I woke with a start to find Joy leaning over me. A couple of inches in front of my startled eyes were two large breasts straining to get out of the cream lacy, silky camisole that was only just keeping them in. Joy was a solidly built woman with everything in ample quantities. Holy shit. I couldn’t avert my gaze. OK, these weren’t a patch on Fi’s fantastic breasts which I’d come so close to a couple of times now, but let’s face it, a breast is a breast. And a breast in the hand is worth way more than a breast further away. I’d slept with breasts of all different shapes and sizes. They’d all been lovely in their own way. So what did I do about these ones? They were clearly there for the taking.

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“Well done you, winning all that money,” said Joy, slightly pained, as we set off.

“You can have your tenner back,” I told her. “Remind me when I drop you off.”

“It’s OK, you keep it,” she managed to say through gritted teeth.

We talked on and off about the day.

“When will you start chipping your fish?” I asked Joy.

“Oh, I don’t know. Not straight away,” she prevaricated.

It didn’t sound like she was going to do it at all.

“But you’ve invested several hundred pounds in the equipment!”

“I think I might have to go on another course,” she admitted. “I’m not sure I feel brave enough yet. Harvey had to help me do that real carp, after all.”

“Joy, you’ll be fine. You’re very capable, you know that.” She sort of was.

“Maybe, I don’t know. Look, would you come over and go through it with me sometime?” she asked.

Damn. I should have seen that coming. She hadn’t given her pursuit up. “We-ell, not in the next few weeks. I’ve got rather a lot on.”

“Oh, poor Marcus,” she said sympathetically.

“It’s OK,” I said quickly. I didn’t want her feeling sorry for me. “I like work! Maybe in about a month or so.”

I drove at the speed limit all the way home. Normally the Fiat and I pottered along somewhere below it, but I needed to get Joy out of my car as soon as possible. I was very relieved when we pulled into her road. She lived half a mile from the fishery she managed. No-one lived on site on their premises, and they had had some losses through poaching. That was what had inspired Joy to get interested in the chipping. That, and the fact I’d been interested in it too.

“Well, thanks for the lift,” said Joy as I stopped outside her bungalow. I kept the engine running. “Will you come in for a coffee? To break your journey?”

“No, no thanks,” I said heartily. “I want to get home. I’ve had a lot of early mornings and late nights recently and I’m knackered. And I’ve got some jobs to do before I can crash tonight.”

Joy looked disappointed. “Are you sure?”

“Yes thanks.”

Joy hesitated, then opened her door.

“Thanks again, and I’ll ring you about helping me with chipping, shall I?”

Did she have to? “Of course,” I forced a smile. “Good night Joy.”

She smiled wistfully at me and then shut the door. She waved as she walked round the front of the car. I watched her go up her drive. I’d been well brought up. I always made sure people I took home got safely into their houses. Joy was up to her door now. Good, I could drive off. I gave one more glance – and saw that Joy was hurrying back towards me. I banged my head on the steering wheel in despair. Would she never give up? Should I accelerate off? I was about to put the car in gear, when something in her manner caught my attention. She seemed agitated. She flung herself against my car door.

“Marcus! My door’s open! I’ve been broken into!” She sounded upset.  

For a moment I wondered if this was a ruse to get me inside. But no, Joy wasn’t that good an actress. She was clearly in distress. I turned off the engine and got out.

“The lock’s been bust. Someone’s been in!” she cried.

“They might still be in,” I warned. “Phone the police and I’ll go and have a look.”

I hurried quietly up the garden path to her door. Yes, sure enough, it had been jemmied open, the lock destroyed in the process. For God’s sake, Joy lived on a moderately busy road, with neighbours. Had no-one seen anything? I pushed it gently and stuck my head in. The door opened directly into Joy’s living room. I listened carefully. I couldn’t hear anything. I was pretty sure whoever it was had gone. I wasn’t that keen on going in. I didn’t need a knife in the ribs or a bullet in the brain. And I certainly didn’t want to apprehend the criminal myself and be Joy’s knight in shining armour.

