It's been almost a year since I updated the Shifty fic (mainly seeing as I forgot my password but also because I've been travelling a lot for work (sales rep lyf) and trying to make the most of my free time spending it with my partner and my family when I'm home, and haven't had time for writing.)
But I was excited by the fact that there's still a Bread fandom out there, even if most of us have forgotten our passwords haha, and I was so excited to find Storybookgirl's awesome new fic and I was inspired to try and finish off the old half-written Bread fics I've got kicking around. And now I've actually found my password and got some free time because it's Straya Day Long Weekend, I should probably make the effort (we'll see if I actually keep that up though haha). Only the Shifty fic is getting very dark in later chapters, and it's been taxing to write because I know how it ends and it's going to get very dark, and there's a lot of darkness in life at the moment with personal stuff and the fact that half my country is on fire so I haven't been in the mood for more darkness. I've nearly finished the next chap though, so I'll probably try and do it at some point this year.
Have, instead,an offering of a fluffy, silly, domestic and somewhat sexually frustrated Joetina, that came about because I was rewatching one of my favourite old episodes while I was in Darwin for a work conference and revamped something I started years ago and hadn't finished.
ATEOTD-verse (one of the last I'll probably do for this 'verse; after the Shifty one, I only have one more major fic in this universe before I close it out, but that is also dark because it's mainly about Martina's mental health, and then I have other universes I want to play with stacked up in my brain if I can find the time), timeline-wise after Joey and Martina are married, Martina has scared Roxy off, but before Martina is pregnant with Annabelle (although she is likely conceived in this fic).
'Stumbled upon a good idea, didn't we, Yizzel?'
'Good idea. Yeah,' Yizzel bleats, and Joey Boswell mimics along, irritation twitching through his body like scabies. He's got far better people he'd been planning to do business with tonight, far better opportunities which will fetch him a few hundred quid, far better ways to spend his time than quibbling with two mugs whom he doesn't trust.
'And why, gentlemen, should I trust a business proposition from you? Last time we tried collaboratin' I ended up with a thousand pound fine. My wife nearly killed me.'
'And you let the wife push you about, do you?'
Joey ignores him, scouting the filthy hole they're in for the man he's waiting for to arrive. He can't quite make anyone out through the smoke haze and dim lamplight, but he's supposed to be meeting a bloke about some forged papers (he's pretty good, no, he tells a lie, he's fantastic at copying handwriting), another about an impersonation he thinks he'd be perfect for pulling off (he's the right height and reasonably skilled at imitating accents), another about a fairly innocent job moving furniture, who just happens to operate at night. Two hundred plus five hundred plus fifty equals a good night, and he can get them all done, he reckons, between now (eleven) and six. Good night equals a bit more off the mortgage, a couple of bills paid, and a trip into town to buy something lovely and expensive for Martina (whether she wants it or not). He's not going to let any of them slip through his fingers because of some idiots who don't get how the game works, but think they do.
'Just have a look. See what you think.' Yizzel's mate's hand is clawing into his shoulder, and Joey represses a shudder.
'You'll regret not considerin' it.'
'I doubt it,' Joey says, but as it turns out, they're not giving him much say in the matter, because a box is shoved under his nose.
'Is that it?!' Joey can't help but scoff. These two are hopeless, they really are, but this particular scheme is even more hopeless than their average attempt to succeed. Yizzel is holding a selection of what have to be the most pathetic counterfeit handbags in the history of cheap imitation anything. Even the realistic-enough looking Prada tags on them can't disguise them. They're sweatshop-made tat, poorest quality he's ever seen, and if Yizzel and his mate think they're going to fetch a profit from them, they're really playing themselves for fools.
'This is your good idea? Mate, you really need to retire from this game. You're losin' your touch…if you ever had it in the first place.' He suspects they've mistakenly wound up with these, and are desperate to unload them.
Yizzel's mate does his best at a convincing smile. 'What are you talkin' about? These will fetch a pretty penny when they're shifted…all we need is someone to do the heavy liftin' for us. The actual shifting, like.'
'Yeah. Actual shifting.'
'And why d'you think I'd put me name to this rubbish?'
'You're a fine one to talk, Boswell, the number of shifty things already put to your name…'
And it's true, Joey is involved with a lot of dubious things, but this is not something he's willing to be involved with. He may be a con man, but he doesn't treat people like idiots when they don't deserve it. He's a Michael Caine as Lawrence Jamieson, not a Steve Martin as Freddy Benson. Takes advantage of the rich and stupid, not the innocent. And this is the sort of thing impressionable girls like his Aveline, when she was young, would have paid through the nose for in an attempt to be stylish, would genuinely think, in their naivety, were the real thing, even though they're tat that will fall apart in a few weeks if that. He doesn't like to think of people shelling out for rubbish, but he knows too well plenty of people would, and they're usually the type who are trying to make ends meet, but still want to feel lovely and glamorous, and will very easily get tricked. And Joey doesn't like doing harm to people, even if it's only a minor harm; it would mean he was being complicit in conning them out of the money they need to live on, for something they can't rely on. If he sells counterfeit goods (and occasionally he does), they're good quality imitations, decent enough products where only the tag is fake, which the less-than-honest shop owners are happy to have, because they look so bloody good their customers won't be able to tell the difference.
'You've picked the wrong man for the job, mate. I have standards, you know. And these…are shite.'
'I know,' Yizzel's mate's smile is horrifying, confirming Joey's earlier theory. 'That's why I want rid of them.'
'Chuck them. Dump the whole lot in a bonfire. That's all they're good for.'
'And lose our deposit? We paid an arm and a leg for this lot!'
'Caveat emptor, mate. That's the risk you take when you buy somethin' without checking what you're getting. I've seen our Jack come home with vegetables so many times when he thought he was gettin' videos or radios or tellies. That's just hard luck.' He shoves the box of tatty bags against Yizzel's chest, bumps the two apart with his shoulder, pushes through them. They've wasted some of his time, and he's pissed off.
'You wanna watch it, mate. You want hard luck, and we'll give it yer.'
'Yeah,' Yizzel says, ever his mate's echo, 'give it yer.'
'Yizzel, can you at least repeat bits that make sense?'
'Make sense, gov. Yeah.'
Joey sees an out; their bickering will trump their desperate attempts to get him to join their dodgy scheme.
'If you'll excuse me, gentlemen. I have proper business to be attending to.'
That stops them, but Joey is already walking away.
'We won't forget this, you know! Nobody betrays us!'
'No. No one.'
'Seein' as I'm not your friend,' Joey says over his shoulder, 'and have no allegiance with you, it's a bit far-fetched to consider this a betrayal.'
'Watch yer back, Boswell!'
'Yeah. Yer back.'
Joey shakes his head, ignores the pair of them, and goes and finds the people he wanted to speak to tonight.
Come tomorrow, he'll wish he'd paid their warning more heed.
Joey has had a great day, piggybacking off the great night he had last night. Visit to his Mam, where there had been homemade Eccles cakes on the cooling rack begging to be swiped, visit to the dogs' shelter, where he'd rescued a couple of stray mutts and heard someone might be dropping a litter of Alsatian puppies in, one of which he's seriously considering taking home when they arrive. He's had a slightly guilty test drive of a good condition Jaguar XJ (he'd stroked his MKII after getting back into it, feeling like a traitor, but the lingering thought of upgrading and letting this one retire, rather than continually forking out a fortune to replace its parts, remains in his mind). Martina had been unusually pleased to see him when he got home, had made him a lovely dinner, and now he's driving aimlessly around Gateacre, just enjoying the evening and what a lovely day it's been, singing along to the radio because one of his favourite old songs is on, one that reminds him of Martina every time he hears it, that did even back when it was new, when she was just the DHSS lady and he had no idea he was staring his future (second) wife in the face every day.
'I just freeeeze, every time you see through me,' he belts out, tapping on the steering wheel, getting carried away with the chorus and joyfully swerving around a pigeon on the road, 'and it's all over you, Electric Blue – '
And then Joey's mobile suddenly screams, startling him out of his mood. He turns the radio down, and keeping one hand on the steering wheel, rummages in his jacket pocket for his phone and claps it to his ear.
'Greetings!' he trills.
'If you are not home in ten minutes,' comes Martina's voice, low, angry and dangerous, 'then there will be bits of you strung up all around this street come morning.'
Joey starts, because all had been well between them when she'd left for work this morning, and she'd been all over him this evening, even letting him have some of the Joey-friendly shortbread (no shortening) she'd made last weekend – but judging by the her murderous tone (and equally murderous choice of words), he's really in for it now.
'I'll….I'll be there,' he says, confused but compliant, his high from a minute ago rapidly fading. Joey spins the wheel, swinging his Jag in an arc around to the other side of the road.
'You'd better be.' Martina disconnects, and Joey breaks the speed limit to get home, wondering what the hell is wrong.
He makes it back in four minutes, though Joey suspects arriving before deadline is not going to lessen Martina's mood. His brain is whirring as he apprehensively approaches the front door, trying to work out what could possibly have made his wife so irate at him. He hasn't done anything particularly bad lately, especially not where the Social Security is concerned.
The door swings open before he can get his key in, and there stands Martina, a paradoxical vision of terror and beauty simultaneously.
'What?' he asks, and sees her mouth purse into a thin line.
'You know what.'
'No – I don't!' He really doesn't, what's more. For once. Usually he can guess the source of Martina's gripes with him, knows exactly what transgression he's committed to make her fume.
'Well, let me refresh your memory. You conveniently went out after dinner, meaning you were not there when some shady looking bastard came and dumped whatever scheme you're currently hatching on the doorstep.'
The eyebrow has gone up. He's done for. He's still not sure what she's on about though, and he opens his mouth to say so, only she raises her hand so viciously to cut him off he daren't utter a syllable.
'Leaving me alone to deal with a load of crap plastic handbags with false Prada tags on them.'
'Oh, God. Really?!'
Joey can't believe they'd stoop that low. It also says something, he thinks snidely, that Martina of all people can spot immediately that the bags are fakes. She knows nothing about fashion. Just shows how crap they really are.
While he's having this little reverie, Martina is slowly revving up to a larger bout of anger. He can practically see steam coming out of her ears.
'Don't pretend you don't know anything about this! I told you, Joey, after last time, I don't want any of your skulduggery in the house! I don't want to see it, I don't want to know about it, and I don't want you taking part in things that could get you into trouble! I thought you'd have learned your lesson after that fine you copped last time…'
'Hang on, sweetheart, hang on,' Joey puts his hand on her shoulder to stop her raging briefly, considers. Those bastards. He doesn't know what their game is, dumping the handbags on him just because they couldn't get rid of them themselves, just because he wouldn't be their errand boy and put his neck on the line for their sake. It rubs him up the wrong way.
'Where are they?' he asks. This is going to take a lot of explaining, but he'll be able to talk himself out of it, he's sure. After all, this isn't his mistake.
'They're in the kitchen. Big box on the table. Can't miss them.' She considers. 'I thought I might shove them down your throat when you got home. Or beat you with one. Can't decide which.'
Joey sighs. 'About an 'undred of them?'
