Monday, April 20, 2009
Friday, April 17, 2009
Ronny Cousins picked up the empty tea cup from his wife’s bedside table and balancing it carefully on top of the full laundry basket carried it all down to the kitchen. As usual by this time in the morning, Ronny had finished his breakfast and after washing up the dishes and loading the washing machine he was ready to take Buster for his early morning run along the beach.
For ex- Detective Inspector Cousins life had become very predictable since his retirement for the Kent Police, housework, cooking, walking the dog, weekly visits to the library and 18 holes of golf three times a week with some of his old pals from the force. So far he had resisted the temptation to find himself a nice little job in one of the many security firms that some of his old colleagues have been busy setting up. He had even managed to convince Sandra that he was happy to take over the lion’s share of running the house while she carried on with her part time job as a receptionist at the lighthouse in Dungeness.
The only person left to convince was himself. It was easier during the summer months. Then it felt like he was on extended leave with picnics at High Weald and day trips across to France with Sandra. Ronny was content to let the strain of 35 years of policing seep out of his body as his pale skin had tanned to a gentle honey brown. Looking in the mirror each morning was enough to reassure himself that he had made the right decision in taking early retirement, his shoulders that were once hunched through tension and tiredness were now thrown back and muscular with days spent playing golf and his eyes once hooded and shadowed now were bright as if they had seen for the first time the beauty that had been hidden to him for so long. But now, in the depths of the coldest winter in living memory, Ronny was beginning to wonder if he self imposed exile from the world of work was such a good idea.
Buster’s nose was twitching as he scoured the beach at Littlestone for what ever it is old Labradors are looking for beneath the cobblestones. Ronny pulled his scarf higher around his mouth as the biting wind blew in from the channel and he set off a pace along the shore line forcing Buster to leave his trail and run after his master. It was foolish to linger too long on such a cold day and Ronny was looking forward to a pint at the Pilot Inn before his lunch date with Sandra.
Ronny was surprised when Sandra had suggested this lunch together, after all these years together he couldn’t remember the last time they had had lunch together He still wondered whether Sandra had resented the hours he had spent at work when the boys were little, bringing up a family when you’re married to a copper can’t have been easy, he thought, but Sandra had never complained and the boys didn’t seem to resent the fact that the job had to come first, although neither of them had followed him into the Police. Martin had a good job up in London with a foreign bank while George was happy teaching in a private school just outside Hythe. Ronny was proud of his boys and doted on his three little grandchildren, Sandra would have liked to see more of them but as he was always telling her, you have to let them live their own lives.
Sandra had been a good Mum, always there when the boys came home from school, always ready to drive them to their football practice or sit in the sailing club with a flask of hot chocolate and dry clothes for them to change into when they came back from sailing the small two man rigger that Ronny had managed to get them from an old pal of his. He supposed that it wasn’t surprising that when they had gone off to University that Sandra had felt so bereft. The boys had been her life’s work and now they didn’t need her any more, well not until they came home with rucksacks groaning with dirty washing begging for her home cooking. It was after the boys had left home that Sandra had started looking for a job.
Ronny wondered if it was selfish of him to think that after the boys had gone that Sandra would have been happy just to have more time for him. He had hoped that she would have planned her shopping trips to Ashford to coincide with his meal breaks so that they could have spent time together in one of the few pubs not frequented by the Kent constabulary but Sandra had worried that any plans they made would be ruined if he was called back to the station. She hadn’t been married to a DI in the Murder Squad for so many years to think that he would be able to take an extended lunch break whenever it suited him.
Walking around the bay towards Dungeness the wind seemed to be getting colder and even Buster was being buffeted along the beach. As the sand whipped up into his face, Ronny could feel his eyes stinging with the sea spray and not for the first time this week, secretly longed to be back in his warm office surrounded by his old team, busy working away in front of their computer screens. That’s the trouble with bloody television, he mumbled to Buster through his scarf, everyone thinks that a Bobby is only busy when he is chasing after the bad guys in a high speed car chase or standing in a muddy field shouting to a pathologist for a precise time of death, blood fools, he shouted to the wind, all the pathologists he’d ever worked with would have been more likely to say ‘how the fuck do I know’. What the general public didn’t realise was that most of police work is dull. It’s time spent sitting in front of a computer screen, accessing databases, looking for patterns, reading reports and compiling lists. The days of a DI standing in front of his team screaming for results was, if they ever existed at all, long gone. Twenty first century policing is methodical, planned and costed down to the last penny and god forbid if a case should ever go over budget, Sherlock Holmes would be spinning in his grave, he laughed to himself.
