I was so knackered that day I almost wrote it on the board: couple dead in flat, children (3 girls, aged 2, 4, 7) with nanny, relatives in Quebec, Herself's lips are chapped. Three days in and the only clues were time of death (questionable due to location, open windows, cold spell), cause of death (poison, easily obtained), and the fact that husband and wife both were right arseholes to everyone we'd interviewed up to that point. We'd no shortage of suspects. Nor motive.
I clicked my biro to the beat of that crap song that was always on that month, something something babe love you something. Janet kicked me under the table; I kicked her back. Twice. She wrinkled her nose like she was trying not to laugh.
I grinned. Flicked a paperclip at her when Herself turned away.
"Children," Gill said. Back still turned, freakish woman that she remains to this day: Gill, Herself, Godzilla. Janet pushed her specs up on her nose, shuffled her notes like the answer might just jump up out of them if she moved them just so. I swallowed the urge to stick my tongue out at the whole lot of them.
Professionalism: thy name is Rachel Bailey. DC then, DS now, and when I'm running the MIT, well, that's a different story. One best told over a bottle or two of decent red.
"Right," Janet said. "The building's one of those security jobs, all single floor flats with individual lift cards. We're working on getting the data off those, see when their floor was accessed. Building management's being a bit of a prat about it all, but they're cooperating, however begrudgingly."
And we were off. A day like any other, case like none other I've worked.
I punched my pillow. Rolled over onto my stomach. My bedroom was too cold, too hot, too something I didn't want to investigate too intently. (Too quiet. Empty. The gurgle of the ancient pipes the only distraction.) My mouth was drier than a hangover, but I couldn't be arsed to get up for a glass of water. It was that kind of night. The clock blinked 3:02. I wasn't due to be up until 5:00.
I rolled back over. Right hand over my eyes, pressing my palm hard enough to see stars.
3:03. 3:04. 3:0--I opened my eyes. No time had passed. I kicked off my duvet and inched toward the edge of the bed. Slid my legs over the edge. Pressed feet to floor, wished for socks, stood. Grabbed my mobile off the charger and shuffled half-blind to the kitchen.
Ran the tap and rinsed out a wine glass from earlier in the evening, fingers rubbing at the reddish stains until they'd washed away. The water turned cold, and I filled the glass. The lino was freezing. The slippers Alison bought me that Christmas past sat in the bin thanks to a broken bottle of Syrah.
I drank the entire glass in one swallow. Refilled it and set it on the counter. I kept a pen and pad next to the kettle back then, always at the ready in case of what was usually drunken inspiration. I grabbed them, finger wrapped around pen and the stem of my glass, and took them with me to the table. Worth a shot trying to get some work in.
There's something about being sober between midnight and dawn. Awake and sober, even. It motivates, or something. Inspires. I started sketching out the details of the case: facts, just the facts, ma'am. Lost myself in victimology and crime scene details, the broken lock on the littlest one's bedroom window and the spots of yoghurt dotting the edge of the sink.
I sketch a little lizard monster at the edge of a page. Godzilla, Herself: probably dreaming about stomping on all of the criminals of Manchester while I couldn't sleep, eating all the little hooligans, but only after cautioning them. I snorted. Shook my biro, trying to coax out just a spot more ink.
My elbow knocked into my wine glass, tipping it over onto the table. Water spilling all over my papers, smudging tiny Godzilla and notes alike. "Bugger," I screamed. No one there to wake. "Fuck fucking shit." I held my breath for a second: inhale, exhale, relax. Pulled my shirt away from my body to try to wipe up the mess. Yanked it over my head when I realized I'd not bought napkins in longer than I cared to remember.
I tossed the pad into the bin. Table mostly dry, I balled up my shirt and headed for the bathroom. Threw it against the open doorframe. Leaned against the wall and pressed my teeth against the skin of my inner wrist to stop from crying.
I slid down to the floor. Sat. Something sharp pounding against the inside of my eyelids. The pipes gurgled and settled. I pulled my knees toward my chest, stupid stupid stupid. Time passed. I'm still not sure how long I sat there. I pulled myself up to my feet, wall as leverage. Turned on the lights in the loo and avoided my reflection in the mirror above the sink. Red eyes, red nose, I imagine. Hair a fright. I splashed cold water on my face and walked blind to the shower, turning it on to warm.
Pulled my pants down my legs, hopped and shimmied out of them. Stepped into the shower.