The whole shipment, then. A pathetic attempt to push him into shifting them, which he is not going to do.
'I'll go and sort them out.'
Martina stalks ahead of him into the kitchen, hesitates, turns back around.
'Oh, and a necklace in a box as well. I shudder to think what dodgy dealings are attached to that. I'm afraid to ask.'
Joey starts. There was no necklace last night. It's some sort of revenge. The horrible possibilities run through his head…it's stolen and he's being framed, or worse, it's…
'What kind?' he demands, shaking her lightly. 'What kind?!'
'A round one.'
Of course that's a typical Martina answer. Martina has such bad taste it appals Joey sometimes. For all she's a beautiful woman, for as head-turningly stunning she could be if she dressed herself to bring out her lovely features, she's got a knack for choosing cheap, ugly things to adorn herself in, hiding herself beneath staticky polyester and tarnished jewellery. Joey has resorted, throughout the course of their marriage, to accidentally-on-purpose ruining her horrible starchy clothes in the wash, and buying her nice silk or suede or real cotton ones to replace them. Despite these efforts, though, despite the fact that he has managed to improve her wardrobe significantly by doing this, he supposes she's never really going to appreciate taste and style. It doesn't come naturally to her.
Martina's engagement ring is a Ceylon sapphire, and she is completely oblivious to this. She'd been pleased enough, when Joey had presented it to her, glistening and flanked on either side by a smaller diamond, set in a simple gold band, that it was smaller and a bit more elegant than the enormous diamond monstrosity he'd tried to give her initially. She'd assumed it was cheaper than his original choice, and has happily worn it since, has accepted that the colour is because Joey likes her to wear things that bring out her eyes. Has no idea that she is in fact walking around with three thousand quid on her left hand. If someone asked her what the centre stone was, she'd probably say 'blue.'
And so it makes sense, given she has no idea about jewellery, has pretty awful taste in everything, in fact, that she doesn't know what sort of necklace she's looking at – but Joey has his suspicions, has to know…
He gently steers her out the way, leans over the cardboard box and takes in its contents.
'Oh, God.' His worst suspicions are confirmed. It sits there in its open jewellery box, atop the pile of counterfeit handbags, glinting evilly in the evening light, a note beside it in scraggly handwriting.
You got to be careful who you give the brush off. Hard luck! Perhaps you'll reconsider, Boswell?
'What a mess. What a mess.'
It's more of his Mam's habit than his, but at times like this, Joey finds himself doing the Sign of the Cross.
'I knew it,' Martina sighs heavily. 'It's stolen.'
'Worse,' Joey puts his arms around her, starts protectively pulling her towards himself, away from the kitchen table. 'It's far worse, sweetheart.'
'It's an opal.'
Martina turns around in his arms, cranes her neck to look at it. 'Oh, yeah? Valuable, is it?'
'I can't believe they – what d'you mean, valuable, is it?! D'you have no idea how jewels are valued, sweetheart?'
She shrugs. 'Why should I?'
In spite of the situation, Joey frowns at her. 'When we're safe again, I'm sittin' you down and giving you a long lesson on what's what in style. With an exam at the end.'
'What d'you mean, when we're safe again?' She pulls back from him, in spite of Joey's attempts to hold her to him, hold her away from that thing, 'Joey Boswell, if you've been involved with somethin' devious…'
'It's nothin' devious, I promise!' Joey holds up his hands. 'Not everything I do is some sort of embezzlement, you know.'
She raises one eyebrow, opens her mouth.
'Or extortion, or cheatin', or fraud, or any more words that mean the same thing,' Joey cuts her off at the pass before she can accuse him of anything. 'This has nothin' to do with any of that.'
'And I'm supposed to believe that the counterfeit handbags – '
'Leave the counterfeit handbags,' Joey says, irritated now, 'they're not important.'
Martina bristles. 'I should think they are, Mister Boswell – I could go in to work tomorrow and report you for them, and not just to me superiors but to the police as well, and I would be within my rights –no, my obligations to do so, and if you weren't my husband I'd 'ave already…'
'They're not mine, they're bloody Yizzel's and…t'other one's!'
'You mean Charles? And I thought I told you, you're not to go near them anymore…after that thousand pound fine you got landed with last time you promised me…'
They're in the middle of a quarrel, but Joey pauses, looks at her, raises one hand, astounded by this bombshell of new information she's just hit him with. 'Hang on…how'd you know 'is name was Charles? No-one knows 'is name! Even Yizzel doesn't know 'is name!'
Martina's eyes roll. 'I work in the DSS, Mister Boswell. I know everybody's name. If I wanted to dig up someone's embarrassing nickname from ten years ago, all I'd have to do is consult me computer.'
'I suppose you know, then, that mine was Stud.' He's lying and they both know it, but it gets him the result he wants, gets her to crack a smile, to slip back into their usual banter instead of chastising him, to forget, just a second, that she wants to murder him.
'Don't live up to it, then, do yer?' A bit of a tease has crept up into her voice, a challenge if ever there was one, and it does wonders to his mood.
'Oh, I'll take you upstairs and I'll live up to it right now, sweetheart, don't you fret,' he sweeps her up into his arms, unable to resist her even when she's about ready to wring his neck, but she's rigid, places her hands against his chest and pushes him.
'Joey. Are you tryin' to distract me into forgettin' all this mess?' she gestures to the box on the table, and the reason for their conversation, the reason for his panic, comes crashing back to the forefront of Joey's mind. The opal. Oh, no, oh no, oh, no.
He sets her down, suddenly not in the mood anymore.
'Now, listen, sweetheart,' he says, his voice slipping into eldest brother Boswell mode, the gravity of the situation as apparent as he can make it. And it must work, because Martina's face goes serious, lines of worry appearing on her forehead.
'The counterfeit handbags…well, Yizzel and…' it sounds strange to him, 'Charles? Charles… they wanted me to help shift 'em. And I said no.'
'You expect me to believe that?'
'You read the note, I presume?'
'Could be a code. Means nothing to me.'
Joey holds it up, waves it under her nose. 'Perhaps you'll reconsider. What do you think that means?'
'Search me, Mister Boswell.' She curls her lip.
'What it means, is, sweetheart, they were pissed off because I wouldn't do the favour. I wouldn't touch them, because…well, they're rubbish, even you can see that. I have standards, you know. I don't do harm, even over something as minor as that. But now they're out to get me. Either to make me change me mind or to punish me for not goin' along with it.'
'Framing you with a stolen necklace?' Martina is visibly confused.
'It's not stolen,' Joey touches the bridge of his nose. 'I told you. It doesn't matter where it comes from. It's an opal, that's the problem.'
'I'm not following you.'
'Now, you haven't been a Boswell for all that long, so I wouldn't expect you to know this…'
Martina crosses her arms. 'Enlighten me, love.'
'As far as we Boswells are concerned, the opal is bad news.'
'What d'you mean, bad news?'
'Bad news, as in, they're bad luck. Especially when someone who's out to get yer sends you one.'
'You mean like finding a horse's head in your bed.' She's not amused.
'Not quite, sweetheart. As in, things start goin' wrong when they're around. Light bulbs burn out doubly quick. Your car breaks down. That little cough you've got becomes pneumonia and you die, that sort of thing.'
'Well, that escalated quickly.'
'Depends on how bad the opal is, how bad the luck is.'
'I don't know whether to laugh at you or give you a good smack for being so daft.'
'Well I don't know what to do now, sweetheart. I don't even know if I can touch it. I wanna throw it away, but…well…' he gestures to himself. 'Boswell. I've never encountered a spite opal before. Just accidental ones. Don't know how it'll affect me.'
'Well I'm not a Boswell, by blood. Am I?'
She reaches to touch it, and Joey grabs her hand before she can.
'Boswell by marriage counts.' There is no way, no way, Joey is letting Martina touch that opal. He's afraid she's touched it already; it's bad enough she let it into the house, unaware of what it was. It could already be active.
'Don't be so bloody stupid.' Martina wrests her hand free. 'I'm sick of this. I've had it – I've had a terrible day…a terrible week at work, and I don't need this when I get home as well, d'you hear?! I'm going to bed. Do whatever you want with the opal, I don't care, but I want those handbags out of my house – and not by bein' sold by you.'
She stomps off towards the stairs, leaving Joey alone with a mess he didn't make.
He shakes his head. Never mind about the bloody handbags; there are more important things at stake here.
Joey pauses. He shouldn't have as much apprehension disposing of the opal – nine years ago, when Billy foolishly brought home an opal promise ring for Julie, he'd bravely snatched it up, put it in the yard, had retrieved it later and used it to his advantage getting revenge on the bastards who'd pinched Grandad's canary. But that had been an unintentional mistake, that ring, and therefore quite easy to neutralise.
This necklace, though. This is a deliberate attack. It's malicious, sent to cause him harm because he hadn't been willing to kowtow. Yizzel and his mate have sent this because they know Boswells have bad luck with opals, because they know it will shake him up. And Joey, while religious, is not usually superstitious – but he can't keep the thought from running through his mind that this feels like a curse. Yizzel and Charles were trying to bring misfortune upon his household, and Joey doesn't know how much stronger that makes the opal, doesn't want to risk anything happening.
He doesn't want it in the house, but right now, daft as it seems, Joey just doesn't think it's a good idea to touch it. Every fibre of his being screams at him not to. And so he leaves it there, for now, because having it in the kitchen is the lesser of two evils.
'I'll come with,' he calls out after Martina, hastens to join her on the staircase, to get a bit further away from it.
'Don't be so daft, Joey,' Martina scolds again as they head upstairs, Joey pausing to look over his shoulder again, wondering if he's doing the right thing leaving it there. 'It's not gonna spontaneously combust.'
Joey wishes she wouldn't say things like that. Sounds a bit too much like tempting fate.
He tries to put it out of his mind, though, because Martina is stopping him on the landing just outside their bedroom door, and kissing him in the way that means she doesn't feel like going to sleep just yet. She can't be as angry with him as he thought.
'Forgiven me for the counterfeit stuff, have you?'
'No,' says Martina, her lips against his jaw, 'but I thought, if you felt like provin' that non-existent nickname of yours to me, that I might hold off on me wrath until tomorrow.'
Joey grins, pulls her closer. 'I think I could handle that, sweetheart. I think I could handle that.'
He leans in to kiss her, runs his hand up her back – and then pauses, unable to stop himself, when he feels the horrible fabric beneath his fingers.
He's already in trouble with her, she's made that clear, and she's given him a much wanted reprieve and is offering a bonus as well, but Joey just can't help himself.
'What are you wearing?'
He's never seen this blouse before, but now he gets a good look at it, and it only reinforces the notion in his mind that he needs to educate her on quality and style as soon as possible.
Martina shrugs. 'New work shirt.'
Joey takes hold of her collar, turns it down until he can see the tag upside-down over her shoulder.
'Mhmm. One hundred per cent nylon, made in China, tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk.' He releases her, looks deep into her eyes, trying not to smirk but not succeeding.
'Well. This is going in the fire as soon as I can get it off you.'
'For the last time, leave my clothes alone! I don't throw away your leather trousers every time yer back's turned!'
