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‘Another page turner from Helena Halme!’ Elena Sapsford, Pikku PublishingShe has betrayed him. He is facing a Court Martial. Can they love each other again?Kaisa knows she’s to blame. It’s her fault the relationship with the handsome Englishman, Navy Officer Peter, has ended. What can she do but move back to her native Finland? But sleeping on her sister’s sofa bed thousands of miles away from her beloved Peter won’t bring him back, so when Kaisa is offered a job in London she jumps at the chance.Peter is not sorry. He’s angry. Angry at everything and everybody. He’s about to lose the one thing that means most to him: his Navy career. All because he was stupid enough to fall in love.A chance meeting at a rooftop party in London sees the two ex-lovers steal a passionate kiss. But Peter has a new girlfriend and Kaisa’s career in journalism is finally taking off.Is it too late, or can Peter and Kaisa love each other again?A standalone read, The Good Heart is the third novel in The Nordic Heart Romance Series, which follows the tumultuous 1980’s love affair between the Finnish-born Kaisa and British Navy officer, Peter.Read this stylish European love story now!Previously published as The Good Officer.
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Also by Helena Halme
About the Author
It was a cold morning, on 30th January 1985. There was no rain, and Kaisa could just about make out the faint outline of the sun in the distance, low above the Gareloch. The sight of the opaque light behind a thin layer of cloud made Kaisa feel oddly optimistic. She held on tightly to the cup of coffee she’d brewed and inhaled the familiar, comforting smell. She had decided she would drive them to the community centre on the Churchill Estate, on the other side of Helensburgh, where the court martial was to be held. It was only a quarter past eight, and Peter was already wearing his full uniform, with sword; he looked very smart.
‘Do you want something else before we go? More tea, or water?’ Kaisa asked. She saw Peter’s straight back through the open kitchen door. He was standing in front of the mirror in the hall, adjusting his cap. Without turning to look at her, or speaking, he shook his head.
Peter hadn’t wanted her to come to the court. But his lawyer, Lawrence, had told them Kaisa needed to be there to show the court that they were a happy couple. Kaisa had recoiled from the phrase. She didn’t know what happiness was anymore.
That morning she’d dressed in the black trouser suit that she kept for job interviews, with an off-white roll-neck jumper inside the jacket for warmth. Pammy, her friend on the married patch, and the only Navy wife who still talked to her, had said it was bitterly cold at the community centre, and that they might have to wait around outside for hours before the proceedings started. Kaisa didn’t ask how her friend was so knowledgeable. She wondered if the waiting around was part of the punishment, but there’d been very little information about the day; just the one letter summoning Peter to the court martial at 10 am.
‘You are not needed as a witness because you’re my wife; you just need to be present,’ Peter had told her. His eyes were dark, and as usual when he spoke with Kaisa these days, they displayed no emotion whatsoever.
‘I’m going to drive,’ Kaisa said to Peter’s back. She could see his image in the mirror, but couldn’t see his eyes under the black peak of his Navy officer’s cap. She thought how handsome he still was, even though he’d lost so much weight. The past few weeks, during the awful state of limbo before the court martial, Kaisa had often coaxed Peter to eat. He’d lost his appetite for food, and life, it seemed. She couldn’t pinpoint the time when he had changed; at first, when the consequences of all her terrible actions had played out, they’d been able to comfort each other. They were like two survivors, thrown together in a sinking ship, bailing out water, fighting together to remain afloat. But slowly, Peter had drifted away from her, into his own shell, into his own world. He’d grown quieter, and wanted to be with her less. Now when Kaisa tried to touch him, he flinched.
Kaisa knew it was the impending court martial that was playing on Peter’s mind, so she let him be. She understood how much his career in the Navy meant to him, and hoped that when the proceedings were over they would find a way to love each other again.
Outside, braving the strong winds whipping up the hill where the grey pebbledash houses of the married quarters stood, Peter looked thin and gaunt. When he removed first his sword and then his cap and placed them carefully on the back seat of the car, Kaisa saw the dark circles around his eyes.
Kaisa parked on the sloping car park, and pulled up the handbrake hard. Peter winced; he just couldn’t get used to her driving. Not looking at her, Peter got out and picked up his sword from the back seat. He fixed it onto his belt and walked across the small yard towards the entrance of Drumfork Naval Club, a low-slung, 1960s building. It was used as a social space for naval families, and as everything in Helensburgh, was run-down and grey-looking. Peter noticed the ice on the ground too late and slipped on the steps.
