After I posted my original ‘Nights in the castle’ story (which I suggest you read first), I received warm encouragement from many sources to keep the story going. After some delay I have decided to take that advice and see if I can sneak up on a novel approximately 1000 words at a time.
Morning. Quinn woke from his coma-like sleep to the sound of insistent knocking. Threading his arms into his dressing gown, he girded his loins to see off his intrusive neighbour. Flinging the door open, he found the space filled by blue serge with sergeant stripes.
‘Morning. Thought I’d drop by and introduce myself.’ The face had a professional smile but the eyes said otherwise. ‘Sergeant Adrian Stynes.’
Stynes said ‘And you would be?’
This had to be Griffiths’ doing. Couldn’t wait five minutes before sticking his nose in and organising trusted back-up, thought Quinn.
‘You know exactly who I am or you wouldn’t be here.’
‘Not sure I follow you. Some people in the district have expressed concerns about your welfare and asked me to look in on you.’
Quinn recalled Griffiths’ exhortation to ingratiate himself with the local community.
‘That’s very kind of them, Sergeant, but as you can see I’m vertical, recently clean shaven and obviously not suffering from malnutrition.’
‘Thirsty work, policing. Any chance of a cup of tea?’
‘None. If you want to check inside for a potential meth lab or slave girls in the basement, then I suggest you return with a warrant.’
‘I may just do that.’
‘I doubt it.’
Stynes heel-and-toed his sturdy leather shoes.
‘Well, you know where to find me.’
‘Indeed I do.’
The postman and his motorbike hove into view at Quinn’s fence line and the postman seemed to labour over a minor delivery.
Quinn shouted loud enough to be heard in the next shire, ‘Get off my property and don’t come back without a warrant!’
That should go down well with the locals. Nobody trusts anyone seen to be chummy with the coppers.
The smallest of creases appeared in the corner of Stynes’ mouth.
‘See you around, Mr. Quinn.’
After watching Stynes and the postman depart, Quinn treated himself to an extended breakfast before heading outside to attend to his nascent veg patch. He knew enough to know that the spring soil, having not long come off winter, was still too cold. Besides, he wanted to dig in some manure and compost to the depleted ground that had been farmed to with an inch of its life. (He allowed himself the indulgence of thinking it would be change to be working with cowshit instead of bullshit.) And there was still the fence to construct to keep out the roos and the rabbits and the odd livestock escapee.
He was breaking up some stock-hardened topsoil with a mattock when he sensed a presence behind him. Steadying his breathing and setting his balance, he turned to see the familiar elfin figure of Astrid, motionless, watching him intently. An electricity that he assumed had long gone crackled in the space between them.
She spoke first. ‘So the answer does lie in the soil, Farmer Giles?’.
‘Indeed. But only after you’ve let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.’
‘Claudius in his clodhoppers. Who would have thought?’
He wanted to say it was good to see her but his instincts told him it was not, as he pondered how she’d found him. He answered his own question.
‘Who else? I told him it was important. I suspect he thought you’d send me off with a flea in my ear, so it wouldn’t really matter.’
‘The man’s a cretin but he’s as cunning as shithouse rat, so I doubt that’s how he saw things panning out.’
They scrutinised each other wordlessly for a minute or so before he said ‘I suppose I’d better invite you to at least stay for a cup of tea.’
‘Ah, gallantry is not dead after all. I’m particularly flattered after you gave Stynes his marching orders for having the temerity to ask for your hospitality.’
So, she’d been watching for a while at least. He ambled past her towards the house and she followed slowly. Inside, he washed his hands briefly and put the kettle on to boil. When she appeared in the doorway he said ‘Madam’s choices are limited to teabags or instant coffee and there’s no milk.’
Her response over the noise of the kettle was almost inaudible but he picked up ‘black tea’.
When the tea was made, they sat at his small kitchen table in silence.
‘I imagine you want to know why I came looking for you.’
‘I don’t. But I imagine I’m not going to escape an explanation.’
‘For once in your life, can you suspend being an arsehole for just a few minutes?’
By way of assent he nodded briefly and waited.
‘Shortly after we were over, I discovered I was pregnant. I was pretty sure how you would react but I didn’t want an abortion. Nor did I want your money and the contact that would have entailed. And I certainly didn’t want Grace to find out.’
Quinn visibly flinched at the mention of his late wife’s name but said nothing.
‘Jacob’s ten now and he is the light of my life but I’m not going to be around for him for too much longer. I’ve been diagnosed with motor neurone disease. I’m managing it OK now but it will get me in the end or at least cripple me to the point where I can’t care for him.’
His face remained impassive but she knew she had his undivided attention now.
‘Your family, friends ..’ and then petered out.
He knew she would have already explored every option.
She knew he wouldn’t ask so she ploughed on with her mission.
‘I want you to take us in.’
Quinn’s world shifted from under him and his mind grasped for lifelines, to no avail. For the first time in his life he had no idea what he should do next.
‘I can be your widowed daughter who has come to care for you in your later life and Jacob can be your grandson. I can also be your human contact with the community. You couldn’t fake that any more than you could fly to Mars. And I can be your technology, Mr. Luddite.’
He scraped back his chair and headed for the door.
‘Where are you going?’
‘To find out what Farmer Giles thinks’, he said, picking up his mattock from the verandah.