"...until this is sorted out, I have no option but to suspend you."
As Cowley's final words crashed into my consciousness, I nodded, numbly, and reaching automatically for the Walther and ID placed them on his desk.
"I'm sorry, Doyle."
I nodded again, still trying to come to terms with what I'd just been told. I felt sick; shaken to the core. Moving only slightly, unsure where I was placing my feet, I turned to the Inspector. I needed to get out of the building, before Bodie found out. "Let's go."
I'd seen Ray's Capri parked outside when I arrived. If I was quick, I might have time for a cuppa before Cowley realised I was here.
The VIP Lounge was empty - and the kettle was cold. Obviously Ray hadn't had time for his own tea before he'd been dragged into The Presence... I filled it and plugged it in, then heard Cowley's door open. Ray came out, accompanied by someone I didn't know. I frowned. I could recognise a copper when I saw one.
"Wondered where you'd got to. You want tea or coffee?"
He glanced at me but didn't speak, and moments later he and his shadow had disappeared into the lift. I left the Lounge, thinking I'd head them off at the bottom of the stairs, but Cowley's voice stopped me.
"Bodie." The Old Man was standing in the doorway of his office, glasses swinging by one arm. "You'd better come in."
"What's going on?" He offered me a seat. I preferred to stand. He was already pouring himself a whisky, and without asking he poured a second and handed it to me.
"Doyle has been arrested."
The Inspector - Tanner, his name was - probably broke several rules, but he didn't cuff me. Asking politely for my address, he drove to my flat to collect the clothes I was wearing last night.
I pointed out the shirt on the chair, it hadn't even made it to the laundry bag. Jacket, hanging from the wardrobe doorknob, and jeans. I had those on again.
Tanner asked me to change and moving purely on instinct, I did; and watched detachedly as the shirt, jacket and jeans were bundled into a bag to be sent to Forensics.
Back to the car; and to the Station. The one saving grace was that it wasn't a nick I'd been at; it made it less likely I'd have to face anyone I knew. Although there were no guarantees. For some reason Tanner was treating me with a sort of respect. I didn't recognise him, but it wasn't impossible he knew me. Or maybe he was just being careful, knowing CI5's reputation. Quite why I was worrying about it in my present position I wasn't sure - at least it was stopping me worrying about everything else...
We went through the rigmarole. I was formally cautioned. They took my fingerprints, and almost apologetically Tanner told the duty sergeant to lock me up. It was all too horribly familiar, except I knew it all from the other side.
The cell door slammed behind me. Left alone at last, I slumped onto the bunk, and dropped my head into my hands. This couldn't be happening...
I lifted my head and stared around me; taking in the small barred window, the stark, greeny-grey painted walls. No 'couldn't' about it; it was. It wasn't all that cold, but I shivered.
"That's bloody ridiculous! How could anyone be stupid enough to think Doyle would do anything like that?"
"I mean - he wouldn't. He doesn't need to!"
"So what the hell are we doing about it?"
I stopped pacing and glared at Cowley. At the sight of his expression I stopped glaring and stood to attention.
"Of course he didn't do it. But he's been accused and CID have to take it seriously..."
I wasn't left for long. I was staring at my shoes, thinking how uncomfortable they were without laces, when I heard the bolts shot back. Tanner again.
"Your solicitor is here. Time to talk."
My solicitor? What solicitor? Then I realised; it would be Cowley's doing. I followed Tanner to the interview room, relieved to at least recognise the man already there, although I couldn't remember his name.
"Doyle? John Farmer." I nodded vaguely, beginning to allow myself to focus on what was going on. Maybe now I'd find out more than just the basics.
Seated, Tanner was fiddling with the two cassette tape deck, and I felt a glimmer of amusement. Back in the good old days, we'd had to record everything said in an interview by hand. This was high-tech by comparison.
"Interview with Raymond Doyle, 5th December, commenced at 13.23 hours. Tape one." He paused following his annotation of the tape, then looked directly at me. "Mr Doyle, you have been arrested for questioning following an accusation of sexual assault."
That much I knew. I wasn't sure how far Cowley had briefed the solicitor; Farmer didn't seem to have any paperwork and he wasn't taking notes.
"Can you tell me where you were between eleven-thirty p.m. and midnight yesterday evening, Mr Doyle?"
I used to ask questions like that. And here was stumbling block number one; I couldn't. Before I could make any response, however, Farmer interrupted. "Just a minute. I'd like to establish some more details first; such as exactly why my client been arrested. Is he one of a number of men being questioned?"
Tanner consulted with himself before replying. "The accusation has been made by someone who knows Mr Doyle. A girl named Gemma Holmes."
Gemma? Kim's flatmate? Farmer was raising an eyebrow at me; I nodded. "I know her. But..." This didn't make sense.
"How can she identify me? Gemma is blind..."
She was pretty. Normally I'd have tried chatting her up, but not now... She probably wouldn't be interested anyway. I caught sight of myself in the mirror behind the bar: my scowl would have been enough to put anyone off.
I wasn't sure which was greatest, my anger or my disbelief. How anyone could believe Ray would do something like that was beyond me. Why would he need to?
I downed the whisky in one, handed the glass back for a refill. As it burned its way down, I thought over everything Cowley had said. And the things he'd left unsaid.
OK - forgetting for a second the sheer idiocy of the charge, what did we know? That some girl had been attacked in the street, and accused Ray of being the attacker. Ray had been arrested. They'd be questioning him about now.
Not much, then. Although if the girl said it was Ray, it must be someone he knew or who knew him. But there was nothing I could do. Cowley'd said Tanner would no doubt visit me: after I'd mentioned we'd been together last night it was obvious to both of us that I might be Ray's alibi. He'd certainly tell Tanner about our session in the pub.
I kept coming back to the impossibility of it. Ray's never had any problems pulling birds - keeping them, yes, but that was the same for all of us! And he was going out with someone at the moment, anyway.
For the moment, all I could do was wait. Cowley had said to co-operate with CID, and to tread softly. We didn't want to make things worse for Ray.
That had been the wrong thing to say. Tanner's attitude had immediately hardened; it sounded as if I had been banking on her not being able to see me to get away with it - whatever it was I was supposed to have done.
Farmer had seized on it, though. "So there is no positive identification? Unless you have an independent witness?"
"Miss Holmes has given us a detailed description of the man who attacked her. She mentioned that it sounded like Mr Doyle, who she has met on a number of occasions, and her description matches." Tanner was still managing to be polite; perhaps he wasn't completely convinced by the evidence so far.
"So questioning my client will only form part of your investigation. I assume you will also be looking for others who answer the same description?" Farmer was good, and I silently thanked Cowley, knowing he wouldn't have sent an idiot to defend me. I was beginning to understand why Tanner was walking on eggshells; they didn't have enough to charge me with, and for the first time I felt more positive.
"Not at the moment. We will be talking to Miss Holmes again but what she has told us so far leads us to believe we have the right man."
Oh. Not so good; he obviously had something up his sleeve he wasn't telling us yet. Tanner returned to his original question, and I ignored Farmer's motion to silence and tried to answer it. Keeping quiet wouldn't help me at the moment and I was still hoping that I could tell Tanner something that would exonerate me immediately.
"I can't tell you exactly where I was at eleven thirty last night. As far as I know, I was at my flat, alone." Farmer was looking slightly worried now, and I added further explanation. "I'd been out for the evening with a friend; had too much to drink. He dumped me back at my flat at some point. I'm not sure what time it was."
Tanner made a few notes. "His name?"
"William Andrew Philip. But you'd better not use them; you wouldn't like the result." Farmer gave me a slight grin which seemed to indicate he was familiar with Bodie's reputation.
"Did he have a lot to drink too?"
"He was driving." Bodie might not have been stone cold sober, but he wasn't drunk - I could remember that much.
"How well do you know Miss Holmes?"
"Hardly at all." I thought back; I'd only been seeing Kim for a few weeks. I remembered meeting Gemma twice at the flat; we'd chatted for a bit whilst Kim was getting ready. "I've only spoken to her a few times. She seems like a nice girl, but she's just Kim's flatmate. I haven't taken much notice of her."
"Not your type?"
"All girls are my type, but only one at a time. And it's unlikely I'd ask Gemma out even if Kim and I weren't together - it can get awkward." I wasn't sure being flippant would help, but I wasn't sure what would.
"Do you go out with many girls? Play the field?"
I didn't think much of his line of questioning. "Yes. So what are you suggesting? That I take out as many girls as possible in order to have a chance to rape them?" Farmer flapped a hand at me, but I was getting angry now. "Yes, I see a lot of girls. Most of them are short-term relationships; most won't put up with my erratic lifestyle for more than a few weeks. And yes, I sleep with most of them. But I've never had to force a girl to do anything..."
I drove home slowly - I'd put away another couple of whiskies and didn't want to risk being picked up for drunk driving. And I'd had time to think.
Of course the whole thing was nonsense, and Cowley and I, and Ray, knew it. But not everyone knows Ray as well as I do. And not everyone would see it the same way. Thinking back to the way Adamson had welcomed me into his little group without really knowing much about me, it was far too easy for other people to believe what they want to believe. I fought down a twinge of self-loathing at the memories. Adamson had believed I was like him.
Ray had plenty of enemies, who'd be all too ready to believe the worst of him.
There was someone waiting at my door. As he turned I saw it was the cop who'd 'escorted' Ray from Cowley's office. I felt my jaw clench. I knew he'd be coming - I just hadn't expected it to be so soon.
"William Andrew Philip Bodie?"
If Ray's situation hadn't been so serious I'd have hit him. As it was I glared, and spat out. "It's Bodie. Just Bodie."
He smiled, and gestured towards the door. "Well, Just Bodie, shall we go in or do you want me to conduct this interview on the doorstep?"
A cop with a sense of humour? Will miracles never cease? I grinned, feeling a little less hostile, and reached for my keys.
I handed him a coffee and took a slurp of my own.
"You want to tell me what's happening?"
Tanner gave me a measuring stare. "Doyle has been arrested on a sexual assault charge, as I'm sure you know. He's been identified by the victim, who is the flatmate of his current girlfriend. He has given us your name as his alibi for yesterday evening." He pulled out a notebook. "Now, I need to know about Doyle's movements yesterday between nine p.m. and midnight."
I shrugged. "We went for a drink. Stayed in the same club all night, he had more to drink than me so I took him home."
"And what time was that?"
I frowned, not wanting to say it. "Just after eleven."
Tanner wrote it down in the notebook, but didn't comment.
"Look, he was paralytic. He could hardly walk! I had to drag him into the flat. And in any case, Doyle isn't like that! If he was interested in this girl - which he wouldn't be at the moment because he's going out with Kim - he's hardly likely to attack her in the street, is he? Ray prefers the gentlemanly approach. He'd sweet-talk her into bed."
"Do you really know him well enough to swear to that? There's a lot even close partners don't know about each other, even when they've worked together for years..."
Remembering, a touch guiltily, how close-mouthed I'd been about my own past, I jumped on the question a bit faster than perhaps I should have. "Yes, I do know him well enough to be certain."
