By the time Fran finally got home she had begun to calm down a little, not a lot but a bit. It had been a truly disastrous day and to remedy this she was keen to kick off her shoes and sink into a warm, relaxing bath. At the top of the steps to her front door, she tried the handle and found it was locked. Off course it was. Despite the fact that her better half was inside and awake, he insisted on locking the door. Fran let out a sigh, her misty breath steaming up the glass in front of her and started the laborious process of searching her handbag. Not an easy task. There was an awful lot of crap in there; empty chocolate wrappers, discarded tissues, a host of music players, all of which were out of battery and a ridiculous amount of Biros.
‘Really?’ She hissed, as there was a loud jangle and her keys hit the floor.
She was in the process of stooping down to retrieve them when there was the sound of a key being turned in a lock and the front door swung open.
‘Sorry love, forgot I had locked the door.’
Fran straightened up with a groan and barged past her husband, shooting him the stink eye as she went. He rather sheepishly closed the door behind her and locked it with burning red ears. She threw down her handbag in the empty living room chair and collapsed onto the long three seater sofa. It had cost them an arm and leg but Fran had insisted and at times like these she was glad of her decision.
‘Cup of tea dear?’
Fran’s arm shot out with her thumb raised up. Even speaking was too much effort for her at this point in time. Something brushed up against her leg and she pushed herself up into a seated position. A small, chubby Jack Russell with stumpy legs jumped up onto her lap, making her tense and groan at the same time. It wasn’t that she wasn’t used to the dog’s behaviour, it was more that the ageing faithful hound was becoming increasingly on the heavy side.
‘Who’s a good boy?’ She said fondly, scratching under his chin.
Wagging his tail he leaned in to lick her face. Fran wrinkled her nose and shoved the affectionate animal off her lap, which was now covered in dog hair.
‘What have you been feeding him Steven?’
‘He’s probably been digging up worms in the neighbour’s garden again, no doubt.’ Steven replied loudly over the boiling of the water in the kettle.
Fran shook her head at the panting hound but Steven shrugged nonchalantly.
‘No real shame. Their a couple of right twits anyway.’
‘Karen’s alright.’ Fran yawned and stretched out lazily.
Steven gave her a skeptical glance and she blew out her cheeks.
‘Alright she’s a silly tart too.’
Steven smiled and moving over to the sofa, placed a steaming mug of tea on the low coffee table in front of her. He winced as he went to straighten up and massaged his lower spine with his hand.
‘Sit down you stupid git. The doctor said you need to rest.’
A rather cross looking Steven sunk into the nearby armchair and scowled at the floor.
‘All I do is rest, the blasted thing is driving me mad.’ He whined, readjusting himself to a more comfortable position.
Fran massaged her forehead, in an effort to dispel the low pressured migraine.
‘Have you done your exercises today?’
Steven tapped the armrest with a finger and glanced around guilty.
‘Steven! How do you expect to get better if you don’t help yourself?’
‘I know, I know. I tried, it was just too painful.’
Another fib. Fran knew all too well that he had fallen asleep again on the sofa, watching one of his old westerns. She rolled her eyes and rubbed the dog’s belly which was presented expectantly.
‘Did you take him for a walk?’
‘What dear?’ Steven said vaguely, his brow still furrowed in anguish.
‘He is getting overweight.’
Steven waved his hand dismissively.
‘Nonsense he is old is all.’
Fran went to object but gave in at the last second. She was far too tired and cranky to get into a heated debate over the dog’s health regime at this hour of the night. Leaning forwards with a groan, she scooped up her mug of tea and took a sip. It was a glorious sensation, cancelling out the disgusting taste in her mouth from a day of crap station coffee. She was annoyed at her husband, despite knowing she shouldn’t. It had been a hard, grueling day and all Fran had wanted was to come back to a clean and tidy house. But no, instead the sink was full of dirty washing and the coffee table was piled high with half eaten meals and scrunched up newspapers. Sympathetic feelings attempted to slip into her head but were battered away when she reminded herself of Steven’s lack of effort with his recovery. It almost felt as if he was deliberately ignoring them in order to shirk responsibility. But surely not? Looking over at her dressing gown clad partner with his messy and awry hair it was evident that he was suffering.
‘Alright love?’ He asked with a raised eyebrow, feeling like he was under a magnifying scope all of a sudden.
Fran nodded and shot him a warm smile. The dog now lay across her waist, one of his outstretched paws on her chest, as if the animal was an fancy adornment to be worn to a ball or dinner party. Fran’s stomach rumbled deeply and the dog’s ears twitched ever so slightly at the noise. Steven watched the television silently, his eyes glassy and his lips slightly parted. Fran was reminded of a patient she had once been in charge of when she worked as a nurse on a psychiatric ward many years ago. She had been a lot younger then and although it hadn’t been an easy job by any means, she possessed a stamina and vigor to help cope with it all. In an odd sort of way she felt she had come full circle again. Here she was looking after someone who was clearly both physically and mentally impaired, whilst trying to catch a killer, who from everything they had witnessed so far, most definitely belonged in an asylum of sorts. It was like drowning but not in a river or a pool but more as if she was being dragged into a child’s ball pit and layer after layer of multicoloured balls were slowly pushing down on her, until the air from her lungs began to diminish. Fran took another sip of tea and forcefully widened her eyes. She was being morose. Suffocating in a ball pit was a surprisingly amusing image but also highly disturbing. Maybe she was the one who needed to be locked away in a straight-jacket. At least then she would finally get some peace and quiet. Fran was good with people but that didn’t necessarily mean she liked having them around all the time. Why did it always have to be her making an effort? She understood that Gethin wasn’t the brightest sheep in the valley but others like Bridge and Desk Sergeant Paul had no excuse. They simply didn’t give a shit.
