World Enough and Time


by Barbara Peterson

using characters from
As Time Goes By

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Please note the first part of this story contains verbatim dialog from Episode 2, Season 1. No infringement of copyright is intended, just need to set the scene for the story.

Alistair Deacon walked down the streets of London with a casual, proprietary air. His Aston-Martin was in the shop, but that wasn't why he was walking. His office - in fact his suite of offices, were only a couple of miles away from his destination - the Charing Cross Hotel. And it was only by walking down the streets, the highways and byways of the vast cesspool known as London (to quote Sherlock Holmes), that one met the people that were the lifeblood of one's work.

He caught many a girl's eye as he threaded his way through the crowds, for he was a handsome man in his early thirties, with dark brown hair brushed back from his forehead, silver-rimmed eyeglasses, and wide, mobile lips perpetually stretched in a gosh-isn't-life-grand grin.

At last, the Charing Cross Hotel. Alistair trotted up the steps and into the lobby. Heading for the concierge desk to ask for the room of his author, he passed his quarry before he realized it. He turned around. ''Lionel! Hello, mate!'' he cried expansively. He thrust his hands into his pockets and beamed happily as the talk, silver-haired man before him said quietly, ''Hello, Alistair.''

''You're not leaving us.'' Alistair indicated the suitcase in the man's hand.

''No, I'm just taking my suitcase out for a walk.''

What a dry wit! Alistair burst out laughing, and gave his author a couple of light punches on the shoulder. ''Nice one.'' He sobered immediately. ''Listen, though. I need to talk to you ASAP.''

Lionel Hardcastle sighed. ''Oh, alright. Let's have a CoC.''

Alistair blinked. ''Sorry?''

''A cup of coffee.'' Lionel said with an impish smile and turned toward the bar. Alistair followed after him, chuckling. It was too bad, really too bad. Lionel was so amusing in person. Why couldn't he get any of that personality into his writing? He'd taken on this case - publishing Lionel's autobiography -as a favor to Lionel's father. Old Rocky had done his old man a good turn many years ago, and now it was payback time.

He hadn't taken it on grudgingly, of course. A favor was a favor was a favor. And after he'd met Lionel for the first time he'd found himself appreciating the man's dry wit. But it was certainly true that the book was turning out to be more of a challenge than he'd anticipated. Still, he'd get it right in the end. He always did.

They sat down in a couple of comfortable chairs and Alistair came right to the point. ''Sneaking out, were you? What about my revisions?''

Lionel sighed. ''Yes, I know I promised the revisions for today but there've been...complications.''

Alistair put a serious look on his face. Lionel needed a bit of bucking up. ''None of us get a free ride, mate. Hey, I've got the Aston-Martin off the road for a week!''

''How awful for you,'' Lionel said sincerely.

Alistair leaned back with a quirk of his lips. ''Thanks. No, the thing is, I need those revisions, like, yesterday. Because I want to include this book of yours in our Autumn launch, you see?''

At that moment a waitress showed up. Alistair looked up at her with his perpetual grin, but she seemed a skittish thing.

''Good day, sir. I thought we'd lost you.''

''Wishful thinking on your part,'' Lionel told her dryly. ''May we have two coffees, please?''

''Certainly, sir. How will you be paying, cash or ch...''

''I've already settled my bill.'' Lionel told her, more abruptly than Alistair thought necessarily.

''You can't have done,'' the waitress protested. You've just ordered...''

''I mean cash,'' Lionel said, his voice rising ever so little, eyes closed.

''Thank you, sir.'' said the waitress, and walked away.

''Oh, god,'' Lionel moaned. ''I'm going to have to move back in.''

''Is it that awful?'' asked Alistair, glancing around in a confused manner. It was quite a nice looking hotel, this.


''Why not work from home?''

''Because I need secretarial assistance, and secretarial agencies aren't keen on sending temporary secretaries to single men's flats.'' said Lionel, closing one eye knowingly.

''Ah,'' said Alistair, grinning, as one man of the world to the other. Then, he could not resist adding, ''But surely at your age...'' and stopped as Lionel gave him a dirty look.

''So,'' contined Lionel, ''I'll stay here for a few more days and do the revisions.''

''Brrrr..illiant.'' returned Alistair happily. ''And now, for the upside.''

''The what?''

''On a lighter note,'' Alistair translated. ''Party tonight, at my place! Come wgen you like.''

''Ah, thanks all the same, Alistair, only parties and I aren't really compatible.''

''Oh, you don't think you're too old, surely?'' Alistair said bracingly, but Lionel merely glared at him. ''No, I just don't like parties.''

Alistair put an even more serious look on his face. ''Think of it as fallow ground, mate. There will be Faces there.''

''Attached to bodies, presumably?''

''People you should meet,'' Alistair tried again. ''We publish, they..'' he made a pushing gesture with his hands, ''push. See, the right contacts could make the public want to buy a bookbefore its even printed. Hype! Is what we're talking!''

''Are we?'' said Lionel unenthusiastically.