Herself was two coffees in by the time I walked into the department at half seven. Her desk all papers and paper cups, the red clay mug she'd started using around August tipped over on its side. Her hair looked like someone'd been running their fingers through it. I rapped on her door as I passed. Just to let her know I was there.
I started my computer booting up and took off my jacket. The power light flickered on, but the screen stayed black. It sounded like it was groaning. I took note of who was there and working, who wasn't, and headed for the ladies'. The amount of time it took for my piece of shit computer to load in those days I could've run home for a pee and made it back in time to enter my password. The greasy kid from IT was in every other day to work on it.
Janet walked into the squad room as I walked out. We nodded at each other as we passed.
The toilets still smelled of ammonia at that hour, blue and chemical. I took my time washing my hands. Scrubbed between each finger. Lots of foam. The door swung open and clanged shut. Janet hopped up on the counter and looked at me. Head tilted, face puckered up like I was one of her girls just caught skiving off school.
"Shut it," I said.
"And a good morning to you, too," she said. God love her, Janet's a right bitch mornings.
"Oh, sorry," I said. "I didn't know we were on company manners this morning."
One of the overhead lights flickered. Janet stared at me. I tried not to notice how buggy and weird her eyes are; kind, but strange. I washed my hands a little longer. Rubbed at the torn cuticles on my ring finger until they burned. My eyes watered. I blinked.
Janet grabbed my wrist. Pulled my hands out from under the still running tap and wrapped her hands around mine. Held on, freakish mum strength that she has, and held me still. "You all right?" she asked.
I nodded. "Yeah," I said. Shoulders square. Head high. "Let's go catch some bad guys, yeah?"
"Dry your hands first," Janet said.
I rolled my eyes. "Yes, mum." Janet slapped my shoulder. Hopped back down from the counter and straightened her skirt, her shirt. Leaned in toward the mirror to pick at a heavy spot of mascara near the corner of her right eye. I shook my hands dry over the sink and wiped them on my trousers.
Janet wrinkled her nose, but didn't say anything. A win any day of the week.
The squad room had filled up, and everyone was sitting around the conference table trying to sound busy. Gill tried to call everyone to order. Her eyes were bloodshot. I wondered how much shit she was getting from upstairs; how many "do you have any leads?" were sitting in her inbox while Kev and Mitch stood around scratching their balls.
"Just got off the phone with them, ma'am," Kevin said. Everyone half leaned in, almost in unison. Matching bags under our eyes. "Nothing yet, but they're promising me something concrete before noon."
"Not good enough," Herself said. She tapped her pen, two times exactly, and turned to the next in line for execution. "Andy? Anything on the office party? Corroboration on the timeframe we got from Sasha? When'd they arrive? Leave? Were they too drunk to drive? Call a taxi? C'mon, does anyone have anything worth a damn, or are we all just sitting around twiddling our thumbs and waiting for the killer to call us up on the tip line?"
Andy flipped open his notepad. "The party was a bit of a blur for most of the attendees. Open bar and all that. Still, we've got them arriving around 19:15, give or take, which matches the nanny's statement. No one knows when they left—too far in the drink for most of them—though I've got the name of the office teetotaller," he said. Voice ticking items off a list: milk, check, loo roll, check. "She's due to arrive home from a scheduled minibreak on the 16:59 New street to Piccadilly. I've left her multiple voicemails asking her to meet with us immediately upon her return." He dropped his pad onto the table.
"How far back was this minibreak scheduled?" Gill asked.
"According to the office manager," Andy said. He tilted his pad up, head down to read his notes. "Almost a year. Put in for it November of last year, said it was for her sister's wedding."
"Anyone verify that?" Gill asked. No one answered. "Right, Andy, have someone look up wedding announcements, try to track down the venue. Check Ms. Teetotal's train tickets, flights, hotels, everything."
"Yes, ma'am," Andy said. He jotted down a couple of notes. Whether it was because he couldn't remember or he was kissing arse, well. I can't say I'm particularly impartial when it comes to Andy, even now.
"Right," Herself said. She looked around at everyone, just this side of laser beams coming out of her eyes and vaporizing us all on the spot. "I can see we're still nowhere on this, which is unacceptable at this stage. Janet, Rachel, go door to door--"
"--ma'am," Janet said.
