Jackie Keswick: Stolen Moments

Here’s a lovely, heartbreaking tale about love across the divide at a time of war . And one of the characters has a very appropriate name for our current cold snap!

***

Mallory sat frozen as Winter set the shaving brush and basin down and reached for the razor. The newspaper in his lap expounded on the previous day’s declaration: Britain was at war with Germany. Which made the man holding a straight razor to his throat Mallory’s enemy.

“Will you be joining up, sir?” Winter queried as he began to remove two days’ worth of sandy-coloured stubble from Mallory’s cheeks.

Mallory hummed. Admitting that he already served his country wasn’t wise while Winter wielded the razor. 

Mallory had been coming to Winter’s small barber’s shop on the Caledonian Road for over a year, though if Winter had restricted himself to offering shaves and haircuts, Mallory might never have met him. He certainly wouldn’t be sitting in this chair now with cold sweat soaking his shirt.

His boss had called him reckless for keeping his usual appointment while his colleagues and the police rounded up scores of German spies. But Mallory felt he owed Winter a final courtesy. In over a year’s surveillance, Mallory had not seen him take a single misstep. That Mallory was here was not Winter’s fault.

“What will you be doing?” he asked when Winter wiped the razor.

Winter shrugged. “There’s talk about repatriation, but… I was born in London. There’s nowhere in Germany for me to return to.”

“No family?”

“No.” Winter bent to his task once more. The razor scraped under Mallory’s chin and Mallory barely dared to breathe. Could one become fond of an enemy? They’d spent a year exchanging views on anything from the weather to politics, religion, and the latest murder trial. And had found they held very similar views. Mallory had never once left Winter’s salon feeling the man was his enemy.

Mallory’s sneeze had Winter whip the blade away from his throat.

“Sorry. Must have inhaled some soap.” Yes, he’d grown fond of Winter, whatever nationalistic hoopla the papers were spouting this morning.

“I assume you’re here to arrest me.” Winter folded the razor. “Who betrayed me?”

Of course, Winter had known. Mallory tugged his cuffs straight and stood. “No betrayal. One of the Kaiser’s military attaches gave himself away. He went well out of his way for a shave.”

Winter closed his eyes. When he opened them again, a resigned smile lifted one corner of his mouth. “What happens now?”

Mallory had men outside waiting to take Winter into custody and turn his home and salon inside out. Faced with the man’s quiet acceptance, it didn’t seem right. He couldn’t let Winter escape, but… Mallory took a breath. “I could… give you a few moments alone to…”

Mallory braced himself as Winter came close, but Winter only stroked the back of his hand down Mallory’s left cheek as if he was checking his handiwork.

“I’m ready to accept the consequences for my actions, Captain Mallory. The times have made us enemies.”

Mallory looked into Winter’s eyes and memorised the flecks of silver in the deep blue. “For now.”

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