The rain was coming down in sheets when the taxi pulled up in front of the house. The driver was nice enough to help Jean unload her bags, and it was only as the taxi pulled away that she remembered her umbrella, left folded on the seat. Flustered, she gathered up the bags and climbed the steps, juggling her keys and groping for the door handle as the bags threatened to slip from her grasp. Just as she had the knob in her hand the door opened abruptly, yanking her forward and nearly making her lose her balance.
Alistair gaped at her from the doorway before reaching out with both hands and steadying her shoulders. "I'm so sorry, lovely lady," he said in surprise, rescuing the bags from her fumbling fingers and moving out of the way so she could follow him into the house.
"Oh, Alistair, it's not your fault," she reassured him, wiping the rain from her face as she closed the door behind her.
"I think you probably need a cup of tea," he observed, nodding toward the kitchen. "I know Big Ly was just putting the kettle on, so I think you're in luck." He set her shopping down by the foot of the stairs with a smile. "I'd love to stay and chat, but I've got a lunch meeting in Paris with a Mongolian. Wish me luck."
With that he was off, and Jean was left shaking her head and running one hand through her wet hair.
"I haven't changed my mind," Lionel said, not looking up from the dictionary spread open before him as she entered the kitchen. "I'm afraid you'll just have to find someone else."
"Someone else for what?" Jean pulled a mug from the cupboard and sat across from him.
He did look up at that. "Sorry, I thought you were Alistair."
"Obviously," she observed dryly. "Thanks very much."
Lionel was still trying to come up with an appropriately conciliatory response for that when the kettle began to hiss, and though they both got up for it, Jean reached it first, pouring it into the teapot with a bag.
"What I meant was – " he started when she finally sat back down.
"I know what you meant," she grumbled, cutting him off. Then she sighed. "I've just had a particularly rotten afternoon, and it's made me a bit ratty I suppose."
"You're all wet," he said in some surprise, noticing for the first time.
Jean ran another hand through her hair self-consciously, trying to pat it down in a semblance of order. "What did Alistair want?" she asked, wanting to change the subject.
Lionel sighed. "What does Alistair ever want? Some half-cocked scheme to do with the book. I told him no, and I thought he'd come back to work on me some more. He's not very good at taking no for an answer."
"I'm sure he's not had very much practice."
"No, I expect not," he agreed. He closed the dictionary and peered at the newspaper that was folded under it.
Jean leaned over the table to get a look at it herself. "The crossword!" She exclaimed. "What are you doing that again for? This is the third day in a row."
"I'm not really doing it, as it happens," Lionel answered. "I thought it might be something to take up, you know, to fill the time. People are always doing crosswords. I thought it would be a rather relaxing hobby, but it's always much harder than I was expecting."
"Is it?" Jean pulled the paper toward her so she could read the clues herself. "It doesn't seem like it should be that hard. '5 Across: A shred of cloak.' It's got six letters. Let's see… a shred of cloak." She pursed her lips, thinking.
Lionel smirked from his side of the table.
After a moment, she caught him looking at her and frowned.
"Well?" he asked, not bothering to hide his amusement.
"I think I'll go and have a bath," she said, standing up. "I'm wet through."
"You don't know it! 'It doesn't seem like it should be that hard,' you said."
"If I don't get out of these wet clothes, I'll catch my death," she insisted. "That's all."
"Oh, of course," Lionel said, with exaggerated solicitude. "I'm sure you'll just have a crack at the crossword when you get out, then?"
Jean gave him a sharp look as she left the kitchen. Lionel got up and filled his mug, still smiling.
It wasn't until they were in bed reading that Jean asked him about Alistair's idea again. "Well, what was the idea? More lectures? Or is he launching My Life in Kenya in Japan this time?"
Lionel marked his place in his book and put it aside. "He thinks we – I – should make a recording of it; an audio book, you know."
"Of your book?"
