Designated (Book 2): Designated Quarantined (26 page)

21
August Thirtieth
Askham,
Nottinghamshire
 

Tony sat at his kitchen table, the cheap melamine surface cold against his age-worn skin. Lifting the cup to his lips, he drank the warm sugarless tea. With a deep, heavy sigh, he set the cup on his plate and pushed himself up from the chair. Carrying his plate to the sink, he set it in the bowl before lifting the blue dishcloth from where it was draped over the tap and wiped up the crumbs of his breakfast.
 

Staring out the window, he watched the morning sun flirt with the slowly paling sky as sparrows and bullfinches flitted from branch to bush in his garden. The water poured over his hand, chilling him to the bone as he rinsed out his cup. The dishcloth pulled at the skin of his knuckles as he scrubbed out the cup; he set it onto the draining board before beginning the tasks of the day.
 

Stepping from the kitchen door, the sun bathed him in its warm glow as the new day slowly began to awaken; the cool, crisp breeze blowing in from the fields around him filled him with a vigour he had thought long lost to the youth he once held. As he stretched, his back clicked and popped, then he settled onto the back step and slipped the dark-green Wellington boots onto his feet. He walked across the rutted and damp ground towards the paddock and the small stable and stall next to it.
 

The morning's dew clung to his boots, making the green rubberised fabric shimmer in the sunlight. Setting the bucket under the outside tap, he set the ice-cold water crashing into it, relishing the sound of the torrent as it collided with the hollow plastic tub. Tony approached the gate to the paddock, the bucket of feed and pail of water held loosely in each hand as he shunted the latch up with his elbow and pushed the gate open with his hip.
 

Reaching the stable, he called out before entering the slightly gloomy interior. 'Hey, old girl, how are you this morning?'
 

A heavy whinny greeted him as he stepped through the door. The heady scent of warm straw and hay filled his nostrils as he made his way towards the only stall in the building. A large chestnut-coloured nose peered out from the stable door as he approached.
 

A set of large brown eyes watched him approach; the clopping of hooves and a shaking head greeted him as he raised his hand and patted the side of her face.
 

'Hello, old girl, hungry today?' A heavy snort made him smile as she pushed against his hand, urging him to empty the bucket into the trough on the door.
 

'Patience, Llamrei, we will go for a run when I get back.' He pressed his head to the side of her nose, feeling her push back as he stroked her neck. 'There's a good girl.'

 

Turning, Tony headed back towards the house; his pace quickened as he neared the back door, the sharp ache in his knee and hip drawing him as he kicked off his Wellington boots and sat down at the kitchen table. Lifting his hand, he flicked open the cabinet by the door; the rows of pills and boxes of bandages and plasters stood in a regimented line.
 

His eyes strolled along the neatly typed lettering that clogged the labels, dosages and chemical names makings his eyes lose focus momentarily. He then plucked a small white bottle from its post and snapped off its top.
 

The bitter bite of chalk and powdered codeine filled Tony's mouth as he let the tablets sit on his tongue, their slowly dissolving plates of white pain relief doing little to alleviate the searing ache that descended from his hip to his knee. The twisted scar tissue that made up his outer thigh pulled and bunched as he hobbled towards to the kitchen sink.
 

A wave of melancholy rolled over him as the cold water crashed into the glass in his fist, a deep-seated ache that bloomed out from his heart, drawing tears to his eyes. Downing the last of the frigid liquid, he strode as best as his leg would allow into the hallway and snatched the phone from its cradle. He lifted the black Bakelite receiver to his ear, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he drew in a deep, heavy breath before dialling. The heady rush of painkillers flooded his mind as he listened to the lilting voice that filled his ear.
 

'Hello, Baker residence.'
 

Her voice echoed through the line as he began to reply, his eyes widening as a shimmering female voice filled his mind.

 

'Tony, how are you?' His head whirled as he fought to find a name for the voice, his memory falling at the first hurdle as her voice continued to ring through his mind.
 

'Tony, you there? It's Janet, your daughter-in-law.'
 

Her gentle nagging drew him out of the vortex that had formed in his skull. 'Janet, sweetheart. Yes, I'm sorry… the old war wound is playing up and I am currently golfing with Pavarotti, or so my pain killers would lead me to believe; how's my favourite daughter-in-law?'
 

