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Authors: Judith Cutler

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BOOK: Staying Power
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But she smiled. ‘Oh, ages ago,' she said. ‘When Cope wiped that report for me – almost my first week.'

‘Well, I suspect it was Selby, not Cope, who used your machine. But poor Cope's never made it to computer literacy—'

‘And he always used to right justify his text! Why didn't I think of that!' She clapped a hand to her face.

‘There it all is, clear as day, on his hard disk. Right-justified.'

‘What'll happen to him?'

Graham shrugged: ‘Demotion, possibly. Provided the disciplinary proceedings come to the same conclusion as our internal investigation. Certainly a transfer. As for Selby – as long as he's on sick leave we can't touch him.'

All three were silent.

‘Now what?' Neville asked at last. ‘A squad celebration? You're all off the hook, now.'

‘I think we're all too stunned, Sir. And in many people's book, Cope was a decent, old-fashioned cop. A bit of a thug, but none the worse for that. No, a quiet time for us all, I should think. And Colin and I have still got to deal with the guy who practised a spot of burglary in his spare time. The carpet man.'

‘Go and bag him,' said Graham, grinning like a school-boy.

Chapter Thirty-One

‘So you and this Patrick man are going to paint the town red, are you?' Cassie crowed, pulling herself more upright in her chair. ‘And when am I going to meet him?'

‘Soon as I can fix it.'

‘I reckon you've got a few doubts about him or you'd have brought him before.'

Trust Cassie to put her finger on it
. ‘Well, things have been slow taking off, shall we say.'
And we've been slow taking things off, too
. ‘But he's been brilliant over that lad that got beaten up. He's got a friend who specialises in that sort of internal damage and he's brought him into the case.'

‘I bet that ruffled a few feathers. These doctors always like to be right, you know.' She rattled the ice round her glass before sipping.

‘You're right. But Simon's at last started to make some progress.' Slow, desperately slow progress. He might yet need a kidney transplant.

‘What'll you do with him when he's let out? He can't go back on the streets, can he?'

‘What indeed? But it's not really my problem. Not really.'

‘That won't stop you thinking it is. You should be working for the social services people, not the police. Look at that business with that lad that laid the carpets.'

Kate nodded. She'd been trying to do some last minute shopping when someone had called her name.

‘Yes, you! Kate! Hey, what the fuck did I ever do to you? I did a good job on your carpets, I sort out your kitchen floor something lovely – I even lock your bloody front door! And what do you do? You lose me my bleeding job, don't you!'

Tony, her floorer.

‘Lose you your job? What are you on about?'

‘You fucking copped my bleeding boss, that's what.'

‘So—'

‘And he's going to plead guilty. Right?'

‘Yes, but—'

‘So his firm goes under, and I'm—' his hand threw an imaginary butt end into the gutter. And ground it in, for good measure. ‘Properly fucked up. I lived over one of his shops, didn't I? So no job, no fucking flat. God, you lot don't half piss me off.' He turned from her in a movement remarkably like one of Graham's flounces. Only this wasn't hurt dignity, it was real anger. There was total silence.

She'd grabbed his arm, so he turned. ‘Tony … I may be able to help.'

‘Got a bleeding carpet shop, have you?'

‘No. But I know someone who's putting a work and housing plan together.' She outlined the scheme Isobel had been involved with.

He'd listened, interested at first then angry. ‘I'm not a fucking street kid! I've got a girlfriend who's expecting at Christmas. And don't give me any crap about stables. I want a home, not a hostel, for my kid.'

And her rattling round on her own in her house. No. It wasn't her responsibility. She couldn't house-share with a couple she barely knew, let alone their baby. At last, she'd given him her work card. ‘I'll talk to the council. Phone me late this afternoon.'

‘Did you find him anywhere to live?' Cassie asked, holding out her glass for more gin. ‘You and the council?'

‘I pulled every string I could find, and then some. Got his councillor involved. And threatened the housing people with his MP. Nothing they could live in, not with a baby.'

‘So the poor lad's on the streets. Thanks to you.'

She wished Cassie didn't sound quite so vindictive. ‘Not quite. Graham Harvey – did you ever discover his wife's name? – he's involved with some church – a really out of the way sect. They found him a flat they used to save for visiting preachers.'

‘I should hope so. Flavia. That's what the poor woman's blessed with. Flavia. After some saint. Apparently they all belong to this same sect. That's where he met her. And they're like the Catholics. No divorce.'

‘Flavia,' Kate repeated. ‘Well, that could explain a lot.' But not, she knew, everything. She tried a new subject. ‘How's Rosie?'

‘Still with that man of hers. He's brought her flowers and a nice shiny ring. So it's all fine and dandy till the next time he gets angry. Stupid girl. I've got no patience with people like that.' Cassie drained her glass and set it down hard on her table. ‘Another please.' She set the new drink down more carefully, using a copy of
Woman's Realm
as a coaster. ‘And what are you wearing for this Patrick? Not your usual trousers, I hope.'

