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Authors: Judith Cutler

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BOOK: Power on Her Own
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She smiled politely. Yes, she'd have to make the best of it: the man was only doing what he thought was right. If she didn't like benevolent paternalism, she'd have to lump it – and with good grace.

‘Now, you'll be meeting the other senior officers in due course. Superintendent Gordon. He's as decent a man as you'd wish to meet. Career officer, very dedicated. The only trouble is, he tends to keep his door shut, if you see what I mean. But then he's out all weekends working for the Scouts so –'

The phone: he snatched it.

‘Harvey.' He listened in silence, interjecting an occasional, ‘Ah. Thank God!' At last he covered the mouthpiece, mouthing, ‘They've found the child!' Aloud he asked, ‘Which hospital? You'll let me know if there's anything I should know.' He replaced the handset. ‘Happy ending. They've found young Darren Goss in the Bull Ring Centre. They know it's Darren because of the name tag on his scarf but he's not saying anything. Anything at all. And I'll tell you, Kate, I've got a nasty gut feeling about that kid.'

‘Any reason, Sir?'

‘Something to do with his not speaking. And this twitching in my thumbs.' He smiled before looking her straight in the eye. ‘Kate: I know you'd rather be up and doing, but you're going to be searching through every file on the bloody system.'

There was no sign of Sally or Colin Roper when Kate emerged from Harvey's office. Since it was just after midday, she might find them in the canteen. She might find other people, too.

This wasn't going to be easy. Perhaps a visit to the loo might give her thinking time. She could get some of Sally's make-up off, too: no need to look like a refugee from a teen magazine. And yet, why not? A bit of camouflage never came amiss. Shoulders straight, she strode in, grabbing a tray and checking the menu as if food was the only thing on her mind. But she listened: if it went quiet everywhere she was in trouble. No: the hubbub was normal. She had allies. And there were Sally and Colin, over the far side, with a bunch of the others. She waved and pushed her way over.

‘God, she's one of the lettuce leaf brigade,' Selby announced to anyone who wanted to hear. ‘Give me a woman with a bit of meat on her.' He made squeezing movements with his fingers.

‘You're right an' all!' Another bloke gestured, holding his elbow and pumping his forearm upwards. ‘Here, they was saying you had a spot of bother this morning, me love. Come and tell me all about it and I'll sort him out for you.'

Despite the laughter, Kate knew she was being set another test.

‘Trouble? No. I'm not worried by a little prick like that.' Yes, that was better. It was nice to have the laughter on her side.

Chapter Two

There was nothing to keep Kate in the house: everything to drive her out for a long run. For all she'd insisted to Graham Harvey that she was fit, she hadn't run much recently, and would have to take it gently tonight. And that meant taking her stretches seriously.

Her route would take her from where she lived to the far side of the High Street, so she could check out the parks that lay there, and would return her along the High Street for some comfort food from one of the chip shops. In fact it was the thought of the food that kept her going when drizzle brought the night closing in.

Choosing a chippie at random she found something she hadn't expected: chicken tikka in a naan bread. She'd have a double. And then wondered if she'd been right, as the Asian lad piled the naan high with salad.


‘Please. But go easy on the chilli, eh?'

‘Sure, Miss.' He tipped a succession of vivid liquids on to the salad. ‘There you go. You new up here?'

‘Just moved.'

‘Thought so. Don't talk like you come from round here. London, is it?' He wrapped the naan, laying it on the counter while he took her money.


‘Me cousin's got a place down there. Hither Green. D'you know it?'

She shook her head. ‘London's a big place.'

‘Let me know if you go back: I'll give you me cousin's address.'

Funny to hear Asians with a Brummie accent. No funnier than with a Sheffield or with a London one, she supposed.

‘Thanks. Goodnight!' She gathered the parcel, warm against her stomach.

‘See you later!'

Which must mean goodbye.

She jogged for home. Safeways. Dixons. Familiar but in the wrong place. And then a scream. Cut off short but still a scream. Kids messing around, she told herself. Just kids. She had her supper to eat.

