Return to Rubadub

by Sally Neary

PART 3: The PartyThree Days Later, Cornwall

"Have you guessed where we're going yet?" asked Diana as she drove along the country road, her husband by her side.

"Not exactly, no," replied Barney, smiling at her, "but we are obviously now in Cornwall and so I would guess somewhere towards the coast. We aren't going down to Craggy Tops, are we?"

"No," laughed Diana, "of course not. Nowhere near as far west as that. Just wait and see!"

The car sped on, and Diana eventually turned off along a narrow road towards the north coast. "He's going to guess, soon," she thought, "because we are almost in Rubadub!"

Barney said nothing, and they turned the corner to see a sign: "Rubadub 3 miles." Diana glanced at him and his face broke into a wide smile. "We are going back to Rubadub!" said Barney in delight. "Are we actually staying at the old Inn, the Three Men in a Tub?"

"Wait and see," said Diana, mischievously. The sign for Rubadub soon appeared, and Diana slowed down to drive through the narrow street of the village, set in a semi-circle of cliff-face, looking out onto the bay. The Inn appeared on the right, almost nestling into the cliff. She stopped the car for a moment and looked across at Barney. "Here we are. I've brought you back to Rubadub – The Three Men in a Tub await!"

"Sweetheart – what a wonderful idea!" said Barney in amazement. They both looked across at the Inn. It was still the same old 16th century inn, with tall chimneys, beams and many leaded light windows, but it looked considerably smarter than they remembered, and an attractive new sign hung at the entrance.

"I read about it last year – it's been recently renovated, and I thought it would be lovely for us to celebrate your birthday here, thirty-four years on from when we were here last," said Diana.

"It'll be terrific. I wonder what the Hugo and Tess will think of it?" said Barney. "Thank you, love." He reached across and kissed her.

"I believe the car-park is at the back. Shall I drop you with the luggage at the front to check in and then I can take the car round and park?" suggested Diana.

"Good idea," said Barney. "I'll ask reception to arrange for our things to be taken up to the room. Shall we have a look round the village before it gets too dark? I can't wait to explore and see how much has changed."

Diana dropped off Barney with the luggage and drove round to the rear to park. "All going to plan so far," she thought, looking at her watch. It was three thirty. "Everyone will have congregated in the sitting-room by four o'clock. He won't see all the cars of our family and friends parked here." She recognised Roger's car, Snubby's and Barno's, and the car park was full. "It looks as if everyone is already here," she thought. "Good!"

Diana walked through reception and looked around. Barney was still checking in. "It feels the same," she said, "but it's also very different. The decor certainly is!" The reception area still had the same flag floor which they remembered, and the beamed walls and ceiling and oak doors.

"Let's go for a walk," said Barney, taking her hand and walking out of the front entrance of the hotel. They turned right towards where they knew the beach to be and towards where the secret harbour had been situated. It was a grey but dry day in early October, and the beach was deserted.

"It was on this very beach where I met Dad for the first time," remembered Barney, stopping for a moment. "I remember him walking along over there towards me, and I thought, who is this man who looks so like me? After everything that had happened, I didn't quite believe it, but as soon as he started to speak, I knew we belonged. It was a simple as that." Barney put his arm around his wife and smiled at her.

"That's why I wanted to bring you back – to remember. It was such an important day," murmured Diana. "I thought you wouldn't need us anymore, but I remember Snubby saying, 'Of course he will, Barney's ours forever.'"

"Snubby has an uncanny knack of being right about such things," said Barney, smiling. "I know one thing," he said, turning to his wife, and putting his arms around her shoulders. "However long forever is, I am certainly yours."

"Until we are very old and grey and beyond," replied Diana, laughing, and hugging him tightly to her.

"Please, God, I hope so," thought Barney, his anxiety rising up again as he thought of the threat hanging over him.

"Shall we go back and explore the rest of the village tomorrow?" asked Diana. "I agreed with Hugo that we would meet him and Tess in the sitting-room at about four fifteen."

"Yep – let's get back," said Barney. "I'm dying for a cup of tea!"

