"Hey, Miskin," he said merrily. "Got good news for you."
"As of tomorrow, you'll be a free man."
Mitch's eyes widened in shock.
"You're serious?" he asked breathlessly.
"Completely," the guard replied. "It came straight from the Warden this morning. Your time is up. 9am tomorrow, you'll be walking out of those gates. Not planning a return visit any time soon, are you?"
"No way!" Mitch laughed. "Once I'm out of here, you won't see me for dust."
"Good man. Well... as you were."
Flashing Mitch a smile, he went on his way - whilst the overjoyed inmate collapsed back onto his bed. He was shaking with excitement. A more perfect date could not have been chosen. Tomorrow would be a special day - in more ways than one.
Good Lord... now he really did need to bring himself up to speed.
Rooting through the box, he came across a yellow envelope with stars around the border.
This letter was from Big Mo. One of many he'd sent over the years.
Making himself comfortable, Mitch carefully opened the envelope, drew out his friend's correspondence, and read it once again.
Hope the screws are treating you OK in there. You don't have to worry about the café - things are going great. Even managed to bake my first soufflé the other day. I've tried it before at home, but it's hard to concentrate when there's little feet running around all over the place...
From his first meeting with that beautiful brainbox Theo Creswell on the morning Minerva Miskin announced her engagement, Moses Thacker was completely and utterly smitten. Thankfully, the nerdy redhead seemed just as keen to keep in touch with the larger-than-life baker, and frequently stopped at the Brown Sugar Café for coffee on his way to and from shifts at the science lab.
When the big day finally came for the betrothed, Theo, as best man, was the lucky holder of a "plus one" invitation... and knew straight away who he wanted as his date. Whilst Clyde would attend as Nimue's guest, Theo had decided that the younger Thacker brother would be tagging along with him - with little Polly completing the trio.
After the ceremony, all of the guests were invited to cut a rug on the dance floor. As Theo awkwardly and shyly moved and swayed to the beat, his tired toddler soon started to kick up a fuss. Before Theo even had time to intervene, Mo had swooped the little lady up into his arms, whirling her around through the air as she screamed in delight.
Once Polly's feet were firmly back on the ground, it became clear she had taken a very strong liking to Daddy's new friend. With shining eyes and a cheeky smile, she continued to toddle around after Mo - constantly tugging on his trouser leg in order to get his attention.
Theo had to smile. Mo was so good with Polly. Perhaps that was a lucky sign.
As she spotted the two men stood there together on the dance floor, Nimue, who had long since picked up on the spark between Mo and Theo, decided now was a good time to fan the flames. Approaching Theo, she asked if it was OK for Polly to have a treat. When the proud father gave his permission, she gently took hold of Polly's hand, and led her towards the buffet table to choose a cake - giving the two grown-ups space to be alone with one another.
Nimue was swiftly followed by Clyde, who was eager to watch the proceedings from the safety of the sidelines: wondering if this geeky scientist could really be the man who'd make all of his brother's dreams come true.
Whilst Mo and Theo looked at one another for a few moments, neither one quite knowing what to do or say, the music around them slowed down to a soft, jazzy melody. Clearing his throat, Mo gave Theo a little bow, and outstretched his arms towards him.
"Care to dance?" he asked.
Theo looked at him, unnerved.
"I... I don't really know how..." he stammered.
"Neither do I," Mo admitted. "But maybe we could try it together."
Smiling, Theo slipped his hands into Mo's, and allowed himself to be led around the floor. As he looked up into Mo's bright blue eyes, and felt himself stepping into his warm, bear-like embrace, everything around Theo faded away into nothingness. All he could see, all he could sense, were those sapphire eyes and his own racing heartbeat - along with the tender touch of a man whom logic stated was big enough to do him some serious harm, but whom he knew, in that instant, never would.