Joy joined me and we hovered by the door waiting for the police, but after quarter of an hour they still weren’t there and nothing had happened inside, so I figured it was probably safe to go in. I flipped the lights on and edged in. Joy stayed by the door while I checked out each room in turn. No-one there. They’d made a mess, emptying drawers over the floor and sweeping things off shelves. Some ornaments and crockery was broken. Poor Joy, not a nice thing to happen.

“All clear,” I told her.

She came in slowly and took the scene in. “Bloody hell.” She hardly ever swore. I put my arm round her. She sighed and shed a few tears. I lent her my hankie. She soon pulled herself together.

“Well, I’d better see what’s missing, I suppose.”

“And I’ll put the kettle on,” I offered, going into the kitchen.

I wouldn’t be going anywhere soon, that was obvious, so I raided the fridge too. I was hungry.

“Do you mind if I finish that half-eaten apple pie?” I called to Joy.

She appeared at the doorway.

“What half-eaten apple pie?” she frowned.

I pulled the plate out of the fridge.

“That was a whole pie when I left this morning,” she exclaimed. “Don’t touch it! It’ll have the burglar’s finger prints and his tooth marks and DNA all over it. The police will be able to find him!”

I shoved it back in the fridge quickly. My finger prints were all over it now, damn it. Presumably I shouldn’t have touched anything. But the police weren’t that bothered about taking fingerprints and running DNA checks, despite Joy’s urgings. To them this was just another break-in, probably by kids after drug money. Very little was actually missing. Joy had an ancient telly and cumbersome desktop computer that hadn’t appealed to the criminals. Some jewellery had gone, including a silver and amber necklace I’d given her for her birthday when we were an item, but nothing too valuable. Joy didn’t have any family heirlooms. Some DVDs and CDs had been taken, some loose change and a digital camera. It wasn’t the crime of the century, although it probably felt like it to Joy. She was pale and shaky when the police left.

I made her another cup of tea. I couldn’t leave her tonight, that was for sure. Her door was broken and she was in shock. Shit. I had a load of stuff to do. And I’d wanted to go to casualty tonight with my thumb. I’d noticed in the last half hour that it was oozing something disgusting and it hurt like hell. Plus I didn’t especially want Fi to find out I’d been at another woman’s house overnight, which she inevitably would. Graham was a great gossip. But … maybe it wouldn’t hurt? Jealousy wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Now, here’s the plan,” I told her. “I’ll shove the armchair up against the front door and I’ll sleep in it tonight. I’ll ring Graham in a minute and ask him to get in early tomorrow so I can sort your door out before I head home. It’s not too bad. I just need a new locking mechanism for it. I’ll get it fixed by mid-morning. You must phone your insurance company first thing, like the policeman said,” I reminded her. “OK?”

“Thanks Marcus,” she nodded numbly.

I left her sitting in the kitchen and began to tidy up in the living room.

“Oh, leave that, I’ll do it tomorrow,” said Joy, coming in. “It’s half past ten already.”

Was it? Crikey, where had the night gone?

I phoned Graham at home and explained the situation. I could hear him grinning over the phone. I sidled away from Joy. “It’s the gospel truth,” I hissed at him, “and don’t you fucking tell Fi, OK?”

“OK boss,” he smirked.

“I’m a bloody black belt in judo, remember,” I threatened. “Do you want me to feed bits of you to my fish?”

“No boss,” he chuckled.

“I’m not joking.” I snapped my phone shut.

Most of Haverton would know I’d had a night away by tomorrow.

“Look, go and have a nice long soak in the bath to relax,” I told Joy. “You look really stressed out. I’ll watch telly for a while.” Therefore, the subtext read, I wouldn’t be available to scrub her back.

“A bath would be nice,” agreed Joy. She pottered off to the bathroom. I pushed the chair into place and turned the telly round so I could see it from that angle. I flicked through the channels. Joy didn’t stretch to a satellite so there weren’t many to choose from, but I found a half decent film to watch. I briefly left my chair to get a plate of food and search in vain for an open bottle of alcohol. I had to settle for more coffee. Then I nipped out for a cigarette before returning to the chair. The film dragged on, and my eyes felt heavy. I began to nod off.

