It was Miss Cromwell's habit to look into any classroom that she passed on her way to the Staff Room and her well-earned coffee, and to chivvy any girl she found there out towards, if not their appointed milk and a bun, at least a brisk acquaintance with the fresh air. Generally, Miss Cromwell being Miss Cromwell, those who were to be chivvied noticed her leaning against the doorway regarding them. Certainly they noticed by the time she raised both eyebrows in an expression of enquiry.
Except this time.
"Yes," said Berenice in her not altogether untuneful clarion of a voice (which was, in fact, what had summoned Miss Cromwell from the base of the stairs as she was passing) "I see all that, but why on earth didn't they call the rest of CI5 in?"
Meg Hopkins looked up from her desk. A pale blue school-issue exercise-book, such as Lower VA used for Geography and Home Economics, was protectively enclosed between the thin angle of her arm and the even thinner angles of her chest. It was filled with dense black scribbled text. "No," she said almost inaudibly, "I mean, yes, but Doyle had to find him, because then he could take Bodie home and dress his wounds, because Doyle wouldn't want to go to a hospital..."
"Why wouldn't he want to take him to a hospital?" trumpeted Berenice blankly.
Meg blushed. "Because he... because all that stuff on page seventeen..." she murmured, before dropping into an explanation of page seventeen. Miss Cromwell couldn't hear it; she was surprised Berenice could. Miss Cromwell had been told that the young had better hearing, though she could not say that it was borne out by the evidence. She leaned against the doorframe, and listened.
"Well, yes, page seventeen," said Berenice fairly, "though you could have left out some of the stuff beforehand, I think. What I mean is, he used to be a gun runner and in the Paras and all sorts of things. I'm not sure he would weep tears of shame on the smaller man's shoulder and say all of that stuff, and even if he did, I don't think they'd be kissing straight after. Come to that, I don't think Martin Shaw's all that short, is he? One of my uncles met him once. I'll ask him."
"It's not kissing," said Meg indignantly. "It's all about how they care about each other like brothers. You're disgusting, Berenice."
Berenice looked approximately as taken aback as she might have been if her inkpot had expressed an opinion. Miss Cromwell thought that now was time to take a hand. She swept into the room, academic gown billowing behind her. "Why, pray, is Berenice disgusting, and why are the pair of you in here discussing The Sweeney rather than outside? Do you have a note from Matron?"
Berenice remembered her duties with a start, and, with only a betrayed glance at Meg, went into a practiced explanation of how Meg had had a cold the week before and Meg was supposed to wrap up warm and Meg had a weak throat.
"Wrapping up and going outside are considered complementary rather than exclusive," said Miss Cromwell with a boding gaze. "Meg?"
"It's not The Sweeney," said Meg, hugging her exercise book to her protectively. "It's The Professionals."
"And which among my colleagues has chosen to set you work on The Professionals?"
"None of them, Miss Cromwell," said Meg meekly. "I mean - it's a story."
Miss Cromwell looked at the exercise book hugged to Meg's chest; looked at the baffled Berenice; and decided to call it her coffee waiting in the staffroom that persuaded her not to investigate further. "Then I suggest you discuss it outside," she said, as mildly as was possible to her, though it still made Meg jump and start. "Out with you."
Meg and Berenice made their respectively rabbity and baffled way out.
Miss Cromwell hesitated. She thought about the coffee.
And then she remembered her responsibilities as an educator, and opened Meg's desk.
Inside was a mimeographed, stapled small booklet, with a most surprising sketch of Martin Shaw on the cover.
Miss Cromwell opened it, and began to read.