By Gill-Marie Stewart
If you haven’t read the first four episodes of this story, use the blog history on the right to get up to date or scroll back through using the arrow above.
“You’re hours late!” Mr Pirrie barked. “And why weren’t you answering the radio? We didn’t know where the … where the hell you were.”
“Cab radio broken,” said Stefan. That was quick thinking. I hadn’t even remembered there was a cab radio. We’d certainly never tried to switch it on.
Pirrie ignored him and turned back to me. “So, Candy, you made it. Didn’t expect you to stick it out, I must say.”
“I’m not …”
“Here at last? Great! Super!” A perky blond woman had appeared at the top of the steps. Jason Pirrie turned to bestow a beaming smile on her. I was pretty pleased to see her too, if she could improve his mood like that. And then she added the words, “I’ll call the camera man. Let’s get this thing rolling!” I was no longer feeling so grateful.
“That’s right, that’s right.” The ParcelsRUs boss was now full on bonhomie. He even had some to spare for Stefan and me. “Great publicity, you know, filming the delivery. Here, I’ve brought these nice new ParcelsRUs fleeces for you, pop them on, make sure the logo is visible. I’m not sure about those ridiculous Santa hats… I suppose it’s in keeping with the spirit of the thing but they don’t portray quite the professional look we aim for.”
Stefan took his hat off with one sweep of a hand. “No cameras.”
“Don’t you get mouthy with me.”
“I say no cameras. We unload parcels then go.”
“If you want to have a job to come back to after Christmas I think it would be wise …”
Stefan took a step forward. He was a head taller than our boss and a lot broader, too. Pirrie swallowed and turned to me. “As I was saying, Candy, we really appreciate you making the effort to get here. And now let’s get these parcels delivered to where they’re meant to be. That’s the ParcelsRUs way!” He finished with a sickly smile. I’d realised halfway through his little speech that it was for the benefit of perky blond and her camera man, definitely not for me. I decided to give up on objecting to the Candy thing. I’d think of it as doing her a good turn. After all, if he thought I was Candy, then he wouldn’t fire her, right?
I said to Stefan, “You get in the van and hand the parcels down to me, OK? That way you won’t be on camera.” He jumped into the back of the van just as the camera began to roll. At least he hadn’t decided to do his hypnotising (strigoi-ing?) thing. I cooed to the boss, “Mr Pirrie, it’s so good of you to be here to help. Let me pass you this box.” When I put it like that he couldn’t refuse although the look he gave me made me glad I wasn’t planning a long-term career with ParcelsRUs.
It didn’t take us long to empty the van. The camera man got lots of good footage, especially when Candy’s posh-voiced woman appeared with some of the adult refugees to express their gratitude and give a help with the carrying. Jason Pirrie was preening himself and seemed to have forgotten about Stefan, who was still skulking out of sight.
“We’ll be off now,” I said to Mr Pirrie, beaming at him for the sake of the camera.
He looked rather glazed. I hoped it was a result of the unusual physical exercise (the boxes were just the wrong side of the maximum allowable weight, which was how ParcelsRUs liked them to be, but the boss probably hadn’t expected to be handling them himself when he’d issued that edict). I didn’t want to think that Stefan had anything to do with it.
And where had Stefan gone? Oh, somehow he’d managed to dart around the side of the van and was back in the driver’s seat without me noticing. There was something a little worrying about his ability to disappear like that. But not worrying enough to stop me wanting to be back sitting beside him. I fastened the rear doors closed and climbed in.
“What was all that about?” I said, as soon as the lights of the refugee centre had disappeared from view. “Do strigoi disappear in a puff of smoke if you point a camera at them?”
I expected him to make a joke of it, but he just frowned, his lovely dark eyes looking sad. “Stefan?”
“Look, I need to think, OK? Give me a few minutes.”
I nodded and pulled my arms around myself. I was cold, tired – and confused. The accent he’d spoken with then hadn’t been anything like his normal Romanian one. What was going on?
Half an hour later he drew the van up outside an all-night café. “How about we go and get a coffee? We need to talk.”
You could say that again. I followed him inside in silence. The place was almost deserted, but I was glad he chosen somewhere public to have this showdown. I was really scared about what he was going to say.
“I’m a journalism student,” he said.
Well! That was the last thing I’d expected. “Wha-at? So you’re not Romanian, or an immigrant?”
“I don’t know where you got the idea I was Romanian. My family are from the Czech Republic, but we moved here when I was two so I don’t think of myself as an immigrant.” He grinned suddenly, looking more gorgeous than ever. “I’ve got a British passport, and I sound British, don’t I?”
“When you’re not putting on that stupid accent.”
“That was the role I was playing. As part of my course we have to do an undercover investigation. We’d had a tip off that it was worth looking into ParcelsRUs. Poor customer services, health and safety breaches, you know they kind of thing. Pirrie is known for taking on people who don’t dare fight back, so I thought playing the role of a poor immigrant would make it easier for me to get a job.”
That made me wonder about why I’d been offered a job. Lacking in self-confidence, I certainly wouldn’t have looked like the sort to complain, either. It wasn’t a nice thought, that people saw you as a victim. “So you’re going to do an exposé?” I said doubtfully. Even though I really felt the company deserved it, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be involved in something like that.
“I’m not sure. I’m going to show my lecturer the evidence I’ve got, then we’ll see. I haven’t actually managed to dig much serious dirt.”
I heaved a sigh of relief that nothing was going to happen immediately. I’d decided I wasn’t going to be a victim any more, but that didn’t mean I had to go looking for trouble, did it?
He stood up. “I suppose see if we can find out if your friend Candy has been released by the police. Then we can call it a day.”
“She’s no friend of mine.”
“But you’d still like to check up on her, wouldn’t you? Because that’s the kind of person you are.”
Was it? I quite liked the idea. I certainly didn’t feel nervous of facing Candy any more.
“Yeah, well, I suppose it is Christmas. Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men ought to include Candy, however awful she is.”
As we reached the van, Stefan paused and put his hands lightly on my shoulders. “Now I’m not doing this undercover lark, maybe we could go out for a drink sometime? After the Christmas holidays I have to head back to uni in Glasgow, but we could keep in touch. Didn’t I hear you say that was where you’d applied to go?”
“Yes,” I said, amazed that he’d remembered. “And yes, a drink would be good.”
He smiled at me and I could feel my body tingling right down to my toes. I said softly, “That strigoi thing, that was just a joke, right?”
“I’m not going to reveal all my secrets at once,” he said, and he bent to kiss me.
For a chance to win a copy of Gill Stewart’s fabulous YA novel Music and Lies, leave a comment below. The winner will be announced before Christmas.