Her stomach gave another cry of protest and she made herself sit up. The Jack Russell jumped down from her lap, padding away with attitude, displeased at being jettisoned from his rather comfortable perch. With various cracks and pops from her stiff joints and bones, Fran hefted herself upright and shuffled over to the kitchen. The advantage of an open plan house. Steven attempted to twist round to see what she was doing, forgetting in customary fashion that he had put his back out. Fran checked both fridge and cupboards, disappointed at the lack of food in the house.
‘We are going to need to do another food shop soon.’
‘Already sorted my beloved.’ Steven said triumphantly, feeling victorious for the first time all week.
‘Did you have dinner?’ Fran called, unable to distinguish the eaten meal from the dirty bowl and saucepan on the kitchen counter.
‘Yeah I just had oven food. There is some in the freezer if you fancy it.’
Fran’s eye twitched ever so slightly. She didn’t want oven food because she was overweight and the reason being was that Steven rarely cooked and she was on the go a lot, meaning that the majority of her meals consisted of corner shop pasties and salt and vinegar crisps. She flicked her hair back irately and started rummaging in the cupboards for jars of sauces and salvageable vegetables in order to cobble some semblance of a healthy meal.
Steven sighed deeply, as various clatters and slamming of cupboard doors assailed him from the kitchen. He felt like a useless lump. Correction, he was a fat, useless lump. Every day he woke in agony and discomfort and every night he descended into a ever deepening pit of self loathing and pity. It wasn’t that he couldn’t cook. In fact up until his injury Steven had been a dab hand at preparing meals. But since doing his back in, he had become half a man. There was the physical strain of preparing a meal that obviously affected him but it also had taken a psychological toll as well. As silly as it was, Steven felt inadequate. Not being able to work had made him feel insecure, a factor that had seeped into all other areas of his life. Particularly sex. Granted, their bed activity wasn’t as frequent as it had once been in their younger years but they both still had needs. Of course it wasn’t exactly easy with a bad back anyway but add on top of that he didn’t feel confident or sexy in any sense of the meaning and their sex life was virtually non-existent.
Twenty minutes later and not only had Fran returned to the sofa with a bowl full of yummy looking curry but she had also managed to do the washing up and wipe down the kitchen counters. The dog which dozed on the sofa cushion next to Fran, opened his eyes all of a sudden and crept forward for a good sniff. Fran wiggled her finger at the hungry animal, who responded by licking her hand. Steven tried to concentrate on the TV but his stomach grumbled at the sight and smell of food. Oven food never filled one up entirely. He managed a couple of sideways glances before Fran cottoned on.
‘Do you want some?’
He shook his head and returned his attention to the TV set.
‘Well its in the pan if you want some.’ Fran instructed, knowing all too well her husband’s appetite was yet to be sated.
Steven held out for a couple of minutes before giving in and going to fetch some. So, you can pull yourself out of that chair when there is food involved Fran thought to herself.
When they had both finished Steven announced that he was off to bed, claiming that he needed to rest as his back was flaring up again. Fran was under the impression that he had been doing that all day but she resisted the urge to say it.
‘I’ll be up soon. Just want to check over a few things first.’
She extracted the case file on the victim from her bag and began leafing through it. Steven glanced at it reproachfully but said nothing. Instead he lumbered up the stairs to bed, wincing at the shooting pains running haywire up and down his spine.
Fran was studying the photographs from the crime scene when Steven came down the stairs again fifteen minutes later, in need of some water and a sleepy tea. Whilst he waited, he glanced slyly over Fran’s shoulder, intrigued by the macabre photos.
‘I know him.’ He exclaimed in alarm.
Fran looked up at him quizzically. Usually she would have scolded him for nosing through police business but tonight she was more interested in what Steven had to say.
‘Are you serious?’
Steven nodded enthusiastically and moved closer to Fran. He tried to bend down to get a closer look but it was too painful and in the end resorted to sitting on the armrest and getting Fran to pass them up to him one at a time.
‘Yep that’s him.’
‘Who?’ Fran persisted eagerly.
Steven frowned hard, trying to recall his encounter with the dead man.
‘…I think his name was…Arthur…or maybe Alan.’
He paused and glanced down at Fran who was rotating her arm pointedly, encouraging him to go on.
‘He lives over by old Vera’s. I accidentally ended up there when I was trying to get to Cottles Farm.’
Fran sat up eagerly, now wide awake.
‘What? Poison Ivy Vera?’
‘The very same.’ Steven said knowingly and folded his arms nonchalantly. ‘He is her neighbour, they don’t talk much, can’t say I’m surprised.’
Fran sat in stunned silence. They had spent days digging around in the dirt, trying to find some clue to open up the case and all this time it had been staring her right in the face.
‘You alright Fran?’ Steven asked, noticing a strange glint in her eye.
Fran got up, seized his head with both hands and planted a big kiss on his lips.
‘You are amazing.’
Steven’s cheeks blushed red and he slapped her playfully on the arm.
‘Stop it, you have sent me all a flutter.’
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