"Of course my book," Lionel answered sharply. "You don't need to be that surprised."
"I just can't believe he wants to do it for your book."
Lionel frowned at her. "Well, they do sell, the audiobook things, don't they?"
"I'm asking you!"
"Well, I'm sure they do," she told him. "For popular books. It's just that My Life in Kenya hasn't exactly set the world on fire as a book," she pointed out. "It can't be inexpensive to have it recorded. You have to have a studio and make proper equipment, not to mention an actor or someone to read the thing."
"He wants me to record it, actually."
Jean started laughing at this. She tried to stop when she realized he wasn't kidding, but trying to stifle the giggles just seemed to make them come on harder. After a minute she got herself back under control.
"You," she finally burst out. "He wants you to read it?"
"It's not that outrageous," Lionel insisted.
"Well, don't they usually want an actor, or someone who knows what they're doing?"
"I did write the book," he reminded her, as if she had forgotten. "I think I should be able to read it as well as an actor – better, most likely."
"All right, all right," Jean said quickly, wanting to head off a row. "I only asked."
"I know what you were getting at," he said darkly. "He says these 'read by the author' books are all the rage, that it will be a big selling point or some such nonsense."
"He might have a point there. Who would know better than Alistair what's selling? Did you at least tell him you'd consider it?"
"No, I told him it was impossible."
"Why impossible? You should at least think about it. I'm sure Alistair knows what's he's talking about."
"You said that about the mini-series," Lionel accused.
"I know I did," she conceded, "but this is different. This is about books, which Alistair does know a thing or two about. I think we can trust his judgment on this, don't you?"
"You were the one laughing about it just a minute ago," he pointed out.
"I know I was," she said. "But if Alistair really thinks it's a good idea, then I'll agree with him."
Lionel stared at her. "You can't be serious," he said at last.
Jean shrugged. "It might sell quite well. Maybe people have just been waiting for the audio version of My Life in Kenya - read by the author, of course – and it will launch the book up to the stratosphere. Maybe it will be a good experience. You never know, Lionel, you might enjoy it."
"You can't believe that," he said, shaking his head in disbelief.
Jean went on as if she hadn't heard him. "And you never know. If the recording is quite good, maybe you'll be hired to do other books. You could be looking at an entirely new career here."
"I don't want a new career," he argued. "I'm happy enough being retired."
"Oh, sure," Jean said sarcastically. "You're so very happy you're spending your days trying to do crosswords and not filling in more than the odd word."
Lionel didn't have much of an answer to that. He punctuated his silence by turning off the light on his side of the bed and turning on his side with some force.
The cold war between them lasted until breakfast, with Judy and Sandy giving each other a look and escaping to the office ridiculously early. Finally, with a martyr's sigh, he put down the tattered remains of the morning paper that the girls had pulled apart and faced Jean.
"You really think this would be a good idea?"
Jean pushed the last bite of her toast around on her plate. "Yes, I do. I think you should at least consider it, which you clearly didn't bother to do before turning Alistair down."
"How do you know that I d–" Lionel cut himself off, holding up a hand. "Let's not row about it. I think it's an utterly awful idea from start to finish. But I don't pretend to be a world class publisher, so perhaps my opinion on the subject is not as well-informed as I should like."
"Does that mean you're going to do it?"
"That means I'm going to think about it."
Jean smiled her victorious smile. "That means you're going to do it," she said, sipping her coffee.
Alistair, being Alistair, had the script delivered to Lionel the same day Lionel had called to give him – very reluctantly, and feeling quite put upon – the go ahead for the project.
Jean offered to bring him lunch on his first day of recording to celebrate, which he accepted rather grumpily. She realized it was perhaps not a very good idea when she could hear Lionel bellowing as soon as she stepped into the building's lobby. The receptionist gave her a cautioning look as she let her through to the studio itself.
