Domestic, he thought. Always happens at Christmas: too much booze, and then the arguments start.
Albert seemed to recognise her; he was his usual cheery self. ‘Smacked your head on a door, Sam ...?’ He peered more closely. ‘Though I must admit it’s quite an improvement.’
Her voice was surprisingly deep. ‘That’s not funny.’
Albert chuckled. ‘I was being serious.’
‘Look ... this fucking nutter half-killed me. If it wasn’t for some yobs making a fucking racket that scared him off, I’d be looking at you from a fucking slab in the mortuary.’
Albert sighed. ‘Sam ... not again ... I’ve lost count. What do you expect me to do?’
‘Are you thick? Arrest the fucker.’
Albert sucked the end of his pen, looked up at the ceiling as if seeking an answer for his crossword. ‘Give me a clue ... was he a one-armed midget with two heads ... Santa Claus, maybe? Did he leave a forwarding address?’
Paul leaned back on the counter. Despite the seriousness of the assault, he was enjoying this. Albert could have been an old-time variety act. Max Miller – the “Cheeky Chappie” who his mother adored. She had several CDs that had been digitally enhanced...
The repartee continued – for a while. Then Albert put on his professional hat and started to write up a report. He heard Sam mention the Vatican – how opportune – he was going there to raid their security tapes – if Tony and Smithy got their act together. And right on cue, Tony shoved open the outside door, saw him, and beckoned.
Paul left Albert talking about Sam’s sex-change operation, and whether Santa had noticed the difference - and dived into the back of the patrol car. ‘Good timing. Albert’s otherwise occupied.’
Smithy turned round from the passenger seat. ‘Can you make it snappy? We’re supposed to be on-duty.’
‘Yeah, well ... we’ve got plenty of time. I can always say there was a disturbance.’
Smithy laughed. ‘What? It’s daytime.’
‘Exactly. That makes it even more likely we’d stop.’
Tony grunted. ‘You have a devious mind, Sherlock.’
‘Sarge, to you.’
Tony grunted again. ‘Sarge? What’s happened to your Jackie?’
‘DS Steel, you mean?’
‘One ... she’s not mine ... and two, it’s personal. She’s off sick ... I’m Acting DS.’
They all fell silent.
Tony pulled up outside the front door of the Vatican. It was closed; a metal bar across the door. Paul got out, went over and rattled the padlock, banged on the door; waited. It was cold, and the wind whistled around his trouser legs.
He looked back at the patrol car. Smithy was leaning out of the window and pointing; shouting that he’d seen a cleaning lady at a side entrance. He jogged down the alley and found a door that was wedged open with a plastic bucket and mop. He stepped inside.
Right into an outstretched paw. By the menacing scowl on the man’s face, it hadn’t been fed that day. It grunted.
‘Hold it right there.’
Paul tried to take a half-step back. ‘I’m a police officer.’
‘You lost your way, sunshine? This is a night club, not your nick.’
‘I need to talk to the manager.’
Paul carefully opened his jacket pocket and gently pulled out his warrant card. ‘This is my VIP pass.’
Louder, as if Paul was deaf. ‘We’re still closed.’
A door opened further down the corridor. A slim woman appeared who Paul didn’t recognise. Her hair was tied back in a bun and secretarial glasses were perched on the end of her nose. She was wearing a charcoal-grey business suit, could have been a captain of industry. Her voice had an edge to it. ‘What’s up, Harry?’
‘Nothing ... just some policeman ...’
‘Let me handle it ... go and get me some coffee.’ She looked enquiringly at Paul. He nodded. ‘Make it two.’
She led him into her office. It had a minimalist look: desk, executive chair, four-door metal cabinet, and a large Chubb floor safe. No pictures, no paintings and no paperwork on show. She waved him to the solitary guest armchair and didn’t engage in social niceties. ‘I’m Priscilla Pope. I own the “Vatican”. What do you want?’
Her name rang a bell; he’d heard of her, but hadn’t had any previous dealings. Normally, a manager handled the operational side. He hoped she would be cooperative; he had the cover story ready, courtesy of Sam, the transsexual.
‘A woman was brutally attacked last night. Just up the road. I need to take a look at your security tapes ... see if I can spot anything.’
She frowned. ‘It didn’t happen outside here. I’ll ask Harry when he gets back.’
‘I still need to look at the tapes.’
‘You got a warrant?’
Paul was ready for that. He smiled his disarming smile. ‘It’s Christmas ... you’re busy ... we’re busy. I’m sure you don’t want us clod-hopping all over the place.’
His smile didn’t break her heart. But the good news was, she complied; didn’t want anything interrupting a healthy cash-flow. Especially, cop patrols harassing her punters. While Paul was waiting for Priscilla to round up her manager, he radioed Tony, said he’d yomp it back to the nick if they got a call-out.
Then he sat back in his chair and drank his coffee...
Fifteen minutes later, Priscilla returned with someone he did recognise - a harassed looking man, stick-thin, wearing a shiny suit that reeked of smoke.
‘Problem,’ she said. She pointed a finger accusingly at her manager. ‘Because David couldn’t be arsed to fetch last week’s tapes, some of last night’s have been overwritten.’
Paul shrugged, waiting for her – or David – to explain.
David braved it out. ‘It doesn’t normally get moving until gone ten. Last night was VIP party night and hectic ... I didn’t have time ... but we’ve got most of it from eleven, inside, and outside ... the trouble spots.’ He paused; a worried expression. ‘Some of this stuff ... well it can be X-rated.’
Trouble spots. X-rated. Paul inwardly cheered. He put on a sad look. ‘That’s a shame ... how many have you got?’
Priscilla interrupted. ‘I’m not so sure ...’
Paul caught her hesitation, and quickly reassured her. ‘Don’t worry ... we’ll treat it all confidentially ... you’re cooperating with the law ... there’ll be no comebacks on you.’
She seemed to accept it, nodded okay. David walked over to the floor safe; key and combination lock. He opened it, and extracted a carton of videos, about a half dozen. ‘You just want the outside ones?’
Paul shook his head – exchanged a glance with Priscilla and wondered how much she’d told him. ‘Better have the ones inside as well ... you never know ...’ As an afterthought he added, ‘Better still ... make it all you have for this week.’
Reilly would have a field day.