He changed tack. "How sure are you he was drunk? He could have been faking it."
Now I was getting annoyed. "I know the difference between Doyle drunk and Doyle sober! He'd drunk enough to sink a battleship by the time we left - couldn't even get to his bed. I left him on the sofa." I glared. "What exactly do you have on him, anyway?"
Tanner shook his head. "The victim might be blind, but she's certain of her facts..."
"Blind. You know, unable to see."
"How can she be so sure, then?"
"Apparently her flatmate has described Doyle in great detail and at great length. Gemma has also met him once or twice, briefly, and spoken to him on the phone. Now, I realise that some of this evidence is circumstantial - but what's convinced her is that the attacker mentions fancying her since he'd been going out with Kim..."
I interrupted him. "Why the hell would Ray do that? It would help identify him."
"...Which is precisely why it doesn't entirely convince me. If he was drunk enough to be reckless enough to attack Gemma in the street, where there could be witnesses, and say something that could identify him, then he was probably too drunk to get there in the first place. She couldn't be absolutely certain of the voice, either - there were background noises and the attacker spoke in whispers."
"What else do you have?"
He frowned, seemingly realising he'd already told me more than he should have done. I wasn't likely to get anything more from him. I sighed.
"So what happens now?"
He was back in his official hat. "We're still waiting for the results from forensics."
"And that's all I can tell you at the present moment."
I tried appealing to his humanity - if he had one. "Ah, come on! We're on the same side here!"
Obviously he didn't. "Are we? At the moment, Mr Bodie, I am not on anybody's side. I'm just doing my job."
He stood, putting his notebook away. "Thank you for your assistance. That's all for the moment, but I may need to talk to you again."
As he left, I reached for the whisky bottle. I'd done what I could, but things didn't look good.
I sat watching the small patch of darkening sky, alternating between denial and despair. Part of me was convinced it was all a mistake and they'd release me soon. The other part couldn't help remembering the times I'd had to arrest a suspect on a sexual assault charge, how they'd been treated - what happened if they were sent down - and sometimes what happened when they weren't...
The underlying disbelief in my situation hadn't helped the rest of the interview. I'd swung between serious and facetious, exasperating John Farmer as well as Tanner. The Inspector had seemed keen to focus on my wide circle of girlfriends; I'd tried to point out that with such a choice I had no need to attack anyone, but it only seemed to confirm Tanner's suspicions that I was a sex maniac.
Farmer had done his best to keep me calm whilst probing for more details, which Tanner reluctantly imparted. It seemed that Gemma had been attacked just after 11.30, having been dropped off by taxi. She'd fought and screamed, apparently her assailant had been scared off by some of the neighbours. And the description she'd given Tanner matched me...
I was tense; muscles screaming at the lack of movement. Forcing myself to walk around the cell, I tried to turn my thoughts to something else - if I continued to cudgel my brains with the problem I'd be insane before they let me out - if they let me out...
Flopping out on the bunk I took a few deep breaths. A sudden switch in rotas had presented us with a free afternoon the previous day, and I'd taken the opportunity to drag Bodie off to the shops. Christmas was fast approaching, and I didn't want to spend the 24th chasing around with the other last-minute crowd looking for things for Nicky and Katie...
Oxford Street was crowded. Late tourists and those already hunting for Christmas bargains were everywhere, and I could see we were going to have to make this quick. Bodie and packed retail outlets didn't mix well.
Heading for Marks', we made our way to the ladies section. I'd had some vague idea of getting Nicky a shirt or jacket, but one look along the extensive racks of different styles and colours changed my mind. I had no idea what she'd like. And as Bodie had been swift to point out, we didn't know what size she took.
Abandoning that as a bad idea we returned to the down escalator, Bodie exchanging lingering looks with a woman on the up escalator during our descent. "Shame she's not going my way."
"Oi." I nudged him. "Concentrate on Christmas presents."
"Oh, I am. She could hang her stocking from my mantelpiece any time."
His libido was in full flight again. I ignored him. "Got any ideas about what we can get Katie?"
"Nope. But Hamley's is just down the road. Sure to find something there."
We ran to catch the Number 73 pulling away, just managing to land on the footplate before it picked up speed; Bodie almost overbalancing backwards and me catching him. Like a pair of truant schoolkids we bundled up the stairs and took over the backseat, laughing loudly.
"Fares, please." She was young and exceptionally pretty. So naturally Bodie had to try and chat her up. "C'mon, darlin', we're only going to Oxford Circus. Can't you let us off?"
"35 pence each, please. No free rides," she responded firmly, efficiently setting switches and rotating the handle on her ticket machine. "On the bus, anyway," she added with a sudden smile, twinkling at Bodie.
He grinned broadly in response, and asked for her phone number.
Barely ten minutes later we reached our stop, and got off outside BHS, Bodie waving to Pam, and tucking the bus ticket with her number written on it securely in his wallet.
"Would you mind concentrating?" I was only mildly exasperated. Bodie's pastime of chatting up the opposite sex was an occupational hazard, but it had frequent rewards in those girls he chatted up having friends who were more than willing to make up a foursome. Not that I needed his help. And at the moment Kim and I were getting along nicely; so far I hadn't had to stand her up, although I couldn't see that lasting.
"I am," he insisted. "Talking to Pam gave me an idea; what about getting Nicky some jewellery, or perfume? All girls love to receive that sort of stuff."
Since we were outside a jewellers', I stopped to scan the window displays. Rings were out; once again I didn't know the size, and a bracelet might prove as difficult. Maybe a necklace.
What caught my eye was a silver horseshoe on a fine chain, set in the centre with the sort of crystal that threw out rainbow colours when it caught the light. I pointed it out to Bodie. "What do you think?"
"Looks OK. Nicky will like it." He was studying an expensive-looking display of gold bracelets, and I nudged him.
"Is that what you're going to get Lindsey?"
He shrugged. "I might not see her."
As far as I was aware, Bodie still hadn't sought professional help after the paedophile case earlier in the year, and had closed down every attempt I'd made to discuss it. But he'd spent a lot of time with Lindsey, who - as far as I could gather - had helped him. In view of the current pursuit of anything wearing a skirt, I'd assumed their relationship had reached a semi-platonic stage, similar to that existing between me and Charlie.
Refraining from any further comment, I went into the shop to get the necklace for Nicky, and that purchase made, I dragged Bodie into Boots, just a few doors along, to look for something in the line of his second suggestion.
Shelves of special giftpacks made the choice easy. I settled on a set containing soaps, talc and bath pearls that included a fragrance, while Bodie bought a set for Katie which came with a small purse.
Filtering our way across the awkward road systems around the Circus we made our way down Regent's Street to Hamley's.
The long-established toy store was a mecca to tourists and Londoners alike, and inside it was heaving. It was also, however, the one shop that I could be sure Bodie wouldn't get bored in; the big kid was grinning from ear to ear, gazing in delight at the cornucopia of games and models stacked on the shelves.
In spite of claiming to have no idea what to buy for Katie, Bodie had obviously done some thinking, and led the way unerringly to the doll department. "She got a Sindy doll for her birthday. I thought I could get her a couple of outfits for it. And maybe a board game? Something we can play with them when we're there."
However, Bodie wasn't content with buying a couple of outfits, once he'd seen what was available. Sindy's dressing table complete with accessories, and her horse and riding gear were added to the list, and by the time we visited the games department and selected Buckeroo, Bodie had to reach for his credit card to pay for it all.
Arms laden with large bags, we made our way back to the escalators. On the way down, Bodie spotted something else. "What about that?"
Lodged above the escalators was a display of soft toys. I knew what had caught his eye - the fluffy, black teddy had blue eyes, and was huge. "It's bigger than Katie! It would swamp her, Bodie."
Eyes gleaming, Bodie smirked at me. "But she'd love it..."
"She would. I'm not so sure Louise would be pleased with it." He left it then, but I wouldn't be surprised if he sneaked back to buy it...
The Old Man was not looking happy when I went in to report. I gathered that Tanner hadn't given him much information, and by the way he snapped at Betty I guessed he'd not been able to find out much more during the day. He waved me to a seat and scowled at me.
"She knows him. She's his girlfriend's flatmate."
"Damn." Cowley dangled his glasses by one arm and rubbed a hand across his eyes. He looked tired.
"But it's all circumstantial, sir. They don't have anything concrete."
I kept my mouth shut, certain he was looking at the whole matter from CID's point of view, not his own.
"Is there anything you want me to do?"
"You'll be on standby until this is cleared up. But I want you to keep your ears and eyes open for anything, anything at all. I smell a set-up."
So did I. And Cowley hadn't actually told me I couldn't sniff around...
"How soon can we get Ray out of there? They don't have enough to charge him, do they?"
"Not from what you've told me. I'll see what strings I can pull, but it won't be tonight."
Recalling the previous afternoon had diverted my thoughts quite successfully for a while, but the sound of the bolt opening the door brought me back with a thud.
The police-station fare was typical - bland and unappetising. I ate it anyway; mind busy with reflection once more, but this time about the previous evening.
We'd left the presents at my flat and gone out to this club Bodie knew of. And between him buying me drinks, and some rather dubious characters he knew who I reckoned were spiking my glass, I got increasingly drunk. By the time we left, I'd reached the drunken stage where I actually believed I was sobering up. It was just as well Bodie had been driving.
I know it was late. Now, I was just hoping that it had been later than I thought when Bodie had dropped me back at my flat. If Bodie had still been with me when Gemma had been attacked then I'd immediately be in the clear.
It was a somewhat forlorn hope though. I already knew, deep down, that if Bodie had been able to confirm my alibi, I'd already be out of here. Several hours on, there had been no sign of Tanner, no indication that I was about to be released.
I was in here for the night.
I'd never felt less like sleep when the lights were put out. Now, the small patch of sky showed up lighter than the rest of the room; I lay and stared at it, still contemplating my position.
I wasn't guilty of attacking Gemma. Whoever had, resembled me. So was it a coincidence? Or was someone trying to set me up? Everything pointed towards the latter - but if that was the case, I didn't just have to prove my innocence.
I had to find out who, and why.
I didn't get a lot of sleep, but didn't have the answers by morning. Why wasn't much of a problem. After all the years of work for the Met and CI5 there were probably hundreds baying for my blood. However, that simply compounded the problem of Who.
Which one of those hundreds was taking their revenge?
I'd expected another question and answer session with Tanner, but when the door opened it was Farmer. The sergeant shut the door behind him.
"The Inspector is organising your release papers." I was so relieved at his first words I felt as if I'd been reprieved from the scaffold, but Farmer was quick to dampen my jubilant reaction. "You're still under suspicion. But the time is coming up when they'd have to charge you or apply for an extension, and at the moment they don't have enough on you to do either."
He added, with a purely partisan grin, "And Mr Cowley has been leaning on them."
That fact probably accounted more for my speedy release than any other. I didn't care; it wasn't the first, and wouldn't be the last time Cowley pulled strings to get what he wanted. But it was good to know he believed in me.
