God’s sake, why did everything have to be such a sodding . . . trial?

Kevin braced himself against the weight of far too many bags-for-life and struggled the keys from his pocket – squinting in the septic street- light to find the right button – then plipped the locks on the little Fiat 500 Douglas insisted they buy because it was so much cuter than a Range Rover, which would’ve been a hell of a lot more practical, thank you very much.

But would Douglas listen?

Of course he bloody wouldn’t.

It was the same with the house.

Not for them a nice cottage out in the country, with a big garden, a  couple of spaniels, and a PERFECTLY PRACTICAL RANGE ROVER. Oh, they’d be so much happier in a two-up-two-down rabbit hutch in a cut- and-paste housing estate, in Blackwall Sodding Hill.

Bottles and jars clink-clanged against each other as Kevin lumbered up the short path, past the tiny rectangle of moss-infested grass. 

Wasn’t even a decent view: more identikit housing estates sweeping up the valley behind the house, and the nettle-strewn railway cutting to the front. 

Couldn’t even see the stars from here. 

A booming rattleclankrattleclankrattleclank grumbled beneath a diesel engine, and when he turned there was yet another sodding freight train hauling yet more sodding whisky off to be sold in sodding super-sodding-markets. 

And those trains would be running all night, wouldn’t they. Every two hours. WHEN HE WAS TRYING TO SLEEP. 

Kevin gritted his teeth and hauled his keys up to the front-door lock, weighed down with bags stuffed full of wine and pickles and potatoes and beans and cream-of-tomato, and . . . 

‘Bloody, cock-wanking, shite, bastard—’ 

The outermost bag slipped from his aching fingers and cracked down against the front step. 

‘Oh, for . . . Christ’s sake!’ 

He put the other bags down and stared as dark-purple liquid seeped through the dropped one, oozing out to drip down the concrete slabs. 

Like blood.
‘Great. Thanks. Thanks a sodding heap!’
Kevin unlocked the door, grabbed the stupid bags and stomped inside.

Grey fluff gathered along the hall skirting board, dust taking the shine off the laminate floor, a lone cobweb draped in the corner of the walls that Douglas insisted were ‘cheerfully blue’, but were actually the colour of depression and . . . drowned babies. 

Socks and a gilet draped over the end of the stairs.
God, the man was a pig.
Music oozed through the kitchen door: one of those cheesy love songs 

Douglas adored – because, deep down, not only was the man a pig, he had the soul of a teenaged girl. 

Honestly, how did anyone . . .
A drip of dark purple splotched down onto the laminate.
And you know that crap is going to leave a stain.
‘Buggering hell . . . Douglas?’
Just that stupid cheesy song.
Still nothing.
‘Fine, I’ll just do everything myself, shall I? As usual.’ Kevin dumped the other bags on the mat and hurried down the hall, one hand cupped beneath the leak, catching the drips. ‘And it’s like a sodding oven in here. Again!’ 

He bumped through the kitchen door into what would’ve been a nice big farmhouse kitchen if he’d had the sense to stand up for himself for once in his sodding life. 

Instead, it was barely big enough for a wee fitted kitchen, a fridge- freezer that didn’t even have an ice maker, a half-size dishwasher, and a dining area more suited to Sylvanian Families than actual human- sized ones. The place was only saved by sunshine-yellow walls, peppered with framed photos of the pair of them on God-knew-how-many holidays. 

None of which Douglas paid for. Or helped organise. The man couldn’t even pack his own frigging suitcase. 

The French doors were a black mirror, hiding the equally tiny back garden, reflecting the happy walls at themselves. 

Douglas was at the kitchen table, sitting in his favourite chair, with his back to the room. Chronologically: ten years younger than Kevin. Emotionally: light years away. Even if he did have a six-pack and an arse you could bounce pound coins off – a tight Fiddersmuir Brewery T-shirt showing off every lump and bump of muscle across his back. 

Which didn’t make him any less of a lazy prick. 

Kevin glared at those broad shoulders on his hurried way across the kitchen. ‘God’s sake, is it too much to ask for a little help?’ He dumped the whole bag in the sink – dark purple oozing out onto stainless steel. ‘Sodding stuff’s everywhere!’ 

The tap sputtered into life with an angry twist. 

‘And would it kill you to turn the bloody heating down? Electricity’s through the roof again, but do you care? No, because it’s muggins here who pays all the bills!’ A squirt of soap, lathered up beneath warming water. Scrubbing scarlet stains from his hands. ‘It’s not even as if I like pickled beetroot.’ 