I woke with a start to find Joy leaning over me. A couple of inches in front of my startled eyes were two large breasts straining to get out of the cream lacy, silky camisole that was only just keeping them in. Joy was a solidly built woman with everything in ample quantities. Holy shit. I couldn’t avert my gaze. OK, these weren’t a patch on Fi’s fantastic breasts which I’d come so close to a couple of times now, but let’s face it, a breast is a breast. And a breast in the hand is worth way more than a breast further away. I’d slept with breasts of all different shapes and sizes. They’d all been lovely in their own way. So what did I do about these ones? They were clearly there for the taking.

“Joy,” I groaned. “This isn’t fair.” I was only a man after all. But I really wanted to hold out for Fi. Getting involved with boring, slightly batty Joy would be a disaster. But these breasts were right here, right now, and it was easy to forget who they were attached to.

Joy looked down at me.

“Please Marcus, I really need a man,” she whispered.

Oh God. Now that was below the belt. And things were starting to happen below mine.

My resolve did its best to cut in again. These breasts came with a heavy price attached. I tried to edge further back into my chair.

“Don’t you have a battery powered alternative?” I asked desperately, remembering the phrase Fi had used in France.

“What – a robot?” Joy looked at me confused.

“No, you know, um, a vibrator?”

“Of course not!” Joy was offended.

“Lots of women do,” I told her.

“I’d be too embarrassed to buy one for myself,” she frowned.

“I can get you one for Christmas, if you like?” I offered eagerly.

Then, suddenly, miraculously, my phone chirped.

“It might be from Graham. I need to check this text.” I fumbled in my back jeans pocket for my phone. Joy stepped back, but not very far. I flipped my phone open. The message was from Fi, a reply to that photo I’d sent. This was a sign. Thank you, God.

‘Yep, he’s gorgeous. Fish not bad either! Fi XXX’, she’d written

I stared at it. Three kisses. That was nice. I’d never had that many from her before. And was she semi-serious with her ‘he’s gorgeous’ bit about me? Yes, I could persuade myself that she was. And Fi had saved me from, OK, not a fate worse than death, but a tangle with Joy that wouldn’t have done either of us any good.

I must have been grinning goofily because Joy sighed and sat down heavily on the sofa.

“A girl?” she asked.

“Fi,” I explained.

“The one who came to France?” asked Joy. I’d been talking about our trip over lunch.

“Yes.”

“Ah.”

I looked at her. “Joy, I’m sorry. I’m this close, I think, to getting involved with her.” I held up my thumb and index finger a millimetre or two apart. “I care a lot for her.”

Joy shrugged. “My fault. I threw you away.” She pulled a face. “I should have known better.”

“Come here,” I said, standing up and holding out my arms. Joy walked into them. I hugged her. “We had fun, Joy. You’re a great person – just not the one for me.”

We stood there for a few moments.

“I think Harvey has the hots for you, you know,” I told her craftily.

She looked up in astonishment. “Really?”

“Yup. Every time I looked at him, he was looking at you.”

“Really?” Joy said again. She looked placated. “He’s quite good looking,” she added thoughtfully. “And fun.”

“Why don’t you give him a ring tomorrow?” I suggested.

She looked at me. “You know, I might do that. Thanks Marcus.” She stepped back. “Look, you should go home. Now. In case I make a fool of myself again with another stupid pass at you. And don’t give up till you’ve got your girl! I hope she deserves you.”

“No-one deserves me,” I joked.

But Joy gave me a serious look.

“That’s actually true,” she nodded.

I laughed. “Don’t be daft – I smoke, I drink too much whisky and ginger, I like funny music and I’m a workaholic. Oh yes, I can’t do a thing with my hair!”

Finally Joy smiled. “You know you’re a nice guy.”

I leant forward and kissed her on the cheek. “Will you be all right if I go?”

“Yes. I imagine the probability of getting broken into twice on the same night is miniscule. I’ll push the chair back and I’ll sleep in it, instead of you. I’ll ring Toby and get him to come here first thing and mend the door. He’s nearly as handy as you are.”

I nodded.

“Goodbye Joy.”

