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“Keep it steady, move slowly, or we’ll never find a thing.” Blake watched his son wave the metal detector around like a sword and sighed. Whenever Ricky did anything, he did it fast. The boy did not walk, he ran. He did not eat his dinner, he wolfed it down. Life was not a stroll for Blake’s exuberant ten-year-old, it was a mad, arm-flailing sprint.
“I’m trying, Dad, but it’s not doing nothing.”
“Anything. It’s not doing anything.”
Ricky swatted a greasy strand of brown hair out of his eyes and huffed. “Help me.”
“Okay, okay.” Blake trudged across the field. It wasn’t Ricky’s fault he was having so much trouble; the thing was old and heavy, as much a relic as anything they hoped to find buried. “There you go,” he said, helping to guide the wand. “Just like that, back and forth. Now you’re getting it.”
They quickly covered an area about the size of a tennis court—and got nothing. The wand beeped rhythmically the entire time, but never got excited. Blake remembered combing the sea side with his own father and finding loose change galore. He wanted Ricky to feel that same rush of adrenaline upon hearing a metal detector screech. But it had all been one great disappointment. Ricky was clearly growing bored with what he likely considered a waste of a Saturday afternoon.
It was difficult for a father to entertain his son in the 21st Century. Television and toy companies were the ones in charge, not the parents. Ricky would rather spend his days with grumpy birds on his iPad than in a field looking for buried treasure with his dad. Kids weren’t excited by the thrill of adventure anymore, they wanted instant gratification; and if they could get it while sitting on the sofa, all the better. Blake wouldn’t mind so much, but he wanted his son to grow up into a relaxed, content adult; not another stressed-out consumer, forever reaching for the next rung on the endless ladder of modern affluence. Blake wanted to teach Ricky the things that were actually important.
Ricky let the metal detector sag to the ground. “Can we go inside now? It’s getting cold.”
“I suppose we should. I didn’t bring your coat. Didn’t think we’d need it.” Blake placed his hands on his hips. “Okay, let’s head back, then.”
With a hop, skip, and a jump, Ricky started down the sloping field towards home. The mid-century cottage was two miles away from anything else with plumbing. The added solitude had saved Blake’s life. Buying the quaint cottage, with its cobbled stone walls, original fireplaces, and thatched roof, had been a desperate gamble to escape the endless cycle of stress that plagued him. Getting away from the city and grabbing six acres all his own had returned to Blake his freedom, which had previously been eaten up by credit card bills, mortgage statements, noisy neighbours, gas-spewing traffic, cold-callers and, of course—the straw that broke the camel’s back—crazed fans finding his address.
Being the nation’s most treasured mystery writer since Agatha Christie wasn’t all it had cracked up to be. The money was great and the work was soul-enriching, but the whining editors, greedy publishers, and spiteful critics made life a constant cycle of negativity. Blake was truly blessed for what he did, but that blessing was also a curse. His job and his life had become one. The phone calls, emails, and social media postings never ceased. The publication of his next novel, immediately followed by another, was all anybody cared about. New York Times Bestseller or not, Blake had needs beyond writing books and making money.
So, three years ago, he’d used the advance money for two of his upcoming releases and purchased the run-down, yet beautiful Poe’s Place cottage. The property was surrounded by an undulating field, while a long, gravelly driveway set it well back from the seldom used B-road that led there. The fresh air brought Blake’s heels back down to earth and reminded him to concentrate on taking one breath at a time.
“Dad, why do foxes always poop in our field?”
“Where do you suggest they go?”
“In the hedges, or something. Not right where I can step in it.”
“I think they do it to mark their territory.”
Ricky fiddled with the metal detector’s strap over his shoulder and gave his father a quizzical look. “Mark their territory for who?”
“Other foxes. If a strange fox comes along and sees droppings, they know to stay clear. It’s how a fox lets other animals know whose turf it is.”
“But this is our turf. You bought the field and now a fox is shitting in it.”
Blake pointed at his son. “Language! Your mother hears you swearing, she’ll hit the roof.”