He heard the musical tinkle of Janet's laughter as he leant against the wall in the hall, his broad shoulder pushing against the smooth plaster as he felt the receiver grate against his chin.
 

The salt-and-pepper hair that plagued his temples and scalp belied his age. A smile teased at the corners of his eyes, the skin crinkling like dried leather as he glanced at the pictures in the hallway. At sixty-five, he had the fitness and stature of a much younger man; the regimented life of a soldier and police officer had been something that followed him on into retirement, and his overtly active lifestyle made him as sprightly now as he had been thirty years earlier.

 

'I'm great, thank you; just on break now and thought I would give you a call to see how my favourite silver-haired soldier is, but seems you beat me to it.'
 

Tony laughed, his voice deep and raucous as he filled the near silent house with the sounds of his mirth. 'It always amazes me, my dear, at just how lucky my son is to have one such as you; why, if I were thirty years younger, I would give him a run for his money.'
 

Janet giggled, causing Tony's smile to deepen as he scratched at the stubble on his chin.
 

'I was considering popping down for a week, if that is fine with you and Derek. I don't have anything planned for the next few weeks aside from Llamrei's exercise and some light gardening, so, what do you say? Fancy seeing this old codger for a bit?'
 

There was a slight pause as he waited for a reply; he could feel the wheels turning in Janet's head as she thought through the ramifications of his visit.
 

'I don't see why not; Derek would be glad to see you, and Maria hasn't met her gramps yet… well, she has, but I doubt she would remember it or was even awake for it. So, yeah, come on down. When were you thinking of coming?'
 

Tony leant back as he stared at the ceiling, the elasticated cord of the phone pulling taut across him as he sorted through his mental calendar.
 

'Probably the ninth or tenth of September… gives me enough time to make sure Llamrei is taken care of while I am away and also allows me time to get my vegetable gardens covered over to avoid the crows pecking at my damned tomatoes again. Bloody things are a nuisance.'
 

Pushing off the wall, he turned as the mail slot on his door rattled, the collection of white and brown envelopes clattering into the white enamelled cage on the back of the door.
 

'Sounds perfect, Tony. I will let Derek know and get the guest room prepared. Oh, and just so you know we have a live-in helper now, as well. She helps me with Maria whilst I am working, so you behave yourself; I know what you're like. I married your son and the pair of you are as bad as one another when it comes to flirting with anything with boobs.'
 

Tony chortled as he clutched the phone between his ear and shoulder whilst filtering through his post.
 

'I suppose you're right there, my dear. I blame my father, as I don't doubt Derek blames his, but there we are. It's a Baker trait and one that we have no power over unless, of course, it allows us to land the woman of our dreams. It did so for me, and from what I understand, it did Derek as well. Just don't tell him I told you that or he would surely kill me. Anyway, my dear, I must go. I have some bills to pay and Llamrei needs her morning canter. I'll see you on the ninth.'
 

With laughter plaguing her voice, Janet bid Tony farewell. The conversation ended with the chiming of a bell as he dropped the handset back into its cradle and moved on into his living room.
 

A soft voice echoed in the back of his mind as he turned to drop his six-foot-six frame into the overstuffed sofa. Grasping with flailing arms, he stopped himself mere inches from the sofa, the bottom of his Deer Hunter coat brushing the cushion, the hem kissing it like the wing of a dove as he forced himself upright. 'Sorry, sweetheart.'
 

Turning, he made his way back out into the hallway, peeling the coat from his shoulders as he reached out for the handle of the under-stairs cupboard. Tony stopped cold, pain gripping him as he caught sight of a picture on the wall. Reaching out, he softly drew his fingers along the portrait's cheek, a single crystalline tear rolling down his own cheek as he stared into the shimmering blue eyes.
 

'You have no idea how much I miss you. You would be so proud of Derek, oh so very proud. I will see you again, my love. One day we will be together and we can go walk by the sea again.'
 

Kissing his fingertips, he pressed them to the smiling lips of the picture before stepping back into the living room, heading towards the coffee table covered in bills.

