Authors: Bill Carson
“Oh dear, it’s a pity you’re going already, as I was going to make another cuppa. Are you sure you have to run off?” she asked, as she shoved the little red phone book into her kitschy floral apron pocket.
“I’m afraid so, Mrs McIntyre, and you’ve been most kind.”
“Harold, it’s just a thought, but can I ask you why you wanted Lynda Jackson’s address? She won’t be there, you know, she’s dead, so why would you want to know where she lives? And you say you work for the Council, but you didn’t say which department you worked for? And why would the Council be interested in her, anyway?” she asked, about to rise from her armchair.
“Sweet dreams, Mrs Macintyre,” Harold said, as he spun around and drew his pistol in one movement.
Mrs Macintyre had unfortunately uttered her last words on this earth. Her mouth opened, but before her lips could form to emit another single syllable, Harold had put two neat holes into her head in a fraction of a second with a silent double tap of the powerful pistol. The two precise bullet holes were set not an inch apart and were dead-centre in her forehead.
There’s any number of more unpleasant ways to go out,
Harold thought, as he slotted the pistol back into its holster. He then calmly gathered up the teapot and cups and saucers and washed and dried them. While at the sink, his eye caught sight of the corner of a yellow duster protruding from the kitchen unit’s drawer, and he couldn’t resist giving the place a quick wipe over.
Before leaving, he propped up Mrs Mac’s sagging bloody body in the chair by wedging a couple of large cushions either side of her bulky torso. He then turned the huge TV on to keep her company and switched off the light. He paused for a moment as he went toward the door, and glanced over his shoulder toward her.
“Now, that was very naughty, you nearly made me forget your little book, didn’t you, Mrs Mac?” he said quietly, and grinned as he plucked the small address book from the blood-soaked pocket of her floral apron.
At that moment he froze as he felt the strange sensation of eyes upon him and, suspecting that there was someone behind him, he spun around and drew the pistol in one swift movement but there was no one. The photo of the young boy had caught his eye, the picture made visible by the flickering light from the TV screen. The eyes of the boy seemed to be on him. He tugged the peak of his cap down, slipped the pistol back inside his holster, and raised the collar of his raincoat, backed out of the room and quietly closed the front door and vanished into the night.
The façade of the old pub hadn’t changed one iota. It was the same tired brown flaking paint on the window frames which housed the same old post-war etched glass, and Big George Smith hadn’t changed a bit either, except for the fact that his waistline had grown a little thicker and his hairline a little thinner.
Nick stood in the doorway for a moment, put his hands on his hips, took a deep breath and let the sights, sounds and smells of the busy pub sink in. He hadn’t been totally convinced he’d made the right decision in coming back to London but as soon as he set foot inside the Royal Oak the time he’d spent abroad seemed to dissolve into obscurity. It was just like he’d never been away. Now he knew that he was home. George had his back to the door as Nick approached the bar.
“Hey, mate, how about some service around here?” Nick said.
“Bloody hell, I know that voice, it can’t be! It is, what the – why didn’t you let me know you were coming, it’s so good to see you, pal,” George said, as he flew from behind the bar and wrapped Nick up in a big friendly bear hug.
“All right, George, fucking hell, you’re crushing the life out of me here,” Nick said laughingly.
“Sorry, Nick, but it’s so great to see you, mate. I actually thought I’d never see you again. Why didn’t you tell me you were going to disappear like that? I thought you were bloody dead or something,” he said.
“Yeah I know, but I had to do a bit of a runner for a while, mate. I got involved in a bit of dodgy business, you know the score, but I’ll tell you what, you don’t know how good it is to be back. Living abroad is not what it’s cracked up to be, all that foreign lingo and greasy grub, and it’s far too fucking hot as well. You’d sweat your bollocks off out there, mate, and of course they don’t have anything like this,” Nick said, as he pointed to the handles of the beer pumps protruding from behind the bar.
“Right, mate, of course. What am I thinking? A nice cold pint of Bombardier coming up and then you can tell me all about it.”
Nick and George sat at a small table by the window and chatted for the next two hours. Nick told him all about the detective agency business and his fears for his relationship with Anna, which had brought the conversation around to the surprise party that he’d planned for her, and where better to have it than on their old stomping ground, the Royal Oak.
