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A mid (summer) life crisis

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There were all sorts of PI’s in the world; those who overcharged and did nothing, those whose work experience was impressive but they had ruined their wits with a pint too many, those who had very little experience and a tad too much enthusiasm – there were the ex-coppers and soldiers, and of course the pimple-faced teens hiding in basements, basing their knowledge on YouTube videos and discussion boards.

And then there was Mackenzie Boyd.

It took Robert approximately thirty seconds to figure out he was an impolite, self-satisfied tosser whose prattle was lacking all sorts of finesse, strutting about in his chequered shirt and shaggy black hair so unapologetically it gave the impression he actually thought he was all that.

But he was also ruthless, resourceful, and didn’t shy away from using dodgy ways, which meant he just might get things going properly in the quest of finding Andy.

Mackenzie Boyd was also an incurable flirt - and unfortunately it turned out that Robert wasn’t the only one who had his sights set on Aaron Dingle.

Robert was sat on an uncomfortable plastic chair at Adam Barton’s scrapyard, chatting with Adam – and Aaron, who had very conveniently appeared to the scene.

Coincidentally, not as a result of Robert spying on his sister and working out when he’d be there because of course he hadn’t done such a thing.

Mackenzie was drinking his coffee and smirking away, leaning against the portacabin.

“You do know that smiling hasn’t been illegal for a good while now, right?” he asked with his groovy Scottish accent, giving Aaron a blatant once-over.

Zero points for imaginative flirtation there, mate..

Robert clenched his jaw as he watched Aaron give the PI's words a smug scowl.

Yeah, it was a scowl - but it was the sort of scowl that could potentially lead up to all things naked -after all, Robert knew exactly how that could happen with Aaron, and the thought of the bloke he was pursuing having it off with his new PI was infuriating to say the least.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” he asked, giving Mackenzie a scowl of his own, one that indicated towards all things murderous.

Mackenzie shrugged, tapping at his cup with a dauntingly slow motion.

“I always have somewhere to be, and right now this is that place,” he said with infuriating nonchalance, his brown eyes full of arrogance and something that looked a lot like a pick-and-mix of trouble, “you see, this is a coffee cup, and I’m taking what they call a break.”

“I break from what?” Robert scoffed, “clearly not a break from being an inefficient prat.”

“You really need to relax, Robert, life is not all that serious.”

If he wasn’t someone who -according to his CV of the dodgy nature -  could get results, this would’ve been the go-signal for Robert to throw a punch. Not an actual punch because Robert didn’t do that, but rather to verbally crucify him. In the past, it might also have been the signal to push the prat down on a bed just to shut him up, but that wasn’t a thing for him anymore. He wasn’t one to make New Year’s resolutions or anything else that involved self-delusion through drunken promises, but if he had decided on anything it was to not shag people who were there for an entirely different purpose, and fucking someone just to get them talking or stopping them from doing so just seemed a tad tiring now.

And seriously, he had standards, no matter how intently Mackenzie was able to give people the slightly psychotic puppy-eyes.

“I’m sure you don’t take anything seriously, not even the money there’s to be made,” Robert stated calmly, knowing this could drive the Lingering Lothario elsewhere.

And sure enough, it did.

“Well, I should be off as the big man here seems to have his knickers in a twist. Nice to see you Aaron,” Mackenzie said shamelessly, “next time try not to gob so much, I could hardly get a word in.”

Aaron rolled his eyes, huffing.

Mackenzie winked at him and threw a careless “see ya” in Robert’s general direction before he went about his way.

Robert stared after him, seething.

“What a pillock,” Aaron said matter of factly, tossing pebbles at the barrel in front of them.

“Yeah, he’s a proper wanker,” Adam confirmed, “I know he’s me mum’s brother, but I don’t know what he was doing here in the first place.

“That seems to be the theme nowadays, brothers who are wankers,” Aaron stated calmly, leaving no doubt as to whom he was referring to.

Robert scoffed.

Adam looked between them with a frown, directing his words at Robert.

“Why are you here, since when is this a public café?”

“Since I put a chunk of money in your pocket,” Robert said firmly, “and he works for me too, as it happens.”

Adam stared at him with his eyes narrowed.