September Ninth
North East London
 

The rain fell, its cold pearls shimmering in the cold light of the moon. He listened to the drum of their relentless assault on the roof of his car as he stared at the shimmering wall of amber water sliding over the windowpane.
 

His eyes glowed with a sweltering pall of malevolence and violence as he watched her move behind the window, her rippling shadow dancing across his face as he stepped from the car and walked slowly to the door. The nail gun in his hand made him smile, the red reinforced plastic and steel body sitting heavy in his palm as he pulled a small metal disk from his jeans pocket. A malicious grin played over his face as he approached the gloss black door atop the four-tread staircase.
 

His hand rose, lifting the Fairbairn Sykes dagger and dragging it through the thick panelling in front of him, watching as he slowly carved out thick, curving lines of oak.
 

The compressed air canister that hung from the sling over his shoulder pulled him into the floor, its weight making the strap bite into his skin as he pressed the nail gun to the door. Aiming the head of it at the hole of the dog tag, he squeezed the trigger, sending the nail into the door at over a hundred pounds per square inch, driving the steel rod deep into the timber.
 

His smile deepened as he watched the woman behind the rain-lashed glass jump at the sudden noise. Flicking the tag with his finger, he sent it spinning around the anodised steel nail and ran through the water-drenched street to his car, the idling engine filling the quiet night's air with a heavy guttural throb.
 

His foot hovered over the accelerator like a fretful mother as he watched the woman shift and move behind the window, dragging clothing over her lithe frame and disappearing from view. A vicious grin slithered across his lips as he watched the door swing open, her silhouetted form bathed in the golden glow of the hallway light.

 

She jumped as the engine roared across the street, its echoing primal growl filling the air as it ate the road and sped from view, a glowing trail of oil-stained water and shimmering red-tinged rain lying in its wake. Janet turned, watching, fear and trepidation filling her as she stared at the word carved into the door and the spinning steel disk slowly clinking against the door panel.

 

****
 

Derek traced his fingers through the word gouged into his front door. The wood and paint was slashed and torn, leaving the pale scars of white oak standing stark against the black glossed door like blood on snow. Derek grunted as he wrenched the nail from the door, the rough neck hammer in his hand leaving a deep welt in the panel as he pried the three-inch long bar of steel from the centre of the door.
 

The heady ring of metal on concrete filtered through the early morning traffic as the nail hit the floor, bouncing down the steps of his home to the gutter at the edge of the road.
 

The dog tag sat in his palm nestled against the compression pad, covering his hand and the crepe bandage wrapped around it. He winced, suppressing the bitter tang of pain that lanced through his hand as the stitches stretched against his skin, tearing into his flesh as he closed his fingers over the tag, crushing it into his palm.
 

Shoving the door away, Derek strode into the hallway and kicked the door shut, letting the echoing slam of timber on timber roll over him as it crashed against the frame.
 

Janet watched as he stalked through the hallway, his bandage-covered hand so tightly clenched that blood ran from between his fingers, leaving a claret trail of glistening crumbs in his wake. She reached out tentatively, her hand stopping short of his shoulder as he paused, pivoting his head slightly as he glanced at her, anger and hatred dancing in his eyes; his eyes held such utter contempt that it crushed the man he was. Janet pulled her hand back, her fingers toying with the slim gold band on her finger as Derek looked away and carried on down the hall. His hunched form disappeared into the gloom-laden doorway leading to the basement.

 

His hand ached with the incessant throbbing of torn flesh as he lifted the door from its hinges and set it onto the two sawhorses. The deep gouges in the wood stared at him as he snatched the belt sander from where it sat beside his feet. High-pitched whirring seeped out into the early morning sky, the sound dulled to the point of near non-existence by the rapidly swelling din of London traffic.
 

Janet watched from the top step, a small holdall slung over one shoulder as she stepped down towards the pavement, the trailing red cable of the extension lead snaking down from the empty doorway behind her. Stopping short of where Derek stood, she watched as the bunched muscles in his shoulders tensed and relaxed while he worked the sander over the wood in front of him. Her eyes travelled over his worn but still chiselled body. Her brow furrowed at the heavy mottled bruising that covered his left shoulder and disappeared beneath the lines of the vest he wore.
 