The schmaltzy song died a death, followed by a man’s voice sharpened with insincere bonhomie. ‘Hey, hey, hey! That was Hello Mr Magpie and their latest smasharoonie toonie, “Feathers”!’ 

And still nothing from Douglas. 

Probably sulking from this morning. Just because Kevin wouldn’t buy him an electric scooter. He didn’t want a husband and a soulmate; he wanted a sodding sugar daddy. 

Well, it was about time he learned that Kevin wasn’t running an all- you-can-eat money buffet. 

Kevin marched over to the thermostat and didn’t turn it down. Oh, no: he made a big show of turning it off completely. 

That would show him.

Still nothing?
This rivalled The Great Why-Can’t-We-Have-A-Bulldog? Sulk of 2022. Child.
Kevin dipped into the leaking bag, pulling the contents out one by  one and running them under the tap, before thumping them down on the draining board. Shiraz, morello cherry jam, roasted peppers . . . 

‘You’re listening to Sensational Steve’s Drive-Time Goldmine!’ An explosion of honking horns and the kind of trumpet fanfare you’d expect an egotistical dick to find amusing battered out of the radio. 

Fine. Two could play that game. 

Kevin let the sarcasm drip like beetroot juice: ‘Good evening, Kevin. How was your day, Kevin?’ 

. . . Chenin Blanc, capers, harissa . . . 

‘Don’t forget, we’ve got the one and only Zeb, from Four Mechanical Mice, coming on to tell us all about this year’s Tartantula festival . . .’ 

The harissa went down with a particularly vicious clatter. ‘Well, it was crappy, thanks for asking. That . . . bitch, Jennifer Bloody Prentice said my prose was, and I quote: “tedious and pedestrian”!’ 

‘. . . going to be even better than last year. So, why don’t we get ourselves in the festival mood with last year’s headliners, Catnip Jane and “Here Comes The Winter Sun”!’ 

Music surged from the radio – upbeat and drum-heavy. 

Kevin picked up the harissa again, scowling at the label. ‘Writes a couple of trashy true-crime books and suddenly she’s Salman Fucking Rushdie? Catching the Coffinmaker, my arse. It’s like a drunken monkey vomited up one of those poetry-fridge-magnet . . .’ This time the harissa clattered down hard enough to bounce. ‘Are you even listening to me?’ 

Douglas’s reflection shimmered in the kitchen window.
Were his shoulders trembling? Like this was funny?
The words barely made it out through Kevin’s pinched lips and  clenched jaw. ‘Thanks for your support.’
He jammed his hand into the bag again, then yanked it out as if stung  by a cut-glass wasp. ‘Buggering . . .’ Beetroot juice stained his fingers a  deep angry purple, but fresh scarlet welled up from his thumb and index finger, trickling around to drip into the sink as tears made the world ripple. Distorted and unfair

‘I only buy this bloody stuff for you!’ 

Kevin grabbed the tea towel they got on a trip to Stirling Castle – back when they loved each other, and Douglas wasn’t a spoiled, ungrateful brat – wrapping William Wallace around his injured hand. Storming over to the table, glaring down at Douglas. 

Look at him: sitting there, shoulders trembling with the effort of keep- ing it all in. Because this was so hilarious. 

‘Don’t you dare laugh at me! Don’t you—’ 

His right foot scooted forward a couple of inches, nearly dumping him on his backside. There’s something wet on the laminate floor – a puddle of white wine, or apple juice, that Douglas clearly hadn’t bothered to clean up. Like the rest of the house. Like the dust and the cobwebs and the washing. 

‘You’re such a pig!’
That was it. Enough. No more.
Kevin picked his way out of the puddle, moving around to confront  the useless, lazy, ungrateful . . . Oh God. 

Douglas wasn’t sulking – the reason he’d not said anything was because he couldn’t. Someone had stuffed a rag in his mouth, held in place by a rectangle of duct tape. And the reason he hadn’t moved is they’d fixed both of his hands to the kitchen table with half a dozen long brass screws. 

Bright scarlet oozed from the swollen pink skin, seeping across the polished beech. Eyes wide and spilling tears as he stared at Kevin. Moaning behind his gag, flicking his eyes towards the French doors. 


Kevin tightened his grip on the claret-stained tea towel. ‘Douglas?’ Shrinking back from the table. ‘Douglas, what did you do?’ 

The moan turned into a high-pitched wail.
Kevin’s back bumped into the French doors and they burst open, letting in the rattleclankrattleclankrattleclank of the never-ending goods train and a gasp of cold night air. 

A dark shape surged inside with it – something hard smashed down on Kevin’s head. 

His legs stopped working.
The puddled floor swung up to meet him.
And that’s when the nightmare really began . . .