Barney and Diana were shown to their room, a lovely spacious one overlooking the front of the hotel, with a view of the beach. "Shall we quickly unpack and then go down to tea?" suggested Diana. They unpacked their luggage, and Diana opened the window to let in some fresh air and look again towards the beach. "It's already dusk," she thought, looking at her watch. Four fifteen – time to go downstairs.

She took a final look at the view. As she looked down, she suddenly saw a dark-haired man standing in the shadow of the trees opposite. He was looking straight at her and staring in a most discomforting way. She shuddered and opened her mouth to say something to Barney, then closed it again. "No – it's not important," she thought. "It's time to go down and everyone will be waiting."

She turned to her husband, smiling. "Are you ready?"

"Yes – let the birthday weekend begin!" Barney replied. He put his arm around her, and they left the room together.

* * *

As they walked towards the sitting-room, Diana hung back to let Barney walk in first. Her heart was beating fast. "Oh, please let this work," she thought.

Barney walked into the room. He had expected the room to be almost empty, his children hopefully already there and waiting. The room was full. He looked at a sea of faces – well-known, much-loved faces. He stopped and looked round, trying to take it all in. A cry went up. "Happy Birthday, Barney!"

Everyone began to sing the Happy Birthday song and Barney stood rooted to the spot. His face broke into a wide smile and he laughed his uproarious laugh. "How marvellous!" he cried. He turned round to Diana, and held her close as he looked around the room. In the corner of the room, he could see his son, Hugo, playing the piano, and there was Snubbby, playing a mouth-organ! "But it's not a real mouth-organ," thought Barney, "it's Snubby's imaginary one, the one he played here all those years ago when he won the prize on the pier! How priceless!"

Tess suddenly appeared, carrying a cake ablaze with candles. "Happy birthday, Daddy," she said. She put it down and gave her father a warm hug.

He looked down at her. "Am I meant to blow all these out?"

"You are," she said.

Barney duly did, and everyone cheered.

His father, Diana's mother, Roger and Isabelle and the girls – gosh, and the Cunninghams were all here! Even Phil and Caro! He walked across to shake Philip Mannering's hand. Bill and Allie! Jack and Sue and the boys! And even Kiki was here! Jack's parrot, Kiki, as always perched on his right shoulder, was singing, "Hip hip hurray! Hippy birthday, hippy birthday!" She flew to Barney's shoulder and began to nibble his ear. He scratched her poll, and for a moment, his heart lurched. He suddenly saw a brown, furry monkey face in front of him, the face of his beloved Miranda. What a wonderful friend and companion she had been for all those years. When he lost her, he knew he could never, ever replace her.

He shook Bill's hand and they looked at each other. Barney suddenly thought, "Bill obviously knew about all this when I called him on Wednesday morning."

Bill clapped him on the back. "Happy birthday, Barney, old son. We are so glad to be here." He then paused and said quietly, "Just relax – everything is taken care of."

Barney whispered, "Thank you," and continued walking around the room, greeting his guests, holding Diana's hand as he walked. Ever the performer, Snubby was now playing his imaginary zither, as Hugo accompanied him on the piano.

Barney greeted Lucy-Ann warmly. She was sitting with her children – Peter, Will and the twins, Alice and Louise. And there was Dinah Mannering! Barney walked over to Dinah, who was standing talking to her mother. "Dinah, how lovely to see you!"

"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," Dinah smiled, hugging him. "After all, you're the first of our gang to reach the big fifty, although it will be Roger and Jack's turn next year, and then Phil and Diana's the year after."

"Sounds like an excuse for a lot of parties to me," laughed Barney. "And what do you plan to do for your 50th birthday?"

"Gosh, I don't know," said Dinah. "It's three years off yet. I'm likely to be on a plane somewhere, chasing an art deal. Who knows!"

"Oh no," said Barney. "None of us is going to let you do that. We will all want to be there to help you celebrate, wherever you are." Barney was fond of Dinah and admired her. He knew that behind that confident facade was a very lonely woman. He wanted to reassure her that the whole family cared.

Dinah smiled into his kind blue eyes, loving him, as she always had since she had first known him twenty-five years ago. "Ok, it's a deal," she said. Barney kissed her mother, Allie, and then proceeded round the room, greeting family and friends, a wide smile of delight fixed on his face.

