Fandom: The Richard Jury Mysteries by Martha Grimes
Characters: Melrose Plant/Diane Demorney
Disclaimer: Not mine. Non-profit organization.
Summary: Exactly what it says on the oh-so-imaginatively labeled tin. Post-The Stargazey. All canon slip-ups are due to my laziness and refusal to look stuff up.
Author Note: This is all rachkmc's fault. Originally completed and posted in April 2008.
By the time Diane knocked on his door that night, Melrose was very, very drunk. He’d started at the Jack and Hammer, then come home and worked through a good portion of his liquor cabinet. As he stumbled to the door—Ruthven and Martha long since banished to their wing for the evening—some small, lucid part of his brain was impressed he could still walk. But then, he’d never been the staggering sort of drunk.
After a moment of concentration, he remembered how the latch worked and yanked it open. Diane stood on the other side of the door, a bottle of vodka in her hand.
She lifted her eyebrows. “I brought you a little something to help you sleep, but I see you thought of that already.”
Melrose turned and moved back toward his chair by the fire. He heard the door close and then the click of Diane’s heels as she followed. He stood in front of his liquor selection and refilled his glass, then found an extra one for her. She joined him, mixing her drink while he drained his glass in one pull.
He reached for the bottle of scotch, but Diane placed her hand on top of his, stopping his movement.
“Sit down, Melrose.”
He shook her hand off and reached for the bottle. Diane caught his wrist and dug her bright red nails into his skin. He yelped and backed away from the liquor cabinet.
“What was that for?” he asked.
“Just do it.”
Hands on his shoulders, nails coming into play when he balked, she pushed him toward the sofa and then gave him a final shove to force him to sit. He watched as she stoppered up the scotch and vodka, placed them in the cabinet, and then locked it. When she pulled the key from the lock, he struggled to get up, but he didn’t make it to his feet in time to stop her from opening the front window and tossing the key out onto the lawn.
“Diane!” he protested, sticking his head out the window, looking vainly for a hint of silver in the grass. “What’d you do that for?”
“If your head’s still functioning tomorrow, you can drive yourself to Dorking Dean and rent a metal detector. But for tonight, you’ve been cut off.”
He pulled his head back inside and slammed the window shut, then turned to glare at her. She crossed her arms and glared back.
“You owe me,” she said, and Melrose suddenly felt too sober. He didn’t want to think about this. Didn’t want to think about Dana and guns and how close he’d been to dying before Diane showed up like some strange guardian angel who smelled of vodka and cigarettes.
“I thought you said—“
“I changed my mind.” She gripped him by the elbow and dragged him back to the sofa, shoving him down into it as before. “Normally I’m all for drinking to excess, but the way you’re going, you’ll undo all the effort I went to, saving your life.”
Melrose looked at the empty bottles he’d left on the cabinet and decided he’d definitely be alarmed in the morning when his brain worked again.
“Fine,” he grumbled. “What do you want?”
“I want you to go the kitchen, if you know where that is, and get yourself a very large glass of water. I want you to drink it. And then I want you to go to bed and stay there until you damn well feel like getting up. Okay?”
He stared at her. “Um, okay.”
She straightened and smoothed her hair, somehow managing to look, despite the absurdly late hour, as though she’d just gotten dressed. “Good. I’ll let myself out.”
She seemed to hesitate for a moment, something Melrose had never seen her do before, then she bent and pressed a kiss to his forehead. Without a word, she turned and walked away.
The tenderness of the gesture surprised him so much that he didn’t think to stand and go after her until he heard her heels click through the foyer. He caught up to her as she reached for the door handle.
She turned, waited until he stopped a pace from her. “What?”
He didn’t know how to answer that question, so he let the scotch speak for him. He leaned forward and kissed her.
She kissed him in return, and soon they were stumbling back down the foyer. Everything was mouths and tongues and teeth and hands, but it wasn’t until the back of his heel bumped into the bottom stair that he realized where he was dragging her like a caveman.
