Every part of Hazel that wasn’t supported by an underwire sagged visibly as she sat down at the kitchen table.
‘Well, that’s that,’ she said to the toaster in the corner, there being no one else in the house. ‘It’s just you, me and half a loaf of Mother’s Pride from now on. D’you think they’ll send me a postcard?’ She dragged on her cigarette. ‘Will they fuck.’
The toaster said nothing, which she took as being agreement. She liked talking to electrical goods; they never spoke back and interrupted a good bitching session.
Sticking the remains of her last Benson and Hedges in her mouth, she got up and flicked on the kettle. There were no mugs in the cupboard, which was no surprise to her. Vince was the only one who had ever done any washing up around here, even after he’d moved out. Bernie was forever up to his armpits in motor oil, and Alexander – well, there just weren’t enough hours in the day to wash his hair and the crockery, bless him. She picked what looked like the least dirty mug out of the sink (there was a dash of lippy on the rim, but it looked like her colour rather than Alice Band’s, so that was alright) and dropped in a tea bag.
It was as she was pouring in the hot water that she first felt she was being watched.
She turned to face the hallway. ‘Bernie? Is that you?’ That man could hear an automatic kettle come to the boil from the other side of Withington. There was no sign of him, though. Or Alexander, for that matter. Oh well, she thought, they can get their own bloody tea.
Hazel sat down again and instinctively reached for the fag packet as she stubbed out the now-dead cigarette. She’d known it was empty before she’d even picked it up, but at least it allowed her to slam it back down onto the table in a highly theatrical manner, even if nobody else was there to see her.
Except that there was. She could really feel it now. Some bastard was watching her.
She span round towards the back door. That’s when she saw him – it. Its blank, scarlet eye panel gazing in her direction.
It was Vince’s bloody robot dog.
She stared at it with The Hazel Glare. It didn’t move. She stared some more. Its impassive gaze returned hers, look for unblinking look.
‘Okay, you win,’ she said eventually. ‘But one false move and I’ll go back to your friend, the flaming toaster.’
‘Correction, mistress. Toasting device is not currently ablaze and has not been for eighty seven hours thirty two minutes eighteen sec…’
Hazel’s scream of shock dissolved into a shriek of disbelieving laughter. ‘Fuck me, it talks back.’
‘Clarification, mistress: this unit prefers designation “K9” to “it”.’
‘Yeah, well this unit prefers “Hazel” to “mistress”, thank you very much. It was a very long time ago, I needed the money and I don’t want to be reminded of it.’
She poked a finger threateningly in his direction. ‘I’m warning you…’
She paused for a while. ‘Well, I suppose if that’s the best you can do… what do you want?’
K9 trundled forward, ticker tape spewing from where its mouth ought to be. Hazel ripped it off, and read it.
`+++ HELLO HAZEL +++ HOPE YOU LIKE K9 MARK IV +++ A LITTLE SURPRISE TO KEEP YOU COMPANY +++ LOVE V AND S +++`
Hazel looked at her new companion. ‘Mark IV, eh? What happened to the first three, I wonder?’
‘K9 Mark I remained on Gallifrey with the Mistress. K9 Mark II remained in Exo Space with the Mistress. K9 Mark III resides in East London with…’
‘…the Mistress,’ concluded Hazel for him. ‘I’m beginning to get the picture. Tell you what, you can stay – only on a trial basis, mind. But the first patch of sump oil on the carpet that’s not from Bernie and you’re on your way to the robot dog psychologist to discuss your dominatrix fixation, understood?’
K9’s ears waggled in response.
Hazel turned back to the toaster. ‘Sorry mate,’ she said, patting it consolingly. ‘It looks like you’ve been usurped. Still, I know where you are when I need a quiet bit of crumpet.’