Merry Christmas From Bryant & May!
‘You should just think of it as a day off,’ said Alma Sorrowbridge. ‘Relax, have a glass of sherry, eat some mince pies and watch Bruce Forsyth.’
‘As it seems the entire country has been doing since the old king died,’ complained Bryant, pulling his ratty maroon dressing gown around him and sinking further into his armchair. ‘It’s not like this on the continent. They don’t spend the day wearing paper hats and moaning about pine needles. All the cafes are open, everyone’s laughing and drinking champagne. I’m stuck indoors stuffing myself with nuts and trying to make head or tail of the Dr Who special.’
‘My friends from the church will be over later,’ said Alma, unwrapping a chocolate orange.
‘Oh, wonderful. A bunch of old dears shoveling in Christmas cake and caterwauling their way through Silent Night. No thank you. I bet John’s not stuck at home, he’ll be at a glamorous party full of starlets somewhere.’
‘Why don’t you call him?’ Alma suggested.
‘What, and make him think I’m bored? He wouldn’t want to see me,’ sniffed Bryant, ‘not when he can be out having fun. What would I say, come over and have some of Alma’s famous elasticated turkey gravy, we can watch the rerun of the Queen’s speech together?’
‘Very well,’ said Alma, heading for the kitchen. Her lodger was an unpleasant old man at the best of times but he was always at his worst over Christmas. She closed the kitchen door and picked up the phone.
John May sat in his bare white apartment in Shad Thames and looked out at the empty river. He had hoped that his son and daughter might call from Canada, but the phone had remained silent all morning. There were two Christmas cards on his mantelpiece, and one of those was from BMW reminding him about his MOT. He was wearing his best suit, polished shoes and a tie. He had never known how to relax. This is what happens when you get older, he thought gloomily, your friends all die or move somewhere horrible. Arthur’s probably snuggled down beside a roaring fire, Alma cooking, the Christmas tree twinkling.
When the phone rang he assumed it was a wrong number.
‘If that’s carol singers throw a bucket of water over them,’ called Bryant as Alma went to answer the door.
‘Surprise,’ said John May. ‘Happy Christmas.’ He held out a brown cardboard box. ‘I didn’t have time to wrap it.’
‘Well, isn’t this nice, you just turning up like this,’ said Alma, watching her flatmate for a reaction.
‘She called you, didn’t she?’ Bryant accepted the box as May seated himself beside the fire. ‘She’ll wheel in half a ton of Christmas cake now. What’s this?’
‘The private notes on the Dagenham trunk murder,’ said May with pride. ‘It was never solved.’
‘I’ve got something for you,’ said Bryant, reaching into his armchair. ‘The witness reports for the Shepherd’s Bush blowtorch killings. Clear a space on the table.’ He rubbed his hands together with ill-disguised glee. ‘Maybe Christmas won’t be so bad after all. I feel a mince pie coming on.’