Thursday, February 11, 2010


Title: Keys
Author: Ranger

We were standing by the window in the last of the evening sunshine and I was watching, without enthusiasm, the golden liquid Damien was pouring into a spoon. 
"I SAID I was sorry." I pleaded for the third time. 
"And I said I believed you." Damien recapped the bottle and held out the tablespoon. I winced. 
"Damien please- I'll be sick, I swear I'll be more careful-" 
"Right now." Damien said firmly. In despair I opened my mouth and accepted the tablespoon. And grimaced, hard. 
Damien gently prevented me spitting the spoon out, apparently unaware of the Geneva Convention. "Swallow." 
I swallowed and thanked my stars when he took the wretched thing away. 
"That is disgusting! Soap couldn't be worse than that-" 
"Soap probably isn't the wisest thing to use with a severe asthmatic." Damien put the bottle back in the cupboard. "Cod liver oil won't do you any harm whatsoever. No matter how often we use it. And right now, you can face the wall over there and have a think about honesty being the best policy. Particularly over lies I'm going to see straight through." 
Muttering, I found the wall in question. Damien, sweet as he is, was getting out of hand. I could see a time coming where I was going to have to be a lot firmer with him. 
"Face the wall Nicky. Not the garden." 
Starting tomorrow, when he was in a better temper. 
I leaned my forehead against the cool plaster, folded my arms and pulled faces, trying to get the foul taste out of my mouth. This was a new, creative idea on his part, instigated by some wretch of a friend who told him about the nutritional values of fish oils. I'd been perfectly happy with Damien's concerns about soap going anywhere near my mouth, and the two of us just living peacefully with the occasional white lie…. if I ever found out who fixed that particular status quo, I'd have a few opinions to make known to them. 
From the sounds behind me, Damien was thinking about cooking, jacketless, his tie pulled loose. Freeing himself from his tie is the first thing he does every evening when he walks through the door. The smell and sound of chopping, then frying onions gradually eased my indignation. Sunlight stole through the glass from the lowering sun and I turned my head to follow it through the low pannels of the door and across the grass. 
"It's almost-" 
Damien's hand swatted sharply across my backside, making me yelp. I took the hint and fixed my gaze back on white plaster. There was something very peaceful about standing here, listening to him move around behind me, opening cupboards, murmuring to himself about ingredients. About ten minutes later he turned on the evening news and I was almost surprised by his second, far gentler swat. 
"Wash your hands." 
I washed at the kitchen sink, half an eye on the garden still. "It's almost warm enough to eat outside…?" 
"It looks warmer than it is." Damien leaned past me for a dishcloth. "Clear your files off the table." 
"We could try-" 
"We could catch pneumonia. Files." 
He was no fun at all at the moment. I collected my files, considered for a minute and transferred them into the hall cupboard rather than onto the floor. Damien's mood had been distinctly edgy for over a week now and I suspected that clutter would not sit well with him right now. The paperwork reminded me of the stack he'd taken to work this morning. 
"How was your meeting this afternoon?" 
"Bloody awful." Damien said bluntly. He put both plates down on the table and drenched his with salt, which is a habit I'd more or less got him out of. "What about you? What did you do today apart from NOT ring the bank?" 
I shrugged a little, eyes on the table. "Nothing much." 
Silence. Damien put down his fork, reached for my free hand and lifted it to his lips. 
"I'm sorry darling. It was a lousy day, it's been a lousy week and the last thing I ought to do is bring it all home with me." 
"Is it still this Partington chap?" 
"Yes. If this goes on much longer I'm going to hand the contract back to Jerry and tell him I'm not prepared to handle it, I don't care what the commission is. I tell you Nick, the man is rude, he's arrogant, he has no idea what he's talking about and he seems to think if he argues with me long enough he can make me tear up the planning authority regulations. I hate doing private conversions." 
"You liked doing Tim and Adam's." I pointed out. Damien turned my hand over, bit gently at my palm and let me go. 
"They're a little different to dear Mr Partington and wife. Besides, Adam knew what they wanted, he just didn't want the hassle of doing it himself." 
"That wasn't what you said when they spent that whole weekend arguing about which wall the fireplace was going on." 