‘You OK?’ he heard Kaisa say behind him, but he didn’t have the energy to reply to her. Instead, he cursed under his breath and took a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe the palm of his hand. There were a few spots of blood. ‘Fuck,’ he said out loud. Glancing down, he saw his uniform trousers had escaped the worst of it and still looked crisp and smart; they still had the deep creases he’d ironed into them that morning.
Inside, it was even colder than on the windswept hill. Peter rubbed his hands together, keeping the hankie between them in an attempt to stem the blood, which was dribbling out of the fleshier part of his right palm. He nodded to the same Wren who’d shown him into Himmler’s office three weeks before. She didn’t smile as she stood up from the grey plastic chair she’d been sitting on, but her eyes had a kindness to them. Peter moved his face away from hers. During the past weeks he’d heard nothing but condolences, people saying how sorry they were. He didn’t need their sympathy – he needed this to be over and to get back to work. Even Kaisa had nothing but sorrow in her eyes and Peter couldn’t stand it. What he needed was anger; he needed people to understand how angry he was. Angry at Kaisa, angry at Duncan, angry at the Navy for posting him and his new, young, pretty wife to this God-forsaken arsehole of a place, angry at Scotland and the bloody Jocks complaining in their harsh accents, angry at the drab, ugly married quarters on the hillside, overlooking the steely cold Gareloch, angry at himself for being so stupid as to care that his wife had slept with someone else. He put his handkerchief back into his pocket and told himself to calm down.
The door behind him opened and his lawyer, who had been to see Peter at home, shook his and Kaisa’s hand. Peter flinched; the stone steps had grazed his palm and even though the bleeding had stopped it still hurt.
‘You OK?’ The guy, who was probably only a few years older than Peter, asked.
Peter looked at his hand. ‘Yeah.’
The lawyer nodded and turned to Kaisa.
‘Perhaps, Mrs Williams, you’d like to go in. Sit at the front – they need to see you together.’
Kaisa nodded and went inside.
When they’d met previously, the lawyer had also immediately said how sorry he was about the ‘incident’ as he called it. Lawrence Currie was a lieutenant like Peter, but he’d studied law in Edinburgh and had a slight Scottish lilt when he spoke. The accent had put Peter off him at first, but he’d warmed to the man when he’d told Peter that the court martial would ‘run its course whatever you or I may think.’ He’d said that the panel would have decided what the outcome would be even before Peter stepped inside the room. ‘So the best thing is to stand there, reply to any questions as quickly and briefly as possible and get out. You can then get on with the rest of your life.’
‘Yes and No responses are the best,’ he’d added.
Now Lieutenant Currie motioned for Peter to go and sit at the far end of the room. Out of the earshot of the Wren, Peter supposed.
‘We’ve got a little time to go over everything,’ the lawyer started.
He told Peter that he should plead guilty to assault. ‘I will then bring in the mitigating circumstances of you being back from your first patrol, the wee shite, whom you’d considered to be a friend, taking advantage of your pretty, foreign wife, and so on.’
Peter nodded. He wasn’t looking at the lawyer, but was hanging his head. He was trying not to let the anger rise again.
‘Are you OK?’ the lawyer asked, again, touching Peter’s arm.
Peter looked up. ‘I’m not pleading guilty.’
The lawyer was silent for a moment, then sighed and said, ‘I strongly advise you to throw yourself at the mercy of the court. They will have sympathy for you.’
Peter moved his eyes away from Lawrence.
The lawyer sighed again. ‘Now, don’t forget they will take your sword from you. It means as an officer, you are placing your rank, status and reputation on hold for the duration of the proceedings.’
Peter nodded. ‘When are we going in?’
‘Any minute now. But there’s something else I need to tell you. There will be reporters outside with cameras. One is from the local rag, Helensburgh Advertiser, but there are also the nationals: Daily Mail, the Sun and theTelegraph.’
Peter put his head in his hands. He thought about his parents, his brother in London, and his sister. They’d all read about his stupid actions, and now they would have to explain it to their friends. Until now he’d been something of a local hero in Wiltshire; his achievements in cricket during his school years had often been written about in the Wiltshire Times, and when he passed out from Dartmouth, there’d been a long article about it in the same local paper. That was partly because Prince Andrew had graduated at the same time, so the Queen had also been there. Still, it was a picture of Peter in the freshly pressed naval officer’s uniform that had appeared inside the paper. Even when he’d married Kaisa, his mother had sent in a wedding picture of them to the paper, which had printed it with the caption ‘Local submarine officer, RN, marries a girl from Finland.’ Now they would have something far juicier to write about. Would they dig out the picture of him and Kaisa on their wedding day? Suddenly a phrase he’d often heard came to his mind: ‘There’s a touch of the pirate about every man who wears the Dolphins.’ He grinned and recalled when he had caught the Dolphins, the badge of the submarine service, between his teeth from a glass of rum. It was an old Royal Navy right of passage on qualification and proved that submariners were a bit wild. He immediately regretted such thoughts and straightened his face. Then the door opened and he was loudly called in by a Naval Provost.