Mo, meanwhile, felt some strange, innate instinct to care for this timid, fragile-looking figure: a man who was smiling at him, but had signs of sadness in his face, like one who had suffered great pain before. A person who was afraid of being hurt again. Mo felt a longing to protect him - to be there for him, and to love him. All he wanted, and all he would ever want from now on, was to make him happy. Doing so, and knowing that he would be loved in return, would bring him joy beyond his imagination.
As the song neared its end, Mo found himself tilting his head down towards Theo's... and his lips connected with his in one blissful movement.
As Mo broke away, gasping for breath, Theo instantly wrapped his arms back around him as best as he could, throwing himself forward for a second round.
When he pulled away reluctantly, purely needing to get some air back into his lungs, Theo paused to purr seductively into Mo's ear.
"Come home with me."
Mo didn't need telling twice.
When he arrived with Theo and Polly at their house, Mo almost cried in delight when he saw it was a cosy red-brick residence, with a white painted fence: the kind of home he had always dreamt of.
As the young scientist tucked his daughter in for the night, reading her a bedtime story, he could scarcely contain his excitement. Once his beloved Polly was safely in the arms of Morpheus, Theo seized Mo's hand and led him into his bedroom, where they fell on one another like ravenous wolves: filled with passion, and desperate to explore one another's bodies.
Sunrise on the following day found them asleep together in bed, still entwined in one another's arms. As Mo slowly opened his eyes, he smiled at his still-slumbering lover and idly stroked his hair - already knowing that he would never be returning to the flat he and his brother shared.
Just over a year after they had met, it was Mo and Theo's turn to commit themselves to one another. Utterly besotted, both men already knew that they wanted to spend the rest of their days together.
Mo's deep, devoted love, combined with being a proud father to his beautiful Polly, had given Theo a new, caring family to replace the callous relations that had cast him away. As for Mo, he now knew for certain that the "'ouse and 'usband" he had longed for was the one he now lived in, and the man he now resided with. So, he humbly asked Theo to share his life with him: an offer his beloved happily accepted.
Theo's new husband was, indisputably, a devoted stepfather. He loved and cared for Polly as though she was his own daughter. Shortly after Mo had moved in, Theo had decided that he needed to know the truth about Polly's origins: hoping to avoid it becoming a potential problem later.
As Theo recounted the tale of his alien encounter, Mo had listened attentively, enthralled and enraptured. His feelings for both his lover and his future stepdaughter remained unchanged. They were still the people he treasured most, regardless of what had happened to them, or where they had come from. He attended to the little girl's needs faithfully, and carried out his day shifts in the café whilst Theo worked nights at the lab - ensuring the couple could care for Polly whilst still earning a decent living.
Mo, in turn, believing fair was fair, told Theo about his criminal past: explaining how Mitch had essentially sacrificed his own freedom to preserve his. However, he made it clear that he was now a changed man - although his heart had never really been in crime to begin with - and that he wasn't going to cause anyone trouble from now on. Theo believed him. After all, he hadn't put a foot wrong since the day they'd met.
Mo was a very happy man. And yet, whenever he watched Theo playing and chatting with his child, he felt a certain - longing. Polly was wonderful, there was no doubt about that... but Mo could never quite shake the feeling that she "belonged" solely to Theo. He loved her utterly, but Theo had been her father since the beginning of her life: a fact he couldn't deny. A piece was still missing from Mo's puzzle - and after much thought, he realised what it was.
One night, as he sat alone in the bedroom, contemplating the matter carefully, his husband entered and sat on the bed beside him, eager to know what was troubling him. Concluding that honesty was the best policy, Mo decided to bite the bullet, and tell the simple truth.
"Theo... I want a baby, too."
Smiling, Theo had embraced him, saying he would happy to bring another child into their home, and the following day, the pair started to do some research.