'I'm off now, babe. I won't be back until tomorrow after twelve, unless the rota changes or I'm called in for something else; if I am, I'll text or call you.'
 

She waited for any form of acknowledgement, her ears straining for even the faintest of replies, but she heard nothing but the incessant drone of the cars and the heady whine of the sander.
 

'I love you.'
 

Again, nothing stirred as she watched the play of the sander and Derek's almost automaton-like movements; shoving back tears and the heavy, soul-rotting loneliness that had begun to worm its way through her, Janet turned and unlocked her car. Tossing her bag on to the back seat, she slipped into the driver's seat and locked her belt into place before glancing up into the rear view mirror, her eyes locking onto Derek. He held the still buzzing sander in his hand as he watched her, his eyes boring into hers as she stared at him from the mirror of her car. The faintest of smiles ghosted over his lips as he looked into her emerald green eyes.

 

With a shift of his thumb, the sander snapped to a stop, the safety button clicking into place as he let it clatter to the floor. With a pace and fluidity born of hard-won survival, Derek closed the gap between himself and Janet, dropping to his knees beside the driver's door as she sat belted into the seat of her car.
 

Cars screamed and drivers bellowed as the still flowing traffic passed him by mere inches. He felt the heat and grit-laden air flow over him as he pulled himself up. Leaning through the driver's side window he spoke.
 

'I love you too.'
 

Cupping her chin with his dust-coated hands, he drew her to him as close as he dared before ensnaring her lips with his, the heat and longing that burned through him tingeing her cheeks as they met. Pulling away, he smiled; the lines around his eyes deepened as he looked upon her startled form, the red hue of her cheeks making her eyes dance with a semi-bewildered joy.

 

He stood, grasping the top of the door with his hand. 'And don't you ever forget that.'
 

Janet nodded mutely, still too confused to say anything remotely coherent as she watched him move away. Her eyes lingered on him as he stepped to the middle of the pavement. Janet started the car and moved away from the curb, a coy grin playing across her features. With one last glance at her husband, Janet merged with the steady flow of early morning commuters and vanished from sight.
 

As Derek watched her disappear into the heaving flow of London's pulsing core, the beeper on his hip vibrated before bellowing out its shrill cry.
 

Sprinting up the steps, the door forgotten, Derek snatched his go bag from the under stairs cupboard, the door cracking against the plasterboard wall, before screaming out for Siobhan's attention. The young woman's startled form appeared in the kitchen doorway seconds later, bowl and spoon in hand.

 

'I have to go; get someone to finish that.'

 

Siobhan glanced from the bag, to Derek's beeper in his hand, to the look of harried, excitement-tinged fear in his eyes; a curt nod was her only reply before he sprinted back out the door, leaping to the pavement as he launched his bag through the open rear window of his Jeep.
 

Sighing heavily, Siobhan turned back into the kitchen, fishing Maria from the high chair. She wiped the remains of the baby food from around her mouth with her bib before plucking it from Maria's neck and setting her down in the playpen in the living room.

 

The throaty roar of the Jeep's engine slashed through the air as Derek pushed his way through the traffic that streamed past the door, the flashing blue light on his Jeep's roof saying more than his blaring horn and over-revving engine ever could.
 

Stepping back into the hallway, Siobhan squealed as she dropped her hand to the baseball bat inside the living room doorway. She watched the figure in the hallway advance; her hand stopped for a moment when she saw the easy smile and silver-tinged eyebrows overshadowing a pair of glittering blue eyes.
 

'Hello, love, sorry to startle you like that. Is my son home, or was that who I saw barging his way past three vans and a Skoda just now?'
 

Siobhan visibly relaxed and stepped fully into the hallway, her hand outstretched.
 

'You must be Tony. And yes, that was my rather un-illustrious employer you saw violating about seven different traffic laws; I'm afraid Janet is also out, and I have no idea when either will be back.'
 

Tony smiled as he set his suitcase beside the hallway table, the handle sliding down into the well in the top of the case. As he turned back to face her, Siobhan smiled, her eyes glittering with impish mirth as she watched his face take on a slightly worried cadence.
 

'You don't know anything about carpentry, do you?'

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