“I don’t work for you, mate. I work for myself, and you’re not the only investor here.”

Aaron looked way too happy at that.

“Are you going to show me the figures, or is that too much trouble?” Robert asked, attempting and failing to stare Adam down – he was just as unfazed about things as Aaron.

Adam held his hand out towards the portacabin.

“The files are on the table, knock yourself out.”

“You sure they’re heavy enough for that?” Aaron asked with a smirk.

Robert rolled his eyes and entered the little block of metal, his mind already cooking up plans.

As he sat down at the desk and picked up the folders, he glanced outside; Aaron stood there in the sunlight, looking like a snack in his moss-green tee and black shorts, cackling at some ridiculous remark Adam had made.

Flippin’ Adam Barton.

Competition was everywhere, it seemed.

Robert pursed his lips in dismay, itching to eliminate his opponents.

He turned his eyes towards the papers, deciding to make damn sure that Adam Barton wasn’t squandering his money in addition to stealing Aaron’s attention.

 

After Robert had done a thorough job at interrupting Adam’s chatter with Aaron with the extremely legitimate excuse of paperwork, they all headed to the village for lunch.

Robert felt himself tightening into familiar knots and wires as they entered the pub; he hated the entire village and especially that pub, that’s why he only visited it when he had to and otherwise kept his life right where it belonged, safely tucked into the city of Leeds like it had been for the past eight years.

Going to the Woolpack just to stay in Aaron’s proximity was beginning to seem like a stupid idea, not least because he wasn’t getting anywhere with the sulky dreamboat.

Yet.

As they arrived at the bar, Vic appeared from the backroom, looking alarmingly smug.

“Are you winding people up again, Vic? You don’t work here anymore,” Robert quipped.

Vic gave him a hug to go with her affectionate eyeroll.

“Did you just come here to be a pest? Nothing new there then," she laughed, waving a spatula about like she'd just eliminated some prey.

With all probability she had done just that.

“ I’m here on an official capacity, as it happens," Robert said smugly.

He wasn’t sure, but it seemed like he heard Aaron snort at that.

Vic turned her eyes towards Adam who held out his hand.

“I’m Adam. You must be Vic.”

Wow, such observational skills.

Vic smiled as they shook hands.

“Nice to finally meet ya. Sorry, I’ve got to rush back, I haven’t made the chef’s life difficult enough just yet.”

Adam laughed.

“I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”

Vic nodded with a grin and disappeared again, leaving them standing there like schoolboys forced to work on a project together.

They took their pints and sat down - Robert had decided that since no-one had invited him but hadn’t told him to get lost either, this is exactly where he would park his arse; right next to another, very decent sort of arse.

His phone pinged; upon opening the message box, Robert saw a text from Mackenzie.

Got a lead, sunshine. Will give you a ring at my earliest convenience.

Robert couldn’t let himself be impressed just yet because he was still disgruntled over his PI’s heart eyes – or arse-eyes, more like – towards Aaron, and the way he had written earliest convenience clearly meant that Mackenzie’s current convenience consisted of leaning against some other portacabin, drinking coffee extremely slowly and irritating absolutely everyone on the planet.

Either way, it was a result; Robert would just have to grit his teeth and accept it, even if having to deal with Mackenzie as well as the prospect of finding his boring brother were nothing if not daunting.

Luckily for now he could concentrate on Aaron and the information he had on the bloke - Robert had become increasingly frustrated over everyone sharing some dodgy secrets whilst he had been just floating about in the dark.

If there was something he hated, it was not knowing everything and everyone.

Well, that had changed soon enough because Robert Sugden didn’t do cluelessness.

So far he had managed to find out that Aaron had lived in Alberta for two years, and upon his return had moved to Hotten and was sharing a flat with another single parent there. According to Vic they weren’t an item as the other bloke was straight, which had made Robert very happy. Aaron had become Turner’s sole custodian after the boy’s mum had split, and for that Robert was nothing but sorry.

Growing up without a mum was something he wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Speaking of mums, finding out Aaron was Chastity Dingle’s son wasn’t all that great; that woman with her ear-splitting nasal drawl and judgmental presence was simply exhausting. He hadn’t had to deal with her on many occasions in the past, but now that she ran the pub with Robert’s stepmother it was all a tad too much, not to mention it meant here was yet another annoying person who, without a doubt, had some proper crappy opinions about Robert.

