Robin leaned forward slightly, the blue buff notebook held, somewhat scrunched, against her breasts, a quizzical look directed at Strike’s light smirk.
“Well, you know ….” He partially turned from his laptop, and an eyebrow flicked up to finish the sentence.
A pause expanded as each considered the other’s expectations.
“Well no, not really …” Robin began, eyes darting to the notebook but the day’s entry contained no other clues.
Strikes arm languidly swept the air above Robin’s duvet-nestled legs.
“Well, you know … accoutrements. Suspenders, stockings … and the like”
His arm hovered, and landed; a wicket glove of a hand squeezing, reassuringly, somewhere near her knee.
Robin narrowed her eyes, considering his answer, too easily obtained.
“But Love, that’s just “Men: 101 isn’t it? 'Stockings and the like' don’t really marry-up with ‘Erotically Gifted’. Underlined. Five times.”
She lifted the notebook and poked at the underscoring.
“Ah, but stockings don’t have to stay on for long. They can be ….. utilised.”
Strike trailed off, his crinkle-framed gaze directed somewhere near a far corner of Robin’s bedroom.
Robin turned her head to follow his eyes, but saw nothing but a neat pile of washing, Strike’s boxers waiting for a soapy conjugation with Robin’s smart work trousers.
* * * * * *
The notebooks had been found, by Robin, at the Denmark Street flat, in a battered cardboard box - a generic brand of salt and vinegar crisps, 60 packs – under his side of the bed next to the wall, whilst she had scrambled to find an earring back before it fell between the cracks.
She had thought all the items Strike had wanted to keep had been moved and decanted from the boxes that had caught her sleeve at least once a day on the landing. Looking at the blue buff covers she had thought they might be notebooks from S.I.B days, full of Strike’s triumphs. And she had thought Strike wouldn’t mind if she had a riffle. Pushing her hand into the densely packed pile it pulled at one of the identical books, and drawing back the stiff cover, she read on the first page, 'Dear Diary' in a large, rounded script, then closed the cover, dropped the notebook back into the box and kicked it all back under the bed, earring back forgotten.
“It’s fine Robin, have at it” Strike assured her, after Robin’s confession of Diary Tampering, hallowed ground for a girl with three brothers who thought nothing of cracking the lock on her Horse and Pony Magazine 1996 diary and reading excerpts at the dinner table.
“Aunt Joan bought me my first one, she thought it might help with all the to-ing and fro-ing, settle my thoughts and such. It’s not been an obsession, but I go back to them now and again, a couple of sentences can make ideas gain some reality, orderliness. There’s nothing in them I wouldn’t want you to read.” And he smiled and stroked the back of her hand where it rested on the topmost book.
So Robin took to picking one of the notebooks at random. Waiting for the kettle to boil, leaning back against the Formica table: whilst listening to Strike in the shower, savouring the expanse of warmth on his side of the bed: listening out for his tread on the stairs, returning from a night’s surveillance.
And he was right, there was nothing in them he wouldn’t mind her reading, as apart from a seemingly feverish week in a Summery St Mawes of 1988, where a holiday romance appeared to kick-start Strike’s habit of cramped note taking and thorough taking-down of particulars, his diary entries were brief, often coded and sometimes just a word or a line of ecphoneme and eroteme. Page after page in 1994 was given over to dates, times, map references, street names, arrows and crossings out.
But a shivery pleasure could be found as Robin marked several pages with blue sticky notes – to match the covers – and at an odd quiet moment she would turn to a page and pass it to Strike. He would peruse the date and squint at the accompanying sentence or, on two occasions, a pencil sketch, then he might huff a laugh, suck his teeth or grimace behind a hand running over his stubbled cheek.
Then would follow a tale that would never have been elicited from a clichéd question over a Sunday-bistro candle-lit dinner. Or in the back seat of a tinted-window limousine.
Robin learnt that the smeary pages of numbers throughout August 1984 were from days fishing with his Uncle Ted off the Cornish coast, recording where and how many of the silvery flash of mackerel had been caught.
One of the pencil sketches was of Lucy, playing with a plastic truck to the side of a tent pitched by a wire fence.
“Could be Greenham, maybe Norfolk. I didn’t draw it at the time, I wasn’t a child prodigy” he grinned. “Quite a while later, I think; when I had time to remember and ponder on a few things.” Robin watched the small play of emotion on his lips, then turned to the sash window overlooking the street and noted the spit of frozen rain accumulating at the edges.
“Bugger. Barclay’s going to be frozen when he gets back from following The Jog round Hampstead Heath”
“ The bastard said ‘I jog Cassandra, I jog”, well he’ll be fucking jogging on when you get those photos Mr Strike. Getting them framed for his Christmas stocking”
“Have you still got that fan-heater upstairs?” And she deftly tucked the notebook into her coat pocket then planted a squeaky smacker of a kiss on his mouth.
“Oi, office rules! Your idea!”, he called out as she slipped through the gap in the partially opened glass door to their office. Without looking she knew he was smiling, returning to peruse a selection of biscuits. They could return to Greenham, or Norfolk, at a more appropriate time, or not at all.