Damien smiled. His real smile. "I should have built it where Tim asked me and let them fight it out about the smoke fumes afterwards. In the words of the prophet, stuff it. Stuff building designs, planning commissions and anything else until Monday morning. Do you want to go sailing tomorrow?" 
"You just said it wasn't warm enough." I teased him. Damien laughed. 
"Not warm enough for you to tempt me into sitting in the garden. Warm enough to get soaked to the skin in a lake for a few hours. We ought to do a basic check on the boat anyway and see how she's wintered." 
It's not something he ever has to coax me on. And it was the first spark of enthusiasm I'd seen from him all week. 
We were on the landing, arguing amicably over which pair of jeans belonged to who in the morning when the phone rang. Damien swiped both pairs out of my hands and held them out of my reach while he answered. 
I tackled him round the waist. He fended me off with his free hand, the phone tucked into the junction of his neck and shoulder. 
"Jackie? No I'm not possibly coming in, I've got far more important things to do. What? Oh God….." 
That sigh told me everything. He put a hand on my shoulder that stopped me wrestling at once, and took the phone up properly. 
"I went all over that yesterday, can't this wait two days? Is Jerry around? Allright, I'll be there in half an hour. I know, it's not your fault love. Don't worry about it." 
"You're not going into the office?" I demanded as he hung the phone up. Damien dropped the jeans over the bannisters. 
"I've got to. The delightful Mr Partington's heard from the planning authorities and the initial application's been rejected. Which is no surprise to anyone, but if he doesn't talk to one of us today, he's threatening to take his contract elsewhere." 
"So?" I demanded. Damien sighed. 
"I might hand him back to Jerry on Monday, but I don't have the power to dismiss a contract for the company. This is worth quite a bit. It'll be an hour at the most, I won't give him any more time than that-" 
"Why don't you phone Jerry?" I grabbed the phone book off the table and flicked through it. "It's his company, let him deal with it!" 
"He's got kids, the weekends are important to him." 
"And I'm not!" I said indignantly. Damien gave me a dry look. 
"I was hoping you'd have a little more maturity and insight than they might as to why I need just one hour in the office. It'll be short and sweet, I promise, then we'll go on to the lake." 
"Why bother?" I snapped back. "You go to the office if that's more important! I'll find something else to do on my own!" 
"Nicky…" Damien said warningly. "I've explained why. This doesn't change our plans that much-" 
So he was going back to the office to get stressed and short tempered all over again and I was supposed to be happily responsible about all this? I threw the phone book down and stormed upstairs. 
"You do whatever the hell you want! I'm NOT going to hang around here all bloody day waiting for you, Damien Mitchell! Maybe I should ring Jackie and make an appointment in your diary for next weekend!" 
The bedroom door slammed satisfyingly behind me. A split second later it was caught on the rebound and Damien's hand closed on my shoulder, interrupting what should have been a fine example of the internationally recognised sulking position, face down on the bed. His momentum carried us both to the bed allright, but somehow he got there before me and my final step ended in a not entirely voluntary swan dive over his lap. 
"QUITE apart from the ethics of slamming doors," Damien said crisply above me, "That kind of language is unpleasant and unnecessary in any context. It's got no place at all between people with any kind of respect or caring for each other." 
I squirmed, well aware that I had no hope whatsoever of talking him out of this now, and still more unfortunately aware that in only shorts and t shirt, I was not dressed for this kind of encounter. My underwear was pulled down to my knees without ceremony. 
"Damiiiieeeen…. I'm sorry, I really am, I just don't want you to go back to the office-" 
"That isn't the issue, Nick. You don't have to agree with me, you don't have to understand, but there are many ways in which you can tell me that you are angry without resorting to swearing at me, or throwing tantrums like that one. OR behaving like that to try and manipulate me into co operating with you. That is NOT on, and you know it." 
I knew it. I really knew it as his hand cracked down across my backside, leaving a blazing imprint behind. When he's annoyed into reacting like this, the words 'short' and 'sharp' come to mind. Swats rained down, hard and rapid, scalding their way across my bottom and building the heat and the smart until I was choking with yelps and tears. I clutched at his leg and wriggled frantically under the arm locked around my waist as his hand smacked and smacked at my bare and hapless bottom, moving back and forth with all too much dexterity. Emotional fights are something he feels very strongly about, terming it as the root of hurt and misunderstandings and complications rather than two people actually facing and dealing with the point of conflict at hand. It was therefore a reaction I usually resisted, but he'd been so tired and fed up this week… Sometimes I think his shorter spankings are more cathartic than his serious ones. I was crying hard when he stopped walloping and put me back on my feet. 