Barney finally reached Susan Lynton. Sitting next to her was an elderly woman, frail and thin, her grey hair swept back, but her eyes sparkling behind her glasses. He looked at her in disbelief. "Rebecca Pepper!" he said. "How wonderful of you to be here. Please don't get up," he urged, as the valiant old lady of 92 struggled to her feet with the help of her stick.

"I certainly will get up," she said. "I want to give you a very special hug! Happy birthday, dear!" Barney put his arms round the frail shoulders, and they looked at each other in affection. "I have many memories of this village, Barney," the old lady smiled, "and I know you have. I am so proud of everything you have become. I see all your plays and shows in London, you know!" she twinkled.

"Next time, you must let me know," Barney said. He was extremely fond of Miss Pepper, Susan Lynton's old governess, who had accompanied them so often on holiday and shared so much with them. During his circus boy days, she had been so kind to him, and accepted him for who he was.

"Hello Barney," said a quiet voice.

He looked at the small wizened face of the elderly man seated next to his father. "Dummy!" said Barney, his voice quivering with emotion. "I'm so glad you're here." He hugged the little man, gently. Dummy hugged him back, unable to say any more, but his anxious eyes shining with delight. Barney looked at his father gratefully. He knew that it must have taken a great deal of effort to bring someone of Dummy's mental frailty to Cornwall for the party. "Thanks dad," he said quietly. "It means a lot."

"What happens next?" Barney asked Diana, in a daze.

"After tea, we all have a rest and get ready for dinner and meet up downstairs for drinks at seven," said Diana. "There will be dinner and dancing!"

* * *

"It's exactly as I hoped it would be," thought Diana, as coffee was being served towards the end of dinner. "Everyone I wanted to be here is here, and Barney will remember this always." She caught Lucy-Ann's eye across the table, and they smiled at each other.

"It's wonderful," mouthed Lucy-Ann to her. "Exactly as you planned!"

Roger proposed a toast to Barney and made a very humorous speech. Everyone drank to his health, and then Barney rose to his feet, knowing he would be expected to reply. "I didn't realise until today that my wife was such a schemer," he began, smiling. As he continued, Diana looked around the room and suddenly saw it as it was all those yeas ago. The dining-room was the same – the beams, the old fireplace – she suddenly saw herself, Roger, Snubby and Miss Pepper seated round the table in the corner of the room. On other side, she envisaged Professor James, Miss Twitt (or rather Miss Twitter, as Snubby used to call her), Iris Nightingale and Matthew Marvel – fraud that he was, thought Diana. It seemed just like yesterday, and she could remember every detail of the time they shared here.

Suddenly, she was back in the present and she could hear Barney speaking. "This place and this village hold a lot of memories for many of us here," he continued. "As many of you know, for the first fourteen years of my life, I toured the country with my mother, who was a circus performer and animal trainer. They were very happy years. After I lost her, I found another family, one that became my own. We had some amazing times together, and it was when we were here, one summer, that I met my father for the first time." Barney paused and looked up at his father. "He has been there for me every day ever since, and everything I have done and everything I have is thanks to him. Thank you, Dad."

Everyone clapped, and Diana caught her husband's hand, looking up at him, her eyes swimming with tears. She knew he meant every word. Barney's life had truly turned a corner that day.

"And finally," said Barney, "I want to thank my darling Diana for making this day so special. We have now known each other for thirty-five years and been married for twenty-six of them. We have shared so much, she has given me two wonderful children, and we know how lucky we are. All the people I love and care for most are here tonight, and I would like to thank all of you for coming and sharing the weekend with me! That's enough from me! I understand there is dancing in the room beyond, and I want to dance with every lady present! So let's dance!" Everyone cheered and clapped as Barney sat down. He turned to Diana. "And may I have the first dance with my wife, please?"

* * *

It was almost one o'clock when the party eventually broke up and Barney and Diana returned to their room. Diana was standing at the window, as Barney entered. "I can still surprise you, then," she murmured, looking across at him.

He threw his jacket on the bed and walked over to her, taking her in his arms. "You surprise me regularly, Mrs Martin," he said, smiling into her eyes, "but never quite in the way you have tonight. It was wonderful. Thank-you, sweetheart." He kissed her gently. "Why have you opened the curtains, Di?" He looked up idly at the open window.