“Brilliant idea, Nick. I’ll tell you what, I’ll get some decorations out of the loft, I’ve got shit loads up there, and I’ll lay on a bit of grub as well. A welcome home party for my old pals. I’m so glad you’ve come back, mate, straight up, really I am, I just can’t believe it.”
“Listen, George, I’ve got a bit of an announcement to make as well tonight,” Nick said, as he produced the stunning sparkler from his pocket.
“Bloody hell, that thing must have cost you an arm and a leg. Oh, she’s not pregnant, is she?” George said quietly, as he leant across the table.
“No, no, she fucking
, you silly old sod. I just thought it was about time I settled down, that’s all, and let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger. I could do a lot worse; she’s a cracking little thing and a right goer.”
“Well, this has made my day, honestly, mate, and I am chuffed to bits for you. I can’t wait for this evening. Don’t worry about a thing, just leave it all to me.”
“Cheers, George, I knew I could rely on you. Now don’t go mad, I know you. Here’s a couple of centuries for the grub, and I’ll see you about seven o’ clock?” Nick said, as he handed George the readies.
“OK, mate, I’ll put it to good use. So don’t fret, leave it to your Uncle George.”
Nick got back to the plush hotel room to find it empty. He closed the door behind him and as it locked, the room went alarmingly quiet. He called out to Anna, but there was no reply.
I hope she hasn’t got the hump and decided to disappear, although I couldn’t blame her,
he thought, as he checked the bathroom which was neat, tidy and empty. At that moment the door opened and Anna walked into the room.
“Anna, where’ve you been, I was worried?”
“Oh, just out for a bit of a walk to clear my head. I feel much better now. Anyway, don’t worry about me, where have
“Oh, nowhere special. I’m glad you’re feeling better, love, because that means you’ll be fighting fit for this evening,” he said, and threw a couple of half-hearted boxing jabs in the air as he went into the bathroom and fired up the power shower.
“Come on, Nick, where’ve you really been? You were gone for ages,” Anna said, as she hung her coat in the wardrobe.
“Ask no questions and you’ll get no lies told. All I’m
say is that I had to go and see some fella about a bit of business, you know the score. Now come in here and stop asking so many questions, Detective Wilson,” he said.
She pushed open the bathroom door and slowly wriggled out of her tight jeans, whipped off her top and stepped naked into the shower. As the gush of warm sensuous water cascaded over her bronzed, unblemished naked flesh, all of her frustrations became lost in a wonderfully lustful session of afternoon delight.
The black taxi pulled up outside the Royal Oak at seven o’clock sharp, and a genuine smile broke out across Anna’s face for the first time since they’d got back. Nick held her hand and helped her out of the taxi, and she gave him an affectionate peck on the cheek. The pub, however, was in darkness and the door was locked. All was strangely quiet.
Nick glanced at Anna and shrugged his shoulders in puzzlement. As he banged on the door for the second time, the bolt was released from inside and the door opened. Then all of the lights suddenly came on. The place had been decked out with balloons and bunting, and above the bar hung a big ‘Welcome Home’ banner.
One side of the bar had been covered with plates of food containing all the usual suspects: masses of Scotch eggs, slices of gala pie and mounds of sausage rolls, chicken legs, pork pies and a huge pile of those utterly irresistible little cocktail sausages. To wash it all down there were a dozen bottles of champagne on ice, and a fresh barrel of Bombardier bitter had just been hooked up. George had been really busy and not only with organising the party. He’d also been busy on the phone for most of the afternoon and had managed to round up some of Nick and Anna’s old pals.
“Bloody hell, I can’t believe it!” Nick cried, his face a rare and genuine picture of joy and amazement. He shook his head as he looked around, and was completely taken aback by the effort that good old George had put in. There was Phil Smith and his wife Carol, Paul and the two Johns from his old squad and their girlfriends, Sergeant Williams and a few PCs propping up the bar, and his old pal Jim the bookie from the betting shop around the corner. Even Big Mary from the canteen was there. Everywhere he looked his eyes came to rest upon a friendly smiling face from the past, and the fact that all of them had made the effort to be here humbled him greatly. George tapped his index finger on the small microphone to test that it was working as they approached the bar.