“I’m ten, not two.”
“You’re still a new-born as far as she’s concerned, so watch your mouth. Anyway, I kind of like having a fox around the place. Reminds me I’m in the country. Besides, he might have been here before us. Maybe he thinks we’re the intruders.”
“The country is boring.” Ricky kicked a stone embedded in the dirt and sent it spinning into the air. They both watched it roll down the hill.
“You’re lucky to grow up in a place like this.” Blake tried to sound enthusiastic. “Better than I had as a boy. I know the country is quiet, but believe me, things are worse in the city.”
“They just are. Everything is too busy. Everywhere is cracked, broken, and dirty.”
“The country is dirty.”
Blake sighed. “No…no, it’s not. It’s clean, and nothing ever breaks in the country. Nature heals itself. A tree falls down, another grows in its place. Take our cottage, for instance. When we moved in it was broken down and smelt bad, remember? Because nobody had lived in it for so long, weeds had taken root and there were rats and mice. The oak trees along the driveway were all overgrown and it was hard to even see the place from the road, remember?”
“There were spiders everywhere,” said Ricky, nodding.
“Yeah, spiders, too. Nature saw nobody was living in Poe’s Place, so it moved in. Nature makes the best of things; it always copes. In the city, things just fall apart. When you’re older you’ll see that.”
“Maybe, but I still hate all the fox shit.”
“The city has dog shit, and that stinks a whole lot worse. And mind your language.”
“Sorry. Hey, when we get back can we have pizza?”
“The pizza place doesn’t deliver here. I’d have to go out.”
Blake sighed. “Okay, let me thi—”
Blake looked at his son, who was standing like he had a live grenade in his hand. “Ricky, you’ve got something.”
“What do I do, what do I do?”
Blake laughed. He pulled the trowel he had strapped to his belt and held it up. “You dig, silly. Here, take this.”
Ricky grabbed the trowel from his father and knelt beside the imaginary X spot. The noisy detector swung around his neck like a musician’s guitar.
“Here, give that to me.” Blake took the metal detector and clicked it off.
Ricky struck the dirt with the trowel and split open the mud. Luckily it had rained that morning and the ground was yielding. Liz wouldn’t be pleased about the grass stains working their way into Ricky’s jeans. She was forever shouting at their cocker spaniel, Bailey, for running mud into the kitchen.
It wasn’t long before Ricky was puffing with exertion. He’d dug a hole a foot wide and had gone down by about the same. It was wonderful to see him so excited. Blake just hoped it didn’t end in disappointment—like the manhole cover he’d unearthed one day when he was about the same age. Blake had dug for more than forty minutes to get at the shiny chunk of metal, before eventually realising it was nothing fantastical or ancient, but simply a chunk of iron from an old sewer grate.
“We should’ve brought a shovel,” said Ricky. “What if it’s huge? It’ll take all day if it’s a Roman shield or something.”
Blake dropped down beside Ricky. “Let me take over,” he said. “We’ll take it in turns.”
And so they did. For twenty minutes they took turns, digging until their forearms burned. At one stage, Blake double-checked with the metal detector to ensure something was definitely there. The speaker whined deliriously to let them know that indeed there was.
Five minutes later Blake hit the edge of something with the trowel. It made a clinking sound.
“Did you hear that?” yelled Ricky.
“Yeah, I heard it. Here, you do the last part. It was your find.”
Ricky beamed and took the trowel. “Thanks, Dad.” He dug furiously, his vigour renewed. The soil gave way and the buried object started to reveal itself. Whatever it was, it was covered in some kind of sackcloth. Ricky grabbed an exposed corner and started pulling it up.
Blake wondered if they should be more delicate. What if they really had found something valuable? The last thing they wanted was to smash it into pieces by being heavy-handed. However, it was too late to say anything because Ricky was already tumbling backwards with the muddy sack clutched securely in his hands.
“I got it,” he yelled. “I got it!”
Blake grinned. “Yeah, you got it, son. Let’s take a look.”