The court martial suite of the Drumfork community centre was a large room at the back of the building. There was a long table at one end, and chairs set out on each side, with a gangway left empty through the middle. Kaisa sat at the front, with her blonde head bent and her hands crossed in her lap as if in prayer. The room was full. Peter recognised Pammy and Nigel but avoided looking at the rest of the crowd. The large table had five empty chairs. Another, smaller desk was set to the side, occupied by a lieutenant, the advocate for the Crown, Lawrence said. Lawrence hurried to the empty seat next to the other lawyer and the Provost indicated for Peter to stand in front of the court. As he passed the crowd, Peter’s eyes settled briefly on Nigel, who nodded almost imperceptibly. Moving his eyes away from his friend, Peter saw a colourful round rug in one corner of the room, and on top of it an unruly pile of plastic toys. The room must be used for a play group, Peter thought, and again he felt the urge to smile. ‘For fuck’s sake, keep it together,’ he told himself, and he concentrated on setting his mouth straight.
For a moment the room seemed to sway in front of Peter’s eyes, but he managed to steady himself by closing them for a second. A court official nodded for Peter to remove his sword. With shaking hands, he struggled to unclasp it from its scabbard. He thought he’d prepared himself for this naval tradition, but now when it came to it, his hands wouldn’t obey his commands. Eventually Peter managed to get the sword free, and he placed the gold-handled weapon on the table in front of him.
The official, a small man with a serious expression, proceeded to tell everyone to stand. There was a hush as five men, also wearing full dress uniforms, their swords awkward in their hands, walked in and settled down in the chairs facing Peter. The Captain, the President of the Board, who wore small half-moon glasses perched at the end of his long nose, sat down in the middle, with the two commanders on either side. A lieutenant, a submariner Peter had once been introduced to, but whose name now escaped him, went to sit at the far end of the table, and a very young looking sub-lieutenant with a pink face, sat nearest to the lawyers. Neither looked at Peter.
That Peter didn’t know any of the Board came as a great relief to him. His mouth felt dry and he swallowed hard. The men gazed gravely at him and then the President asked him how he pleaded. Peter said he was ‘Not guilty.’ He tried to make his voice as steady as possible, but there was a tremble at the last syllable. He heard whispers behind him, and avoided looking at his lawyer. Lying awake the previous night, he’d decided he just couldn’t admit to guilt. Even though he’d punched Duncan first, it was his so-called friend who had done the unthinkable. Even Himmler had said so on that awful day of the fight.
Peter was then told to sit down. The lawyer next to Lawrence got up and told the sorry tale of Peter’s ‘assault’ on Duncan. The Naval Provost who’d been at the pool and the two lifeguards then gave their account of the fight that Peter had started. Peter zoned out, trying to keep his nerves steady.
When the prosecution had finished the President said, ‘Over to you Lieutenant Curry.’
Just as he’d told Peter outside, Lawrence spoke about the mitigating circumstances and how Peter ‘had been pushed to the edge.’ He paused and leaned over to his desk to pick up a piece of paper. ‘With your permission, Sir, I’d like to read out a short statement from the other party.’ There was a collective intake of breath, then a murmur from the crowd.
‘Silence, please,’ the Captain said, and nodding at Lawrence added, ‘Go on.’
With a clear voice, Lawrence read out a statement from Duncan in which he said he was sorry about his indiscretion against ‘his fellow naval officer, and friend, Lieutenant Williams,’ and that he had not suffered any long-term medical consequences from the incident. He also stated that he was not planning now, nor any time in the future, to seek any kind of compensation for the actions against his person. After Lawrence had finished reading, the courtroom filled with a low chatter, causing the Captain to raise his head and give the room a stern stare. ‘Please, I must insist on silence.’
Looking at Lawrence, he said, ‘Is that it?’
‘Yes, thank you, Sir,’ Lawrence replied. He sat down, giving Peter a glance and a quick nod.
‘The court will adjourn to consider its decision,’ the President said and everyone got to their feet.
When Peter was called back inside, his eyes shifted to the table, where his sword had been moved so that the tip was pointing towards him. So they’d found him guilty. Peter’s feet felt heavy, as if he were in chains, while he walked slowly towards the end of the room. Would they dismiss him from his beloved Navy? He could see Kaisa was again seated at the front, with her head turned towards him, her red-rimmed eyes looking at Peter.