Tanner appeared, and I was led out to the custody desk. My watch, keys, wallet and small change were returned to me, and I signed the receipt, listening abstractedly as Tanner confirmed what Farmer had told me, more conscious of Bodie waiting a few paces away.
He'd obviously been pulling strings of his own, in order to reach that normally restricted area. Probably pulled rank with his ID, and leant heavily on a few coppers. Certainly the duty sergeant was displaying brooding resentment.
I strapped on my watch, stuffed the other bits into pockets, and following Farmer, turned to go. Bodie fell into step beside me; silently, recognising that now wasn't the moment for conversation.
Outside, Farmer paused, and handed me a card. "If you're picked up for further questioning, call me. Any time. Don't speak to them unless I'm there."
He strode away, and I glanced at my partner. Bodie was surveying the coppers around us with a defensive glare, and I managed to grin at him. "Set you on as guard dog, have they?"
"Never mind." I gestured towards the Capri - riding roughshod over regulations again, Bodie had parked in the space reserved for DCI Cade - "Take me home. I need a shower."
Once in the car, I wound the window down fully. It was freezing, but for once Bodie didn't complain. I let the wind blast at me; needing literal as well as metaphorical fresh air.
We drove in silence, Bodie giving me those little glances which meant he was trying to assess my feelings; whether I was as calm as I looked, or just keeping the cork in on the fury he was obviously anticipating. I was just thankful to be out of that police cell. I was angry, but for the moment I could keep the lid on it.
Grabbing a pint of milk from the step, I led the way upstairs. Bodie still hadn't spoken, and I headed straight for the kitchen and plugged in the kettle before turning to him.
"OK, fill me in." I got a rise from one eloquent eyebrow in reply. "What have you and Cowley been doing to clear my name?"
Bodie shrugged. "I dunno about Cowley, but I couldn't help much. All I could tell that Inspector was that I dropped you here just after eleven. You were so plastered you could barely manage the stairs alone; I dropped you on the sofa and left you."
I nodded; the sofa was where I'd woken up at 2 a.m. before staggering to bed. I turned to reach for coffee and mugs. "Was he convinced?"
"Oh, he believed me about that. Trouble is, I can't vouch for you after eleven, can I? According to Tanner, you had time to get to Kim's place and be waiting when Gemma got there."
"If I was as drunk as that?"
"He said you could've been faking it." Bodie sounded indignant, as if Tanner shouldn't make suggestions like that, conveniently forgetting we habitually disbelieved everything our suspects told us.
I slopped milk in the mugs. "If I was faking it, it makes the assault pre-meditated." I didn't like the sound of that. "Is that what Tanner believes?"
"From what he told me." Bodie sounded worried.
"They don't have enough evidence to charge me. They'll be looking at other suspects -"
Bodie interrupted, brusquely. "That wasn't the impression Tanner gave me. The evidence might be circumstantial, but it's pointing bloody big arrows in your direction. He hasn't charged you yet, but you're still the biggest picture in the frame, sunshine."
Bodie was telling me what I didn't want to hear, and I brushed past him. "I'm going to take a shower."
He caught my arm. "All we have to do is prove it wasn't you..."
Ray was still in the shower when Lindsey arrived. I hadn't seen her for a few weeks: she'd changed her hairstyle, had all those lovely curls straightened and cut into a bob. I couldn't very well tell her I didn't like it...
"Love the hair. Makes you look... younger."
She grimaced. "I'm beginning to think it was a mistake."
Not being sure exactly what she meant, I didn't risk commenting. "Thanks for coming."
"I haven't been able to find out much yet. But I do have something for you both." She glanced around, then looked towards the bathroom. "Ray in the shower?"
"I'll wait 'til he's out, then. Saves repeating myself." She grinned and wrapped her arms around me. "And in the meantime..."
We were in the middle of a temperature-raising kiss when Ray interrupted us with a loud "Don't mind me. After all, it's only my flat..."
Lindsey pulled back, a touch reluctantly, and smiled at him.
"Sorry, Ray. Thought you'd be longer."
He glanced down instinctively to check his towel was in place, and she blushed. I fought down a chuckle - this was neither the time nor place.
"Nice to see you. What are you doing here?" Ray glared accusingly at me. "Your idea?"
I raised my hands. "What are friends for? Lindsey's got more contacts in the right places."
He nodded, grudgingly, and turned towards the bedroom. "Make us a cuppa, will you? I need somethin' decent after the muck I've been drinking..."
As he vanished to get dressed, Lindsey filled the kettle. A couple of minutes later, mugs in hands, we were sitting round the kitchen table listening to Lindsey.
"The good news is that I know somebody at the station - we went through training together and stayed in touch. The bad news is she's still in uniform, so getting information from CID isn't easy. You know what station politics are like..."
Ray nodded wryly. "Yeah - I remember."
"Anyway, I spoke to her earlier, and she's back on duty later, so she'll keep an ear on the gossip. We're hoping to meet for a drink tonight: I'll let you know if she's managed to find out anything."
"Ring me as soon as you get home." She smiled at me. It was one of those smiles. "In fact, why don't you come round and report in person?"
She nodded. "I'd like that."
Ray pouted. "Alright for some..."
"Well, Charlie's off at the moment. Maybe you should call her. In fact, we might get further if she was involved anyway."
"I'm not doing that - and don't you dare!" Ray was annoyed and alarmed. "I'm not happy about you being here, for a start: I'm not having Charlie getting mixed up in this. It could damage her career." He scowled and rose to his feet. "I ought to go and see Gemma, see if I can sort things out."
I grabbed his arm. "I don't think so."
He glared. "Why?"
"Ray, use your head. She thinks you attacked her. Do you really think she'd even agree to talk to you, let alone listen to anything you said?"
Lindsey nodded. "And that's not even mentioning any 'intimidation of witnesses' charges that Tanner would throw at you."
Ray looked shocked. He'd obviously not considered that angle. I took advantage of his dismay.
"We'll go round instead."
Lindsey stared at me. "No we won't."
I shrugged. "OK, then. I'll go by myself."
"Oh no you won't! I'm not having any charges thrown at you either! I'll come with you, but I swear, Bodie, you do or say anything to make this situation worse..."
I grinned. " And risk you getting annoyed? As if I would!"
It didn't work - she was still glaring. "I'm not joking."
I sobered. "I know. I'll behave."
We left Ray to get some decent sleep - it was obvious he hadn't had much last night - and I let Lindsey drive. She glanced at me, frowning, as we waited for the lights to change at Farringdon Road.
"This will be tricky if Kim's there."
I smiled. "She won't be. She's a waitress at Chez Philippe's. She'll be working."
"Oh, very swish! Ever eaten there?" I shook my head, and she flashed me a quick grin. "Perhaps we ought to try it." She braked hard as a kid darted out between two parked cars and dived across the road, turning back with a cheeky grin as she hooted at him, then running off. She shook her head despairingly.
"Don't their parents teach them kerb drill any more?"
A young, dark-haired woman answered the door, peering from behind the security chain. She looked nervous, and there were bruises on her cheek.
"Hello? Who is it?"
I exchanged a glance with Lindsey. "Gemma Holmes? My name is Bodie. I'm with CI5. May I talk to you?"
She paled, and tried to close the door. Lindsey shoved me out of the way and stepped forward, pushing against the door, holding it open a little way.
"Miss Holmes? I'm DS Roberts, Scotland Yard. It really would be helpful if you could spare us a few minutes of your time."
Reluctantly, Gemma unlatched the chain and stood back, carefully closing and locking the door behind us. She ushered us through into a comfortable but not overly luxurious lounge and gestured towards a large sofa. She sat opposite, on a dining chair, obviously tense, more bruises and scratches showing on her arms. I tried to put a smile in my voice.
"Thank you for letting us talk to you. We'd like to ask you about Wednesday night - I know the police are investigating what happened, but my boss at CI5 wants us to look into it as well. I hope you'll be able to help us."
She bit her lip, her hands twisting together, obviously distressed and angry.
"I've already given the police my statement. I don't want to go through it all again."
"I understand. But we do need to know a few more details. You claim it was one of our own men who attacked you."
"It was. It was Ray Doyle."
"How can you be so sure?"
She sighed heavily. "Look, I know I'm blind, but my hearing is really good, and I learn voices. Like you learn faces. I've spoken to him enough to know it was him. And he... he felt like Kim's described him."
I glanced at Lindsey, raising an eyebrow, wondering just how far she'd gone in her description.
"Love, I know Ray really well, and he wouldn't do something like this. He's my partner, and..."
It was as far as I got. She leapt up and stumbled backwards, her face white. I rose to go to her, and Lindsey grabbed my arm, her nails biting into my skin. 'Shut your trap!' she mouthed at me with a granite-shattering glare. I shut up.
"Miss Holmes, please, no-one is going to hurt you. I'm here to make sure of that. Please, do sit back down. Mr Bodie" - she shoved me back onto the sofa - "is only here to try to find out the truth."
She had spirit. Angry and frightened as she was, she still glared in my direction.
"It was Ray Doyle! I know it was. The bastard... If the neighbours hadn't heard me, he'd have... he said he was going to..." She swallowed hard. Lindsey had obviously had the sort of training that talked suicides down from roofs: she managed to calm the girl down and get her seated again, and was about to ask her a couple of fairly standard questions when we heard the door open and the chain clink against the wood.
Kim had come home at lunchtime to check on her flatmate - and she was not happy to see us. She glared at us both.
"I want to see your IDs."
We produced them as Kim went to Gemma, putting an arm around her shoulder. "You OK?"
Gemma nodded. "He says he's Ray's partner."
At that Kim swung round to me, her face furious. "You're Bodie?"
I nodded, and she pointed towards the door.
"Get out. Both of you. How dare you come here and try to harass Gemma just to save that little bastard. She's been through enough."
Lindsey raised her hands. "Miss McDonald, please. We're not here to cause Miss Holmes any distress, we're just trying to do our job."
"I haven't seen you before. Does the Inspector know you're here?" Lindsey hesitated for a fraction too long. "He doesn't does he? You're nothing to do with the case, are you? You're just here to try and get her to change her story."
"No, of course not..."
Kim didn't give her a chance to finish. "I want you both out, now. And I'll be complaining to your bosses."
Lindsey nodded and pulled me towards the door. There really wasn't anything either of us could say.
I'd only managed a couple of hours sleep. I had too much on my mind, and when some kids started shrieking in the street outside I gave up on the idea.
Bodie arrived back alone just after four. I'd spent the time praying he and Lindsey had been able to talk to Gemma: that they'd managed to find out something to clear me, but it was clear from his expression that the visit hadn't been a success.
"You blew it?" I guessed.
He sighed. "Not exactly. She's scared, Ray. Scared and suspicious. Not prepared to trust me, and adamant that you were the one who attacked her. Lindsey might've got through to her - "
"Kim came home."
Oh great. I slumped onto the sofa. Bodie attempted some reassurance. "I don't think we've made things any worse..."