Ricky lay the sack on the ground carefully, brushing its surface and delicately removing any dirt and debris. “What do you think it is, Dad?”
“Only one way to find out. Open it.”
Ricky reached inside the sack.
Blake suddenly felt a wave of nausea, like he needed to eat. It quickly passed as a light breeze grazed the back of his neck.
Ricky slid out a black hunk of what looked like aged wood. He examined the item in his hands, turning it over carefully. “It’s…a picture frame.”
Blake frowned. The solid wood was stained so dark that it was almost black and the edges were finely carved with intricate patterns. An iron stud held a rudimentary stand in place at the back, which must’ve been what’d set off the metal detector. “It looks old,” was all Blake could think to say.
“Maybe it’s an antick,” said Ricky.
Blake chuckled. “We’ll have to get it valued. Ha! Perhaps you’ll have enough money to buy your own PlayStation this Christmas. I can use the money I save to buy myself a new writing desk.”
Ricky pulled a face. “No way! You promised me a PlayStation and you can’t get out of it. Anyway, I don’t want to sell this.”
Blake folded his arms to shield himself against the cold. “What do you want with a dirty old picture frame?”
“I dunno. We found it together, buried all the way in the ground. I want to keep it.”
“Okay, we’ll get it all cleaned up, then.”
Ricky leapt to his feet, grinning from ear to ear and clutching the frame tightly against his chest. “I can’t wait to show Mum.”
Blake scooped up the muddy old sackcloth from the ground and straightened it out. “We should check there aren’t any messages inside. Sometimes people bury things hoping they’ll be found years later.”
“Like a time capsule,” said Ricky.
Blake nodded. He reached inside the sackcloth and felt a twinge of excitement when his fingers brushed something at the bottom. All of a sudden he was a kid again, scouring the beaches with his own father. Perhaps he and Ricky were about to find out the story behind the mysterious picture frame. Maybe they would find a letter written by an old grandfather a hundred years dead, leaving behind a memento for younger generations to find.
It didn’t feel like a letter at the bottom of the sack, though. It was something loose and hard. Blake grabbed a fistful of whatever it was and removed his hand from the sackcloth.
When he opened his fist, he grimaced.
“What is it?” Ricky was staring at him expectantly.
Blake dropped the bone fragments back inside the sack and shoved it into his jean pocket. “It’s just some worms and stuff,” he lied. “Must have crawled inside and died.”
“And you just shoved your hand in them. Ha!”
“Cheers, son. Now come on, let’s go show Mum what you found.”
The two of them set off down the field, heading back towards Poe’s Place and the inviting warmth of its natural fires. It had suddenly got very cold out in the field.
Blake unlocked the front door and Ricky charged inside. Liz was home, but Blake still preferred to lock up whenever he left. After what had happened at their home in the city, he wasn’t willing to take any risks. If he had his way, he would build a large brick wall around the property and a gate, but Liz didn’t want to feel trapped. They’d compromised and installed an alarm system. They’d also built a kitchen annex onto the property, which was where Liz was now.
“Mum, look what I found!” Ricky zoomed through the galley kitchen and joined his mother by the range cooker at the back. The heat it gave off made it all the way to the reception hallway where Blake stood. He was stuffing the sackcloth full of bones into one of the pockets of a coat hanging in the entranceway.
Liz turned from her cooking and smiled at Ricky. Her blonde hair was tied back, making her look all business. “Oh, wow! What is it? Did you find that with the metal detector?”
“Yeah, it was buried way down in the dirt. It’s an old picture frame. We had to dig it up.”
“I can see that from the state of your clothes.” There was a subtle hint of irritation in her voice, and Blake knew it was directed at him.
Blake grabbed himself a coke from the fridge and asked Liz if she wanted anything.
“No,” she raised a large glass of red. “I’m good for now.”
Blake checked his Citizen to find it was a little past four. He might join her with a glass later. He was an enthusiastic drinker — just like his brother and father — which was why he made such an effort to limit himself. “Ricky did really well,” he told her, “a natural treasure hunter if ever I saw one.”
