Tony and Smithy would be waiting in the pub - she had promised them a drink.
Sod it. The Albion was too tempting. She needed a Chardonnay, a large one, preferably.
And that’s what she ordered; plus a couple of pints for the lads. They made room for her at their table, and she plonked herself down. She raised her glass, tried to lighten the mood. ‘Cheers. Here’s to ending crime.’
They picked up theirs. ‘To ending crime,’ they chorused.
Pleasantries over, she got down to some serious drinking, as did the other regulars in the pub. She recognised a few coppers; nodded to them, but they weren’t on her shift.
It could be a lonely life for a woman copper, especially a DS. There were plenty of men to choose from, though - not that Tony was her type, nor Smithy, come to that. Young posers, really – not like DC James. Paul was her type – those dark-brown eyes that she could drown in, and his suggestive, yet innocent smile. And then there was his...
What was he doing? Where was he?
‘Same again?’ queried Tony.
She nodded, and extracted a tenner. ‘Get some sarnies in. Chips, if he’s got some. Anything with plenty of calories, I’m starving.’
And not just for food.
Smithy got up to help Tony, leaving Jackie alone.
They probably feel awkward, being with me, she thought. Maybe she’d call it a night after that round.
‘Can I join you?’
A female voice penetrated. Then a whiff of Chanel.
Jackie glanced up. ‘Hi Tania.’ Big Chardonnay smile. ‘Slumming tonight?’
Might as well go straight for the jugular.
Tania Simpson gave a shrug; it was probably water off a duck’s back. She gently placed her glass and bottle of tonic on the table. ‘Thought I’d find you here, darling.’
‘I was just about to leave, actually ...’ Jackie stopped, as Tony bustled up with a drinks tray and a plate of mangy–looking sarnies - the bread curling-up at the edges.
He slid them onto the table. ‘Chips on their way.’
Tania sat down and pointed a varnished fingernail at the plate. ‘You really can’t eat those, darling.’
Can’t I? Just watch me.
Jackie picked up a sarnie, and stuffed it in her mouth. ‘Mmmm … delicious.’
Tania stretched out a hand, trying to be friendly. ‘About last time…’
Jackie interrupted, spitting out a few crumbs, ‘Don’t you “last time” me. I nearly lost my job because of your police cover-up article.’
Tania wasn’t impressed. ‘It’s true.’
Jackie waved her sandwich. ‘The only truth is your vivid imagination. The police deal with facts, not conjecture.’
Tania sniffed but didn’t respond. She tapped the table as if remembering something important. ‘I hear we’ve got a serial killer on our patch.’
Jackie choked on a piece of stale bread but managed to swallow it back down. ‘Who told you that?’
Tania scoffed. ‘It doesn’t take a genius to work it out; press release from Operation Venus; large major enquiry into the latest tom’s murder. All that for her? ... Don’t think so, do you?’
Jackie tried to keep a poker face. No way would she let Tania bloody Simpson stitch her up again. ‘What do you think?’
‘I think you’re not telling me something about that first tom ... Serena Naringa. And I know the two murders are linked.’
‘Is that so?’
‘Darling, don’t be so naïve. As I told you before, we all have our sources.’
Jackie clenched her teeth. ‘Tania ... darling. Much as I like you, you’ll have to go through official channels.’
Smithy came up and hovered at the table with a bowl of chips. Jackie got up. Motioned him back to where Tony was waiting. ‘That woman is press. That means Poison ... with a capital P. Do not ... I repeat not ... say anything about this operation, or you could be headline news. The DCS won’t like that one bit, you clear?’
They both nodded.
‘Okay, now I’m splitting. You can have the chips; I’ll get an Indian on my way home.’ She fumbled in her pocket and fished out a fiver. ‘Do I owe you anything?’
Tony brushed her offer away. ‘It’s okay, Sarge. Thanks for the drinks.’
Jackie couldn’t wait to get out of there, and away from that Tania bloody Simpson and back to her apartment. Shame she had to pull rank on the lads.
Bloody lonely job.
And she was hungry; a half-eaten sandwich only filled one tiny crevice of her stomach. The Light of India beckoned; chicken tikka masala with naan bread to take-away, and a pint of Kingfisher while she waited.