The next part of the proceedings went by in a flash. Peter was told that he could continue to fulfil his duties for Her Majesty’s Submarine Service, and keep his rank, but that he’d be fined £500, to be taken from his salary in the next six months. The court was dismissed and the Board, led by the Captain, clattered out of the room; Peter was handed his sword. The court official gave him a long stare as he held the weapon flat in his hands. Peter placed his sword inside the scabbard, attaching it back to the belt smoothly this time. He wanted to smile, but thought better of it. He took hold of the handle, and immediately felt himself stand taller.
Lawrence came up to him and shook his hand. ‘You took a chance; that could have been much worse.’
‘Thank you,’ Peter said. He was a little curious about how the lawyer had got the statement from Duncan, but he didn’t ask. He didn’t want to know anything about that bastard ever again.
Outside, the reporters ambushed Peter and Kaisa, as they tried to rush to their car. The flash hurt Peter’s eyes and he pulled his cap further down.
‘Give us a smile, Keese,’ one reporter, mispronouncing Kaisa’s name, shouted, and Peter could feel Kaisa lean closer to him. He took hold of her hand and pushed past the reporters. He saw Lawrence stay behind to answer their questions.
In the car, Kaisa put her hand on Peter’s thigh. She didn’t say anything, just stared at the road ahead of them. He looked at her small, slender fingers, with their nails bitten to the quick. When had she started biting her nails? He realised that he felt nothing under her touch. Usually the pressure of her hand so close to his crotch would have caused an immediate reaction; but now there was nothing. She removed her hand to change gears.
‘A fine was good, right?’ she said and glanced at him.
‘Yeah, obviously the best thing is not to be court-martialled at all. It’ll be on my record forever,’ Peter said drily and watched the still, steel surface of the Gareloch. That should put a stop to her bloody optimism, he thought.
His words had the desired effect, and shut Kaisa up. They drove the rest of the way in silence. Back at the married quarter, Kaisa went immediately upstairs. Peter could hear her crying in the bathroom. He slumped onto the sofa and closed his eyes.
In the afternoon after the court martial, Peter had to do something to clear his mind. He decided to go and fetch his things from the base. As luck would have it, the first person he bumped into was his Captain. The old man called him into his office.‘Peter, you’re a good young officer, who’s had a bit of bad luck. Just do a good job in your next appointment, and this will soon blow over, believe me.’
‘Thank you, Sir,’ Peter replied.
‘Now, there’s one more thing. Did you see the reporters in there?’
Peter lifted his head, ‘Yes, I did. Lt Currie told me about them,’ he said simply. ‘And,’ Peter felt his voice falter, but paused trying to steady his nerves, ‘they took photos,’ He looked down at his polished boots and continued, ‘to show …’
Peter couldn’t find the words, so the Captain came to his rescue, ‘Yes, I understand, to show a happily married couple.’
‘Well, that’s what you two were, and I’m sure will be again.’ The Captain went on to tell him to expect some coverage in the local rag. ‘There will be something in the national press too,’ he said, taking hold of Peter’s arm. ‘Just hold firm, don’t make any comments. If you haven’t done so already, it might be best if you tell your family as soon as possible. And take your phone off the hook,’ he added.
Peter went home. Kaisa was still upstairs; she had fallen asleep, fully clothed on their bed. Peter didn’t want to wake her, so he tiptoed downstairs and dialled the number of his parents’ house. It was the most difficult conversation he’d had in his life. His father was quiet, listening to Peter’s sorry tale, and when it was over there was a long silence at the end of the line.
‘Dad?’ Peter said, wondering if the old man had heard any of what Peter had told him.
‘I’ll get your mother,’ his father replied eventually, and Peter heard the phone being placed on the table. He imagined the tidy bungalow his parents lived in now that their three children had grown up and left home. He thought, again, how this scandal would affect the order of their lives. How would their large circle of friends, many of whom were ex-Navy or ex-Army and had fought in the Second World War, take the news? Would they be sympathetic, or would they talk behind his parents’ backs and shun their company? He remembered how thrilled his parents and the whole family had been when Peter graduated from Dartmouth Naval College. When the Queen herself attended the passing out parade, they were bursting with pride.
The wait for his mother to come to the telephone felt like an age. He could hear her ask what was up, and the muffled reply from his father, which he couldn’t decipher.
‘Peter?’ his mother said, with a higher pitched voice than usual.
‘I’m sorry, mum,’ Peter said. He began telling her the whole story, about how Kaisa had been with a friend of his, Duncan, while he was on his first patrol.
