Anders hadn’t eaten any strawberries since he’d been nine years old.
The heat of sunshine tickling the back of his neck, the blades of grass tickling his knees. Before him the bed of strawberry plants, each dotted red with fruits. Big, heavy, ripe strawberries, warm from the sun and each an explosion of sweet on his tongue. If they wouldn’t be picked today, they’d go to waste, and mum never did any picking. Just another one, and he’d go inside and get a bowl. Or maybe another...
“Anders! Whatcha doing, scoundrel? Where are you?”
The sweetness of the strawberries vanished. “I’m here dad...” He got up and turned around, meeting his father’s disapproving, angry glare.
“What is this?” An accusing finger pointing at the bed beside him. “What is this?”
“I was just...”
“Yeah, what? Stealing from your mother’s garden?”
“I wasn’t stealing, dad! I was just trying if they’d be ripe for picking!”
“Testing, eh? And how many did you... test?”
“Just four or five, dad...”
“And you expect me to believe that?”
“But it weren’t more, honestly!”
The slap on his face didn’t hurt nearly as much as the fact that he was accused of lying when he had spoken the truth. The sweet flavour of strawberries had gone sour and bitter in his mouth.
They had the strawberries for desert that night. A big bowl of strawberries with custard.
“Anders doesn’t get any,” his father said. “He stole his share already.”
He knew that nothing he said would sway his father. He looked at his mother, but she sighed and the bowl passed him by. Mike and Ty had most likely never enjoyed strawberries with custard so much, hmm-ing and aah-ing and ooh-ing about how sweet and delicious they were. Anders stared at his empty plate.
Anders hated strawberries.
But watching Dawn and Ty with the platter of cupcakes smelling of vanilla and custard topped with strawberries, the way they smiled and invited him to try one, it was Dawn’s birthday after all...
“They look delicious, but I’m afraid I’m allergic to strawberries.” He managed a smile.
Dawn’s face fell. “Oh Anders I’m so sorry! If I’d know that I’d have brought you something else.”
“Don’t worry.” Anders opened his mailbox and waved his left hand. “You go and enjoy them.”
“Since when are you allergic to strawberries?” Ty crossed his arms. “That’s the first time I hear about it.”
Anders stared at his screen for a few more seconds before meeting his brother’s eyes. “Strawberries isn’t usually a topic in our conversations, Ty.”
“But you used to...”
“Look.” Anders folded his hands on his desk. “The truth is, I don’t like strawberries. At all. But if I say so, people will pester me with things like: come on, just try this, it’s great, it’ll change your mind, blah blah blah, but if I tell them I’m allergic they leave me the fuck alone, okay? Sorry. I don’t like strawberries. And now off with you two for a coffee.”
His eyes were back at the screen and Dawn and Ty exchanged a more or less confused look. Ty shrugged and picked up the plate.
“See you later,” Dawn offered.
“Nah.” Anders waved absentmindedly. “It’s your birthday. Take your stuff and get out of here. See you tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Anders!” Dawn beamed and quickly gathered her jacket and bag. “See you tomorrow.”
“Oh, Dawn?” Anders looked past the screen.
“Don’t forget your flowers.” He winked and vanished behind his laptop again.
Dawn shook her head with a smile, took the enormous bouquet Anders had brought for her that morning and they left the office.
“Do you think we should come by with another cake?” Dawn adjusted her bag. “Maybe chocolate?”
Ty shrugged. “I don’t know. With Anders, he probably doesn’t like cake at all. Dope cookies maybe, but not cake.”
Dawn suppressed a snort. “I’m not going anywhere near those, ever again.”
Ty smiled as he draped an arm around her shoulder. “About that coffee...”
“Yes?” Dawn looked up with a smile, having caught Ty’s suggestive undertone.
“Since you don’t have to be back at work and I’m on leave today, how about we take that coffee at my place?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Anders swept into the office the next morning with his usual grace.
“Morning Dawn! How was your birthday party?” He picked up a few letters on her desk and leafed through them.
“Oh, it wasn’t much of a party, really. Just Ty and me and a few friends.”
Anders looked up. “But you did get a birthday screw, didn’t you?”
Dawn looked up with a sigh. Not that she hadn’t actually expected exactly that question. “That’s not really any business of yours, Anders.”
“Why?” Anders dropped the letters and walked to his desk. “You’re my employee, and I have to make sure you are happy. Good business practise, really. So, did you get a birthday screw? Because if not, I might have to take a...”
“Dawn, you hurt me.” Anders shook his head. “I meant to say I have to have a heart to heart with Ty about neglecting you. Honestly, I wouldn’t touch you with a ten foot pole... no offence... I’ve gotten in to far more trouble than it was worth when I accidentally jumped one of my brothers’ girls.”
Anders flopped down in his chair. “Anything new today?”
