A Warm Welcome

Amy came around the corner of the house just as the big man in the red T-shirt was about to get back into his car.

‘Wait!’ she called.

The big man looked up, saw Amy and grunted. It was not a friendly grunt.

‘Hey Mister, wait up. Sorry, I was busy cleaning out the house, I didn’t hear the bell go!’ said Amy, hurrying to the gate.

The man outside the gate was big, very big. His extra-large T-shirt stretched tight across his chest, and even his jeans were tight around his upper legs, which were probably the thickest Amy had seen in her life. His head had been recently shaven, and reflected the bright afternoon sunshine like a mirror. Here was a man who had the word trouble written across his face, down to the tattoos on his bodybuilder arms and the scar on his bicep. Around his neck hung a thick gold chain, another one was stretched tight across the thickest wrist Amy had ever seen.

‘What can I help you with?’

‘I’m looking for Peter Cook,’ said the man in a threatening voice, taking two steps towards the gate. The gravel crunching under his feet sounded as if a tipper truck was riding over it.

‘I’m Amy Anderson. Peter Cook is my landlord, but I’m afraid he’s not here at the moment,’ said Amy, taking the keys to the gate out of her pocket and dangling them from her fingers. The big man looked at the keys and then at the lock on the gate, a frown on his face.

‘Gmf,’ he grunted angrily, looking back at Amy. ‘My name’s Smasher Hoskins. I’m looking for Peter Cook in connection with some unpaid debt, a certain amount is still owed on a vehicle he purchased from my boss.’ He stood with his hands on his hips, the expression on his face looked like dark thunder.

Amy smiled. In build, Amy was the exact opposite of the big man. Her petite form was definitely not skinny, but there was not a spare ounce to her body. The skirt she wore had been chosen with the purpose of showing off her shapely legs, and from the hungry look on the face of Smasher Hoskins she knew she was getting her money’s worth. She could feel the big man’s eyes on her, searching. She gave him her brightest smile, showing off her full set of perfect teeth to their greatest. To make sure he got the full effect she shook her head, letting her long black hair ripple in the sunshine.

‘Why don’t you come on in, and I’ll try to get hold of him?’ asked Amy, reaching up and inserting the key into the lock. The gate swung open, and Amy stood back so that the man could enter.

Smasher looked at the open gate in disbelief. He knew what people thought of him when they set eyes on him and he told them his name, and they were not welcoming thoughts. They were usually more along the line of ‘Press the panic button and get the security firm here Right Now!’ For a pretty lady like her to open the gate and invite him in was something new in his books.

‘I’ve got his name and number in the house,’ said Amy, locking the gate behind him and leading the way to the house. ‘I’ve tried to call him this morning, but he wasn’t answering his phone.’

‘You been living in the area for long?’ asked Smasher, glancing sideways at her.

‘No, only about a year, so I don’t know the neighbours too well yet. Is Mr. Cook in trouble?’ she asked, climbing the steps to the front door of a cottage that stood to one side of the main residence.

‘You could say so, he’s a few instalments behind on a vehicle he bought from my boss, and the boss is really angry about it,’ said Smasher.

‘Come through here, I was just going to pour myself a glass of wine,’ said Amy, walking into the kitchen and pulling a bottle of red wine from the rack next to the stove. An aroma of stew drifted through the kitchen, catching his nose and making his mouth water. She took two glasses from the cupboard and started opening the bottle. She did it expertly, and Smasher could see a history of being a waitress behind her. Moments later he stood with a glass of wine in his hand, feeling more and more amazed at the pretty girl who had welcomed him into her home.

Amy lifted her glass to toast, and said ‘Well, here’s to good wine and good food!’

The big man also lifted his glass, and drank the toast Amy had proposed.

‘I hope you don’t mind me asking,’ said Amy, ‘But Smasher is a funny kind of name. Is that what all your friends call you?’

‘Oh yeah, it’s what everybody calls me,’ said Smasher, leaning back against the counter and taking a long drink from his glass. ‘What’s that smell, it’s delicious!’