"I didn't," said Diana. "Why should I?"

"The maid must have opened them when she came up to turn the bed down, I suppose," said Barney.

"But the bed hasn't been turned down," said Diana. "The hotel doesn't offer that service here."

"Strange," replied Barney, looking up again at the window.

Something suddenly exploded in his mind. An involuntary No! escaped from his lips, as he threw himself over Diana and forced her to the floor. Within a split second there was a great explosion, and the window shattered over them. At the same time, Barney felt a searing pain in his right shoulder, and as he lay across Diana, he heard her voice scream, "Barney, Barney – oh, what's happened?"

Her screams faded as the pain enveloped him, and he knew no more.

* * *

Seconds later, the door burst open and Bill stood there. The window was shattered, and glass lay everywhere. Ashen-faced, Barney lay slumped over Diana, his shirt covered in blood. Diana was screaming in terror. Bill crouched down to get across the room to reach them. "Diana, are you hurt?"

"No, no – it's Barney. Please help him!"

Bill felt Barney's pulse. It was still there.

Three men suddenly appeared at the door. "Caulson, find out what the hell is going on out there!" thundered Bill. "I want road bocks and the local squad here immediately. Jansen, call an ambulance urgently – Barney's been shot. Cranfield, fetch Roger Lynton from Room 3. He's a surgeon, and we need his help. Then call everyone from their rooms onto the landing. I want everyone away from the windows."

Having heard the explosion, Roger and Snubby were already on their way to Barney and Diana's room. Bill looked up. "Roger, Barney has been shot. His pulse is still there. Diana is alright, but keep down."

White, but calm, Roger felt Barney's pulse and quickly examined him. "He's been shot once in the back of the shoulder," said Roger. "Snubby – fetch Lucy-Ann. I need her help." He started to pull the sheets off the bed to use to stem the flow of blood.

Lucy-Ann arrived, also pale and shocked, but like Roger, went immediately into professional mode and helped him attend to Barney, at the same time, trying to comfort Diana. She wrapped a blanket around Diana, who was now shaking with shock and fear, and held her close, trying to comfort her. "An ambulance is on its way, and we'll take care of him," she whispered. She prayed it wasn't too late.

The sound of police sirens sounded outside as police cars arrived, followed immediately by an ambulance. Within minutes, Barney was being lifted onto the stretcher and taken carefully downstairs. "I'll take Diana in the ambulance and go with him, Bill," said Roger, firmly. "I will attend him until we get to the hospital and take care of Diana."

Bill patted his shoulder, as the two of them followed Barney's stretcher down the stairs. Lucy-Ann was holding Diana as they walked down the stairs, and helped her into the ambulance. "Keep strong, darling," she said to her. "Roger will take care of him." The ambulance door was shut, and it departed at great speed.

Back in Barney and Diana's room, Caulsen suddenly reappeared. "Sir," he said to Bill. "I think we've got him. The boys have picked up someone and are taking him into custody."

"Good," said Bill, grimly. "They had better be right."

Jack appeared at the door. "Bill, is there anything Phil and I can do?"

"Yes," said Bill, wearily. "Would you please ask everyone to go downstairs to the sitting-room and ask the hotel to make everyone hot drinks. Some sort of explanation is needed, and I will be down to talk to everyone in a few minutes."

"Straightaway, Bill," said Jack, respectfully. He looked at Bill in concern. "Take it easy."

When Jack had left, Bill sat for a few moments, his head in his hands. What on earth had gone wrong? He had thought of everything, and had put as much security in place as possible. The place had been searched thoroughly before the guests had arrived. He had had men outside on guard all day, and several inside. Instructions had been given to search any unknown visitors coming into the hotel or suspicious loiterers outside. "I must be losing my touch," he thought in despair, "and Barney may lose his life as a result. It really depends how much blood he's lost and what damage the bullet has done. We'll know soon enough."

He got up wearily and looked around. The October wind was blowing an icy draught through the smashed window. Glass lay strewn across the room in what appeared to be every corner, and the ivory carpet was splattered with pools of Barney's blood. He turned off the light and left the room to go downstairs.

To be continued...