Officer and Guest
One big, fat, juicy sausage sizzled in the pan. The smell was orgasmic; Steve's partner, a strict vegetarian, was away and he was making the most of Matt's absence. He reached over for the bottle of red wine. 'Drop for the pan.' He poured it into the gravy. 'And a bigger drop for me.' The red liquid glugged into his glass. Steve grinned at the rotund, ginger cat that was sat, glaring at him from the unit. 'And none for Marmalade.'
The cat meowed and sniffed towards the pan.
'Nor that. I've got someone with a less hairy arse to share it with.' He turned off the gravy and lifted the potatoes off the hob. 'Should be here …' A check of the clock revealed it was seven pm. 'Right about now …' The front door opened. 'You'd better be tall, dark, handsome and the man of my dreams,' he yelled down the stairs. He checked his appearance in the mirror tiles and tried in vain to get his thick, dark curly hair to go in the same direction.
Feet thundered up the stairs of his one up, one down, above a shop flat. A kitchen area squashed in the living room and a bathroom in a cupboard were the only major changes to the layout in the past six hundred years. There was a giggle. 'Will tall, blonde and busty do? I've brought this to help you forget I'm female?'
'Good to see you Jen.' He looked at the expensive malt. 'This should help.'
She kissed his cheek. 'Wonderful.' As usual she made him feel seriously under-dressed. 'Nice apron. They're almost as big as mine.' Forgetting etiquette she used her pinky to taste the gravy. 'Yum. You are an amazing cook.' Her red lips smacked together.
Steve looked down and laughed. He'd forgotten about the rubber boobs on the front. 'Dad saw it and thought of – OY!' She'd turned the taps on, soaked herself and splashed him.
'Oops, sorry.' Jen opened the dryer; she pulled out a pair of PJ trousers and a bright pink Tinkerbelle T-shirt. 'Will Prat be joining us?'
He sighed. 'Matt's away. And that's Tink, nobody borrows …' She removed her dress and peeled off her stockings in a manner that would make a stripper blush. 'Oh god, girl just put anything on.'
'Have you any idea how many men would pay to see me in my undies? I wouldn't mind if you hung out up at the hall in your boxers.'
Steve cut the sausage in half and dished it up. 'I suspect the Earl would mind.' He pursed his lips and dolloped out the mash.
'Unlike your latest conquest my Markie is a sweetie. He knows you're my best girlfriend.' She sat down at the glass table. 'Love, are you OK?'
'I'm fine why?' He put the plate down in front of her and sat opposite. 'Wine?'
'Please.' Jen let her eyes look round the multipurpose room and shrugged. 'This place is missing you. There are no nik-naks, that dreadful seventies Constable print has gone and that donkey you brought back from Spain – ' She laughed loud. 'I so remember the row you had with customs. Even flashed your warrant card at one point.'
'Frank spoke to me. He demanded to come home with me.' He held the fork of food in front of his mouth. 'Matt is just more conventional. You know me, all for an easy life.'
Anger flashed across her face. 'Steve, you can't keep giving into him. You really can't.' She picked up the wine. 'I hate your trash, but it's you. Could you imagine if I'd waltzed into Henderskelfe Hall and said to Markie, ''You know darling this place is so seventeen hundreds. I think we should get rid of the ugly, creepy portraits and the china.'' I'd have removed a huge part of him.' Her face softened and she smirked. 'It's my husband and son's heritage. I've added some of me but…'
'Can we talk about something else?' Life had been much easier before Matt had moved in. He wondered if it was worth it, none of his friends and family liked visiting any more.
'Sure. What do you have planned for this evening?'
'Getting drunk with you.'
'Sounds good.' She shovelled in some mash.
His phone vibrated. 'Bugger!' He cursed under his breath. 'I have to check it.'
'No problem, honey. I've been best-friends with a copper long enough.' She coughed.
He got up and took the phone out of his apron; it read: HELP! NOISES!
'Who is it? Prat?' She got up and took the dishes over to the sink.
'His name's Matt. It's Sarah .' Steve took his apron off and hung it on the hook. He exchanged it for his overcoat: red-and-yellow-checked with a black hood. 'There's cheesecake in the fridge.'
'Honey, that mad cow uses you. She should be phoning her father or brother.'
'I'm just round the corner. It's easy for me.' He kept quiet about his real feelings on the subject. His sister-in-law had finally seen sense and kicked his brother out, but that had left Steve on constant call. He pulled up the zip. 'Plus could you imagine how I would feel if something really happened to her or the kids?'
Jen slapped his arse and he rubbed it. 'Marmalade and Me will make ourselves at home. Won't we, boy?' She tickled his ears. 'I'll let him gnaw on your sausage.'
