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Zero Tolerance by Stuart Martin

© Stuart Martin

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Grass = snitch/police informer
Zero Tolerance

A black dog lolloped to the top of a grassy slope and struck a pose: right front paw held off the ground, nose, back and tail spirit level straight. Andrew Rice smiled as he looked on. Buster was mostly Labrador, but his broad chest and slim hips hinted at bullmastiff. With that posture there just had to be some pointer in there too. Andrew started up the hill as Buster disappeared over the brow.

“Buster - get here.” He began to run as the smell of charred rubber hit his nostrils. Buster was circling the burnt-out wreck of a car giving it a nasal inspection. A Nissan Cherry was Andrew’s best guess: so old it could probably have been opened with a lolly stick. Torched, stolen cars were standard fare on the fringe of the estate, but adding a supermarket trolley to the auto-pyre – really! He sighed, it could easily be fellow pupils.

Andrew started to sprint as a woman with a black Labrador came round a bend towards them. With a throaty growl, Buster stalked towards the Labrador.

“Sit, sit,” shouted Andrew, readying his choker-chain-lead as he ran.

Buster was about to spring forward when a hand grasped his collar. A man, accompanied by a terrier-like mongrel, held him firm and ruffled his ears. “You don’t want to do that, Buster. Say hello to Rusty instead.”

Andrew slipped the lead over Buster’s head. “Nice one, Mr Priestly. He hates dogs that look like him – don’t know why.”

Brian Priestly stroked his hand along Buster’s back. “It will be something in his past.” He bent down as he spoke, “We don’t know what happened to you before Andy got you from the shelter do we?” The woman with the Labrador was heading away. Buster and Rusty exchanged greeting sniffs. Priestly gave Buster a pat and straightened up. “He looks well, all those sores have gone. He found a good home with you.”

Andrew nodded. “He does look good, doesn’t he?”

“He really does.” Priestly put his hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “You have something about you, Andy, some character. Not like the lunatics who do things like this.” He was staring at the wrecked car. “Work hard at school and get away from this place - that’s my advice.” He glanced back at the clumps of terraced houses. “People around here have a warped view of what should be tolerated.”

“Mum wants me to go to uni, that’s what I’m trying for.”

“Sound advice. Ever talk to your dad about it?”

Andrew shrugged. “Haven’t seen him for months. I think he’s drinking again.”

“Mmm…Best listen to your mum then.”

Andrew tugged on Buster’s lead. “Come on. Off to do some revising now, got exams soon.”

“Good luck.”

“Thanks, Mr Priestly.”

“Remember, the harder you work the luckier you get - and it’s Brian.”

Andrew was up early the next morning. When he went to the fridge, he heard a whimper. Buster was sitting close by, his eyes flitting from Andrew to the cupboard where his lead was kept.

Andrew took out the lead. “Okay, walk before breakfast.” Buster bounced to the back door.

At the edge of an open area of ground, the place where Buster was usually released, Andrew stood looking at the last row of houses. Something was wrong. He took Buster’s single bark as a rebuke and removed his lead. Andrew walked, staring at the end house. The four fir trees that yesterday stood at the edge of the garden had been sawn through and were strewn across the path. When he got closer he could see that the front window had cracks spreading out from a bottom corner. The word ‘GRASS’ had been daubed on the wall in huge green letters, the last ‘S’ encroaching onto the door. Andrew clenched his hands into fists and pressed his teeth hard together. He turned and ran towards home. “Buster – let’s go.”

Andrew typed notes into a laptop between spoons of flakes, gazing up as he chewed. He heard footsteps on the stairs and a cupboard door being opened. “Mum, you know old Mr Priestly?”


“Mr Priestly. He lives in the last house near the field, always talks to Buster.”
His mum’s head appeared round the door, her hair pulled back in a tight bun. “The bloke with that yappy little Rusty?”

“Yes - well someone has –”

“Old!” His mum interrupted, “I bet he’s not even fifty.”

“Mum – important news flash….”

“Go on, I’m listening.” She was back in the walk-in cupboard.

“Someone chopped his trees down, smashed his window, and painted ‘grass’ right across his house.”

His mum continued to rummage around as she spoke, “Really? He must have upset someone.”

Andrew frowned. “Well I think it’s shi…terrible. People with the nuts to do the right thing should be supported. Everything’s back to front around here.”

“You’re right there, love.”

