Authors: Maureen Carter
She spotted Hunt and Twig at the counter grabbing coffees before the brief. She acknowledged the waves with an absent nod. Hardy, she knew, hadn't taken his gaze off her.
âYou recognised the names, didn't you, inspector? I saw it in your face.'
Like hell. Even if he had X-ray vision that was a bluff. âHow long have you had the information?'
Another shrug said he didn't like the brush off.
âWhat are you doing with it, Mr Hardy?'
âNothing far as I know. I don't call the shots.' No. But he knew a man who did. âWhat are you doing with it, inspector?'
Bullshit or bluster? She'd go for both, bolstered with police-speak. âI'm not going to lie to you, Mr Hardy.' Just lay it on a bit thick. âWe're in possession of the same intelligence.' Leaning across the table, she lowered her voice. âIn strictest confidence . . . as we speak, a high level operation's under way. Any interference from the press or anyone else for that matter could jeopardise its entire outcome . . . and more importantly endanger officers' lives.' She let that sink in. âSo, if your paper has anyone out there . . .' The warning was tacit. What she'd said and not said had clearly shaken him.
Playing for time perhaps, he was cleaning his glasses with his tie.
She added weight by spelling out the warning. âAs much as anything, it's for your own and your colleagues' safety.' On the assumption Wilde and Brody had morphed into knife-wielding nutters, a press card wasn't going to cut the Colman's wholegrain. Over-egging the pudding? Yes.
âThink about it, Mr Hardy.' Her chair scraped tiles as she got to her feet. âI need to get back.'
âHold on.' The outstretched hand was withdrawn sharpish when he saw her face. âQuid pro quo, inspector. There must be something I can use?'
âTwo-way street, remember?'
âEvery word was off the record . . . remember?' She treated him to a warm smile. âIf that changes, you'll be the first to know. Come on. I'll see you down.'
The apparent concession seemed to do the trick, as they made their way to reception the small talk was amiable enough. He offered a hand at the door. âWell, inspector . . . thanks for . . .?' The twinkle in his eye was quite attractive. âThe coffee?'
âYou're welcome, Mr Hardy.' She wondered vaguely if there was a Lois Lane on the scene.
âI know Filkin wouldn't like me saying this, but you have a lovely smile, DI Quinn.' Her lips were still curved when he turned back. âOh, and I nearly forgot, an old mate of yours asked to be remembered to you.'
âYeah. I'm living with her at the moment â Caroline King.'
The name rang a distant bell. Pensive, Ruby Wells tapped the business card against her perfect white teeth. She'd found it lying on the doormat when she dashed downstairs, a scribbled request on the back for Ruby to phone. Why hadn't King rung Ruby? If she knew the address, surely she must have a number? She wouldn't be surprised if the request had something to do with the Hemming family. Amy had already called Ruby to ask how she could get the press off her back. The timing was too close to be a coincidence. Either way, the card hadn't been there when she arrived home around six which meant she must have been in the shower when King, or whoever, delivered it. Tough tees. Ruby had a date with her mates and if she didn't get a move on . . .
She slung the card on the bottom stair, grabbed a leopard print coat off the banister, shook out her long red hair and drew the fur collar round her neck. Still, she shivered, as the cold night air hit her face. Pulling the door to, she glanced up, saw fingers of indigo cloud trailing across a full cream moon. Gasped when something brushed against her legs. Instinctively she kicked out, a scrawny cat went flying.
Fucking stupid animal.
Biting her lip, she took a deep breath. âSorry, puss.'
Hardly the cat's fault it had spooked her. She'd almost forgotten how it felt. Depending which of her friends or colleagues were asked, Ruby was ballsy, bold or badass. Ruby would claim all three. A nervy nature would make a difficult job twice as tough. The sort of people she dealt with could smell fear, sense weakness; the occasional threat went with the criminal territory.
Squaring her shoulders, head high, she made for the car. Weekend spaces were at a premium in Sandstone Row, so she'd parked in the next street. Stilettos clacked on concrete as she strode past 1960s semis that housed a smattering of students and mostly young families. Through cracks in curtains she glimpsed kids gawping at the TV, heard muffled laughter from both sets of audiences.
