Aaron is pissed off on most days, but today he‘s extra pissed off.
After he overslept this morning, he was in such a hurry that he burnt his hand at his favourite mug - causing said favourite mug to slip through his fingers to crash into hundreds of little pieces and spill his coffee all over his kitchen floor. And the cupboards. And his clothes.
Cleaning up that mess cost him another 15 minutes, so he actually had to run (Ugh, for fucks sake!) to his Golf - only to find out his baby wouldn‘t start.
So Aaron was forced to take the bus to get to work and now he is so spectacularly late he knows he will get a major bollocking from Wise.
All in all the day is ruined already.
He swings the door open and enters the building. The police station is filled with the typical noises you’d expect, phones are ringing, people are talking, it‘s a busy hum that‘s constantly there during the dayshift.
Aaron walks to his desk and starts his computer. Two spectacled eyes gauge him over the brim of the monitor.
“You‘re late,“ Finn says.
Aaron rolls his eyes. They teamed him up with Finn Barton right after he started at Hotten Police, and Aaron is convinced it’s just to punish him for carrying ‘Dingle’ as a last name. Their desks are facing each other, it‘s standard amongst teams, to pass information quick and easy.
“No shit, Sherlock. Observation skills like a hawk. Gonna make an outstanding DI, Barton,“ Aaron deadpans and gives him a thumbs up.
Finn shoots him a sour look and continues to read whatever is on his screen. Can‘t be anything serious, because they don‘t have a case at the moment and Aaron is frustrated to no end.
Entering the force with his name is a burden and he was aware from day one. The Dingles had - and have - their regular run-ins with the cops. His uncle Cain is on first name base with the Chief of Police, Jason Wise - they have history. Some of his family members already spent time inside.
A Dingle who wants to be a cop? That was unheard of.
Aaron is determined to prove all those arseholes wrong, who judge him only by his name. He can be a good cop, he knows it. He just needs a proper case to prove himself.
“Dingle! Barton! Office! Now!“
The boss‘ booming voice shouts across the room. Heads fly in their direction and Aaron sees some malicious smirks. Dingle’s in the doghouse, their faces say and Aaron swallows.
“Am I in trouble now as well, just because you were late?“ Finn whines next to him as they walk to Jason Wise‘s office.
“Don‘t wet your pants,“ Aaron grits out grumpily.
He will take the full blame, of course he will. Finn is an idiot, but it‘s really not his fault that Aaron came in late.
Entering Wise‘s room is like entering another world. All the policemen share an open space office with small cube farms under bright neon lamps.
The Chief of Police‘s office is all dark wood with grey leather chairs and soft light. There are no piles of papers, no extra huge computer monitor, no gigantic whiteboard with pictures of suspects - nothing of the stuff you would suspect after you watched too many crime series on Netflix.
But still, the bloke is always top informed about everything that‘s going on in and around Hotten, he’s got his eyes and ears everywhere. How he does that, Aaron will never understand.
“Aaron, Finn. Close the door and have a seat,“ he says in lieu of greeting - and without looking up from the single white paper in his hands.
They sit down quietly, there is a strange tension in the room and nervousness takes ahold of Aaron.
While the boss is reading whatever is written on that paper, they just wait quietly. Finn looks like he‘s having a heart attack any second.
“I called you in, because I have a job for you…“ Jason starts and is finally looking up at them.
“What? Thank you, sir! We thought this was about Aaron being late!“ Finn bursts out.
“Shut up, you grass,“ Aaron hisses at him through gritted teeth.
Honestly, it‘s a miracle how this idiot passed his probationary period! Aaron wants to strangle him. Jason Wise narrows his eyes at them and then at Aaron in particular.
“No,“ the old man says slowly, “is that an issue I should be worried about?“ He presses his lips together.
They shake their heads like little school boys who got told off by their teacher and Aaron squirms on his seat. Wise said something about a case, he‘d rather talk about that!