“OK, everyone, now this is strictly a private party tonight to celebrate Nick and Anna’s return, and the pub’s closed but the bar won’t close until we’ve drunk it dry, so let’s get this party started,” George said, as he fired up the juke box with the old 70s hit ‘Welcome Home’ by Peters and Lee.
“Soppy old sod, look at him, Anna,” Nick said, and as George sung along to the lyrics he was dabbing at a big tear in his eye with a bar towel.
Nick looked down at Anna and she was blubbing as well.
It had been a wonderful evening so far, and Nick was in his element. He was at the centre of attention, which was exactly where he always liked to be, the drink flowed and the atmosphere was warm and convivial. He hadn’t been able to put his finger on it while he was away but this was what he wanted. Anna couldn’t at the moment understand it, but it was all about having a sense of belonging, which was something that he didn’t and couldn’t ever feel while being abroad. He needed to be back in England and standing side by side with these utterly unique people, swapping familiar banter with them in this old pub.
All the money in the world can’t buy you these wonderful experiences
, he thought, as he glanced around and drank in the moment.
At eleven o’ clock, George grabbed the cord on the old brass bell hanging behind the bar and he gave it three loud clangs and picked up the little microphone once more.
“OK, everybody, pray silence as there are, I believe, a number of announcements to make,” George said in a slightly inebriated manner. “Firstly, I’d just like to make a toast, so if you would all like to charge your glasses, here’s to our old mates Nick and Anna, the old gang back together again. Let’s hope they stick around for a while this time, cheers everyone! Now, I think that we have someone else who may have an important announcement to make, so come on, Nick, up here, mate, it’s your turn, buddy!” George waved Nick forward.
Nick hustled through the crowd and joined George at the bar.
“I am, sorry I should say,
thoroughly overwhelmed, and I’d like to thank George for organising this superb little do, so here’s to you, George.”
“Hey, I did all the
know, you’ll not take all the
!” yelled Big Mary from behind the bar, to howls of laughter as George gave her a quick sharp jab of the Vs.
“Thanks, Mary, and you’ve done us proud. Now I did have something else I wanted to say tonight, and it is the real reason why we are all here, so without further ado can I ask Anna to come out here, please,” Nick said, as he pulled a small red velvet box from his pocket.
The place had now suddenly fallen silent with anticipation. You never know how these things are going to turn out, and the whole thing can, and often does, go dreadfully wrong. George was almost beside himself with excitement, as all eyes turned toward Anna for her reaction. She was momentarily stunned and her legs had jellified; she had to be helped out of her seat. She then strolled across the floor and stood slightly cockily in front of Nick, with her hands on her hips in a show of false bravado.
“Anna, you know I love you, and I was wondering if you would marry me?” Nick said, as he gazed into her beautiful green eyes.
“Well, if you’re going to do it you’d better do it properly,” she said.
Nick went down onto one knee and held the stunning platinum and diamond engagement ring up to her. She immediately said “Yes”, and then burst into tears as he slipped it onto her finger. She then hugged him and whispered that she loved him, and the whole place erupted with a huge cheer. George quickly cranked up the CD player with the wedding march and threw a massive handful of confetti over them, and then cracked open a huge jeroboam of champagne. High-pitched whistles and applause echoed all around the old pub.
By three o’clock the last of the guests had stumbled out of the door. Anna and Nick were still surprisingly sober, and poor old George was knackered, having worked so hard to organise such a wonderful night for them. He really was a true friend, and Nick now realised that. It was something that he’d never forget. They said their goodbyes and thanked George once again for the party, then they climbed into the taxi.
Nick’s plan had worked like a charm and he’d pulled a possible disaster out of the fire with the help of good old George, of course. He now had a woman by his side that would literally do anything for him. That was all she’d ever wanted: simply to be loved unconditionally and for him to show it. OK, so she went a little off the rails with the drugs and had engaged in a couple of dodgy liaisons with a few of the locals back in Greece, but that was only because of Nick’s strange mood swings and because she thought that he was going to dump her. Now things could not be more different and that ring had changed everything. She was now completely besotted with the man, and what’s more he knew it.