is where Shana and I were married," Gypsy explained as he lifted the heavy iron latch and eased the door open. Erica squeezed inside and disappeared into the gloom beyond. Gypsy turned to Terry who hesitated a few feet behind them. "Come on, Terry, you want to get yourself a scoop without that battleship in blue having the glory, don't you?"

Gypsy took Lorna's hand in his and led her into the chapel and up to the stone altar. Lorna noticed the place was clean and tidy, and the altar had been laid with an altar cloth, silverware and candles as if waiting for a service to begin. Gypsy asked Terry if he had any matches, and soon the two candles softened the dark with a welcoming glow. Gypsy said, "Erica, will you stand beside Terry, please?" Turning Lorna to face him, he took her hands in his and said solemnly, "Freda Lorna Basset, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"

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