Their boss clears his throat. “Well then. Let‘s focus on this task ahead. Before we start I‘ll have to warn you, it is a delicate subject that we are facing here. Everything that will be said inside this room, stays in this room. Understood?” They nod and Aaron wonders, where this is going. “We got a call this morning, someone made a complaint about being stalked,” Wise continues.
Aaron perks up his ears. A potential stalker! That sounds interesting. Deep down he knows it’s wrong, getting excited about other people’s misery, but he can’t stop the anticipation that starts gripping his body immediately. He can see it already, interrogations, observations, catching the stalker in the act...and finally, fucking finally his colleagues would have to admit that he is a good cop!
“The caller is a man called Robert Sugden and I want you two to drive to him and speak to him,“ Jason says, “be very questioning and record everything he says.“
Aaron frowns at that. As far as he sees it, Robert Sugden is a potential victim, not a crime suspect. It seems hardly fair to treat him like one.
“Sir, you said this is a delicate case,“ Finn frowns, “why?“
Wise pauses and pushes the paper across his table, Aaron grabs it and holds it for Finn to read as well.
Robert Sugden , 29 years old, father of Sebastian (5 years old).
He skims the lines on the file and then he sees the name of the alleged stalker.
Aaron swallows, still staring at the name. A bad, bad feeling settles in his chest, tugging at his heart.
Surely it‘s a coincidence, he tries to tell himself. White is a common family name. It‘s basically like Smith or something.
“Robert Sugden…“ Jason starts, “incriminates Lawrence White‘s daughter to be a psychotic stalker.“ Aaron’s heart sinks when he hears the name of the man. “If this makes it into the news, it’ll blow up in our faces,” Wise adds.
Because Lawrence White practically is the news. It is his nickname even, Mr News. He is a powerful man, he owns two of the five biggest media companies in the country, including the biggest newspaper, a TV channel and various homepages. His connections in economy and politics are legendary. He throws three charity events every year and just donated that much money to a children‘s hospice, they even named a new building after him. Rumours say the Queen will knight him soon. Basically, Lawrence White is a saint and so are his daughters, Chrissie and Rebecca.
Aaron swallows and looks up into the eyes of his chief. Wise lets out a quiet sigh and Aaron knows they‘re fucked.
— — —
Finn reads the sheet over and over as if somehow the little information they have so far would change. He looks just as miserable as Aaron feels.
“What do we know about White?,” he finally asks.
Aaron is sitting on his chair, his head is leaning on the backrest and he stares at the ceiling. He rattles down what sprang to his mind earlier.
His partner puts the file aside, walks around the table to Aaron’s side of the cubicle and leans against Aaron’s messy desk. Behind his back a pile of papers slowly slides to the side before they are falling down on the floor. Aaron isn’t arsed about it.
“I heard he is best friends with the mayor and plays golf with the Commissioner every Sunday,“ Finn says with a hushed voice so the others can’t hear him. His eyes look huge behind his thick glasses. Aaron scoffs, of course White has connections to the highest police ranks in the country.
“Fan-fucking-tastic,” he mutters. “Do we know anything about the daughter? Rebecca?“ he asks Finn and takes a pen.
“She‘s 26, doesn‘t have a real profession as far as I know. Did a few internships at daddy‘s companies, she also was in the media when she worked as a DJ in Ibiza. She’s a bit of a black sheep of the family… are you even listening?!” Finn pouts.
The pen that has been carefully balanced between Aaron‘s nose and upper lip drops down on the floor.
“Course,“ he says frowning.
He totally was listening. Black sheep, noted.
His mind wanders back to Sugden. Without a doubt the lad must know whose leg he was pissing on with this allegation.
So either he must have a death wish - or he is really desperate.
__ __ __
Robert Sugden lives in a townhouse on the edge of London. It‘s a lovely neighbourhood, quiet, kidsfriendly, where mostly academics and people with upper class income live. Everything is clean and the little front yards look perfect.
Aaron switches the motor off and takes a look around. He is kinda curious to meet the man who wants to take on the Whites.
