David props his feet up on the edge of her chair and leans back, using it as a brace so that he can rock his own chair up onto the two back legs. He looks like some sort of modern sculpture, all knotted twigs and jagged metal corset stays wound around with fraying yarn and shabby khaki. All he needs is a plaque with a pretentious title and she could sell him for ten million quid.
"So who d'you think it is, then?" he asks. "Mister or Ms Murderer."
"Hmm," Collie says, temporizing. It isn't that she didn't know she'd have to pretend ignorance, but it hadn't quite clicked that she would also have to actively pretend to speculate. Best to go on the offensive. "I vote it's you."
"Me?" David says. "Why me?" He rocks backwards a little further in his chair.
Collie's eyes are drawn to the way even the feet of the back chair legs were tipping up. She looks away quickly, hiding a smile. "Only a murderer sits like that," she says.
"Twisted," she says archly. "Resentful of the rules of society."
"I beg your par—" David begins, but as he sits up to jab a finger at her the chair slides out from under him and it's only Collie's quick grab at his arm that keeps him from landing flat on his arse.
"I take it back," she says. "It's the chair that's the murderer. It's obviously trying to kill you."
"That's right," says David, using her as leverage to get all four legs of the chair back on the floor. "Not my fault. It's a danger to everyone."
"I'd better take it into custody.” Collie slips into her best hard boiled detective voice. “As a police officer, it's my duty to see that it's put away for a good long time."
"That's ri— wait a minute!"
"I'm afraid you'll have to do without its support," Collie says, giving him her widest, most sincere eyes. "You'll just have to stand on your own two feet."
David makes a rude noise. "I'll stand on your feet."
"You you put those feet on my chair and look what happened," she says triumphantly, and he can hardly argue with that.
She knocks on his trailer door. There’s a pause before he answers, but he does answer, in the end, cracking open the door. It’s the best and the worst of him, the way he's always willing to open his door.
“Just me,” she says, raising her hands on a gesture of peace.” Thought you might need a check in.”
She's using his words now ("Everyone needs a check in sometimes," he'd said, which was well true) and they seem to break through his numb expression.
"Sorry," he says, holding open the door so that she can come in. "Just… character bleed, you know? Doesn't usually happen to me, but today…"
"It was a hard one," Collie says.
It had been, with the two of them filming a crucial scene as two parents in a moment of understanding. They'd both found something painful in it; Collie knows that David feels guilty about the time away from Georgia and his children, though he won't stop working. For herself, well. She's checking in with him, not the other way around.
"Come on," she says, reaching for his chair and turning it around to face away from her. She pats the back of it. "Sit."
David sighs but does it. "Promise this chair's not going to try to murder me?"
She laughs. "I promise." Now that he's looking away from her his exhaustion is even more obvious. Even his hair is limp.
She sets her hands onto his shoulders and gives the muscles a gentle squeeze. "All right?"
David groans. "Christ, yes."
Collie laughs, but she doesn't stop the massage.
"What?" says David.
"Just thinking about how that would sound to an eavesdropper."
He snorts. "Oh, yes." He raises his voice, moaning pornographically. "Do it harder."
Collie bites down on the inside of her cheek. "You've got to— bend over a bit more—" she chokes out.
"Yeah, love, really give it to me."
She bursts into giggles. "Oh, god, I can't, I can't. You absolute arse."
"You started it."
"But you're so much naughtier than I could ever be."
"Liar." He reaches up and puts one hand over hers, stilling the motion. "Such a liar."
Collie thinks of the secret she's keeping. "No comment." She gives his shoulder one last squeeze and then pulls away. "Better?"
"Much," he says. "Cheers."
"Any time." She means it.
"Think I'm gonna try to sleep," he says. "See you in the morning?"
"Bright and early," Collie says. "More early than bright, though."
She leaves him without saying anything else, just slips out and closes the door softly behind her.
"It's always the least likely suspect," David says. He's got a plate on his lap with a sandwich and salad, and he's talking between bites. "Chris is tricksy – he won't make it too obvious."
"Yes, but who's least likely?" Collie asks, focusing on balancing her own plate so she doesn't have to look him in the eye while pretending ignorance.
"Or maybe it's most likely, who's come around to being least likely because of the rules of mystery stories. That would be a turn up for the books." David rubs his chin in an exaggerated thinking gesture; when his hand comes away it leaves a smear of mustard behind. She decides not to mention it.
"Except you have no idea who that is, either," she says instead.
"Well. No. It's something of an issue, I'll admit."
It's amazing, Collie reflects, how 'sheepish' on David is usually halfway to 'smug.'
"So you've concluded precisely nothing at all," she says. "Excellent work, detective."
"Could be the butler," David says, brightening a little. "Classic, right?" He stuffs a forkful of salad into his mouth.
"If we had one," Collie says, laughing.
"What's the small town equivalent of a butler, then?"
Collie takes a bite of her sandwich and considers while chewing. She swallows. "Priest, probably." It's entertaining to think of Arthur killing someone. Not that he couldn't pull it off, if required, but he's so lovely himself that it's a bit like imagining an exceptionally fluffy terrier carrying a knife.
"Shall we bet on it?" David asks. "Ten quid?"
"Oh, yes, let's." She has to hide the satisfaction in her smile. "But I won't pick Coates."
"You first," Collie says, determined to back him into a corner.
"Hard-hearted woman," David says, though not without admiration. "I'll pick, hmm. Ellie."
Collie startles back. "Me?"
"Why not?" David says, grinning in a way that exaggerates the mustard smear. "Definitely a surprise for the viewers, I should think."