Adoption was always a possibility, as was surrogacy... but those things took time, and would need a lot of careful planning. As Mo read up on the various routes open to him, he began to wonder if he'd bitten off more than he could chew. He didn't really understand half of the fancy terms the various organisations used - even with Theo doing his best to explain them - and he was always weary that, one day, his criminal past might catch up with him... even following Mitch's noble sacrifice.
But, if he wanted to become a father, these were all hurdles Mo would have to somehow overcome. After all, it wasn't as if a baby was going to land right on his doorstep...
"Mo? Take the trash out, would you? I'm just putting Polly to bed."
With a groan, Mo - who had just settled himself onto the sofa to watch some TV - lifted his heavy frame up, and strolled over to the kitchen bin: scrunching his nose up as he took out the bin liner and sealed it closed. Throwing it over his shoulder, he walked out to the dustbin in the garden, and dropped it inside with a thud.
As he stepped back onto the porch, he stopped in his tracks as he heard an unusual wail coming from nearby. Looking around, he suddenly noticed a large blue plastic box that had been left beside the front door. The noise was coming from within it.
Cautiously, Mo approached the box, and peered inside - then clapped his hands to his mouth as he gasped.
Inside it, looking up at him, was a bizarre blue-skinned baby... its feet kicking in the air as it wriggled around, crying noisily.
There was a scrunched-up piece of paper clasped in the infant's hand. Delicately moving the baby's fingers so he could take it from her, Mo opened it up and read the words written upon it. They had been typed, not handwritten.
I know you will be a good father, big lad. Please look after me.
Alarmed, Mo looked around, trying to spot where the child had come from. Nothing was in sight. No people, no cars... and nothing unusual in the sky. And the note suggested that the infant had been left here very much on purpose.
As the baby continued to cry, Mo quickly put the note in his pocket, then reached down and picked the child up, cradling it in his arms.
"You poor little mite!" he cooed. "Come on in - Big Mo will take care of you."
As he stepped back inside, Theo was stood at the kitchen counter, pouring himself a cup of tea. When he saw the stunned expression on Mo's face, he immediately approached him.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
Shaking, Mo showed him the child - causing him to drop his teacup in shock.
"Where... where did that come from?"
"I dunno," Mo replied. "This was in their 'and."
He fished out the note and thrust it into Theo's hands. As the scientist read it, his face fell - turning his gaze towards the baby.
"Oh, the poor dear..." he whispered sadly.
"They... they can stay with us, right?" Mo asked him nervously.
"Of course," Theo replied. "In fact, I... I think someone wanted you to have this baby. This was all planned. The note even refers to you. After all, I'm hardly what you'd call a "big lad", am I?"
As Mo chuckled, the infant in his arms continued to wail. Shushing it gently, Mo lifted it up and placed it against his shoulder, cuddling it carefully.
"Hush now, little one. It's OK. I'm 'ere."
A soft smile crossed his lips.
He named her "Lucy".
If Polly was still mainly Theo's daughter, then Lucy was very much Mo's. Settling her into Polly's old cradle in the nursery, Mo bathed her, fed her, and rocked her to sleep - leaving Theo to devote himself to Polly's needs, and to help her learn to talk and walk. Occasionally, they would switch duties for the day - but it quickly became apparent to Theo that Mo was besotted with their new addition.
"She's the answer to my prayers," Mo told him one afternoon as he settled Lucy into her cradle for a nap. "Sent to me from 'eaven, she was. A little gel, all of my own..."
Theo laughed, wrapping his arms around his waist.
"I'd like to think that she's mine, too," he told his husband. "Just as I like to think that you consider Polly yours."
"'Course I do, and of course she is," Mo replied. "But you've 'ad Polly ever since she grew in your tummy. I've never 'ad a little baby like this before. It's a nice feeling."
As Lucy grew up, she, like Polly, learnt to disguise her alien features, With her pale skin and fiery-red locks, she easily passed for Polly's little sister. When the proud fathers took their two daughters to the park or to the supermarket, they blended in perfectly - the group looking to all the world like just another normal happy family... which in their eyes, they were.
