She shivered from the icy blast billowing around, but her warm coat was in Marty’s mini-van. So were her comfortable trainers. It was all very well for them. She had blisters on her feet from tottering around in those ridiculous high-heels, and she was missing her road running. Instead, tuna salad followed by diet yoghurt, all swilled down with diet coke to keep the calorie army from invading her waistline.
It was only for one more week, Angers had told her. The DCS was complaining about increased overtime eating into the budget. And what had happened so far? She had caught Councillor Dixon Winter-bollocks, and Marty had warned off Molly and Candice. So he said. On a risk-reward ratio, not exactly a good rate of return.
‘I’m off down to Station Road,’ she whispered into her microphone. ‘Meet the last Bristol train.’
Marty whispered back, ‘If there’s no action, pop into the Lord John. Warm yourself up, see if you can pull.’
Jackie cursed, but then cheered up. Bad news, the Lord John was a dire hole fit for low-lives, not exactly a punters’ paradise. Good news, it would be a sanctuary from the coldness that wormed into her bones. Clutching at her jacket, she walked down towards the station.
The train shuddered into the station stop. Jackie stood by the exit. Marty had pulled the mini-van in behind one solitary taxi. Both waiting. Waiting. First out were two fresh-faced and noisy hoodies, laughing and swearing.
‘Looking for a fuck?’ said the tall one when he saw her. His arms and legs didn’t appear to be synchronised. He was probably on drugs.
She shook her head. ‘Sorry, love, another time maybe.’ She kept a straight face. ‘Have a wet dream on me instead.’
Not the most diplomatic, but Jackie was cold.
He snarled at her, but more people were emerging. The other hoodie pulled him away. ‘Leave the old goat. She’s probably got HIV.’
The tall hoodie vented a stream of abuse, and spat a green globule in her direction. Then they were gone.
She wasn’t sure which word hurt her the most. Two young couples breezed past, and then an elderly gentleman with silvery hair. He was wearing a dark grey overcoat over black trousers and a grey trilby hat with a black band around it. He stopped when he saw Jackie, shook his head as if in despair, and muttered something about young women’s morals nowadays, before heading over to the taxi.
But the goat barb still stung. Maybe she’d overdone the crimson lipstick. Or the black mascara. Or ... a bleep in her ear.
‘All clear. Proceed with plan B.’
Jackie retraced her steps up Station road, past the Oxfam shop and into the Lord John. Welcomed by the Wurzels tractor song blaring from the beat-up jukebox. She wasn’t going to stick it here for long. She eased through an almost empty lounge and out to the toilet. Wish she hadn’t. Not been cleaned for at least a decade; no paper, no hot water.
She told Marty the place was dead, and she was fed up. Cold, hungry, and thirsty. In no particular order.
‘Okay, wrap up for the night. I’m outside,’ he replied.
Jackie scooted out of the pub and into Marty’s mini-van. She told him to wait while she took off her high-heels, and slipped into her trainers. Then draped her coat around her, trying to get warm.
Marty slid out into the road, heater on full blast. ‘Home?’
Jackie glanced at her watch. Nearly ten. ‘No ... Drop me off at the Blacksmith’s Arms.’
Marty gave her a stare, but didn’t say anything. She felt obliged to explain. ‘It’s a girly thing. I’m meeting up with Tania Simpson from the Evening Argus. Might learn a few things about Serena.’ Half truth. Heavy Metal. Maybe DC James...
Marty put a warm hand on her leg. A friendly gesture ... maybe. ‘Watch out, that woman is a ferret.’ He stroked her thigh. ‘Don’t say anything untoward, or you’ll have headlines. The wrong sort.’ His fingers massaged her flesh and moved upwards. ‘It would really piss-off the CC.’
Jackie nodded, while picking his hand off and putting it back on the gear stick. Gently, so as to show no hard feelings. She giggled inwardly. Well, not from her anyway.
God, she missed DC James. Part of him anyway. But Paul was six feet under. And he could stay there.
The large meeting room at the back of the Blacksmith’s Arms was crowded and loud. Jackie could feel the foundations shaking to the raucous sounds from Mental Health. Hard core; just how she liked it. The band had just started their final session, and she resolved to cut short her liaison with Tania. Straight into the ladies by the lounge bar instead; remove excessive make-up, tie her hair up in a bun, and keep her coat buttoned while she was with the reporter. That should do it.
She found Tania easily enough. Slim, wearing a green halter dress and reeking of Chanel. Her slender fingers with varnished nails were toying with an unlit Dunhill. Jacket slung casually over the back of her chair, with the Barbour label showing. But she was not a shrinking violet, surrounded by a gaggle of ‘green wellies’. All talking at the same time, mainly about themselves.
Not that it fazed Jackie. Straight into strike mode. ‘Hi, I’m Jackie.’ There was instant quiet for a few moments while they appraised the newcomer. Perhaps the coat was off-putting, or maybe the Reeboks.