"Now get dressed and come downstairs. You're coming to the office with me and then we'll talk about what we want to do afterwards. And you ARE coming with me. I'm not leaving you here in this state." 
I didn't want to go. I didn't want to get dressed. And I knew no rational discussion was going to convince him to let me stay. Damien hooked an arm around my waist, pulled me back and kissed my forehead. 
"I'm sorry I've got to go in. I know you're not happy about it. But you do understand why, and you don't need to make a scene about it." 
I was still in tears and it was too hard to stop and talk rationally. I pulled away and wiped at my eyes. 
"You've been in a foul mood all week because of this contract. We've actually got two days of peace and quiet and now you want to go and let this-" I looked at him and changed gears "blasted man upset you again. You're quite right. I'm not happy about it." 
"Nicky," Damien said patiently. "I haven't got any choice. I'm not thrilled either. If I promise you I'll try not to let him get to me, will you come with me and try not to let this get out of proportion?" 
"Maybe." I allowed. Damien pulled me back and this time I put my arms around him for a second, quieter hug. He slid a hand down my back and patted my still bare rump. 
"Get dressed." 
Partington was big, square and overbearing. He seemed to fill Damien's office and he hadn't stopped talking since we arrived. I was sitting on the desk in the outer office, fiddling with one of the secretaries executive toys and listening to Damien through the open door, trying fit a word in edgewise. 
"Mr Partington, we did warn you from the beginning that the plan was extremely optomistic and you were going to have to compromise with the authority-" 
"We're talking about my house on my land! If your planning isn't sufficiently competent to give me what I want and keep the authorities happy-" 
Damien sounded amazingly soothing. "The next step is to leave the plans with me to be revised and we start to look at altering the specific aspects the authority aren't happy with-" 
"It's your job to argue them down! That's what I pay you for!" 
"Actually," Damien said coolly, "You pay me for designing and organising your planning application. What becomes of it once the design is completed is not my responsibility unless, as in this case, you wish the original application to be revised." 
Bravo Damien. I gave him a silent round of applause. Partington sounded furious. 
"If you could submit a plan of any professional quality and make yourself properly available to your clients, instead of turning up in jeans with your limp wristed little boyfriend in tow-" 
"Nick!" Damien's voice was sharp. I leaned into the doorway of the office and looked Partington over from head to foot. He reminded me of a large saddleback pig in a suit. Damien jerked his head sharply at the door. 
"Wait for me in the carpark. I won't be long." 
The implications of that request were very happy ones. I gave Partington a sweet smile and left him with Damien. 
The office stairs ran down into the workshop of the contractors next door and out into a yard full of industrial vehicles. I wandered between them for a while, scuffing at the concrete and wondering what exactly Damien would say to a client when sufficiently goaded. I could vouch for his oratory skills being extremely versatile, not to mention barbed. It was only five minutes before he called me from the doorway of the workshop. 
"Nicky! I've just got to leave a message for Jerry and I'll be with you. Don't wander off." 
"Where did you leave the body?" I shouted back. Damien shook his head at me and disappeared back up the stairs. 
I wandered to the door of the workshop where he'd been standing. There was a huge board full of hooks, on which hung the many keys of every vehicle in the yard. Underneath that board, my eyes fell on a dish in which all visitors were asked to put their car keys while at the office, to enable the mechanics to move any vehicles blocking their work. Partington's sleek Mercades stood gleaming amongst the battered and functional trucks and vans that filled the yard. Several of the contractor vehicles were being cleaned and the water was running in a steady stream through the workshop doors and down the wide drain just beside the doorway. I watched it pour for some minutes, listening to the quiet bubble and echo as it fell. Only one set of keys lay in the visitor's dish. Only one visitor was arrogant enough to drag office staff in on a Saturday. I twirled the keys gently around in the dish. One fat car key. One red leather tag. The water bubbled on. I picked the key up. It swung on my finger, back and forth, wobbling a little unsteadily while I thought of Damien's face when he came home from work every day this week. The getting up at the crack of dawn because he wasn't sleeping that well. The moods and withdrawal every evening. An angry, blustering voice calling my Damien incompetent. Unprofessional. The spanking I'd got just an hour ago that I could still feel the heat of. 