Dawn shook her head and looked at her note pad. “Yes, we have two possible contracts coming up, I’ve forwarded them to you. One is a company that produces carpet cleaning products and the other makes organic breakfast cereals.”
“Organic breakfast cereals.” Anders looked at the screen. “Are those the guys that name themselves ‘Earth’s Bounty’?”
“Yes, they are.”
Anders scrolled through the text. “Carpet shampoo. How many different types of carpet shampoo does anyone need?”
“Well apparently we’ve all been doing it wrong until now,” Dawn replied. “Or so it seems.”
“We could use exactly that for the campaign, you know that?” Anders grinned at her. “We’ve been doing it wrong!”
“You think that’s a good idea?”
“Nah.” He frowned back at his screen. “Probably not. Anything else?”
“Not business related. But did you read today’s paper yet?”
Dawn got up and placed the paper on his desk. “It happened again.”
The headline on page one proclaimed in big bold letters that the Auckland Fiend had struck again.
“They’ve named him?” Anders shook his head as he skimmed the article. “These idiots from the press are encouraging the guy.”
“Dawn shrugged. “Maybe. In any case, the police are now collecting in any CCTV footage they can get their hands on.”
“Send them ours.” Anders looked up, “We do have a cam, don’t we?”
“We do, but it runs through a security company.”
“Then let them know they can have ours, for what it’s worth.”
Dawn went back to her desk to make the necessary phone calls while Anders put the paper aside. The Auckland Fiend. And if that didn’t actually encourage the messed-up bastard himself it would certainly encourage copycats. Or attempts at those.
Shaking his head, Anders looked back at his screen. Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to use the God of Hunting to find the Fiend? Instead of hunting down wayward brothers using hunting down a serial rapist? Oh right, Ullr was gone. Just like all the others. No help from the gods in this case. Too bad the bastard hadn’t shown up two years ago. But the gods had fucked off and humans were on their own.
Anders didn’t like to dwell on the thought of gods.
Instead, he heaved an angry sigh and forced his mind into focus. Carpet shampoo, sponges, brushes and other cleaning gear. Keep your carpet as clean as your... as your...
Chewing on his pencil, a habit he’d never been able to shed, Anders leaned back in his chair and narrowed his eyes.
That night, the Johnson brothers met in Mike’s bar. After the renovation had been finished, he’d actually had the nerves to call the place Asgard, but the concept worked and the place was usually packed, apart from Monday nights where there was mostly family in.
When Anders arrived, only Mike and Olaf where there, however, but Michelle, Ingrid and Stacey were sitting at a table in the corner bent over a paper.
“Hey, bro, taken the night off?” Mike shoved a beer at Anders.
“Taken the night off what?”
“Fiending.” Mike exchanged a look with Olaf and both snorted.
Anders rolled his eyes. “Do I look like a six foot four guy to you?”
“No, but who knew you were so desperate to get laid that you’d try walking on stilts?”
Anders took a sip of beer. “Keep talking like that and you’ll have the police knocking on my door checking me up and then I tell them about Olaf being that tall.”
“Hey, guys, can you please not make jokes about this?” Ingrid asked mildly chastising them with a frown. “This is no laughing matter! The last poor girl died in the hospital of internal injuries!”
“Didn’t Anders always say he’s hung like a warlord?” Olaf gave Anders a wide-eyed look. “Impaling them now, are you?”
Anders couldn’t even be bothered to think of a snarky reply any more. He just took a sip of beer and leaned against the bar.
The door opened again.
“Look who’s finally showing his precious face again!” Olaf slammed his empty bottle down and hurried to meet Axl in an awkward embrace. “Cousin! Haven’t seen you in ages! And who’s that beautiful woman at your side?”
Axl smiled embarrassedly and took the girl’s hand. “That’s Sheila.”
Sheila, a small and lithe girl who looked almost tiny next to Axl, smiled up at Olaf. “Hi. How’s the view from up there?”
“Welcome to Asgard, home of the gods,” Olaf intoned with a grin, swaying only slightly.
“Olaf, you’re drunk.” Axl smiled nervously at his girl. “What would you like?”
“Oh I don’t know.” Sheila seemed more amused about Olaf's introduction that Axl. “Don’t gods in Asgard drink mead?”
“The finest,” Mike said and took one of the stone bottles from under the counter. His place had a reputation, after all. “Here, try it.”
Anders made the mistake of looking at Axl’s new girl. Because the moment Axl noticed Anders’s look he stepped into his line of sight and glared at him.
“Hey, bro.” He leaned onto the counter in a way that forced Anders to drop his head back to be able to look at him.
“Evening.” Anders saluted him with his bottle. “Congratulations, too.”
Axl continued to glare
“I’m on my best behaviour,” Anders assured him with a smirk.
Axl snorted under his breath and made sure to stand between him and Sheila for the rest of the evening.
As if he was going to make a habit out of it.