He cringed. “Mum…‘love’, really!”
His mum popped her head round the door and blew him a kiss. He shook his head and typed another note.
“I’m writing a piece for the school paper about it. If I get it done by lunchtime I can get it in tomorrow’s issue.”

His mum stood in the doorway holding a bundle of clothes. “I thought you were doing your study group thing at lunch.”

“That’s after school. I told you”

“Did you?” She hesitated. “Anyway, I’m glad you have a social conscience and want to do something to help. It’s just, I know what you’re like sometimes. Just remember your exams are top priority - right?” She dropped the clothes in front of the washing machine.

“Don’t stress, the study group will be in session tonight. Even Dobbo’s coming.”

She widened her eyes. “Really? What’s come over him?” She adjusted her pencil-skirt, went down on one knee, and started loading washing into the machine.

“Not sure, but he seems keen.”

“Andrew Rice!” She held up a pair of trousers. “I think at fifteen you should be straightening out your own socks.” She shook the trousers. “And separating your boxer shorts from your jeans, don’t you?” She pointedly looked at the clock as she tugged at the entangled garments. “I’m going to miss my lift if I’m not careful.”

Andrew rolled his eyes. “I’ll do it, you get going.”

“Are you sure?” She was already in front of the mirror manoeuvring stray hairs into place and adjusting her name badge.

“I’m sure.”

She twisted side-to-side, smoothing her blouse and skirt. “Don’t forget to put it on hold.” She turned and made eye contact, “And put Buster in the yard.”

“I won’t, and I will.” Buster flopped down, head on paws in what Andrew called his fed-up position.

The back row was already full. Andrew moved down and stood in front of a seat as pupils filed into the hall of Longton Academy. There was a murmur; almost every male head turned and several female eyes narrowed as Melissa Umber sashayed her way to the front row.

Dobbo rested a hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “There is no way that skirt is even half regulation length. I don’t know how she gets away with it but I’m so glad she does.”

Andrew agreed but didn’t voice the opinion. Dobbo pulled down on his shoulder and whispered in his ear, “So, this study group - you, me, and four hot chicks right?”

Andrew eased Dobbo’s hand off his shoulder. “They are four girls who want to study. Study group - the clue’s in the name.”

“Course, but every study group comes to an end. Then they’re hot girls ready for some chill-time.” Dobbo gave an elongated wink. He grabbed Andrew’s shoulder again, leaning in so close his wavy hair brushed Andrew’s chin. “I have an Idea. Let’s sit with them at lunch, break the ice.”

“I’m busy at lunch.”

Dobbo, who was five-foot-four, was standing on tiptoes trying to improve his view of Melissa. She was repeatedly fanning-out her long, dark-brown hair, letting it fall onto her back in the same pristine state from which it started; an action carried out purely to attract attention in Andrew’s opinion. It was working. Dobbo gave a crooked smile. “Busy. Doing what?”

“I’m taking an article to the Gazette.”

“Ha, you’re writing for the emergency bog roll?”

“There’s some good stuff in it.”

“You actually read it?”

Andrew frowned. “Yes.”

“Okay, what’s your ‘important’ article about?”

“It’s about what happened to Mr Priestly.”

“Priestly? You mean the grass?”

“Not you as well! Look, if your mum or sister was mugged, and I saw who did it, would you expect me to tell the police?”

“Course - but I’d never grass someone up.”

Andrew looked up and let out an exasperated sigh. “Seriously?”

“Ouch!” Dobbo bent forward clutching his head.

There was a snigger from two boys. Brett Palmer made Dobbo flinch as he threatened a second knuckle strike. “Get your pervy little eyes off my woman, Dumbo.”

Andrew drew himself up, tensed his muscles and turned to face Palmer: it was a physical mismatch. Andrew was five-foot-ten, the same as Palmer. But Palmer was an early developer. Andrew felt somehow less solid; must give those weights another go. He took a deep breath. “What’s your problem, Palmer?”

“Ooooo, get her,” quipped an onlooker.

Palmer pressed his forehead against Andrew’s as he spoke: “What are you, Paddy, his fairy godmother?”

A teacher’s voice boomed out from the aisle, “Palmer, three rows forward…Now.”
Palmer blew into Andrew’s face, making him blink. He sneered before moving away. Andrew breathed out and steadied his shaking hand.

Once Palmer was a safe distance away, Dobbo sang in a whisper, “Pretty women out walking with gorillas on my street.”