He and Finn walk to the house in silence, both lost in their own thoughts. The bell rings with a little melody that would Aaron drive insane after the second time he heard it.
He really isn‘t prepared when the door opens to see the world's most stunning man.
Robert Sugden is tall and slim, his sharp jaw could definitely slice bread, the lips are lush and they‘re coming along with a cute nose and the greenest eyes Aaron has ever seen.
Right in that moment, a cloud passes and the sun appears again, shining straight down at Sugden, making him glow. Somewhere up in heaven angels are singing a hallelujah.
Aaron can see freckles, loads of them all over his face.
He feels dazzled, like he walked against a wall and hit his head.
Slowly Aaron realises that Robert Sugden and Finn are looking at him, like they expect him to say something.
“Mr. Sugden, we are here to investigate after you made a report about getting stalked,” Aaron states and wills his voice to sound steady and strong.
“I already said that part,” Finn hisses and Robert Sugden looks at him with a wild mixture of irritated and amused.
Aaron really can’t remember for the life of him hearing Finn saying anything and his cheeks start burning uncomfortably.
“I am DS Barton and that’s my colleague DS Dingle,” Finn says, “May we come in?”
“Sure,” Sugden says and steps aside, so they can go in.
Aaron takes a few breaths to sharpen his senses again and looks around. A house can tell you a lot about the people that are living in it.
They are walking straight into the living room, which is actually a combination between an open kitchen, dining area and TV corner. The walls are painted in dark blue, but the furniture is mostly white and grey. The only blur of colours are three big boxes with kids toys right next to the brown leather couch. It looks damn homey. Nice. Like this Robert Sugden has definitely good taste.
He gestures for them to sit down on the couch and takes the armchair. Now, without the bright sunlight, Aaron notices the rings under the man’s tired green eyes, like he hasn’t properly slept in days.
Finn pulls out his phone and lays it on the coffee table, “We would like to record this conversation for further investigations, if you agree.”
Robert eyes the phone and swallows. “Yeah, fine.”
Finn starts to record. “Mr Sugden agreed to the recording of his statement. Can you please tell us why you called the police?”
“Because Rebecca White is a complete nutcase, that’s why!” Sugden spits out angrily.
Aaron raises his eyebrows, a little impressed if he‘s honest. So, the guy is definitely not holding back, obviously not being scared of the name White in the slightest.
“Just tell us what happened.”
That is Finn’s true talent, soothing the people. He is good at that. With his nerdy attitude he looks like the nice bloke from your friendly neighbourhood and people relax in his presence and start opening up.
Aaron's part is to just silently sit there, trying to take in every tiny movement, every tiny hesitation, every tiny discrepancy in the statement. Observing.
“It started about a year and a half ago,” Robert Sugden sighs and rubs his face, “I got letters. Not normal letters with a stamp and a postmark on it, just single papers that were pushed through under my door. At first I didn’t think much of it - I just thought it was weird. But then they kept coming and it was what they said, that freaked me out.”
“What did they say?”
“They commented about Seb’s - my son’s - clothes. That they loved his green shirt, or that those shorts would look so cute on him.” He takes a deep breath. “And then a note came, telling me, I shouldn’t give him too much ice cream, because it wouldn’t be good for his health. The letter came right after a day where we went shopping and I bought him ice cream. And that means, she was watching us, right? I knew immediately she was watching us! While I was with my boy, she was lurking somewhere in the bushes and watched us.” Sugden’s face goes hard, his voice is shaking with anger. He swallows. “And then… it suddenly stopped.”
“But that wasn’t the end?” Finn asks gently.
The blond man slouches back in his chair. “No, of course not. About two months later, it started again. This time, she laid a toy on my doorstep and of course Seb found it. It was a stupid firetruck from Fireman Sam, he loved it and wanted to keep it and I couldn’t say no to him. And then I got a card, telling me how beautiful he would play with his new toy and I lost it. I mean, he only used it inside our house! How could she know that? Was she hiding outside and looking through our windows? I sold the house and moved to Stockport and I really thought it would stop then.”