"Right at the moment, Bodie, I don't see things could get any worse." At least they had tried. "I just hope you and Lindsey aren't going to get into trouble."
Right on cue, the phone rang. Cowley. "Is 3.7 with you?" I held out the receiver to Bodie without a word - he knew who it was.
He winced at the biting tone of the Old Man's voice, dropping the receiver gently back into the cradle, and giving me a dubious grin. "I'm wanted."
"Dead or alive?"
"Oh, I'll try not to let him shoot me..."
The flat seemed very quiet when he'd gone, and I poured myself the whisky I'd been resisting for several hours. There was really no reason why I couldn't get blinding drunk - I was on suspension, there was no danger of being called out - but I'd been down several of these despairing paths before, and getting drunk actually didn't help. At the moment I needed a clear head.
I started running some names through my mind. I was determined not to involve Charlie in my predicament, but there were a few people on the other side of the fence I could call on...
I had a headache. Cowley had shouted at me for at least fifteen minutes, pointing out in no uncertain terms what a brainless idiot I was, and what did I think I was doing? Trying to jeopardise our chances of proving Ray innocent? And who was with me, that young lady I was running around with? That DS... Roberts, wasn't it? She'd be in for the high jump when her DCI finds out. Why did I involve her, anyway...?
I didn't try to answer, just stood flinching until he ran out of steam, then apologised. Which started him off again, although not quite so loudly. Finally he sat back in his seat, red in the face and glowering, and asked if I'd actually managed to find out anything useful. He was not impressed when I had to tell him no...
At the end he'd sighed heavily and looked up at me from under lowered brows.
"Aye, I know you're worried. But don't do anything so daft again! You're to stay away from Gemma, understand?"
I nodded, and he waved me out of his office. Relieved at getting off so lightly, I left, speedily, without another word.
Working for the Met brought you into contact with all sorts of people. There were the out-and-out felons; the true, hardened criminals who chose their life of crime and given all the opportunity in the world wouldn't have wanted to go straight. Then there were others who tried to break away from villainy, and some who managed it, at least for a time.
And at the bottom of the pile were usually the unfortunate ones, those who'd turned to illegal methods when legal means of raising money failed. I'd seen a lot of them over the years; hookers and junkies, kept down by pimps and dealers, never given a chance to get away or make a better life for themselves once they'd been trapped.
I knew enough of them. But what I also needed was contact with those who'd want to help me, and that narrowed the field somewhat. Granted I'd helped plenty of them, but whether they were able to help me was another matter - how many of them were still alive, anyway?
Only one way to find out. I picked up my jacket and reached for the car keys - and stopped dead, suddenly feeling naked. I was planning to visit some of the seediest areas I knew, and I'd had to turn in my Walther.
I gave myself a mental shake. As a copper I'd walked the beats without any armoury to protect myself with; going armed was just a habit now - albeit a very reassuring habit...
At half past ten Lindsey tapped on the door. As I opened it she fell into my arms, her lips on mine as she grabbed handfuls of my hair. She tasted of Guinness, of all things...
"What have you been drinking?"
She giggled. "Poor man's Black Velvet. Guinness and Babycham. Only it's stronger than I thought..."
I led her through to the lounge and let her collapse onto the sofa. I'd intended making coffee, but she pulled me down with her and wrapped her arms and legs around me, still giggling. It was infectious. And she's terribly cute when she's pissed.
Nevertheless, I needed to know what her friend had been able to tell her. I struggled upright, disregarding her pouted objections, and patted her cheek.
"What did you find out?"
"Awww..... can't we go to bed first?"
I grinned. "Business before pleasure, love."
She leaned against me, grinning, her hand in my lap stroking what was rapidly becoming an erection.
I groaned silently and moved her hand.
She sobered up a little and nodded.
"OK. Well, Shirley doesn't know all that much, but she was able to tell me that Tanner is actually looking for other suspects - I kind of gather he's definitely not satisfied with Gemma's statement. Oh, and she was able to sneak a peek at the forensic results: they found a trace of lipstick on Ray's jacket collar. It's Gemma's."
I felt my heart sink.
"Oh. That's not so good."
She shook her head.
"Doesn't mean a thing. Gemma and Kim have the same colouring - you can bet they borrow each other's makeup."
I stared at her. "Yeah? I never knew that."
She grinned and snuggled closer. "Common practice. Means you get twice the makeup for half the price. Saves money."
I gave up trying to work that out and kissed her cheek. "Anything else?"
"No. Except that a couple of her workmates seem happy about the whole thing. Seems Ray ruffled a few feathers while he was in the Met."
"He would do. Well, I suppose it's mostly good news. Ray'll be relieved to hear Tanner's cast the net wider."
She nodded and nestled closer. "Can we go to bed now?"
First stop was the basement pub in Frith Street. I couldn't have told anyone what it was called; it changed names - and owners - as frequently as Bodie changed his girlfriends.
Tonight it was called Angelique's. The neon sign was new, but nothing much had altered inside. The same dingy bar and battered bar stools; the lighting as bad - or possibly worse - as always.
The people hadn't changed either. Harry was still beside the door: back in the 60's he'd had the potential to be a champion boxer, until someone had clobbered him with a brick down the proverbial dark alley. He was still good with his fists; just didn't have the wits any more.
And Mac was still behind the bar, looking even more scrawny than before. I wasn't exactly pleased to see him - merely relieved that some of the links to the past were still in existence - but his reaction on spotting me was distinctly less than complimentary.
"Nice to see you too," I responded conversationally. He glared at me, and slopped a mucky cloth along the top of the wooden bar, making no noticeable difference to the layer of ingrained dirt and beerslops that had a patina all of its own.
"I'll have a beer. A bottle," I added hastily. If I had to drink in here it made sense to have something that relied as little as possible on the in-house hygiene levels.
Mac reached for a bottle and with the ease of long practice opened it on the edge of the bar, sending the cap flying. He banged it and a glass onto the counter in front of me. "£1.40," he snarled.
I handed him a couple of pound notes and ignoring the glass took a swig straight from the bottle.
Slapping the change back on the bar, Mac moved the unwanted glass and scowled at me. "Well?"
"Yes, thanks." I peered at the coins - I wasn't about to get short-changed - but the amount was correct, so I pocketed them. I wasn't so sure coming here had been a good idea; it was the first place I'd thought of in trying to track down some of the street girls I used to know, but Mac might just send me on a wild goose chase anyway.
I glanced around me. It was too early to be busy, but a few of the tables were occupied - there were one or two couples, but mainly single men. No working girls yet.
"I'm waiting for a few of the girls."
Mac started to sneer, then caught my expression and thought better of it. "There'll be a few in. Doubt you'll know 'em..."
I was beginning to think that myself. The girls I'd known five or six years ago had probably moved on into the care of pimps, no longer working the bars or streets. Although not all of them would have made it that far.
There was a burst of giggles as three girls clattered down the stairs, teetering on their high heels, faces overly made-up. They joshed with Harry, waved to Mac, and made their way to a table, chattering noisily.
The barman was already lining up three vodkas and tapping the tops off tonic bottles, and unbent enough to answer my silent query. "Nah, they're office girls. First stop on their regular Friday night disco circuit." He picked up glasses and bottles and delivered them to the girls' table, pausing to exchange a few words with them.
I heard heels on the stairs again: this time the newcomer was the sort of girl I was waiting for. Visually, there wasn't a lot of difference between her and the others; they were all young, made-up and dressed provocatively. The difference was in her face, her eyes - if you knew what to look for, all the signs were there.
She glided towards the bar, deliberately not looking at me as I sized her up. Aged somewhere between 16 and 20 - it was impossible to be more precise - she was nonetheless too young for me to have known her in the past.
"Buy you a drink?"
She'd managed a surreptitious appraisal of me, and I obviously fell into the category of possible John as she turned on a smile that failed to reach her eyes.
Mac pushed a glass towards her - she was obviously a regular - and gave her a tip-off. "He's fuzz."
The smile vanished. I glared at Mac before speaking to her. "I'll pay for information."
Her eyes sought something from Mac - advice, reassurance? - and he shrugged in response. "He'll pay."
I fished out an enticing twenty from my wallet. "Shall we sit over there?"
Gaze fixed longingly on the money, she followed me to one of the tables, perching uneasily on the edge of the chair.
"What's your name?" The table was under one of the better lights in the place, and I had time to study her while she decided whether that was the sort of information she could give me. Natural blonde, hazel eyes, slim. She was probably at the lower end of my age guess and though I thought it unlikely she wasn't on drugs, so far they weren't having a visible effect.
"Michelle," she eventually offered.
It almost certainly wasn't her real name, but it would do. "Worked around here long, Michelle?"
"Couple months." She was looking edgy, this definitely wasn't the sort of information she wanted to give.
"I'm looking for some girls who used to work the area a few years ago. I wondered if you might know any of them, where I could find them?"
A slight nod. "Maybe."
"There was a blonde called Jacqueline, and a black girl called Marcelle; they'd be about 23 now. They used to work together." It had been safer that way, but not safe enough to stop one of the perverts from holding a knife on them both for 48 hours before they managed to escape. That was when I'd first met them.
"Don't know them." Recognising that was unlikely to earn her the twenty quid, Michelle tried to be a bit more helpful. "I've not been around that long, but I know some of the girls that have... they might know..."
And she might just vanish with the money and I'd never see her again. "Who are the pimps running things at the moment?"
"I don't have a pimp."
That wasn't what I'd asked her, but I wasn't surprised by her answer. She'd not been around long enough for one to have pulled her into line, that was all. Give her another three months, if she was lucky, and the tricks would suddenly dry up, the dope suddenly cost twice as much, and she'd be looking for help. "Who are they?" I repeated.
"I've heard about some... Rudolf, Leach, Goddard..." Once she'd started, it was like a tap. "Ayres, Sandison..."
I didn't recognise any of the names. Maybe I was approaching this from the wrong direction, maybe I should be looking for some of the pimps I used to know... like George.
I drained my bottle of beer, and pulling out a pen wrote my phone number on the third-hand beer mat, and wrapping it in the twenty pound note passed it to Michelle. "Ask around for me. Call me if you find Jackie or Marcelle."
It was probably the last I'd see of her, but the money would help her. I'd tried many times in the past to persuade girls like Michelle to get off the streets, to get a proper job and clean life, before it was too late. I no longer made the effort. There were too many of them for me to help personally; most of them had no one to turn to, or had turned away from those they did have.
Lindsey sighed and nestled a little closer: I kissed her forehead. It had been as satisfying as ever, but now I found myself unable to sleep, staring at the ceiling, frowning. Worrying about Ray.
It was all very well sniffing around, and - as I would be tomorrow - going through records to find someone who might hold a grudge. The problem was there were so many potential suspects. We'd both made a hell of a lot of enemies in our time.
I sighed. Well, maybe something would click - a face, a name, an old case...
The last time I'd looked up George we'd been working on the Rahad case, when I'd met Anna. As usual, I smiled to myself, remembering her. She was well out of George's class.