Before either of the men knew it, ten whole years had gone by. The girls had started school, and both were doing excellently in their classes: Polly showing a strong flair for science and mathematics, and Lucy thriving in the humanities. One night, during the summer vacation, as Mo was clearing up the plates after dinner, his mobile phone began to ring.
"Clyde! Great to 'ear from you!"
The last decade had brought a lot of changes to Clyde's life, too - but in a very different way. Roughly a month after Minerva's wedding, his job in business had led him to move back to Windenburg, in order to pursue new opportunities. He'd left very quickly indeed: almost as if he'd done it on the spur of the moment.
After rapidly climbing through the corporate ranks, he invested some of his earnings into stocks and shares. As a clever gambler, this turned out to be an extremely wise move for Clyde. In addition to now being one of the managers of Willow Appliances, he had become a millionaire - a far cry from the humble background he and Mo had been born into.
Due to Clyde regularly going away on business trips and his hectic schedule, he and Mo hadn't seen each other in several years. However, he was a kind and loving uncle: phoning and e-mailing the Thacker-Creswells regularly for updates, and sending very generous gifts for birthdays and Christmas.
He himself remained unmarried, and had no children - having made the choice long ago to focus on his career instead. True, he'd had the odd fling here and there, but nothing too serious. Besides, he'd never really felt the call to become a family man.
"Mo," Clyde said on the phone, "the gels are off school now, right?"
"Well... 'ow about you, them and your 'usband come round to my place this weekend? You could stay a few days if you like. It'd be nice to see you after so long."
"Are you sure you 'ave enough room for us all?"
"Trust me, Mo - that won't be a problem."
Mo found himself smiling.
"That'd be awesome, bruv," he said. "We'll be there Saturday afternoon. What's your address?"
When Clyde told him, Mo almost dropped the phone in the shock. After making absolutely sure that Theo and the girls were out of earshot, he drew the mobile closer to his mouth and whispered his response.
"Ain't that... the old 'ideout?"
As Mo pulled the car into Clyde's driveway that Saturday, he grinned as the jaws of his daughters and husband all dropped in unison, as they beheld the maginficent mansion before their eyes.
"Is this really Uncle Clyde's house?" Polly asked in amazement,
"Sure is, my gel," Mo told her. "'E's a very rich man."
Theo and the girls had expected Clyde's abode to be a smaller, but very upmarket, European townhouse. This place was like something a movie star would own.
Clyde had explained to his brother that Nimue had put the property back on the market following Mitch's arrest, hoping to earn a good pile of money to invest in her son's college fund. One or two different buyers had lived there since, but by the time Clyde had earned his millions, it was up for sale once again. Without a moment's thought, he'd snapped it up, moved in, and intended to remain there for the rest of his life: doing very little to change it from how it was in the days of the Magpie League... including the pool.
Mo had to laugh. Clyde always had loved that pool. He'd bet good money that he still swam in it every day.
As the family approached the front door and rang the bell, it opened slowly to reveal not their beloved uncle and brother... but a smiling woman in a formal red dress - her hair a pile of tight blonde curls heaped upon her head.
"Can I 'elp you?" she asked kindly - her accent identical to that of the Thackers.
"I'm Moses Thacker-Creswell," came the reply. "Clyde's brother."
"Ah, yes!" the lady answered in a merry tone. "'E's been expecting you. I'm afraid 'e's 'ad to take a call from a client in 'is study, but 'e'll be with you very shortly. Please - do come in."
As she led them into the foyer, Theo and the girls gazed around as if they were in a museum, admiring the tile floor, marble pillars and lavish furnishings. Mo, however, didn't pay it much heed. After all, he'd seen it all before.
"I'm Ms. Melville - Mr. Thacker's 'ousekeeper," the lady explained. "'E's told me a lot about you. It's very nice to meet you."