Sadly, it was wide of the mark; Palmer was no gorilla, not facially at least.

The office of The Longton Gazette was close to the main entrance. He must have passed it hundreds of times, but Andrew had never thought of venturing in before today. He tapped on the door and waited. He thought he heard something, but decided to knock again.
“I said come in.” There was an inference of irritation in the instruction.

The words Andrew intended to speak as he entered rattled round in his mouth like demented pinballs, and went back down his throat. Melissa Umber sat, leaning forward, hands poised over a laptop keyboard. In that position, her skirt seemed very, very short. Andrew could see in his peripheral vision she had turned to look at him, but he couldn’t persuade his eyes to rise from the denier-step on her thigh.

Melissa lowered her head. “Hello, have you got something for the paper, or are you just here to look at my legs?”

Andrew jerked a memory stick out of his pocket. “Yes, yes I’ve written an article. Are you the…,” he gestured around the room, “the Gazette person?”

Melissa took the stick and inserted it into her computer. “Yes, me and the occasional contributor.” He pulled up a chair as she scanned the article.

She picked up a pen, tapped the screen periodically then turned with a smile. “This is really good.” Could have been wishful thinking, but he thought he detected a pout before she went on. “I’ll run it, and I’ll show it to a contact at the Mail - this has legs.”

They both looked up as the door was flung open. Brett Palmer flashed a toothy smile at Melissa then turned with a scowl.
“Paddy, you are punching way above your weight.” He leaned over Andrew, fists clenched. “Is this nerd bothering you, Babe?”

Melissa threw the pen down and stared at Palmer. “Get lost, Brett.”

Palmer’s eyes flicked to the screen. “What’s this?” Andrew reached out towards the laptop. Palmer snatched hold of his hand and squeezed so hard Andrew thought at least three bones had broken; he swallowed the cry of pain. Palmer scrolled down the article. “Rice backing the grass - that fits.”

Melissa stood up, hand on hip, and pointed at the door. “Get out, Brett, or I’m going to the Head.”

Palmer rubbed his knuckles on Andrew’s head and released him with a shove. “Paddy the grass lover, wonder what people will think to that?” He smiled at Melissa as he edged past her, and pointed at himself. “You know you want this - don’t wait too long.”

She winced. “In your dreams.”

Andrew had been cradling his hand, but slipped it into his pocket as Melissa turned to him. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, fine. So you’re not with him?”

Her dark eyebrows moved together. “Ancient history. Not that it’s any of your business.”

“Sorry.” He amended his smug grin into a pleasant smile.

“What’s the Paddy thing about?” Melissa asked as he stood.

“Some rice growing reference I think.”

“Typical.” She turned back to her laptop as Andrew went to the door. “How can I contact you?”

“My mobile number is on the article.” The grin returned as he strode down the corridor.

Two slices popped up in the toaster. Andrew took them out and applied a layer of chocolate spread.
“Mum, do you think I should tell Mr Priestly about the article?”

His mother was putting on makeup in front of a mirror. “Do you think you need to?”

“Well, it doesn’t mention his name or address, but people could put two and two together.”

“I suppose.”

“I think I’ll go and tell him tonight when I walk Buster.”

“If you think you should.” She pulled on her hair band and put in an extra loop. “How’s study group going? Is Dobbo enjoying it?”

“He only came once. I don’t think he got as much out of it as he hoped.” Andrew folded over his toast and looked at his mother. That was odd, black eyeliner and different coloured lipstick.

“That’s a shame.” She checked her reflection, popped a handful of makeup items into a handbag, and presented herself for Andrew’s inspection. “How do I look?”

He hesitated for a moment. “Nice.”

“I’m going to ask for a raise today. I virtually run that front desk single handed.” Buster, who had been sniffing his food, looked up. She pointed at the bowl. “There’s nothing else, it’s that or nothing.” Buster went back to inspecting the tinned offering.

Andrew watched his mother make another appearance check. “I wouldn’t mind, you know.” He said as he sipped at a mug of tea.

“Mind what?”

“If you had a boyfriend.”

She picked up her keys, walked over, and cupped his face in her hands. “Andrew Rice, sometimes you’re too clever for your own good.” She kissed him on the top of the head. “I’m asking for a pay rise, that’s all.” Picking up her mobile seemed to prompt a thought. “There’s a pie in the fridge. If I text you when I leave, will you put it in the oven?”

