Jan looked down at the scrawled invitation card in her hand. It had been hard enough to make out the English, a message asking her to follow the directions to 'receive her award', but the French had been indecipherable to her seeing as she'd only ever studied Latin at school, that was, after all, the language the clever girls took.
She had had to rely on the local people to direct her, but as she stood at the entrance of the great war bunker she started to wonder if they'd been having her on. What sort of event would be held here, she asked herself, reaching out one finger and running it along the grimy wall; they hadn't even bother to clean the place.
"Hello- lo- lo?" her voice echoed irritatingly down the dark tunnel, but no one answered. "Is there anybody there- ere- ere?" She waited, still no answer. "Er, Bonjour- or- or?"
She took a few steps forward, her heels clacking ominously against the dusty concrete floor. Only a few metres in and it was pitch black, the entrance to the tunnel behind here left open, but no light penetrating the gloom. The darkness unsettled her. It was eerie, foreboding and more than a little scary, in all the ways that darkness is when you are in an unfamiliar Second World War bunker on your own.
"Jan?" Shocked, she jumped, and turned around to face the voice. The voice appeared to be attached to a man silhouetted against the bright tunnel mouth. "Nice place you've got here," the voice said sarcastically.
"Charlie?" Jan questioned, noticing briefly that the annoying echo had stopped and breathing a sigh of relief that her last syllable would no longer be repeated three times.
Her eyes started to adjust to the dimness and she could see him scowling at her, his hands shoved into his pockets like a belligerent teenager forced to attend a family reunion.
She waved the invitation at him, "Did you send this? Is this some kind of a joke, because let me tell you I don't think calling me halfway across Europe is terribly amusing. I have wards to close, and doctors to strike off, I can't go wasting time playing games with you!"
"I didn't send it, does it even look like my handwriting?"
"How should I know what you handwriting looks like?"
"I send you reams of paperwork every day!"
"Oh that..." Jan replied with a slight cough, "You don't actually think anyone reads that stuff do you, it just gets filed away in case one of you gets sued. Which, I might add, has a high likelihood of happening in that hospital". She crossed her arms across her chest. "So, who did send it?"
"Well, if yours is like mine it's from Max. I'd recognise that scribble anywhere, even if half of it's in French".
"You understand French?"
"Naturellement je peux. L'auteur m'aime davantage et ainsi m'a donné ce talent. Elle ne vous aime pas du tout!"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said, of course I can, Baz and I holiday-ed in France several times".
"You've never taken me to France..." she pouted.
"No. You're quite right, you were always too busy scheming to go on holiday".
She hmmmfphed. "I do not scheme. That sounds so cheap. If you must pass judgement on my lifestyle choice I would prefer you use the politically correct term. I am 'morally impaired', thank you very much".
"Fine, whatever. Is Max here then? I can't hang around Ardennes all day, I left Duffy minding the shop and we all know she goes to pieces when I'm not there. Not to mention she apparently has a big date tonight and I have to be back to pass judgement on her boyfriend's suitability".
"I haven't explored yet. It's too dark to see much. No one answered when I called though."
"Right then, let's take a look around." He pulled his hand out of his pocket and brought with it a cigarette lighter, which he flicked on. The small yellow flame illuminated a small patch of the tunnel, and as Charlie reached Jan's position she fell into close step behind him, afraid not only of the dark, but off all the dirty little creepy crawlies that might be hiding in it.
After a walk down a gentle slope for a bit they reached the first door; a heavy, metal one built into the side of the tunnel. On it was a bright pink Post-it note saying 'in here'. The rust encrusted hinges squealed in protest as Charlie, being the brave hero that he is, pushed it open, and he and Jan stepped into a small and almost entirely empty room.
The dingy green and beige tiles did little to reflect the light of the increasingly too hot to hold lighter. Charlie swore loudly and irreverently that no one had bothered to leave any candles lying about the place; he did, however also notice that someone had bothered to leave a bucket, several multipacks of crisps and an old blanket, as well as the cold water tap plumbed into the wall above a small drainage hole.
"Now what?" Charlie asked no one in particular seeing as he knew Jan would never come up with a helpful suggestion.
Jan shrugged, "You expect me to know what's going on?"
"No, Ms Goddard; I expect you to die!" Came a third voice.
Charlie and Jan turned back to the door to see Max, holding a flashlight under him chin and laughing evilly.
"You expect me to die?" Jan queried.
"Well, no, not really," Max answered, shinning the torch into the room, "I just always wanted to say that. You know, like in James Bond?"
Charlie nodded, dropping the lighter with considerable relief. "Yeah I remember that! Sean Connery, um, was it Goldfinger?"
"Maybe, I can't remember. Always preferred Roger Moore myself".
"Charlie, he's trapped us in an underground bunker. OF COURSE HE'S MAD!" Jan shouted in extra emphatic capital letters.
"I'm not mad, Jan. Or at least not mad-insane, merely mad-angry. This is just my revenge".
"I don't follow...?"
Max sighed. "It's really very simple. When you lost me my job, you ruined my whole life. Do you have any compehension of what you did? My reputation is in tatters, I even lowered myself enough to try to get a job in St. Victor's but they wouldn't have me! Hardly anyone from work kept in touch, even though they said they were my friends..." he looked pointedly at Charlie.
"Sorry. I've been busy".
"I felt..." Max continued, "like an outcast, a leper; as though I was all alone. And I want you to know how that feels too. So I'm locking you in here Jan. All alone with nothing but your own conscience, and some crisps to keep you company!"
"Noooooo! But I don't even like crisps!" Jan protested, but Max was no longer listening.
Over the sound of Jan's wailing, Charlie shouted "What about me then? If you want to lock her up on her own, why am I here?"
"As a favour".
"I'm not going to hold a grudge against you Charlie. I know that Jan had you under her evil little spell, and that's why you failed to stick up for me until it was too late... But the thing is, I told Duffy about this plan and she asked if I could keep you out of the way for a while too, so that she could get a little peace from you always trying to run her life. Which reminds me, I have a date with her this evening, so I have to get back to England."
He grabbed hold of Charlie's upper arm, and Charlie, too baffled to protest was led out of the room. Max slammed the door behind them, leaving Jan locked inside. Her cries of "Let me out, it's dark in here!" muffled by the solid door.
"You're not seriously going to leave her down here?!"
"I'll bring her down some crisps every now and then, might even empty the bucket if I feel generous. When I feel she's been rehabilitated enough I'll let her out. Probably".
"Hmm, like I said, I did promise Duffy that I'd keep you out of her way for a bit... Look, promise me you'll spend a couple of weeks hanging out round here, then come home and she won't be any the wiser, yeah?"
"I'll be sacked!"
"Who by, the chief exec's gone AWOL too".
"Alright but what am I going to do round here for a few weeks?"
"It is the Champagne region. I'm sure you'll find something to occupy yourself with".
Charlie brightened. "Booze! Okay. Deal."
They started walking out of the tunnel and were soon back into the early afternoon brightness, with the warm sunlight beating down on them. Max closed and padlocked the gates around the entrance to the tunnel.
"Well, I'll see you back in Holby in a month or so yeah?"
"Yeah, bye Max, and tell Duffy that I'm sorry if I always interfere. I'll be good in future."
"Will do, byeeee!"
So Max carried on home, arriving just in time for his date with Duffy, which was very pleasant; even though she did feel a bit bad about exiling her best friend.
Charlie spent two months touring the region's vineyards and running up a credit card bill that he was far too sozzled to care about.
And Jan, well, Jan is still where they left her, living through Max's revenge...