Joey's mouth falls open.
'There's nothing wrong with me leather trousers!'
'You're too old to be wearin' head to toe leather.'
'At least they're genuine. There's something to be said for me image that I'm wearin' the real thing.'
'This from the man who brought an 'undred counterfeit Prada handbags into our 'ouse.'
'I told you, forget the counterfeit handbags! I wouldn't touch that shite!'
'And I told you, Mister Boswell,' Martina sounds close to garrotting him now, but her body language is at odds with her voice, she's pressed against him, her hand in the back pocket of the leather trousers she's just badmouthed, 'that I am temporarily puttin' those out of my mind, but we are going to discuss them tomorrow, at length.'
She's using her free hand to undo his trousers now, starts on his shirt after that.
'And, we will be having yet another discussion about what I am willing to overlook with regard to pulling one over on the DSS, and what I am not.'
This agreement between them, about what Martina will turn a blind eye to, and what she considers unacceptable, is a tenuous one, and in the interests of keeping her sweet on this front, Joey refrains from taunting her any further.
'Now,' her voice is businesslike, the DSS lady in her coming out, even as she's caressing him, kissing him, her physical and mental frustrations battling each other, 'we can go into all that now, which means you will be in enormous trouble – or we can put off that trouble til later. Your choice.'
'I think, all things considered, I will accept your most generous offer, sweetheart.'
'Good,' Martina laughs against his neck, 'you know what's good for yer, Mister Boswell. You'll survive another night.'
Joey feels an enormous grin break out on his face, but then the flash of a colourful stone flickers before his eyes, and all of a sudden he doesn't feel like this anymore.
Joey really does give putting it out of his mind a good go, tries to keep himself in the moment, concentrate on Martina.
It's all of about two minutes before he realises it's not going to happen, that, in an unprecedented disaster, he can't rise to the occasion.
'D'you mind if I ask why?' Martina demands, looking insecurely down at herself even though she looks great, and he's quick to reassure her of this.
'It's the opal. It's got to be.'
'Not that bloody opal again!' Martina growls, throws her head back in frustration, inadvertently banging it on the headboard.
'Ow!' she rubs the back of her head.
'See? More bad luck. I told you; opals and Boswells don't go together.'
Martina snatches up his pillow, shoves it at him. 'That's it. I have 'ad it up to here it with this daft opal thing! I don't want to see you for the rest of the night – go and sleep on the sofa, Joey.'
'What, near the opal?'
'Oh, for God's SAKE!'
Joey wakes with dry eyes – something that doesn't normally happen, and so he doesn't have any eye drops handy and has to resign himself to every blink feeling like sandpaper. He's got pins and needles, which doesn't normally happen either, and when he tries to get out of bed, his foot collapses under him.
That bloody opal.
He turns and looks at Martina. She's awake, lying on her back, looking at the ceiling and refusing to acknowledge him. She's got the hump since he refused to be kicked out of bed last night, determined not to sleep within six feet of the opal, and since he also had refused to let her huff off to the sofa herself, determined not to let her sleep within six feet of the opal either just in case. He'd held her to him for a good half an hour to stop her going, ignoring her furious resistance, until she'd given up trying to get out of bed, turned away from him and grumbled herself to sleep.
She ignores him.
It was the right thing, Joey thinks, though she doesn't understand Boswell superstition, it was the right thing. Still, he doesn't like it when she's legitimately angry with him to the point of not speaking. He grovels.
'I'm sorry, sweetheart.'
'No you're not.' She turns to look at him. 'You don't even know what you're supposed to be sorry for.'
Joey sighs. 'I know you don't understand about the opal…'
'Because this is over-the-top! Even for you! I've gone along with some hair-brained Boswell schemes in my time, Mister Boswell, I've pretended that holidays to Rome were necessities for your Grandad, I've read letters supposedly written by dogs asking for a bigger allowance, I've given you forms so your Jack and Billy could get suits for court, I've skived off work for crises that turned out to just be your Billy's car breakin' down, I've excused you from signing-on for a business trip that turned out to be a fishing holiday with your Jack and Adrian…and I married you,' she makes a face, though it's softer now, 'but being told I now can't go in my own kitchen – or the living room, because it's vaguely near said kitchen – because of some ridiculous necklace, is too much!'
The counterfeit handbags seem to have been forgotten in her irritation about the business of the opal, but Joey doesn't intend to bring it up. That's one less thing he's in trouble about. For now.
'If you're so worried about it, why don't you do something about it? Get rid of it?'
'It's not that simple. We need to…' he realises how stupid it sounds, how immature, how embarrassingly like a kid playing spies, 'neutralise its threat. So it can't do any harm.'
'Go and throw it in the fire, then.'
'And what if it burns the house down?'
Martina makes a strangulated noise. 'Then chuck it in the dustbin! I don't care what you do, just get rid of it!'
'Not a bad idea, I'll give it a go.' There's not much a dustbin can do to him, as long as he doesn't let himself get tripped up walking past it. And then the bin men will come, and take it away, and that will be that.
He pulls on his dressing gown, pauses, smirks down at her.
'Where's that shirt? I'll kill two birds with one stone.'
Martina's face becomes even stonier than it already was. 'I hid it. I happen to like that shirt. The last thing I want is to find that yet another work blouse I've bought for meself has tragically met its demise, only to discover it's miraculously been replaced by an outlandishly expensive Boswell garment.'
'I will find it, sweetheart, and it will die.' Joey chortles, leans down to her, presses his lips to hers. She kisses him coldly.
'Go and get that opal sorted, Joey. My patience with you is wearing thin at the moment.'
Joey nods, runs his hand over her hair, and then slides his leather gloves onto his hands with the determination of a surgeon before a major operation. He's got an important job to do.
Joey doesn't know what he was expecting to find downstairs. Their house looks fine. Everything is the same. The sun is streaming through the bay windows, illuminating the lower floor, casting rays of light over his lovely, stylish leather armchair and Martina's ghastly, not-stylish rose-patterned one with crochet squares she's abandoned sticking out from down the sides. (She's probably got enough for about three blankets lying around the house, but she never does anything with them. Just makes squares then loses interest in them and discards them. It had sort of astonished Joey, when they'd started living together, how uninterested in leisure activities Martina is. If she hasn't got his external motivation, if he's not taking her out or making suggestions, she doesn't do anything. Just sits there aimlessly crocheting. He doesn't understand why. She doesn't particularly get any enjoyment out of it.)
He walks into the kitchen. Nothing untoward here, either; fridge still running, oven and toaster fine and not on fire, the chicken pot Martina had bought him to remind him of home still on the sideboard, still full of the money he'd put in the other day.
The opal is still there, though, taunting him from atop the counterfeit handbags. Time to end this.
It's only a bit of rock. Pull yourself together, son.
Joey braces himself, reaches out, picks up the necklace by its box.
He hears a piercing scream from upstairs, and he's on his feet before he even has time to think, dropping the necklace again, and he's running, heart pounding, because something terrible has happened to his wife. He shouldn't have done that. He's touched the opal, not even directly, and now something dreadful, something awful, has happened to his wife.
When he makes it up there, Martina is shivering out on the landing, wrapped in a towel, hair wet.
'What's happened?' Joey asks, his panic settling, because Martina is okay, she's fine, no disaster has befallen her. She just looks damp and pissed off.
'Nothing,' Martina says, still shivering, and Joey wraps his arms around her, rubs her arms to warm them, 'just got a shock. That shower was stone cold.'
'Did you put the immersion on?'
Martina makes a face at him. 'The immersion's been on all night, Joey. Something's happened to the hot water.'
Joey feels a chill that has nothing to do with the sudden death of their immersion heater.
'Have a look at it, will you? I'm cold.'
'There's nothin' I can do about it,' Joey snaps. 'It's because of –'
'It's not,' Martina says through gritted teeth, 'the opal.'
'Funny how the precise second I touched it…'
'It has nothing to do—' Martina pushes him away. 'I'm gonna go and get ready for work. I want that heater fixed when I get home.'
Joey sighs, nods and wonders what his next move is.
Obviously, he reasons, the way to deal with the opal is to do what he does best. Turn a bad situation to his advantage. Use it for his own revenge.
He'd hoped to retrieve the opal and chuck it at Yizzel's mate the next time he saw him, or put it round his neck, throw all the bad luck back in his face. It had worked a treat with that bloke who'd stolen Grandad's canary, all those years ago.
But that opal had been Billy's accident; this one's been deliberately placed, a curse if ever there was one, and now he's got Martina to worry about, and she keeps getting attacked by it without realising what's going on, and he just can't let this happen. How far does the power of a spite opal extend? So far they've only had minor disasters befall them, but what happens next? He may be acting over-the-top about the opal coming into his life – but it's too much, the thought of anything threatening his happiness. Martina, this house – they're his miracles, his second chance after his life with Roxy went so horribly wrong. Martina's his redemption; the wife he should have had from the beginning who he's not letting go of now, and this house is his safe haven from the world, his dream home in Gateacre that he's wanted all his life, an oasis and a respite from the dark memories of his past and the stresses of being Joey Boswell and responsible for a large family. He doesn't want what he's got tainted or harmed by anyone, or anything. And Martina has suffered so much in her life, is probably depressed but doesn't realise, has so many troubles, he doesn't want to bestow more on her by changing her name to Boswell, he wants her to be happy and he wants to convince her to try for a baby and – he can't let something happen to her because of a daft opal sent to him by a pair of mugs. He just can't.
He drives Martina to work, irrationally afraid to let her use the bus lest it takes the wrong turn and she end up in the wrong place, or worse, she gets hit by it, and then he comes back, sits at the kitchen table, the opal staring at him, and thinks. If he could get Yizzel and his mate round, trick them somehow into taking it away with them…no that'd never work. They were the ones who placed it; they'd likely see through any tricks like that. Not only that, Joey doesn't want them in his house. Even if Martina wasn't liable to kill him for inviting them in, he still wouldn't. He doesn't want them having access to his sanctuary. There goes that idea, then.
He moves on to the seemingly easier problem. Martina wants the immersion heater fixed by the end of the day, but though Joey has a look, he can't actually see anything wrong with it. He considers phoning Jack, who's better at these things than he is, but then he shoves that idea out of his mind too. No inviting more Boswells into his home when the opal is there. Its bad luck might extend to them too.
He paces, stubs his toe on the table leg. He goes upstairs to the bog and trips on the steps on the way, bruising his shin. No paper, either, when he does get there. He sits in the parlour, hoping a bit of distance will help him come up with something, but nothing comes, the room feels stuffy and makes him light headed, and when he moves his newspaper off his armchair he gets a paper cut. He makes himself a cheese and salad sandwich, only realising in the nick of time that there are ants in the lettuce, and he plucks them out, putting them safely in the garden, unable to kill a living thing even when it's disgusting him, then throws the sandwich out, his appetite gone.
The problem, Joey realises, as he wastes nearly a whole day thinking without coming up with anything, and subjecting himself to minor injuries, is that the opal is right near him. Of course he won't be able to think of anything with it less than two feet away, bleeding bad luck into the atmosphere. He needs to think, away from it, and then come back with a fully-formulated plan and put it into action.
