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Authors: Judith Cutler

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BOOK: Staying Power
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Or overdraft in the bank. Top of one pile was a letter from his manager, informing him that his overdraft facility was withdrawn, as from – she checked her watch – Monday's date. Looking at the size of it, she could see why. But was that enough to make a man hang himself?

She checked another file. Trade references. Symphony Leather Products was worth £10,000 worth of credit, according to two other companies. There was also a bank reference – ‘… to the best of our knowledge …' saying much the same thing. There was a collection of invoices, the earlier ones apparently paid with cash – did they get a discount? The later ones hadn't been paid – perhaps they were invoking their credit. Ah, here was a batch that had been paid after two months. She checked the dates. June, paid in August.

She turned to Colin. ‘Can you make anything of this lot?'

He shook his head. ‘They didn't teach us accounting where I went to school. How about you?'

‘Me neither. Funny thing, though. I get this feeling that we're sitting on a gold mine here, pardon the pun. That everything's written on these papers if only we could understand them.' She slapped them against her open palm. At last she looked up. ‘Got any decent contacts in Fraud?'

‘Why not make an official approach?'

She shook her head in feigned shock. ‘Cost centres, Constable, that's why not. Come on, there must be someone owes you a freebie.'

To her horror, he blushed. His horror, too. At last he smiled sheepishly. ‘I'll see what we can do. Should we take this lot away or leave it locked up here?'

‘I can just see Cope's face if we turn up with more clutter. Yes, we'll take it with us. And the computer and those disks.'

‘In for a penny, in for a pound, eh?'

More morgue humour. She rolled her eyes. ‘Are you sure that's in the best of taste?'

‘No worse than your crack about gold mines.'

They suppressed their giggles – footsteps on the stairs. In a hurry and making for this room. Their raised eyebrows were mirror images of each other.

‘Sergeant! Is it OK if I come in?'

‘Sure – it's your brother's room,' she added, hoping he wouldn't notice the lack of logic.

‘And these,' he said, flourishing them, ‘are my brother's photos.'

At first sight, the photos didn't warrant such drama. Colin leafed through thirty assorted views of Florence. Michelangelo's David, outside the rain-drenched Palazzo Vecchio and indoors in the Accademia; Florence roofs in sunshine and in snow; several churches.

‘I thought he was there on business,' Colin said.

‘Let's just say he used his spare time efficiently,' Adrian said. ‘Ah—'

‘How did you get hold of them?' Kate cut in.

‘The lunchtime's post. He always uses this quick postal service. And I thought – well, see what I mean?' He dabbed a forefinger on the next print.

They peered at a della Robbia bust.

‘Ah. No, it must be the next one.' Carefully he eased the top photo sideways so it exposed half the next print. Another glazed terracotta della Robbia, this time a plaque with a young woman's head in three dimensions. As they watched he removed the top photo altogether. Beside the head was another, in exactly the same pose. A living woman's head. Kate's head.

‘You seem to have taken it very calmly,' Colin said, as he shoved the last box of files into the boot. ‘But I still think I ought to drive.'

She flicked him the keys. ‘What else should I do?' She could think of a lot of things herself, but none of the options seemed appropriate.

‘And you're sure he didn't say anything to you on the plane? About having seen you before?'

‘I can't be positive … I kept going deaf. He was kind and offered practical advice.' She pulled at her deaf ear. Any day now it would be worth a visit to a GP. ‘But it was no more than a tentative suggestion we should meet for a meal. Tell you what: stop at that chemist's – I want some ear drops.'

Colin looked at her sideways. ‘I don't buy that. No, more like a case of softly-softly. After all, what man's going to say to this woman dripping with cold: I fell in love with you in this museum?' He signalled and pulled over.

‘I didn't have the cold then. Maybe I'd turned out to have feet of clay.'

‘Or nose of snot. You'll have to tell Graham, though.' He slid another look at her ‘What's the betting he won't like it?'

