At the northern limit of their patrol, Dusty turned the Landrover around and headed south again. They had a break just south of the turn for Catterick then continued down to Ferrybridge where they turned again and headed back up the A1 to the garrison.
As she was checking the GPM back into the armoury, Kate heard a deep voice boom,
She turned to see Staff Sergeant Ward glaring at her.
“Yes staff?” she wondered what she’d done. She hadn’t really been over the limit this morning in spite of the banter. She couldn’t think of any other reason why she’d be in trouble.
“Report to the company office tomorrow morning at zero-
“Yes Staff. What’s it about?”
“You’ll find out tomorrow at zero-
“Relax Evans. You aren’t in trouble,” he paused then added “for once,” his voice softening slightly. “Might even be good news.”
As she left the armoury, Kate continued to wonder why she was to report to the company office. Was it about promotion? She was due for a stripe. Or maybe it was some training course or other. Possibly a detachment? Oh well, tomorrow would provide the answer. Right now she craved a hot shower to warm up her bones and ease her muscles. The two hundred odd mile patrol had frozen her.
In the barracks, she stripped off the layers of thermal clothing and stepped under the refreshing shower, the aches and pains from being shaken around for seven hours easing as the hot water warmed her. She shampooed and conditioned her hair and carefully shaved under her arms and legs. Wrapping a towel around her, she went back into her bedroom to dry and style her hair.
After dressing, she walked over to the mess for dinner.
“Hi, Kate, some of us are going to the pub later for a drink, fancy joining us?” asked Sam Lewis who had trained with her.
“Not tonight, Sam, I have to report to Company HQ in the morning and don’t want to smell of booze.”
“Well, if you change your mind, we’re using Jake’s car and meeting outside his block at nineteen-
“Thanks anyway, enjoy yourselves.”
As she ate her dinner, Kate thought about her best friend from the old days, Zoë, and all the evenings they’d spent together before Zoë had got serious about Martin. She wondered where they were — and whether they were well. Martin had left Leicester not long after Zoë. That had been a pity. Much as she’d liked Zoë, she’d also fancied Martin. Obviously she wouldn’t have made a move on him if Zoë had still been around, but as she’d been dragged off to Scarborough or Skegness or some other godforsaken place by her father, Martin would have been fair game after a suitable interval.
Staff Sergeant Ward looked her up and down and nodded in acknowledgement of her timely arrival and presentation. He stood up and walked to the door to the Company Commander’s office. He rapped on the door.
He opened the door and stepped inside. Kate followed him.
“Trooper Evans, sir,”
“Ah, yes. Come in, Trooper.”
Kate smartly marched in and stood to attention before him.
“Stand at ease, Evans. You’ve done well here and are being promoted to Lance Corporal and sent on detachment to Syerston. Congratulations. Staff Sergeant Ward will give you the details. Any questions?”
“No sir, thank you, sir,” Kate responded. She came back to attention, turned about and marched out of the Company Commander’s office.
“Well done, Evans,” Ward said, “here are your orders.” He handed her an envelope.
“You are to report to Syerston for duty tomorrow. Get yourself cleared from here today. You’re booked on a vehicle leaving at sixteen hundred. Meet it at the guardroom. All clear?”
“Fine, off you go. And get that stripe sewn on your kit.”
Kate spent the morning sorting out and returning kit to the stores, kit she’d have to draw afresh at Syerston. After lunch in the mess where she was able to tell some of her friends about the promotion and transfer, she returned to her room and packed the rest of her belongings and equipment.
It didn’t take long to settle in at Syerston, located not far from Newark on Trent between Nottingham and Lincoln. In spite of the banter between the army and the air force, the former RAF station seemed little different to Catterick — similar barracks, messes for meals, a parade ground and a fair bit of bull. No golf course or swimming pool as far as she could see.
Kate’s promotion meant a significant increase in pay in spite of the freezes that had been applied since 2019. Once her money had been paid into her bank account she planned a bit of a spree in Lincoln; she also wanted to have a look around the famous cathedral.
Two weeks later, she was standing on the roof of the cathedral when she saw a drone take off from the south. She watched it climb gradually and pass to the east of the city. She’d seen plenty of them while on patrol but hadn’t realised how close their base was. She then turned to make her way down the stairs with the rest of the tour group.
Outside, once more, she decided to have lunch before doing her shopping. She found a café just outside the centre. As she was about to enter a young man reached for the door and opened it for her. His gentlemanly gesture surprised her and she thanked him without really looking at him.
“Kate? My God, it is you.”
“Martin! Well I’ll be ….,” she managed to stop herself from swearing. “What are you doing here?”
“I was about to ask you the same question. Are you meeting anyone for lunch or on your own?”
“I’m on my own.”
“Come on then, let’s find a table and we can catch up.”
He put his hand on the small of her back and they stepped over to the reception desk.
After taking their places, Kate smiled at Martin.
“It’s marvellous to see you again, Martin, Have you heard from Zoë since she left?”
“No. Have you?”
Kate saw the sadness in his eyes as he answered. She would have to do something about that.
“No, I often wonder how she is. The rumours of conditions in the EDZ are not good,” Kate replied.
“So, what are you doing here?”
“Here as in Lincoln or here as in this area?”
“I’m based at Syerston with the army, part of the border patrol. I’m in Lincoln today because I just got promoted so I’m on a bit of a shopping spree. What about you? Did you join the raf as planned?”
“Yes, I did. I’m stationed at Waddington, just down the road. I pilot the drones that patrol above you.”
They reminisced about their times together with Zoë over lunch, which Martin insisted on paying for. Outside the restaurant, Martin turned to Kate.
“It’s been fabulous seeing you again. Maybe we can have dinner together sometime?”
“I’d love that. Give me a call.” With that she leant forward and kissed him on the lips, turned and walked away.
Kate settled into a routine at Syerston. Patrolling from Ferrybridge, the southern limit of the northern patrol, to Stamford. South of there, the southern patrol based at Bassingbourne barracks took over. Most days she would return to her room and shower to freshen up and warm up after seven hours on the road, then relax on her bed before dinner in the mess – thinking about Martin and whether he’d phone her.
At RAF Waddington, as he lay on his bed trying to sleep, Martin felt torn. Should he call Kate or not? He’d always liked her, but it had been Zoë that he’d loved. Except Zoë was no longer around. Maybe it was time to move on.