He pulled away. “Um—“
“Shut up, Melrose.” She kissed him again, hard, and shoved him backward so he was forced to climb the stairs in a half-drunken stagger or fall flat on his back.
Somehow they made it to the top of the stairs, and from there, it was comparatively easy to traverse the few yards to his bedroom door and then to the bed.
He stood on Diane’s doorstep, glowering at the bell. He’d managed to avoid talking to Diane—if not necessarily seeing her—for four days, but had finally decided they couldn’t just ignore what had happened the night he was almost shot.
Which was why he stood on her doorstep, determined to tell her it could never happen again.
He just needed to ring the bell.
Maybe ignoring things was the best option. Maybe he should just go back to his car, go home, and read something riveting.
Or he could ring the bloody bell and get it over with.
Diane, martini glass in hand, appeared so quickly he wondered if she was expecting someone.
“Melrose. Come in.” She abandoned the door, leaving him to close it as she clicked her way across the hall and into the sitting room. He followed, bracing himself against the assault of whiteness.
Diane, refilling her drink at the cabinet against the wall, waved him toward a crisp, uncomfortable sofa. He sat stiffly, perched on its edge as though it might dirty his suit, or his suit might dirty it.
“So are you going to talk to me now, or did you just come over to stare at me?” Diane asked.
“I wasn’t not talking to you,” Melrose protested. “I just...didn’t. But I am now. Obviously.”
“What would you like to talk about?” Diane settled at one end of the sofa, and Melrose suppressed the urge to scoot as far away from her as he could.
She sipped her drink, watched him, and the words swelled inside his throat until he couldn’t contain them any longer.
“We can’t do that again,” he blurted.
Her eyebrows lifted, just a little. “Can’t?”
“Shouldn’t.” He tried to make it sound like a definite, confident statement, but it came out more as a question.
“Because…” He stopped, because he didn’t really have a reason. He hadn’t gotten that far in his thinking, too busy with the panic and awkwardness. Neither of which seemed to be affecting Diane at all.
“That’s what I thought,” she said, standing to top off her martini. When she returned, she sat right next to him, their legs touching.
Melrose stiffened. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing.” She drank her martini, eyeing him over the rim of her glass.
“Look, this is a really bad idea.” He leaned forward, preparing to stand, but her hand on his knee stopped him.
“I’ve always been rather fond of bad ideas.”
He couldn’t be sure, later, how it started from there, but he definitely remembered how it ended.
Even Diane’s bedroom was white.
Melrose drove Diane home, the silence in the car growing more awkward every mile. On a spontaneous whim, their usual group had decided to drive to Dorking Dean for dinner instead of spending their usual evening in the Jack and Hammer. Through various switchings and arguments and machinations Melrose hadn’t been able to follow, he’d somehow ended up alone with Diane for the short drive home.
He tried not to think about what had happened the last two times he’d been alone with Diane, but that just seemed to make things worse.
Two months, he’d managed not to be alone with her—though it wasn’t hard, as they usually only saw each other in group environments, anyway. Special action had to be taken to be alone with Diane, and not taking action was always easier than the other way around. Neither one had ventured to the other’s house in an attempt to talk about things again, and Melrose had just started to relax around her. And now this had happened.
Diane fiddled with the radio, her red nails clicking through the stations and finally settling on jazz. Melrose couldn’t help looking at her in surprise.
“I like Thelonius Monk,” she said. “Great name. His unorthodox approach to the piano combines a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of silences and hesitations.”
He’d long ago gotten used to Diane’s random spouting of information. “Have you ever actually heard any of his songs?” he asked.
She lit a cigarette. “Not really. But he does have a great name.”
They didn’t speak again until he pulled up in front of her house.
“Right, here you are. Have a good night.” Melrose tapped his fingers against the steering wheel and waited for her to get out of the car.
