A Monday morning in Autumn.
The Chief of Police sighed as yet another case file landed on his already overflowing desk. Picking it up and flicking through it, he looked up at the unfortunate officer who'd been given the task of delivering it to him.
"Burglary, I see," he said.
The officer nodded.
"Yes, sir," she confirmed. "On Lawthorne Lane."
"Third one this month."
The Chief closed the file, and handed it back to her. He knew exactly who he wanted to deal with this.
"Miskin and Rhodes."
The very day after they'd received their high school exam results, Mac and Roxy had both headed to the police station to be recruited as cadets. In their initial week of training, when it became apparent to their fellow officers that there was a strong bond of friendship between them, it was decided that the two should work as partners wherever possible. This arrangement proved very advantageous, and twelve years later, the pair had both worked their way up to the rank of detective. Word around the station was, if you wanted a crime solving well and solving fast, you gave it to Miskin and Rhodes.
Whilst they worked in perfect harmony when they were on-duty, the two old pals had grown into very different people... although this didn't seem to affect their friendship one jot. These differences were far more apparent once they had taken off the uniform for the day and headed back home. (At the age of 18, Roxy had decided she'd had enough of her aunt's nagging once and for all, and now lived with the Miskins permanently.)
Roxy remained as high-spirited and active as ever, and spent a good deal of her spare time building up her body and improving her fitness.
Mac, on the other hand, preferred to lead his life at a rather slower pace.
The rebellious spark in Roxy hadn't died down, either. If anything, entering her adult years had fanned it into a full flame. She now sported various tattoos all over her body, enjoyed a drink or two in the evenings, and had even taken up smoking - which Mac disliked, but knew it was pointless to argue with her over.
Besides, it was another habit of hers that hurt him even more. Roxy had grown very outgoing, and liked heading out into the city on a Friday night to enjoy herself. Every so often... she came back with a man. These unions rarely lasted long - the majority of them ended after one night - and Roxy forever insisted they weren't anything serious: just her chance to have a bit of fun.
Mac, wanting his friend to be happy, would force himself to smile and nod in an understanding way... but inside, his heart burned with both passion and jealousy. Knowing Roxy wasn't interested in a relationship, and wouldn't want to lose their current bond, he still hadn't confessed his feelings to her - but they were still there, the years having only strengthened his yearnings rather than dulling them.
He'd tried his best to move on, going on dates with other women from time to time, but these never worked out well. It was clear that his heart wanted what - or rather, who - it wanted, whether it was practical or not. Nowadays, he steered well-clear of the whole dating scene, and spent his evenings reading or pursuing more solitary hobbies... often doing his best to ignore the sound of Roxy laughing down the hall.
Zara wasn't blind to her son's sadness. It was clear to her that Mac longed for Roxy's love, and she could sympathise, but at the end of the day, there were other fishes in the sea, and he couldn't be miserable for the rest of his life. And then, of course, there was the elephant in the room. As Milo's only son, Mac carried a rather large weight on his shoulders.
In short, something had to be done.
One evening, after he had come home from the station, Zara called Mac over for a little chat.
"Listen, honey," she began. "I know you care for Roxy a whole lot, but... well, the time has come for you to accept that nothing is ever going to happen between you. It breaks my heart to see you moping around the house all the time. You need to get out there, Mac - find someone special for yourself."
"I mean, the sounds from Roxy's room on a Friday night show she's managing quite well."
Mac shuddered - the sheer thought of Roxy with another man causing him to grow green-eyed. Zara, quickly realising her error, patted his shoulder comfortingly.
"Sorry, sorry," she added, hastily. "But the point stands. Your sisters were lucky: they both married their high school sweethearts. Louisa has a lovely daughter, and Laura a charming son. In an ideal world, you and Roxy would have had a similar fate, but things don't always work out the way we want them to. You need to accept that. You're almost thirty. It's time to move on."
"I... I wish I could, Mum," he replied. "But it's... it's just not that easy. I love her. I always have. I always will, until the day I die. And I can't just dismiss her. I've spent so many years by her side, and now, even my career depends on our friendship. How could I ever explain that to another woman? Whether a wife of mine liked it or not, Roxy will always be in my life. The waters have been muddied too much."
Zara considered this.
"I see what you mean," she told him, "but there's something else we need to consider here. You're a Miskin, and your father's only son. Both law and duty demand that you produce a son yourself to inherit what your ancestors have built up."
"Jesus, do you have to bring that up right now?"
"It's a fact of life, son. And well... Milo and I aren't getting any younger. Your father's retiring in a few months. You're so good with your niece and nephew when they come to visit, and in all honesty... we'd have liked to have seen you become a father before we pass away."
"How that can happen, Mum, if I can't even make a relationship work?"
"There are ways, darling. All sorts of different methods. Lots of single men are fathers. Look into it. Think about it. I'm sure you'll figure something out."
As darkness fell over Willow Creek, a middle-aged couple residing in one of the large mansions on Lawthorne Lane sat together beside the hearth: each drinking a cup of tea and watching the fire flickering in their grate.
Just as they were settling down cosily, the peaceful air around them was suddenly shattered by the sound of breaking glass. As the wife anxiously jolted upright in her seat, the husband rose slowly, and headed towards the hallway.
Within moments, all hell had broken loose. When trying to recall the details later, all the couple would remember is being plunged into darkness, dragged out forcefully into the cold air, bunged into some sort of vehicle, and being driven God knows where at top speed - a grim voice muttering "Finally - the right bloody house."
Some time later, the blindfolds around the couple's eyes were removed, and after a few seconds of being blinded by overbearing light, they learned where they now were.
A dark, gloomy basement, with no furniture to speak of, and a few feet in front of them... a man.
With a gun.
Pointed squarely at them.
At first, they'd been confused and anxious.
Now, Lavinia and Richard Rhodes feared for their very lives.