''Do come, mate,'' Alistair said quietly.

''All right. Only do me a favor.''


''Stop calling me mate.''

''Sure, no problem.'' said Alistair unhesitatingly.

The waitress arrived with the two cups of coffee and the checks. Alistair twitched them out of her hand. ''Let me get these...Li.''

He grinned to himself as Lionel's eyes seemed to glaze over.

They sat and sipped their coffee. It was quite good coffee, nice and hot. Lionel seemed disinclined to chat, so Alistair burbled on about the Autumn launch.

''It's the most important season in the book buying world, Li,'' he said. ''Every publisher brings out their books, and we have bookfairs here, there, everywhere. I'll be rocketing around the continent like a Chinese firecracker.''

''And hoping my book doesn't end up as a damp squib,'' Lionel commented.

''Don't talk like that, Li! Confidence, that's what you need. Once you get these revisions done, the book will be a masterpiece. You'll see.''

''Well, speaking of revisions, I'd better get checked back in. I've got a secretary coming round soon.''


The two men walked back towards the lobby. Alistair clapped Lionel on the shoulder. ''See you tonight then,'' he commented and then headed out the door. Suddenly he turned. ''Whoa! Bring somebody, if you like.'' That should give old Li a push, get him to get out and meet somebody. ''Cheers, Li.''

And he disappeared through the revolving glass door.

Good background music, lots of exotic food, oceans of drink, and a couple of dozen people publishing people, from authors to typesetters to cover designers down to the very people who printed the things. That's what made a good party, thought Alistair, sipping his drink and strolling through the crowd, stopping occasionally to accept a kiss from a devoted admirer, Or, at least, ladies who should be devoted admirers, Alistair amended.

As he made his way through the clumps of people, he thought to himself that the world of publishing never changed. Everyone had gotten over the huffing and puffing due to the fact that the flat's lift was on the blink, and were talking about exactly the same thing they'd been talking about during the last party he'd had. Well, it was comforting, really.

Under the music, he heard door chimes. None so keen as the ears of Alistair, he murmured to himself. He hurried to the door, carrying his drink carefully. Snatching it open he was pleased to see Lionel Hardcastle. He must have gone back to the stairs to help his lady friend up the last bit. ''Hello, mate.'' He jerked his head in the direction of the monstrous machinery that had let him down that night. ''Sorry about the lift being on the blink.''

Lionel smiled. ''Not at all. I always take the stairs.'' He walked onto the landing and extended his arm for a small, red-haired woman dressed in a sparkling black dress. ''May I present Jean Pargeter.''

''Brilliant,'' said Alistair. It was an annoying, catch-phrase word. He'd watched a few jazz programs on the telly and had found himself unable to stop using it. Hm...might be the subject for a book in that....anyway, ''Hi,'' he told Jean, and then darted back into this flat. ''Well, come in, come in. Meet some Faces!'' Truth to tell he was surprised and happy that Lionel had come.

''Right,'' Alistair called, ''listen up everybody. I want you to meet Lionel and Joan.''

''Jean,'' the little red-haired girl told him.

''Jean!'' he called out. Then, ''Right, mingle, mingle.'' he urged Lionel. Lionel and his lady friend would probably be shy. Well, he knew the cure for that. ''I'll get you a wet.''

He returned in just a few seconds and handed each of them a drink in small pewter cups. ''There you go. It's a sort of...punch. Marcus picked up the recipe in Zaire, yeah?''

He watched them take sips. ''Brilliant, isn't it?'' The little Jean's eyes opened wide as she fought to swallow the concoction. ''I think it's the most awful drink I've ever had in the whole of my life,'' she said with a laugh.

''Brilliant,'' Alistair said, automatically, but suddenly he found himself gazing at the woman with newfound interest. She was really quite pretty, with those red highlights in her hair. Normally he didn't like women with short hair, but it suited her, suited her face. And her eyes...they were intriguing too, very dark and with almost an Oriental cast. And that dress, with its shimmering silver in black, like stars across the sky.

Without taking his eyes off her - he couldn't take his eyes off her, Alistair said, ''Lionel, there's a chap I think you should meet. Chaz! Chaz is in book jackets, he'll probably do yours.'' Quickly Alistair stretched out a long arm and brought Chaz into the fold. ''Author for you, Chaz. Just throw some stuff at him.'' Then he very gently put his arms around the shoulders of the lovely Jean. ''I know who I want you to meet.''

He guided her through the crowd toward a corner. Too bad it wasn't a secluded corner, but it was a corner nevertheless. On the way he said, ''Shall we stop off at the bar? I can get you a different drink.''

''No, that's all right. Perhaps this one will grow on me.''

''Yes, perhaps.''

They arrived in the corner, just under the light so he could look at her properly. She really was quite lovely.

''It seems a very nice party,'' she said, glancing round. ''They're all publishers?''

''And book jackets. Advertising. Typesetters. Book sellers. I've got a few book reviewers, too.''

Jean nodded. ''A fascinating world, books.''