'Lovely image.' Steve grabbed his keys from the side and dashed down the stairs. He opened his door and looked out. 'Wow was the fog here when you arrived?' He shouted back. 'It's the very best Pennshire can throw at us.' It was so thick he couldn't even see the wall that was less than four feet away from his door. He exhaled in frustration and took a torch out the cupboard in the small square hallway.
He made his way down the medieval close that lead to the market square, banging into bins as he went. He unlocked the gate at the end and let himself out. A bin clattered to the ground and his heart leapt. Orange gloom from the street lights added to the eerie feel of the square. A thud against his leg caused him to look down and he laughed slightly in relief. 'Oh Ollie. You gave me such a fright.' The modern square was full of twee tourist shops. He walked past the butchers, the bakers, the chocolatier and the candle maker.
An authoritarian, disembodied, male voice came out of the fog. 'Stay away …' There was a grunt of pain. 'From …'
'Please …' cried another man. This one sounded in pain.
Steve looked left and right trying to work out where the voice had come from. It echoed in the fog and sounded like it from the square in the centre. He went to step off the kerb when –
This time the second person howled in agony, but Steve had recognised the first: The Earl of Crimson Cove, Jen's husband, Markie. He was warning the other man away from Jen and their son Brandon. As a police officer, Steve was in no doubt he should go to the victim's aid, but there was nothing he wouldn't do for Jen. He held Ollie closer and whispered in her ear. 'What do I do?'
'Get out of my sight …' The Earl yelled again. He was making no attempt to hide his actions.
Biting his lip and taking deep breaths, Steve stepped away from the kerb and took a modern Yale key from his pocket. It would be much easier to explain that he couldn't find someone in the fog than he'd held them so the Earl could finish killing them, because they posed a threat to his best-friend. He used it to unlock the gate to Sarah's close. She'd left the light on the fog had started to recede just a little. Sarah lived in a bigger version of Steve's flat. The door was unlocked, he opened it and shouted up the stairs. 'Sar, it's me Steve.' Ollie leapt out of his arms and ran up the stairs.
'Oh, thank, God. Steve it's been awful. Shouting. Someone could have got hurt.'
Yesme, he thought. She'd been safe in her locked close and instead of calling for an on duty police officer, she'd placed Steve in danger. Not for the first time. As he climbed the stairs he could smell the alcohol coming off her. Tonight he had no time for her, he wanted to talk to Jen, to sort out in his own mind what he was going to do about Matt. He placed his arm round her. 'Come on, love. Let's get you sorted. Where are the kids?'
'In bed.' Her eyes filled with tears. 'I'm so sorry. I get so scared on my own.' Her voice slurred.
He guided her into the kitchen and sat her at the table. 'The fight is over now. I'll get you some cocoa and see if you can't get some sleep.' Steve ran the hot water into the sink to wash the dishes to get a pan and mug. The sight as he opened the fridge turned his stomach. Rotting food on every shelf. A sniff of the milk revealed it was still usable.
'A drop of brandy would be good with that.' She pointed at the cupboard next to the cooker. 'It's in there.'
The bottle had a small amount left in the bottle and Steve suspected it was only a day old at most. For the second time that evening he buried his principles in a deep breath and poured it into the mug. He'd come round early: take the kids out. Tonight he needed to think. His own life had to come first. A loud snore came from behind him as he poured the milk into the cup. Sarah was asleep. He carried the inebriated woman up to her bedroom and covered her up with the dirty cover. On the way down he picked up clothes for the children to wash. Any other day he'd have done the dishes.
Once he was out the door he took his phone out and texted his father. 'Dad. Sarah needs HELP!!! Steve.' He hoped the exclamation marks would indicate the urgency. It was much clearer and he left Sarah's close to head for home.
He spotted a movement by the market cross and squinted. Slumped against the large monument was a dark shape. The remnant of the fog made it fuzzy. His hairs stood on end and he tried to tell himself it was just a bin bag, but his instincts said otherwise. The square was dark and empty. A ghost of a movement to his left indicated something had dashed down the side street next to the bakers shop. Steve paused, looked left and right, nothing coming. He could ignore it. He could go home and sort out the mess his personal life was in. It was probably just a drunk. His feet disagreed with his head and moved towards the form. The closer he got the faster he moved as it became apparent the figure was human.
Steve knelt next to the red-headed man, spotlighted in the Victorian street light. A small pool of blood oozed from a head wound. There was no pulse. For a moment Steve contemplated trying to resuscitate him. He took his phone out and dialled the station. 'Stan, it's DS Guest … there is a body in the square … I found him … new DCI attending … ' There was no going home tonight. 'I'll wait.'
He scrolled through his numbers. It was one he had never used before. Steve sat on the nearby bench and sent the text: Your Lordship we need to talk urgent Steve Guest.