Andrew gave a nod. “Sure thing, Mum.”

She stopped with the door ajar and shot a stare from Andrew to Buster. “And I know how many slices of ham there are in the fridge - no treats.” Buster flopped down.

Two minutes after his mother had left, Andrew took the eight slices of ham out of the fridge. He carefully sliced a centimetre strip off one side, and dropped the pieces into Busters bowl.

All evidence of the vandalism had been expunged. A fence now stood in place of the fir trees. The house and door had been repainted, and the cracked window replaced.

Priestly listened intently as Andrew told him about the article then smiled. “Mind? I think it’s great. I don’t usually get the Mail, but I’ll make a point to buy it tomorrow.”

Andrew kept Buster on a shortened lead to stop him christening the new fence. “They’ve messed with it, but the basics are the same.”

Priestly scratched Buster’s ear. “I’m impressed with the sentiment. Not many people have the guts to stand up for what’s right. I knew you had character though.”

Andrew drew back his shoulders. He gestured towards the house. “Did they find the people who did it?”

“The police don’t have time for trivia like that. That’s why I left the force. Zero tolerance, that’s the way forward.”

A tone sounded from Andrew’s pocket. “I’ve got to go, Mr Priestly. I have to put a pie in the oven. Come on Buster.”

“Andy, I appreciate you coming to tell me. And it’s Brian.”

Buster, nose sweeping the ground, pulled like a husky to the nearest bushes. Once there, he adjusted his position to start his scent-marking. A huge greyhound emerged and stood alongside him. Andrew smiled at the dog.

There was a shout: “Seize.” The greyhound bit down on the back of Buster’s neck and jerked him from side-to-side.

Andrew made a grab for the hound’s collar, but was stopped when a fist slammed into his solar plexus. Brett Palmer took hold of him by his hair as his knees buckled. Andrew’s call of: “Buster,” became a breathless wheeze.

Palmer pulled up on his hair. “I saw you getting all pally with the grass.” Buster looked limp as the greyhound shook him. Palmer tightened his grip further and landed three short punches on Andrew’s face. “You grass loving, woman stealing, turd.”

Andrew snorted out a mixture of mucus and blood. He gasped for breath and threw a punch. Palmer blocked it and landed another blow. Andrew’s head rocked back, and he dropped onto his hands and knees. His eyes focused in time to see the greyhound had discarded Buster like a dead rabbit. At the instant of release, Buster twisted, sprang up, and clamped his jaws on the greyhound’s throat.

The high-pitched yelp stopped Palmer’s intended kick. “Victor!” He took a step towards Buster. “You mangy!” The greyhound made off across the field. Buster stood his ground, growling full of intent, lips vibrating to reveal saliva-covered fangs. Palmer stepped back. “You’ll pay for that, Paddy. You, your bitch mother, that flea-bitten mutt, and your dorky boyfriend.” Buster’s hackles rose as he moved to Andrew’s side. Palmer started to run in the direction the Greyhound had gone. “Victor, here boy.”

Andrew felt a hand under his arm and he was hauled to his feet. “Are you alright?”

Andrew wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “I’m fine…No big-e.”

“What was all that about?” Priestly handed him a handkerchief.

Andrew blew his nose and patted Buster. “Just someone who doesn’t like me very much.” He put the handkerchief in his pocket. “I’ll wash it and bring it back later.”

“Are you sure you’re alright? I could walk home with you.”

“Thanks, Mr Priestly…Brian, I’ll be fine.”

He gave Buster another pat. “There’ll be a slice of pie for you tonight mate.”

Priestly called after him, “You take care, Andy.”

A nurse filled in the patient check sheet and hung the clipboard on the end of the bed. She slid the pen into her top pocket and smiled. “I’ll be back with your painkillers in about an hour, Mr Dobson.”

Andrew smirked. “Mr Dobson. Bet you didn’t know who she was talking to at first.”

Dobbo reached across with his left hand, trying to reach the drink on his bedside cabinet. The metal framework, which braced his right arm from shoulder to wrist, stopped him just short. “I’m sure they do that on purpose.”

Andrew passed him the beaker. “Are they painful, the pins?”

“They ache a bit, but not too bad really. Looks worse than it feels.” Dobbo caught the straw between his lips.

Andrew glanced at the chart. “You realise that could change when they wean you off those painkillers.”

Dobbo frowned. “Come again?”