Recalling the brush with the cat, she shuddered again.
Get over it, girl.
Ruby Wells didn't do wimp.
âWhat the . . .?'
A couple of feet from the Mazda, she froze, brain struggling to process what her narrowed eyes saw. For a split second she thought it was down to the frigging cat. Ludicrous notion. No creature was capable of a sick show like that. A mangy black bird â crow, maybe â was splayed against the windscreen: blood, feathers, innards smeared against the glass. She stepped closer. Definitely a crow. Its curved black bill was agape and one dead eye seemed to stare accusingly at her. Had it crashed? Taken a nose dive?
No matter how disoriented, a bird doesn't fly backwards, and no way could it pin its own wings under the wipers.
So who, why, when?
It took a while to clear the carcass, wipe the gore, go home, wash her hands. It wasn't until she was in the driving seat, Ruby noticed the note.
Places to see, people to go.
Sorry about earlier.
Catch you later.
he Post-it hadn't been there an hour ago which meant he'd sneaked in while Sarah was holding the brief. Unsmiling, she peeled the note from her screen, read it standing. No prizes for guessing the author. The scrawl was unmistakable. Though why Baker hadn't deigned to sign it, God alone knew. Like the mix up in the opening line, was that deliberate or a cack-handed stab at humour? It
didn't work. Shaking her head, she screwed the paper into a ball, tossed it in the bin. Surely he could have had the guts to see her, apologise in person? The old boy needed to get a grip. The line wasn't that fine between lovable eccentric and erratic oddball. If not already crossed, he was damn close.
Still on her feet, her glance lit on a new arrival in the in-tray: a colour print grabbed from one of reception's security cameras. Laydown or one of the video techs must've nipped it in while she was out. She took it from the top of the pile, ran her gaze over the image of the girl, the desk sergeant's so-called slip of a thing. Slip girl had certainly eluded the cops with her alleged phone number. Sarah had checked earlier, called what turned out to be a Birmingham undertaker's â in Quinton of all places. After establishing the number was pukka, she'd found herself at the end of a sales pitch. Guess you had to admire the guy's cheek. Not sure about the girl's though, there wasn't enough on show to judge. Sarah pursed her lips. Was the scarf and hoodie combo deliberate? If this was the best Laydown could come up with. And if she didn't sit down soon . . . ouch.
She sank into the chair, winced as she eased off a shoe, eyes closed in bliss she massaged a throbbing foot. Thinking on, it was probably for the best Baker hadn't shown his face at the brief. None of the squad had been in the mood for taking prisoners. Wilde and Brody were still AWOL and it seemed like every line of inquiry officers had taken that day, led down a blind alley.
She swapped feet, dished out the same treatment, swore the heels would never see the light of day again.
Talk about seeing the light.
What was the saying about counting chickens? She'd been convinced CCTV â especially given the battery of cameras in Chambers Row â would furnish a few decent leads. Four detectives had scrutinised footage for nine hours. Not a dickie bird so far. Nothing earth shattering from snouts either. As for moving on with ID-ing the vics, late editions had carried pics, but there'd not been enough punter feedback to justify extra officers on the phones. House-to-house and street interviews round the crime scenes were ongoing. She'd put in a couple of hours' foot slog herself that afternoon, an SIO in the field was good for morale and â better yet â meant a break from the desk. She twisted her mouth. Next time, she'd remember to change shoes.
Knock off or crack on?
Quick glance at the desk was answer enough. The in-tray was on its way out the door, and the logs wouldn't write themselves. Given tomorrow was a scheduled day off, best bite the paperwork bullet now. Not just paper. Harries had left the recording from the Crimestoppers' hotline on her desk. Twice she listened to the tape and was still no wiser to the callers' ages or even gender. Presumably the voices had been deliberately disguised. OK. Move on. Forty minutes later and she found the hunger pangs difficult to ignore, like the extraneous tick of the radiator, low hum from a strip light. Mind the rumbling stomach took the biscuit, as it were. Her mouth watered at the prospect of a bacon sandwich. Perish the thought. No way was she being seen in the canteen on a Saturday night. A quick rifle of the bottom drawer came up with four polos and a pack of smoky bacon crisps past its sell by.