I prowled around for several hours, checking out the streets and pubs and bars, but there was no sign of him. Shortly after two, I gave up and headed home, debating with myself whether to drop in on Bodie and see if Lindsey had learnt anything. On the other hand, they were bound to be in bed - if not asleep - and I wanted Bodie on my side right now...
"Could you drop me home on your way?" Lindsey had woken earlier than me and brought me breakfast in bed. Not that I'd had much in, but she'd still managed a decent fry-up, tea, and toast and marmalade. Amazing what that woman can do with the contents of a fridge...
I nodded, and she grabbed another piece of toast.
"Fancy dinner tonight?"
"Not tonight, love. Got something else planned."
"Something - or someone?"
Actually it was someone - I'd arranged to go for a drink with Pam - but I didn't want to tell Lindsey that. I kissed her. "Give me a ring tomorrow - or earlier if you find out anything else, OK? I'll be at HQ until this evening."
She nodded and reached for her clothes.
Out early the following morning I spotted George's flash yellow Cadillac parked in Berners Street, but it was empty. I debated whether to scout around and see if I could find him, or if it made more sense to wait by - or even in - the car.
I settled on the car. I could easily miss him if I was inside the wrong building, but he wouldn't go far without his transport.
On closer inspection, the passenger door was unlocked, and I slid inside. It was damned cold outside; slightly warmer in the car but not that much. I hoped I wasn't in for a long wait.
It was less than half an hour later when I spotted George in the wing mirror. He stormed up to the car, wrenching open the passenger door and starting to demand my swift exit, before he realised who I was.
"Hello, George." I joined him on the pavement, smiling at the two hookers he'd obviously just collected from somewhere. "Good night, girls?"
They smiled back, while George continued to bluster. I cut him short. "I need to talk to you. Put the girls in a taxi." I slid back into the car, shutting the door.
I couldn't hear George's continued protest, but he signalled for a taxi and produced a wad of notes for their fare, pausing to pluck a piece of paper from the wiper before finally dropping into the drivers seat.
He threw a parking ticket at me in disgust. "Bloody traffic wardens. Couldn't you stop them?"
"Aid and abet a felony? I'm supposed to uphold the law, George, and you are parked on a double-yellow line. Just be glad the car wasn't towed away."
"They could've taken you with it." He sighed, and dismissed the ticket. "What do you want?"
"Bit of help. Someone's trying to stitch me up, George, and I need to find out who."
He was surprised; word of my problems obviously hadn't filtered down to the street yet. "But you're big-time now. I can't believe your organisation can't sort it out."
"I work for CI5, George, not the Mafia. We still have to follow the rules."
"What's the score?"
"I've been accused of assault - sexual assault."
George's astonishment was reassuring; it appeared that not everyone was ready to believe me guilty. "You? You never even took it when it was on offer. You want me to rustle up a few of the girls and get them to put in a good word for you?"
I grinned. I could just imagine the judge's face if I trotted a string of hookers into court for a character reference. "I don't need that sort of help, George. I just want you to keep your ear to the ground. If you hear anything about me or CI5, give me a call."
There can be few things as deadly as sifting through records of old cases. Even reliving the successful ones had me yawning after an hour. And even the ones I could directly dismiss - because they were either in gaol or dead - could have left friends or relatives eager for revenge... This was hopeless.
It might also be our best hope of finding an answer. I made another coffee and ploughed on.
I sought out a few more people from the old days; another pimp - one not as friendly as George - plus a couple of snouts. I left my number with all of them, but the streets were quiet. No one knew anything - at least, no one was talking.
Reluctant to return home I hung around Soho for several hours, eventually finding myself wandering along Oxford Street again, although this time I had no interest in the gaily-decorated windows or forthcoming festive season. I could be spending Christmas behind bars.
Four o'clock saw me in Hyde Park, wandering around the Serpentine, until I realised that it was just possible Bodie - or one of those contacts - might be trying to reach me, and perhaps I should go home.
The phone was silent when I got there, and I let another residing hope, that Bodie would have found the answer to the problem in the files, slip away. If he had, either the phone would have been red-hot, ringing every few minutes, or he would have been camped on the doorstep.
I lifted the receiver, just to check, but the line buzzed satisfactorily in working order. I got as far as dialling the first three digits of CI5's number before I hung up. I was suspended; I wasn't supposed to call in. Whatever Cowley was doing behind the scenes to establish my innocence he didn't need me contravening regulations.
Bodie would call me...
And he did. But not until nearly nine, and then from a payphone in the pub. "You OK, sunshine? I've been trying to reach you most of the day, on and off."
"I've been trying to scare up some informants. Find anything?" Whatever he'd wanted to tell me couldn't be good news; that wouldn't have waited.
"Nothing in the files. There's good and bad news from Lindsey's friend. Apparently our friendly inspector isn't personally convinced of your guilt; he's looking at other suspects."
"And the bad news?"
"Forensics found traces of Gemma's lipstick on your jacket. But Lindsey tells me it's likely she and Kim share make-up, so that can be ruled out."
I knew that for a fact; I'd seen Kim borrow a lipstick from Gemma's bag one night. But that sort of circumstance could count against me just as easily as for me. "Are you out with Lindsey at the moment?" I needed company, and was prepared to risk being a gooseberry.
"No, Pam. You remember, from the bus?"
"Yeah, I remember." I couldn't intrude on his date, but he obviously heard the regret in my voice.
"Do you want me to come over?"
"No, I'm OK. You have a good time. Don't let her clip your tickets, mate."
An elbow nudged me in the ribs, and I looked up into Pam's blue eyes. I hadn't heard a word she'd said.
"You didn't hear a word I said, did you? What's the matter with you?"
I sighed. She looked annoyed - this was not the way to earn myself an invite to her bed. I took her hand.
"I'm sorry. Lot on my mind. My partner's in a spot of bother."
She relented a little. "The one with the curly hair? He was cute."
I endeavoured to look indignant. "Fancy him, do you?"
She raised an eyebrow archly. "Well, if you aren't going to pay me any attention..."
I wrapped an arm around her shoulder and kissed her cheek. "Warning duly noted..."
But I couldn't get into it. Even later, back at her flat, in her bed, I couldn't get rid of the nagging worry. Pam didn't comment, which probably says a lot for my technique - or the men she'd previously taken to bed - and seemed very satisfied with the performance, but she was no Lindsey, and she expected me to do all the work...
I left early, before she was properly awake and could ask if we'd see each other again. I was due for stakeout duty anyway.
When I woke early to the sound of the door buzzer I expected it to be Bodie, come to bother me by looking for breakfast after spending the night with Pam.
Instead a polite voice announced himself. "Inspector Tanner, Mr Doyle. Will you open the door please?"
I released the front door and hastened to dress before he reached the flat. I had no idea what this was about now, but I'd feel better able to face it without the added disadvantage of being naked...
He didn't mess about. "We have some more questions to ask you, and I'd like you to come down to the station."
I frowned. "You're arresting me again?"
His reaction was interesting. "No. Not unless you force me to. You know the routine, Mr Doyle. We've had some more - information. Come with me voluntarily to answer our questions, assist with our enquiries, and I won't need to arrest you."
"I can have my solicitor present, though?"
The reasonable tone of his response was encouraging. I managed a grin. "Look, you've got me up. I could do with a shower, shave and a decent cup of coffee before you drag me off."
"By all means..."
We finally reached the station an hour later. Tanner had further surprised me by making the coffee while I was in the shower, and suggesting that I call Farmer to meet us there. I'd been worried that Farmer wouldn't be available since it was Sunday, but like most people connected with CI5, he was working.
Once he'd actually got me in the interview room however, Tanner resumed his previous attitude of suspicion and disbelief. He insisted on going over the events of Wednesday evening again, asking me the same questions I'd already answered on Thursday.
Farmer attempted to interrupt a couple of times, but I was more than willing to answer them. It was an interview technique I'd used myself - still used, in fact - repeating questions that might get a different answer second or third time round.
Not only did I not have different answers to give, but I could remember what I'd said first time round. Tanner wouldn't catch me out that way. And he knew it.
I was beginning to get his measure by now. Working on personal experience, and the covert knowledge I'd acquired from Bodie and Lindsey, I could see exactly what Tanner was doing. Whilst the tape was running in the interview, he was behaving in precisely the way his superiors would expect him to conduct the case; questioning me relentlessly, trying to trip me up.
Knowing that he didn't personally believe in my guilt explained the almost-friendly way I'd been treated earlier that morning. We were playing this interview between us, and Farmer, sensing my capability, had the sense to let us.
Things changed slightly when Tanner raised the Forensics results. "The tests we carried out revealed traces of lipstick on your jacket, Mr Doyle. Lipstick belonging to the victim."
I caught Farmer's slightly worried reaction, but thanks to Lindsey I was forewarned and able to fence the accusation casually, sure knowledge adding confidence to my response. "Gemma might have bought the lipstick, but she and Kim share make-up. I've seen them."
If Tanner suspected I'd had prior knowledge of the Forensics results he didn't give anything away beyond an assessing stare.
"I wore the jacket on a date with Kim last Monday. That's when the lipstick got on it."
Tanner gave no sign of believing me, but made a note. He'd go and ask the girls, and much as Kim might believe me guilty I didn't think she'd lie; she'd admit to sharing make-up and I knew she'd remember the jacket. All the evidence was still circumstantial.
Tanner suddenly changed tack. "Do you often visit prostitutes, Mr Doyle?"
I jumped, at least mentally. What now? "You think I need to pay for it?"
Tanner appeared to think everyone capable of it. "Do you?"
"No. Never." I was terse, slightly concerned now.
"Where were you on Friday night?"
I know I tensed, and I know Tanner saw it. Friday night I'd been alone, wandering around Soho, looking for George. If he wanted an alibi for Friday night, I was sunk - again...
Spotting my confidence lapse, Farmer stepped in. "What's behind this line of questioning, Inspector?"
"I've received a complaint about Mr Doyle."
Before I could start protesting my innocence, Farmer latched onto his words. "A complaint? What exactly does that mean? Can I remind you, Inspector, that my client is here voluntarily and if there is any sort of charge likely to be forthcoming you should caution him now."
"The - complainant - doesn't wish to bring charges. She has however told us that Mr Doyle was with her on Friday evening. Apparently the - encounter - was such that if she'd hadn't been paid then she would claim rape."
There was a strong odour of dead rat, and I could see Tanner smelt it too. This was just another part of the stitch-up; no charges, but accusations that increased everyone's suspicions about me, and increased the chances of Gemma's charges sticking...
"I was alone on Friday night. In Soho. And I'm sure this girl can identify me," - whoever was going to such lengths to incriminate me would have made sure the girl had a photo - "but I can only deny that I was with any hookers."
Tanner nodded as if it was nothing more or less than he had expected. "Could anyone confirm having seen you?"
"I'm sure plenty of people saw me there. But getting them to commit to a precise time or place - you know what it's like..."
The questioning hadn't gone on for much longer. Farmer had pointed out that I shouldn't be questioned on something which wasn't going to lead to charges, and since I, at least, believed Tanner was only going through the motions for the tape, I wasn't surprised when the Inspector wrapped the interview up.