‘He seemed such a nice young man,’ Peter’s mum interrupted, and Peter remembered the weekend during their time at Dartmouth when he’d invited Duncan to Wiltshire to stay with his parents. Peter tensed up and formed a fist with the hand not holding the receiver. ‘Well, he’s not.’
At that moment, he heard a sniffle from the lounge, and saw Kaisa sitting on the sofa, her knees up to her chest, her body balled up tightly. Peter hadn’t heard her come down the stairs. She was crying hard now, and Peter wished he could go to her instead of having to finish the conversation with his mother.
But Peter had to continue. He told his mother how he’d found out about the affair on his return, how the bastard had been at the base, talking to Kaisa at the swimming pool, how he hadn’t been able to control himself and how he had knocked Duncan into the water.
‘I was dismissed my ship,’ Peter was hanging his head, the shame of the court martial fully hitting home.
‘Oh, Petey,’ her mother used a nickname Peter hadn’t heard in years, not since he was a small boy. He suddenly yearned to see his mother, to be comforted by her.
‘It’ll probably be in the papers,’ Peter said instead, delivering the final blow.
‘Oh,’ was all his mother could say. ‘What do you mean, in the Wiltshire Times?’
‘Well, probably not, unless … it’ll be in the national ones, most probably.’
Peter sighed, ‘I don’t know mum. We’ll be down next week, if that’s OK?’
There was a pause.
‘Mum?’ Peter wondered if the line had gone dead.
‘Of course, we’d love to see you,’ his mother said.
Peter asked her to pass on the news to his sister and brother, and hung up.
That evening, he and Kaisa sat in their cold house at Smuggler’s Way and drank half a bottle of vodka. Kaisa cried, on and off all night. Peter wished he could cry too, but he simply wasn’t able. All he wanted was to numb his senses. He couldn’t help Kaisa, couldn’t bring himself to comfort her.
The next day the story appeared in the Telegraph, on page three, where the salacious stories were usually found. It felt unreal to see a picture of him and Kaisa, looking solemn but standing close to one another, printed there, with the headline, ‘Two Royal Navy Officers Fight Over Pretty Swedish Wife’. The article was short, but his head was pounding and he felt sick when he saw the words, ‘The actions of 24-year-old Lieutenant Peter Williams are believed to have been fuelled by jealousy, after it was revealed his wife, Kaisa Williams, also 24 and originally from Sweden, had been having an affair with a fellow Navy officer while Lt Williams was away at sea.’ In the Daily Mail Peter’s court martial and Kaisa’s affair with Duncan was a front page headline, ‘Two Royal Navy Officers Brawl In Pool Over Sexy Swedish Blonde’. But the Sun was the worst, ‘Bomber Boys Battle Over Bonking Blonde Bombshell’. Peter read the articles swiftly. The tabloids he merely scanned, but he read the Telegraph in full. It gave the verdict and even described Peter as ‘a brilliant young officer’ and reported on the ‘great interest shown in the case’ at the court martial.
Peter put the papers in the bin. His head was hurting from the vodka. He found a packet of paracetamols above the sink and swallowed two with a glass of water, while surveying the grey mist over the Gareloch. When he turned around, Kaisa was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, silently watching him. She moved slowly to the bin and pulled out the papers.
‘Swedish!’ she said, and Peter, surprised at his own reaction, had to suppress a smile. He wanted to hug Kaisa, it was so typical that her incorrect nationality would be the one thing she commented on, but something stopped him. Examining the paper with her head bent, she looked so tired, her face drawn and the blonde hair hanging limp on her shoulders, that Peter felt a strong urge to protect her, to tell her everything would be alright, and that he loved her. But he couldn’t move, nor speak. He gazed at her, willing Kaisa to look up and say she was sorry. Instead, she put the papers back in the bin and, not looking at him, said, ‘I think I will go to Helsinki to see mum and Sirkka.’
They were sitting side by side at the end of the jetty, with their feet just touching the water. Peter had rolled his uniform trousers up and Kaisa was wearing a summery dress. The sun glittered on the surface of the lake. For once, it wasn’t raining. Peter turned his head towards Kaisa and took her hands between his. His dark eyes under his naval cap looked as sparkly as the surface of the water. Kaisa sighed with happiness. She lifted her chin and moved her head closer to Peter’s. As his lips approached Kaisa’s, she opened her eyes and woke up with a start.