Tania waved her glass. ‘Jackie, darling; come and join me.’ She turned to one of her pet hounds. ‘Andrew, darling; girly business, you understand. Shoo, shoo, there’s a good boy.’
Jackie wasn’t impressed by the social ladder-climbing, bloody Tania Simpson. Of course she had seen the reporter at one or two of the press meetings, but that was work. Different stage, different objective.
Tania called over the chubby bar-girl. ‘Polly, darling ... another double for me and ...’ she looked at Jackie.
‘Chardonnay ... large glass ... and a packet of cheese and onion crisps.’
Jackie watched the hounds drift over to the log-fireplace for men’s talk, whilst Tania began the bonding by patting her arm.
‘Are you cold, darling?’ Tania’s dark-eyes began to search for clues.
I should have changed. I look ridiculous in this coat.
Jackie shook her head. Already she was thinking it was a bad idea. Just the one, and that would be it. ‘It’s been a long day.’
Tania winked. ‘What you need is a man and a drink. Both stiff ones.’
Jackie closed her eyes. Wonder if Paul was here. Didn’t see him. She opened them again, picked up her glass and took a gulp. God, I needed that.
She felt Tania tugging at her sleeve. ‘Jackie, darling, you drifted off.’
Jackie smiled, and opened her crisp packet. Offered it, but Tania shook her head. ‘Calories, darling.’
Ouch. Bitch. Jackie extracted a large crisp and crunched it. Wished it was Tania’s head; but little time for such pleasantries. ‘You want to ask me questions about Serena, right?’
‘Tell me about her. Background ... that sort of thing.’
‘She was a prostitute. She was found dead on the landfill site.’
‘Not from natural causes, then?’
‘Cause of death is still being determined.’
‘Jackie ... the girl had a bloody great hole in her stomach. ‘Come on ...what’s your opinion?’
Jackie was not going there. She munched on a few more crisps. ‘What’s your next question?’
‘Jackie, darling. Orson wouldn’t waste his star pupil on a low-key operation. Something smells. What’s so important about this death that has you running with it?’
Jackie chuckled. ‘Lack of manpower. Most DI’s and above, if they’re not off sick or suspended, are on the missing Bristol schoolgirls’ search.’
Tania frowned. Sipped her drink ‘That’s really it?’
Jackie allowed herself a deep breath. ‘Yes.’
Tania lowered her voice. ‘I heard differently. I heard Serena had HIV. I heard you’re setting up honey traps. That’s a costly use of public funds. Why?’
Jackie was aware that Tania was looking suspiciously at her coat, probably wondering what she was wearing underneath. Not a lot; a skimpy low-cut black sweater with a push up bra to show off her cleavage, and a scanty black skirt, with lacy knickers. This was definitely a bad idea. ‘Tania, you need to talk with DCI Angers. He is in charge of this investigation. I just follow instructions.’
‘What instructions are these?’
Shit. Now what? ‘Mainly interviews with possible suspects.’
Jackie was back on safe land. ‘Sorry, I cannot tell you. It could prejudice the investigation.’
Tania shook her head and appeared to be frustrated. ‘Come on Jackie. Give me something.’
Jackie grasped the opportunity. Maybe she could uncover the police mole. ‘If anything breaks, I’ll call you. In return, I want to know your source.’
‘Jackie, you’re being naive. You know I can’t do that.’
Jackie shrugged. She took another long gulp of Chardonnay, and finished the crisps. ‘Up to you.’
‘It’s big then? This story, I mean.’
Jackie was impressed, despite her dislike for the reporter. Tania had a quick mind, able to pick up the implication. ‘No comment.’
Tania poured the last of her tonic into her glass. ‘Thank you, darling. That’s all I need to know.’
Shit. I shouldn’t have said that. Have I blown it? She could imagine the headlines. Major murder investigation – police cover-up exposed. And then, later - Detective Sergeant suspended, pending an internal enquiry. Jackie turned down the offer of a lift, said she’d jog home; it was only ten minutes or so. She stood up, drained her Chardonnay, and left Tania sitting there with a Cheshire cat grin on her face.
Mental Health was playing their encore. She peeked in the room. A voice behind her said, ‘Hi Jackie.’ She gave a groan. Up to a few minutes ago, she would have welcomed him back into her arms.
Into her bed.
But that Tania bitch had gone and spoiled it. Her career could be at stake, which a night of lust wouldn’t resolve. She turned. He was smiling at her. Dressed just as she liked it; the open necked black shirt, and big-zippered jeans with a studded belt and chain link where his car keys hung. A hint of facial stubble. Smelt good as well. ‘Jackie, can we talk. I’m really sorry. It was a huge misunderstanding.’
She nearly melted. Nearly. She shook her head; the mood had evaporated – equal measures of anger, loathing, and self-pity. ‘Paul, not now. Believe me, it’s really not a good time.’ She left him standing alone, looking sad; a lost puppy, but no wagging tail.