The day is edging closer to five, and he'll be needing to get Martina soon. Joey has another quick think, nods, and gets into action. He sprints upstairs, getting together what he needs, flicking through the wardrobe til he finds clothes of Martina's he likes, snatching a pair of leather trousers from the other end of the closet, pulling together toiletries from the bathroom quicker than he's ever organised anything, just hoping that what he's got in mind will work, that it'll help. He shoves everything in, no time for folding, does up the bags he's pulled out, catching his finger in the zip –bloody, buggery ow, that bloody opal again – sucks on his bleeding finger as he checks he hasn't forgotten anything, and then rushes the whole lot out to his Jag.
He's only just had it serviced, but it takes three goes to start the car.
The DSS has stopped serving when he goes in to fetch his wife, but Martina is still at her desk, the phone pressed to her ear, a stormy expression on her face.
She glances up briefly as he approaches, grimaces at him, mouths I'm on hold.
Joey shrugs in sympathy, sits down in front of her counter, pretending for a moment it's the old days and he's come in for a claim, and starts rummaging through the brochures she's got on her desk, earning himself a stinging smack to the back of his hand.
'Hello?' whoever Martina's on the phone with has come back, and she's immediately back on the warpath. 'Well, I'm trying to work out, love, why this is the fifth time I'm phoning about this!' A pause as the unfortunate soul on the other end says something.
Martina's face is getting stonier by the second; it's a good thing, or perhaps a pity, that no one is trying to claim and liable to be subjected to it. It is a tremendously spectacular glare she's wearing.
'Yes,' says Martina through her teeth, as if she's had this conversation before, 'they've all got shipping labels on…we've triple checked that…yes, I've faxed over the paperwork four times now…' her shoulders tense up around her neck, and Joey would dearly love to be on the other side of the counter, massaging some of the tension out of them, only he's not allowed in the back room with her. It's one of the ways she tries to keep their marriage separate from whatever pretence of a working relationship they still try to have in the DSS. (Of course, there was that one time they'd sneaked in there at night back when they were engaged…that had been fun. Pity Martina had insisted it was a one-off.)
'No,' Martina goes on, giving the person on the phone a sound flogging with her tongue, 'we will not send someone from our end to pick the boxes up from your depot…because we paid in full for you to ship them to us, that's why!' She slams the receiver down so violently the resounding clanging sound hurts Joey's ears.
'Bad day, sweetheart?'
Martina puts her head in her hands. 'I don't believe it. I just don't believe it.'
Joey waits for her to elaborate.
'We ordered a shipment of new forms three weeks ago – I phoned the courier yesterday to find out what had 'appened to them, and they hadn't even picked them up! First they claimed there were no shipping labels, then they misplaced the paperwork for the order…all day, it's taken me, in between being shouted at by ratbags, to try and make sure everything was definitely in order so they could deliver them from the holding dock this afternoon – and –'
'They still didn't,' Joey finishes for her. 'Well, that's just typical, isn't it?'
'No,' says Martina, 'it isn't. They usually come when they're supposed to.'
'Well, it's obvious what's caused this, isn't it?' Even as he says it, Joey feels his teeth set on edge. It's reaching the DSS now.
Martina slams her hands down on the desk.
'If you are about to mention opals, then you'd better rethink opening that gob of yours. Because if you say what I think you're gonna say, I'll skin you alive.'
And her body language indicates that she may only be seconds away from getting up and lynching him, so Joey decides he'd better quit while he's…not ahead; she's already pissed off at him over a few things now, but before he makes her even angrier and she sends him to Coventry again. He already doesn't know how she'll take his plans for tonight. Not well, he's guessing.
'Come on, then,' he holds his hand out, takes hers across the desk and squeezes it, 'why don't you call it a day here and come with me? Friday night, eh? You can get away from it for a bit.' He hopes she doesn't notice he said come with me, not come home with me. He likes to leave loopholes in some of his trickier conversations with Martina.
'All right,' she softens, almost imperceptibly, but Joey knows her well enough to notice, 'I'll meet you out the front.'
Joey heads out, waits while she locks up, brings the Jag right round to the front of the building so he can bear her away from here as quickly as possible. She's coming down the steps now, and Joey's plan was to act all gallant, pose a bit, but he's completely thrown off balance when he cops a load of what she's wearing. He's never seen this skirt before (she wasn't wearing it this morning) but by God if she'd choose clothes like this more often, he'd die a happy husband. It's fawn and sleek and it hugs her hips in all the right places; there's a slit up one side showing a hint of thigh, and Joey hopes to Heaven his plan for tonight means the opal will give him a reprieve on the performance front so he can take advantage of this.
'What?' Martina's reached the foot of the staircase now, and Joey realises he was probably gawking. He shakes his head, picks up the pieces of his public image from the floor along with his jaw.
'Just overjoyed to see you, sweetheart. Just overjoyed to see you.'
Martina shakes her own head, moves past him to get to her door, and as she turns around, he realises the skirt looks even better on her from the back, and he can't resist putting his hands on her.
And then he wishes he hadn't, because he notices the feel of it, because the urge to say something is piling up against his mouth, and he wishes he could just bite his lip and keep his gob shut – but he's a Boswell – but she looks so fantastic in it, does it really…
'That is not real suede, Martina.'
'Oh, God,' she says, and Joey can see the displeasure radiate through her. She reaches round and swats his hands off her.
'You liked it until you noticed that. I could see you did. Which just proves my point, that when it comes down to it, it doesn't matter.'
And Joey's floored a little bit, because he did like it, still does, even against his principles, and he's put her through so much irritation in the past twenty-four hours that really he should just stop, but his gob seems to be betraying him at every turn. Probably that damn opal's doing, because he supposes getting lucky isn't really feasible when it's trying to take all his luck away.
'I bought you a lovely leather skirt and you never wear it.'
'I wouldn't be seen dead in that leather skirt!'
'It's fantastic; you should just put it on just once…'
'It's tarty, and I will never put it on. I know where I'd like to stick it, though,' she adds under her breath.
Joey pretends to be offended, even though she's been through the reasons why a short black leather skirt to match his gear is more of a him present than a her present hundreds of times.
'Because, Mister Boswell, I am not you. I am not shallow about brand names and whether things are genuine dead cow, and I don't go around dressing ten years younger than my actual age.'
'I'm not shallow!' Joey protests, but she's already got in the car, closing the door of the Jag a little bit too hard for Joey's liking.
'Well I'm not!'
They drive in silence for a bit, Joey hoping in a while he'll be able slip a cheeky comment in to bring a smile to her face before he faces the music – but it isn't long before Martina notices they're not heading towards Gateacre.
'Where are we goin'?'
'Kelsall Street,' Joey says evasively, staring ahead. He doesn't really like deceiving Martina, but he needs to work out what to do, and he can't do that when he keeps getting minor injuries every time he tries to do something.
'Oh, good. A visit to the Boswell palace.' She hesitates, switching her DSS lady mode off for a moment. 'You didn't say we were goin' round today. Is yer Grandad all right?'
'He's all right, sweetheart. He's all right. It's just a social call.' He's touched that Martina's concerned about Grandad – it hasn't been long since they'd been down here when Grandad had had a fall, had stayed while the family anguished over the hospitalisation of the beloved head of their herd. Roxy had appeared around that time, seemingly just to kick him when he was down – and Martina…she'd been a rock for him, she really had. Joey is still overwhelmingly moved by the whole thing, how supportive she'd been, even now.
And he feels guilty again, because she's so good to him, even though she may be the one person who has every right not to be, and it seems at the moment all he's doing is repaying her with mental torment.
It has to be done, though. As much for her own good as for his.
And so he pulls up in front of his Mam's house, his old home, parks behind Billy's new-but-still-old banger of a Ford, and he's herding Martina out of the Jag, hoping with all his might being here will help.
Now comes the tricky bit. He has to open the boot. And then, when Martina sees what's inside, he'll have to explain.
'Joey! Oh, love – what's happened? Are you all right?'
His Mam's panic and the smell of her perfume hit him before he sees her, warm brown eyes with loving lines around them smiling at him in spite of herself, those curls, that crooked pinny, the familiar, welcome sight of being safe and warm. He embraces her, almost forcefully, and she jumps a little, such is her surprise, a mixture of delight at the unexpected visit and fear that something is wrong tumbling over her in her voice, her mannerisms as she continues to ask why he's here, is everything all right.
Nellie turns to embrace Martina, somewhat more awkwardly.
'I didn't expect to see you two!'
'What d'you mean…you didn't know we were…' Martina starts, but is distracted by what Joey is getting out of the boot, eyes going wide. 'Why have you got my suitcase?!'
'Mam,' Joey says, ignoring her, bringing his own bag out from the depths of the car along with it, 'd'you mind if we stay the night?'
'Oh, this is RIDICULOUS!' Martina explodes.
'And what, may I ask, is so wrong with you, madam?' Nellie's voice flicks back to its own sharp switch when addressing Martina. She's always been quite short with her, but never so much as when she thinks Martina is 'unfairly' chastising her angelic eldest son.
Martina rolls her eyes. 'Joey,' she spits, 'thinks our 'ouse has been cursed.'
Oh, Martina, you had to use a word like that.
'CURSED?!' Nellie's anxiety takes a leap right into the realm of hysteria. She looks from one to the other, then grabs them both by the arms and pulls them to her again. 'How—what—how – how d'you mean, cursed?'
Martina shakes her head wearily, a difficult feat when it's being forcibly pressed into Nellie's collarbone. Joey knows his Mam will understand, though.
'An opal, Mam. I…pissed someone off and they…left it on me doorstep. And she accidentally brought it in.' He jerks his head at Martina.
'Oh, dear Heavenly Father,' Nellie lets go of them to make so many Signs of the Cross Joey gets dizzy from watching, her arm blurring across her head, chest and shoulders. At least, to his relief, she understands. He knew she would.
'Not you too,' Martina grumbles.
'Joey – will you tell her?!'
'I've tried, Mam. She doesn't get it.'
His wife is looking murderous again, and Joey's damage control responses kick in. He reaches out, squeezes her shoulder to pacify her.
'See? Told you – opals and Boswells don't go together.'
Martina shrugs his hand off her, muttering to herself. Joey turns back to Nellie.
'I keep bumpin' into things, Martina's having troubles at work…I tried to throw it out and when I touched it the immersion clapped out and now we've got no hot water…' he leaves out his physical problem last night; it's more than his mother needs to know, 'we just need one night away from it to clear our heads, so we can work out how to get rid of it without causin' more damage.'
Joey reaches for Martina again, playing the card he knows will get her to relent. 'And have a hot shower.'
'I hope you're not going to bring all that bad luck in with you, Joey!' Nellie says sternly. 'That's the last thing I need, with your dad off again and our Billy sobbing over that girl…I mean it, Joey. No bad luck.'
She stands back from the doorway and allows them access to the house anyway.
Martina stands her ground, arms crossed, feet apart, glaring at Joey.
'Just one night, sweetheart.'