"--I don't care," Gill said. Never even paused for breath. "Whatever you're about to say, unless it's, 'ma'am, we forgot to tell you when you asked for a status report, but we've actually found the killer and he or she is in custody right now,' I don't want to hear it."
Janet looked down at the table. "Sorry, ma'am," she said.
"Right," Herself said. "As I was saying, Janet and Rachel door to door, interviewing everyone in the building. Kevin to the lab to convince them to speed up their tests. Mitch and Pete, interviews of everyone in the building directly opposite the children's windows who face the right direction. See if anyone saw anything suspicious."
A chorus of "yeses" and "ma'am"s. I gathered up my belongings. Followed Herself halfway back to her office. "Not now," she said. She looked something ten times worse than simply tired.
"Right," I said. "I'm just going to go do."
"Good," she said. Standing up so straight I was worried I could knock her over with a sneeze. "Bring me back something solid, yeah. Something to nail whoever this bastard is to the wall."
I smiled. Tried to project confidence and something as close to positivity as I could manage. "Do I ever not?"
I exhaled. Watched my breath cloud out and wished for a fag; the middle of a double murder is no time to try to quit, but there I was. It was damp, and dark, the worst possible sort of day. I kicked at a piece of cracked pavement. Pressed my hands under my arms for warmth.
"Thank Christ," I said, "We get to do our door to doors in the comfort of a luxury building."
Janet snorted. "Anyone who chooses to raise their kids in this," she said, waving her hand as if a posh concierge building were somehow equivalent to a council flat, "When they obviously have the money to get somewhere with a garden deserves what they get."
"Wow, Jan," I said, "Tell us how you really feel."
Janet flushed. "Well," she said. She put her hands in her pockets, hunching in over herself as she does. "Not death, obviously. No one—save the very worst humanity has to offer, and even then."
I laughed at her. "Right," I said. "Whatever you say, judge and jury."
She pulled herself up. Suddenly all DS Scott, business and sympathy incarnate. "Shall we?"
She double-checked all the car doors were locked, and we headed for the front entrance. The lobby--waiting area, reception area, whatever they call the foyer when you’re as rich as Abramovich--was one of those ugly modern affairs. Trying too hard. Failing to look anything but Ikea coated in gold plate.
Janet flashed her badge at the git behind the desk. He flashed too-white teeth.
I cased the lobby while she worked on getting us inside. Not much to work with: it'd be near impossible for someone to get in through here without getting through Mr. Crest White Strips over there.
"-you remember when the Bouchers got in Saturday last?"
He turned to his computer screen. "Should have something, just give it a sec to load," he said. "Stupid thing's slower'n dirt. Think a swank place like this would be able to afford something a little more state of the art, but not so."
"I know exactly how you feel," I said. I walked over to the desk, real wood with a water glass circle near the corner, and leaned against it. Played on his obvious money envy. "Our computers at the station are just new enough not to need DOS. You'd think they'd give a, well, you know how it is."
He nodded. "Tell me about it," he said. He clicked a couple of keys. Slapped his mouse against the desk a couple of times before typing something else. "Right," he said. He leaned forward, too vain to wear his specs, and read something off the screen. "Came home around half one, if the security logs are to be believed."
"Any way you can tell if they drove themselves or were dropped by a taxi?" Janet asked.
"Sorry," he said. "I was off that night. Dam might—er, that's Damien Watson, he works some nights—he might remember, but he's a bit scatterbrained, if you want the truth of it. Building owner's nephew, or else he'd've been sacked ages ago."
"You have his contact information?" I asked. "We'll need to talk to him on the off-chance he happened to be paying attention."
He scribbled something down on a piece of building stationery. "Good luck," he said.
"Ta." I slipped the paper in my pocket. "I assume if he works nights he's not an early riser."
"Dam's idea of early is noon," he said.
"Right," I said. Janet was on her mobile, pacing back and forth across the room. Telling Herself the latest, trying to get any new information in return. "I'll hold off on ringing him until afternoon."
"For the best," he said.
"Thanks, boss," Janet said. She marched over. "So we're going to be interviewing all of the building tenants this afternoon." She tapped her badge against the edge of the desk. "Are you going to be able to let us up, or shall we call the building manager?"
"Sorry," he said. He looked almost genuinely apologetic; not quite there, but close enough for most. "But I need this job. Got two kiddies need feeding, plus the missus and her mum."
Janet shrugged. "Worth a shot," she said. "Ring up the boss."