“And here I was thinking you wouldn’t find a thing. Well done, honey,” she said to Ricky. “Now, why don’t you take off those dirty jeans and I’ll throw them in the wash before dinner.”
“What are we having?” asked Blake, pulling the tab on his coke. “Smells good.”
Ricky pumped his fist in the air. “Woohoo! I love special spaghetti.”
Blake did too. He didn’t know what Liz made it with, but the bits of bacon mixed with the tomatoey pasta was divine. His saliva ducts loosened at the thought of it. “Saves me having to go fetch a pizza,” he said.
“You told Ricky you’d get a pizza without checking if I was making anything first?”
“What? No, he just asked and…sorry.”
Liz sipped her wine and patted Ricky on his head. He was now standing in his underpants. “Go get washed and put some fresh clothes on. You look like Mowgli.”
Ricky frowned. “Who’s Mowgli?”
“Never mind, just go.”
When Ricky left, taking his prized picture frame with him, it gave Blake the opportunity to approach his wife in private. “You okay?” he asked her. “You seem upset.”
She sighed and dropped her head. “I shouldn’t take it out on you. I’ve just been on the phone with my mother. She’s on one, as usual.”
Blake sighed. The old dragon had a knack for upsetting his wife with a thirty-second phone call. “What has she said this time?”
“Oh, nothing, if you ask her. She’s without fault.” Liz breathed deeply and sighed. “Oh, you know, just her usual: telling me how lonely she is, how she’s cooking a roast for just herself, and that she’s forgotten what Ricky looks like.”
“She saw him last week.”
“Exactly. She’s trying to say she wants to do something with us, but she’ll never come out and say it. She prefers to play the victim and guilt-trip me. I’ve just had too many years of it now. It gives me headache.” She took another gulp of wine.
Blake gave her tense shoulders a squeeze. “We’ll do something with her in the week. I don’t know why you let her get to you.”
“She’s my mother. God knows you have enough issues with your own family. Your father was a drunk, your brother too, and as for your mother…”
Blake felt himself getting wound up, but took a breath. He reminded himself that Liz was stressed—and stress was something Blake understood well. He’d be a hypocrite if he didn’t give his wife a free pass from time to time. “You’re right,” he said. “Families are a nightmare, but you’ve got me and Ricky. We have your back, honey.”
Liz took another hearty swig of wine and placed the empty glass on the counter. She fumed for a moment more, but then her expression softened. “She just has a way of making me really mad, you know? She’s always been like it. Always passing judgement with her snide comments. I know she raised me on her own, and that she loves me, but…” She made a growling sound. “She just makes me so mad sometimes.”
“Fuck her,” said Blake before he could stop himself.
Liz gawped at him. He expected her to fly off the handle, but she ended up laughing. “Yeah, you’re right,” she said. “Fuck her.”
Liz picked up her wine glass and filled it from a new bottle. It was then that Blake spotted the empty one in the sink. He wondered if she’d polished off the whole thing today, or if it’d been half-empty when she’d started.
Blake shuffled his feet on the tiles. He never used to feel awkward around his own wife. “So…what you fancy doing tonight?”
“Watch a film, maybe? What’s that new one, with all the apes taking over the world?”
“Gorilla Warfare? I don’t think it’ll be on WebWatch yet. I’ll find us something, though.”
Liz took another gulp of wine, then gave him a wet kiss on the lips. “Thanks, honey. I do love you, you know?”
“I know. I love you too. You’re a good daughter, so don’t let the old bag grind you down.”
She nodded. “Just let me get dinner sorted and I’ll be fine.”
“Okay. Give us a shout when you’re ready.”
Blake went into the main house. As soon as he opened the door to the hallway, Bailey bounded down the stairs towards him. The blue roan cocker spaniel was a menace to the groin, and she managed to land both front paws directly into Blake’s tender area. He bent forwards and grunted. “Hey, Bailey. Did you miss me? I would’ve taken you treasure hunting with us, but you’re a bloody lunatic.” Bailey had a habit of sprinting off into the distance every chance she got, an insatiable urge to just run.