Farmer departed swiftly, and Tanner offered me a ride home, escorting me past the front desk even when I declined. "Thank you for your time, Mr Doyle."
"Maybe next time we could have the interview room without the rats under the floorboards."
Outside, away from the tapes, Tanner could relax. "It seems strange that a girl should seek out one of my Sergeants yesterday to complain of your treatment of her, yet be so insistent that she didn't want to press charges."
He met my eyes squarely, knowing as well as I did that she'd have been amply rewarded in money or drugs for her piece of acting. I debated asking Tanner for her name, but didn't want to push my luck.
"Stay out of trouble, Mr Doyle." Tanner turned and went back into the building before I could respond, and I went slowly down the steps, pondering his words, which held a warning.
Whoever was stitching me up knew I was in Soho Friday night, knew I was alone. Someone was watching me. I headed for the tube, giving a good impression of a man with a lot on his mind who wasn't looking behind him.
I hadn't spotted anyone by the time I reached home. Maybe they weren't actually following me, but someone was keeping tabs on my position.
Tanner's warning wasn't to be taken lightly. So far any evidence was circumstantial, but what if my double pulled something else?
I needed a 24-hour alibi. I picked up the phone and dialled Bodie's number, but it rang without answer. I replaced the receiver, and tried not to worry...
Reynolds stuck his head around the door.
I yawned. "Not a damned thing. And you're late."
He shrugged. "Traffic's getting worse, even on Sunday. You know what it's like... Could you hang on another couple of minutes? I'm out of fags."
"Go on then." I'd had time to think during the day - too much time: the house I was supposed to be staking out remained stubbornly silent and empty. But I'd decided to try and speak to Kim. Cowley hadn't vetoed that...
She'd be leaving work in about an hour. If I hurried, I could catch her before she reached home. Talking to her without Gemma around to remind her of what had happened might prove more successful than the last time we'd spoken.
There was a flower stall on the corner: I invested in a dozen roses, wincing at the price, but Ray was worth it. I'd rung Trattoria Rosetta and booked a table too - I couldn't be sure I'd manage to persuade her to dinner, but Gino knew me and wouldn't be too put out if we didn't turn up. After all, in my time I'd eaten there enough times to have shares in the place!
As Kim left Chez Philippe, she was chatting with a couple of workmates, laughing with them. She froze as she caught sight of me, her expression hardening. Her friends ran bluntly appreciative eyes up and down my body and nudged her, whispering something that made her blush, and she scowled at them and pulled away, glaring at me. I put on my best smile - the one Ray calls the 'little boy look' - and stepped forward, offering the roses.
She stared at the roses. "What's this? Some sort of apology? You should give them to Gemma, not me."
"Would she accept them?"
Kim looked at me for a moment, frowning, then sniffed at them and shook her head. "She'd prefer something with a scent. Like freesias."
I smiled. "I'll have some delivered tomorrow."
She relaxed slightly. "And where are you going to find freesias in December? Don't know your flowers, do you?"
I shook my head ruefully. "Not really. But I'm sure I can find something else. In the meantime, these are for you."
"Thanks." She took the roses and stepped back slightly, ready to walk on, and I laid a hand - very gently - on her arm.
"I really am sorry. Could I buy you a drink to prove it?"
"As long as you don't try to chat me up."
She'd relaxed further over a drink, and didn't object when I suggested a meal. Over lasagne and Chianti she finally agreed that she really couldn't believe that Ray had attacked her friend.
"It just doesn't make sense. He's always been such a gentleman - he's never even flirted with Gemma!"
She glanced up at me, ruefully. "I'm sorry I was a bit abrupt with you and that policewoman. It's just - the whole thing really upset Gemma. She's having nightmares about it. And of course, the thought that your boyfriend goes around attacking defenceless women didn't exactly make me happy. But now I've had time to think about it... I hope I didn't get you into too much trouble with your boss."
I grinned. "Wasn't the first time and it won't be the last. I can handle it."
"Will you be seeing Ray?"
"I'm going round to his later."
"Could you... say 'hi' from me? Tell him I hope everything works out OK?"
It wasn't much, but I supposed we couldn't really expect anything more, under the circumstances. Even if - when - the case was closed and Ray was cleared, it was unlikely she'd want to carry on seeing him, not with this between them... I nodded. "I'm sure he'll be relieved to know you don't think he did it. And I hope Gemma gets over it soon."
She smiled and emptied her glass. "Well, that was a great meal, but I've had a busy day: better get home."
I saw her to a taxi and headed for Ray's.
He'd been brooding, that was obvious. I poured us both a drink and handed him his glass.
He took a hefty swallow, then turned to look at me.
"Spent the day in Tanner's company."
"He was questioning you again?"
"Yeah. Seems some prostitute came forward claiming I'd ill-treated her."
I frowned. "Someone's really got it in for you."
He sighed. "Tell me something I don't know..."
"Well, Kim's come round. She doesn't think you did it any more."
"How'd you know?"
"Took her for a meal earlier."
"Oh great. Still stealing me birds..." But it was an automatic response: his mind was clearly on other matters.
"Hey, it's a start. Maybe she can talk Gemma round."
Some hope. Bodie was doing his best to be encouraging, but I refused to be reassured. I'd already consumed more whisky than was good for me but I'd spent hours worrying about what my double might be getting up to, and the alcohol had simply depressed me. I drained my glass and headed for the bottle again, staggering slightly although I didn't feel drunk.
"And if she can't? OK, so maybe there's not enough to get me convicted of the charge against Gemma - although I'm still not sure about that. But what if this double strikes again, and again? The more times a name comes up, the less circumstantial the evidence gets..."
I knew it, had been there on the other side. Knew how these things worked. "Mud sticks..."
He looked as if he didn't understand. "Innocent people go to prison, Bodie. No matter how hard the system tries, sometimes the guilty get off and the innocent don't. I can't face that. I've been in those places, Bodie. I've seen how men live. And I can't do it. I can't go through that, day after day, hour after hour. If it goes wrong, and I'm sent down, I'll kill myself..."
I grabbed him by the front of his scruffy shirt and tried to shake some sense into him.
"No you won't. 'cause if you try that I'll kill you myself. Look, I've been there, remember? I know what happens. And I know you have to keep going, you never give up. Because you never know what'll happen tomorrow. You never know when things are gonna change."
He glared at me. "Let me go, Bodie."
"Not until you start talking sense."
For a moment I thought he was going to hit me - which would have been far better than this useless self-pity - but instead he pulled himself away and reached for the bottle.
"That isn't going to help."
"It's helping right now." Ray sloshed whisky into his glass and drained it again, staring at me challengingly.
I sighed and reached for my own glass. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Maybe I could talk some sense into him when he was drunk. It had worked in the past, just occasionally.
"Aren't you ready yet?"
The strategy hadn't worked: I'd woken up on Ray's sofa, hung-over and no further forward. I'd left around ten, reminding him Katie's nativity play started at two. But when I arrived just after one, he was still slumped in a chair looking miserable.
"I'm not going."
"Yes you are." I hauled him bodily out of the chair and shoved him towards the bathroom. "Want me to help you?"
The reply was unprintable but at least it got him moving. He was still running the Ronson over his chin when I dragged him down to the car; we were going to be late as it was.
We found seats in the back row and sat between two young mothers, where we looked decidedly out of place in the predominantly female audience, quite a few of whom were looking interested in us. It was a scrutiny I could have done without: with the charge hanging over me I was convinced the stares were accusing, but Bodie didn't seem to mind.
The choir were already into the first carol. There was the usual mixture of junior school voices - some good, some tone-deaf - and I tried to focus on the singing and block out my worry, just for a short while. Scanning the badly Roneo-ed programme, Bodie nudged me to proudly point out that Katie was playing the angel in the Nativity Play after the break.
I nodded, not sure I'd make it to the interval, let alone the second half. Since Nicky was at a different school I hadn't expected her to be there but she was sitting near the front with Louise. I should be able to fool Katie, and Louise didn't know me well enough to see anything wrong. But Nicky...
Hemmed in, I had no chance to escape before the interval. As the final notes of the last carol faded away and the applause started, I was on my feet and squeezing out. Part of me wanted to head for the car; jump in and drive, anything to avoid having to talk to Nicky.
Within a minute, she found me just outside the main doors. I'd barely got into the fresh air before I realised that trying to dodge her wouldn't help; I'd have to face her eventually.
"Ray?" My attempt at shuttering my feelings so that she wouldn't see them failed miserably. Bodie hadn't actually told me, but I knew the lack of sleep over the last few days was contributing to the problem - I could feel the weight of anxiety on my shoulders; Nicky could see it.
She wouldn't fall for any lies, either. Early experience had given her the ability to see straight through falsehood and prevarication. I couldn't tell her the facts; wondered if I'd get away with half-truths.
I had to face it. If the case went to court, and I were convicted, Nicky would have to know. But not now. It would be difficult enough to lose her trust if it happened. I couldn't bear to lose it now.
She was waiting, and I unfolded my arms - I hadn't realised how tightly I'd had them crossed - and Nicky slid without hesitation into the embrace, hugging me. I had to give her some sort of explanation.
She tilted her face up to me. Knowing what she'd gone through, I could only marvel again at her trust. "What is it?"
"There's a - problem." I forestalled her as she attempted to interrupt. "I can't tell you. Not at the moment."
Perhaps not at all. I might not get a chance to see her again - at least, not on the outside of prison. "If anything happens, Bodie will come and see you." Nicky jerked back, eyes wide, and I hastened to reassure her. "I just - might not be able to."
"I don't understand."
I longed to tell her. But I couldn't. "Trust me, Nicky. Please."
"I do." She was still anxious, my unknown fate scaring her, but knowing I wouldn't tell her any more. Hearing music starting again in the hall, she turned us towards the door, managing a smile. "We don't want to miss Katie's big moment."
Bodie had joined Louise near the front, so Nicky sat next to me. Close to me, all the way through, head resting mainly on my shoulder.
Her blind faith was like a knife stuck in me, twisting; and I prayed for a breakthrough, so that I would never have to shatter that confidence...
I could see Katie looking around anxiously as the play finished, and gave her a small wave. She beamed at me and started fidgeting, obviously eager to get down from the stage. I struggled my way to the end of the row just in time to catch her as she flung herself at me.
"Bodie! Did you see me? Was I good?"
"The best in the play." I hugged her and she kissed my cheek. Turning, I carried her to the back of the rapidly-emptying hall where Louise had already joined Nicky and Ray.
Ray looked haunted, and I had some idea of how he felt, even though in his case it was completely unfounded. But he didn't want the girls to be hurt either. He disentangled himself from Nicky, who was looking a little anxious, and turned to me. "Isn't it time we were going?"
"Surely you've got time for a quick coffee?" Louise looked surprised; usually we tried to spend as much time as possible with the girls.
I shook my head, regretfully. "Sorry, love, not this time."