"We'll wait," I said. "Class the place up a bit for you, free of charge."
"Nothing?" Herself asked. Looming over the conference table, arms spread and hands gripping the edge. Her knuckles going red, then white. "Not one of you has anything worthwhile to report?"
I chewed on my pen cap. My fingers wouldn't stop twitching--air typing, or playing piano, if I could do either worth a damn. I tried to ignore the way Janet kept glancing over at me.
"We've got the poison," Kevin said. "And the approximate time they'd have had to ingest it for the time of death to work."
"And we've got Dam," Janet added. She said Dam like she said Andy. Like he was something on the sole of her shoe that just won't scrape off. "Who thinks they came home by taxi, but then maybe they didn't after all. Smart lad."
"Building security suggests they arrived home around half one," I said. "Or at least that's when their alarm system was set for the night. There's no way to tell if they actually got home before that and forgot to set it."
"So they were at home, in their flat, at half one Saturday," Gill said. She ruffled through a folder, pulling out a sheet of paper. "And time of death was approximately an hour later."
"Neighbours all claim they didn't see or hear anything suspicious," Janet said.
"In that building, I'd believe it," I said. Everyone with their own floor, their own lift passes. Which reminded me. "They pulled the lift card data for us, but apparently there was some sort of malfunction. We've got forensics looking at it, hopefully they can find something."
"Ms. Teetotal," Andy said, "will be here at 8:00 tomorrow morning for her interview. Real name's Alice Kiani. Age 32, married, no children. Seemed more than chuffed to speak with us, probably not a viable suspect, but I'm not writing anyone off at this point."
"Right," Herself said. She stood. A stack of folders held to her chest. "I want you all to go home, have a glass of wine."
"Or a pint of bitter, whatever you prefer to drink, see if I care, and get a good night's rest. We're back at it bright and early tomorrow, and I want results."
Because no one ever accused me of learning from my mistakes, I followed Herself back to her office again. This time she just left the door open behind her. "And no hangovers!" she yelled.
Not two metres from my ear: I winced, glared.
Gill crossed her arms. "Anything I can do for you, Rachel?" she asked.
Janet tapped on the door. Waved goodbye and wrapped her scarf around her neck. I kicked the door shut. Herself dropped her files on her desk. Knocking a paper cup onto the floor. We both stood there, staring, as coffee started spreading across the floor.
"Shit," I said. Finally, who knows how much later. "Let me just, I'll go get."
Gill tossed me a box of tissues. "Use these," she said.
We both knelt down on the floor, facing across from each other. That close, I could see where Gill's makeup was wearing off, the spot near her right eyebrow. I started patting tissues on the spill. She just tossed wads of tissue on the worst looking spots. They turned colour, tore. Were generally ineffectual. Eventually, though, there was a miniature mountain range of dirty tissue on the floor instead of cold coffee.
"Here," Gill said. I looked up. She held out her bin and I gathered up as many tissues as I could, tossed them in. One bounced off the top and landed next to Gill's shoe. It was scuffed at the toe. I reached out. "Leave it," Gill said.
I did. My knees ached. Gill rested her hip against the edge of her desk. Asleep standing up, or so it looked.
"C'mon," I said. I forced myself to my feet. Pretended I didn't hear my knees creak and crack.
Gill blinked. Mouth already open like she was about to lecture.
"Where's your coat?" I asked.
"On the rack." Eyebrows crooked, mouth confused. I made a move to get it, and she held up her hands. "Wait one minute," she said. "I've still hours of paperwork to slog through tonight, and I have to figure out a way to-"
I stepped around her. She shut her mouth mid-sentence, and I bit at the inside of my cheek to keep from smirking. "One drink," I said. "And some food. And then we come back here and finish that paperwork--unless you don't think I can hack filling in a few forms, and if that's the case I'm not sure what I'm still doing on your syndicate because I'm obviously an idiot--and maybe you get more than fifteen minutes at your desk tonight."
"One drink," she said.
"And some food." I grinned, couldn't help it, and opened the office door. Herself laughed.
"We have to," Gill said. A toilet flushed on the other side of the wall, and the pipes rattled around his. Gill's head fell back against the door. Her hands still on my hips, her skin warm and dusty pink. "We should stop this," she said. Turning back into another kiss.
"Should we?" I asked.