Tell me about it.
As she tackled another report, niggling thoughts along the line of all work no play wormed their way into her head. Home truths she could live without. She glanced at the clock on the screen, another half-hour and she'd call it a day. After a final scroll through latest witness statements, she sat back, arms stretched high.
The smile faded. Like hell. They'd yet to make an arrest, let alone secure a conviction. No point dwelling on negatives though.
The Brody bunch, as Twig had christened the youths, could still come good. Or bad, depending on one's standpoint. They were definitely the best hope for a potential break. Course the squad had to track them down first. She took a few sips of water. None of the addresses checked out, and family appeared thin on the ground. Detectives had been talking to friends, known associates, fair few to get through yet. Was the fact the two youths weren't around significant? Could be an innocent explanation, or they'd got wind of police interest and made themselves scarce. Either way, they couldn't lie low for ever and with every officer in the West Midlands on the lookout, it was just a matter of time till the teenagers were traced, questioned, charged or eliminated.
Come on, Sarah. Time to knock off.
Her eyelids drooped as she mentally totted up the edible contents of her fridge. The list wasn't long, the office warm, the chair cosy. She gave a wide-mouthed yawn. When she could bear putting on the shoes again, she'd shake a leg. Plan of action first. Blitz Tesco? Fish and chips? Push the boat out and drop by Pizza Express? Yeah, yeah. In a min. Her head slumped onto her chest. Eeny meeny miny . . .
âDid you know you talk in your sleep, boss?' Harries in the doorway, arms out either side, hands flat against the frame.
Eyebrow cocked, she straightened deliberately slowly, smoothed down her skirt. âI know you're going to regret not knocking, constable.'
âI did knock. You couldn't've heard.' He dropped his voice. âNot when you wereâ'
asleep.' Subtle shuffle of feet to locate the damn shoes.
âCourse not.' Nodding at the floor. âThree inches to your right.'
âThanks.' Christ he'd be down on one knee calling her Cinderella next. That's if she could get the bloody thing on.
âThe other one's back a bit to the left.'
Easing her foot in gingerly, she bent her head to mask a smile. âAre you here for a reason?'
âThe snoring was keeping me awake.' The grin was back, an arm raised to ward off imaginary blows. âWho's this, then, boss?' Diplomatic change of tack? He'd picked up and was studying reception girl's picture. She told him what she knew â not a lot.
âNice eyes.' Turquoise almost. He dropped the print back on the desk. âWe bringing the press in on it?'
Her thoughts and hand wavered. A police appeal asking the teenager to come forward had crossed Sarah's mind. But if Blue Eyes had inside gen on the groomer, putting her image out there was tantamount to feeding her to the lions-slash-Ram. Sarah tended to agree with Laydown that the girl had legged it because she got ice-cold feet. On the up-side, she'd called at the nick on her own volition. Who could say it wouldn't happen again? On balance, Sarah would rather hang fire. Seated now, legs sprawled, Harries' downturned mouth said dubious.
âYou don't see it that way, Dave?'
âWe don't have to say
we need to speak to her. We could come up with a plausible excuse. Something bland. Nothing to do with Ram.'
âOK.' Rising, she walked to the window, perched on the sill. âSay, she's one of his girls, or he's just got his eye on her?' She waited for a nod to say he was on board. âRight. He sees her on screen, in the papers. And there's us asking her to come forward as a witness to a street robbery say, or an RTA, whatever. You really think Ram's gonna buy that?'
âAnd if she's got dirt that'd take the bastard off the streets, put him behind bars . . .'
âRisk's not worth taking.' She folded her arms. âRam's not just a bastard. He's evil, depraved. You know what he's capable of. You've seen the results.' She frowned, wondered why he'd cocked his head. âProblem?'
âNah. Can't argue with that.' He straightened, smiling. âI'm just trying to think who you remind me of.'
âI'm so glad to hear the serious debate's hitting home.' She rolled her eyes. âAnd?'