As he lay beside Bonnie in their bed in their Windenberg mansion, Clyde Thacker awoke with a jolt as he heard the sound of smashing glass below. Sensing his sudden movement, his spouse stirred in her sleep.
"Clyde? What's going on, sweet'eart?"
"I don't know, love. You stay 'ere. I'll go check it out."
Clad in his scarlet dressing gown, Clyde slowly made his way down the grand staircase... and noticed that a light was still burning in the lounge. Strange. He could have sworn he turned them all out. Cautiously, he approached the lounge, and peeked inside.
He was greeted by the sight of Mitch - or rather, Midas - sat upon his sofa. In his hand was a drink - his classic bourbon and soda, which he'd presumably helped himself to from the bar - and his golden pistol. At his feet was a trail of glass shards, that led to the now-smashed window against the front wall.
"Boss?" Clyde asked, shocked. "You're out of prison?"
Mitch turned to look at him, and smiled, rising from his seat as he put down his drink
"Ah, Clyde. So glad you could join me."
Without batting an eyelid, he pointed his gun at Clyde - leading the latter to immediately raise his hands in alarm.
"Please," Mitch said with a tainted sweetness, "do come in. Although I wouldn't suggest making any sudden moves."
Clyde approached Mitch carefully, his hands remaining in the air, as his unexpected visitor stared him down like a beast stalking his prey.
"Why... why are you doing this?" he choked.
"Nimue and I had a little chit-chat tonight," Mitch replied. "Let's just say I'm not too pleased about the violation of my marriage."
"What are you talking about?"
"You, Thacker," Mitch barked. "You slept with my Nimue. I spend just a few weeks in prison, and you decide it's OK to go jumping in between my bedsheets."
"I don't know what you mean -"
"Oh, don't you dare deny it! Nimue told me so herself, and that little hint in that letter of yours wasn't exactly a coded message. You betrayed me, in the worst way possible."
With a click, he armed his gun.
"And now you have to pay."
Shaking, Clyde felt his knees collapsing beneath him in fright, forcing him to kneel on the ground in front of his former partner-in-crime.
"Please, Mitch..." he pleaded in anguish, his eyes glued to the gun. "It... it only 'appened once. Just once! And she regretted it! Right away, she regretted it!"
Mitch stood firm.
"So I went away," Clyde added. "Moved far away from 'er. I never saw 'er again."
He hung his head.
"I understand 'ow you felt now. 'Aving to spend all those years without your child. When I gave up Lucy, it... it broke my 'eart. I buried myself in work to try and forget, but... you never can. I stand by my choice, and I am 'appy she's with Mo and Theo, but... it isn't as though I 'aven't ever suffered!"
He risked a glance upwards. Amazingly, Mitch seemed to be listening to him.
"And what about Bonnie?" he said. "My wife? My 'eart belongs to 'er and 'er alone now. I promise you. I swear that I'll never go near Nimue again. Besides... I'm the only thing Bonnie really 'as in this life. And I love 'er, Mitch. I truly love 'er. "
With a growl, Mitch tightened his grasp on his gun.
"You have to pay for what you did!"
On a distant street outside, sirens began to blare. The stark melody of police vehicles in hot pursuit. As the sound reached Mitch's ears, he turned around to look out of the window - one paranoid thought running rampant in his brain.
"Are they coming for me?"
Seeing his chance, Clyde seized it. If he'd ever had the gift of the gab, it had to work now.
"Think of your son, Mitch," he said softly. "All of those years, locked away from 'im. If you do this... if you... kill me... you'll be taken away again. Maybe for good. You've only just got your boy back. Surely you don't want to lose 'im again?"
Mitch didn't move - his eyes still staring like a hawk through the smashed glass.
"She called your name, you know," Clyde added flatly.
Mitch whirled around, glaring at him.
"When we... when it happened," Clyde told him. "She called your name. Yes, back then, I loved her, but... it's you Nimue loved, and it was you she wanted. It always 'as been you. I was just... just a stand-in. A poor substitute. I meant nothing to 'er - nothing. She made a mistake when she was emotional. Nothing more."
Stony-faced, Mitch began to saunter up to him - the gun raised and pointed.
"Mitch... no... don't kill me... please..."
As she heard the outside gate clanging shut, Nimue, who was pacing up and down the bedroom in a panic, rushed to the rear window.
Below her, she spotted Mitch huffing and puffing as he dragged a heavy-looking sack over to a grassy, empty part of the back garden.
In an instant, her blood became ice.
"He didn't..." she gasped to herself in utter horror. "Oh, Jesus Christ, he didn't..."
She raced down the stairs as fast as her feet could carry her, throwing open the back door, and flew towards her husband.
"Mitch! Oh God, please -"
Suddenly, she stopped as she took stock of what her husband was actually doing. The sack, which was now open, contained...
Dried logs. Mitch was using them to build a bonfire. When this task was completed, he set it alight, and then stripped himself down to his underwear - throwing his golden suit and his pistol into his creation, to be consumed completely by the flames.
As he heard Nimue gasping, Mitch turned around, and smiled.