She relaxed on the waiting couch with the Evening Argus and her pint. No Tania Simpson expose, just the Operation Venus press release on the front page.
Then the bell on the door jangled. Jackie glanced up. A few noisy lads out on the town, they were a bit worse for wear. Typical rowdies trying to chat her up while they waited. They were becoming a nuisance.
Jackie sighed. She’d had a long day, and the last thing she wanted was to get involved. “Do not get confrontational”, her instructor had said. So you just let the sods walk all over you?
She bit her lip, and just ignored them until her carrier bag arrived from the kitchen. One of the lads barred her way at the door.
‘Give us a kiss, then darling.’ He was lurching about, trying to keep his balance. The others were laughing and urging him on.
She brushed past him and opened the door.
He followed her out. ‘What’s the matter, you a lesbian, then?’
He tried to catch hold of her jacket and pulled at the sleeve. She pushed him away. He staggered a few steps, and then turned with a nasty grin on his face, and looked like he was coming after her. She didn’t want to sacrifice her meal – it smelt so inviting - but if it came to it...
She gripped the carrier bag, and slowly back-pedalled into the arms of a thick warm overcoat. She could smell after-shave.
And then she let DC James take over. He flashed his warrant card, and told the yob to piss-off, or spend a night in the nick. The yob stopped, his eyes narrowed as though he registered opposition; he looked back at the take-away. His mates were waving pints, and yelling at him to join them.
‘Cockteaser,’ the yob spat, but he backed-off, still cursing about unfinished business. That delayed the action long enough for Paul to steer her into his Land Cruiser, and out of harm’s way. Lucky he was passing; he had fancied a curry after his shift.
Coincidence? Well he had turned up when it mattered - and her meal was safe.
Back at her apartment, Jackie invited Paul inside, opened up the Masala, and offered him a share with coffee to wash it down. She insisted it was the least she could do.
And she had missed him. Maybe he felt the same.
They sat on her lounge sofa spooning the food, while Paul brought her up to date with the trace on Marty’s phone numbers.
‘Out of luck. No names registered.’
Jackie smiled. ‘That’s where you’re wrong. We traced Candice’s address. Charlie, the druggie she was living with, was on the floor in a coma. He’s now on life support.’
Paul frowned. ‘I’m not with you.’
Jackie pushed her plate to one side, got up, and fished a cellphone out of her jacket. ‘I found this at the flat. One number is called frequently, it’s probably Candice’s ... and it matches one of those we found on Marty’s phone.’
Paul dropped his fork on his plate. ‘Found it? You stole his phone, Jackie … I can’t believe this.’
Jackie put out a hand: tried to touch his arm to calm him down.
‘Borrowed it. We’re going to visit the hospital tomorrow to put it back in his locker. We’ll write down all the numbers and do a trace. That way, Marty’s number will come up.’
He shook his head. ‘I’m having nothing to do with it.’
‘Paul, this is a murder enquiry. It’s all legit.’
He stood up. ‘Like fuck, it is. I’m out of here.’
But Paul was putting on his coat. ‘You used me, Jackie.’
‘It wasn’t like that. It really wasn’t ...’
But he was gone.
I don’t want to be alone...
All the way home, Paul was cursing. He had hoped Jackie would be in the Albion, but he’d just missed her; try the Indian, Smithy had said. Now he’d blown it with her by getting angry. Shit, it wasn’t as though he was a fresh-faced kid out of the cadets. He didn’t become a DC by being naïve – or by taking the moral high ground. Officers, especially those in BECS, sometimes took short-cuts to get results. Otherwise the clear-up rates would be minimal, and the backlog of cold cases would become unmanageable.
Why would Jackie be any different?
Maybe he had put her on a pedestal. Thought she was a goddess; not a woman with a strong sense of natural justice. He had over-reacted like a petulant child when she burst his bubble.
If he had thought about it, he would have realised Jackie was correct. The call trace on this Charlie’s phone would be legit – and commendable. And if Marty was corrupt, the force would be well shot of him.
Now he had screwed up big-time.
She said that she was going to the hospital tomorrow; maybe he would ask to tag along.
Make it up that way.