Abrupt silence caused her eardrums to buzz. Henry’s hand froze in pre-wipe. Silence expired to a round of detonations more significant in weight. Henry’s hands proceeded to burrow into the cloth, his eyes not leaving hers. The menacing andante instilled a wish to be anywhere but here. But Henry did not appear phased, even when Spartan thuds flourished out into a crashing dissonance. Nancy didn’t like the complicit nuance of his level gaze. She didn’t like being couched into looking away and how this could be misconstrued by one who spent hours shaving the space above the box hedge. Naïve and easily-bossed Henry had latched onto her somehow. To what end, she couldn’t be sure.
In a chill of unease, Nancy shifted away and retreated from the kitchen. She stepped through the threshold into an airspace rammed with thunderous booms. Nancy froze in place. The griffin-headed Newell post continued to gaze indifferent; the lights above Vince’s door continued to flicker from left to right. The explosion to end all came with a searing crack.
A low clatter sent her morning’s coffee rippling against the wall of her stomach. She backed into the under-stairs recess as the gallery door squeaked. A shadow lurched into view. The hem of a bathrobe flapped above feet out of step with the crutches. Black ankle hair, wine-blotched legs, nodule-ridden shins and meandering scars scorched her sights. Vince’s robe barely concealed his abdomen, glistening, pink and hairy. The rest of his colour converged upon his face, berry-hued and atopped with a flattened mop. Overshadowing brows denied her view of his eyes but his downward grimace told her he had a mission. His nostrils flickered on spotting her beneath the stairs. In ecstatic frenzy, he dropped his crutches and made a lurching saunter her way. The flanks of his bathrobe lapped against hinged knee braces. One step. Two steps. Navy boxers flashed. Three steps. Four steps. His breaths hissed. Nancy emerged from her trance and darted for the surveillance room.
Nancy had not encountered Henry’s magnified eyes in the kitchen and was grateful. For half-an-hour, she dare not step outside; she dare not enter the foyer. She also knew better than to peek through the window in search for Henry. He wouldn’t be found; Henry had his rake and his strimmer and his garden duties for camouflage. Nancy also knew Henry had granted her access through Vince’s gates this morning.
Vince had taken four steps without the crutches. She mulled over this as she listened out for movement and conjectured that Vince had retreated somewhere to rest his legs and recover his pride. Her hands idled as she sat on the rocker by the stove. Nancy could achieve a lot with minimal effort, like her twelve-year-old shoplifting self. Don’t try. Own the objective. Nancy discovered a handy little app that provided a mini version of the four-image composite on Vince’s monitor. Nancy no longer had to sit in the surveillance room to see what the monitor saw. Most applications were password protected but Vince’s contacts weren’t. She spoke to a nice man called Magnus Elbers who understood her concerns completely and would convey the message to all concerned.
Nancy prepared cheese and pickle sandwiches, coffee and custard creams. She walked the tray to the drawing room. The hem of Vince’s bathrobe wafted in a draft as she entered. Carefully, she shifted Vince’s untouched breakfast to deposit his lunch on top of the drinks trolley. Vince’s stony profile remained in profile. Post fury had left his forehair skewed and his skin a-glow.
‘I’m sorry about earlier.’ Nancy uttered and meant it. She presented his pills. This spurred Vince to turn his head. ‘But you won’t be needing these, Mr. Jonas.’
Vince’s eyes flicked upwards to meet hers.
‘Your prescription,’ Nancy forged on. ‘It says to apply liberally to the affected area once a day. It is unopened, as are your antibiotics.’
Vince gave a contemptuous snort. ‘You are funny, Nora, really funny…after you almost broke my legs…’ His sneer dropped like a stone leaving his eyes cold. ‘I don’t see why I should let you near me.’
‘And yet I saw you take four steps without the crutches, Mr. Jonas.’
Vince responded only by presenting his profile to her. She pushed the trolley toward him. ‘Enjoy your lunch, Mr. Jonas. I will return to apply your prescription.’