Barbara started guiltily at her boss’ voice. As Lynley raised one eyebrow at her from his office doorway, she considered the feasibility of a speedy yet nonchalant removal of herself from his desk chair and, deciding such a feat was beyond her powers, opted for a truculent stare instead.
“Not that I would ever wish to stifle your…creativity, Sergeant, but traditionally it is the person with their name on the door who gets the fancy chair.”
“Sorry, sir,” Havers deadpanned as she made way. “It’s just that it spins. I can’t resist a spinny chair.”
Flopping onto the other, non-spinning chair, she continued, “So what’s up?”
“Ah, yes, funny you should ask that, Sergeant…”
“Is it?” She stared blankly at him. “Didn’t you leave me a message asking me to come in?”
Lynley sighed heavily. “I was hoping we could perhaps exchange pleasantries first. Some people do, you know.”
“They’re probably pleasant people, Sir.”
Lynley appeared to start a riposte, then thought better of it and moved on without comment. “I think I may have an idea about how we can ascertain if Ainsworth and Bentley are, in fact, one and the same. I had a good look at the file and Bentley, it appears, has a rather striking tattoo on the inside of his left forearm. The opening of the musical score for Don Giovanni, would you believe?”
Havers stared at him incredulously. “I would not. Is this a wind-up?”
“Apparently not. So all we have to do is have a look at Ainsworth’s…”
“Yes, Sir, I think I follow the thought process.”
That earned her a sharp look before Lynley continued, “And if Ainsworth is the man we’re looking for, we don’t want to alarm him with a police visit just yet. What we need is to bump into him socially, and have a quick look. If he’s not our man, no harm done, and at least we know. If he is…”
“Then things get fun. Ok. But the bumping into him and squinting at his arm part of the plan seems dodgy to me, Sir. What are you planning to do, pop into his local and spill a drink on his sleeve?”
“Well Sergeant, this is where you get to play a starring role. You see…” Lynley was suddenly looking anywhere but at her, and the smallest of smirks seemed to be pulling at the corner of his mouth. “Tomorrow night Ainsworth is signed up for an event at the St Swithin’s Church Hall. A sort of…ah…meet-and-greet, I believe. Perhaps if you went along and managed to strike up conversation, perhaps you could, as you so eloquently put it, ‘squint at his arm.’ I’m sure that shouldn’t pose too much difficulty for someone of your imaginative capabilities.”
“Meet and greet?” Havers looked stony and her voice was dangerously quiet. In response, Lynley could only manage to sound more irritatingly breezy, ad he inwardly winced at the thought of the imminent tongue-lashing he was due for.
“Well, actually, it’s a dating event I believe. They call it…”
“Speed-dating. You’re trying to send me speed-dating! You know, Sir, there are rules about romantically entangling suspects. It’s…”
“Havers, for goodness sake, you’re not entrapping him, and we don’t even know if he is a suspect yet. Just talk to him for five minutes and see if he has a tattoo. It’s a ludicrously simple task.”
“I don’t see you volunteering! A bit out of your experience, Sir, mixing with the hoi-polloi and weirdoes? Sorry Inspector, but I’m not taking a bullet here just so you can preserve your social superiority complex.”
“I’m a man, Havers. Ainsworth’s going to find it a mite suspicious if I strike up conversation with him at a dating event, and he certainly won’t be rolling his sleeves up to show me his arms.”
“Well why on Earth would he roll them up for me? What do you expect me to do, bat my eyelashes and ask him to show me his biceps?”
“Biceps are in the upper arm, Havers. And in any case, I don’t think you’re being fair to the event. You might enjoy it. Talk to Ainsworth for a few minutes, and you can spend the rest of the night meeting eligible bachelors. It’ll be fun if you give it a chance. Silver linings abound, Sergeant…”
“I think you’re veering dangerously close to sexual harassment here. Sir.”
After a pause, Lynley sighed. “You know this wasn’t really a request, Havers. I’ll meet you afterwards to hear all about it. St Swithin’s, 8.00.”
St Swithins’s, 9.00, and Havers was rapidly running out of ideas. In her five minute chat with Ainsworth she’d valiantly regurgitated her wikipedia reading about Mozart operas to an unwaveringly blank stare, and had now had to buttonhole him in a corner of the bar afterwards as he looked about him wildly for a means of escape.
“Aren’t you boiling in here in that jumper? I’ve just been sitting here thinking, ‘I bet he’s sweltering.’ I’ve had to take my cardi off, you know, I’m sweating like a…” Oh hell, Havers thought savagely. Not that she’d contemplated actually finding a date here, damn Lynley and his smarmy suggestions, but sounding like a sweaty desperate madwoman was a low she hadn’t anticipated for the evening. And now Ainsworth was edging away. Last chance.
“Oh my god! I’m so sorry…”
“Did you just…throw your drink on me?” Ainsworth spluttered, as he – finally! – pulled off his now soaking jumper and backed away from her in a confused mix of anger and panic. No tattoo, Havers clocked resignedly.
“I…” She trailed off as he stormed out of the room, just as the smartly dressed young woman organiser hurriedly headed towards them.
“Oh dear,” the woman said disconsolately. “It is so awkward when people leave during the break. I’m one man down for the second half now.”
Havers, however was already pulling on her coat. “Don’t worry, I’ll head off too. It’s my fault, really, I did spill a drink on him.” She stopped suddenly, arm half into a sleeve. “Actually, better idea, I’ve got a friend waiting for me just around the corner, how about I give him a ring? He should fit in a treat: good-looking, rich, drives a nice car…and he was telling me just yesterday how fun he thought speed-dating would be…”