Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Robbery, Murder and Cups of Tea - Chapter 1

In a small English village, one inhabitant was planning an unlikely career change.
‘I think I might become a private detective,’ said Ray.
He sipped his tea and waited for a response.
None came.
Laura appeared to be ignoring him, which was not unusual. She was watching a foreign film, possibly French, with English subtitles. A man was standing on a bridge at night. At least it seemed to be at night; in black and white it was hard to tell. One thing was certain - it was raining. Or the television was broken. He assumed the man was in a suicidal mood and was contemplating jumping into the water below. It looked a long way down, and he wondered how far you could fall into water and still survive. It probably depended on the position of your body on impact. Face-first could be disastrous, even off a very small bridge, especially if the water was shallower than expected. He would check on the Internet later.
Despite his wife’s indifference, he decided to continue talking, mostly because he wanted to share his ideas with someone, even if they were not listening.
‘I thought it could be a way to make some extra money,’ he said. ‘Not a fortune, but just a few pounds. Although, thinking about it, private detectives must get paid a fair amount of money, depending on their success rates. Sherlock Holmes always seemed rich. Although, he might have been rich before he began detecting. I suppose that does seem likely. Anyway, money isn’t everything. I could do small cases at first. Finding lost wallets. Or children. That sort of thing.’
Laura bit into an apple and Ray realised for the first time that she was crying. She wiped her eyes with a tissue from the box she kept beside her. It was a box which had to be replaced frequently, as she often cried during films. Ray had tried to encourage her to watch less emotional ones. ‘No one cries during Alien,’ he had said, but she had ignored him as always. She seemed to like crying at the television, but not at real life - she never cried at real life. Even at funerals. Or when chopping onions. Ray cried uncontrollably at both.
On screen the man decided against a watery grave and walked into the darkness accompanied by orchestral music. Ray wondered how different his life would be if he was accompanied by music throughout his daily routine. Walking to the pub would be more dramatic with Wagner. Stacking shelves would be quicker with Metallica.
‘I was just thinking it could be a bit of a hobby. Make the evenings more interesting. Probably just be out for a couple of hours after dinner. You would barely miss me. You might even prefer it.’
She would definitely prefer it, he was sure of that. Being married involved even less communication than he had imagined. He wondered how long it would be before they spent their evenings in separate rooms. Or houses.
Laura sat with her legs hanging over the arm of the sofa. She wore a cream, silk dressing gown and her skin was still pink from the bathwater she had been soaking in for at least an hour. She filled the room with soft scents of lavender and vanilla. She took another bite of her apple and chewed. The film paused for an advert break. A woman with digestive issues seemed considerably happier after eating strawberry yoghurt. A Hollywood star looked enigmatic and serious advertising a new perfume.
Ray waited for Laura to speak. The film resumed and the man sat alone in a café staring mournfully out of the window.
‘Ray,’ said Laura, before pausing to bite into her third apple and wipe a stray tear from her left cheek. ‘You find it challenging enough running the local supermarket. Maybe you should concentrate on your day job? People would hate to see you lose focus and for the cereals to end up in just any order. It would cause chaos.’
‘Well,’ he said, and then ran out of words.
During the year since their wedding many of their evenings had passed in a similar fashion. Laura spent long periods of time relaxing in the bath, phoned friends, watched romantic films with happy endings and ate a variety of healthy foods, usually involving fruit. Ray wandered around the house, drank tea, visited the pub alone and drew up plans for making himself wealthier. So far his plans had all failed, mostly in the conceptual stage.
‘You have all these ideas, Ray,’ said Laura.
He was expecting, or hoping, for her to say something else, but she began eating seedless grapes and returned what little of her attention she had given him to the television.  
When they were first engaged many people, including his father, had expressed their surprise at how beautiful she was. He was reminded of those comments as she ran her fingers through Titian hair and stretched her slender legs. ‘Why would a woman like that marry you?’ said his father. It was a fair question, if a bit uncalled for, and one that Ray tried not to ponder too deeply in case he found some uncomfortable answers.
He left her alone in the lounge and headed to the kitchen to make tea. Ray liked tea and he was capable of drinking up to fifteen cups a day, which had the added advantage of creating numerous work breaks. Not that he was lazy at work. He ran the supermarket with surprising efficiency. Still, there were plenty of occasions when a tea was necessary to recover from a particularly troublesome customer.
‘I can be a detective,’ he said to himself, as he sat at the kitchen table and sipped his tea.
It was late October and raining. No one had been particularly surprised to learn that it was already one of the wettest months since records began, which had initiated many conversations about climate change in The White Dragon. None of them had been very conclusive. The landlord had argued that climate change meant that Britain was rising and floating towards France. Tony was sure that changes in the Gulf Stream were going to send the Earth spinning off its axis straight into the sun. Ray’s theory that it might make the weather harder to predict had been universally dismissed.
He briefly considered visiting The White Dragon for a pint, but it was raining with increasing vigour, and he was not overly keen to get wet, even on the four minute walk it would take him to reach the local. He was content to sit and ruminate on his new career path. He was confident that even in quiet English villages there were occasional robberies and murders. Once he had built up some experience he liked the idea of investigating some of them himself. He had no formal training, unless his GCSEs in chemistry and biology were relevant, but qualifications were not going to stop him. There would be plenty of opportunities to start small and local: lost pets, stolen garden furniture, investigating the odd extra marital affair. The inhabitants of Diddlebury would be more than happy to pay for resolutions to such cases, especially if they concluded in the exposure and humiliation of one of their neighbours.
‘Case solved,’ said Ray, as he imagined rugby tackling a particularly violent burglar outside the bakery.
‘Talking to yourself is a sign of idiocy,’ said Laura, as she breezed in and out of the kitchen to collect a kiwi fruit and a spoon.
‘Or genius,’ he said. ‘Einstein probably talked to himself constantly about gravity - though maybe that was Newton.’
‘And no trying to be a detective,’ called Laura from the lounge. ‘Remember to just concentrate on running the supermarket. Make sure there are enough bread rolls and other important things.’
‘Absolutely,’ said Ray.
He watched the rain and thought about some of the possible reasons why Sherlock Holmes never married.