Bailey whined excitedly and wagged her tail. They’d gotten her as a pup six years ago to get Ricky used to dogs, but she hadn’t lost any of her energy with age. Moving to a place in the country had only served to increase the cocker spaniel’s excitable nature.
“Come on, girl. You’re in the way.”
Bailey plonked her bum down and tilted her head. She offered her paw.
“I don’t have any treats on me. Go fuss Mummy and she might give you a chew.”
Bailey barked. Blake managed to shift her aside with his foot and make his way to the family room. The family room was an open-plan dining room/lounge at the front of the cottage that was also part of the modern extension. There was another, more traditional lounge on the other side of the property, where the original cottage stood, but the family room was where they spent most of their time.
The older Ricky got, however, the more difficult it became to keep family time going. The boy’s bedroom was slowly turning into a man cave, with its flat screen television and confusingly named videogame consoles stacked beneath it. Blake grew up with Nintendo vs Sega, but the waters seemed to have got murkier since then—and children were more partisan about their gaming choices than most political parties were about their manifestos.
Blake sat in one of the room’s two reclining armchairs and raised the foot rest; his arches ached from the uneven ground of the field. Blake flicked on the wall-mounted LCD situated above the fitted bar in the corner of the room.
The news came on mid-broadcast.
Commissioner Palu, head of the UK’s Major Crime Unit, was waffling on about whatever today’s threat was. Something about a terrorist cell planning an attack on the country by infecting hospital patients with infectious diseases. The commissioner was followed by Prime Minister Breslow, who gave a speech about whatever Middle Eastern conflict Britain would be interfering with next.
Blake switched the television back off again. It might’ve been selfish, but the fear of terrorism and global conflict was something he’d chosen to leave behind in the city. He made a point not to lend his attention to the horrors of the world. Those were for someone else to deal with.
Ricky came sprinting into the room. He’d changed into his pyjama bottoms and a Brody isn’t Dead t-shirt. The picture frame was clutched against his chest. “I gave it a clean,” he said proudly.
Blake stood and took the picture frame from his son, giving it a once-over. “Hey, you got it looking good as new.” It was strange, but the picture frame was spotless. Even after a thorough clean, Blake wouldn’t have expected it to come up so well. The ingrained carvings were now clear of debris and appeared even more intricate. With his thumb, Blake traced images of flowers and flames, interwoven like a garden on fire. It was a strange design, like nothing he’d ever seen before. It wasn’t pretty, exactly, but there was something captivating about it.
“I’ve got a picture to put in it,” said Ricky, pulling something from his pyjama pocket. “It’s a picture of Bailey. Can we put it on the side table with all the others?”
Blake looked over at the crammed side table in the dining area and wondered if there was even enough room for another frame. Liz was an avid picture-taker and had filled the table with scenes from Orlando, Barcelona, Armação de Pêra, Port El Kantaoui, and other places he couldn’t even remember visiting. They were memories of their previous lives; the one he’d removed them from for their own good.
Blake shuffled the frames around until there was just enough room to fit one more. “There you go,” he said.
Ricky was grinning. He placed the picture frame on the table and edged it backwards, shoving aside a picture of Liz and her mother in Gran Canaria. Once the new frame was set in position, Ricky stood back and admired it. It was strange how unblemished the glass was, having been buried for at least several years.
“You going to put the photograph inside, then?” asked Blake.
“Yep.” Ricky lined up the photo of Bailey with the gap at the top of the frame, then slid it behind the glass carefully. “There,” he said, “perfect.”
It was a nice picture: a rare snapshot of Bailey sunbathing in the garden. It was taken last summer, if Blake recalled correctly. “It looks good,” he said. “You should be proud. That frame might have been buried for decades, but now it’s all cleaned up and sitting in our lounge. You did that.”
Ricky smiled widely. “It’s really cool, isn’t it? Can we go treasure hunting again tomorrow?”
Blake tussled his son’s hair. “Maybe.”
There was a sudden bang that forced them both to jump, followed by what sounded like screeching tyres.
