Rain batters against the windows and Finn peers through one of them, nose crinkled.
‘No use going out there,’ he sniffs. ‘It’s literally raining –’
He yelps when Liz leaps in from behind him and deposits their cat in his lap. They both stare up at her, bewildered.
‘Cats and dogs?’ she adds, innocently.
Finn groans, ready to faceplant himself into a nearby cushion. ‘Exactly how long were you waiting to do that?’
He gets no reply. Liz surveys the view outside, unimpressed. ‘I thought you of all people would be used to liquids directed in your general direction. Flying cups of coffee, water…the occasional bodily fluid…’ Over her shoulder, she throws him a look which makes him grateful that he’s sitting down.
Boudie, meanwhile, makes herself at home, purring softly. His pulse steadies and he gives her fur an affectionate ruffle.
‘You’re not so bad, are you?’ he says, without thinking and immediately regrets it.
‘You talking to the cat or me?’
‘The cat, obviously. You’re still on probation, Liz, so watch yourself,’ he warns.
She crosses the room and sits next to him. ‘Funny terms of probation, Finn, seeing that I’m in your house, currently wearing your shirt and you’ve been sharing your bed with me for…’ She leisurely counts off her fingers – her energetic, slender fingers, damn – ‘…Oh, about eight months.’
‘You’ll make such a shitty warden, among other things.’
‘I said, “shut up”.’
There’s a flash of lightning, followed by a distant, but loud rumble. Boudie starts a bit, shifting uneasily on her paws.
‘Hey, steady there,’ he says, concern edging into his voice.
‘Finn, she’s a cat, not a horse.’
‘Fine, see if you can do any –’
He’s in the middle of awkwardly transferring her into Liz’s lap when there’s another crack of thunder. Much louder and heartstoppingly close. It sends a jolt through the three of them. With an alarmed meow, Boudie bolts and makes a beeline for the kitchen.
Liz stands up. ‘Shit.’
‘I think I left the window open.’
She watches his face undergo a flurry of expressions; panicked, bemused, exasperated, before settling on scathing.
‘In the middle of a thunderstorm? What were you doing, Liz? Warbling to birds, perfecting your fucking Mary Poppins act?’
But the time for admonishments can come later, though not before she flips him the bird – an appropriate riposte, he supposes – as they both rush to the kitchen.
Their cat is nowhere to be seen.
‘This is not how I visualised spending a Saturday morning,’ notes Liz after they check in with the last of Finn’s neighbours. Unfortunately, no one has seen Boudie. His face falls.
‘How did you visualise it then?’ he enquires, after a beat.
‘I’d gladly elaborate, but since I’m feeling generous, I’ll spare you the embarrassment of getting a hard-on in public.’
She’d meant to tease him, but this only elicits a distracted, half-hearted response. After some hesitation, she takes his hand. Rubs her thumb against his knuckles in what she guesses is a soothing manner. It appears to work. When he finally raises his eyes to hers, they’re pools of unguarded, unidentifiable emotion. Her chest constricts.
‘We’ll find her,’ she assures him, after she’s caught her breath. Yet her softness does the opposite of what usually happens with other people. If, of course, Finn can be defined as “people”. He blinks rapidly, then removes his hand. Shoves it into his coat pocket for good measure. Liz is pretty sure that he’d be ready to flee into the downpour if only they had an extra umbrella.
‘We’d better,’ he grumbles. The silence which follows is weird and uncomfortable. Time to make the conversation even more so (because hey, she thrives on awkwardness).
‘Tell me, Finn, have you ever had a pet? I mean, I’m guessing you had a dog…’
‘Specifically a basset hound?’ he adds, more harshly than intended.
She flinches, involuntarily. ‘Well. Yeah.’
His lips are pressed into a thin line, but he nods nevertheless. ‘We used to. When I say, “we”, I mean my family, or rather my granddad did. It died, though.’
‘Oh. Did it…?’
‘It died of old age, if that’s what you’re asking. When I was at uni.’ He gazes out into the rain; Liz decides not to press him. Amazingly, he speaks out of his own volition. ‘You know, I never did get a chance to say goodbye.’
She shivers. ‘Don’t be so morbid. I’m sure Boudie’s hiding under a car or something.’
Which turns out to be exactly the case. As they round the corner, they spot a familiar whiskered face peeping out from beneath an equally familiar car parked outside Finn's front door. And inside the car is –
‘Finn, wait –’ cautions Liz, but no, he’s running hell for leather. She goes after him, still holding the umbrella. It’s like trying to provide rain cover for a cheetah.
The car door opens to reveal a hassled-looking Inglis, phone in hand. They skid to a messy, undignified halt; Liz’s face nearly colliding with Finn's back.
‘I’ve been trying to reach you for the past half hour – something’s cropped up –’
Finn interrupts him. ‘Excuse me, sir, but I’ve got to see to my cat.’
Apparently that flummoxes him more than the sight of his PR team, soaking wet, in an odd assortment of formal coats and sweatpants.
‘Cat? You’ve got a cat?’ Inglis catches Liz’s eye and she shrugs.
Safely extracted from her hiding spot, Boudie meows loudly in Finn’s arms, discomfited by the sudden attention. As is Finn, when overwhelming relief gives way to numbing self-awareness. His fingers fly to his neck as they stand about, staring at the cat. He looks to Liz for help.
She lets out a quiet cough. ‘We’ll be back in two minutes, Charles. If that’s okay with you?’
Inglis nods, thankful for this attempted return to normalcy.
‘I can brief you in the car on the way to Scotland Yard.’ He glances down at their apparel. ‘And please change into something else. Anything else.’