Brighton Belle Page 0,1

boarding. The porter loaded the leather case and hovered as she searched her handbag for a coin. It was a gold one. He smiled broadly. ‘Home soon, eh?’ he said cheerily.

Brighton was not her home, but that was none of the fellow’s business. Romana handed over the tip and gave an elegant shrug that made her sleek dark bob catch what little light there was. Then she turned her back and stalked into a compartment. As she sat down she slipped the ration book into her handbag. Nestling inside, had anyone bothered to look, there were three more ration books and four passports (none in Mrs Laszlo’s name). It was good to keep her hand in. Stations were excellent for that, Romana thought as she drew an enamel cigarette case from the inside pocket. At once a dark-suited man offered her a light. She stared steadily as she popped the cigarette into an amber holder and leaned into the flame. It seemed her entire concentration was focused on lighting that cigarette, although she was scanning him, of course, for any opportunity or, indeed, danger. Satisfied, she took a deep draw. ‘Thank you,’ she breathed.

Normally she would have fluttered her eyelashes to great effect and the nameless man would offer her a drink, but she couldn’t expect that now. Romana Laszlo was accustomed to being troubled by men. No longer. Her hand came to rest on her swollen stomach. She was looking forward to Brighton. London had been damp and cold for months. All winter the fog had strangled the city like a filthy shroud. Everything smelled of vinegar – cafés, restaurants and even the flat where she had been staying. Romana had heard good things about the attractions of the Sussex coast and the fresh air at the seaside would surely do her good.

As the train moved off she glanced back, just to be sure no one had followed her. The receding platform was completely clear and she settled back again, noticing the man staring at her stomach as he shifted in his seat.

‘Not long now,’ he said. ‘Your baby will be born in Brighton, won’t it?’

‘It will be like a little holiday,’ she replied turning towards the window to make it clear she did not want to chat.

Romana Laszlo had never been on a holiday in her life.


War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

Mirabelle Bevan surveyed Brighton’s beachfront from her deckchair. The weather had been so fine the last few days she was picking up a golden tan. Well put-together and in her prime, Mirabelle always ate her lunch on Brighton beach if the weather was in any way passable, but out of sheer principle she never paid tuppence for a chair. We did not win the war to have to pay to sit down, she frequently found herself thinking. Mirabelle’s stance against the deckchair charges was one of the few things that kept her going these days. In an act of personal defiance, she carefully timed the coming and goings of Ron, the deckchair attendant, and concluded that it was perfectly possible to sneak enough time to enjoy her sandwich while he tended the other end of his pitch. By selecting the right chair she could have an average of twenty-five undisturbed minutes, which was perfect. Mirabelle’s life these days revolved around small victories, little markers in her day that got her through until it was time for bed.

She loved the beach. There was something soothing about the expanse of grey and cream pebbles, the changing colour of the sea and the movement of the clouds. Mirabelle didn’t mind if it was cold or if there was a spot of rain and it was only during a full-blown downpour or a gale-force wind that she retreated to the steamy interior of the Pier Café. Now she ate her fish paste sandwich with her large hazel eyes on the ocean and her sixth sense switched on in case Ron returned early.

While the nation complained about rationing, Mirabelle found the limited range of foods available comforting. These days she never had much of an appetite and her favourite whisky was in easy supply as long as she swapped her meat coupons on a regular basis and paid slightly over the odds. A nice bottle of Islay malt was all Mirabelle Bevan really wanted – though Glenlivet was fine at a push. When she had finished her sandwich she brushed the crumbs from her tweed skirt,