"Aw, Bodie..." Katie pouted, and I tweaked her nose, making her giggle.
"Sorry sweetheart, we really do have to go. But we'll come and see you very soon. And if you've been very good - " I dropped my voice to a whisper "we may even bring some presents with us!"
She squealed and hugged me, and I lowered her to her feet. All five of us began to move towards the exit. Ray was a few steps ahead: Nicky paused, looked at me, looked at Ray's back, then looked back at me, her expression worried. I held out my hand and she took it.
"It's OK, Nicky. Ray's just got a lot on his mind at the moment. He needs a bit of time to sort it out. But I'm always here if you need me."
She squeezed my hand, her face lightening a little. "Thanks, Bodie."
Ray was silent and brooding as I drove him home and I left him to it. I knew he was thinking about Nicky and what effect the situation would have on her if she found out. He was wrong, as usual.
I'd known it was a mistake. I remembered how I'd practically forced Bodie into facing the girls after the Adamson case - I'd thought I was right, at the time - and understood, now, a little more of the way he'd suffered.
Was probably still suffering.
I wondered now how he did it; how he managed to cope with seeing them. I wasn't sure I could.
Back at the flat, Bodie pushed a glass into my hand, still looking after me, not needing to be told how I was feeling. "It won't make any difference."
"I'm likely to be banged up as a sex offender, Bodie. How can it not make a difference?"
"Because Nicky trusts you." He explained it patiently, as if it should have been obvious. I swallowed the whisky in one, recognising that Bodie had good reason to know how exceptional Nicky's trust was.
"No matter what happens, you won't lose that, Ray. After all, she still trusts me..." I caught the rasp of bitterness in his voice, the raw pain that proved time had barely taken the edge off the self-disgust he still felt.
He shrugged it away. "It's not going to happen, anyway. I'm sticking to you, mate. Perpetual alibi. We'll get them, whoever they are."
I poured another drink, still balanced between hope and despair, and answered the suddenly ringing phone reluctantly, worried that it might be Nicky.
The voice was young, female, but I didn't recognise her. "Is that Mr Doyle?"
"Yes?" I was conscious of a sudden cold sweat down my spine; was this another phase in the set-up?
"It's - Michelle."
I recognised the voice then, visualising the blonde teenager. Still cautious - for all I knew Michelle could be the hooker who had complained to Tanner's men about me - I acknowledged her. "Why are you calling?"
"Look, I asked round 'bout the two girls you were looking for, but no one knows them. But -"
She hesitated, and I waited. It didn't sound like she was part of the set-up, but I still wasn't sure. "The club I was at last night, there was this girl, and I heard her say your name, so I listened in. She was splashing out on drinks, she had a wad of notes, said as how she'd been well-paid just to tell the fuzz you'd knocked her about..."
She was on the side of the angels. "Do you know her name, Michelle?"
"Nah. Seen her about but she works for a pimp. I just thought you should know, 'cos you didn't seem the sort, and Mac said you were OK, and you gave me money when you didn't have to..."
I didn't push Michelle for any more information - I could probably track her down if I needed to - simply thanked her and hung up.
Bodie raised an eyebrow. "Michelle?"
"Hooker I saw the other night. Called to tell me that the girl I was supposed to have beaten up was out enjoying herself." I felt marginally better. The whole thing was nonsense, but it was good to have it confirmed. "Bodie, we have to find her, and find out who paid her. Do you think Lindsey will be able to find out via her friend?"
"Let's find out." Possessing himself of the phone, Bodie dialled the Yard...
It wasn't until the following afternoon that Lindsey called me. Shirley had managed to sneak a look at the files for the name of the prostitute, and also passed on the name of her pimp. I closed the file I was checking through, and headed up to the car park, only radioing in once I was safely on my way.
"Where are you going?" Laura sounded suspicious. I sighed. I still hadn't managed to persuade her to go out with me.
"Just tell Cowley I'm following up a lead, darling. I'll stay in radio contact." I switched the radio off and hooked up the handset.
"Where are we going?" Ray sounded suspicious. I grinned.
"Got a couple of names for you. The hooker's name's Annette Morris. And her pimp is Horace Leach. Ring any bells?"
He frowned and shook his head. "Know her patch?"
"Greek Street side of Soho Square."
Glancing at his watch, he reached for his jacket. "It's a bit early, but she might be out. Let's go."
It obviously was too early: the streets were empty - of hookers, anyway. I glanced at Ray for guidance; this was more his territory.
"Let's look around for George. See if he knows anything about Leach; where we might find him or his girls."
Following his directions I took turn after turn, and heading up Lexington Street for the third time, I gave him a wry grin. "If I turn left one more time, we'll disappear up our own exhaust pipe..."
He laughed. "S'OK. There's the Cadillac."
Bodie pulled up behind George's motor, grimacing at the colour. It hadn't been there last time round, so I hopped out quickly, hoping George was still in it.
He was just opening the door and flashed me an 'oh, no, not again' look. I smiled. "Just a few quick questions and I'll be out of your hair."
George looked back at the Capri, to where Bodie had walked forward to lean on the bonnet. "Who's your friend?"
"My partner. Don't worry, he doesn't bite. Not often, anyway." Bodie caught the second worried glance, and gave a little wave.
George turned back to me. "What d'you wanna know now?"
"Annette Morris. Works for Horace Leach. Know where I might find her? Or him?"
"Small time. Slimy bugger; Leach by name, leech by nature. His girls work Greek Street mainly. Works them hard, sucks them dry. I don't know all his girls, but you'll recognise him - small and bald, a big gorilla holding his hand. You won't find him out this early, try looking closer to midnight."
"Does he make his pick-ups on the street?"
George nodded. "Got about five girls, I think. He waits in his car on the corner of Soho Square. A red XJ6 - a clapped-out heap, the bastard's too tight to buy a newer model."
I returned to Bodie. "Back to Greek Street."
He sighed theatrically and rolled his eyes. "To do what?"
"Kerb-crawl. What else?"
He started the engine and pulled away. "When we get arrested, you can explain to Cowley..."
I parked up opposite Bateman Street and we settled back to wait. After five minutes, my stomach started rumbling. Ray looked at me.
"You're bloody hungry again, aren't you?"
"Been hours since lunch. Is there anywhere still open around here?"
Ray sighed resignedly and opened the door. "Keep your eyes peeled. I'll get us something to eat." He paused. "You got any money?"
Reluctantly I reached for my wallet and handed over a fiver. "And I want the change!"
Ray returned about twenty minutes later and handed me a paper bag - and a pound. I looked at my change, then up at his smirking face.
"Is that all I get?"
He nodded, still smirking and I frowned suspiciously.
"It's not liver sausage is it?"
I opened the bag cautiously and pulled out the sandwich. Brown bread (it would be). I peeled it open and glared at Ray who was happily munching on his own sandwich.
"There's something green in here, Doyle."
"'ave a what?"
"Avocado. Bacon and avocado. You like bacon."
"Bacon and avocado?"
"Try it; s'OK."
I took a bite. Chewed a bit. Swallowed. Tried another bite. It wasn't bad, but I wasn't about to admit it.
"I suppose it'll keep me from starvin'. I don't suppose you bought a Mars bar as well?"
Ray grinned and threw one at me...
By nine, Bodie was dozing and I was bored. We'd drawn a few curious looks, but so far none of the women who'd passed had approached us so I was assuming they weren't Leach's girls.
I saw a couple of hookers arrive on the other side of the street, close to the square, and nudged Bodie awake. "Might be time to go fishing."
Crossing over, we made our way towards them, finding ourselves greeted warmly, since it was still early and few other punters were around.
"Evenin' girls. I'm looking for someone in particular; girl called Annette. You know her?"
"Maybe. Who's asking?"
Bodie gave them both his famous smile and spun them a line. "We heard she can do something special, and since it's my friend here's birthday, I wanted to treat him."
They both pouted. "She can't do anything we can't do."
"Well, in that case, let's have a party!" Bodie put an arm round each of them. "Do we get a discount for quantity?"
"Not likely - parties are extra!"
I intervened - Bodie could go on like this all night. "Well, let's invite Annette too."
They still looked a little wary, but the thought of extra cash overcame their reservations, and the shorter of the two waved vigorously at a tall redhead across the street.
She teetered over on her high heels. "S'up?"
"These two want a party with you as special guest."
"You come highly recommended." Bodie gave her a warm smile, which she returned although slightly suspiciously.
"D'you remember Alan Simpson? Tall bloke, looks a bit like Robert Redford, spoke very highly of your special... talents."
She looked even more bewildered, but Bodie's charm was still working well, and we steered them all in the direction of the Capri.
I ushered Annette into the back seat and swiftly shut the door behind her. Bodie smiled at each of the girls in his arms in turn. "Sorry, girls, but the sort of party we have in mind is going to take place at the local nick. So unless you really want to join us..."
They tottered off as fast as their high heels would allow, and Bodie passed me the keys. "Drive us about."
I didn't argue with him and headed for the driver's side. Bodie slid into the back seat, next to the already cringing hooker.
"Who're you? What's goin' on?"
Bodie ran a finger softly down her cheek, smile changing from charming to menacing. "Who paid you to lie?"
I watched her blanch in the rear-view mirror. "What? I dunno what you're on about. I didn' lie, not about nothing!"
"But you made accusations about my friend."
"I never said nothin' 'bout your friend. I swear, honest, lemme go, please?"
I pulled up at the kerb, and flicking the internal light on turned to face her. "But I thought we were supposed to be together on Friday."
She grew whiter still under the heavy make-up, and shrank away into the corner. "You're... you're..."
"That's right. The man who beat you up on Friday. You heal quickly, don't you."
Bodie caught her wrist and pulled her back towards him. "So who paid you?"
She crumbled, tears streaking mascara down her cheeks. "Please, don't 'urt me, I jus' did what Leach tol' me..."
"Which was?" Bodie wasn't letting her off lightly.
"He showed me this photo, said I was to talk to a copper and tell them you'd 'urt me, near raped me..."
"And I gave you my name?"
"Was on the photo, Ray summat..." she whined again. "Please, lemme go..."
"And it was just your pimp who told you to do this? No one else?"
"No, just 'im. Please..."
I nodded to Bodie, and we got out. Bodie pulled her to him.
"Now listen, love. We're going to pick up your pimp. You'll be safer at home. Go straight there, don't show your face outside the door until tomorrow lunchtime. OK?"
She sniffled, nodding frantically, and rubbing at her face hurried in the direction of the tube. Bodie smiled at me. "Back to Greek Street?"
By the time the red XJ6 appeared, I was bored, hungry (again) and very, very angry. We waited just long enough to identify Leach and his bodyguard, then sauntered nonchalantly in their direction. As Ray caught Leach's attention, I shoved my Browning into the bodyguard's ribs. As he froze, I flipped open my ID.
"I suggest you leave. Now."
For all his bulk, he could move quickly; Leach obviously didn't pay him enough to buy his loyalty. I waited a few seconds to make sure he wasn't coming back, then turned to follow Ray, who was frogmarching Leach up a dark, secluded alleyway.
