ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Don Stoll, whose notorious crimes include overstaying a tourist visa for the UK, began writing crime fiction last year.
His stories have appeared here in BRISTOL NOIR (tinyurl.com/uzuzo6o) as well as in PULP MODERN, HOOSIER NOIR, PUNK NOIR (tinyurl.com/y5o2x5fz, tinyurl.com/uwyz7jb), CLOSE TO THE BONE (tinyurl.com/y38ac6jv, tinyurl.com/sc9btxl), HORLA (tinyurl.com/y3k6eewx), YELLOW MAMA and two stories at tinyurl.com/y5yzozel), CLITERATURE (tinyurl.com/y5m8arzn), HORROR SLEAZE TRASH (tinyurl.com/qno5ucu), and elsewhere.
In 2008, Don and his wife founded their nonprofit (karimufoundation.org) to bring new schools, clean water, and clinics emphasizing women’s and children’s health to three contiguous Tanzanian villages.
Chamomile and Digestive Biscuits by Don Stoll
The morning might have brought relief and repose to Detective Inspector Alice Hook. Yet all day she’d experienced only the former. By the evening she wanted to sprawl in front of the telly, despite drawing a blank about what would be on. She didn’t care, though. Lately she’d wanted a bloke and wondered why there were so few good ones about. But on this night, she craved peace. Stare at the telly, get drawn into somebody else’s world, let the rest she needed come that way. With a bottle at her side to accomplish what the telly might fail to do. Not that she was a piss artist, or even close to it. Usually when she was alone at the flat of an evening, a glass or two of Johnnie Walker would do. This night, however, warranted something special. She’d bring out the Jameson’s. Maybe knock back a good bit more than one or two.
So the last thing she wanted as she flicked on the telly and set the Jameson’s down on the table next to her comfy chair was to hear the phone, then the Chief Inspector’s distinctive voice.
“Constable who was guarding the witness is in a spot of trouble, Hook.”
“He had a hard morning, sir.”
“Harder if they’d got him, too. Clever bit of work from their perspective: get at the witness, guard left clueless.”
Hook had nothing to say.
“Anyway, Hook, need you at his flat. I’d go myself except I’m out to dinner with the Commissioner. But you’re better suited to buck up a young chap, anyway.”
The CI’s leer snaked its way to her through the phone lines. She eyed the Jameson’s.
“Someone already there, sir?”
Hook listened while the CI explained the spot of trouble the Constable was in. She eyed the bottle. One glass, she decided. She listened for the address and put down the phone.
Other women find the CI’s rasp sexy? she wondered. Touch of Rod Stewart, touch of “Maggie May.” I want him to wreck my bed? Trouble is, word gets out and I’m ever up for a promo, it’ll be wink wink nudge nudge, know how she got there?
She took the glass into the bedroom. She removed her robe. She picked up the blouse she’d tossed on the bed and gave it a sniff. She found something fresh to wear in the closet.
She returned the Jameson’s to the kitchen and stuffed a handful of bags of chamomile into one pocket of her overcoat.
It turned out that neither Constable Michael Barnes, who’d greeted her at the door to Constable Trevor Long’s flat, nor Long himself were fans of chamomile.
Barnes had accompanied her to the kitchen and shook his head. She hadn’t bothered to ask Long. She’d simply boiled the water and handed him the cup, advising caution since it could have been someone’s best china.
“Nicer than mine,” she said.
“Was my mum’s.”
“Couldn’t find the matching saucer, though.”
“I don’t care about amatching saucer. This tea’s vile.”
“Not meant to be tasty. Meant to be calming.”
He sipped the chamomile again and made a face.
“I can’t drink this.”
“Got any biscuits?”
“McVitie’s in the cupboard,” he said.
“There you go. Soak up that entire wretched cup.”
Hook turned around. There was Barnes. She didn’t recall instructing him to hover over her shoulder. But she supposed she needed an errand boy. He hurried toward the kitchen.
“You got a record player?” Hook said. “Bit of music while you eat?”
“Got the new Barry White.”
“‘You’re the First, the Last, My Everything’? Hadn’t pegged you for the disco sort.”
“I’ve got some good moves,” Long said. “But no room out here to dance.”
He had on a sleeveless undershirt. She pictured his shoulders and his big arm muscles filling out one of those clingy disco shirts. She suddenly felt too warm in her overcoat. She took it off. He gave her the once-over.