Alistair was thrilled to see her. "We've been having quite an interesting morning," he told her, looking exhausted. Well, exhausted for Alistair. "I think we could all use a break just now."
"I can imagine," she said, watching Lionel unhooking and rehooking his microphone from its stand. His face was like thunder and he was muttering to himself under his breath, usually something that was both the precursor and the successor of his losing his temper. She hoped rather fervently that he could be made to see reason and relax. She knew better, though. She knew Lionel.
She stuck her head into his booth and smiled at him winningly. "I've brought lunch. What else can I do?" she asked.
Lionel sighed loudly. "Nothing," he grumbled, letting go of the microphone. "This was a mad idea from the beginning. I can't believe I agreed to any of it."
"You'll feel better after you've had something to eat," Jean said soothingly. "I've got curry takeaway from the little shop around the corner. Would you like me to bring you a custard tart?" she asked, grasping for straws to propel him out of his mood. It nearly worked, before the corners of his mouth turned back down. He glared daggers at the two sound men in the control room. They were, sensibly enough, ignoring him altogether, which only irritated him further.
"I'm not 'emoting' enough, apparently," he told her.
Jean sighed sympathetically. "They just want it to be good, you know. They need to make sure that the emotions of the book come through on the recording."
"It's not supposed to be an emotional book," Lionel said. "It wasn't an emotional time, running a coffee plantation. It's stupid. The whole thing is stupid." He slapped the script down on the table.
"Well…" Jean tried to find something helpful to say.
"I knew this idea was ridiculous. 'Alistair knows best,' you kept saying."
"I never said any such thing," she argued. "But he does. I'm sure it will all turn out well."
Lionel gave her a dubious look and flipped the script pages with added vehemence.
Over dinner Lionel is still rather upset.
"What are you going to do tomorrow?" Jean finally asked.
"I'm not going back."
She gaped at him. "But today was only the first day! You barely got anything done at all. I know it didn't exactly go smoothly, but you still have to finish."
He shook his head. "I'm officially resigning. How they finish is not my problem. Let them get an actor."
"But you've barely even tried. What can you tell with one day? The beginning of anything new is always a bit rocky, isn't it?"
Lionel snorted. "This was far more than rocky. This was an utter disaster. No, I barely got through four pages, and on none of those pages did I emote even the smallest bit." He shrugged, picking up the dishes and bringing them over to the dishwasher, stacking it carefully.
"You'd better call Alistair."
"I've already talked to him," he replied, not turning around.
"What did he say?"
"He hemmed and hawed – typical Alistair, you know. In the end he was surprisingly good about it, actually. He knew he was just throwing away money by having me stay on as the reader."
"Well, he always is, you know. Alistair is always lovely."
"Still, he wants me to stay on and advise the new reader, he says. The actor. I'll supervise, and make sure it's up to my standards, that sort of thing."
Jean smiled. "That sounds perfect, then. You'll make sure it's not ruined."
Lionel sighed. "I told him I would think about it. To be perfectly frank I don't see how anyone could ruin My Life in Kenya. They could really only make it better. My breathing down someone's neck isn't going to help that."
"You're probably right," Jean admitted. "Maybe it is best left to the professionals at this point. Besides which, you're probably banned for life from the studio, anyway," she added.
Lionel sat back in his chair.
"You'd probably lose your temper within the first hour, anyway."
"Possibly face some sort of charges…"
"I think I get the point!"
Jean stepped behind his chair and looped her arms around his neck, hugging him. "I'm sorry that I talked you into it in the first place," she said.
"So am I," he grumbled, but it was his more good-natured grumble, which told her that he was mostly still grumbling at all for form's sake.
"In future I won't talk you into anything where Alistair is concerned."
Lionel put his hand on top of hers, tucking their fingers together. "Well, I will say one thing for him: he does keep life interesting."
"I suppose life can be too interesting."
"It can be," Lionel agreed with a nod. "But right now I'd say it's just interesting enough."