This had been going on for months--only during cases, only out at pubs. Walls and rattling door knobs and staff knowingly asking if everything was "okay in there, only someone'd mentioned the door not working."
Gill's lips only look sharp.
"It's unprofessional," Gill said. One of her hands had migrated to the back of my neck, all the better to control the direction of the kiss. Fingernail scratching along my hairline. Pushy.
I wanted to laugh. To say, "Then stop." Instead I pulled my head back just a touch. Pressed a gentle peck at the corner of her mouth. She smiled; I smiled back at her. A bang on the door, and we were both hysterical when we stumbled out of the toilet.
"About time," muttered the bint at the door. Designer handbag, unsteady gait: drunk, probably just dumped, not as young as she dressed. I felt sorry for her. Herself gave her a once-over, trying to determine whether or not she'd be down the station later that night. Her lipstick was smudged.
"Your lipstick," I said. The bint was locked in the loo. Taps running. I pointed at the spot on my face where the damage was worst.
"Shit," Gill said. She licked her finger and wiped at the spot I'd indicated. I dug through my bag--lozenge, lozenge wrapper, bag of crisps mostly turned to dust, purse--until I finally found my hand mirror. I wiped it against my sleeve and handed it over. Ugly bulldog picture on the back and all.
"You're welcome," I said.
"Thanks," Gill said.
She fixed her lipstick. Our table had been claimed by a group of young financial types while we were gone, and the pub'd filled up. We gathered our jackets off the hooks near the back. I took my hat out of my pocket, held it; twisted it in my hands while Gill buttoned her coat.
"Go home," she said. "Get some sleep. You'll need it tomorrow."
"Right," I said. Judging by the way Gill's eyes narrowed, it sounded as much like not bloody likely as I'd intended. "And you'll do the same, I'm sure."
A stare off. I always won when Dom and I'd do this as kids, right up until he'd started using. A roar of laughter at the bar. The song changed to something slow and teeth-achingly sweet.
"Home, shower, change of clothes," Gill said. A nod of her head, and she adjusted her bag on her shoulder. She checked her watch. "Back at the office in two hours."
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
She walked out of the pub. Heels clacking in her familiar rhythm. I licked my upper lip, stuffed my hat back into my pocket. Pulled it out again when I walked outside; it was cold enough I'd risk looking like a dumpy old schoolmarm, and I'd be taking a shower once I got home anyway.
A bloke in an ill-fitting suit was leaning against the wall, smoking while he chatted on his mobile. I asked him for a fag. He tapped it out of the box, gestured to ask if I needed a light. I held up my lighter.
"Ta," I said. Mouth already wrapped around the cigarette.
Janet lifted an eyebrow. Tilted her head and shoulder toward the ladies' and mouthed "Five minutes" at me. Clearly enunciating. I held my tea up to my face and inhaled the too sweet steam. Scalded my tongue when I tried to drink. Janet kept looking at me. At Herself's office.
"Fine," I said.
Kev turned away from his computer screen. Mouth open, about to make one of his terrible jokes, when Herself slammed her phone down hard enough to shake the entire department. We all jumped. Practically held our breath in unison.
"She's done a runner," Herself said. She'd come flying out of her office like the proverbial bat, and we'd flocked around her. I yawned. She glared at me. "The sister just arrived from Canada, and the nanny's done a bloody runner with those kids."
Janet clenched her fists. Andy turned white, then grey. I held myself perfectly still; I'd been warned off punching anything harder than a pillow after that post. "That bitch," she said.
"Right," Herself said. She clapped her hands, once, and the angry chatter stopped. "Andy, go do your interview. Ask if our victims ever talked about the nanny, her habits, any family, mates, the usual."
"We've got that night concierge we're trying to track down," I said. "Not that I've much hope good old Dam's going to know anything, but-"
"Circle back to the day concierge, too," Herself said. She was already thinking five steps ahead of the rest of us, you could see it in her eyes. Her fingers danced. "Ask them both if they've seen hanging about with anyone special. Then go up to the Bouchers' flat to see if there's anything in her room. Likely she took anything incriminating with her, but even the smartest criminals leave some clue."
I nodded. Pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed Dam's number: voicemail, yet again, and I left another message to call the MIT the second he got my message.
Janet placed a hand between my shoulder-blades. I turned, Gill barking out orders a blur just on the edges of my peripheral vision, and took my coat from Janet's hand. Put one arm into it as we walked out, tangled myself somehow in the lining. Janet laughed. I gave her the two-fingered salute, then started over with my coat.
