The Weatherman

When Serena Frost starts a new job at the British Weather Centre, she learns about a rival company, Readiweather.com, whose forecasts are uncannily accurate. A chance encounter with Readiweather's founder piques Serena's interest, but she soon finds both her heart and her life in danger, as some people will stop at nothing to discover Readiweather's secret.

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6. Chapter Six

Serena stared at the code on her monitor. It was legacy code that Jeff had written before he left the Weather Centre, and which Serena wanted to use in her project. But the more she looked at it, the more confused she got. As Drew was away for several weeks as part of an exchange programme, she called out to Bill.

            “Have you got a minute, Bill?” she asked. Bill rose from his chair and crossed over to her desk. “I’m looking at a bit of code Jeff wrote but can’t figure out what it’s supposed to be doing.”

            Bill pulled his spectacles from his breast pocket and put them on, then leaned towards the monitor.

            “I’m sorry, I can’t really help you on this either,” he apologised eventually. “Jeff didn’t talk about his work much, even to us.”

            “Thanks anyway,” Serena smiled as Bill returned to his desk. Opening up Internet Explorer, she entered “readiweather.com” and looked up the telephone number. She cradled the receiver of her telephone between her ear and her shoulder and dialled. After four rings, she heard Jeff’s voice at the other end of the line.

            “Readiweather.com. How can we help you?”

            “Hi Jeff. It’s Serena Frost here.”

            “Hey!” he said, disarmingly. “Look, I’m really sorry about the other week.”

            “Don’t be,” she answered, reassuringly. “I’m sorry I was short with you. Anyway, I’m looking over a bit of code you wrote and I’m not sure I understand it. Can you help?”

            She heard him sucking his teeth. “It’s a long time since I wrote that code. I’m not sure I can remember it too well. But if you email it to me I’ll take a look at it for you.”

            “Thanks, Jeff.”

            Serena hung up, copied the code to Notepad and emailed it to jeff@readiweather.com.

 

 

            Three hours later, Clarence, Rob, Bill and Serena were sat round Bill's desk as he demonstrated the program he'd been developing for the last six months.

            "That looks really good, Bill," Clarence congratulated him. "When I read your report I just had to come and see it for myself." Bill was just about to reply when Serena’s phone rang. She crossed to her desk and answered it.

              “Hi, Serena, it’s Jeff,” said the voice. “I think I’ve figured out what needs doing but it’s kinda hard to explain over the phone.”

            “I could call in on my way home, Jeff,” Serena offered. “About six o’clock OK?”

            “Fine,” he answered. “Look, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I’ve got a load of stuff in the freezer that needs eating up. Why don’t you bring Drew around as well and stop for dinner?”

            “Drew’s at a conference in Australia,” she answered. “But I don’t really feel like cooking tonight, so I think I might take you up on it. Provided it’s just as friends of course.”

            “Of course,” he agreed. “I’ll see you at six then.”

 

            Jeff opened the door even before Serena had knocked.

            “Come in,” he grinned. “Make yourself at home… Oh, by the way, meet Ronnie…” He pointed to a Rottweiler curled up on the sofa. “Thought I ought to get some extra protection after the break-in.” Serena noticed he’d fitted CCTV cameras too and a box of cartridges on the desk suggested even more ‘insurance’.

            “Did those guys ever come back?” Serena asked, taking her coat off. Jeff took it off her and hung it over a peg by the door.

            “Yeah,” Jeff answered. They came back a couple of nights later and fished the computer out. I made sure they knew Ronnie was here.” He bent down and stroked the sleeping dog. “Good boy.”

            “He’s cute,” Serena smiled.

            Jeff felt like saying, “So are you,” but checked himself. “He’s not supposed to be,” he said, stepping towards the computer desk. “Sit here,” he indicated, “and I’ll show you what you need to do to your code. Dinner will be ready in half an hour – we should have it sorted by then.”

          

            “OK, I think I get it now,” Serena said as she folded the printout she’d been making notes on and put it into her handbag. A beeper sounded in the kitchen.

            “I said we’d be done by the time dinner was ready,” Jeff grinned, rising to go to the kitchen. “If you’d like to take a seat at the table, I’ll bring the food in.”

            The table was arranged smartly but not romantically, in a way that said Jeff valued Serena’s company without making her feel uncomfortable.

            “What are we eating?” Serena asked in anticipation.

            “You’ll find out in a minute,” Jeff teased. He reappeared from the kitchen with two steaming plates of boeuf bourguignon.  

            “Mmm,” Serena said as Jeff placed one of the plates in front of her. “My favourite.” She waited for him to sit down, then took a mouthful. “Are you sure this was frozen?” she asked.

            “Yes, it was,” Jeff lied. “Got it from Tesco.” Serena knew he was lying – on the occasions she’d made boeuf bourguignon, it had taken hours to prepare – but she said nothing and the two chatted amiably while they ate.

            “I must get going,” Serena said, when the main course had all been eaten. “Thanks for a great meal, though.”

            “You can’t go yet!” Jeff objected. “I’ve got a Baked Alaska in the kitchen. I’ll run you back when we’re done.”

            Serena’s resolve melted. “That’s another of my favourites,” she explained, sitting down again.

            They were just scraping their bowls when sirens could be heard on Reading Bridge.

            “They won’t sell many ice creams going at that speed,” Jeff joked, checking the time again. Serena laughed. They looked into each others’ eyes for a moment that seemed like an eternity before Serena spoke again.

            “It really has been a wonderful evening,” she said. “And thanks for the help with the code. But I really do need to get going now.”

            She grabbed her coat and handbag and the two of them made for the door. Ronnie jumped down from the sofa and ran after them.

            “Stay, boy,” Jeff commanded. Ronnie whimpered, turned and jumped back on to the sofa.

 

            There was an orange glow in the sky as they stepped outside.

            “Wonder what that is?” Serena asked. Jeff shrugged his shoulders and unlocked the car.

 

            The glow got brighter as Jeff drove Serena home, and she was surprised to see her street filled with emergency vehicles. The surprise turned to shock when she saw her rented house ablaze, with a fire crew struggling to extinguish it.

            “Oh my,” she screamed, jumping out of the car and trying to duck under the emergency tape.

            “I’m afraid I can’t let you through, Miss.” A burly fireman blocked her path.

            “But it’s my house!” Serena protested. Her thoughts turned to her house mate Michelle. Had she been inside? The front door opened and another fireman emerged, carrying a body, which he laid on the ground as two paramedics rushed over. They went through the CPR cycle a few times before looking at each other and shaking their heads. Serena felt Jeff’s arms around her. She turned, buried her head into his chest and wept.

            “What happened?” Jeff asked the nearest fireman,

            “Too early to say,” the fireman answered. “We were called out half an hour ago, and by the time we got here it was well ablaze. Judging by the speed the fire took hold, I’d say some sort of accelerant was involved, but we won’t know for certain until the fire’s out.”

            Half an hour ago, Serena thought, through her tears. They must have been the sirens they heard while they were finishing the baked Alaska. The ice cream had probably saved her life.

            Jeff guided her gently back to his car.

            “Where are we going?” Serena asked, between sobs.

            “You need somewhere to stay the night,” Jeff explained. “And I have a spare room. You’re welcome to use it as long as you want.” Serena nodded as he helped her into the car.

 

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