Chapter 6 A visit from social services and a missing person’s report – Part 1

Brenda always appreciated the gentle way Ann squeezed her hand and put her head slightly to one side. There was often a kind look, and sometimes anxiety in the district nurse’s grey eyes, particularly when Brenda had to push down her sleeves to cover the marks. There was no kind look in her eyes today as Ann and Renée came into the bungalow, the sound of their approach masked by the noise of the Asda man driving away. Nor was there much kindness in the eyes of her colleague from social services as they stepped over empty lager cans into the hall. Both wondered where Brenda was and why Luke was standing in the kitchen swearing as he unpacked the Asda shop. Renée Sagemill had already noted the folded wheelchair in the corner and the filth all over the kitchen. She glanced at Ann as the two took in the dirty dishes stacked in the sink and on the draining board, ready meals packaging strewn on the counter tops under half unpacked shopping. And Luke upright and leaning into the counter as he threw groceries viciously across the room. “What is this crap?” he mumbled unaware of his audience, as he flung the Asda own brand vegan veggi burgers into the growing heap of leeks and celeriac and other rejects.

The visitors coughed slightly as one and Luke turned taking in a deep breath, dank and dirty, stale. Peering through the smoke, his cigarette held tight at the base of his fingers he took another breath “What the fuck.” he muttered before pasting is most charming smile across his face: “ladies, ladies …” he pulled on his victim gallant persona, smiling smiling but, following their eyes to the wheelchair he knew the game was up. The smile fell and the winning tones melted away. “You can’t come in here without knocking, without asking. No right” he spat, taking a small hostile step towards them before theatrically falling back against the sink. “Mr Mordrake” Renée replied sweetly but with a streak of shining steel, “Mr Mordrake, we always come straight in so that you don’t have to get out of your wheelchair and to save Mrs Mordrake the trouble. Hmm?” “You know this. But I think you might perhaps, have forgotten we were coming this morning? Too excited with the shopping perhaps?” she continued, eyebrows raised, brow wrinkled and the smile still in place. “Hmm?” she said again as she cast her eye over the ugly mess already crawling with flies despite the early season. Luke stared blank and angry, confused, resistant, first at Renée and then at Ann standing slightly behind her. He raised his fist and elbow high, armpit shining bright white and hair clumped, thrust a pointed finger at her and then at Renée, “you,” he struggled, “you and you, you cows”. Found out and with no one at hand to blame he seethed in swirling defensive fury. Undone he was speechless, soundless but for spitty, hissy breaths, impotent, trapped, enraged, powerless.

Renée and Ann stood patient and waiting, Ann amazed at the strength in that forearm, Ann oddly fascinated by Luke’s long and knuckly dirty-nailed finger, and Renee curdled with anger. Anger not just at Luke, at the pretense she’s missed and at what she would have to go through to resolve it. Anger at the work, the retributions, the guilt, the consequences, but most of all anger that she’d been so complacent, so fooled. The defenses already were forming in her head. He was a tricksy one. Difficult. Protected, shielded by his wife. It wasn’t her fault. Tricksy, that’s it. And where was the wife? Where was Brenda? “Where is Mrs Mordrake?” she asked. The question should have fallen like an axe but instead it was fuel to an already flashing fire. Luke stared defiant, livid and threatening “How the fuck should I know. Gone. Gone since Sunday night.” as he tore at the package of sweet chilis, rightly thinking them a tasting treat, wrongly thinking them raspberries or something, and underestimating just how tasty they might be. Tossing a Scotch Bonnet into his grinning maw and chewing mouth open and laughing, he thrust his face towards each of them in turn, menacing, threatening. His aggressive stance, his idea that he was a lion of terror would horrify and drive them to quivering silence. 

Leaning in even closer to Renée Luke snarled, “boo you cunt”, oozing malevolence and violence as she and Ann stepped back. In this split second they stared at him in gratifying horror, but as Luke worked up to bellow “Fuck off out of it”, the angrily chewed Scotch Bonnet suddenly awoke and let rip to suddenly render Luke a crouching mess, screaming and grasping at his mouth. He had one hand clamped on the table’s edge and the other scrabbling between his throat and his tongue, arrayed with many pieces of burning bright ripe and red chili. The eyes were reddening and starting to flood. The menacing shout he had intended for Ann and Renee turned into a squeal of pain and he was coughing not bellowing, choking not screaming primordial loud, and spluttering in seering agony as the chilis worked their matchless magic. Luke’s eyes streamed and his face was turning an alarming shade of puce, as he spat and clawed away from his mouth what remained of the half chewed chili flicking it in little pieces onto the kitchen table. Flies bounced away in alarm and Ann crouched to retrieve the discarded cigarette. Renée helped Luke into a chair, hitting him with some satisfaction smartly on the back and noting that he was moving quite capably. “Get some water” she told Ann briskly. Ann, who had been raised in Jaipur until she was a teenager, was about to remind Renée that water makes the burning worse. It spreads the chili oil over a wider surface area. Bread’s the thing. A moment’s pause was enough. Nah she said to herself and she handed Luke a cup of water, smiling gently at him as he slurped and rubbed his tearing eyes. The chili remnants on his fingers added to the spectacle Ann noted with mild, ever so mild, concern.