Her eye-roll (the angry one; she's got four different ones and Joey knows the difference between all of them) comes out.
'It'll make things better.'
'I've had a horrible day, Joey. Every day this week has been a nightmare. I just want to go home.'
'We can't go home. It's not –'he changes tack. Saying it's not safe will likely earn him a clip round the ear, and Martina's clips round the ear hurt. 'The immersion's still broken.'
'Of course it is,' she mutters.
'Hot shower,' Joey coaxes again, and Martina sighs in resignation, snatches her case from him and walks ahead of him into the house.
Joey lies awake that night in Aveline's old room, sleep evading him despite the sense of safety and comfort he gets from being back at his Mam's, from not feeling that ominous sense of dread knowing the opal is in the next room. He'd popped over to Jack's after dinner to get a bit of advice and perspective, but his brother had laughed at him.
'Wouldn't like to be you, pal!'
'Jack, this is serious,' Joey had chided, 'remember Grandad's canary? Remember the gas leak at Phythian Street? There's no tellin' what an opal placed with intent'll do.'
But Jack had kept on guffawing, even more so when he'd discovered Yizzel's mate's name was Charles, and Joey had given up and come back again.
Where he had been greeted by a thorn in his side named Billy, who'd offered such sage suggestions as why don't you get rid of it, then? (as if he hadn't thought of that), and why not just put it in the yard? and when I bought Julie a ring… until Joey had felt like tearing his hair out.
It's late now, and in spite of being away from the opal, geographically if not in his mind, Joey still can't think of anything to do. He was supposed to have worked out a solution with the help of his family, and instead he's no closer to restoring peace to his household. He's stumped.
Beside him, Martina stirs and sighs. Sounds like she's not asleep either, and the memory of that skirt is still close to the front of his brain, and though he knows she's absolutely ropable with him, Joey turns to her anyway, reaches for her.
'Don't even think about it.'
Even having access to warm water hasn't improved Martina's mood. She wants to go home. She's not pleased with him. He feels he's let her down, even though the opal wasn't his fault.
He turns back over, leaves her be.
But then he feels the bed shift again, feels her move closer, her arm snaking around his waist, her face pressing into his shoulder.
'Go on, then,' she murmurs, 'but I'm still angry with you.'
Joey turns over, kisses her, but then something compels him to pause. Disappointing her once was a nightmare. For it to potentially happen twice…he doesn't want to risk that. And he doesn't know how far the wrath of the opal reaches. It got Martina in the DSS already. It could reach Kelsall Street, if he's not careful.
'Maybe it's better we not.'
She lets go of him so suddenly he almost gets whiplash.
'All right. If that's the way you want it.'
'I'm not rejectin' you.'
'You're doing a good impression of it.'
'Sweetheart – please don't take last time personally. And it's not that I don't want to now, you know I do, or I wouldn't have – it's just, what with last time, until the opal is – '
'It's NOT,' Martina thunders, exasperated, 'the OPAL!'
She gets up, storms out of Aveline's bedroom and slams the door behind her.
Joey doesn't know where Martina sleeps. She doesn't come back for the rest of the night, but she's there in the kitchen the next morning, drinking coffee and looking decidedly grumpy.
'You okay?' he asks tentatively, accepting the cup his Mam gives him and sliding into the seat next to his wife.
Martina gives him a dirty look and goes back to sipping her drink.
'Every time I see you two,' Nellie says disapprovingly, 'you're having a silent row about something. It's not good for people to give each other the silent treatment, you know! We were built to talk to each other!'
'Butt out,' Martina says crossly, and Joey startles, because the last thing he wants right now is his Mam going off her rocker at something offensive Martina's said. The last time that happened, it had escalated and a couple of plates had been broken. They're both more alike than they realise, and too alike to ever properly get on. (To give them their due, they usually do try, though, for his sake, because both of them know the devastating effect Roxy hating his family had had on him, and neither wish that kind of suffering on him again).
'She doesn't mean that,' he says quickly, firmly, stomping on Martina's foot under the table. She looks scandalised and stomps him back. Perfect. Pain to start off his day.
'Silence would be nice,' they'd forgotten Billy was in the room, sitting opposite them and stuffing his gob with toast, but he's not about to let them for long. 'When my girlfriend is in a mood with me, she shouts. They all shout. My ears are gonna clap out from all the shouting, that's what they're gonna do.'
'Which girlfriend?' Martina says in a bored tone. 'You've been through about twelve in the past year.' She can't resist having a go at Billy when he's in one of his Billyish moods, and Joey wishes she wouldn't do that, either. It just leads to more rowing, of the Billy-leaping-to-his-feet variety, which Joey has to deal with.
'It was not twelve!' Yes, he's on his feet now. Great. 'I 'aven't had twelve girlfriends, I've had…' Billy starts counting on his fingers.
'Now we've got a few minutes…' Martina says. Joey shoots her a warning look.
'Four!' Billy finishes working it out. 'Four girlfriends, not twelve, so stop sayin' I've got twelve, or I'll…'
'Oh, cool it, will yer?!' Joey's patience with his brother snaps. 'Belt up, or I'll belt you!'
Martina opens her mouth.
'You as well. You're not helping.'
It's no good telling Martina anything, though. She does what she wants, and if she wants to speak, she's going to whether he likes it or not.
'And after you kidnapped me and brought me here, I should bloody well –'
'I did not kidnap you,' Joey says irritably. 'I brought you here for your own good. And all you've done is – '
'Do I have to listen to this all day?!' Nellie cuts in. 'Joey, I like it when you come round, but this sort of arguing is going to bring the roof down! It's just as well I'm going out!' There's a slight blush to her cheeks that means she's going out with someone, and though Joey doesn't really know how to feel about that, he's more or less accepted it. There is a someone who is not Freddie Boswell; they've all seen, or heard, in some way, about him, though their Mam will never admit it.
He's still not sure how he feels about Nellie's friend, even though she has every right after Lilo Lil, after what his dad put her through. Joey himself doesn't have a leg to stand on, moral high-ground wise, after running off to Scotland and marrying a divorced woman his family hated, divorcing said divorced woman after little over a year, then getting married again less than three years after that, this time to a terrifying DHSS lady who tormented their family for years, who had also spent a good few years before him messing around with Shifty. His family don't think particularly highly of him on the relationship front. They've grudgingly accepted that Martina vastly eclipses Roxy as a partner, although these admissions that she's better for him, on his brothers' part, usually come with an add-on of she's still crap, Joey, why do you always go for nasty girls? which pisses him off immensely. (He's taken to saying nasty girls are better in bed just to shut his brothers up.)
He supposes he can't really say anything to Nellie, has to just accept there is a someone, and it's none of his business, just as his own love life is none of his family's business.
'And while I'm out,' Nellie goes on, 'I don't want any more rowing, from any of you! And Billy! It's your turn for Grandad's tray!'
'Aw, hey, it was my turn last night!'
'Weeell, we won't get much out of them, will we? Too busy rowing to help around the house!' his Mam gives a disapproving stare in Joey and Martina's direction and sweeps off, throwing an and I want those pots done when I get back! As she goes.
No sooner has she left than the front door is banging open again.
'Eh, Joey,' Jack storms in, dishevelled and cross, shirt buttons all done up wrong, 'I want a word with yer. Control yer wife!'
Martina looks up at this comment, livid. 'What?!'
'She came round ours at bloody midnight and bent our ears about how you're doing her 'ead in! And she's doin' our 'eads in and all, so…sort her out, or I'll do her in.'
'I was speakin' to Leonora, not you,' Martina says irritably.
'And I've got these things on the side of me 'ead called ears, 'aven't I?' Jack retorts. 'And they pick up sounds like you bangin' on to Leonora at the top of your voice about Joey and 'is bloody opal! And those sounds go to me brain, and me brain sends signals to me hands, and me hands get this urge to wrap themselves around your neck and throttle yer.'
Jack mimes strangling her with his hands, and Joey shoots out a protective arm in front of Martina, even though he knows it's an empty threat.
'I just wanted somewhere to sleep,' Martina insists.
'With the result that none of us got any!'
'Oh, God, more Boswell dramatics. I was there for ten minutes before you threw me out!'
'I wish I threw yer harder! No, I'll go one better…I wish I'd booted you up the arse!'
'Okay, okay, cool it, both of you,' Joey raises his hands. 'We get the picture – truce, okay? Ceasefire, just for now, yes?'
He looks from Martina to Jack, both of whom shrug – a non-committal response, but the best he's going to get, Joey realises, given they're still fuming at each other. He returns the shrug, takes a sip of his coffee.
'Why'd Martina wanna sleep with Jack?' Billy's gob sprays toast all over Joey as he has his share in the conversation, completely missing the point as usual. Disgusted, the eldest Boswell wipes half-chewed shreds of bread off his face.
'I didn't!' Martina snaps.
'She didn't!' Jack snaps at the same time.
'I know about things like that,' Billy goes on, unaware that Martina and Jack have stopped glaring at each other, and have turned the combined force of their irritation on him. 'That's called wife swappin', that is.'
'Billy, no-one's wife swappin',' Joey tries to intercept, 'now mind your own – '
'Unless she wanted to sleep with Jack and Leonora…and that's called a—'
'Watch it!' Joey feels this has gone quite far enough. 'This is gettin' us nowhere. Billy, shut it. Jack, now you're 'ere, do summat useful, there's a good lad, and help us think of a solution to this opal business.'
Billy sulks into his tea. Now he has a moment, Joey's curiosity gets the better of him, and he turns to Martina.
'Where did you sleep?' he asks under his breath, in case Billy gets an earful and starts up with his daft theories again.
'Grandad's sofa.' No wonder Martina looks so miserable. Grandad's newest canary is particularly chirpy, no matter what hour of the day it is. He doubts she got much rest.
'Have a nice little chat with the bird, did you?' he teases.
'Listenin' to that canary wittering all night was better than listenin' to you.' Martina, unfortunately, didn't get the memo about talking quietly, with the result that Billy's ears have pricked up. 'At least it doesn't make up nonsense about bein' destroyed bit by bit by a bit of bloody rock.'
'I've told you, Martina, things really do happen when – '
'I never thought it'd be superstition that'd stop a Boswell, I really didn't. Fancy, the leader of the Boswell mafia afraid of—'
'I'm not afraid,' Joey retorts, annoyed again now, 'I'm simply concerned for our welfare, that's all.'
'And 'ow is concerned any different from afraid, tell me that, Mister Boswell?'
'Well, I'm not afraid of it,' Billy cuts in, pretending to be brave. 'I don't believe in good and bad luck. I've had all bad since Julie. I think it's not luck that makes life crap. It's women, that's what it is.'
Joey knows how to deal with this false bravado. He pulls his house keys out, dumps them in front of his brother.
'Go and deal with it, then, son.' He keeps his tone light, cheery as he says this.
Billy's face turns white.
'Go on, son. Do us a favour. Get rid of it for us.'
'Er…thing is… things haven't been goin' too good,' Billy wriggles in his seat.