‘No takers.' She cut him off abruptly. She had shared a moment with Graham that no one would ever know about, when, staring into the murky waters of a Birmingham canal he'd told her he could offer no more than friendship. Not that she'd asked for more. And there'd been a gulf between the words he'd used and the tone in which he spoke them. His pain had been tangible.

And meanwhile there was a joke running round the squad: Graham fancies Kate, OK. The graffiti level of tact and subtlety. Would it have made any difference if any of them had really thought Graham loved her? Not much. For the Selbys of this world it would have made matters infinitely enjoyable, of course.

And Kate? Did Kate fancy Graham, OK? In the warmth and companionable silence of the car, she could admit to herself that if she'd ever been able to love anyone after Robin's death, it might have been Graham Harvey. When they'd stood together, that cold winter's day, it had been all she could do not to turn and hold him. There'd been moments since when she wanted to stretch her hand to the back of his head, where the hair tucked neatly into the neck. It was a good shape.

Like Robin's.

Since it was Colin beside her, she could say it. ‘You think you're over it, don't you? And then something sets you off. A day like this, a glance down a dingy rush-hour street, and I think I see Robin. I pick up his aftershave in the queue at Sainsbury's. Damn it, even you wear it sometimes. It smelt different on him, though.'

Trying to open his door without having it removed by a passing juggernaut, he asked, ‘How's the counselling going?'

She snorted. ‘It turns out I've got myself in for the sort that deals not in emotions but in changing behaviour. So I have to look at pictures of bugs and maggots and any day now I've got to have the little bleeders crawling over my hands. To get myself habituated.'

‘Even that's not the same as opening a tin full of them on your desk, though.'

‘No. Oh, I'll stick it out, don't worry. But – and this really is for your ears only – I sometimes wonder if I need someone to poke round in the middle of my head. Help me sort out why I'm putting up with the problems with my house, for instance. Still, the kitchen floor should be laid tomorrow – I shall be in an hour or so late. I've warned Cope and Harvey.'

‘Are you going to phone in and leave a message with Selby? Out of purest scientific curiosity, of course.'

‘I'm tempted. Very tempted. I still have this gut-feeling that it was Grafton who tried to phone me the other day. And an equally strong feeling that it was Selby who “lost” the message.'

‘With a view to simply messing things up for you? Or to land Fatima in it? You have to phone in, Kate. Mention it to Harvey when you tell him about the photo.'

She grunted assent.

The rain drove into their faces as they sprinted across to the chemist's. She stopped short in the porch. ‘What are you doing here? I only wanted ear-drops!'

‘I thought you might want to make it an official visit. It is a pharmacy, and we are supposed to be looking at pharmacy thefts.'

She nodded. ‘My head must be even thicker than I thought.'

‘Fancy that,' she said. ‘Good job you came with me to prompt me, Colin.'

‘Oh, you'd have got round to it sooner or later.'

‘Better sooner. So now we've got another pharmacy that's been done over. Vitamin tablets again! Does this really make sense? Tell you what, as soon as I've got a moment I'm going to talk to someone in Drugs.'

The rain was now a steady downpour, and pedestrians wrestling with umbrellas were taking ludicrous risks dashing to buses across the road.

‘Later than I realised,' Colin said at last. ‘What do you say to briefing Harvey and then sitting this lot out over a snifter?'

‘Snifter?'

‘Sorry. Tipton for drink. Don't ask me why. Anyway—?' He pulled into one of several empty spaces.

‘Rain-check time, I'm afraid.'

‘Oh, it's football training tonight, isn't it?'

‘Should be. But I've phoned the BB. I'm not hanging round wet car parks supervising teenage kids in this weather with this lot rattling round inside me: it'd be asking for trouble. The blokes who ran it while I was off sick will just have to do it again. No, I've promised to see Cassie instead. And I can't put that back because afterwards I'm having a drink with Pat the Path. A meal, actually. Don't ask me why.'

Unclipping his seatbelt he looked her in the eye. ‘Because he's an attractive guy and there's no reason why you shouldn't. That's why.'

Harvey was running down the stairs as Kate and Colin pushed their way through the heavy doors. If Kate expected him to slow down long enough to ask how they'd got on, he didn't.