“What the hell was that?”
Ricky’s eyes were wide and his lower lip trembled.
Liz started screaming from the kitchen.
Blake raced through the house.
When he reached the kitchen he was unable to disguise the panic in his voice. “What is it? What the hell happened?”
Liz was sobbing and couldn’t speak. She pointed out the kitchen window.
“What is it? What…” Blake stared out of the window, out at the B-road running past the end of the driveway, and covered his mouth in horror. “Jesus, no.” He raced out of the kitchen and flew through the open front door.
Had he left it open?
The white van was already fading long into the distance as it sped along the B-road, impossible to identify, but it had left Bailey behind, lying where she’d been hit. The cocker spaniel was broken, her tongue lolling with every agonising pant. Blake ran over to her as quickly as if it’d been Ricky lying there. Ricky was hurrying up the driveway behind him, but Blake spun around and shouted at him to stay back.
Liz grabbed the boy and ushered him inside.
Blake got to his knees beside Bailey and went to touch her, but recoiled. He didn’t want to cause her any more pain by carelessly prodding at her. The only parts of her still moving were her ribcage which heaved, and her eyes which were fixated on Blake. They seemed to be pleading with him to make the pain stop. Maybe she was wondering why this had happened to her.
Blake decided to place a hand against her muzzle and stroked gently over her head. A soft whimper escaped her, but then she was gone; a bloody mess right outside her home. Her killer had fled scot-free, no witness within a two-mile area to grab the license plate number or flag the van driver down.
Suddenly, Blake loved the country a little bit less.
There was nothing the vet could do. Blake had offered to bury Bailey in the garden, but Ricky surprised him by saying no. He didn’t want her at home, upsetting him. He knew she was in a better place and that her body didn’t matter anymore. Besides, he didn’t want the fox in the field digging her up.
Liz and Blake gave their son a huge hug, and paid the vet to do what needed to be done. Before she did, though, she gave Ricky a pen and paper to write a goodbye note. It could be placed next to Bailey when they cremated her. Ricky wrote something quickly, making sure nobody else read it, then handed it over with tears in his eyes.
Then they drove home in silence. Blake knew his son was hurting, but was surprised by how much he was as well. All of the times Bailey had misbehaved, making him shout or scold the dog, came back to haunt him now and made him well up with tears. He knew, deep down, that Bailey had had a good life, however short. It didn’t change the fact that he would happily endure a thousand more doggy punches to the groin if it would bring her back.
Liz sat in the passenger seat, rubbing her forehead and turning an unhealthy grey. Blake suspected she had a hangover from the several large glasses of wine she’d downed whilst making dinner. A drink sounded good right about now, so a hangover was most likely in his near future, too.
It was dark when Blake dropped Liz and Ricky off at the house and headed off to get pizza. The special spaghetti would have to wait for another day. Liz was in no mood to cook.
The pizza place was in the high street of the nearby town of Redlake. The town wasn’t much more than a village, in truth, but it had a lot of history and character, which Blake had found attractive when considering his purchase of Poe’s Place. The town’s eponymous body of water was bordered by a 12th century Cistercian Abbey-turned-museum. Blake took Ricky there once to learn about the town’s history and how it had got its name, but it hadn’t gone down particularly well.
The monks at the abbey had once produced dyes and pigments; the runoff from which had turned the lake red, thus giving the town its name. Back then, nothing lived in the lake, but now it had been repopulated by the council and made into a nature reserve. Sport fishing, sailing, and bird spotting all went on at a place that once resembled a lake of blood. It was just another example of how nature prevailed, even after mankind had wrought its destruction.
Blake turned his Citroen Picasso off the roundabout and pulled into a small car park outside a row of shops. He parked in front of the pizza place, DiMarcos, which was sandwiched between an Indian takeaway and a chippie. At the end of the row was a hairdresser and grimy laundrette.
A couple of people formed a queue inside the chippie, but the rest of the shops were empty or closed. Blake entered the pizza place and stood in front of the counter. It took a few minutes for anybody to appear from the kitchen, and that was accelerated by Blake coughing and clearing his throat loudly.