Especially since Chas apparently was mates with Chrissie of all people.

Contrary to her previous declaration about not gossiping, Vic had divulged the information after Robert had taken her to a posh restaurant and let her drink copiously some impressively expensive rosé – granted he had used the pretence of wanting to know things about Aaron’s life because of him being around Seb, but in the end Vic had been rather eager to discuss it all, even if the details had still been a bit vague.

It was the sort of gossip her conscience could handle, but none of it would’ve happened if Vic had clocked that Aaron had taken a massive dislike to Robert’s general existence.

Robert was a tad worried about Vic’s antennas being offline; usually she noticed absolutely everything, often noticing things about her brother that said brother hadn’t even come to realise himself.

Then again being married to that sad excuse for a living creature must’ve taken its toll on her.

Terryble had been away for a week, visiting his parents in Kent.

Robert felt sorry for Kent, but he’d been more than happy on behalf of himself – even if the conversation now was still revolving around the gruesome gremlin who kept feeding himself after midnight.

“We should invite Terry for a night out when he gets back,” Adam said like the idea was somehow even remotely pleasant, “make a proper shindig of it.”

Aaron was nodding so eagerly Robert was this close to begin questioning his attraction.

“Vic would be pleased. How about tonight?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Yeah, a really bad one.

Robert decided to put an end to that subject and cleared his throat.

“So, Adam. You were in Wales for a while, how was it?” he asked, because he could be seemingly as jovial as the next bloke.

Adam looked at him, genuinely puzzled for the question. He had puppy eyes just like Mackenzie, but there was none of that potentially horrendous darkness floating about in Adam’s blinkers, he seemed startlingly sincere.

A bit too sincere.

If Robert found anything monumentally alarming, it was people who seemed genuine.

“It was good,” Adam said, sipping his pint, “I was there for a couple of years, ran two scrapyards. After my family moved out here, I wanted to be closer to them. Buying a third yard in this area seemed like a good idea.”

He paused, adding then a tad smugly; “And as you saw in the books today, it was.”

Robert nodded.

“It was. You’ve done well.”

It was irritating to admit, but Adam was indeed doing well and since it put some cash into Robert’s pocket too, he wasn’t one to complain.

Well, not about that.

Adam’s obviously close relationship with Aaron was a whole other thing.

Robert was about to casually sidetrack into that topic, but Mackenzie chose that particular moment to enter because he was just that good at being a pest.

He stood by the bar, gesturing at Robert.

Robert excused himself and walked over to the PI who had astoundingly become even smugger during his brief absence from Robert’s periphery.

“Well?” he asked impatiently.

Mackenzie tutted.

“No drink first? I’m not a cheap date, Robert.”

“First of all, you’d definitely be a cheap date, but since this is anything but a date, it’ll be less than cheap, it’s zilch. Get your own pint, I pay you enough as it is.”

Mackenzie gasped in mock offence.

Robert let him do his theatre performance from the half-off bin of the art world, waiting until the Pesty PI had a drink in his hand.

“There’s a woman,” Mackenzie said, pausing for a sip and the dramatics as an idiot of his kind would, “a woman who knew Farmboy rather well.”

He handed over a piece of paper.

“Here’s her number.”

Robert took it, slipping it into his pocket.

“How did you find her?” he asked, genuinely curious now.

Mackenzie shrugged.

“A gentleman never stalks and tells.”

“Good thing you’re not a gentleman then,” Robert sighed.

Mackenzie chuckled, enjoying the attention a bit too much and then leaned closer, using a stage whisper now because he was just that much of a yawn.

“I set up a dating profile for Andy. Farmboy seeks country girl to share cuddles in cow muck and all that.”

Robert couldn’t stop himself from sniggering.

“And?”

“Got seven replies since last Thursday.”

Unlike Mack's pick-up lines, the lies the PI had put into the project were undoubtedly imaginative; Andy being himself wouldn’t get such a swarm in a year, let alone in six days.