'I thought you didn't believe in all that,' Martina goads, suddenly in a better mood than she has been for the past two days. If there's a good opportunity for Billy-heckling going, she's always up for it. She likes the lad, really, Joey knows she does, because Billy is a good-hearted lad under the simple exterior, but becoming his sister-in-law has exposed her to the sillier, more childish side of Billy than she used to see down the DSS, and it's a side she enjoys making fun of no end.
'No, but…well I've only just bought me new car, haven't I, and I need it to drive around, don't I, and I don't have me proper sandwich van anymore so it's me businessmobile, isn't it, and…'
'And,' Joey delivers his killer blow, his voice as dramatic as he can make it, 'seein' as you don't believe in luck, you'll be able to drive round there, pick up the opal, and drive all the way back from Gateacre with your car still intact, won't you, son? The thought that it might suddenly clap out on the way and leave you stranded on the side of the road is just too far-fetched to believe, isn't it?'
A look of horror creeps across his little brother's face.
'Er…yeah…well…I've gorra go and take Grandad's tray, 'aven't I?' And he's out of his seat before the others can blink, legging it through the parlour so fast bits of Grandad's breakfast go flying, and a horrible crash suggests a vase might have snuffed it.
'Not afraid of it, eh, Billy?' Joey shakes his head in mirth.
Angry at him though she might still be, Martina holds out the palm of her hand to him under the table. Joey lightly low-fives it. That's the great thing about her. Her love for him is pretty unconditional. She still appreciates him, enjoys teaming up with him, puts on a united front with him even when a part of her wants to kill him because he's let her down in some way. Roxy's love was very much dependent on her mood with him, could be completely withdrawn at times. Martina understands, has always understood, that if you love someone, that doesn't change just because you're upset with them. And that's what his family don't understand about her. Just because she's not outwardly cheery, no false salesperson smile in public, doesn't mean she doesn't have a good heart.
'That's him out the way,' Joey says, looking from Jack to Martina. ' Now we can properly discuss this. Brains trust, help me think. How do we get the opal safely out the house and into Charles's?'
The fact that Jack immediately starts snickering and chortling out the name Charles doesn't do much to Joey's hope that they'll resolve this.
'Just how I wanted to spend me Saturday,' Martina grumbles. 'Playing mafia while stuck in the Boswell Headquarters.'
'It's not how I wanted to spend the weekend either, you know,' Joey touches her arm. 'I wanted to take you down the RSPCA, show you those Alsatian puppies Warwick told me about.'
'No Alsatian puppies, I told yer.'
Joey is affronted. 'Just to look.'
'I know you and just looking. 'Just looking' for you means buying. Last time you 'just looked' at something for sale, we ended up with those daft silk –'
'D'you need me for this conversation, or can I slip away?' Jack interrupts.
That shuts them both up for a moment.
'Sorry, mate. You've got a point. Shall we return to the task at hand?' He folds his arms on the table, ignoring Martina's comment of elbows off, because they're not at home, and his Mam never minded.
'So what you gonna do, then?' Jack says. 'You can't keep livin' at Mam's because you're too scared to go 'ome. I'm not havin 'er,' he jerks a thumb at Martina, who bristles again, 'bugging us every night because you're goin' mental over this.'
'And what would you do if Leonora brought an opal home, then?'
'Leonora wouldn't be that daft! She's posh, she is.'
'What's that got to do with anything?!' Martina is incredulous.
'Posh people are bright, aren't they?'
'So being brought up with more money automatically means you know every little Boswell rule without havin' to be told, does it?'
'Cut iiiiit,' Joey insists. 'We're still not getting anywhere. We need to work out what to do with it.'
'Obviously, you're throwin' it back at them. Like them bastards who took the canary.'
'Well, obviously, son,' Joey says. 'Thing is, though…how do I get it to them without touching it? Last time I touched it…'
'Your 'ot water clapped out, yeah, we know,' Jack drones.
'We need someone who's not a Boswell to get it out of our 'ouse. Someone it'll have no effect on. C'mon, think,' Joey says, more to himself than to Jack and Martina. He taps his forehead, as if the action can somehow make him see reason.
'I can't believe we're having a counsel-of-war about who's safe to touch a cursed necklace!' Martina is rubbing her temples now, looking as though she's got the mother of all headaches coming on. 'Every time I think we've plumbed the depths of daft…'
'Can you stop using that word cursed?' Joey snaps. 'It's askin' for trouble.'
'Well why can't we ask Oswald to get rid of it?' Martina says. 'He's a Carter – and, he's a vicar. He can exorcise our 'ouse while he's at it, if it'll put your mind at rest, and then perhaps we can stop all these proclamations of doom you keep subjectin' me to.'
There's a slight hint of a mocking tone to her voice, but she's trying to come up with a good suggestion, is actually trying to help him get rid of the opal now rather than chastising him over it, so Joey can't help but be grateful. Problem is, it's not actually that good a suggestion.
Joey and Jack look at each other and ummm and ahh.
'Oswald is…sort of a Boswell, though, isn't 'e?' Jack says. 'I mean…Aveline's one, and he's married to her, so…he's in the family in't he?'
Joey feels Martina slump beside him. He doesn't need to look at her to know she's pulling her oh, God face.
'Well Leonora's not married to you,' she says in retaliation, 'is that un-Boswell enough?'
Jack's jaw sets.
'If you try and make our Leonora touch that opal,' he says, his voice betraying an aggression bubbling beneath the surface, 'then I'll reach down your throat and pull your guts out through your gob!'
Perhaps Jack takes the opal more seriously than he wants to make out.
'What Jack is trying to say,' Joey says, because he can tell Martina has tensed with a mounting aggression of her own, and he really doesn't want them having a go at each other all morning, 'is that while he and Leonora may not be legally wed, she still technically counts as a Boswell. We love her. She's fam-i-ly.'
Martina groans. 'Is there anyone connected with you lot who doesn't "technically count" as a Boswell?! Who you haven't adopted into your little tribe?!'
And then she straightens up, looks at Joey, her face clearly saying are you thinking what I'm thinking?
And he is. It hit him like a thunderbolt at the precise second it hit her, and yes, it could work, but it's also a bad idea in other ways, on so, so many levels.
'Martina, me Mam'll kill me.'
'And if you don't sort out this opal business, Mister Boswell, I will kill you. Your choice.'
Joey turns to Jack, who stares blankly back at him. Clearly he hasn't had the same revelation.
'Don't look at me. I haven't the foggiest what you're on about.' He shrugs. 'Whatever it is, though, I'd do what she wants. Everyone knows death by the wife is the worse one. They know exactly what to do to yer dangly bits.'
Martina smirks. 'He gets it.'
It's with an abnormal apprehension that Joey approaches the front door of a familiar flat, an unfamiliar twist of nerves in his stomach. He considers changing his mind, finding another way – there must be one – but Martina is behind him, her fingers shackling his wrist, leaving him no exit strategy that won't result in her inflicting pain on him.
Swallowing, Joey raises his fist and knocks, the door being flung away before he's even finished.
'A golden day, when one of my kids comes to visit!' comes the booming welcome. 'A golden day!'
'Er – actually, Dad,' Joey says, feeling he's going to combust with shame, because this goes against all his principles, 'it's not you we've come to see.'
Freddie's face is as puzzled as his hair looks most of the time.
'I, er,' Joey clears his throat awkwardly. How his dad will take this he doesn't know. 'We, er…'
He looks to Martina, who stares back at him, her face saying go on.
'Is, er…is Lilo – '
'No,' Martina says in a warning tone.
'Sorry, is er…Lillian there?'
Freddie looks on the verge of exploding with shock. Joey doesn't blame him. It's unprecedented. He has nothing to do with Lilo Lil, apart from occasionally having her answer the door to him and let him know if his dad's in. He doesn't like her. He resents her, even if he tries to act reasonable about the situation, even if he pretends he doesn't. It's because of her that his family was thrown into chaos, that he had to step up and become the father he was never meant to be, that his Mam cries and shouts more than she speaks, and probably by extension, why there's a someone Nellie now goes to see.
'You…want to see…Lil?'
'Well,' Joey ventures, a bit braver now he's come out with it, 'Martina does.'
Martina stomps on his foot for the second time today, and it's all Joey can do to keep a lid on a cry of pain. Even through leather shoes, that bloody hurt.
'And me,' he says, giving in. 'We both do, because…' Freddie is looking at him like he's a nutter, and he doesn't know how to make this sound sane, '…we need her help.'
Martina nudges his sore foot with hers, a warning she'll do it again if he doesn't toe the line.
'I need her help.'
'I don't follow yer, son. What d'you need 'er help for?'
Joey wrings his hands, because how does he explain this to his Dad? He's not entirely sure Freddie would believe him, let alone understand.
He knows Martina had had a brief truce with Lilo Lil, back when Shifty was on the scene, back when his Dad had sold his old flat to pay his tax debts and Lilo Lil had lived in an allotment, because they'd both been able to bemoan the misery their various Boswells brought upon their lives. That, and Lilo Lil had thought she was dying, the result of a 'tumour' showing up on a scan (that had actually turned out to be a polycystic ovary, though she'd still milked it for as long as possible) and Martina, because she does actually have a bigger heart than people give her credit for, had felt sorry for her.
Now, though. He doesn't speak to Lilo Lil, not if he can help it, and Martina doesn't speak to her, because despite what she pretends, despite how much they argue, she cares about his Mam, or at least cares to the extent of not wanting to see Joey upset by Nellie being upset. There's no obligation between the two of them and her. Lilo Lil would have no reason for wanting to help them. And yet, for the first time in Joey's life, he needs her.
Freddie wasn't there when they dealt with the last opal. He knows his Dad must be aware of the opal superstition on some level, because he's pretty sure Freddie was the one who taught him about it when he was a lad. And yet it still seems odd and daft to admit you want to speak to your father's mistress about getting rid of an opal your family can't touch, for the simple fact that you don't consider her family. It's not a particularly flattering way to ask for something.
'Look…it's…complicated,' he settles for. 'Is she in?'
Freddie gives the pair of them an odd look, but he steps aside, waves them in.
'Visitors for you, me lit'le buttercup!' he hollers, and Joey cringes.
Oh, God, and there she is, large as life, a look of surprise melting into a strange, leering grin as she approaches.
'I t'ought Freddie Boswell said there was visitors for me,' she says, the strange smile remaining as she takes a seat on Freddie's manky sofa (Joey tries not to make a face at the fact that the entire thing seems to sink when she sits on it).
'But I t'ought to meself, what's Joey Boswell doin' wantin' to see me? It's a mystery, it is. And then I saw your poor, unfortunate wife and I t'ought…now we're gettin' somewhere.'
Martina draws in a breath, though what she might be thinking of saying is unfathomable to Joey.
'Long time no see, Martina,' Lilo Lil trills, shaking her hand so hard Martina is at risk of falling down. 'Last time we spoke proper we were bemoaning de lack of futures that bein' involved with this family entailed. You and Shifty, me and Freddie.'
'Upgraded yer Boswell, I see. Better model, eh?'
'Got a warranty on this one,' Martina grins, flashing her ring finger.
'So I heard. T'anks for the invite.'
'Don't take it personally, love. No-one was invited. The Boswells just turned up anyway.'