“Hey,” said a teenaged boy in a red baseball cap and baggy blue shirt.
“Hello, could I get a large Chicken Deluxe and a medium Margareta, please?”
“Gunna be about ten minutes, mate.”
“No problem.” Blake took a seat on a bench by the window. He checked his watch: 8:30. He couldn’t believe how quickly the last few hours had rushed by. He still hadn’t properly processed what had happened. Had he left the front door open when he’d come back from the field with Ricky? The more Blake thought about it, the more he was sure he had.
He’d killed his son’s dog.
No, some jackass in a white van had killed Bailey, and then sped off like a coward. Blake wished he could get his hands on the driver. Animal cruelty left a particularly sour taste in Blake’s mouth.
What made the situation even more tragic was how Ricky had delighted in placing a photo of Bailey inside his newly acquired picture frame. As soon as he had done so, Bailey had been struck down and killed. It was the very essence of cruel irony, a spiteful jab of coincidence.
The ten-minute wait turned into twenty and Blake was in a sleepy daze by the time the teenaged boy shouted at him. “Ready, mate. Fourteen-ninety-eight.”
Blake reached into his pocket and pulled out a tenner and some coins. He took the pizzas and left without waiting for his two-penny change.
He returned to the car and slid the pizza boxes onto the passenger seat, but before he started the engine, he rubbed at his eyes with balled fists. He felt weary and mildly unwell, like he had a cold coming. Hardly surprising considering the shock he’d suffered. Grief had a way of crippling the immune system.
He drove home on autopilot, parking on the driveway without even realising it. When he headed inside with the pizzas, the kitchen was dark, so he went on through to the family room. He found Liz, laying back on the recliner and watching TV with a glass of red in her hand.
“Hey, I got the pizzas. Where’s Ricky?”
“He was upset so I put him to bed. He’s been asleep for half-an-hour. What took you so long?”
Blake placed the two pizzas on the bar and measured himself two fingers of Scotch. He plonked down on the recliner beside Liz and sighed. “I didn’t realise I was that long. The pizzas took a while to cook, but I was quick as I could be. You hungry?”
“Me either. They’ll keep. Cold pizza is as good as warm.”
“I can’t believe what happened,” said Liz. “How did she get out?”
“I think…maybe I left the door open.”
Liz looked at him like she was about to go off, fireworks fizzing in her eyes. Instead she took a sip from her wine glass and sniffed. “Don’t tell Ricky that. He’ll never forgive you.”
“That’s a bit extreme. I should admit what I did. He’ll understand.”
“He’s a ten-year-old boy who just lost his dog. Lying to him is kinder.”
Blake thought about it, but couldn’t make up his mind. He didn’t like lying to his son, but perhaps Liz was right. She usually was. “Okay,” he relented. “I’ll keep it to myself. How is he?”
“He’ll be okay. Something all boys have to go through, I suppose. I still remember when my rabbit died as a little girl. Mum had to sit with me all night while I cried. Still makes me sad.”
Blake stroked her arm. “I’m really sorry. I screwed up.”
Liz didn’t say anything. She polished off what was left in her glass and headed to the bar. “You want another Scotch?”
“No, I’m good, thanks. Haven’t made a start on this one, yet.”
Liz poured herself another large helping of red, then shivered.
“Yeah, it’s a bit chilly.”
Blake nodded. “Maybe it’s time to start putting on the heating again.”
“Maybe. I’ll get the fire going in the other room and we can watch some TV.” She picked up the pizza boxes from the bar. “I’ll go put these in the kitchen for later.”
Blake rolled the Scotch around in his glass and smiled. “Okay. I’m just going to sit for a while. I’ll join you in a bit.”
Liz half-bent towards him, as if she were going in for a kiss, but seemed to change her mind and just left instead.
Blake took a sip of whisky and stared into space for a while.
When he finally got up to leave the room, he went over to the side table and placed the picture of Bailey face down. “Goodbye, girl,” he said, before switching off the light.