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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3. Chapter Three

The cold snap lasted into the New Year, disrupting travellers and commuters alike, but eventually it was gone. There had been more hostile media reaction and several of the independent media outlets were ditching The Weather Centre as their meteorological supplier in favour of ReadiWeather.  Valentine’s Day came and went, then Easter. In order to keep fit, Serena had taken up running, and so on one warm May Sunday afternoon, she found herself heading for the Thames Path when she felt a few drops of rain on her face. Still, what were a few drops? If she cancelled her runs every time it looked like rain, she’d never get as fit as she wanted to be.

            By the time she had reached Kings Meadow, the rain was heavy and she stood underneath a chestnut tree to keep the worst off, though still water dripped on to her through the sodden branches. As she waited for the rain to stop, her attention was drawn to a brick building with a corrugated roof about fifty yards away. She’d been past it plenty of times before, and knew that it was the old Edwardian swimming baths, but it was the first time she’d had chance to examine it closely. Through one of its windows she could see a figure moving about. He must have seen Serena at about the same time she saw him, for a door in the side of the building opened and a good-looking man in his forties with greying hair appeared.

            “Do you want to come inside?” the man offered.

            Serena paused. She was cold, wet and miserable and wanted to be out of the rain, but she wasn’t sure she could trust him. Going into a building with an older man she’d never met before could be asking for trouble.

            “I’ll be all right here,” she replied. “But thanks anyway.”

            “You know, you really shouldn’t shelter under a tree in a storm,” the man continued, then glanced at his watch. “Get out from under there, now!” he barked.

            Surprised by the urgency in his voice, Serena did as she was told. It was as well that she did, for barely had she done so when a bolt of lightning struck the tree, hurling both of them to the ground. The tree trunk split from top to bottom, leaving just a smouldering stump.          The man stood up and helped Serena to her feet.

            “You OK?” he asked.

            “Yeah,” Serena replied breathlessly.

            “Sure you won’t come inside?” he asked again. “You look like you could use a hot drink and it’s not going to stop raining for another couple of hours.”

            He held the door open for Serena who was surprised by what she saw as she entered. In spite of the building’s external look of dereliction, inside, what had formerly been some of the changing rooms had been converted into a tasteful home. In one corner of the room, a television set was playing out the Monaco Grand Prix.

“Wow!” exclaimed Serena. “This is so nice! How long have you been living here?”

“About two years,” the man replied, opening a cupboard and extracting two towels, one of which he spread out on an armchair.

            “Sit down there and dry yourself off,” he said, passing Serena the other towel. “I can probably find you some dry clothes if you want some.”

            “I’ll be fine, thanks,” she replied, rubbing her hair. “You’d think someone who works at the Weather Centre would know not to go out jogging just before a thunderstorm.”

            “You work at the Weather Centre?” the man asked. “Do you know Bill Brewer and Andrew Foot?”

            “I share an office with them. In fact – Drew’s my boyfriend.” The man looked crestfallen at this last bit of news. “How do you know them?”

            “I used to work with them too,” the man answered.

            “Then you must be Jeff Watson,” Serena realised.

            “Guilty,” Watson smiled. “I was going to get you a hot drink. Coffee?”

            “That’ll be fine,” Serena replied.

            She watched Watson as he disappeared into the kitchen then looked around. The room was well-furnished, but not expensively so. It could use larger windows, Serena thought but remembered the building’s previous use as a changing room. On a desk to one side of the room was a laptop computer, connected to a large piece of hardware unlike any Serena had seen before, from which a cable ran through the wall and next to which was another door.

            Jeff reappeared with two cups of coffee, one of which he passed to Serena. She felt the heat of the cup restore the circulation to her reddened fingers.

            “Did you want milk or sugar?” he asked.

            “Don’t trouble yourself,” she replied gently, taking a sip. “So, Jeff. What are you doing now? Are you still involved with weather?”

            “I dabble a bit,” he grinned. “In fact, I’ve gone freelance.” He glanced at his watch again then over at the television. “Watch this,” he said.

            “I’m not really into motor racing,” Serena replied but did as she was told.