But when it came to it, there was no contest. A scream took precedence over a tikka, and it would only take a minute, just to check.

There was a carpark behind Dixons and the other shops. Someone had warned they'd clamp illegally parked vehicals. A lot of commercial waste bins. A skip at the far end. A couple of cars lit up by the security lights. Come on, cursory looks are no good. Have a good nose round. And –


The boy had the girl – an Asian kid, not much more than sixteen – upright against the wall hidden by the skip. One forearm pressed across her throat, the other hand digging into her buttock. Stupid bastard, couldn't he tell the reason she wasn't screaming was that he was choking her? Throwing down the naan, Kate hurled herself, grabbing the youth by the hair, yanking till she could arm-lock him. And then she was tugged off and thrown to the ground.

They fled, two dark figures. With those hooded jackets they could be any race. Give chase or see to the girl? The question answered itself: the girl crumpled, falling on to the wet tarmac. Pulse? Breathing? Better put her in recovery position just in case. And then find a phone. Fast.

The local uniformed lads didn't take long to arrive. By then the girl was crying and moaning: they might need an ambulance.

‘Good job you were there,' Guljar, the night sergeant said, getting back into his car. ‘Hey, want a lift home?'

‘I'm only a couple of roads away.'

‘Hop in anyway. We'll talk ID tomorrow, OK?'

‘You can talk all you like. I only saw the rear view.'

‘ID a bum, if you like.'

‘Spare me!' She fastened her seat belt.

‘Well, was it a brown or a white bum? I know things look different under these lights, but you must have some idea. Kate?' he prompted.

She shook her head. ‘You'd think all these years of training – Guljar, I'd reckon it was light brown. But I don't want to think stereotypes –'

‘And there are some pretty evil white bums around too. Poor kid. This won't go down well with her family.'

‘Eh? She was raped, for Christ's sake!'

‘Don't tell me, Kate. I know. But you saw her clothes: all that black gear. Locals call them ninjas. Can't say I blame them. I mean, shoving your religion down people's throats. I mean, I'm a Sikh, and proud of it, but I've cut my hair. Doesn't mean I'm any the less devout. Bring my kids up in the family tradition. All this black gear rubs people's noses in the fact you're different.'

Kate didn't feel up to a discussion on religion and social conformity, not at this hour.

‘But even if the family's far right fundamentalist, they couldn't blame her for –'

‘Kate: last year on my patch – when I was still in uniform – there was this shooting. Mum, daughter, kid brother; then the dad turned the gun on himself. For why? Cause some kind auntie had seen the girl kissing an African-Caribbean kid down the park, that's why.'

‘So she won't just need support from the Rape Unit – she might need protection from her own people! My God!'

‘Thank God for safe houses.' Putting the car into gear, he reversed smartly.

‘Hey, I just realised my dinner's somewhere here. Tikka in a naan.'

‘Into local delicacies, are you?' Guljar stopped, getting out and peering round. It was he who found the little parcel, flat under his back tyre.

He took her back to the chippie, of course.

The lad behind the counter looked at her with obvious respect when she asked for a repeat. ‘You sure you can manage another, Miss?'

‘Two, I should think.' One of them for Guljar, waiting in the car.

‘Bloody hell. What you Londoners got? Hollow legs?'

She was trying to jiggle the Yale key into the front door when a figure came up the shared front path.

It was a woman. What had Aunt Cassie said about her neighbours? Immigrants. Jamaicans, Aunt Cassie had called them, in a slightly lowered voice.

Kate smiled, and held out her hand. ‘I'm Kate Power. Cassie's niece. You must be Mrs Mackenzie?'

‘That's right.' Her accent was more Barbados than Jamaica but mostly Brum. So much for Cassie's judgement – Kate wondered how many years she'd been over here. ‘Now, what you been doin' to yourself? All that blood?'

Kate looked down. Now she came to think of it, her thigh was throbbing.