Sugden keeps telling them a story of how the notes appeared again . Of how he moved again into this neighbourhood - due to work this time - and how after a few months the letters came in again . Always without stamps and postmarks, so wherever they moved, the stalker followed. There was no escape from this endless circle.
“I’m tired. I’m just so tired. Seb is five, he’s going to school now, I can’t keep doing this to him,” he finishes with a sigh.
Aaron watches him closely. He has to admit that Sugden looks truly miserable.
“Have you spoken to the police before about this, Mr Sugden?” Finn wants to know.
“Oh yeah,” Robert Sugden laughs humorlessly, “I did. Right after the Fireman Sam toy. I called the station and explained what happened, but after I mentioned Rebecca White, they said it wasn’t enough to investigate.” He scoffs. “They said, the stalker didn’t actually threaten us. Apparently something bad needs to happen first. A few weeks later I lost my job, although I never did anything wrong. Well, I shouldn‘t have been surprised, should I - since Lawrence owns 30% share of the company.“
Robert Sugden smiles, but his expression is ice cold. Aaron and Finn are sharing a look. So Lawrence White knows about Robert Sugden and his allegations already and obviously the old man already tried to scare him off. Not very successful, Aaron thinks.
“How can you be so sure it’s Rebecca?” he speaks up for the first time since they entered the house.
“I just know it. It’s her, “Sugden insists, “She hates my guts because I got full custody of Seb.”
“Tell us about your relationship with her, please?“ Finn says.
“We never were in a relationship, not really.“ Robert Sugden sighs and runs his hands through his hair. “It was an on and off thing, no strings attached. The pregnancy wasn‘t planned, she wanted an abortion. I convinced her to give birth and let me have the baby.“ Sugden pauses, looking into the distance, lost in memories. “Best decision I ever made.“ He‘s smiling again.
Aaron ignores the way his chest warms at the sight, especially when there is one streak of the blond hair standing off in an awkward angle.
“Why would she want Seb now? When she gave him away in the first place?“ he asks.
“I know how it sounds, okay?” Sugden says exasperated. “She never wanted him, why would she want him now? Believe me, I asked myself the same question more than once. And I don’t know, okay?” He throws his hands up in frustration. “I don’t know. But I know it’s her.”
“Is there really no one else - someone from work, another ex, anyone - who would have a motive besides Rebecca White?” Finn wants to know.
Seb’s father swallows again, then he shakes his head.
“Robert Sugden shook his head,” Finn says aloud for the audio recording.
“Do you still have all the letters?” Aaron wants to know. “We need to see them.“
Maybe there is DNA or fingerprints on them.
Robert gets up wordlessly and goes over to the kitchen. He opens a drawer, pulls something out and comes back to the sofa corner with several letters and holds them out for Aaron to take them.
Fuck, so much for fingerprints and DNA then, Aaron curses, there will be only Robert’s all over it. He snaps his fingers towards Finn and his partner springs to action. Barton always has a package of rubber gloves in his shoulder bag. Aaron pulls them on and grabs the papers eagerly.
You look tired, you should sleep more.
I like his new bike, he’s doing so well. Can’t believe how fast he’s growing.
Did he like the new Disney movie? He really loved that little plushie you bought him, didn’t he?
Have you already looked for schools? His education is very important.
And it went on like that. The notes all were typed on a computer and printed out. No handwriting, nothing that would give anything away about the stalker. He shares a look with Finn who is reading them as well.
Anybody could have written the notes.
“ This came this morning,” Sugden says quietly and Aaron turns his head.
He tries not to stare at the long, nimble fingers that are holding up a plastic zipper bag, like the ones you use when you travel with a plane. He focuses on the content of the little bag. There is a photo in it.
“Plastic bag, nice,” he hums when he takes it carefully.
Maybe they have a chance to get some evidence with this item!
