‘…Well, I just hope that my mother never finds out that I’ve got a criminal record. It would kill her.’
‘Kill her? A little melodramatic, I think. I can imagine indigestion, heartburn even, but death – I’m not sure that death is likely.’
‘You don’t know her.’
‘Well, yes, that’s true, but I know you and your mum can’t be all bad. Besides, you haven’t actually got a criminal record.’
‘Arrested in Santa’s Grotto. The shame of it.’
‘We were released without charge.’
‘Besides, we probably could have sued them. Locking us up in that cupboard overnight.’
‘They had no idea we were in there. How were they to know that a perfectly sane and rational woman would have allowed her partner…’
Dinah smiled. ‘…allowed her business partner to lure her into a stationery cupboard at the back of Santa’s Grotto in a search for who knows what, where they stayed until some unsuspecting member of staff locked them in for the night? They had no idea we were in there. The poor woman who opened the door nearly died when you rushed past her…’
‘You’d been laying on my bladder all night.’
‘…Leaving me to explain the situation.’
Shaw became instantly indignant. ‘You told her that I’d kidnapped you!’
‘Well, I didn’t want her to think that I’d gone in there voluntarily, did I?’
Shaw was holding a potato peeler in his left hand and a potato in his right. He gave the clear impression of a man who did not comprehend the relationship between the two. ‘It might have been wise not to have mentioned kidnap,’ he said. ‘That way we might not have had to spend twelve hours being interrogated by the serious crime squad.’
‘Well you didn’t help the situation,’ snapped Dinah, snatching the potato from him in exasperation. ‘Actually officer, we are Private Investigators, searching for the Spirit of Christmas. He thought that you were winding him up, particularly since you couldn’t give him any details of our client.’
‘I gave him a description!’ Shaw sounded positively affronted.
‘Well, so you did. Fat man with full white beard, as I recollect.’
‘Well he was!’
‘They only let us go because they thought that you were stark staring mad and they didn’t want you in the cells over Christmas.’
‘Well they did, so that’s all that matters,’ said Shaw. ‘Besides, you didn’t help, claiming that you’d never seen me before.’
‘I certainly saw you in a new light having spent a night confined in a tiny cupboard with you.’
‘That’s not the same. They… What do you mean in a new light?’
‘In your sleep – you talk?’
Dinah passed him a bottle of wine and a corkscrew, hoping that he’d have more success with those than the potato. ‘I’m not sure what you were talking about, but you said that it was terribly inconvenient. Then you started muttering about having to follow your instincts, and I lost interest.’
Shaw sighed loudly and handed back the corkscrew before unscrewing the lid from the wine bottle. ‘Do you have glasses?’ he asked.
‘Strangely enough Shaw, I do,’ she said. ‘In the cupboard behind you. I’ll have the big one.’
Shaw opened the cupboard and removed the two glasses he found there: a large wine goblet and a shot glass. He filled them both and handed the goblet to Dinah. Dinah put down the mutilated remains of a potato and stared hollowly at the peeler. ‘Cheers,’ she said. ‘Merry Christmas.’ They clinked glasses and sipped the wine.
‘Optrex,’ said Shaw.
Dinah sniffed her wine, ‘Well, it’s not Chateau Lafitte,’ she said, ‘but…’
‘This glass smells of Optrex,’ said Shaw.
‘Ah, yes,’ Dinah stifled a grin. ‘I had a stye. Use a mug.’
Shaw picked up a mug and studied it carefully, before rinsing it under the tap and filling it with wine. ‘Thanks for… you know… asking me round,’ he said.
‘Least I could do… partner,’ she smiled.
‘Do you mind if we don’t have the full works for dinner?’ asked Dinah. ‘I mean, we’ve got crackers and a pudding, but I thought it would save a lot of time if we went slightly more unconventional for main.’
Dinah nodded. ‘Baked Beans,’ she said. ‘To be honest, I wasn’t expecting company. I was going to do some chips, but I think someone’s sabotaged the peeler.’
‘You said you had crackers.’
‘Kind of… virtual crackers, really.’
Shaw’s bottom lip was protruding so far that Dinah feared it might well need support.
‘We can both say ‘Bang!’’ she suggested.
‘OK,’ he muttered. ‘You did say pudding though.’
‘Oh yes,’ Dinah replied. ‘I’ve got pudding. Definitely.’
‘You haven’t got pudding, have you?’ said Shaw, who could only have bettered his impression of a five year old by peeing his pants.
‘No. I can do sherry trifle – as long as you’re not bothered about the trifle.’
‘I suppose it would seem petty of me to check that you have got sherry?’
‘Not at all.’
‘Have you got sherry?’
‘I already told you, not at all.’ Dinah couldn’t help laughing at her own joke.
Shaw, who was building up to something approaching a full-scale tantrum, caught the joy in her eyes, and began to giggle himself.
‘A fine bloody Christmas dinner this is. I suppose you know that if we had been arrested, we would have got the full works at the Police Station. Turkey, sprouts, pigs in blankets…’
Dinah exploded with a laugh that deposited a fine mist of red wine over half of the kitchen. Shaw, who had received the full force of the explosion clean between the eyes, shook his hair dry whilst Dinah fought for breath, but each time she looked at his uncomprehending face, she started to laugh again. Eventually she hugged him, which gave her the opportunity to not look at him, and so, by and by, she regained her composure. She kissed him on the forehead, without any idea of why, and led him through to the sitting room. ‘Why don’t you tell me about the fat man with the full white beard,’ she said. ‘What did he want us to look for again?’
The settee was small and definitely inclined to pitch its occupants to the centre, which is where both Shaw and Dinah found themselves. They sat, cramped together for a few painful seconds before Dinah began the difficult process of getting to her feet without having to use Shaw’s knee as a support.
‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow,’ said Shaw. ‘Nobody works on Christmas Day.’
Dinah gave him a hard stare.
‘Alright, alright, except for Father Christmas.’
‘Phew,’ she said. ‘That’s a relief. Crisps?’
‘You haven’t got any, have you?’
‘I’ll get the wine.’
Dinah returned to the kitchen as Shaw sat back, as comfortably as the seat would allow, breathing in the little flat around him. It was warm and the wine had started to mellow him. Un-consciously he picked up a cushion and placed it beside him in the middle of the settee, plumping it absent-mindedly. ‘Actually, you know, I really wish I’d taken his address,’ he said as Dinah walked back into the room.
‘The man with the white beard,’ he smiled as Dinah topped up his mug. ‘Because the more I think about it, the more I think I might have found what he was looking for…’
Part seven of this saga is here with links at the bottom that will get you to the whole story so far.