It was dark, and the heavy, stuffy room was silent, apart from the gentle snoring of her sister, Sirkka. Kaisa turned over and tried to get back into the lovely, summery dream, but she was now wide awake, disturbed by the snoring, which was getting louder. She could have gone and adjusted her sister’s pillow, which is what she usually did if the snoring got too loud, but Sirkka was working an early shift at the Intercontinental Hotel on Mannerheim Street the next day, whereas Kaisa could lie in — or sleep all day if she wanted. She looked at the clock with the small reflective dots on the windowsill behind her and saw it was nearly 4 am. The events of the last few weeks flooded back to her, and she wanted to howl with misery. The shame of the fight between Peter and Duncan over her, and Peter’s immediate sacking from the bomber submarine, HMS Restless; the whispers and looks of the other Navy people, even from their so-called friends, in the shops in Helensburgh, when she and Peter had tried to live a normal life before his court martial; and Peter’s visible disappointment at the sudden nose dive his career had taken, made worse by its astronomical rise. His appointment to the Polaris submarine in Helensburgh just a few months after passing his nuclear qualification had been such a coup; he’d been one of the youngest officers of his rank — lieutenant — to be appointed to one of the subs that served as Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Not being able to take the covert hostility of her fellow Navy wives on the married quarter estate in Rhu, nor Peter’s growing indifference to her, Kaisa had decided to flee back to Finland the day after Peter’s court martial.
Her mother and Sirkka had welcomed her with open arms. They had decided that she should stay with Sirkka in her one-bedroomed flat in Töölö to begin with. But during the past days Kaisa had detected a slight change in the way her mother treated her; her own failed marriage to Kaisa and Sirkka’s father had at least lasted nearly twenty years, whereas Kaisa’s relationship seemed to have broken down before she had even celebrated the first wedding anniversary. Of course, Pirjo hadn’t pointed this out yet — but Kaisa was sure it was only a matter of time.
Kaisa had been in Helsinki for nearly a week now. She knew she had to forget the past — and Peter — and focus on the future. She couldn’t carry on living in her sister’s one-bedroom flat, and sleeping on her (admittedly quite comfortable) sofa bed forever. If she was to stay in Helsinki, she needed to find a job, somewhere to live on her own. She needed some purpose in her life. Unless of course, she decided to go back to Peter. They hadn’t discussed the future when Peter had dropped her off at the train station in Glasgow to take the train to Heathrow. Officially, she was taking a little break in Finland with her family. Or that was what they had told each other and their friends Pammy and Nigel.
‘Write to me when you get there, eh?’ Peter had said at the train station, and he had kissed Kaisa lightly on the lips.
Kaisa had nodded, not being able to hold back the tears. They’d rolled down her face, smearing the mascara she’d put on that morning. But Peter hadn’t reacted, or wanted to see Kaisa’s tears. Unlike the many partings they’d had before they were married, when Kaisa was still a student in Helsinki and Peter was based in Portsmouth. Then Peter would always wipe, or kiss, Kaisa’s tears away, and as a parting gift he’d buy her a single red rose. Today Peter just looked away, with his hands in his pockets, indifferent to Kaisa’s emotions.
‘I’ll let you know when the new appointment comes through, and where I’ll be living,’ he’d said, glancing sideways at Kaisa. His eyes were narrow, and didn’t show any emotion when they briefly met hers. He looked quickly away again, towards the empty track, as if he was longing for the train to arrive, impatient to get rid of his troublesome wife. Kaisa knew all he wanted was to get back to work, to get back onboard a new submarine, to rebuild his career. She didn’t seem to feature in his plans for the future.
At the chilly station, where they could hear the rain beating down on the Victorian tin roof, they’d stood facing each other, but Kaisa couldn’t bear to see the cold expression in her husband’s eyes, so she stared at his hands instead. There were a few hairs growing on them, and Kaisa had an overwhelming desire to stroke them and lace her fingers through Peter’s. She imagined that he’d look up, surprised, and that his eyes would light up at her touch, like they used to do. He’d pull her hand up to his lips and give her palm a gentle kiss. How she’d longed for him to say he loved her, but instead, when the train pulled into the station, screeching noisily, he’d said, ‘Do you want me to help you with the suitcase?’
Kaisa had just shaken her head. She wanted to hold him, to tell him once more how much she loved him, but no words came out. She was so ashamed, and seeing him reminded her of that shame, and of the hurt she’d caused, not only to him, but to his career. Words, which Peter had uttered to her in the dead of night, a few days after the fight with Duncan at the Faslane base swimming pool, rang in her ears: ‘You’ve broken the two things that matter to me most in the whole world. My love for you and my Navy career.’ They were probably the most poignant, and perhaps the most honest, words her husband of only seven months had said to her during their marriage.