“Bye. And thanks – for everything,” she whispered, as I let myself out.

I felt bad leaving her, but it was for the best. For both our sakes.

I climbed into the chilly Fiat and slumped back in the seat. Jeez, heavy evening. I slammed Dragonforce into the CD drive. I needed loud epic rock to get me home.

I got home about one, hit the whisky and ginger way harder than was sensible and crawled to bed.

Graham was surprised, and slightly disappointed, to find me in the lodge next morning when he arrived for work.

“I got home early this morning,” I informed him icily. “And, before you ask, nothing happened. No thanks to Joy, though.”

Something about my expression made him stay quiet. Yeah, I was grumpy. I was tired, I had a hangover and my thumb hurt like hell. It was oozing like crazy and was turning an unpleasant shade of purple. I went to turn on the coffee machine to make a triple strength espresso and bashed it on one of the knobs.

I swore long and loud.

“What’s up?” asked Graham.

I showed him.

“Holy fuck, Marcus,” he explained. “That’s disgusting. You need to go to the A&E. Like now.”

“That’s what I thought,” I sighed.

“Or I could amputate here if you like,” offered Graham.

I shot him a glance. Was he serious?

“Go on, bugger off,” he ordered.

So I drove myself to hospital. It was grim, as I knew it would be. The nurse and I took an instant dislike to each other when we met after a long, boring wait on my part.

“How did you do it?” she asked me, inspecting the wound.

“The saw slipped.”

“This morning?” she asked, lips pursed.

“No, Monday.”

“Were you sawing wood?”

“I was sawing a bike lock open.”

“So there might be metal fragments in the wound,” she noted.

“I did wash it, though,” I told her.

“It’ll need to be cleaned properly. Doctor will be here soon.”

That didn’t sound likely, but I sat obediently in my cubicle. There were a couple of ancient magazines I could have looked at, but I semi-snoozed. Then a small Asian doctor, who looked about fourteen, burst cheerily into my cubicle.

He looked at the nurse’s notes. “So you have cut!” he beamed.

I held out my hand.

“Nasty,” he observed happily. “Very deep.” He peered closely at it. “Not got to the bone or tendons.” He sounded disappointed.

“Clean and stitches,” he said to the glowering nurse. “And anti-biotic.” He wrote a prescription. He gave me an injection of local anaesthetic that ironically hurt like heck and then handed me over to my tormentor. The moment my thumb was numb, she set to work muttering. I preferred not to watch. I wasn’t squeamish, it was more that I was happier not knowing. Finally she put a dressing over the stitched-up thumb.

“Keep it clean and dry,” she instructed.

“I’ll try,” I promised, “but I work at a fishery. They tend to be wet.”

The sarcasm was uncalled for but I was grumpy and I hated the nurse.

“We’ll give you a shot of antibiotics now, to be on the safe side.” We being the Haverton Health Authority, I assumed.

It was a huge shot, and in the butt too.

“If that gets infected, you could lose it,” she announced with satisfaction.

“My butt or my finger?” I wondered, glaring at her.

She just snorted. 

I got home at midday. Things had been quiet, fortunately, so Graham had coped well. But then he always did. He laughed when I told him about the nurse.

“She sounds nice,” he smiled brightly.

“I don’t hate many people, mainly Adam really, but she’s one of them now.”

“We had a phone call while you were out,” he told me.

“Oh?”

“Um, can Snells deliver the catfish tomorrow, instead of next week?”

“Seriously?” This was both good and bad news. I wanted the fish, no mistake, but I had everything all planned out for next Tuesday – helpers booked, press alerted (OK, Maddie and the new editor of Angling Talk), and Adam was going to do the videoing for Facebook and the website. He wouldn’t be here tomorrow, and Graham had a day off planned as well. I wasn’t sure George would be free either. He’d said he had a busy week this week when he’d been in on Sunday. “Why?”

“Apparently the delivery they’d planned for this week has been cancelled – the client can’t get the money – so Kieran said they’d bring us forward. You need to get back to him to confirm, as soon as possible. Look, I can cancel my day off to help out.”