‘I fell over. Thought I'd just bruised it. Must have landed on some broken glass.'

‘You just step inside, Kate girl. Come your ways in. Here.'

Kate followed.

After the gloom of her aunt's house, this was a revelation. To be sure, not all the furniture would have been Kate's choice, but the rooms looked twice as large as those next door. Amazing what a coat of light paint could do. New, by the smell of it.

‘It's the radiators. First time I've had the central heating on since they were painted. Into the kitchen and take down those pants. Royston, we have a visitor. Now, Miss Kate's hurt herself and I'm going to patch her up, so don't you come back in here without you knock first.'

The lad – about sixteen, Kate supposed – slipped something into a drawer and put his hands behind his back.

‘Hi, Royston.' Kate held out her hand.

He stared as if she were offering him a bad fish and went out.

‘Royston! What I tell you about manners? Come back here!'

Royston returned. ‘Hi.'

‘Hi! Nice to meet you.' She spoke to his departing back. Why did it look so guilty?

Mrs Mackenzie shrugged, and busied herself with an impressive first aid box. ‘Let's see. No, not so bad as it could be.' She put on gloves and swabbed gently.

Kate peered. She had a neat cut in her thigh. She decided to look at Mrs Mackenzie instead: in the bright light of the kitchen she looked younger than she had outside – forty-five, perhaps. She'd had her hair relaxed, and wore it pulled back into a neat knot.

‘Anti-tet?' she asked, looking up.

‘Last year. It doesn't need a stitch, does it?' It wasn't the stitching she dreaded, but the three or four hours in casualty. The jog had made her sleepy and hungry, she couldn't tell in which order.

For answer, Mrs Mackenzie produced butterflies. ‘That should do you. Though your trousers may never be the same again.'

‘I don't think they owe me anything. I'm so grateful, Mrs Mackenzie. Thank you.'

‘My job, Kate, girl. What's an extra five minutes on top of two hours' unpaid overtime, eh? How's the old lady?' She stripped off her gloves, dropping them inside out into the pedal bin, and turned on the taps.

‘Good as she'll ever be. She's going to stay in the home, though. She might have every last marble but her body's – well, you know what arthritis can do.'

‘Very cruel it can be, Lord knows. What's that you got?' Drying her hands, she pointed at Kate's supper. ‘Can't cook in that kitchen of hers, eh?'

‘Not much of a kitchen. Not like this.' Kate looked around her.

‘This my husband's redundancy. Twenty-five years a teacher and – she drew a finger across her throat. ‘But then he walks straight into another job, and hey presto! Like it?'

‘Lovely. Gives me ideas for mine. Aunt Cassie's been really kind – she's given me the house, you see.'

Mrs Mackenzie looked at her sideways. ‘Well, there's gifts and there's gifts,' she said. ‘When I was a girl in school, they made us learn these poems. There was this one about an albatross.'

The tired, damp smell hit her as soon as she opened the front door. Neglected house plus old person smell. She'd met it in countless houses; she'd never thought she'd live in one smelling like it. At least it wouldn't smell like that when she'd finished with it. The trouble was, knowing where to start.

The kitchen. She couldn't live without a proper kitchen. Aunt Cassie had survived with a minute kitchen and a scullery. Knocking out the wall between them would make a lovely long light room. She could picture it now: a working surface there, the sink where it would catch the sun. And a nice round table in that corner by the radiator. Pale green and a warm coloured wood. And some pretty tiles. All she had at the moment was an old brown porcelain sink in the scullery, complete with a splash-back that looked like Challenger coming in to land, minus a few tiles. Kate supposed she could risk the stove, but was reluctant, on grounds of hygiene, for one thing. Arthritic joints don't take kindly to wielding a Brillo pad. No such thing as a microwave, of course: she'd have to eat the tikka cold. At least what it lacked in thermal power, it made up in spice. She'd go to that chippie again.

BOOK: Power on Her Own
6.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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