One corner of Andrew’s mouth curled up and he shook his head. “Your lack of pain is down to drugs.”

“Whatever. Anyway, it could work out quite well. Mum rang the school and they say I can do my exams after the holidays. I might even revise.”

Andrew shrugged. “Every cloud. Seriously though, you could have landed on your head. You could have been killed.”

Dobbo glanced at the door and spoke in a hushed tone, “Don’t start on that again. I’m not telling anyone it was Palmer. And you gave your word.”

“So he just gets away with it?”

“Look, he pushed me down the stairs. He might get expelled for that. Obviously he’ll say it was an accident. His two mates that were there will back him up. But even if he did get expelled his mates won’t. Where would that leave me?” He looked down.

Andrew looked at the floor and wrung his hands. “Suppose you’ve got a point. It’s not right though.”

Dobbo gurgled up the last of his drink. “Mum brought the paper in for me. The article was good.” Andrew scowled a little. “No, really it was.”

“They virtually rewrote it, but the theme was mine. Mel texted to congratulate me.”

Dobbo did his double-pump eyebrow raise. “Mel now is it, very cosy.”

Andrew couldn’t supress his smile.

The door hadn’t closed behind him when his mother called out, “Andrew Rice, take this dog out.” Using his full name and calling Buster “dog” was serious. He took Buster’s lead from the cupboard without replying. She banged down the iron. “I know you gave him that last slice of pie. You know what he’s like when he has pastry. He’s been breaking wind all afternoon.” She glowered at Buster. “Yes you, you stinker.” Buster contorted his body and sniffed his own bottom.

Andrew clapped his hands together. “Come on boy.”

His mother was ironing again. “Your ‘old’ friend came round earlier.”

“Old friend?”

“Brian Priestly. He left that for you.” She pointed at a small box on the table. “Said it was a thank you, for the article. I think he was concerned about it looking odd.”

Buster padded towards the door. Andrew slid the lead over his head as he passed. Buster carried on with the chain in tow. “Why would it look odd?”

She spread a shirt on the board. “A single, middle-aged man, giving presents to a teenage boy. It could give the wrong impression.”

Andrew wrinkled his nose. “You mean grooming?”

“It happens - and they don’t wear badges.”

He picked a gold chain out of the box. A gold St Christopher turned slowly as he held it up. “Sweet, real gold.” He held it out towards his mother. “Who is this guy?”

“It’s St Christopher, patron saint of travellers. I thought you would have known that.”

“Big back-in-the-day was he?”

“Cheeky, back-in-the-day indeed.”

Andrew fastened the chain around his neck and dropped the gold disc inside his shirt. He ruffled Busters ears. “Let’s go mate.”

His mother’s raised voice stopped him in the doorway. “How was Dobbo?”

“Quite perky considering.”

“Did Brett Palmer have anything to do with what happened?”

Andrew shrugged. “Dobbo says he fell.”

“Well, it’s disgusting what he did to you. If that school doesn’t do something I’m going in to see the Head. If you see that Palmer, you come straight home.”

“He doesn’t scare me.”

“That’s not the point. People like him can draw you into trouble you’re not looking for. Just come home if you see him, okay?” Her lip quivered as she ironed with extra vigour.

Andrew pressed his mouth into a smile. “Don’t stress, Mum, I will.”

She called again, “Take your key. I’m going to bed when I’ve finished these. I’m covering Kirsty’s early shift tomorrow.”

“Got it.”

The light was beginning to fade, and the moon was clearly visible in the sky. Andrew leaned against a tree. A breeze cooled his face as he watched Buster examine the patch where the burnt out car had stood. Why did people have to make things difficult for each other? A little respect and tolerance, would that be such a big ask?

The ZZ Top classic, Legs, playing from his mobile interrupted his thoughts. “Melissa.”

“Don’t you reply to your messages?”

“Things have been a bit hectic, I’ve been to see Dobbo and–”

“Listen,” Melissa interrupted, “I thought I ought to warn you. I had a bit of a scene with Brett, and I think he might be looking for you.”

“A scene? What did he do?”

“Well, someone told him I’d said I sort of liked you. So he confronts me as if we were still an item - as if. I put him straight, and he goes off on one. You know what he’s like.”

“Was it true?”

“Was what true?”

“That you like me?”

There was a pause. “Still thinking about that. Try asking me out sometime. It might help me make my mind up.”

