She offered Jackie the fruit bowl. ‘Take some ... I can’t eat it all.’
Jackie plucked at some grapes. Sophie was dressed and reading a book; romantic fiction, by the picture on the cover. She looked in her mid-twenties, a bit chubby, but a happy sort of person, with a wide smile that showed a gap in her front teeth.
‘I hear it’s all gone well?’
Sophie put the book on top of a large pile of others, and smiled. ‘Thanks to big brother, I’m fighting fit.’
Jackie swallowed a pip. ‘Not hurting, then?’
‘Only the stitches ... they itch a bit. I had my op at Southmeads ... you know?’
Jackie blinked. ‘Not in Cheltenham, then?’
Sophie laughed. ‘Gloucestershire NHS Trust don’t carry out any transplants ... Orson and I had to go to Bristol.’
Jackie looked confused, but Sophie giggled. ‘I can see you’re puzzled. I work at Cheltenham hospital ... Accounts ... up to about a few weeks before my condition got really bad.’ She rummaged amongst her pile of books for the Medical Clinic booklet; found it, and handed it over. ‘We get a discount here, and Mr. Carstairs, my consultant, comes up most days. It’s cushy.’
Jackie had a quick flip through. Recuperation costs were high; just as well they had a discount ...
...Sophie was saying something. ‘... How was Orson?’
‘He’s ... he’s getting back in the swing.’
Sophie jumped up; gave Jackie a knowing look. ‘He’s a grumpy sod. Ever since his wife upped and left. I’ll go and cheer him up.’
His wife upped and left ... really?
Jackie took a quick glance at her watch. ‘Jeez, is that the time? I’ve got to get going as well ... it’s been nice meeting you.’
Sophie bounced to the door. ‘See you again ... but make it soon. I’m back home in a few days.’
Jackie hurried back down the corridor and busied through reception, choosing a large “get well” card on her way out – small change from a quid. The roads were icy, and the death-trap of a pool car that she’d left parked at Cheltenham hospital slithered all over the road. The heater didn’t work either.
Jackie was late returning to Bridleton; late for her bollocking from Hillock. He was in a foul mood; pointed to his watch.
‘I said two o’clock, not three. What kept you?’
Jackie rubbed her hands together, trying to get the circulation moving. ‘Traffic pile-up.’
He scoffed. ‘So, if I phone traffic, they’ll confirm it?’
She was beginning to read him; some doubt. She felt icy calm, was icy calm; pointed to his phone. ‘Go ahead.’
He stared at her; then the phone, and back again. Jackie kept cool. He wouldn’t want to make a fool of himself if she was right.
In the end he gave an angry snort. Waved her into a chair. ‘You’re lucky. See all this?’
She took it all in. Unusually for him, his desk was awash with files and reams of paper. His desktop printer was churning away. And him; usually neat and tidy, he looked slightly dishevelled, his hair flopping over his forehead, his fingers tapping nervously on the desk-top.
He seemed to be considering his options. Finally, he passed judgement with a sly grin. ‘What’s it worth if I don’t mark your card?’
She was ready for that. Well, not quite that – it sounded suggestive the way he put it. She fumbled in her pocket, pulled out a slip of paper with a telephone number on it and handed it to him.
‘I went to visit DCI Angers lunchtime. He wants to speak to you. It’s important.’
He frowned. ‘You haven’t answered my question.’
‘If we’re talking about marking my card, as you put it, Mr. Hillock, that call is what it’s worth.’
He stared at her; then the piece of paper, and back again. Jackie was beginning to understand how his mind worked. He would make some excuse, wouldn’t risk calling Angers with her there.
She was right on the money.
‘I’m busy right now.’
Jackie pressed home her advantage. ‘He did say it was urgent, Mr. Hillock.’
He snarled like a cornered Rottweiler. ‘I heard you first time, Sergeant.’
Gotcha, you bastard.
Jackie sat back and folded her arms. ‘Do you want to give me an update; new assignments ... or are we still talking about marking my card.’
He snarled again. ‘It’s not going to go away. Don’t think Angers will save you ...’ he paused, possibly thinking he’d said too much. ‘But the DCS is up to his neck, I’m up to my neck, and now you’re going to be up to your neck in a big pile of cold shit.’ He gathered up the files and paperwork. ‘Process this lot. I want a written report by the end of today.’
She wasn’t finished. Tried to keep her voice neutral. ‘Before I start, I want an update.’
His neck started to go red. Irritation, maybe more, but he recovered quickly, seemed to accept it was a genuine request. He shrugged. ‘We’re no further forward on any of the murders. Actually, that’s not quite correct ... we have a positive ID on the Bristol motorway victim. Su Wearmouth ... mean anything to you?’
He blinked at her. ‘At the moment we’re treating the Okoro incident separately ...’ he held up a hand, as she started to protest. ‘The death does not have our killer’s trademark, nor did the preliminary findings indicate any sign of foul-play.’ He leaned over the desk, and fixed his eyes on her. ‘Until we have the complete autopsy report that tells us it wasn’t an accident, we don’t want to broadcast to the media there’s another killer on our patch ... do we, Sergeant?’
Jackie had to admit it made sense. ‘No ... but ...’
‘No buts about it.’ He sniggered. ‘But ... as you’re the star witness, you can add it to your caseload.’
‘Is that all, Mr. Hillock?’
‘Not quite. Danny Boy? Any new leads?’
‘We’re working on it.’
He grabbed a pen and made a note. ‘I take it, you haven’t made progress.’
What’s going on here?
‘We have a possible connection ... DC James is following it up.’
He seemed to disregard her answer. ‘And Gilbert? Any news on the blood tests.’
Is this a witch hunt?
I’ll chase it up.’
He wrote another note; turned back to his computer; ignored her.