“No, no, that’s OK.” Graham had had the day booked for ages. One of his mates was leaving for Australia at the weekend for a year or so and he and Graham were heading off for a match and concert in London. “I’ll try Andy, Norm and Derek. I’m sure I can bribe them. It’ll only take a couple of hours tops, so I’m pretty sure they can fit something in. And maybe Fi could do the filming?”

Of course, Fi would be free to help. Oh shit! Fi! I was meant to pick her up in two hours. I’d completely forgotten, what with Joy last night and my thumb today. How could I? I needed to vac her room and I wanted to make it look nice – flowers, guest towel on the bed, that sort of thing.

“Gra. You’re in charge. Phone Snells and say OK. Then phone the lads and see who can help. And ring Maddie too.”

“Why? Where are you going now?” he demanded as I headed for the door. 

“Fi moves in today!” I called back over my shoulder. I hadn’t mentioned that before to him.

“What?” he bellowed. He came charging out through the door after me. “Seriously? She’s shacking up with you? You jammy bastard. I didn’t even know you were going out!”

“She’s not, and we’re not,” I answered. “She’s moving into my spare room until she gets on her feet again. She’s lost her job and she’s been booted out of her flat.”

“’Yeah right’ to the spare room bit, and ‘why did no one tell me’ to the second bit,” he retorted.

“I’ll fill you in later, but I have to pick her up at two and I want the room to be nice and girly so I need to go now. Please hold the fort. You can have an extra day off whenever you like, OK?” That was only fair really. Graham had been doing more than his fair share lately.

“Damn right, OK, and damn right respectively.” He grinned and went back inside. I careered off to the cottage. There were some late blooming chrysanthemums in the garden. I beheaded the lot of them, stuffed them into a vase and put it on the chest of drawers in the spare room. I changed the green flowery bedding for the pink flowery bedding, but decided that wasn’t really Fi’s sort of thing, so went for the yellow leafy and flowery bedding instead. The stripped-off sets I shoved into my room for now. I grabbed the vac and attacked the floor with it. I polished the furniture and then the window. Stupidly I forgot to change polish, and so I smeared waxy spray all over the glass before I realised what I was doing. Damn! Catastrophe. I rubbed and rubbed at it with rags but the stuff had formed an immovable film. Shit.

I phoned my brother. He knew about this kind of stuff. “What gets wood polish off glass?” I demanded. There wasn’t time for preamble. 

“You could try vinegar …” he began.

“Brilliant. Thanks Paul. Love you.” End of call.

Did I have vinegar though? Yep. Right at the back of the food cupboard was some rather good cider vinegar. Perfect. And it worked. I used plenty to be on the safe side. I got some into my cut, which made my eyes water for a good few minutes and took away my power of speech. But it was only when I stood back to admire my handiwork that I realised the room smelt like a chip shop.

“Fuck.”

I would run out of swear words soon.

I opened the window. The fresh air should get rid of the smell by the time she arrived. But it would make the room cold. That wouldn’t be very welcoming. Double fuck.

I got on the phone again.

“Paul, what gets rid of the smell of vinegar?”

“Baking soda dissolved in water should, but Marcus …”

“I’ll explain everything later. Byee.”

So I washed the window down with that solution. And yes, the vinegariness was gone, but now the window was smeary again. Why the hell hadn’t I left it alone in the first place? Christ, I hated housework. I wiped the glass down with my bath towel and finally clean window emerged. And in the nick of time. It was quarter to two. Time to go. But I looked a mess. So that wasn’t new, but if there was a time to smarten my image, it was now, with Fi coming to live in my house. I ripped off the tatty sweater and holey corduroys, and jumped into clean jeans, one of my infamous granddad shirts and a jacket. I ran my fingers through my hair, sprayed some deo down my shirt front and hotfooted it back to the lodge. I’d need the van for moving Fi’s things, probably a couple of trips.

“So she’s only moving into the spare room, is she?” grinned Graham, when he saw the smart version of me rifling through my desk drawer for the van keys. “Mmm. You smell good enough to nibble …”

“Shut it,” I glowered and ran for the door, leaving Graham laughing.

 

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