Oenone Playfair.’

‘Jude.’

A thin hand reached out to grasp her plump one. ‘Sorry about the Oenone. My father had a classical education.’ Jude must have looked blank again, because the woman immediately provided a gloss for her. ‘Oenone was Paris’ first wife. The one he dumped when he went off after Helen of Troy.’ She spoke very quickly, her words tumbling together in the manner of an enthusiastic academic.

‘Ah,’ said Jude.

‘Well, I suppose if you’re going to be dumped for anyone, Helen of Troy at least has class. Better than your husband going off with his secretary. . or the checkout girl at Tesco.’

‘I suppose so. Anyway, sorry, you just said something about a winning gallery. .?’

‘Right. Yes, of course you’re new to all this. Don’t worry, it only takes about ten years to understand the rudiments of the game.’

‘Thanks very much. Do you play?’

Oenone Playfair grimaced. ‘Oh yes. Haven’t been on the court since I had my hip replaced, though. First operation didn’t work, dammit. . so it’ll soon be a few months before I’m back playing.’

Jude was surprised. Her question had only been a polite enquiry. It hadn’t occurred to her that Oenone, who had to be well into her seventies, might really still play the game.

‘Anyway, the winning gallery. .’ her new friend twittered on and pointed down the left-hand side of the court. ‘Last gallery down the hazard end. . any ball that goes in there is an outright winner. And there’s a bell hung on the netting, which should ring. .’ Jude understood that bit. ‘Though sometimes if the ball goes in for a chase in hazard second, that can make it ring too.’ And once again Jude was lost.

‘So that player — ’ she indicated a grey-haired, red-faced man whose portly belly raised the bottom of his shirt sufficiently to reveal a half-moon of flesh above the top of his shorts — ‘has just scored a point by hitting the ball into the winning gallery?’

‘Exactly.’ Oenone nodded vigorously. ‘Yes, a shot in the winning gallery is the Holy Grail for real tennis players. . and I can guarantee I’ll never hear the end of it.’ Jude raised an interrogative eyebrow. ‘He’s my husband. Reggie.’

‘Ah, so that’s why you’re here?’

‘I’d have come even if Reggie hadn’t made it to the finals. The Sec’s Cup’s always good fun.’ Oenone Playfair looked at Jude shrewdly. ‘Any particular reason why you’re here?’

Jude gestured to the court. ‘I’m with him.’

The older woman nodded, as if some small mystery had just been explained to her. ‘Ah, you’re Piers’ latest.’

Jude wasn’t quite sure that she relished that definition, but she didn’t comment, and further conversation was interrupted by a tap on Oenone’s shoulder from a tall, grey-haired man in pebble glasses. He was dressed in ordinary clothes rather than tennis whites, a large-checked sports jacket and mulberry-coloured corduroy trousers. His thinly knotted tie featured crossed gold rackets under the emblem of a fish on a background of purple and green stripes. Other men in the dedans were wearing the same, so presumably it was the Lockleigh House club tie. And in fact Jude noticed the same logo in the blocked window feature at the other end of the court.

The man shook his head. ‘Sitting there without a drink I see, Oenone — tut, tut. Can I get you one?’ His voice sounded as if it had been marinated in superior claret.

Oenone Playfair declared that she wouldn’t say no to a Sauvignon Blanc, then continued, ‘Wally, may I introduce Jude?’

He reached forward to take the newcomer’s hand. ‘Enchanted,’ he said, and he clearly was. Over the years Jude had got used to the appreciative eyes of men, even now that she was fatter and in her fifties. ‘My name’s Wally Edgington-Bewley.’

‘Today’s Jude’s first time inside a real tennis court.’

‘Is it really, Oenone? Well, Jude, we must celebrate that fact by my buying you a drink. Would Sauvignon Blanc fit the bill for you too?’

Jude looked around. Though it was not yet eleven o’clock in the morning, many of the spectators — even some dressed in white and presumably soon to go on court — were nursing wine glasses. Be churlish not to join them.

So she replied, ‘That’d be fine, thank you. . unless there’s a bottle of Chardonnay open.’

‘Of course. Chardonnay it is.’

An elegant woman in a beautifully-cut tweed suit took a seat a little way away from them in the dedans. Probably in her sixties, she must once have been absolutely stunning and still looked pretty good. Bright blue eyes and hair so skilfully coloured that its blondness could actually have been natural. Wally turned to her with his customary charm. ‘Just going on a drinks run, Felicity. Get you a snifter?’

She smiled, revealing perfectly maintained teeth and replied in a perfectly modulated voice, ‘Bit early in the day for me, Wally.’

‘Right you are. Oh, Felicity, can I introduce Jude? She’s here with Piers. First time she’s seen a real tennis court.’

‘Ah.’ The woman’s blue eyes politely appraised the newcomer. She reached out a slender hand for Jude to shake. ‘I’m Felicity Budgen.’

‘Wife of our esteemed chairman,’ said Wally. ‘Right, off on my drinks run. One Sauvignon Blanc, one Chardonnay. And when I return, Jude, I will tell you all about the game of real tennis.’

‘Oh, I’d like that.’

‘Be careful what you wish for,’ murmured Oenone as soon as Wally Edgington-Bewley was out of earshot.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Wally is a kind of historian of the game. Knows more about it than probably anyone on the planet. Even written a book on the subject. If he’s going to tell you “all about the game of real tennis”, I’d make sure you’ve got a couple of weeks free.’

‘Oh, right. Well, thanks for the warning.’

‘And would you be able to have a couple of weeks free?’

‘Sorry?’

‘It’s my rather contrived and roundabout way of asking what you do.’

‘Ah. Well, I’m a kind of alternative therapist.’

‘Healer?’

‘That kind of thing, yes.’

‘Maybe I should get you to take a look at Reggie.’

‘Oh?’

‘Well, look at him.’ Oenone Playfair gestured towards the court as if pointing out a particularly uncontrollable puppy. ‘He doesn’t take care of himself at all. He’s seventy-four next year, and he’s had a couple of heart scares. I keep trying to get him to make some changes in his lifestyle, but will he? Will he hell.’

And as Jude saw Reggie Playfair puff his way to miss another ball, she could see what his wife meant. His face was redder than ever and sweat dripped off nose and chin. Individual damp patches on his white shirt were starting to join together.

Oenone raised her eyes to heaven, expressing the hopelessness of trying to make her husband change in any particular, then asked, ‘So do you do your healing work at home?’

‘Yes.’

‘And where is home?’

‘Fethering. Do you know it?’

‘Of course. Just down from Fedborough. Where the River Fether reaches the sea.’

‘Exactly.’

‘And you’re kept busy, are you. . you know, with the healing?’

‘It varies.’ And with a feeling that was uncharacteristically close to guilt, Jude realized that she hadn’t actually treated any clients for a couple of weeks. Hadn’t actually been to her home, Woodside Cottage, for a couple of weeks. Since Piers Targett had come into her life. Or since she had moved into Piers Targett’s life.

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