Was it Oscar Wilde who said the only way to overcome temptation was to give in to it? I shut my eyes. The key trembled on my finger as it swung. Then the weight slipped and there was a soft tinkle and splash. I opened my eyes. The key had dematerialised. 
Damien emerged from the doorway, pulling his jacket on. 
"Right. We're out of here." 
"Where's Partington?" I said anxiously. Damien didn't look back. 
"Sorting out an appointment to see Jerry. I'm not dealing with anyone who speaks to me like that. If Jerry doesn't like him, he can send him somewhere else. Come ON Nick!" 
Not at all sorry to be leaving the scene, I followed him back through the line of vehicles, past the Mercades to Damien's car, and we spent the afternoon in the sun, sailing. 
It wasn't until we got home that I really started to think about it. After all, the man was Damien's client. Damien would be absolutely furious with me- but at the same time, my conscience was never very good about this sort of thing, and Damien and I weren't at all in the habit of keeping secrets. 
It was a quarter to midnight when I finally gave up the struggle. My backside was still faintly sore, and it was not an encouraging reminder, nor was I keen to end what had been a wonderful afternoon with the scene I knew this would provoke - but I knew I'd rather try and sleep on a really sore behind with Damien knowing and forgiving, than try to sleep on nagging guilt. 
He wasn't really listening, his voice was already blurred. I peered at him in the faint light of the clock radio, just about distinguishing the line of his nose and jaw. 
"I - er-" 
I trailed off, not sure how to put this. Damien's voice sharpened fractionally when I said nothing further. 
"What? If you've been watching The X Files again, there's going to be trouble, Nicholas. I refuse to check the cupboards for giant morphing slugs every night for the next week." 
I wondered briefly how he felt about checking for malevolent Indian reservation spirits: I'd forgotten about that embargo. 
"No- no it isn't that- there's just- something I need to tell you?" 
Damien groaned and rolled over to bury his face in the pillow. "Oh Lord. Nicky. It's late and I'm really not up to horrendous and complicated confessions. Whatever it is, I'll deal with it in the morning." 
"You know the key dish at the office?" I said softly. "I was coming out of the workshop and I saw- well I saw Mr Partington's keys there. And I- mmn - sort of accidentally dropped them down a drain." 
Damien shifted deeper into his pillow. "Oh. I wondered where they went." 
Even sleepy, I expected him to react a little more strongly than that. 
"You don't mind?" I said eventually. 
"Well I'd rather you didn't make a habit of it, but it's hardly the end of the world… with all my worldly goods I thee endow, etcetera etcetera …go to sleep Nick." 
I looked down at him in total bewilderment. "What?" 
"They were my car keys. I just thought one of the mechanics had picked them up to move the car and forgotten to put them back. It's not a problem, I keep numerous sets of spare keys on me as you well know, considering how often we seem to find ourselves keyless. Although I think this is the first set you've drowned." 
Some people never forgive or forget. I lay in the dark and thought for a minute. 
"What?" Damien said plaintively. 
"If they were your keys-" 
"Are you SURE they were your keys?" 
"Nick, you've seen them kicking around the house daily for about eighteen months." 
I ignored that. "They were the only set on the table. I really thought- are you really sure they weren't Partington's keys?" 
"Perfectly." Damien hooked an arm around me and pulled me down, stifling any further questions I might have. "His had some awful club logo on the key ring. And I posted that set down the drain myself."
~The End~
 Copyright Ranger 2010


Donna said...

Re-reading a bunch of your stories- I love this one, I kill myself laughing every time I read the end bit!

Ranger said...

Thank you Donna! :)

Key said...

I still laugh at the end of this story when Damien admits to posting the keys down the drain himself! I love these guys.

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