Robert gives him a crooked smile. “I watched a few real-crime-shows lately. Learned my lesson about DNA and all. I haven’t touched it, I used tweezers.“
“What is it?” Finn pipes up, peeping on the little bag.
Aaron squints his eyes. “A picture… of a nursery?!”
There is a small bed, plushies, lego, books, cars, a little table with crayons and paper, Fireman Sam posters on the wall - everything a five year old is dreaming off.
“Turn around, there is a letter as well,” Sugden says, voice flat.
Aaron does and there is a note indeed, written on a computer like the others. “What do you think? I hope Seb likes it. We’ll find out soon,” he reads out loud.
A cold shiver runs down his spine. According to this note they are planning to take the boy and bring him there - wherever there may be. He looks up to Robert Sugden, into those green eyes who are clouded with sadness.
“She wants to take him,” his voice cracks and so does his facade.
The angry demeanor, the cocky aggressiveness is completely gone, now he just looks exhausted. Defeated. This is a dad, scared and worried for his kid.
Coming from a huge family with many nieces and nephews, Aaron can only imagine how the poor lad must feel.
“We will take the evidence with us and check if there are usable traces on it,” Finn explains and carefully puts the zip bag as well as the other papers away.
They stop the recording. Instead of getting up and leaving, all three of them are sitting there in silence. Aaron lets it all sink in. The picture in the zipper is their only hope, besides they don’t have much - except Robert Sugden’s statement.
Aaron looks at the man again. He doesn’t come across like someone who just wants to take revenge against an ex. It doesn’t seem very likely either, the price of drawing Lawrence White’s anger and losing his job is too high. No, Sugden is honestly convinced that it’s Rebecca.
“Look, I know who Lawrence White is,” the man sighs in that moment as if he could read Aaron’s thoughts, “but I can’t keep silent because his name scares me off.”
The green eyes land on Aaron’s face and there is something so intense in that look, like Sugden can dive straight down in his soul, it’s unsettling. Aaron squirms on the sofa and lowers his eyes quickly.
Sugden is a witness, you are a cop, Aaron reminds himself, while he tries to prevent his heart from speeding up.
He sees Sugden looking at his watch out of the corners of his eye.
“I err, have to pick up Seb from school, so if you don’t have any more questions…?” he starts and gets up from the armchair.
Finn and Aaron are standing up, too, shaking their heads.
“We’re going to call you,” Finn promises.
On their way to the door they pass a chimney. Before he can stop himself, Aaron glances at the pictures on top. The photos show mostly Robert, a dark haired woman, who is about Aaron’s age and a little boy with red hair.
“That Seb?” he asks and steps closer to the fireplace.
It can’t hurt to know what the little boy looks like for their further investigation. He’s got blue eyes and freckles and a bright grin. Definitely a little troublemaker. The face makes Aaron smile a bit.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Sugden says with a soft voice.
He is suddenly very close to Aaron, his breath is ghosting hot over the back of his neck and causes Aaron to shiver.
“He’s very cute, Mr Sugden,” he admits with a little nod.
Aaron never gave much thoughts about having kids. Having kids requires a gay man like him having a boyfriend, a long-term partner, and on that front he suffers a massive slack.
Looking at these pics though, seeing how Robert Sugden is laughing happily into the camera with his son on his hips, makes him ache. Aaron loves his nieces and nephews, he really does, but… they are not his, are they? When he’s looking after them, they always go home to their parents after a few hours, leaving him alone in his apartment again.
He wonders if the woman with the brown hair is Sugden‘s current girlfriend, at least she seems to be close with the boy who is holding hands with her in one snapshot. In either case the three of them look happy and domestic. Like a cute little family.
“Mr Sugden was my dad,” the man pulls him out of his thoughts, “call me Robert, please.”
“Alright, Robert,” Aaron says, loving how the name sounds, and turns around.