Constable Barnes returned with the package of biscuits.
“Found it like this,” he said. “End not twisted shut.”
“I’ll take the top one,” Hook said.
She remembered her manners. She offered the package to Barnes. He shook his head.
Turning back to Long, she said, “Package wasn’t sealed. You don’t worry about mice?”
“Did he see droppings?”
Hook looked at Constable Barnes.
“Didn’t notice,” he said.
Long took the biscuit Hook offered and said, “You mind giving me another?”
“They’re yours, luv.”
He dipped a biscuit in his tea. He bit off the wet portion.
“That’s better,” he said.
She watched him work his big jaw muscles. She waited for him to finish both biscuits.
“One more?” she said.
“Not just now, thanks.”
“Mind if we chat?”
“Suit yourself,” he said.
She took a breath.
“You’re not the first copper’s ever made a mistake,” she said.
“Bloke’s dead because of me. My duty to keep that witness safe, and I failed.”
“They’re a bad lot and they knew we had the goods on them.”
She glanced at Constable Barnes.
“Ask Barnes here if he thinks you’re a bad copper. Ask if he’d be okay to work with you.”
“Course I’d work with you, Trev,” Barnes said.
“And me,” Hook said. “I’d work with you.”
“Point now’s to find another way to nail the bastards,” Barnes said.
Hook nodded. Long looked down. Hook followed his gaze.
“May I have another biscuit?” he said.
She watched him eat.
“Fetch me some water, please?” she said to Barnes.
“No chamomile for you?” he said.
“Makes three of us don’t like it. But meant to be calming, not tasty.”
She whispered, “Could do more than work with you, Trevor.”
Him barely half her age. Joking—half—but not something Barnes needed to hear.
“Think I’m too old?” she said. “Born in 1930, just two years before Liz Taylor. You see her last year in Ash Wednesday, where she gets plastic surgery? I need that to have a chance?”
“You mustn’t think of plastic surgery,” he said. “I don’t think you’re too old and you shouldn’t think that way, either.”
“Not a question of me thinking that way, luv.”
He stared at her. Puppy-dog eyes, she thought. Could go on looking into them.
She thought Long was holding his breath. She knew she’d been right when he expelled it.
“I mean you absolutely shouldn’t think that way,” he said. “There’s no bloke my age would say you’re too old. Any bloke my age would. . .”
He stopped. Hook realized that he’d heard Barnes returning with the water.
“Ta,” she said. “You can go relax in the sitting room if you like.”
He looked at her.
“Got this under control now,” she nodded. “Put your feet up. Put the telly on.”
Barnes looked at her. Then he went away.
She turned back to Long. He was holding his breath again.
“You want to say something more, Constable?”
She thought she’d done well to hold her voice steady.
“Were you chatting me up, Detective Inspector?”
“Blushing,” she said. “Gives you a nice color.”
His blush deepened.
“Were you?” he said.
“What about you? You chatting me up?”
She felt her pulse racing. She waited.
“Somebody’s got to break the log-jam,” she finally said. “Bloke’s job, traditionally.”
“Not sure how traditional you are, Detective Inspector.”
“Or you. Think you’re just worried what people would say.”
“That so unreasonable?”
She smiled back.
“French have a saying, Constable: always be bold. Might not get what you’re after, but get the satisfaction of not being a coward.”
“I’m no coward.”
“Got to prove it, luv,” she said, feeling her voice go husky and whispery.
She looked down.
“You ready to end this, come back inside?”
“Comfy out here now,” he laughed. “But I come back in I can do some proper police work. Hand over Carson’s diary. Feeling so sorry for myself, bloody forgot about it.”
“Witness kept a diary? Was supposed to be all up here.”
She touched a finger to her temple.
“Statement, really,” Long said as he inched toward her. “Wrote it out in my custody to pass the time. Said he wrote out everything.”
“All the names, he said. Including ‘people in authority’ who’ve protected the gang, he said.”
He ducked his head through the window.
“Peek-a-boo,” he grinned.
“Nightstand over there. You really want to go out? Not taking the piss?”
She really did. However, she and the Chief Inspector couldn’t afford the statement being entered into evidence. And best for Constable Long not to know it had vanished. Never know where that might lead.
“Give me your hand?” he said.
Instead, she gave him a good shove, grateful for the cover of darkness as she watched him tumble from the ledge of his sixth-floor flat.