Andrew’s mouth curled into a smile. “I’ll do that.” He did a fist-pump as he slid the phone into his pocket. “Yes!”

Buster was way in the distance, nose skimming the ground. Still smiling, Andrew took a deep breath and looked up at the moon. He took a step. A shock pulsed through the side of his face. His right eye flickered - the moon again, trees, grass, moon, black, grass, black.

Trembling fingers traced the swelling on the back of his head. Andrew flinched as his touch found parted skin. He feared opening his eyes would make the throbbing pain in his head worse. He could hear a familiar voice. He parted his eyelids, steeling himself for the consequences.

“Ah there you are. How are you feeling? Ignore that, stupid question.”

Andrew’s eyes started to focus. “Mr Priestly, how?” He rested his fingertips on his forehead.

Priestly held out a glass of water and a cupped hand. “Here, take these painkillers.”

Andrew took the tablets and the glass. “Thanks.” He jerked up in his seat. “Buster, where’s Buster?”

“He’s fine. He’s in the back garden with Rusty. I had to put them out, they were getting a bit boisterous.”

Andrew finished the water and massaged his own neck. “How did I get here? The last thing I remember was looking at the moon.”

“That boy, Palmer, the one you were fighting with, he hit you on the head - a real cheap shot. Luckily I saw it happen. It didn’t seem to be a serious injury, so I brought you back here, cleaned you up, and here we are. St Christopher must have been watching over you.”

Andrew stared, fingering the medallion through his shirt. “Palmer…How did you?”

Priestly picked up the glass. “Your mother and I had a chat earlier, she told me a few things about Brett Palmer. Unless I’m very much mistaken he had a hand in your friend’s misfortune, yes?” Andrew rubbed his temple and nodded slowly. Priestly continued in a growl, “Quite a piece of work Mr Palmer. Cowardly assaults and threats.”

“I’m going to the police this time. Will you be a witness and tell them what you saw?”

Priestly stood. “Of course, if you think it will do any good.” He started to pace and wring his hands. “The trouble is the way our inept system works, even if he’s convicted he’ll get a conditional discharge at worst. The system hasn’t got the capacity to make the punishment fit the crime.” He spoke through gritted teeth as he went on, “I know people like Palmer of old. He’s the type who’ll drag you into an abyss because he’s too stupid to see the consequences.”

Andrew raked his fingers through his hair. “What else can I do? I already reported him to school.”

Priestly sat down again, pointedly making eye contact. “Andy, he’s assaulted you twice, and seriously injured your friend. And I heard the threats he made after his attack, one was against your mother. He’s a sadistic bully. He won’t change. Zero tolerance is the solution. It just takes people with the character to implement it.” He jumped up and swung open the kitchen door. The whole room was covered with plastic sheets, neatly joined together with duct tape. A chair stood in the centre. The same tape had been used to mummify Brett Palmer in position on it. Only his eyes and hair had been left visible. Palmer’s body twitched as Priestly picked up a short length of scaffolding pole and offered it to Andrew.

Swallowing, his mouth suddenly dry, Andrew took the bludgeon and stood in front of Palmer. He flexed his fingers on the pipe as he rested it on his shoulder. Palmer was vibrating, his eyes bulging. Liquid dripped down from his crotch area. Still flexing his fingers, Andrew looked at Priestly. “Zero tolerance.” Priestly, eyes widening, returned his stare and nodded.

Andrew licked his dry lips and took short breaths. He looked deep into Palmer’s eyes, gripped the pipe and swung it. There was a thud as steel impacted on skin covered bone.

Red-varnished nails scratching behind his ear had Buster’s back leg twitching. “What a handsome dog.”

Andrew stared at the end house. Police barrier tape criss-crossed the door. Melissa took his hand as Buster trundled off down the slope. “You know you’re my hero, don’t you? That Priestly guy is crazy. That smack on the head you gave him will probably do him good.”

Andrew flickered a smile and squeezed her hand. “I was tempted to whack Brett, just for a moment.”

“Well you did the right thing, and I think you were very brave. Brett is a prick, but he doesn’t deserve that. I just wish I could have seen his face when he thanked you for saving him.”

“You’re right, he is a prick. But he was quite humble when he said thanks. It probably won’t last though.”

Melissa wrinkled her nose. “Brett Palmer, contrite. You’re right, it can’t last.”

Andrew fingered the St Christopher under his shirt. A knot formed in his stomach as they walked on.

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