In just a year, Tuuli had grown into a businesswoman. She swept into the café at the top of Stockmann’s Department store, wearing a brown woollen overcoat over a smart trouser suit and pointy flats. She still carried the briefcase the two of them had bought at the beginning of their four-year course at the Swedish School of Economics in Helsinki — or Hanken — as everyone called the low-slung university in northeastern Helsinki. Kaisa remembered that particular shopping trip with fondness; they’d ended up buying the exact same briefcase, in different colours. Kaisa’s was brown, whereas Tuuli had opted for black. In those early days of their studies at Hanken, they hadn’t realised how similar they looked; they both had fair hair, blue eyes and they were both tall — although Tuuli had at least ten centimetres on Kaisa. Everyone, from their fellow students to staff at the famous flirting place, the university’s library, mixed them up. Having similar briefcases didn’t help. But Hanken was a place where everyone knew everyone by sight at least, so people soon got used to Kaisa and Tuuli looking the same, though some still thought them to be cousins or even sisters when they graduated.
‘How are you?’ Tuuli said as they sat down with their coffees and cinnamon buns from the self-service counter. There was concern in her eyes and Kaisa had to take a deep intake of breath in order to stop the tears.
‘I don’t know,’ she said instead. A few days after the incident in the pool, Kaisa had written a long letter to Tuuli from Helensburgh, recounting the sorry tale of her unfaithfulness, the fight between Duncan and Peter, and Peter’s impending court martial. The letter Kaisa had received in reply was so supportive and kind that Kaisa had cried, and it had played a large part in her decision to ‘take a break’ in Helsinki. The fact that both Peter and Kaisa had decided on a one-way ticket, bought over the telephone from a bucket flight shop in London, spoke volumes about how long this ‘break’ in the marriage might last.
‘You need to come out with me,’ Tuuli said after she’d heard about Kaisa’s living arrangements with her sister in Töölö. Sirkka and her mother rented two flats in the same post-war, stone-clad block on Linnankoskenkatu. Both flats had only one bedroom, with a small lounge and a narrow kitchen at the side, but they were in the city, within easy distance from the centre of Helsinki. Sirkka’s flat overlooked a busy crossing, while her mother’s flat on the floor above had a view of the peaceful inner courtyard. The two women often shared an evening meal together and went walking in the nearby park or, in winter, skiing on the frozen sea near the shores of the president’s summer villa. It wasn’t a bad place to be based, and Kaisa was grateful to have somewhere to live.
‘That’ll be fun. Where do you want to go, the KY club?’ she said to Tuuli, without much enthusiasm.
Her friend laughed. ‘God, no. Haven’t been there for ages. That place is for the kids. No, we’ll go to a couple of new bars. Unless you want to go to Old Baker’s?’ Tuuli reached her hand out and squeezed Kaisa’s arm.
Kaisa shook her head. The two young women were quiet for a moment as they reflected on the first time Peter had come to see Kaisa in Helsinki, six months after they’d met at the British Embassy cocktail party. Peter had been a young naval officer, and had come to talk to them at the party, just as Kaisa and Tuuli were about to leave. On Peter’s second visit to Helsinki, after they’d exchanged increasingly passionate letters, Kaisa had taken him to Old Baker’s on Mannerheim Street. The place boasted of being an ‘English pub’, but Peter had been refused entry because he was wearing a pair of cords — deemed to be ‘jeans’ by the bouncer. ‘Sorry, you need to be smartly dressed to come in,’ the bearded man with a huge belly and a gruff voice had told Peter. He’d had his hand on Peter’s chest and spoke to him in loud Finnish. Peter had turned to Kaisa and Tuuli for an explanation. Kaisa vividly remembered Peter’s disdain at being told he — an Englishman, and an officer of her Majesty’s Royal Navy — wasn’t smart enough to gain entry to a place calling itself an English pub. Kaisa and Peter later suspected the bouncer had simply not liked the look of the dark-haired foreigner. It was the first of many times Peter had been publicly singled out for being a stranger with a Finnish girl. Kaisa and Peter had mostly laughed at the prejudice, but on that first time, it had hurt Peter deeply. Kaisa now reflected on her own unhappiness in England and in Scotland, where she’d constantly felt discriminated against — whether it was in the workplace or among her fellow Navy wives. She now wondered what would have happened if the tables had been turned and Peter had moved to Finland to be with her. Would he have had an equally tough time of it? Or worse? And how would he have reacted? Kaisa looked at Tuuli. She knew that sleeping with a friend of hers would be the last thing Peter would do. Guilt, which wracked her every moment, raised its ugly head again, and for a second, she wished she’d never gone to the Embassy cocktail party, and never met the handsome Englishman.