Kate pulled a face. Surely trousers were the most appropriate gear for a celebration for a motorbike? Sitting astride, and all that? ‘This.' She shed her coat and rotated.

As she'd expected, Cassie made a noise somewhere between amusement and outrage.

So why had she chosen a really slinky outfit, very short, very flattering now she was so thin? Sometime between Florence and now she'd lost nearly a stone. She looked down at her legs: how would Patrick react to seeing this much. She'd come to a decision: if something didn't tweak the chemistry between them – act as a catalyst, that was it! – she'd let the relationship go, such as it was. The champagne she was taking, her sexiest outfit – if they didn't work, finito!

Chapter Thirty-Two

So what sort of man cherished his motorcycles – some six or seven collectors' items and a modern couple he said he used regularly – not in a garage but in a living room, complete with thick, heavy curtains? She was presumably about to find out, as he steered her – both still clutching champagne flutes – to what he called his snug. It was the size of a family living room, and furnished with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, a huge desk, and deep chairs, thickly upholstered in maroon leather. She subsided into one of these.

‘Now,' he said. ‘Eyes shut. Tightly shut? Good. Just keep them shut while I get your little present!'

If he was pissed enough to ask, she was pissed enough to obey.

Leather! The smell took her straight back to Florence – pre-flu Florence, when she'd located the leather market by its smell. Poor Alan. She'd have given her teeth to have been able to nail Sanderson for that. He'd certainly driven him to it, as surely as if he'd tied the rope and pushed him. Deliberately bleeding his business dry. But suicide it seemed to have been. The ultimate expression of anger. Anger at whom? Kate, whose card was in his pocket? Kate, who'd never returned his call? Yes, those long slashes in the cashmere he'd hoped would make his fortune – they were angry. The slashes that had cut into his flesh. Poor bastard. The man who'd taken the photo of her as a stranger and been kind to her on the plane. All that talk about leather and lining. He'd been right about her shoes, come to think of it, the ones she was wearing tonight. Yes, they were stretching: soon they'd need inner soles to hold them on.

‘You can open your eyes now.'

She pulled herself together. She'd need a different sort of shoe to go with the outfit Patrick was holding out to her.

‘Here: it's yours. Take it. Go on. For you.'

A set of leathers. Lovely soft, though presumably tough, leathers. The panels of red and white – how long would they stay white, for goodness' sake? – would highlight hips and breasts, the red give lustre to her hair. He'd chosen well.

‘Go and put them on,' he said, his eyes at last showing something like interest. ‘Please. And Kate, don't leave anything on underneath.' Presumably under his black set, he was naked too.

Hmm. Well, she'd never done leather before, but why not? And why this business about going to put them on. Why not strip here and don them? Still, at least if she changed in the downstairs cloakroom, she'd see what she looked like.

The answer was, very good.

God, what would an outfit like this do to Graham's blood pressure?

She gripped the washbasin. This could be a big mistake. They were already outside her bottle of champagne and were making inroads into one he'd had on ice. There was no way she would take to his pillion, no way, come to think of it, she could let him drive. Still, she'd seen no sign of helmets, and there was no harm in humouring him. And then,
then
it dawned on her: he was probably thinking not riding but –
riding
.

Better get in the mood. If that was what she still wanted.

When she emerged, he was back in his bike room. There was no doubt about the expression in his eyes. Except he hid them behind a camera.

‘Just sit astride it: that's fine! Lovely. Hold it there! Lovely.'

Alan's photo. The photo with Cary. Oh, enough of this. She dismounted.

She shook herself. It was all past tense now. Had to be, or you couldn't do your job.

She framed another photogenic smile on her face, as she leaned against the bike. But her heart wasn't in it.

Patrick wasn't smiling either. Not socially, at least. He was gathering up a length of heavy plastic coated chain – the sort people used to fasten their machines to lamp posts. And he was lying backwards on the saddle, head towards the bars.

Oh, God.

His voice thick, he said, ‘Chain me to the bike. Chain me to the bike. And then—' He saw her hesitate. ‘It'll be such fun. When you unzip me …'

She shook her head dumbly.

‘Please, Kate. Please. And then sit astride me. No. Chain me first …' he whispered desperately.

Poor bastard: was that the only way he could manage?

It might be a bit of fun, something to giggle over. And there was no reason why she shouldn't acquiesce in his fantasies. Except—

No, fun though it might be – and he was certainly consenting – she couldn't do it. There'd been too much control in her life recently. Her life, and others'.

‘Hmm,' she said. ‘Tell you what, you just lie back there and close your eyes. And wait. No, no peeping.'

She blew him a kiss as she slipped out.

Leaving the leathers hanging in the bathroom, she closed Patrick's front door softly behind her and strode off into the cold of the night.

BOOK: Staying Power
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