"I want to review my notes on the way," Janet said.
"I'll drive, then," I said.
No radio, no music, just an engine in need of a check and the swishing sound of Janet flipping through her notes. I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel. Waited at yet another red light.
I pulled into the carpark just this side of too fast. Janet grabbed at the door with one hand, her other arm flying out like a protective bar in front of me. I parked the car. Checked my mobile--no missed calls, from Dam or Gill or anyone else--and climbed out. Janet was halfway across the carpark by the time I locked up.
I caught up to her at the front desk. An unfamiliar bloke in flash sunglasses sat there, gesturing about something I couldn't quite catch. "What's all this?" I asked. Smiling my most charming smile.
"This is Damien Watson," Janet said. She shammed calm pretty well, but I could see her turning her phone over in her hand. "He was just explaining why he's still at work, even though it's clearly mid-morning and his shift normally ends at 6."
"Yeah?" I said. I played calm as well. "And why's that then?"
Damien scratched his right ear. Tilted his head in that direction. "Fucking shit bast--" Janet coughed, and he blushed--"Sorry, ma'am. As I was saying, though, Tim never showed this morning and weren't no one else to work, so here I'm stuck."
I leaned in. "He do that often?" I asked.
Damien shook his head, no, and said, "Never. Not once. Between the kid and the wife, not to mention his bitch girlfriend, he needed all the dosh he could get. More often he'd pick up my shift than the other way around."
Janet looked over at me. Eye contact, a nod, and I knew what she was thinking. "He didn't happen to work for you, say, Saturday last?" I asked. I glanced over at Janet. "The twelfth, wasn't it?"
"Yeah," she said. "The twelfth."
"Oh, shit," Damien said. He ran his hands through his hair; tufts of it stood straight up, like a little boy who just woke up. I half expected him to be wearing onesies. He pushed his sunglasses up on his head. His eyes were bloodshot; he'd obviously bathed in cologne to try to hide the smell of pot.
"Oh, shit, indeed," Janet said.
"See, there was this gig," Damien said. "My mates and I, we're Under the Volcano, I drum. Anyway, point is, my uncle won't hire anyone to take nights until I’ve gone back to uni to become a barrister or something shit like that, so sometimes I'll slip Tim a baggie plus my wages and he'd cover my shift. That night we were in Newcastle. Killer show."
"Funny you should say that," I said.
Damien blinked. Furrowed his eyebrows. "Huh?"
"The Bouchers were killed that night," Janet said. "Family on eleven? Ring any bells?"
Damien's entire body seemed to slump. "No," he said. His voice sounded shot; I held back a joke about hoping he didn't do any vocals for his band. "No, they're. Tim was just, he and Clara were just here the other night, and they never-"
"Dam," Janet said. Using her best mum tone. "Damien, now I need you to think really carefully for me, okay? What night were they here? Was it last night? The night before? Did they have the girls with them?"
Damien looked down at his desk. "Right," he said. He took of his sunglasses and placed them on his keyboard. Picked them up again to fiddle with. "Okay, it wasn't tonight, or last night rather. He would've said, about not working today. So two nights ago?"
"Don't ask me," I said.
"Two nights ago," he said. "Tim, Clara, and the girls all stopped in to get suitcases for the girls. Said something about going to Canada to visit their aunt and uncle, yeah? Tim was going to be giving them a lift to the airport."
Gill would've checked the airports already: trains, buses, anything in and out of the country. The hotel room where Clara'd been staying with the girls had been cleared out. "Can you access contact details on that thing?" I asked, pointing at his computer. "We'll need Tim's address if you can get it for us."
I stepped back into the lobby. Let Janet continue the questioning while I rang to request backup.
The girls cried. The littlest one wiped her nose on her scarf, and the eldest slapped at her to get her to stop. Clara and Tim were being cautioned on the other side of the room--Clara looking down at her boots, shoulders slumped, defeated.
"Clara!" The middle girl started it, but soon they were all calling for her. Desperate, pathetic screaming. I did my best to calm them, but nothing seemed to work. I caught Janet's eye and gestured for her to come over.
Gawkers with rolling suitcases kept slowing outside the security area we'd cordoned off, trying to get a peek at the trainwreck through the half-open door. Loud whispers. A couple of speculative conversations about paedophiles.