The smell coming from the pot was indeed good. It suggested browned onion and spices, herbs and the most tender cut of meat that had been cooked to perfection.

‘Ah, that would be supper,’ said Amy, taking the ladle and lifting the lid off the pot. She gave it a stir, and sniffed deeply as the aroma drifted in thick clouds out of the stew.

Smasher looked at the girl in complete wonder. He didn’t have bad intentions towards her, he would never think of laying a hand against a woman, but this pretty girl had welcomed him into her home without his asking, and now she had given him a glass of wine to drink, and she really did have the most welcoming smile he had seen in his life. He felt uncomfortable. It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to behave in the company of women, it was just that they were usually very cautious of him, not at all as welcoming as she was.

‘Let me top you up,’ she said, replacing the pot’s lid and picking up the bottle of wine again.

He was surprised to see that his glass was already empty. Smasher held out his glass and watched in amazement as Amy refilled it, right up to the brim. He’d perhaps drunk the first glass rather too quickly, and already he could feel the warmth of the wine spreading through his head.

‘Smells like you know how to do a good plate of food,’ he said, hoping to sound complementing without making it sound as if he was expecting to be invited for supper.

‘It’s all in the cut of the meat,’ said Amy. ‘I used to work for a butcher, and found out that you have to cut the meat just right to release the flavours. Cut it away from the tendon, so that the tendon does not keep the flavour in. Take off all the sinewy skins that surround the muscle, and then make a couple of strategic cuts into the meat so that the juice can come out and mingle with the rest of the stuff in the pot. Then add just the right amount of herbs and spices, cook to perfection, and you have a great meal. But always remember, it’s all in the cut of the meat.’

‘Sounds like you know your stuff,’ said Smasher, impressed with the pretty girl, and wondering if he was falling in love. He looked around the kitchen, noticing the cookbooks neatly stacked on a tray. The biggest chopping block he had seen in his life all but covered one of the counters, and the gas hob on the other side looked like a work of art. Here was a kitchen that said ‘Use me’, and welcomed people to try their hands at new recipes every day. A big window let in lots of light, and on the windowsill a collection of plants grew in little pots painted with the picture of each plant. There was a bit of parsley, some blood-red chillies and some other greenery that Smasher was unfamiliar with.

Smasher was not a sophisticated person. If he had been, he would have spent less time in the gym, and even less time running around looking for people who owed his boss money. He looked at his glass, surprised that it was empty again. Tomorrow, he thought, maybe he should also learn to do something like cooking, just to add a bit of flavour to his life. It was strange what good wine and a pretty girl was doing to his head.

‘I would love to be able to make a meal like that,’ he said, as Amy refilled his glass again.

‘I’m sure you can!’ said Amy with laughter in her voice, reaching up to the wine rack and carefully selecting another bottle. ‘With a bit of help from me, you could make many meals like that!’ Her voice had a merry ring to it, she believed every word she said, and was going to prove it to him.

Smasher grinned at the pretty girl. He knew he should be leaving, but as long as Amy was going to refill his glass, the chances of that happening were not good. Already all thoughts of the job the boss had sent him to do was draining from his head, replaced by the cotton-wool fog of alcohol.

Back at the stove Amy lifted the lid off another pot and peered inside. ‘Perfect,’ she said, as the fragrant smell of basmati rice mixed with the smell of the stew. ‘Let’s eat!’

Without waiting for a reply from Smasher she took two plates from the cupboard and placed them on the counter, then selected a ladle from the drawer and started dishing up. Smasher watched in fascination as the pretty girl first placed a generous helping of rice on each plate, then ladled stew onto the rice. Thick gravy soaked into the rice, and the smell was almost overpowering, inviting Smasher to forget about his life for a few hours, and become one with the smell instead. As a last touch Amy reached over to the windowsill and plucked a few leaves from one of the pots, placing each leaf separately and with care on the plates.

‘Dinner is served,’ she said, handing a plate to Smasher. ‘Grab yourself a knife and fork, and let’s go through to the dining room!’

