This is a bit of a departure for me, rather darker than I usually write. Some of the ages may have been stretched a little for literary license so I apologise now.

"We've had another letter from A.J." Manna twittered on as spooned another mound of peas onto Duke's plate. He paid no attention to her incessant monologue, just glared down at his thick plate. The slice of rich pie revolted him. "She's moved again, she's got a new job isn't that nice. I' wonder if she'll be home next month, I'll have to get her room ready. Don't you think we should repaint the spare room door? Do you want any more pepper with your lunch?"

Why couldn't she just shut her stupid mouth and leave him in peace. His head ached as it was and her whinging, grating voice made everything worse. What was this shit that she'd given him to eat, the smell of it made him feel sick. He'd had a rotten day. He'd woken up on the beach where he'd passed out the night before. Duke shook his head to try to clear his thoughts and chase out the drone of Manna's voice. It didn't help. All it did was bring the humiliation of the previous night into focus.

Last night he'd been to the Inn as usual, even though he hated the place. He couldn't remember how many he'd had; hell just being married to Manna was enough of a reason to get drunk never mind everything else. Karen had been in again that evening drinking steadily, over at the bar. Just a lately he'd been getting bolder, the little vixen, smiling over at him, giggling, leaning over his table. Well, tonight he'd decided to follow her down to the beach. At first she'd just laughed when he'd kissed her but when he'd put his hand up her skirt she'd screamed at him, called him a dirty old man. Then she'd kneed him hard and run away. The pain had crippled him as he sank, vomiting onto the sand and that was the last he'd known until he woke cold and wet this morning. The little cow, wasn't it what she'd wanted? Well maybe he'd teach her a lesson, just like he'd taught Leanora, Romana's daughter. She'd lead him on, hadn't she being nice to him like that, asking him up to the mansion when all he was doing was delivering wine. Then when he'd met her by the cliff she refused to let him even ride in her carriage. She'd called him a common little man, drew back from him as though he were dirt. Proud as a queen she might have been but her neck had snapped like a chicken's when he'd shook her. Then that silly husband of hers just wouldn't listen. He'd gone at him like a madman, there's no reasoning with anger like that. Still, the little wimp of a man was no match for him. Afterwards he'd put the bodies in the coach and driven it over the cliff. What a tragic accident.

"Shall we use blue paint or red? I could ask Cliff for some help. Well, he's always at the library these days, isn't he? I think he's courting that Mary, don't you think he's courting Mary? Would you like some more pie?"

Hell, would she never shut up! Her mouth just ran away, it was like verbal diarrhoea Duke swept his plate from the table with a snarl, splattering gravy, meat and potatoes across the kitchen floor. Brown streaks dripped down the cupboard doors and soaked into Manna's skirt. She looked so ridiculous standing there watching him with such terrified surprise that it stopped him for a moment. At least it had shut her up, but no, he couldn't be so lucky.

"Oh, Duke," she cried out, tears forming in her eyes, "Look what you've done, I spent all morning… how could y.."

Her voice was cut short as Duke spun round and slapped her, hard in the face. The force of his blow spun her round and knocked her off her feet. Then there was silence. Duke sat down heavily on his chair and wiped his hand.

What a marriage! How had it come to this, how had come to marry such a lazy cow as Manna. Look at her lying there! She'd gone to seed so fast, when had the luscious, young woman he'd married turned into a middle aged nag. As a young man they'd all wanted him, he could have had any woman he picked. There was no man to match him for looks or charm anywhere in the area. They all flirted with him, Sasha, Lillia, Ana, Vesta even Marie, Doug's late wife and out of all of them he'd chosen Manna! Back then she'd had a marvellous figure and an easy nature and then she'd got pregnant. He'd married her, he'd done the right thing, he'd actually been happy to and his life had gone downhill ever since.

The pregnancy had been uneventful and they'd had a boy, they'd called him Jennan. He'd hated that kid right from the start. Manna had gone off him while she was carrying; no it might hurt the baby. The only time he got to see those wonderful breasts after the birth was when the little glutton was fastened to one of them. The brat seemed to feed all day long. Manna never had any time for him now. Well he put a stop to that. She'd cried for weeks after they'd found his stiff little body that morning. Still, they said he'd always been a sickly babe. Manna had clung to him and, for once he'd felt really bad about it. She'd soon got pregnant again and had their daughter, A.J. so he supposed it was O.K. Manna had never been as fond of the girl as she had been of Jennan so that was alright too.

It began to dawn on Duke that the silence had gone on too long and he went over to where Manna lay, over by the old fashioned stove.

"Get up woman," he said, poking her with his foot. She didn't move, didn't even groan. " Oh, come on Manna, you know I didn't mean it. Ok so I'm sorry, you know I love you. Come on, get up, stop playing, this isn't funny anymore."

Still there was no answer, so he bent down and turned her over. Straight away it was obvious she was dead. Her head lolled oddly to one side, her right temple, crushed and bruised from its contact with the corner of the stove. Duke's face drained a greenish white and his heart dropped with fear. Nothing sobers a man up as effectively as fear. My god, what did he do now! He hadn't meant to hurt her. Nervously wiping his hands Duke backed away from the body and collapsed into a chair. He needed time to think. He couldn't let anyone find things like this. Coming to decision he went out into the yard and down to the cellar, carefully making sure that no one was around. Once down in the cellar he moved several empty crates to the foot of the steep stairs. Once he was satisfied went returned to the house and changed into some old overalls. Now for the tricky part! He lifted his wife's lifeless body and took her to the cellar steps. He then threw her down them, wincing as her head hit the crates with a sickening crunch. As he stood there on the top step, with the door firmly secured behind him he couldn't help remembering the last time.