‘No,’ Kaisa said. ‘I don’t think I want to put my foot in that place ever again.’
‘I understand,’ Tuuli said, and gave Kaisa’s arm another squeeze. ‘But we’ll still go out tomorrow night, OK?’
Tuuli had a studio flat a few streets south of Sirkka’s place. She’d bought a bottle of wine to share before they went out. The price of drinks in bars was so high in Helsinki, it was usual to have a drink or two at home beforehand.
‘So where are we going?’ Kaisa asked. Tuuli looked very slim and tall in her black satin trousers and glittery gold jumper, with a narrow gold belt tied at the waist, highlighting her perfect figure.
‘Oh, definitely start at the Sky Bar, then Happy Days and Helsinki Club. We’ll see how long Mrs Williams will last,’ she said and lifted her glass in a salute.
‘Don’t worry about me,’ Kaisa grinned. She was wearing trousers too, with boots underneath — it was minus ten outside — but she’d decided on a frilly satin blouse after Sirkka had persuaded her out of the black jumper she’d tried on first. ‘You’re trying to look like a bloody nun, are you?’ Sirkka had said.
Kaisa had acquiesced, though she didn’t like the inference that Tuuli was taking her on a night out to find a man. Men had caused her enough trouble as it was. Plus she was still married. But she didn’t say any of those things to Sirkka. She suspected her sister all but believed that her marriage to Peter was over.
As planned, Tuuli and Kaisa went to the Helsinki Club after they’d been to three other clubs. In each place, they ordered a Lonkero, a bitter lemon and gin drink that they had always drunk in the student’s bar, for old times’ sake. The place was half-full, and Kaisa wasn’t at all surprised to see the old group of rich boys from Hanken there. It was as if time had stopped and her life in England hadn’t happened at all.
‘C’mon, come and say hello,’ Tuuli said and grinned. She walked confidently towards the group of ten or so people, sitting on a dark-blue velvet sofa in the corner of the bar. A few couples were on the dance floor, leaning into each other and moving slowly; others were buying drinks at the bar. The lighting was dim and the music loud. The bar, which was lit from underneath, made the faces of the people standing against it seem unreal and spooky.
Tuuli sat down next to Tom’s blond friend, Ricky, and the two kissed each other on the mouth. Kaisa was so amazed that she couldn’t move. She stood in front of the group, trying not to gape at her friend.
‘You remember Ricky?’ Tuuli said nonchalantly — too nonchalantly.
The good-looking blond boy, whom Kaisa knew Tuuli had tried to resist at Hanken, got up and reached out to Kaisa. ‘Nice to see you again.’ He turned around and pointed at Tom, who was sitting in the middle of the group, next to a dark-haired girl, his arm on the top of the sofa above her shoulders. ‘You remember him, don’t you?’ Ricky’s eyes had a mischievous look, which Kaisa could spot even under the dark lighting of the club.
Tom looked up and their eyes locked. He nodded and, removing his hand from the top of the sofa, took a packet of cigarettes and made a gesture of offering one to Kaisa.
‘No thanks,’ she mouthed and shook her head. She bored her eyes into Tuuli, who was ignoring her.
‘Sit down, Kaisa,’ Ricky said and he and Tuuli shuffled along the sofa, making a space next to Tuuli.
‘Would you two ladies like a drink?’ Ricky said.
‘Yes, I’d love one. Gin and tonic, please.’ Kaisa had decided she was going to have one drink with the group, not wishing to make a fool of herself, and then leave. With Ricky gone to the bar, Kaisa whispered into Tuuli’s ear, ‘What the hell?’ But Tuuli just shrugged her shoulders. ‘I’ll explain later,’ she whispered back.
It was typical of Tuuli to keep something momentous like this under her hat, Kaisa thought, as she sat back against the blue velveteen sofa. A mention that she was seeing Ricky might have been expected, seeing the amount of time the two of them had once spent talking about the group of rich boys. It had been Ricky and Tom who had come onto them in the student’s bar during Kaisa’s and Tuuli’s first week at Hanken, and whose advances they’d repeatedly rejected during their four years there. Or was this a set-up? Kaisa looked along the sofa to where Tom, the lanky boy with a wolfish smile, who’d been interested in Kaisa, sat. His head was bent close to the dark-haired girl’s face. No, Tuuli must surely know that Tom, whose only goal in life during his leisurely studies seemed to be to bed as many girls as possible, was the last thing Kaisa needed now? And what was Tuuli doing with Ricky? Was it serious?
The next day was a Sunday,
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