Written by: Linda Alley

London, 1944

They should have chosen a warmer place to meet, Helen Coles thought as she huddled at the end of a bench next to Cleopatra’s Needle. The ancient Egyptian obelisk offered little protection from the biting wind that was buffeting down the Thames. The sky was as murky as the river. A pale young woman wandered into view. She sat down beside Helen, propping a battered umbrella against one knee. As the woman’s fingers absently caressed a sizeable chip in the wooden handle, Helen glimpsed the gold rim of a wristwatch.

“Excuse me, what time is it?” she asked.

The young woman glanced at her wrist. “A quarter to twelve.”

Ralph was forty five minutes late. Helen laced her fingers together. It wasn’t as if her brother was the most punctual of men, she reasoned, even before the inevitable wartime delays to public transport. She glared at the river, thinking of all the things she would like to say to him when he finally arrived, but knowing she’d be so relieved to see him that she wouldn’t say any of them.

This would be only their third reunion since the war began. The first time had been after Dunkirk where Ralph had been rescued by a fishing boat from Ramsgate. That was the last time the four of them had been together. Six months later, Jerry dropped a bomb on the Coles’ terraced house in Bermondsey.  Ralph was back in Europe. Helen was at the pictures. But Mum and Dad were in the kitchen.

The next day, Helen had signed up for work in the munitions factory.

Now, the young woman beside her had taken out a novel. The title was French, but Helen knew it immediately: a translation of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. After her parents’ deaths, Helen took her old sixth form grammar book down to the shelter. As shrapnel screamed above her, she would conjugate French verbs, clenching the book until her knuckles were white.

A young man in civilian clothes limped into view, leaning on an umbrella. She offered him her seat, which he gratefully accepted. Helen walked behind the monument, hands in her pockets.

“Where is he?” she murmured to one of the sphinxes, but it gazed cryptically back it her.

Big Ben chimed the hour. A raindrop splattered against the brim of her hat. With a sigh, Helen set off up the Embankment. Just ahead, she recognised the man she’d offered the seat to. His limp seemed to have miraculously disappeared as he was striding up the street as if Hitler himself was after him. Thrust under his armpit was an umbrella, only it wasn’t his umbrella. Even from here, Helen recognised the chip (a bullet hole?) in its handle.

As the downpour started, the man stopped and pushed up the umbrella. It was only a second, but enough for Helen to see him slip a paper from its folds. He crushed it into his pocket before continuing on his way.

Writing order: Joe Labrum (US), Diana Labrum (US), Jasmine Groves (NZ), Anthony Smits (Samos Island), Suraya Dewing (NZ), Suraya Dewing (NZ), Hemali Ajmera (India), Anna Zhigareva (NZ), Leif Rennes (Scotland), Linda Alley (Aus).


Every so often a serial starter comes along that is outstanding. This is it. It has all the elements of a good story set on an historic event - great characters which are so well defined we imagine them, great ambience matched by surroundings, and mystery. Linda, this is a terrific starter.
Thank you, Suraya, for such a great compliment.
This has all the makings of a great spy thriller. I shall give it a go!
Thanks, Joe. I look forward to seeing what direction the story takes next!
Excellent start to what looks like a great story. I wonder how many of us have sat on that seat. The atmosphere is just kicking in and I smell the Thames (Oh how I miss it.) This reminds me of the start of a Le Carre novel - quiet, unassuming, but full of detail we know we cannot afford to forget. Wonderfully written and painted, Linda. I'll take the back end. Terrific idea.
Thank you so much, Ray. The Thames never gets old as a setting, does it? I spent a few months working in an office overlooking London Bridge and loved walking up and down the river during my lunch breaks.
I was hooked from the beginning of this wonderful starter... there are so many avenues this could go. Being a history buff, I also love the setting - London during war time. Not missing out on this one. Nice one, Linda!
Thank you, Rosemary. What's your favourite historical period? How about another historical fiction starter?
I really love ancient history. However in modern times, i love anything to do with the World Wars. Both my parents fought in the second world war and i have research heaps about it. Very strong political views in my family. I enjoy the sometimes heated discussions!!!!
I would really like to see the story get started and would book one of the two unclaimed chapters but there is no link for doing so.