When A.J. was a young girl their fortunes had taken a turn for the worse. He made some unfortunate investments and things looked bad. He'd gone to beg his friend, Doug to help him, with a loan. They had plenty of money. Doug was away for the day and Marie had seen him instead. Haughty Marie, Marie with all that money. She'd had so much and they had so little, why did she have to refuse him?. How could she be so greedy? He hadn't meant to push her. If she hadn't caught her heel in the hem of her skirt it wouldn't have happened. Her fall just went on and on. He'd run away and hid and then he'd been there to commiserate Doug and taken a job in the bar to help him.

Yes, that's what was missing. He hurried down the steps, tore the hem of manna's skirt and snapped off the heel of her shoe. He left her there and went back to the house to clear up. As he mopped he began to plan, yes, he'd send Cliff down the cellar later in the evening, let Cliff find her. As for him, he'd clear all this away and then spend the afternoon in the bar. He was alone now. A.J. had left them six years before, disgusted at both of them, vowing never to return. A.J. knew too much about him it was a good job he'd made sure she'd stay away. Even as a little girl she'd been jealous, jealous of any time he spent with anyone else. She'd even been jealous of the time he'd given to Manna and when someone else came along he couldn't let her jealousy interfere with that now, could he. Not his chance at real happiness. Funny, now Manna was dead he could stop writing those damn silly letters.

After Marie he'd changed, he'd been faithful to Manna. He'd tried to make a go of their marriage. He'd trapped all those feelings inside and he'd been a good husband. Their vineyard had thrived, wounds had healed and he'd become a pillar of the community. To his friends and neighbours he was good old Duke. It was boring from time to time but he'd managed. Then he had met Joanna. She couldn't have been more than sixteen when he first became aware of her. Up till then she'd just been the daughter of that daft old guy at the ranch, just one of the crowd of kids underfoot all the time. Then suddenly she was everywhere. He couldn't turn around without finding her there. She made every excuse to come to the house. At first he was sure it was just the arid years that made him imagine she was coming on to him, a middle aged man's fantasy. There was no mistaking her intentions when she caught hi alone in the house that day. She'd sidled in as soon as she knew Manna was away, climbed onto his knee and kissed him in a way no innocent young girl should. When she slipped her hand down the front of his trousers her intentions were plain.

Joanna was more than a match for him. The girl was sex on legs, anywhere, anytime. She revelled in every encounter. There was nothing that he had ever dreamt of doing that she wouldn't do. Duke's life was heaven – he couldn't get enough of her. Duke's life was hell – fear of discovery followed him every hour. Joanna took such risks; it scared him but not enough to make him stop. He was having dangerous sex with a girl younger than his daughter and he didn't care.

When she became pregnant with May he was terrified but Joanna never said a word. She wouldn't tell anyone who the father was and he gradually realised she wasn't going to. No one even suspected him. Unlike Manna, pregnancy didn't change her, she was wonderful. Even at the height of her pregnancy, over eight months, she was still sneaking out at night to meet him on the beach.

After the birth she was till his but something was different. It wasn't the child. She never cared for her. That was when A.J. caught them in the cellar one afternoon. His daughter had screamed at him, lashing out with nails and feet. Duke had held her off while Joanna dressed. Joanna had merely laughed at the distraught girl, nothing bothered her. Between them they'd convinced A.J. that Manna knew about their affair, that she'd even encouraged them. The following day A.J. was gone.

Five weeks went by before he dared meet Joanna again. He went to the beach to meet her only to find that she was not alone. The big blond man she was having sex with undercover of the boathouse was no one he knew but he took flight as soon as he saw Duke. He'd demanded to know what was going on but Joanna had just shrugged and told him she was leaving. Duke had tried to plead with her, told her he loved her but Joanna wasn't interested. In vain he'd protested, what about May?

She'd never wanted the brat in the first place, she'd be better off with the old man. As for Duke, well he was great but he was a bit old and she didn't want to stay. She'd even seemed to welcome him one last time but he'd been so angry with her he didn't stop to think. She'd always liked it rough so he'd never noticed she was suffocating until it was too late. Everyone thought she had left with Mr. Viking as she stated in her letter so he just towed her body out to sea and dumped it.

That was that then, back to Manna and the living boredom of his life. He made sure May got presents and cards each year and the old man received money anonymously; she was his daughter, after all. Joanna left such a void in his life, he really had loved her. Damn just the thought of her was enough; it was just as well the overall was going in the furnace. Later, as he pushed the last of the towels and the overalls onto the flames and watched them burn he steadied himself for what was to come. After they found Manna there would be the usual formalities. That fool Harris would be round but there was nothing to fear there. He couldn't find a leak in a bucket. It was almost as if he had made a pact with the devil, he never got caught, no matter what he did. It wasn't as though it was his fault, they made him do it. He never meant to do it; they just left him no choice. He wasn't responsible, why should he pay. Yes, when this was all over he'd start again; start a new life, with nothing to drag him down. He was still in his prime, he was still a catch. He'd go over to the Valley; he hadn't been there for years. That was where that little barmaid, Muffy worked. Now there was a good-looking girl. He was a widower, she was thirty and single. Who knew where it could go.