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Chapter Four

Tricia began to feel that the world was conspiring against her. She knew that this was a perfectly normal way to feel after an overnight flight going east, when you suddenly have a whole other mysteriously threatening day to deal with for which you are not the least bit prepared. But still.

There were marks on her lawn.

She didn't really care about marks on her lawn very much. Marks on her lawn could go and take a running jump as far as she was concerned. It was Saturday morning. She had just got home from New York feeling tired, crabby and paranoid, and all she wanted to do was go to bed with the radio on quietly and gradually fall asleep to the sound of Ned Sherrin being terribly clever about something.

But Eric Bartlett was not going to let her get away with not making a thorough inspection of the marks. Eric was the old gardener who came in from the village on Saturday mornings to poke around at her garden with a stick. He didn't believe in people coming in from New York first thing in the morning. Didn't hold with it. Went against nature. He believed in virtually everything else, though.

`Probably them space aliens,' he said, bending over and prodding at the edges of the small indentations with his stick. `Hear a lot about space aliens these days. I expect it's them.'

`Do you?' said Tricia, looking furtively at her watch. Ten minutes, she reckoned. Ten minutes she'd be able to stay standing up. Then she would simply keel over, whether she was in her bedroom or still out here in the garden. That was if she just had to stand. If she also had to nod intelligently and say `Do you?' from time to time, it might cut it down to five.

`Oh yes,' said Eric. `They come down here, land on your lawn, and then buzz off again, sometimes with your cat. Mrs Williams at the Post Office, her cat --- you know the ginger. one? --- it got abducted by space aliens. Course, they brought it back the next day but it were in a very odd mood. Kept prowling around all morning, and then falling asleep in the afternoon. Used to be the other way round, is the point. Sleep in the morning, prowl in the afternoon. Jet lag, you see, from being in an interplanetary craft.'

`I see,' said Tricia.

`They dyed it tabby, too, she says. These marks are exactly the sort of marks that their landing pods would probably make.'

`You don't think it's the lawn mower?' asked Tricia.

`If the marks were more round, I'd say, but these are just off-round, you see. Altogether more alien in shape.'

`It's just that you mentioned the lawn mower was playing up and needed fixing or it might start gouging holes in the lawn.'

`I did say that, Miss Tricia, and I stand by what I said. I'm not saying it's not the lawn mower for definite, I'm just saying what seems to me more likely given the shapes of the holes. They come in over these trees, you see, in their landing pods...'

`Eric...,' said Tricia, patiently.

`Tell you what, though, Miss Tricia,' said Eric, `I will take a look at the mower, like I meant to last week, and leave you to get on with whatever you' re wanting to.'

`Thank you, Eric,' said Tricia. `I'm going to bed now, in fact. Help yourself to anything you want in the kitchen.'

`Thank you, Miss Tricia, and good luck to you,' said Eric. He bent over and picked something from the lawn.

`There,' he said. `Three-leaf clover. Good luck you see.'

He peered at it closely to check that it was a real three-leaf clover and not just a regular four-leaf one that one of the leaves had fallen off. `If I were you, though, I'd watch for signs of alien activity in the area.' He scanned the horizon keenly. `Particularly from over there in the Henley direction.'

`Thank you, Eric,' said Tricia again. `I will.'

She went to bed and dreamt fitfully of parrots and other birds. In the afternoon she got up and prowled around restlessly, not certain what to do with the rest of the day, or indeed the rest of her life. She spent at least an hour dithering, trying to make up her mind whether to head up into town and go to Stavro's for the evening. This was the currently fashionable spot for high-flying media people, and seeing a few friends there might help her ease herself back into the swing of things. She decided at last she would go. It was good. It was fun there. She was very fond of Stavro himself, who was a Greek with a German father --- a fairly odd combination. Tricia had been to the Alpha a couple of nights earlier, which was Stavro's original club in New York, now run by his brother Karl, who thought of himself as a German with a Greek mother. Stavro would be very happy to be told that Karl was making a bit of a pig's ear of running the New York club, so Tricia would go and make him happy. There was little love lost between Stavro and Karl Mueller.

OK. That's what she would do.

She then spent another hour dithering about what to wear. At last she settled on a smart little black dress she'd got in New York. She phoned a friend to see who was likely to be at the club that evening, and was told that it was closed this evening for a private wedding party.

She thought that trying to live life according to any plan you actually work out is like trying to buy ingredients for a recipe from the supermarket. You get one of those trolleys which simply will not go in the direction you push it and end up just having to buy completely different stuff. What do you do with it? What do you do with the recipe? She didn't know.

Anyway, that night an alien spacecraft landed on her lawn.


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