02-01

          When the man had said that the restaurant was good, Rich had thought he meant good for a service station, and he had plenty of experience of those cheap cafes where one only bought food because one had to in order to use the toilets. But when the group was seated at a polished wooden table awaiting the starters that they had ordered, surrounded by original art and soothed by gentle music, he started to realise that these people did nothing by halves. This really was a good restaurant.

          “I can’t afford to pay for this, you know,” he had said, looking at the menu and its high price tag. “I’m not exactly well off, still living at home and that.”

          “Yet you were prepared to run away, so presumably you had something to fall back on,” said Linda cunningly. Rich blushed, but she wasn’t criticising. “It’s okay, you won’t need to pay. We’ll deal with that.”

          “All right,” he agreed. “But I want to know … who are you? Where do you get all your money from?” They made him wait until the food arrived before they began, for which Rich was at once annoyed and grateful. Annoyed because it just dragged the mystery on, grateful for the fact he didn’t have to look at them while they were speaking.

          When soup, garlic bread and salads had arrived and been given to the appropriate person, the man began to speak. He seemed to be the leader of the group, as much as it had a leader.

          “My name is Jonathan,” he said, looking intently at Rich before continuing. Feeling discomforted, Rich looked away, down to the plate of garlic ciabbata in front of him and cautiously taking a bite. It was, as he had expected, delicious. “I am fifty three years old, originally from Wales, although I have no accent. My brother, on the other hand, retains his perfectly—you will meet him soon, but he could not be here yet, for he travels only by foot.”

          Jonathan introduced his fellow travellers. “This is Linda: you’ve already met her. She is from Somerset but, again, has no accent. She went to study medicine in London but left the course after two years to join our organisation, and now she works for us, while studying nights.” Linda grinned again, slightly shamefacedly this time.

          “This is Davide and this is Matthew,” she said, taking over the narrative and gesturing to the two men who until now had said very little. “They are originally from China, although French and English by birth, and speak five languages each. Although they are identical twins, Davide is slightly older and is more outgoing. Matthew tends not to say much.”

          “I’d noticed,” said Rich. Davide laughed slightly.

          “We both joined the organisation at its conception, six years ago. We were thirty years old at the time, Jonathan was forty-seven, but his brother was only forty-two,” Davide explained. “Linda, on the other hand, joined less than two years ago, when she was twenty.”

The End

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