"You too," Mo replied, shaking her hand warmly.
"I'm Theodore Thacker-Creswell... "Theo" for short," his husband added, offering his own hand. "A pleasure, Ms. Melville."
Grinning, she turned towards the two girls.
"And just who are you two little angels, then?"
"I'm Polly," the eldest replied. "And this is my little sister, Lucy."
Lucy said nothing. She was too busy focusing on the pearl-stringed locket Ms. Melville was wearing around her neck. One solitary letter had been engraved on it in gold leaf.
"What's the "B" for?" she asked boldly, pointing towards it.
Embarrassed, Theo shushed her gently.
"Lucy, honey... it's not nice to ask personal questions like that!"
Ms. Melville laughed, waving her hand dismissively.
"It's fine, sir - I assure you."
Still smiling, Ms. Melville crouched down to speak to the little ladies on their own level.
"Now, if you two gels need anything, you just tell ol' Ms. Melville, right? I only 'ave one rule, and that's that you use your manners. I'm an 'ousekeeper, not a slave. I don't take rudeness from Mr. Thacker, so I won't be taking it from you - all right?"
Grinning, she looked up at Mo and Theo.
"And that goes for your daddies, an' all."
"That's not a problem, Ms. Melville," he said, amused by her outspokenness.
"Mo!" came a cry from above him. "Bruv! You made it!"
Mo looked up. There, standing at the top of the stairwell, was Clyde - clad in a red designer suit. As Mo watched, he rushed down the stairs like an excited child, running up to his brother, and throwing his arms around him.
Mo returned his embrace with the same eagerness.
"Bloody 'ell!" he said to his elder brother, laughing as he looked him up and down. "Just look at you! All dressed up in a fancy suit - you flash bastard! You'd best not be going snobby on me!"
"Nah," Clyde replied. "Fancy suit, yeah, but same rough-arse bugger underneath it, I promise you."
Pulling away, he turned towards the two girls.
"And these must be my two favourite nieces!" he cried, delighted.
"We're your only nieces, Uncle Clyde!" Polly answered.
"And that's why you're my favourites. My God, you're both getting big. Polly, I still remember you toddling around at Minerva's wedding. And you, Lucy... it don't seem like two minutes since your dad sent me your baby pictures!"
After embracing each of them tightly, and greeting Theo, Clyde approached Ms. Melville.
"Will dinner be long?" he asked.
"It's ready to be served, Mr. Thacker."
"Good. Not burnt anything this time, have you?"
Ms. Melville rolled her eyes, smiling. She knew Mr. Thacker was just joking around with her. They'd wound each other up for years: each one able to take as much as they dished out, and determined to one-up the other.
It was a game to them. Back when Ms. Melville had first started working for Mr. Thacker, he'd once come into the kitchen whilst she was washing dishes, and criticised the way she did them. When she'd asked Mr. Thacker to demonstrate his preferred method, and he'd stepped up to the sink, she'd thrown down her marigold gloves and strolled away smirking, leaving him to it.
Still, she was careful, and never pushed things too far. Mr. Thacker was still her employer. She expected politeness, but was always poilte in return, and neither of them used the other's first name - keeping things relatively professional. In fact, she didn't think Mr. Thacker even knew her first name.
As it turned out, Ms. Melville going mano-a-mano with him in matters of wit wasn't an issue for Clyde. In fact, he quite liked the cut of her jib.
As the family made their way into the dining room, they all chatted away eagerly - longing to catch up on one another's lives, with uncle and nieces particularly keen to get to know one another.
The following afternoon was incredibly warm. The girls, longing to cool off, asked if they could swim in the pool, and Clyde immediately consented.
As Polly and Lucy paddled about merrily in the water, the three men sat together under the shade of a parasol, lounging in their deckchairs. But whilst Mo and Theo both removed their shirts, Clyde remained clad in a black vest top.