‘My room first thing tomorrow,' he flung over his shoulder.

She shrugged at Colin and gave chase.

‘Gaffer! I'm going to be late in – remember?'

He paused long enough to grimace in irritation. ‘Soon as you can make it, then.'

‘Sir!' she mouthed at his retreating back.

Chapter Eight

‘I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to having the new kitchen flooring laid,' she told Cassie, pouring her another vermouth.

‘I don't know why you needed it,' Cassie said, indicating with a jerk of her head that she wanted her glass on the table beside her. She wasn't in bed, but was reclining on the day bed. ‘Those quarry tiles would have polished up a treat.'

‘They got badly damaged when they put the new membrane in,' Kate reminded her, wishing she could throw open a window, the room was so hot. ‘The men discovered rising damp, remember, and I had to have the floor dug up and all that plaster taken off the walls.' It frightened her that she was having to go over all this again. ‘Well, it's all dried out and the walls painted – you remember, that pale green? – and before I got to bed I shall sweep the concrete ready for the Vinolay. And the men come tomorrow!' It would be such a treat to be able to pad around in bare feet on something other than all that flaking concrete. All she had to do then was finish emptying those damned boxes and she'd have a home. ‘I thought I might have a house-warming party when it's all finished,' she said. She'd said it idly, without any real thought, but, yes, it would be nice, to gather a few people together.

‘I don't know where you'll put everyone,' Cassie said. ‘Though come to think of it you can't have all that many friends up here – too busy gadding about. What with the chapel and the football and all this flying round Europe.'

Kate bit her lip. Which was worse, having to admit that her aunt was right about the lack of friends, or the injustice about her gadding? True, she'd had a holiday, but that was more or less on police orders, to speed her recuperation after the double trauma of the accident in which she'd hurt her leg. It had been dreadful to have almost a re-run of the accident which had injured her and killed Robin. And the man running her down with a van had been someone she'd thought was a friend. Yes, she'd needed a break. As for her involvement with the Baptist church, that had been on her aunt's instigation, and coaching the football team had simply arisen through that. But she hadn't made any friends amongst the congregation, had she?

‘Who will you invite, anyway?' Cassie asked. ‘That man you call gay, the queer, no doubt – you know he came to see me while you were away. Proper little charmer, isn't he? More like one of the male nurses they have here. Funny job for a man, if you ask me, nursing. Most of them queer, I suppose. Though I don't know what one of them's doing in the police.'

Trying as hard as he could not to let any of his colleagues know he was gay, that was what. ‘Working hard,' she said out loud. ‘He's an exceptionally good officer. And a very kind friend.'

‘Hmph. I'd have thought they'd have wanted someone tough in the police. A proper man.'

Kate said nothing: however much her aunt was provoking her, she wouldn't be drawn. And she certainly wouldn't offer Selby as an example of just the sort of tough officer no one would want. Selby – outside work – wasn't worth the breath it would take to say his name.

‘And there's that coloured woman next door,' Cassie pursued. ‘That Jamaican. I suppose you'll have to have her.'

‘I'm very fond of Zenia. She's good woman: I like her very much. And despite her troubles, I know she's been to visit you here.'

‘I don't know why she bothered. Mind you, she thinks the same as me about Rosie. You remember: her husband – so-called – is beating her up. You'll have to do something about it, Kate. She's got a huge bruise on her cheek. You ring the bell and get her up here – see for yourself.'

Kate shook her head. ‘There's nothing I can do if she doesn't want me to. But I'll have a word with some of my colleagues in the Domestic Violence Unit – they may have some ideas.'

‘Domestic – what?'

‘Violence Unit. It's to protect women from their partners—'

‘Unit. Partners. All these fancy terms. All these women need to do is walk out. I'd never have stood for a man trying to knock me about, I can tell you.'

Kate smiled. ‘I'm sure you wouldn't. Nor would I. But some women—'

‘Oh, you'll be telling me they've no choice. And you can stop sliding looks at your watch and thinking I don't notice.'

BOOK: Staying Power
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