            “And David Coulthard pulls into the pits,” announced the commentator excitedly. “I can’t believe it. He’s putting on full wet tyres! I don’t know what the McLaren team are thinking! The lollipop man raises the board and David Coulthard roars away but those tyres will be worn out in no time. The sun’s shining brightly and unless I’m very much mistaken there will be no rain for the rest of the race. Where’s Coulthard now? He’s in eighth place just behind Rubens Barrichello in ninth, but Barrichello is pulling away from him as they race through Casino Square and down towards the hairpin. And this is sensational! It’s starting to rain – heavily! That rain has come from nowhere! Rubens Barrichello is struggling to control his car and now Coulthard is right up there with him. Barrichello runs wide and David Coulthard goes straight up the inside, huge roosters of spray coming up behind him. And race leader Michael Schumacher is off the track and in the barriers at Anthony Nogues, which goes to show just how treacherous those conditions are out there, especially if you’re on the wrong tyres. I don’t know where McLaren get their weather forecasts from, but that tyre change came just in time for David Coulthard. They’re all diving into the pits now for an extra unscheduled stop, and David Coulthard, who changed on to wet tyres during his scheduled pit stop, IS IN THE LEAD OF THE RACE!”

            Serena glanced questioningly at Jeff. “One of yours?”

He grinned back proudly. “As were the September storm and the Christmas snow.”

            “Readiweather?” Serena asked, incredulously.

            Jeff smiled and took a business card from his desk. “The same.” Serena glanced at the card, then pocketed it.

            “And the lightning?” she asked in unbelief. “Did you forecast that too?” He nodded. “That’s … that’s impossible….” Serena protested. “How?”

            Jeff was interrupted from answering Serena’s question by the sound of her mobile ringing. She pulled it out of her pocket and answered it.

            “Yeah – I went out for a jog and got caught in the rain,” she explained after a few moments. “ She glanced out of the window, to see it was still raining heavily. Jeff pointed to an analogue clock on the wall to indicate the time he expected it to stop raining – four twenty five.

            “I’m round at the old Edwardian swimming baths on Kings Meadow,” Serena continued after another pause. “With someone you know. Jeff Watson. He’s converted it into a house and when he saw me trying to shelter from the rain outside, he invited me in….. OK, I’ll see you in a few minutes then. Love you.” She returned the phone to her pocket.

            “That was Drew,” she explained to Jeff. “He called round at my house and when I wasn’t there, rang me to see where I was. He’s on his way over to pick me up.”

            Five minutes later Serena heard the sound of Drew’s car pulling up, followed by a knock at the door. Jeff opened it.

            “Drew!” he exclaimed. “Great to see you!”

            “And you,” Drew replied, shaking his hand. “What are you doing these days?”

            “Jeff runs Readiweather.com,” Serena stated excitedly.

            Drew could barely disguise his contempt, but Serena continued. “He forecast exactly which lap of the Grand Prix it would rain on…”  Drew still looked unimpressed. Serena pointed to the charred remains of the chestnut tree outside the door. “That was struck by lightning about an hour ago. He predicted that as well.”

            “That’s impossible….” Drew began.

            “Impossible or not, I saw it with my own eyes,” Serena interrupted. “That tree was in one piece less than two hours ago. Jeff saved my life by telling me to get out from under it just before the lightning struck.”

 “So, how do you do it?” Drew asked Jeff, still scarcely able to believe what he had heard.

            “I’m afraid I can’t tell you,” Jeff answered. “Firstly, you’d never believe me. Secondly, the technology I use has applications beyond meteorology, most of which are far from beneficial. So the fewer people who know about it the better.”

            “You can tell us,” Serena protested. “We won’t spill the beans.”

            Jeff shook his head sadly. “I’d love to, but no.”

            “We’d better get going then,” said Drew, after a short pause. “You ready, Serena?”

            Serena nodded. When they had both stepped out of the door, Drew turned back.

            “Jeff. We’re all going down to The Boat on Friday evening for Rob’s birthday. Why don’t you come and join us? It’ll be good to have the old team back together again.”

            “I’ll look forwards to it,” Jeff smiled as he closed the door.

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