Diane leaned forward and snuffed her cigarette in the Bentley’s ashtray. Then, instead of leaning back, collecting her purse, and opening the door, she grabbed the steering wheel and levered herself out of her seat and into his. In a smooth, practiced move, she turned, facing him, and positioned a knee on either side of his hips.
He gaped up at her. “You’re kidding.”
She reached a hand down, between him and door, and found the appropriate lever. The seat fell back with a thunk so that Melrose lay almost horizontal, Diane hovering above him.
“You’ve absolutely got to be kidding,” he said.
“Oh, come on,” Diane scolded, her fingers already working at his buttons. “Didn’t you ever do this when you were sixteen?”
“They don’t allow girls at Eton.”
“God, what a horribly dull adolescence you must have had.” She kissed him. She really was terribly good at this.
“We’re in the middle of the street!” he protested—rather feebly, admittedly, but he pretended not to notice.
Diane pulled away and sat up. “Do you want me to go?”
Melrose meant to say yes. He really did. But she moved—ever so slightly, in just such a way—and he heard himself say, “No.”
Someone rang the doorbell, and Melrose stopped reading, though he didn’t lower his book. He heard Ruthven open the door, a murmur of voices, and then the click of heels. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe. He hadn’t been able to drive his Bentley since the last time he’d heard those heels, two weeks ago.
“Miss Demorney,” Ruthven announced, standing in the drawing room entrance. Diane moved past him and walked straight to the liquor cabinet.
Melrose sighed. “Thank you, Ruthven.” His ancient butler bowed and left without making a noise, and Melrose watched Diane mix a drink, his book still held in front of him like a shield.
Drink perfected, she turned to face him. She clutched a book in her other hand. Melrose eyed her the way he imagined he’d eye a wolf if one appeared in his drawing room.
“I brought your book back,” she said. She took a pull of her drink.
She lifted it and squinted at its spine. “Robinson Crusoe.”
“I think you’re mistaken. My copy is leather bound.”
She flipped the paperback over, blinking at its cover as though she’d just noticed it in her hand. “Are you sure? I’m almost positive you lent it to me.”
“And I’m almost positive I’ve never lent you a book in my life.”
Diane took another drink of his gin, not at all disturbed by her sham of an excuse for invading his house. He set his book aside.
“I didn’t think you read books, as a rule,” he said.
“I read the first and last chapters. That generally gives one all they need in order to talk about it.”
“And you never wonder what happens in the middle?”
She shrugged. “Life, I suppose.”
He didn’t have a response for that, so he watched her finish her drink.
“We should look, shouldn’t we?” she asked. “To make sure you have your copy and that this isn’t, in fact, it?”
He knew exactly where his copy of Robinson Crusoe was. He could see it from where he sat, part of a collection of identical leather-bound classics his father had bought before Melrose was born. He’d tried to read it when he was thirteen, but given up a third of the way through, bored stiff. He hadn’t bothered to pick it back up again.
He stood. “You’re right, it could be mine. We’d better look.”
She nodded, seemingly relieved, and set her glass on a nearby table. “As many books as you’ve got, you can’t possibly keep track of them all.”
He hummed in agreement and hesitated just a second, hoping he hadn’t misjudged her intention in coming here, then said, “I keep most of my paperbacks upstairs.”
She took a step toward him, fingering the book she held, looking younger than he’d ever seen her. “Of course. I think I remember shelves.”
“There are shelves.”
“So, we should look on the shelves?”
“Yes. Let’s do that.”
He wasn’t sure who their utterly unconvincing performance was for—Ruthven, the furniture, themselves—but by the time they got upstairs, they’d both completely forgotten about their search for his nonexistent copy of Robinson Crusoe.
“We really need to stop doing this.”
“Because…well…neither one of us is – mmph – all that emotionally involved.”
“Stop being such a girl.”
“I’m not! I just think we should…reevaluate…this relationship.”
“It’s not—ah—a relationship. You just said. And this is pretty rich—ooh—coming from the man who stuck his hand up my dress a few minutes ago.”
“You were—it was—I can’t think when you’re doing that.”