“This one,” Mack said, pointing at his phone all smug like he could make women pop out by sheer force, “this one nearly charged through the line last night. All sorts of profanities and un-ladylike wordings three messages worth’ later, I contacted her and told her the truth. Well, the gist of it. She’s not seen Brother Dearest in two years, and judging by the things she told me, it's been a very grumpy two years.”

Robert couldn’t relate, as to him it’d been nothing but bliss for the three years Andy had been out of his life.

“So what’s her problem with him?”

“Says she’s the mother of his children, and potty-prince Andrew had done one when she was preggers the second time.”

Robert almost felt envious now; despite having legged it with a kid on the way like a proper twat, Andy’s life was indeed beginning to seem overall much more eventful than his - and that was as unacceptable as his previous PI’s corduroy suits.

Robert downed his drink and took a deep breath, just to get his head around the news. After he’d given Mackenzie a reluctant thank you with gritted teeth over the fact that he hadn’t thought of such an obvious bait himself, Robert stepped outside and dialled the first number his PI had given him.

He could’ve started with the vaguer lead but this particular person seemed to have more nasty things to say about Andy, and Robert was definitely in the mood for some bashing.

The woman picked up.

“What?” the voice spat out, breathlessly lacking cordiality.

“Hi, this is Robert Sugden. You spoke to Mackenzie earlier, he told me you’re looking for Andy.”

The woman – Jules – had a voice that was hostile to say the least.

“Yeah, I am looking for him, not that he deserves it. After it’s been crickets for two years since he walked out on me and then seeing his face on a dating app...well, let's just say it was an unpleasant surprise.”

“Andy’s been an unpleasant surprise since his conception. Have you had any leads on his whereabouts since the disappearing act?”

She sighed.

“Just a couple of dead ends. Apparently it’s been longer for you.”

“Not long enough," Robert replied sincerely.

Jules laughed bitterly.

“I can imagine, Andy being the prat that he is.”

Robert chuckled; he liked her already.

“Did you report him missing?” he asked.

“No. He messaged me once, telling he was sorry - probably to stop me from looking through the police, and it's not illegal to be a two-faced prat, is it? After speaking to Mackenzie today I learned that just about everything Andy told me was fake, starting with his name which he claimed to be Brian Moore."

Brian Moore? Yeah, that suits him just fine.

Jules paused.

“So you’re his brother,” she said eventually, “he never mentioned having a brother. He said he had one sister, that was probably a lie too."

Yeah, that sounds about right.

“We do have a sister, and she’s the only reason I’m even trying to find him.”

“I wouldn’t do this either if it weren’t for the kids. I have one two-year-old and a fifteen-year-old.”

Robert was flabbergasted to say the least.

Fifteen?”

“Yeah. This isn’t the first time he’s disappeared on me, although the earlier thing was just a one-night stand in our teens and there was no exchanging numbers or anything like that. Then we bumped into one another years later, both trollied at a pub. There was a repeat of the mistake of youth and boom, another pregnancy. If I hadn’t been just as stupid about it, I’d blame him for everything.”

“Blame him anyway, no-one would judge you,” Robert said easily.

Jules laughed, less bitter and more pleased now.

“Will do. So, the second time round he was all about playing the doting dad, but that lasted about five months. Right after our firstborn had began to grow attached to him, he found it acceptable to just do one.”

Robert was itching to put the call on pause and text everyone, just to tell them how much of a tosser Andy was turning out to be. 

“Well, he has a habit of being a disappointment. Where did you bump into him the second time?” Robert asked.

“In East London. Apparently he'd been in Ireland before that. Listen, can we meet up? I’ll be in Leeds next week. I’ll email you the rest of the pathetic story, but I reckon we should talk through the details face to face anyway.”

“I agree. And don’t you worry, Jules, we’ll find him and rip him into nice little shreds,” Robert said matter of factly.

“That sounds great. Talk to you soon.”

After they’d hung up, Robert allowed himself a nice moment of very heartfelt gloating.

He was definitely keen on finding Andy, not least because the things he knew about the pillock now were nothing if not a source of happiness.

How the idiot had managed to slip out of Dublin without a trace was a mystery, one Robert was now adamant to crack.

It was a high, building this puzzle.