After half an hour or so, Lucy, with a mischievous smile, swam up towards poolside, looking at her uncle with wide puppy-dog eyes.
"Swim with us, Uncle Clyde!" she called out.
Clyde shook his head firmly.
"No can do, Lucy, love," he told her. "I can't swim."
Hearing this, Mo turned towards his brother in confusion.
"What do you mean?" he asked, stifling a shocked laugh. "Course you can swim! You used to do it all the time back when..."
Noticing the girls, he stopped, and corrected himself.
"... back when we were 'ere before."
"Things 'ave changed," Clyde replied. "I 'ad a pool party a couple of years back. Got a bit tipsy. Some dumb-arse mate of mine from the office thought it would be funny to push me in. Only I fell weird - knocked my head on the side of the pool and nearly drowned. They 'ad to dive in and drag me out. Put me right off. I daren't go in these days."
"Oh - right," Mo said, settling back down in his deckchair, and saying no more about it
However, as evening fell, and the girls went to play upstairs after their supper, Clyde ventured out towards the pool alone. He still liked to swim everyday - but he always made sure no-one else saw him doing it. Not even Ms. Melville. And right now, especially not his brother.
Sloughing off his suit, and stripping himself down to his swimming trunks, he slowly reached down towards his stomach... and traced the large scar he had along his abdomen with his fingertips.
There was a story behind it. One he was reluctant to tell - hence why he kept it hidden at all times. However, as he slowly lowered himself into the pool waters, he could feel the scar being soothed by their coolness.
Enjoying the peace and quiet that the evening brought, Clyde swam a few laps contentedly. Suddenly, he heard a noise coming from the house, and saw Mo running towards him.
"Bruv!" Mo was shouting. "The gels are just going to bed... they were asking if you could read them a -"
He stopped dead in his tracks as he saw Clyde climbing out of the water, and noticed the scar.
He'd seen one like it before. On the body of his husband.
"What the 'ell 'appened to you?" he asked, almost breathlessly.
"Bruv," he answered, gathering up his clothing, "we need to talk."
Upstairs in their guest room, Polly and Lucy sat together on the rug, excitedly playing a hand-clapping game with one another. The sweet melody of their schoolyard chanting was suddenly shattered when the door was thrown open, leading it to slam against the wall.
Stood there in the doorway was Mo - his face grave and sombre, his body statuesque.
"Dining room, gels. Now," he ordered in gruff tones.
Concerned, the girls obeyed. Never before in their lives had they seen their father like this. He was usually a ray of sunshine, but now, he looked as disconcerting and unwelcoming as a tomb - all of his joy sucked out of him. It unsettled them very much.
As they entered the dining room, they found Ms. Melville and Theo sat solemnly on one side of the table, with Clyde seated at its head - fidgeting nervously, his gaze fixed on the floor. As Polly took a seat, Lucy went to sit beside Theo... only to be stopped by Mo.
"No, Lucy," he told her firmly. "Not there. There."
He pointed to the seat nearest Clyde. Lucy, more confused than ever, moved at once, whilst Mo settled himself down on Clyde's other side - staring at his brother coldly.
"Tell 'er," he barked in venomous tones, gesturing towards Lucy.
"Mo... no," Clyde whispered back, frightened. "No. I can't. She's... she's too young..."
"Tell 'er. Now."
Swallowing nervously, Clyde looked up at Lucy - fear blazing in his eyes.
"Lucy - there's something you need to know. I... I'm not really your uncle."
The girl's eyes widened in horror.
"Not my uncle?" she asked, aghast.
"No. Lucy... I'm..."
Shaking, he drew in a deep breath.
"I'm... I'm your father..."
I can't write any more about it, Boss. It's too painful. I'd only get all my words mixed up anyway. Clyde was always good with words - I'll get him to write you and tell you everything. It's the least he can do for me.
Hang in there, mate.
TO BE CONTINUED