She led the way through to the dining room, which was just off the kitchen, and in stark contrast to what the kitchen was. Here a huge mahogany table dominated the landscape, and there was no other furniture. The table itself was empty, the thick drapes in front of the windows had been drawn.

‘Have a seat,’ said Amy. ‘I’ll be right back, just going to fetch us another bottle of the good stuff!’

With that she quickly turned around, leaving Smasher to sit down at the table.

Smasher felt uncomfortable, but drunkenly so, so it probably didn’t matter. He waited for her to return, knowing it would be regarded as bad manners to start eating before his hostess arrived. He didn’t have to wait long, Amy returned almost immediately with a full bottle of wine which she was already uncorking even as she entered the dining room.

His glass was empty again. Smasher did not know how it had happened, but now he was really drunk and the wine was flowing like he’d never known before. In his wildest dreams he had not thought that something like this might happen to him.

‘Enjoy!’ said Amy, pointing to the food and laughing. She refilled the big man’s glass and took up her knife and fork, and got stuck into the plate of food.

It was a good plate of food, even if she had to say so herself. She’d bought the vegetables fresh from the market just that morning, and the meat, well the meat was the last of what she had had left in the chest freezer. It didn’t matter though, tomorrow morning she would restock the chest freezer to the brim.

The big man was eating with relish, a faint film of sweat forming on the shining dome of his head in the sheer effort of enjoyment. He was also drinking like no man Amy had seen drink before, and already his speech was becoming slurred. But that didn’t matter, what mattered was that Amy liked to entertain her guests with good food and good wine, and this man, although only a hired muscle, was enjoying his meal like few others before him had done. Amy smiled, to see the man eat was a complement to her cooking abilities.

‘Tonight, I think I must get to know you intimately, from the inside out, and tomorrow I think you must make a roast,’ said Amy, looking at the big man with an affectionate smile on her face.

Smasher looked at her in shock, but really liked the thought of her getting to know him intimately. ‘A roast?’ he asked between mouthfuls. ‘I’ve never cooked a meal in my life, you’ll have to show me how to do it.’

‘Don’t you worry about a thing,’ said Amy, ‘It will be the first meal you’ve made in your life, but not the last!’

She looked down at her plate, which was already empty. As a rule she didn’t eat too much. What would have surprised Smasher, if he had cared to notice it, was that the glass of wine in front of Amy was still the first glass of wine she had poured for herself, and it was still only half empty. All the other wine had been drunk by Smasher himself, which would explain why the big man was currently starting to see double.

‘Excuse me just a second, I need to check on the dessert,’ said Amy, pushing back her chair and getting up from the table. Across from her Smasher nodded his head in good nature, smiling with his mouth still chewing.

Amy walked through to the kitchen, but then turned sharply and entered the house through the lounge, walked to her study and returned to the dining room moments later. She hated the mess this always made, but the freezer was empty and wasn’t going to refill itself.

Entering the dining room from behind Smasher, she lifted the silenced pistol and pulled the trigger, watching with enjoyment as a little hole opened up in the back of his gleaming white head. In front of him a stream of blood sprayed over the table. Smasher sat still for a moment longer before he slumped forward, falling into the plate of food he had so recently enjoyed and spilling the glass of wine over the table.

Behind him Amy sighed at the sight of good wine going to waste. She placed her left hand on the dead man’s shoulder and leaned over him to put the pistol down on the table.

His arrival had been lucky, it could have been the police. She thought of Peter Cook, whom Smasher had come searching for. If the debt collectors were already looking for him, it would not be long before the police came knocking at the door, asking all those silly questions that so annoyed her.

She lifted Smasher’s head and removed the plate that contained the last bit of Peter Cook from under him, then dropped Smasher’s head back to the table with a thud. It was going to be a long night, but by tomorrow morning the place would have to be shining again, and the deepfreeze full. Except for the roast, of course, because she had promised Smasher he would make a great roast tomorrow. She really couldn’t let the good man down.

Then she would call the moving company to fetch her stuff.

She took the plate with the last scraps through to the kitchen and returned moments later with a long cleaver, ready to begin the night’s work. It was time to get to know Smasher intimately, from the inside out.

The End