"Don't worry," he told her. "Clyde's alive."
"You... you didn't kill him?"
"I'll admit it... that was the idea, at first. But then, I realised something - with a little persuasion from him, I must confess. If I had killed Clyde, I'd have ended up back in prison. Maybe forever. I lost my family once. I'm not going to let it happen again."
"So... so you left him alone?
"I wouldn't say that," he said. "I mean, I wasn't going to let him off scot-free, now, was I? That was quite an impressive right hook, if I do say so myself. Laid him out cold, the smart-arse."
(That had felt good. As he'd left Clyde lying there, Mitch had walked away smugly, stopping only to hiss two words in his ear: "Never. Again.")
"And that's not all," Mitch added. "Look in the sack."
Nimue did so. After pulling out a few more logs and twigs, she eventually laid her hands on the ugliest looking-lawn ornament she had ever seen in her life: a gnome, dressed up a like a teddy bear.
"What the hell?"
Mitch laughed again.
"God awful, isn't it?" he giggled. "Found it on Clyde's lawn."
"But why is it - "
"Well, I swiped it, of course. Last thing I'll ever steal - I promise."
"But why this?"
"I'm going to keep it here in the garden," he explained, "and whenever I feel the urge to steal again, to go back to my old ways, I'll see it... and I'll remember. All those long, lonely years I spent in prison. How I never got to see my son until he was practically grown-up. How I left you waiting. Nothing I could steal would be worth risking going through that hell again."
He motioned to Nimue, inviting her to join him. They stood together beneath the starry night sky, watching the last of the golden sequins transforming into ash.
"Midas is dead," Mitch said firmly. "He's never coming back."
"And us?" Nimue asked.
"What about us?"
"Well - our marriage. Is that dead, too?"
"Do you want it to be?"
"No! Of course not! But... after what I did..."
A short silence hung in the air, as Mitch considered everything carefully. Eventually, he made a decision, and turned to look Nimue in the eyes.
"It only happened once?" he asked in flat tones. "In all the fifteen years?"
"Yes. Just once."
"And never again?"
"No, Mitch," Nimue replied with great conviction. "Never again. Not ever."
Sighing, Mitch pulled Nimue towards him, putting his arm around her as they watched the flames dying down.
"Then... I think you and I can work things out."
Tomorrow will be your first birthday, but I'm already thinking further ahead. I'm working on a special present for the day you turn eighteen. I am going to write a letter to you once every year, and save them all in a special album for you to read when you grow up. Mum and Dad both think it's a wonderful idea. So, here's the first.
When Mum and Dad found out you were on the way, it gave them both a bit of a shock. They thought they were too old to have any more babies. I mean, a few short years more, and I could have been your father. But they were happy. Ever so happy.
Dad was ecstatic on the day you were born. He stayed with Mum all the way through her labour, never leaving her side, and was the first person in our family to hold you in their arms. It was he who chose your name. When he and Mum went to see the doctor for the first time, they did some sums, and figured out you
came into existence on the night Dad came home from prison. So he named you after that most precious and special thing - "Liberty".
Poor Mum. She may have raised me pretty much single-handed, but she's barely had a look-in with you. Dad is utterly devoted to you. He feeds you, washes you, plays with you... and says soon, he'll be teaching you to talk and walk. I think he's so eager to look after you because he missed out on all of that with me. You even take after him in looks. I seem to be more like Mum - but that's not a bad thing!
People expect me to be jealous of you, but I'm not... not really. I'm happy that you're so loved, and that you'll know what it's like to have a father there right from the start. Besides, I'm not neglected - Dad always kept in touch with me when he was in prison, and now, he reads all of my writing, and has a chat with me after dinner every night, even when he's tired after a long day at the café. I know he loves me just as much as you.
Plus, Dad has a rival for your attention. When it comes to bedtime stories, there's only one person you want. And that's me.
If anyone else tries to read you to sleep, you cry and cry. You know who the best storyteller is around here. Sometimes, I forget the books, and just make a tale up on the spot. I have to smile when I see you listening so carefully - eyes wide open, and a massive smile on your face. How I can be angry or jealous of someone who admires me so much?
I love you, Libby, and I'm proud to be your big brother. I promise that I will always be there for you no matter what, and that I will always protect you. After all - that's what good brothers do.
Happy Birthday, Liberty Miskin.
All my love,
Following insightful comments by Livvielove, FIONERD and CHBlossomProduction among others, I was torn about whether or not Mitch and Nimue should stay together. In the end, I settled the matter by flipping a coin. It decided the couple would work out their issues, and give little Libby the opportunity to exist. It could just have easily gone the other way. I hope Clyde getting sucker-punched will somewhat satisfy anyone who wanted to see him punished. (I couldn't kill him off, folks. I just couldn't. He's grown on me too much.)
In all seriousness, though - thank you all for your insightful and clever comments, and your ongoing support. I treasure feedback from everyone, but your remarks always set me thinking... even if it drives me borderline crazy when I'm working out the plot!
In the next instalment, Generation Eight shall finally begin. Just give me time to play ahead and get the pictures. Take care, and I'll see you soon!