This isn't true on either count. The Boswells were invited to their wedding, albeit verbally. And it was personal, because Joey hadn't wanted her there. Given Martina hadn't wanted her dad there, (this had meant her Mam didn't go either, which he thinks Martina was disappointed about but kept a good lid on) she hadn't really been in a position to complain about him restricting their guest list. But Joey suspects Martina is trying to play nice, so he keeps his gob shut.
'Yous both of yer are lookin' at me like I'm supposed to know what's goin' on,' Lilo Lil presses. 'Would one of you put me out of me misery and fill me in?'
Joey and Martina glance at each other, and Joey realises, stomach sinking, that Martina is expecting him to say something. He fiddles with the sleeve on his leather coat, wondering how he's going to put this.
'D'you know about opals?'
Lilo Lil looks at him like he's grown two heads.
'Dem shiny stones they find in Australia?'
' More than I knew,' Martina looks mildly impressed.
'That's a low bar to set, though, isn't it, sweetheart?' Joey teases, and is hit with the full force of one of her glares. Mercifully that's all he's hit with, though he knows she will hurt him again if he doesn't start taking this seriously.
'What I mean to say is…do you know what they do to Boswells?'
'What…opals do to Boswells?' Lilo Lil repeats, sounding, Joey thinks, a bit thick. He can't really blame her for being confused, though. He supposes when her only real interactions with his father seem to be gallivanting around the countryside and bonking, there isn't much time to go into long-held family superstitions.
Joey draws a deep breath, in part to prepare himself for a long tale, in part because she's on his nerves despite not really doing anything, and explains.
'So you want me,' she says when he's finished, her jaw dropping almost as far as her enormous chest, 'to hand an opal to a pair o' wannabe gangsters because you t'ink it curses you when you touch it?'
'Er,' Joey says feebly, realising how daft it sounds when put like that, understanding for the first time why Martina thinks this whole thing is ridiculous, 'more or less.'
'And supposin' I don't feel like doin' your dirty work? Supposin' I'd rather see bad luck befall ye? You don't exactly fall high up on me list of people I'd save from drownin', Joey Boswell.'
She's got a point – still, he's a bit desperate. He changes tack, tries a bit of the dramatic sob-story stuff he usually uses on Martina down the DSS. It never works on her, but Martina's clever – and from what he can gather about Lilo Lil, she isn't.
'So you'd let the eldest son and heir of your beloved lover,' the words are acid in his mouth, how he hates saying things like this, but if he wants to work the sympathy angle, he has to, 'get battered around and tormented by this most heinous curse, sending my father into a frenzy of worry, that might aggravate his poor heart…'
'His poor heart has been operated on, as you well know…and as for the rest of that pile of tripe, it sounds like you pulled it out your arse to make me feel sorry for ye!'
Perhaps she is cleverer than he thought after all.
'Joey,' Martina says quietly, 'for God's sake.'
She's trying his patience, but she's right, and he knows it. There's only one way that'll work.
'Please,' Joey says, trying to let his voice show his genuine need, without any dramatic embellishments.
Lilo Lil cocks an eyebrow.
'I'll think about it.'
'Well that's a start, anyway,' he mutters.
They sit quietly for a few minutes, pondering. Freddie ducks through, ostensibly to get something from the other room, in actuality because he's madly curious about what they're discussing.
She still hasn't agreed, this isn't going exactly how Martina had planned, perhaps it was a daft idea, anyway, and another thing…
'The other fly in the ointment,' Joey says, as it dawns on him, 'is we don't know his address.'
Martina makes the loudest sigh he's ever heard.
'I work in the DSS, Mister Boswell. I know everybody's address.'
'Fantastic!' Joey says, suddenly brightened. 'So, we get 'is address from you, Lilo…er…sorry, Lil tosses it back on his doorstep for us, and you and me go home to a curse-free house and live happily ever after!'
'You do realise, Mister Boswell,' Martina says, rolling her eyes, 'that your life isn't actually a film?'
'It could be, sweetheart. It could be. So long as the right person was playing me.'
They turn to Lilo Lil; the plan hinges on her, and she still hasn't given them the green light.
'And what's in it for me if I help yous lot?'
Joey was wondering that too. Martina has an answer already planned out.
'Joey will make more of an effort to understand yer. Be a bit nicer to you. Given as 'ow you're seeing his father and all.'
Joey's jaw drops. 'I didn't agree to that.'
'You'll do as you're told.'
'It's a nice t'ought, Martina, but it's never gonna happen. To the members of the Boswell family, I'm not allowed to be considered a human being.' Lilo Lil exhales, heaving her enormous chest (if he didn't know it was, Joey would find it hard to believe it was real). 'Still, it's kind of yer. Nice to know one of yer doesn't villainise me for havin' a lover.'
Joey sees red. 'My father,' he growls through his teeth, and Martina elbows him. Hard.
Bloody ow. He's had three Martina-related injuries today now. Yesterday it was the opal, today it's his wife. He'll just be a mass of bruises at this rate, which doesn't particularly suit his image, either the falsely egotistical one he hams up to annoy his wife, or the suave, dangerous, untouchable criminal one he pulls off pretty well at night.
'I know it's hard to believe, but I loves your father. And bein' with him is worth what anyone might say. Even if he is a bastard.'
Joey usually prides himself on being understanding to most people, to being rational and reasonable, but he's seeing red. This is why he hadn't wanted to come here. He can only pretend to be understanding about Lilo Lil as long as she isn't actually around, as long as he doesn't actually have to see and speak to the woman his Dad had cast aside his mother for. It slaps him in the face with the reality of what his father did.
'I know what that's like,' Martina says softly.
'You're never comparing us to them?' Joey hisses.
'No? You should see the looks I get when people hear I'm married to you.'
'Just jealous, that's all.'
'If that's what you wanna call it.'
'Look, I don't usually do favours for ye Boswells,' Lilo Lil says, cutting in. 'Specially not the revoltin' kids of my lover's wife, who keep him tied to her pinny strings.'
Joey looks down at the coffee table, unsure what he can say to that.
'But…for Martina's sake,' Lilo Lil says, 'all right. I daresay she puts up with enough, marryin' into you lot, without bein' cursed as well.'
Martina gives him the smuggest smile Joey has ever seen.
It's going well. Apart from the fact that Lilo Lil is inside his house, going ahh and ooh at their ornaments and saying nice place you've got here every five minutes, and generally being irritating, and Martina is over-dramatically basking in the fact that she's home, running her hands over her armchair as if caressing a long-lost lover, probably just to go the extra mile proving a point, and that's irritating and all. (And she tells him off for dramatics. She's just as bad, in her own way.)
'Now, then,' Lilo Lil says, after they've both sufficiently driven him to the brink of lunacy, 'where's this opal t'ing, then?'
'In there,' Joey jabs a finger at the big box on the kitchen table.
Lilo Lil leans over it and lets out a horrendous croaky laugh.
'D'you mind sharin' the joke?' Joey asks irritably.
'All dem crap handbags! As if anyone with any sense would think they're Prada!' And she's off booming and bellowing and croaking again.
'I know!' Joey says, feeling, for the first time in his life, a slight affinity with her. He slaps his hands against his sides. 'They're rubbish!'
'Well, let's get this over with, see if I burst into flames or not.' Lilo Lil reaches one of her long-nailed hands into the box, comes out with the opal – not the box, the bloody thing itself – clutched in her claw.
There's a pause. Lilo Lil is silent. Joey grabs Martina's hand, starting to panic as the seconds tick by, amplified by the clock out in their parlour.
And then the intense moment is broken, making Joey and Martina jump, and Lilo Lil is sniggering, holding the opal necklace over her head, triumphant.
'Must not be a real Boswell, then, must I? Take more'n a bit of tacky jewellery to kill me!'
Joey lets out a breath he didn't realise he was holding.
'Well, now we've got empirical proof it doesn't harm you, let's get it back in that box and over to Charles's place, and end this thing.' Martina's eyes roll in his direction. 'Then p'raps finally I can have some peace.'
The opal falls from Lilo Lil's hands back into its box. It still looks menacing, but he feels a sense of triumph knowing it's about to be gone from his life, defeated, that Yizzel and his mate will soon be feeling the effects of it.
That'll teach you to mess with Joey Boswell, sunshine.
'Just one moment!' Joey goes over to the fridge, rips off a page of Martina's shopping list pad, pulls out his musical pen. His last thought has given him an idea, and a brilliant one at that. 'One final touch before we deliver it.'
He glances over at the note Yizzel's mate had left, no longer as ominous as it was, bends over the table and applies his pen to the paper.
Martina winces as Land of Hope and Glory starts to play, but her curiosity at what he's doing overcomes her hatred for his musical pens, and she comes and stands beside him. She watches over his shoulder as he swirls the pen across the page, checking the original every so often, creating a masterpiece of an ominous note of his own.
What goes around comes around, Charlie Boy. Caveat emptor.
Joey's forgery skills have come in handy. He's imitated Yizzel's mate's writing exactly, just to terrify him; a covert threat of just how much he could ruin him, if he wanted to. The fact Joey knows his name is likely to panic him too.
'I didn't know you could do that!'
'One of my many talents.'
'You don't forge my writing, do you?' Martina demands, watching him flourish his pen in stunned fascination. It's a wicked talent of his he's kept hidden from her until now, and judging by her face, she's a bit impressed, though she's trying to cover it up.
'That's…a conversation for another day,' he says, just to wind her up. Martina's writing is atrocious, doctor's writing; it's too hard to copy, because it's not consistent. If he'd been able to, he'd have had a huge stack of signed DSS forms in his possession, getting him a whole lot of benefits he wasn't entitled to, but he can't. But he'll have fun letting her think he can, at least until she catches on.
He holds the note up to the light. It looks bloody good, if he does say so himself. He drops it in the box with the opal, breathes a sigh of relief as Lilo Lil closes it up, reducing it to a mere thin, flat blue oblong. Nothing happens. This could actually work.
'I've ordered you a taxi,' he says. He's not going to drive her with that opal in her hands, even if it's not doing anything to her. He couldn't be sure it wouldn't destroy his Jag. Lilo Lil totters over to the door, and Joey holds it open for her, giving a little bow before shutting it behind her.
'That taxi won't get there for a while yet. We'll be waiting ages if we leave now,' Joey says. 'Might as well stick the kettle on.'
Martina looks from the shut door to him and rolls her eyes. 'You really are a bastard sometimes, you know that?'
They drive out to see the deed done, parking the Jag across the road from their destination and peering through the window, waiting.
'What, this is where he lives?' It looks very much like his Mam's house, which surprises Joey. He was expecting a dingy flat in one of the dodgier parts of town, or a dilapidated shack of a hideout on the banks of the river, not a well-kept terrace mere streets away from where he grew up.
The little figure down the road (or rather, the big figure; she is a big lass) gets closer, Lilo Lil in all her enormous-chested glory (his Mam is right about that; she looks bloody unbalanced,it's not normal for a woman to have such big knockers, it really isn't). The fact that she's wearing six-inch platforms at least only serves to make her look like she's going to keel over at any second. Even Aveline can walk better, and she's all but destroyed her calf muscles with stilettos.