Wanting to keep the buzz going, Robert dialled the next number.

“Hello?” a high-pitched voice answered, sounding rich and bored like Chrissie did when she was feeling particularly arrogant and fancy.

“This is Robert Sugden, Mackenzie gave me your number.”

There was nothing but silence on the line.

Robert coughed.

“You there?”

“Yes. Hello, Robert.”

Damn, that was icy.

Yet another woman scorned by his knob of a bro who seemed to have literally used his knob to become such, as unbelievable as it seemed.

“So, what is your deal?” Robert asked, "what's Andy done to you?"

He heard a scoff, nothing more.

“Is this a bad time?” Robert pressed.

He was not in the mood for riddles, he was anxious to get back to solving the puzzle and the gloating that follows.

He could hear the phone lines turning into icicles as Princess Frozen Sterling spoke.

“Why would it not be a bad time to talk to you, Robert? It’s not as if though this is a pleasant conversation.”

Robert felt more confused than annoyed now, and that annoyed him.

The vicious cycle of dealing with prats.

“Sorry, do I know you?” he asked.

Miss Minus Hundred Degrees scoffed again.

“You really don’t remember me, do you? Why am I not surprised?"

Robert sighed internally.

Someone’s pissed off because I forgot about them, if I had a nickel.

“I don’t”, he said honestly, “I'm sorry, but I don’t recognise your voice. How’s about you remind me.”

“I was with Andy for quite a while. You of all people should remember."

With him, as in a roll in the hay or milking cows together, picking out wellies? Secretly engaged? Another baby he left? Narrow it down, lady.

“Yeah, that doesn’t ring a bell, sorry. I’m sure I’ll remember if you tell me all about it.”

Robert did not really want to hear all about it from the memoirs of an ice queen, but this is where his life was at now; listening to people he’d forgotten talk about people he’d prefer to forget.

“Look,” he said as patiently as he could, “I get that it’s trendy to be weird and mysterious these days but I’d rather just discuss the matter, or at least to have a name here. I reckon that might jog my memory a tad faster, miss….?”

Robert heard an inhuman, seething growl at that, like he’d awaken a thoroughly venomous beast from the past.

And sure enough, he had.

“This is Katie Addyman, Robert,” the beast barked, “I’ll talk to your PI from now on, you can delete this number five minutes ago.”

With that, she hung up.

Robert simply stood there and stared at his phone.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

 

Upon going back inside and getting another drink, he found Vic sitting with Aaron and Adam, having a pint - which was very unlike her, drinking at lunchtime, but Robert wasn’t fazed about it right this minute because it seemed he couldn’t expect his siblings to be themselves at this point.

“Terry’s on his way,” Vic said as she put away her phone, slipping another cloud on Robert’s short-lived blue-sky gloat parade, “we could meet up with him soon.”

Or we could not.

Robert looked at his sister, feeling an unwelcome twinge of worry.

He knew what the truth about Andy would do to her, and that was why he decided to keep the information to himself as long as he could.

Possibly forever if the muppet wouldn’t be found.

Talking to the girl who had bounced between Robert and Andy for a while and in the end, chosen a third one – some older rich bloke – it wasn’t pleasant, it was just frustrating.

Robert thought he had loved her but he hadn’t, not really; he just wanted to get one over Andy by shagging her behind his back a few times when they’d been teenagers - but as it turns out, the sugar daddy had one over both of them. Katie had left and was never to be seen again; Andy had stayed at the family farm for a few years, gone through a failed marriage with a girl named Jo and then moved to Leeds – not far from either his brother’s flat or Vic's restaurant, much to Robert’s dismay.

And now the tiring reminders of their youth had come around like the infamous bad penny - in the form of Katie of all people.

Robert couldn’t possibly imagine the reason why she was looking for Andy after all that time - and he wasn’t keen on her being part of the equation, so he texted Mackenzie and told him to squeeze every possibly drop of knowledge out of her - but to absolutely not divulge any new information back to her at this point.

Whatever you say big man, was the PI’s reply.

Robert rolled his eyes internally.

As Aaron had so accurately said, what a pillock.

Robert glanced at Aaron, seeing the fire simmer in his eyes.