Robert is so close they could almost kiss. Dammit, if he would have met him in a club or somewhere, maybe Aaron would have made a move. Those freckles are mesmerizing. The atmosphere is slowly shifting around them, getting thicker somehow. Aaron feels himself staring into Robert’s face, but he is powerless to stop it. Not only his cheeks are heating up, his whole body flushes with a sudden burn.
Somewhere Finn clears his throat and that breaks the tension eventually.
“Call us, if you notice anything, see someone following you, or if you receive another letter. And please try not to touch it,” his partner instructs Robert, who’s nodding along.
Aaron quickly pulls out his card and a pen from the pocket of his jacket.
“Yeah, err… call us. Anytime,” he says and writes his private mobile number right below his official one.
He hands it to Robert and ignores Finn’s huge eyes. Aaron is aware that he’s never done this before. That there is no real need to, on the card is his official mobile number and the station is available 24/7 of course. Aaron swallows and is dreading that talk with his partner on the way to the station already.
“Thanks, Mr Dingle,” Robert smiles.
“Just Aaron is fine,” Aaron says before his brain stops him.
He bites his tongue. He never offered his first name during work. Finn’s jaw falls open and he gasps in disbelief at him. Aaron ducks his head and makes his way to the door. The air is sticky suddenly and he can’t get out quick enough. He basically shoves his partner through the door.
“You’ll hear from us,” Finn shouts over his shoulder and Aaron turns around for one last quick glance at Robert Sugden.
He is standing in the door frame, the crisp white shirt accentuating his slim torso, the rolled up sleeves showing off strong arms. The sun is out again, sparkling on the blond hair. Aaron meets Robert’s eyes again and he can’t stop the buzz he’s feeling in his stomach.
Fuck, this is bad, Aaron curses himself when he looks to the front again. Robert Sugden is a witness, he is a policeman, he repeats in his head.
As soon as they are in the car, Finn shakes his head. “I don’t believe you!“ he flails his arms.
“Shut up.” Aaron starts the engine.
“Flirting with Sugden?” Finn goes on.
“I said, shut up,” he hisses annoyed.
“Giving him your private-”
“I said. Shut. Up.” Aaron gives his partner a long, warning glare. One more word and Barton would have to bloody walk back to the station.
He doesn’t want to discuss this with Finn. Not when he got no real answer himself. He doesn’t know why he gave Robert his phone number, he doesn’t know why it is important that Robert calls him by his first name.
He doesn’t know.
His eyes dart back to the little house, where Robert is still standing on the threshold and looks in their direction.
Aaron swallows and puts his foot down.
-- -- --
“... check if there are usable traces on it,” Finn’s voice is sounding through Jason Wise’s office.
Then the recording stops.
Wise put his elbows on the armrest and had his hands folded right before his nose. As soon as he started listening he closed his eyes to concentrate, now he is opening them, looking at Finn and Aaron.
The letters and the plastic bag are lying on his desk.
“What do you think?” their Chief of Police wants to know.
“We think that the letters and the picture are real. There is someone out there, watching the Sugden’s. A five year old boy might be in danger and we can’t rule out the possibility that his mother might be responsible at that point,” Finn summarizes it.
Wise hums and then he scoffs.
“White has the best lawyers in the country,” he informs them.
Aaron has never met Lawrence White before - or Rebecca for that matter - but boy, does he hate that bloke already.
“If his precious daughter got nothing to hide, he won’t need them, right?” Aaron shrugs.
Jason Wise sighs and nods finally. “Alright then. This goes to the forensics now,” he takes the zip bag. “I expect you to inform me about every step you are taking, are we clear? No solo stunts!”
They nod and get up from their chairs, sensing that this is the end of the conversation.
“So, what does that mean? What are we doing next?” Finn asks him as soon as the busy hum of the open plan office is surrounding them again.
Finally they have a case and he is determined to not let this go, until they catch the stalker. Just like Robert said, he isn’t scared of the big name and the army of lawyers.
A dark grin starts spreading on Aaron’s face.
“Now, Finn,” Aaron declares and slaps Barton’s shoulder which causes him to stumble, “we’re gonna stir shit up.”