With the welcome sight of the pub coming into view Ronny checked his watch, he had made good time and with any luck would arrive at The Pilot just as Michelle was opening up the bar. The thought of that first pint of Theakstones Old Peculiar drove Ronny along across the beach onto the scrub land boarding the pub with Buster racing along after him, he knew that he had about 10 minutes to down his pint and get the food ordered before Sandra arrived. As he walked into the bar Ronny saw that only one other windswept bugger had beaten him to the first pint of the day, Bill Drapper, still dressed in his yellow waterproof fishing trousers, was perched on the bar stool next to the door with a freshly pulled pint of special grasped in his gnarled hands.
The Pilot was still a favourite haunt of the local fishermen as it had been since 1633 when the first bar on the site was built from the wreck of the Spanish vessel Alfresia which had been lured aground and looted of it’s cargo of spirits by local smugglers. Most of the new incomers to Dungeness thought that the days of smugglers were long gone, but Ronny’s time on the force had shown him that smuggling was still alive and flourishing despite the endeavours of the Kent police and the ever vigilant coast guards. With the coast of France only 30 miles away the smuggling these days tended to be of the human rather than spirit variety. It seems that England is still a country where the poor of Eastern Europe think that they can start a better life.
With the skate and chips on order and Buster fast asleep at his feet, Ronny settled down to wait for Sandra to arrive. Even on a bitterly cold Monday in January The Pilot could expect a decent smattering of lunch time clientele attracted by the promise of well kept real ale and lovingly prepared freshly cooked fish. As the door opened the icy blast from the channel raced into the bar and Ronny recognised the men as workers from the now decommissioned Nuclear Power Station at Dungeness. Glancing again at his watch Ronny was surprised to see that at nearly 12.30 Sandra was running late, at this rate she would barely have time to finish her lunch before she had to rush off back to work.
Pulling his mobile phone from the pocket of the new walking jacket that had been a Christmas present from Sandra he checked to see if he had missed a call from her.
‘What do you want to do about your fish Ron?’ asked young Hannah who had arrived at the table struggling to carry the massive portions of freshly friend skate wings ‘do you want me to pop them in the oven until Sandra get here?’
‘Thanks Love, that’ll be great. I don’t know what’s keeping her.’
‘Probably stuck with some daft tourists who don’t want to go back outside in this bloody weather. My Mum recons it’s cold enough for snow.’
‘You’re probably right. I’ll give her ring though, just to see if she’s OK’
As the young waitress carried the steaming plates back into the kitchen, Ron pressed the speed dial for Sandra’s mobile. After only five rings the irritatingly cheerful voice of the voicemail service instructed him to leave a message after the beep.
‘Where the bloody hell are you? Your dinner’s getting cold here. I hope you didn’t forget that we had a lunch date for twelve o’clock today?’ snapped Ronny, despite his intention of leaving a more loving message. He didn’t mean to be short with his wife but lately he had found himself getting more and more irritated by her vagueness, it was as if she wasn’t all together with it sometimes.
He had caught her last night staring out of the window at the coal black sky, and when after at least five minutes he had asked her what she was looking at she had turned to him as if she didn’t recognise him and shaking her head had answered ‘nothing’. No explanation, no conversation even, just the one word ‘nothing’ before she shrugged off her dressing gown and climbed into bed.
Ronny had moved across the bed to cuddle into her curled body, but her cold arms had pulled away from him and turning her back to him she switched off her bedside lamp and fell silent. In the morning Ronny had slipped out of bed to go downstairs to make the tea.
As he carried the steaming cups back into the bedroom Sandra had been sitting up propped against the snowy white pillowcase smiling as if the night before had never happened. Ronny wondered, not for the first time, if it was him that was going mad or was it just a bad dream that his wife could turn from him as if he meant no more to her than an irritating smell?
With no sign of Sandra’s car pulling into the large car park and her lunch hour ticking away, Ronny pulled on his coat and fastened Buster’s lead back onto his collar.
‘Sorry about this Michelle’ he said to the bar maid as he made his way through the bar ‘I don’t know what’s happened to Sandra. I’m going to try and make my way out to the lighthouse and see if I can catch her.’
‘Do you want a lift Ronny? I’ve got the motor outside’ asked Bill struggling down from the high bar stool with his van keys jangling from his finger
Deciding that even a lift in Bill’s old van was preferable to braving the icy winds, Ronny thanked him as he bundled Buster into the well under the front passenger seat and settled himself the best he could onto the old potato sack that served as a seat cover in Bill’s smelly van.
‘Sorry about the pong’ said Bill as he fired the engine and pulled left out of the pub car park ‘didn’t get a chance to scrub it out after I delivered this morning’s catch to the fish market’
Even on a day as cold and windy as this, the enormous sky over Britain’s only dessert at Dungeness was as ethereal as if it had been painted by Monet himself.