Later, Strike read from an entry made just before he went up to Oxford, as they sat in easy companionship, side-by-side on an upholstered Tottenham bench:
“Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus, rumoresque senum severiorum omnes unius aestimemus assis!”
He declaimed in a sonorous baritone, one hand on his chest as Robin snorted into her wine glass. Then he closed the notebook on the table and moved the hand on his chest to cup Robin’s cheek and tilted her head to look into bright eyes as he continued:
“da mi basia mille, deinde centum, dein mille altera, dein secunda centum, deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum; dein, cum milia multa fecerimus, conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus, aut ne quis malus invidere possit, cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.
Robin set down her half empty glass, seized the notebook and the hand not holding her face so tenderly.
“Grab yer coat you’ve pulled”
Strike dropped his head and shook it ruefully, chuckling …
“Every time ….”
Robin has dipped in and out of the notebooks for a few months now; she knows what she’s looking for but never, never, admits it to herself;
“Where have these been Cormoran?” she asks, sniffing a particularly dog-eared book full of Arsenal stats.
“Uncle Ted’s shed” yawns Strike, almost asleep in the sagging armchair, too tired to go to bed, happy to watch Robin, cross-legged on the floor, delving into the crisp box.
“He’s been keeping them for me for years, once I finished a book it would get added to the pile on a back shelf. I’ve never had more than one with me at any time, never kept them where I lived outside of St Mawes”
He looks at Robin, as he exits gracelessly from the chair and stretches, knowing what she’s looking for. She won’t find it. He’s never committed anything like that to paper, not counting the ecphoneme and eroteme, a few asterisked dates, maybe a mark out of ten … a long defunct mobile number … a pass code for a block of flats in Hackney … the poetry. Okay, nothing identifiable, nothing that will hurt.
* * * * * *
In Robin’s bedroom the hour is late; she has set aside the diaries and lies still and pliant.
Christ, here it comes.
He should’ve shut this down at the off, made an anodyne reply, ‘well it’s in the eye of the beholder isn’t it? Different strokes for different folks, etc’
“Am I?” and she pauses as Strike turns to her fully now, laptop slipped to the floor, and she’s lying prone, staring at the ceiling, duvet underlining her chin.
“AmIeroticallygifted?” she rushes out, eyes closed. She knows it’s not fucking stockings; I mean, come on.
Strike breathes softly, slowly and pulls at the duvet, French ticking stripes, to reveal the freckled promise of her breasts.
He’d learnt to guard some of the secrets to his desire, revealing what particular something in every woman that really gets him off is a sure fire way to dull the thrill and shift some power. When the unexpected sigh and tie of silk becomes a necessity to reach the peak, an artless bow of a back stifles into an artificial pose, a primitive sway of the hips, artful shimmying.
“You Robin Ellacott, have no need of accoutrements ...”
A kiss to the swell of her cleavage.
A swift lick and a hot breath to her nipple.
“And fol de rols.”
And he palms a breast as he looks up to her rosy-cheeked smile.
Strike continues to run fingertips around her nipples, hard now and becoming as dark rose hued as her lips, then traces a line up her neck and stops.
“Did you know that just here ...”
And he gently taps just behind Robin’s auricle where there are three tiny moles.
“When I kiss you right here ...” and he does, lifting her hair, leaning forward and placing a soft, open-mouthed kiss right there, then his tongue, then his teeth, a mere promise of a bite to the velvet skin.
Robin’s hips twitch, a judder in her pelvis that arches her back and she expels a throaty “unf”.
“When I kiss you there … when my cock is deep ...”
Kiss, lick, teeth.
“...Inside you; I feel that lovely Robin shudder in every bit of my fat, hairy, broken body.”
Robin moaned-laughed, and petted his head.
Strike pulled back to look at her.
“And quite often, at the most inconvenient times, when a breeze catches your hair away and I catch sight of those moles …. Remember last week, we sat outside Café du Coin? You turned to watch a couple and their dogs crossing …"
Robin does. “Long-haired dachshunds.”
“Fuck, I was so hard the table wobbled.”
Robin let out a hoot of laughter and pulled Strike in to her embrace, kissing and grinning.
“I couldn’t get up even after we paid the bill. And there was a queue for those outside tables”
Strike’s hand reaches to cup his balls and he mock winces.
“And I thought you were just angling for another bacon sandwich.”
Robin’s feet have kicked away the duvet now.
And there it is, a happy blush has lifted up her from her breasts to her face and the tiny moles are highlighted. Now he has another gift from her, that she does not know she’s given, and when she next tucks her hair behind her ear she’ll remember, but his secret will enhance his pleasure of her.
It’s time to start a new diary he thinks, as laughter and kisses and blushes fuel their ever evolving desire for one another, neat piles of washing and blue buff notebooks forgotten. This time he’ll eschew codes and punctuation marks and try to put down in words, to reveal to those who’ll follow them, all the ways he loves her.