She recognised his mood. Something was troubling him; she hoped it wasn’t her.
‘Take a seat,’ he said, searching his desktop for his sweetie bag. He found it, and offered her a toffee. ‘I have news.’
Jackie knew better than to ask. Just nodded politely, and took a sweet.
The DCI chewed on his toffee. ‘DI Hemming has been reinstated.’
Jackie couldn’t believe it. ‘What?’
‘It’s confidential. I don’t know anything other than there was insufficient evidence to substantiate misconduct. Maybe he had an alibi ... I heard Councillor Winterbotham was interviewed by DI Hillock.’
‘What do you think, guv?’
He shrugged. ‘I’ve known Marty a long time. Before the force became an icon for political correctness.’ He looked up at the ceiling as if remembering those days. ‘Marty progressed in an environment of corruption and “the end justifying the means” to get results and convictions.’ He pointed a finger at her. ‘Marty trawls areas where pond life and toms are prevalent. He has contacts I wouldn’t go near with a bargepole; all this sordidness and temptation must rub off.’ He sighed. ‘But for all that he’s human, if a weak one.’
She didn’t expect that. Angers must have real troubles and it didn’t take long to come out.
He unwrapped another toffee. ‘The main reason I wanted our little chat is that I have to go into Cheltenham Medical Clinic ... tonight. My kid sister now has chronic kidney failure ... a transplant is her only hope. Guess who has a match?’
Jackie’s face fell. ‘Guv?’
‘Seems for once, I passed all the tests. I’ll be off work for about six weeks, maybe less.’
He frowned, as if trying to convince himself. ‘Allegedly, it’s simple; a few incisions, out pops the kidney, no muscle damage.’
‘What about your case load, guv?’
‘That’s where you come in. Until they decide on my temporary replacement, they’re all yours. The DCS wants to see you about it ...’ he looked at his watch ... ‘in ten minutes.’
Oh, no. A verbal warning.
She began to shake her head. ‘Guv ... I don’t think ...’ she stopped when his neck reddened. Mustn’t upset the patient – she nodded, instead. ‘It would cause too many extra problems, guv.’
He gave her an evil look. ‘Glad to hear I won’t be missed.’
‘I didn’t mean it like that, guv.’
He humphed, then pointed a finger at the door. ‘The DCS; chop, chop.’
Jackie headed over to DCS Forsyth’s office, expecting the worst. His door was open; he was sitting behind his desk, and leafing through a file.
She knocked, and coughed.
He looked up, saw her, and waved her inside. ‘Shut the door, DS Steel, and take a seat.’ He motioned to a chair liberated from an interview room.
His office was functional: simple, basic equipment; desktop computer, a couple of filing cabinets and a large wall clock - underneath a picture of him in a rugby outfit, holding a trophy up to the camera.
He came straight to the point, without looking too pleased about it. ‘I expect you’ve heard that DI Hemming is back on duty?’
‘And that DI Hillock considered that you showed poor judgement by losing Mr. Mitchell’s phone?’
She nodded again. No point in making excuses.
Just get it over with.
‘I’ve had a look at your personnel file. It’s exemplary, but not your overtime records; you’re clocking up excessive hours.’
What the hell was going on?
‘DCI Angers is aware of my concerns, and he defended your actions quite robustly. So much so, I would be willing to concede that the missing phone was more an oversight than dereliction of duty.’
Is this a political speech?
‘Nevertheless, a girl died in tragic circumstances. Think yourself lucky I’m letting you off with a caution.’
‘Thank you, Sir. Is that all?’
‘Not quite.’ He stood up, as if addressing the police federation assembly. ‘I’m not comfortable with what’s happened; mistakes, oversights, desultory ways of working.’ He banged a fist on the table. ‘We’re inefficient, DS Steel.’
Am I supposed to comment?
She kept quiet.
I decided on a shake up. Andy Hillock has agreed to stay on and cover for DCI Angers: as from today he’s Acting DCI. Both you and DI Hemming will be reporting to him.’
And it didn’t end there. After the DCS had waved her away she had to sit through another session in the MIR with sanctimonious Hillock bleating on about results.
He sat in her chair with his feet up on her desk, his dirty rubber heels making marks on the surface. ‘Operation Venus has stalled. As from tomorrow, I set the targets; you deliver.’
She drew up a chair from another desk and put an innocent look on her face. ‘What targets are these?’
He glared. ‘Catching a killer is a numbers game; the more people we interview, the more chance we have of catching him. My expectations are high, and I’ll set demanding weekly quotas. Is that clear?’
Goodbye road running.
She wasn’t going to roll over. ‘We’re stretched as it is.’
He smirked. ‘That’s an excuse. I’d say you’re disorganised.’
She felt her blood pressure rise. ‘Now look here ...’ she stopped when he held up a hand.
‘I don’t care what you think, DS Steel. From now on you’ll do what I say, when I say. I don’t want to repeat it.’
Keep calm. Bite your tongue.
She stood up. ‘I think you’ve made it quite clear, Mr. Hillock.’ She screwed up her face and pointed at his feet. ‘If that’s all, I need my desk back.’
With Hillock the Pillock gone, she had just settled in to her case files, when the phone rang. Helga, not passing the time of day; she sounded breathless, her voice high-pitched.
‘Angers patched me through to you. Awful news from the HIV clinic; four new cases of the virulent strain identified. It’s horrifying.’
Shit. It’s like the beginning of a disaster movie.