"Close that," I said. A uniform scurried over. Closed the door with a loud slam.
Janet crouched down to talk to the girls. I stood up, wiped imaginary dust off my trousers. We'd stopped at Tim's flat first; a computer printout on the ratty sofa'd given us their flight information, and that was that. A phone call and they were done. Caught.
The girls kept sniffling. "I love you," Clara yelled, and they howled. I tapped Janet on the shoulder and walked over to the corner where Clara and Tim were standing handcuffed.
"Shut it," one of the uniforms said.
"Make me," Clara said.
"You think those girls aren't upset enough," I said. A calculated risk, but the girls really seemed to be her weak spot. Her reason for this. "That it? You're doing a fine job of making this even worse for them right now."
Clara looked at me. Defiant. Stubborn. "I'm the only one who ever loved them girls," she said. "Not their mother nor their father ever did."
She seemed to think that meant something, love. I'm still not sure whether or not I agree.
The pub was full of coppers, drunk and happy and miserable coppers. Spinning coppers, if I moved my head too fast. Janet waved at Ade--"my knight," she said, "come to spirit me home"--and almost lost her glasses when her head tipped forward.
I picked them up off the table and folded them. Handed them back to her with all the solemnity of the severely inebriated. A kiss on my cheek, and another for Gill, and she gathered up the rest of her belongings. Glasses still clutched in her right hand. Best she wasn't driving; she was having problems simply navigating the pub floor.
"Night," I said.
She turned back halfway to the door and waved at the entire room. "Bye, all," she said.
A murmured chorus of goodbyes followed her out. I finished my glass of wine and contemplated whether or not to have another. Or, rather, I would've have been thinking about it had Gill not already refilled my glass, shaking the bottle to release the last drops.
Kevin leaned over from the next table over. "Another round, ladies?"
"Why not?" Gill said. She pressed her foot against my ankle, invisible in the shadows of the table. I, reckless drunk that I am, pushed back. My face felt hot. I lifted my glass and took a long swallow.
Finished the whole glass in one go. I put it back down on the table. "Why not, indeed?" I said.
Kev grinned. "Great." He stood up and took two steps in the direction of the bar. "These losers have decided to forsaken me," he said, pointing at the lads, "So I'll just join the two of you fine ladies."
"Wonderful," Gill said. Her leg shifted away. I wasn't disappointed. She fumbled in her bag for a second, and pulled out a tube of lipstick and a pack ofBenson & Hedges. "I'm just going to go out for a bit of fresh air."
"I'll join you," I said. I grabbed my bag and stood. Gill tilted toward me, just for a second, as she got to her feet. "Kev, get us another bottle. We'll be right back."
"Sure thing," Kev said.
I followed Gill out the back of the pub. She nodded at one of the bar girls, and we were waved back into the alley. A dishwasher put his fag out on the wall. Wrapped his arms around himself and headed back inside.
"Right," Gill said. She held up the cigarette carton. "The thing is, I don't have a lighter."
I glanced around: the alley was poorly lit, reasonably contained. No cameras. I chanced a quick kiss, and Gill leaned into it like she'd been expecting me to do just that. "That's okay," I said. I pressed my lighter into her palm. "I do."
She laughed. Her real laugh, not the strained thing that sounded like anger. Another quick kiss, and she pulled away. Took a cigarette from the carton and held it to my mouth. I lit it, inhaling like it was my last.
"I'm quitting tomorrow," I said. I passed it to her and she took a shallow drag.
"I quit," she said. "Oh, god, ten years ago? Eleven? Can't remember exactly, but it was ages ago."
I held out my hand to take the cigarette back, but she held it to my mouth herself. Her finger resting against my lower lip. I licked at the tip of it, salt and nicotine, and she smiled at me. All teeth. I dropped the cigarette to the floor, and started to walk her back toward the wall.
"Rachel," she said. "We're not on a case right now." I half tripped over a broken glass, stumbling forward until we were pressed together. She placed a hand on the nape of my neck; I shivered, her fingers were cold.
"No," I said. "We're not. Because we just saved the day."
"Yet again," she said.
She kissed me that time, instead of the normal way around. I wish I could say it was somehow remarkable, the beginning of something special like on telly, but we were sloppy and drunk. She bit my tongue. I drooled.
The door squeaked open. A bloke in a dirty smock walked through, muttering about the cold.