I could hear Leach protesting as I got closer. Not that it did him any good - Ray was not happy...
A solid punch to the stomach had Leach doubled over, only to be snapped back up by a knee to the chin. He slammed against the wall and slid down it. Leisurely, I joined the pair, grabbing the back of Leach's collar and hauling him back up to his feet.
"D'you need a hand?"
Ray shook his head. It had been a long time since I'd seen him this angry.
"S'OK. I think I can manage..."
Much as I wanted to leave Ray to it, I remembered Cowley's words. I let Ray get in two more punches, then grabbed his arm. He glared murder at me.
"Don't want a murder charge added to the others. Let's take him in, and do this properly."
Ray didn't like it, but saw the sense of it and moments later we were back in the car and headed for HQ.
"It was Hendricks. He said if I didn't do it he'd have all my girls slashed, and then they'd come after me."
It had only taken us twenty minutes to scare the confession out of Leach. I frowned. I knew that name. Where the hell did I know that name from?
"Who the bloody 'ell is Hendricks?"
Frustrated, Ray turned to me as we left the room. For a moment we'd seemed close to solving the problem; without knowing who Hendricks was, we were back to square one.
We both cringed as Cowley's voice hailed us from behind.
"What the hell are you two up to? Doyle, what are you doing in the building - you're on suspension."
"Trying to clear my name, sir. It's a long story, but the pimp in there was paid to incriminate me further."
"And what have you found out?"
"Not enough. Someone called Hendricks paid him. But I haven't got a clue who that is..."
Bodie suddenly snapped his fingers. "Hendricks!" He scowled. "He worked for Tasker - he poached me from Burrows. You remember, that sting on Ibbotson..."
We stared at each other, and then at Cowley. "Ibbotson. Is he behind it all?"
"Makes sense, the attacks on me, the way I'm being fitted up..."
We headed for Records, Cowley close behind us.
Hendricks had kept his nose clean: in spite of his connections with Tasker there had been insufficient evidence to hold him after the arrests. After checking with CRO we found that Hendricks now owned some car dealerships in Manchester and London, specialising in luxury cars. Whoever had compiled the file had recorded Hendricks' implication in stealing cars to order, ringing them and selling them on from one of his dealerships.
He was now based in London. First thing, I collected Cowley and we went to his prestigious West End dealership.
We sauntered around, looking at a few cars, for several minutes before a salesman approached.
"Good morning, gentlemen!" He smiled the sort of smile I wanted to punch. "Can I help you?"
I smiled tightly. "Oh, I expect so. Uncle George here," I glanced quickly at Cowley, biting back a grin at the sight of his apoplectic and outraged expression, "wants to buy me a car for my birthday. We're having a look round."
"Is there anything in particular you're looking for? We source vehicles from various dealerships, so if there's something special you have in mind, I'm sure we will be able to find it for you."
"Well, I've always fancied an Aston Martin." Cowley choked behind me. The salesman smiled.
"A man who appreciates quality and good looks. If you'd like to come this way..." He led us across the showroom to a dark green beauty, with leather upholstery. Cowley interrupted - in his broadest Scottish brogue - before I started drooling.
"Now laddie, dinnae get carried awa'..."
I nodded. "Can you get me one in red?"
The salesman nodded. "I'm sure all things are possible. However, if we're talking about a special order, you'll appreciate we would need to ask for a deposit. It's fortunate that our Managing Director is actually here today; perhaps you would like to discuss things with him?"
I exchanged glances with Cowley; he nodded and the salesman led us to the offices at the rear of the showroom. He tapped on the door and put his head inside.
"Mr Hendricks, I have some gentlemen here interested in a special order. Can you speak with them now?"
Obviously he could and the salesman ushered us forward. I let Cowley go first. As I entered, Hendricks had stood and extended his hand towards Cowley. Then his eyes met mine.
He stared at me. I could see he recognised me from somewhere, but couldn't pin it down. Then realisation struck. I enjoyed the look of fear in his eyes.
Cowley produced his ID and Hendricks sat down again, tense and wary.
"Mr Hendricks, we believe you are acquainted with a gentleman by the name of Horace Leach."
"I think you may have been misinformed - I don't believe I know him."
"Well, now, that's strange. The gentleman himself appears to know you."
Hendricks swallowed, nervously. "He may have bought a car from us, but I don't remember the names of all my customers."
"Then perhaps you'll recognise another name. Reginald Ibbotson."
Hendricks was now definitely looking nervous. "That sounds a little more familiar..."
"Have you heard from him recently? Or perhaps from John Tasker?"
Hendricks froze. Cowley smiled coldly.
"I'm sure there's something you'd like to tell us. I'm happy to give you time to think about it; no doubt there are plenty of files of paperwork I could be looking at whilst I'm waiting."
The understated threat to the illegal element of his business was enough to convince him to cooperate. He slumped slightly.
"What do you want to know?"
Cowley glanced back at me, and I moved forward and leaned across the desk. "Was it Tasker or Ibbotson who wanted you to arrange the set-up?"
"Look, I don't know what this is all about. All I know is Ibbotson got in touch with me through one of his contacts on the outside asking me to find someone who looked like a photo he supplied. He had to be from outside London, and I passed on an envelope giving him money and instructions. I've no idea what was in there."
"Where does Horace Leach come into this?"
"I got a package with another sealed envelope and a message to pass it to one of Tasker's former pimps. Leach was easiest to get hold of."
"Who did you choose who resembled the photo? What's his name and where do we find him?"
"If I give you the information I want your guarantee that you'll leave me out of this."
I looked at Cowley. I could see he wasn't happy about it, but we needed the information to clear Ray and could always follow up on Hendricks later. I nodded.
"You've got yourself a deal. Name?"
"Randall. Jimmy Randall."
"Where do we find him?"
"Small B&B in Kenway Road, just behind Earl's Court. At least that's where he was."
As Cowley climbed into the passenger seat, he frowned at me. "And don't get your hopes up, Bodie. The only Aston Martin you'll get from me, birthday or no birthday, is a Matchbox toy..."
"You sure about this?"
Cowley did not appreciate having his word doubted. "Of course I'm sure, man!"
Tanner nodded. "Very well. Shouldn't take too long to find him. I'll grab a squad car and a couple of men and we'll follow you."
It was disappointingly easy to pick up Randall: he'd been on the booze the night before, presumably with what was left of his pay-off, and was still in bed with a hangover.
Hendricks had excelled himself: Randall really did resemble Ray. They could have been brothers. I could understand how Gemma, and any casual passer-by, could have confused the pair of them. As Tanner handcuffed him and hauled him, protesting weakly, into the squad car, Cowley turned to me.
"You'd better fetch Doyle. The sooner we can get this over, the better."
I'd made up the ten on a line-up once before as a very young, inexperienced constable; other than having curly hair and being the same height as the suspect there were no other similarities.
That wasn't the case this time. Randall was nearly the same height, weight and build; his hair slightly longer than mine but the same colour, same curls.
He had blue eyes to my green. His features were more angular, nose and chin somehow more pointed. To a sighted person, there would be a strong resemblance between us, but no suggestion we could be twins.
But would those differences mean anything to Gemma? I knew she'd grappled with her attacker; would she have retained any impressions beyond the obvious, beyond that which had caused her to name me in the first place?
Tanner gestured for Randall to select a position; he took number seven. I took number three, leaving some space between us. Nerves were urging me to be last, to be number ten in the hope that Gemma wouldn't even reach me; instinct told me that might not make any difference.
If Gemma couldn't make a positive identification, then I could only hope that the identity parade would cast doubt in her mind, at least enough doubt to make her admit that it might not have been me.
If she wasn't 100 percent positive, I couldn't see Tanner taking the case forward. A good Defence lawyer would give Gemma a hard time and get me off.
Except that 'case dropped through lack of evidence' wasn't the result I wanted. Or needed. It would clear me - this time. But Bodie couldn't live in my back pocket for the rest of my life - I'd be fed up with him before long - and another attempt might be more successful.
The rest of the line-up was complete. I found myself taking a deep breath, heart thudding, as Gemma came in with Tanner, Kim just behind them.
I saw Kim scan the line, deliberately not meeting my eyes. She stopped at Randall, and I saw her gaze flick back and forth between us, and the sudden realisation - and relief? - that I really wasn't guilty.
Tanner was murmuring to Gemma as he led her forward. With a single touch on the shoulder she dismissed the first man in the line-up, and I saw Tanner's startled reaction. "Too tall," I heard her say, in response to his question.
The second man was more my height. Fingers 'reading' his features, Gemma took slightly longer to reject him, but shaking her head she moved in front of me.
Her touch was light, fingertips running up over my shoulders, across the surface of my hair, down my jawbone and back up, over my cheeks and eyes. She lingered momentarily, before taking a half step back.
I could see the fearful recognition written clearly on her face, she believed I was her attacker, and she wanted to declare it...
Tanner guided her on.
I waited, quaking inside. Her hands gave the same scrutiny to numbers four, five and six, but her head was constantly turning back towards me; comparing the message from her fingers with her memory, and believing she'd already found the answer.
Tanner lifted her hands to Randall. Gemma's fingers skipped across his shoulders, and on, across his cheeks.
I saw her falter, saw the sudden, bewildered look as she encountered my 'double', and she dropped her hands for a moment, pressing them together.
I held my breath.
Her fingertips scanned Randall again, slowly learning the shape of his face... She stroked down his jawline, along the faded scar a knife had made long ago - and gasping, practically jumped back into the safety of Tanner's arms.
"It was him! I hadn't remembered the scar before...!"
Ray was standing outside, eyes closed, breathing deeply. There was relief on his face, yes - but there was something else as well. Anger, I thought. Ibbotson was in jail, but he'd still managed to make life hell for Ray. He wasn't likely to let that go in a hurry.
Disgusting though London air could be, it had never smelt sweeter than at that moment. I sucked in large lungfuls, already wondering what I could do about Ibbotson. It was unlikely we'd be able to bring any conspiracy charges against him; the Old Man might work on Hendricks but it was unlikely he'd testify, and the pimp didn't know anyone other than Hendricks.
I opened my eyes to find Bodie next to me, silent and regarding me gravely. "OK?"
"Yeah. Will be." I pinned on a half-hearted smile. "How do we pay Ibbotson back, then?"
"Wait till he gets out and find a dark alley..."
I waited for the grin; the signal that this was part of Bodie's usual macabre black humour, but it didn't come. He was serious - deadly serious. I remembered the beating he'd taken from Tasker's men, that Ibbotson had set him up for, and decided that maybe, this time, Bodie was right.
Ibbotson would keep.
Right now - I cocked an eyebrow at my partner. "Drink?"
Now the grin: "Drink."
"Good." I turned towards the nearest pub. "And while you're buying, I'm going to phone Nicky..."
"There are ways of asking people questions without removing their teeth. For one thing, it makes for clearer diction." - George Cowley - 'Not a very civil civil servant'.
© 2001 WordWrights
Carol's Story Index Page
Back to Collaborations