''It is that....say, you're not drinking very much.''

''Well, I'm savoring it.''

Alistair smiled, but he didn't believe her. Perhaps she was a teetotaller. Well, nothing wrong in that.

''I thought you wanted me to meet someone,'' she said.

''Um, yes,'' said Alistair. He turned to look around, then turned back. He thumped himself on the chest. ''Me,'' he said, grinning. He liked the way her face lit up at that, the laughter sparkled in her eyes. She put a hand to her breast.

''Where's Lionel been hiding you?'' After all, he'd been working with Lionel for two months now and never once had the man mentioned he knew anyone in an England that he hadn't see for over twenty years.

''In a little rosewood pencil box,'' she told him. ''Why?''

''Because of all the women in this room, you stand out.''

''Yes, I know. I'm twice their age.'' She said this calmly.

''Tosh.'' Alistair said sincerely. ''How old are you...forty-five?''


''No age atall.'' Alistair said softly. He took off his glasses. Jean raised her hand to her lips. Was she flattered, or just amused? He couldn't tell. Well, what if she was older than, by quite a bit. She had all the confidence of maturity, and she'd certainly kept her figure.

''Are you single?'' he asked quietly.

''I'm a widow.''

''Are you then?''

''Why did you say 'Are you then,' like that?''

Before he could answer, Lionel Hardcastle showed up, laughing at Jean. ''Here you are.''

Alistair gritted his teeth, but quickly put on his glasses. ''Did you and Chaz mesh?''

''Mesh?'' asked Lionel blankly.

''You know.'' Alistair interlaced his fingers and shook them.

''No, more like...'' and Lionel butted his fists up against each other.

''Pity. Still, he's not the only grape in the bunch.'' Jean had certainly looked very happy when Lionel had shown up. Well, he hadn't got his innings in yet. ''To be perfectly honest I have been wondering if he's getting a bit barren, ideas wise. Getting a bit long in the tooth for this sort of job.'' He glanced at Jean, then tapped Lionel on the chest. ''Have you met Shaun?''

''He's not the one under the table, is he?''

''No, no, no, that would be Marcus. He's a bit..'' Alistair waggled a hand. ''No, Shaun's an outlet. I'll go find him for you.'' And he disappeared into the crowd quickly, eyes searching for the blond-haired Shaun. Finding him, he tugged at his arm unceremoniously away from a small audience. ''Someone I want you to meet, Shaun, very important.''

They arrived in the corner. ''Lionel, Shaun. Shaun, Lionel.''

''How do you do,'' said Lionel.

''You're not fiction, are you?'' queried Shaun.

''No, I'm a real person.''

Under other circumstances Alistair would have laughed, but he merely directed a glance at Shaun. ''Well, that's you two chatting then. Come on, Jean, there's someone I want you to meet.'' And he drew her away.

''How long have you been in publishing, Alistair?''

''All my life. Well, the last fifteen years, anyway. I went to Cambridge...''

''Somehow I'd gathered that,'' Jean told him with a smile.

''And took over the family business. Look, are you sure you wouldn't like a drink? I can get you a soft drink if you like.''

Alistair was very conscious of her body next to his, and by the warmth of her body underneath his hand and the oh-so-tiny distracted movements of her eyes he thought that she was very conscious of him as well.

Jean smiled at him. The kind of smile that made his knees go all wobbly. ''I'm fine, thank you, Alistair. Let's talk about books. I read mostly fiction, I confess. Mysteries. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers. But I'll tell you a secret, I'm very fond of Dick Francis.''

''So am I!'' he was about to continue on when there was a tug on his arm and there was Daphne, demanding attention. When he'd finished speaking with her he turned around and Jean was gone. Oh, no, there she was, Fiona had nobbled her. And there...damn, Lionel was moving in again. Alistair hurried up to them.

''Now, why do uou keep moving about,'' he asked her teasingly.

''Oh, I have to keep the circulation going.''

Alistair grinned at her. ''I like a woman who's in to self-mockery.'' It was only the self-mocking women, he thought, who were very sure of themselves. All of the women he knew took themselves very seriously...they were so insecure...

''Oh, yes,'' Jean came back with her razor sharp wit, just as quick as Lionel's. ''I keep myself in stitches.''

''Touche. Come on, Li! Own up! Where've you been hiding her?''

''Oh, in a little rosewood pencil box.'' said Lionel Hardcastle.

''That's what she said,'' Alistair exclaimed, startled.

Jean gave a small smile. ''So I did,'' she said softly.

Immediately Alistair knew he'd made a tactical error. Lionel and Jean exchanged a look that could only be described as significant, and all of a sudden he didn't exist anymore. Well, he'd beat a tactical retreat. Time enough to get another innings in later on.

But ten minutes later, when he went looking through the room for Jean, he couldn't find her, nor Lionel either. Inexplicably he felt a sense of loss. They'd left together, of course. Well, to be expected, really. Still...Alistair shook his head, turned, and went back to his party.

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