Damn, he’s hot when he’s mean.

“Why don’t we go back to mine,” currently not mean but equally hot Aaron suggested, “me mum's got Turner for the night, and Terry can join us when he arrives."

Vic nodded eagerly.

What is it with these people and their enthusiasm with that prat? A mass psychosis clearly isn’t out of the question.

“I’ll just go home and change first, I look a mess,” Vic said, smoothing down her static hair.

Aaron scoffed.

“Don’t be daft, Vic, there’s no need for that.”

“Aaron’s right, you look great,” Adam piped in.

Vic smiled at him and then looked down at her hands, suddenly seeming all shy.

His phone was burning a hole in his pocket as he really needed to read the material Jules would send, hence Robert excused himself and left the others to plan their shindig with the appalling man-child - whom Robert had already considered getting rid of with a little help from his annoying yet efficient PI.

As he stood in the backroom after briefly greeting Diane, about to type up a message to Mackenzie, he heard a grunt from the doorstep.

He looked up.

Aaron was scowling at him, quelle surprise.

Granted it was a sexy scowl, if he was being honest.

“What?” Robert asked with a tad forced nonchalance, waving his phone in his hand, “I’ve got things to do here so if you don’t mind..”

Aaron shrugged.

Even his shrugs are gorgeous.

“Vic asked me to find you, see if you fancy joining us.”

God, his eyes are so blue.

“Well?”

Yeah, very well, now that I can look at you.

Robert stopped himself from falling into the memory/fantasy stupor once again and cleared his throat.

“I’ll be out in a minute, I just need to take care of something.”

Aaron gave him a tiny nod.

“Right then.”

It’s not like Robert was deliberately staring at him; his eyes just happened to go in that direction.

Aaron was hesitating, like he was about to say something but he stayed silent.

Robert now realized what he was wearing and smirked.

“Nice hoodie,” he said casually, pointing at the purple garment Aaron was wearing, “looks good on ya.”

Robert had found it in his closet and given it to Vic, telling her she could pass it on to someone.

“Maybe you could give it to Aaron if you come to the conclusion it would fit him.”

Aaron scoffed and crossed his arms, saying nothing.

It looked like a dare, as if he was telling Robert that the next time he spoke there’d be consequences.

“I knew Vic would find it a good home,” Robert said calmly, drinking in the beautiful sight of the man, “she sure did.”

The look on Aaron’s face told that he now knew exactly where it had come from.

“Shut up,” the blue-eyed dreamboat grumbled, looking away, yet failing to hide a tiny smile.

Robert smirked.

“I was just complimenting you, Aaron."

“Well, don’t.“

Aaron's eyes went back to Icicle Land, possibly sponsored by Katie.

He held his hand towards the door.

“You coming or what?” he asked reluctantly, shifting on his feet.

Robert felt his smile widen as he tilted his head.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re keen on spending time with me, Aaron.”

Aaron huffed.

“Good thing you know better, innit?”

Robert didn’t stop smiling at him, because why would he.

“I’ll be there in a sec.”

“’Kay.”

Aaron turned and went about his way, Robert again accidentally staring after him.

He was more than astounded over Aaron talking to him almost as if though he were…well, an actual human being.

Then again, this seemed to be the day to reset his knowledge over everyone so Robert might just go with it.

After writing to Jules  with a suggestion for their meet-up the following week, Robert pocketed his phone and walked out the door, a buzz coursing through him as he saw Aaron standing there, still very much being his sexy self.

It was rather unfortunate that Terryble had to appear right then, but what else was new in Robert’s world.

The ghastly gobshite gave Vic a kiss on the cheek, greeted Adam and then turned towards Aaron.

“Great hoodie, Aaron,” he said enthusiastically, “suits ya.”

“Yeah, it does,” Robert stated casually, granting a very quick and seemingly harmless once-over.

Terryble said nothing and neither did Aaron, but it looked like the latter was fighting a tiny smile again before he stuck his hands in his pockets and cocked his head towards Terryble’s car.

“Shall we?”

Then he glanced at Robert; for a brief moment their eyes locked, and this time Robert couldn’t stop himself from melting into it, even if Aaron went back to scowling soon enough.