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Dead Good Christmas: An exclusive short story from Stuart Neville

On the sixth day of Christmas…

Here’s the sixth Dead Good Christmas short – exclusive free short stories, lovingly crafted by some of our best selling crime and thriller authors – and our December gift exclusively for Dead Good fans.

‘Tea and Butchery’ is from novelist and screenwriter, Stuart Neville.

‘Tea and Butchery’
& Stuart Neville

Jason had the kettle filled and teabags in the pot, ready for her return. The Volvo idled for a minute or two after pulling into the driveway. By the time the car’s engine shuddered and died the water already bubbled. Probably composing herself, he thought. He pictured her breathing deep, eyes closed, the steering wheel clenched in white-knuckled fingers.

The kettle’s hiss and rumble almost buried the sound of the front door opening and closing. It clicked off, calmed itself, and Jason heard her heels in the hall. She paused on the other side of the door. A quivering sigh preceded her entry, and she stopped in the doorway. Her eyes flitted to and from his like a crow pecking at carrion.

Chrissie looked elegant as always, her simple black trouser suit tracing her slender line against the kitchen’s white walls. Her eyes were red marble set in dark pits. She hadn’t slept since Monday night.

‘How was it?’ Jason asked.

‘All right,’ Chrissie said, her head shaking slightly as if it were a stupid question.

‘Just all right?’

She steadied herself against the worktop. ‘It was beautiful. It was sad. It was…’

When the words didn’t come, Jason said, ‘I know. I’m sorry.’

Chrissie laced her fingers together, flexing them, as she always did when angry and afraid. Jason knew every gesture, every tic. He understood every meaning, but could somehow never match knowledge with tact.

‘Where’s Tim?’ she asked.

‘Across the road,’ Jason said. ‘His mate Jack’s got some new game for his Xbox. We’ll hardly see him for a week.’

‘And Gusto?’

‘He’s around somewhere. Probably chewing something, or pissing on it.’

He lifted the kettle from its base and poured steaming water into the teapot. Three bags, one for each cup, and one for the pot. Chrissie insisted on it, just as she insisted the tea go in the cup first, then the milk, and then the sugar. She liked things just so.

‘Many there?’ he asked.

‘Hundreds,’ she said. She came alongside him, the small of her back resting against the worktop’s lip, her forearms across her breasts. ‘He was well liked. I suppose you find that hard to believe, but it’s true.’

Jason mashed the teabags with a spoon, taking in the dark aroma of tealeaf and faded perfume. ‘I only met him that once. He could’ve been Prince Charming for all I know.’

She flinched. He winced. ‘Sorry,’ he said.

‘He was a good man. It’s not fair.’ Chrissie’s hand went to her mouth and her shoulders jerked. She sniffed hard and wiped her eyes. ‘Whatever you thought of him, whatever you think of me, he was a good man. It was my fault. He didn’t approach me. I approached him. It was all me. He didn’t deserve it. He didn’t deserve to–’

‘I know,’ Jason said. ‘You told me. It was all you.’

They stood in silence while Jason poured the tea. One finger of milk in her cup, two in his. One sugar in hers, two in his. He watched the tiny bubbles break on the surface and wondered how hot it would be against her skin.

She put a hand on his upper arm. ‘What we talked about last night – I meant it. I’ll go if you want. No fighting, no demands. I don’t want anything, just so long as I can take Tim.’

He turned to her, took her porcelain face in his fat hands and said, ‘Listen to me. It’s over. Whatever happened with you and that–’

He swallowed the anger and inhaled.

‘It’s over,’ he said. ‘I want you here with me. With Tim. That’s all there is. Do you understand? I love you. I will always love you, no matter what. We can get through this, for us, for Tim, for this one.’

He pressed a hand against her belly.

‘You know it isn’t yours, don’t you?’ she asked. ‘It can’t be. We haven’t–’

Jason wrapped his arms around her, squeezing the words dead. ‘Doesn’t matter,’ he said. ‘Nothing matters but us.’

She wept hard against his neck. ‘I’m sorry. Oh Christ, I’m sorry.’

He knew the apology wasn’t for him.

When the weeping was done, her body softened against his. ‘Are we damned?’ she asked.

He kissed each eyelid in turn, damp and firm against his lips, then the warm blades of her mouth. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Tea’s getting cold.’

They took their cups and parted. Chrissie turned and walked from the kitchen, her eyes on her feet. Jason took his tea out to the garden. The sun grilled his bald spot, and heat bounced up from the patio. An excited panting pulled his attention to the herb beds at the far end. Gusto flung soil through his hind legs, making a spray of dark earth behind him, his snout diving beneath Chrissie’s treasured rosemary bush.

Jason trotted along the hexagonal paving stones, hot tea spilling across his fingers. He swiped the dog square across the hip with his Timberland shoe. Gusto spun in a circle, yelping and staring at him with accusing eyes.

‘Sod off,’ Jason hissed.

Gusto slinked away, glancing back over his shoulder. A sudden pang of guilt pricked Jason before the ridiculousness of it hit him. He covered his mouth with his free hand as a guffaw tore up from his stomach.

Gathering himself, Jason kicked loose earth back into the hole Gusto had dug. Finest Sheffield stainless steel winked up at him from the dirt, a wedding gift from someone-or-other. The bright metal vanished under soil, and for the thousandth time in a week Jason pictured that snide bastard’s smile dissolving as the knife opened his throat. He took a swig of tea and relished its warmth.

Originally published in the short story collection The Six.

Well, we hope that you enjoyed our sixth short story. All of the other published stories can be found in our Short Stories section. We’ll be revealing more right up to Christmas Eve.

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