She snorts. "And for me." You've no idea how much. "Well, all right, if that's your bet."
She can't guess correctly; he'll be hacked off (and rightly so) if he finds out she cheated for it. "Olly," she says. "Wants to make his name, wants a story – and if he can't get one he'll make one."
"Cynical," David says. "I like it." The mustard smear appears to have begun reproducing like an amoeba. Collie wonders when he's going to notice, or whether one of the crew will do it first. It would be marvelous if no one did until Jen came around to refresh their makeup.
"He'd frame someone, too," says Collie, spinning the idea out. "He'll have to – killer caught is a far better story than killer at large. But only after muddying the waters for a bit longer."
"So you think we'll have a double reveal? Framed person and then real killer?"
"Good twist, don't you think?"
"Worthy of Chris."
"Satisfied with our bet?" she asks, holding out a hand. David reaches over and shakes it firmly, but when he pulls his hand back he obviously notices the mustard for the first time.
"Bollocks!" he says. "Is that— is that all over me?"
"Mmm," says Collie. Since it's on her hand now too, she reaches up and wipes it on the clean side of his face. "Just a bit."
It's hours later, and she's beginning to shake again.
"Collie, love, it's all right," David says, following her into the tent where they're out of view of the public.
"It's not all right," she spits. "Just because you're used to it— it's bloody well not all right and you know it."
David sighs, and she feels suddenly worse for not letting him brush it off. It's probably easier for him that way.
"Sorry," she says, dropping into a folding chair with a wince and pressing her hands to her face. "Sorry, I know it's not— I know I'll have to learn how to deal with it. It was just… that moment. How it was."
Some woman filming on her phone – it was bad enough when they were working or even just talking. But David had been having a crew member fit him with a microphone, threading the cord down through his shirt and trousers. Too close, but necessary, and professional on the part of the crew – but the watcher had been as far from professional as a person could get. Not even merely interested in the process of filming but somehow gleeful, greedy for a little personal moment. Like she couldn't be satisfied with the thing they were making and sharing, couldn't wait and ask for an autograph which he'd happily have given. Like she had to steal something more.
Collie had shouted at her, and the woman hadn't even noticed until someone from the crew ran her off. They'd tightened up the location up after that, and gone back to work, but filming is done for the day now and Collie can feel the shaking coming back. She's so angry, and so tired, and so, so sad.
"They've no right to it," she says. "They've no right to that part of you."
She can hear him sit down beside her. "No," he says. "No they don't. And it isn't all right. But that's part and parcel of it. You get to mean something big to a lot of people, but you have to mean something small and petty to others."
"I hate it," she says.
"I know," he says.
They sit in silence for a while until she gets hold of herself and raises her head. His face is serious and she hates that, too, so she blurts out the first thing she can think of that might make him laugh. "Did you know that Chris once went to a fancy dinner party and his placecard said 'Chris Chinball'?"
David bursts into laughter. "No, absolutely not. That cannot be true."
"After three glasses of wine he'll tell you himself, most likely."
"You'd better hope so, or I'll denounce you for the shameless fibber you are."
Fibber. Sometimes it seems unconscionable to lie to him about who the killer is – but then again she’s given her word and anyway she thinks that deep down he’d rather not know.
“I'd never lie about an opportunity to embarrass Chris," she says, turning the thought away.
"You're too nice," David says in agreement.
"Not nice to Chris, I suppose."
"No, but it's nice to the rest of us, and that's what matters."
"I still can't believe you knew and you didn't tell me," David grumbles, and Arthur crumples up a napkin and throws it across the table at him.
"Are you ever going to stop moaning about it?"
"Probably not," says David.
"Look," Collie says. "Consider yourself lucky that I didn't try to mess with you. I had it all planned out, you know. Convince you of each person in succession."
"Where would you start?" Jodie asks, leaning forward.
"Alec first, of course," says Collie. "Then me, then Olly—"
"You did say Olly, when we were betting," David says.
"Well you'd already said me, ages before that, so I had to keep moving on down the line. And I couldn't bet you on the right one."
"Bloody right you couldn't," says David. Arthur starts balling up another napkin.
"Anyway the fun bit was at the end," Collie says. "I had a nice long list of creative possibilities as well, for when I got through everyone."
"Chris suddenly appearing in a cameo as the killer was the first one. Then I thought I'd suggest a wizard did it. Or your alien lovechild back from before your first job when you lost those three days of memory—"
"All the clues were there," she tells him sanctimoniously. Jodie chokes on her drink and goes into a coughing fit, so Collie waits until she's recovered before going on. "Then after that I thought I'd swing back to something a bit more normal, like having it actually be an accident and no one did anything at all."
"How was that going to work?" says Arthur.
"No idea," says Collie. "I thought I'd just prod and hint until he tangled up some solution on his own."
"Oi!" says David, but both Jodie and Arthur are nodding.
"Then I thought I'd try to convince him it was Georgia—"
"You can't make my wife the killer in a show she's not even in!"
"—and then, when I ran out of ideas, I'd finish up with Alfred."
"Alfred who?" says Jodie.
"You don't remember him?" Collie says, putting on her most innocent face. "Oh, he'll be so disappointed."
"Alfred who?" says Arthur.
Collie raises an eyebrow at David. He just looks resigned. "All right, Alfred who, then?"
"What a pity you don't remember him," she says. "You seemed to like spending time with him last summer. He's relatively small, and fluffy… Don't you remember, David? Alfred, Lord Waggyson."
Everyone groans at this reveal.
"What I'm saying is," Collie adds, "you're clearly a terrible detective in real life, too, because – not once but twice – you took a murderer for walkies."