'Why does she wear those shoes?' he says, more to himself than to Martina. 'She's massive and they're high rise platforms if ever I saw any…she'll fall off 'em at some point.'
'Joey,' Martina says, 'be quiet.'
'No one can hear me.'
'I can hear you. And you are getting up my nose.'
Martina has given him a number of bruises today, so Joey belts up.
It's anticlimactic. Lilo Lil pushes open the letterbox flap, pushes the opal box through it. It sticks for a second, then gives, sliding through, and it's gone.
And that's it. All done.
Lilo Lil stumps back over to them on her stupid shoes.
Joey winds the window down as she approaches.
'I owe you one.'
'Ooh, good. How do I cash it in, then?' She looks gleeful, and it unnerves him. 'Shall we try the bein' nice to each other approach? Or d'you want to pay me a good sum and we'll be done with it?'
Joey tenses, because it's an impossible choice. He debates the lump sum for a moment, though he knows nobody in present company will stand for it.
'Civil. We can be civil to each other.'
Martina pinches him in the arm and Joey relents.
'Look, I'm sorry I haven't been...' the word sticks in his mouth, 'understandin'. I do realise…look, it's not an ideal situation. It's not you, personally, it'd be whoever…see, when me dad left us, we struggled. I mean, we really struggled. Not just with money – we sort of…fell apart.' God, he's baring his soul to Lilo Lil of all people, letting hurts out he doesn't usually share with the world. 'I had to resort to...to things I'd always sworn I'd never do, just to keep us afloat. To keep me brothers and sister fed, and out of trouble. And…seein' me dad waltz in and out, not carin' about what he did to us…I tried to pretend I wasn't bothered, but I was. I always have been.'
Joey swallows. 'Still am. I suppose…and…'
'Joey, Joey,' Lilo Lil's coarse voice cuts into his emotional one. 'You don't need to bleed yer heart for me. I know why we can't be friends. I'm not as much an idiot as all that to think one gesture can transcend the whole situation, now, am I? Dat Freddie Boswell…he is a bastard, to me and to her. And, evidently, to all o' you. And that makes enemies of us, whether we like it or not.'
Joey doesn't particularly like hearing his dad referred to as a bastard, but he does understand what she means.
'He doesn't want anyone more than some o' the time. And dat's taxin' on the people who love him. On all of us. No-one understands that better'n me.'
He'd be disinclined to agree with that last comment, but they're finally getting to a point which Martina could reasonably call an understanding. He leans out the car window now, moving in close to her, because there's something else he wants to say, something he doesn't particularly want Martina to hear, though he suspects she will anyway.
'Look, I'm not happy about that situation, even after all this time, but…twelve years ago, me whole family fell apart, and…one of the results of that was, I went down and signed-on down the DHSS. And if I hadn't done that, I never would've met Martina. So, in a way…I owe you for that, as well. So if you want me to…' it's hard, but he gets it out, 'try…at this…friends…thing…'
'I just said, I didn't expect a miracle! I'd settle for you not starin' me down like you're tryin' to knock me dead every time you come up to visit your father!'
'Yes, well,' Joey says, sighing, 'I think I can manage that. Any-way…if I see you around, I'll… I don't know. Say hello or somethin'.'
'Don't wear yerself out from the exertion,now, will yer?'Lilo Lil says acidly, but then she smiles and Joey knows they're all right. As all right as they'll ever be.
'See yer.' She outstretches her arm, her red talons of fingernails glistening in the lamplight.
'Yeah,' Joey says, shaking her proffered hand, trying not to think of those horrible talons touching him.
Joey feels his teeth grinding together in a combination of shock and horror. He'd kill her if she hadn't just done him an enormous favour.
'Don't push it,' he says, his teeth still gritted and hurting from it.
Lilo Lil laughs, a big booming laugh, a smoker's laugh, even though he's not sure she actually is one.
'Winding you up, I am, Joey!' she says, her voice setting his teeth even more on edge, too loud in his ear.
And then she's going. Thank God for that. It's over.
'Voice like a foghorn,' he mutters as she clomps away on her ridiculous platform shoes.
Martina is looking annoyingly smug about the whole thing. She sits in the passenger seat sniggering into her hanky, and Joey turns to her and glares.
'I'll give you a hiding when we get home.'
Martina's eyebrow arches. 'Should be the other way round, with everything you've put me through over the past few days. Counterfeit gear, cursed jewellery… you do realise, Mister Boswell, that I go to work and deal with crooks all day, all of them with their little tricks and their violent threats and their little lucrative schemes on the side… then I come home only to find I've accidentally wandered into a Scouse remake of The Godfather. Even me home life provides no respite at the moment, so forgive me, Joey, if I resort to whatever drastic measures I have to, to restore a bit of peace to me life and have me normal husband back again.'
And Joey suddenly feels intensely guilty. He thinks back over the past few days. Martina's been stressed; and, he realises, feeling awful, that she's been trying to get his attention. Forgoing telling him off about the handbags, wearing that tight skirt, getting overly upset when he'd criticised her clothing, storming off on him when he'd turned her down at Kelsall Street…all she'd wanted was for him to give her a bit of intimacy and closeness when she needed him, needed comfort. And he's been tormenting her instead. Incessantly.
He reaches over, puts his arm around her.
'I'm here, sweetheart. I never went anywhere.'
'You went off into the daft mad land of opals and that was the last I saw of yer.'
'Well, I'm back now. Promise.' He feels her sigh, lean against his shoulder. 'As long as you don't ever make me get chummy with Lilo Lil again.'
'As long as you don't ever drag me and our house into the middle of your skulduggery ever again. I mean it, Mister Boswell. Ever again.'
Joey presses a kiss to the top of her head. He needs to make it up to her, somehow.
'Nice dinner, just you and me?'
'Mm, all right.'
She's trying to sound blasé, but he can hear the gratitude in her voice.
'Eh,' he pulls her closer to him. 'I love you, you know.'
'All right,' she murmurs, 'enough grovellin' now.' But her hands are clutched tightly around his forearms, and he realises just how much she needed to hear that. And then her trademark smirk comes back, much to Joey's relief. 'Don't think this gets you out of bein' told off about those counterfeit handbags. Now all this opal business is over, you're in for a long lecture when we get home tonight, Mister Boswell.'
Joey laughs. 'And so, sweetheart,' he says, remembering he'd planned a lecture to give her and all, 'are you.'
'Now this is genuine. This one is not. See the difference?'
Martina rolls her eyes at the silk and not-silk shirts he's holding, visibly bored. 'They look the same.'
Joey, who has been trying to impress upon her the difference between various tasteful items and questionably tasteful ones for over an hour, sighs. He gives her the once-over, a prisoner at their kitchen table, captive to his lecture, resigned to the fact that he's going to make her sit there until she's taken all this in, but demonstrating passive-aggressive resistance. Her chin rests on her hand, elbow on the table, which normally she hates people doing, her shoulders slouch; she sighs dramatically every few minutes. She looks like a schoolgirl not paying attention to the teacher, and a brief naughty fantasy flashes through Joey's brain.
He pushes it aside for the moment. There'll be time later. He'd told her, when they first discovered the opal, that when its saga was over he'd be enforcing a lesson on style, and now she's in a better mood, and he's paid his penance for the counterfeit bags, (Lilo Lil was his punishment, apparently, so he was spared too much of a tongue lashing) so help him he's going to.
'They're not the same!' Joey scoffs.
'They're identical! Only difference is the one on the left probably bankrupted somebody.'
'Look at the quality! Look at the stitchin'!'
'And yet you were the one who spent twice the asking price on poor quality wallpaper when we moved in 'ere.'
She always has to bring that up.
'You're never gonna let me forget that one, are you?' Joey tuts. 'That, sweetheart, is the exception that proves Rule Number One: the best things in life are expensive.'
'Oh, is it, just?' Martina's voice is dripping with boredom; she'll drown him in it in a moment.
'Okay, okay, we'll try an easier one, sunshine,' Joey moves in close, kissing her as he goes, a small reward for putting up with this. 'Even you'll be able to grasp the basics.'
'Like you can grasp the basics of the difference between gainful employment and benefit fraud, you mean?'
Joey ignores the remark.
'Now this,' he takes her left hand, kisses the ring on it, 'is lovely and valuable. This,' he takes her other hand, where a cheap bracelet cuts into her wrist, 'is rubbish. You know where I'm goin' with this, Martina? Lesson one. Precious stones, wear more. Plastic tat, get rid.' He's talking very slowly now, as if drumming a blindingly obvious lesson into a thick child's brain. Martina pulls her hand away from him and swats him.
'Are you gonna do this all night?'
Joey smiles naughtily. 'Just until the lesson sinks in.'
'The way I see it, Mister Boswell, there are far better ways we could be spendin' our evening. And if you can shut that gob of yours about Boswell finery for five minutes, we might actually get around to some of them.'
'Oh yeah?' Joey quizzes, though he knows, or hopes he knows, what she wants from him. 'Such as?'
At that moment, his mobile rings. Joey groans, because they were having the beginnings of a lovely moment there, but he answers it.
Joey listens to what his brother has to say, a grin stretching across his face that he can't contain.
'Guess what?' he says after he hangs up. He's trying to hold in a laugh. 'No, Martina – guess what.'
'Go on. Tell me.'
'Charles's house…' he's sniggering now, 'a water pipe burst. The whole downstairs has got water damage!'
He leans over the table, howling now. 'Oh, dearie, dearie me!'
Martina doesn't laugh, but he can see one trying to escape her face.
'I suppose you're gonna give the opal credit for that.'
'The evidence is in favour of that, yes. Just shows, though. What a rebound opal can do, when a Boswell passes on their bad luck to someone else. You don't mess with a Boswell, sweetheart. You don't mess with a Boswell.'
'Oh, well that's a shame. Because that's what I was planning on doing tonight.'
And then she's smiling – a proper, genuine smile; the first one he's seen on her in days – and she's standing up and coming round to him, and oh, God, he freezes to the spot when catches a glimpse of her, because he wasn't expecting that. She's wearing the leather skirt he bought her, the tarty leather skirt she vowed she'd never wear, but is wearing now for him, the leather skirt that she looks so stunning in, even better than in his imagination, that it blows him away, and he staggers against the table.
Joey's luck is finally changing. And, thankfully, he realises right away, the effects of the opal are well and truly gone. About time. About bloody time.
'Wouldn't be seen dead, eh, sunshine? What's brought on this sudden change of heart, then?'
'Never you mind, Mister Boswell. Never you mind. Just come here and make the most of it – because, I hope you realise, this is a one-time only offer.'
And Joey laughs again, takes her in his arms, kisses her, and marvels at how truly lucky he is.
As long as she doesn't look over his shoulder and see that her new work shirt is in the fireplace in the parlour. If he can somehow get her upstairs without her noticing that, he's home and dry.
In my HC, opals don't actually do anything, but it's one of those confirmation bias things where if something does go on, it confirms in your mind that the opal is at fault, or things happen that are psychological because you're in the mindframe that they'll happen.