He laughed, while buttering a piece of toast. ‘Too right. The early worm catches the bird.’
Jackie had suggested a tactical withdrawal on Saturday night to leave cares and worries behind, and catch up on their relationship instead. Paul was more than happy with that.
It was a good move. Sunday morning was bright. The sun’s rays were beaming through the kitchen window and the post-copulation mood was buoyant.
While Paul was planning a lunchtime booze cruise - only one bottle, he said - to find Ox, Jackie was going to see Carol.
They’d meet up later.
Jackie had plenty of time to think while sat by Carol’s bed. Carol continued to be non-responsive for long periods, but then, at times, she would want to talk. Mainly about Serena, their lives together that had been ruined by a man like Gilbert...
Carol was sleeping. Jackie stood up, stretched, and glanced out of the window. It was getting dark outside, but it wasn’t snowing. She looked at her watch. Half past four – just another hour – then catch the train back to Bridleton – and meet up with Paul at the Blacksmiths Arms.
She arrived on the dot at seven. Country rock was on the music menu. She fancied a pint of Blackthorn Cider and took it with her into the annex room. The band wouldn’t start until eight, so even if Paul was held up there was enough time...
The call came at seven fifteen. By that time the room was filling up and it was difficult to hear what Paul was saying. She got up and moved out into the hallway. He was saying something about a lead to where Boyson was living that he needed to sort – could take some time.
‘How much time?’
‘Can’t say ... look, I can’t hear you ... it’s breaking up .... I’ll call later, okay?’
Jackie cursed. Always the bloody job; it could be one hour - or four, more likely. She turned round to go back into the room, and came face to face with a worried-looking Tania Simpson. Tania grabbed her arm. ‘Just the person.’
Jackie frowned. ‘Is that so?’
Tania wasn’t put off. ‘Come with me, darling ... I need to talk.’
What the heck...?
Jackie allowed herself to be steered into a quiet part of the lounge. Tania plunged straight into the sensationalism. ‘Jimmy ... he’s a friend of mine ... has disappeared.’ It was a story about not answering her calls; not being at his house or office, and his BMW vanishing into thin air.
Jackie was not impressed. ‘It’s only been one day; a bit early to treat Jimmy as a missing person.’
Tania pulled at Jackie’s arm and pointed to a small entourage by the bar. ‘It’s Tim’s birthday .... Jimmy was planning a surprise.’
Jackie suppressed a smile. ‘Well, perhaps this is it.’ She shrugged, dismissed it. ‘Anyway it’s not my problem. I’m not on duty ... as you know...’
And as she said that, a thought crystallised.
There’s always a way.
‘...on second thoughts...’ She left it hanging.
Tania nibbled the bait. ‘Yes?’
‘I suppose I could set-up a vehicle trace, hospital check, that sort of thing.’
Tania face was a mixture of surprise and delight. ‘Ooh, would you darling ... that would be great.’
Jackie pounced. ‘I need a favour in return. Headline coverage from an undisclosed source.’
Tania bent her head; opened her mouth, and grasped the bait. ‘Tell me.’
Jackie told her about the police corruption. Also said there was no rush, after all, they both had other things to do on a Sunday night.
Tania, though, smelt blood. She dismissed Tim’s party, said this was “News”, and she wanted to file the story that night before political barriers were put up, before the police sought an injunction to suppress the story.
Jackie gulped: cause and effect. The realisation sank in. Maybe she had jumped the gun.
Blood would run, but whose blood?
Jimmy hadn’t turned up, neither had Paul phoned. Tania said her goodbyes and they stopped off at Jackie’s apartment. Tania started to scrabble in her handbag. ‘Damn ... I left my reading glasses back at home.’ She thought a bit. ‘And my computer’s there.’ She looked at Jackie, ‘Do you mind...?’
Jackie tried to back-pedal. ‘It can wait...’
But Tania waved aside her objections, offered to drop her back later. Too late now, she was in deep. She packed Dixon’s confession and the recorder into her back-pack, ready for Chez Tania.
Jackie had guessed right. Tania’s cottage was the one close to the towpath. The weather had turned foul, snow was drifting in and it was misty. Tania opened the door, turned on the hall light, and the Pitbull trotted out.
Tania pointed to the lounge. ‘Take a seat; make yourself a drink ... bottle in the fridge. Leave Caesar to do his business ... he’ll whine to come back in. I’ll just go and sort out my office.
Ten minutes of waiting with a glass of Waitrose’s best wine while Tania changed, went to the toilet and generally started to get her act together. From what she could make out, the cottage had a kitchen and walk-through lounge area downstairs, plus a utility room that doubled as an office. Tania had gone upstairs to the bathroom, so presumably that’s where the bedroom - maybe also a guest room - was located.
Decor seemed to be functional: three piece suite; table heaving with news cuttings and magazines; heavy-duty carpet; push-button TV resting on a cabinet; various press photos adorning the walls - plus a chewed rug and a doggy smell.
Caesar whined and started to scratch at the front door. Tania was setting up her computer. ‘Jackie ... could you...?’
He pounded the passenger seat with his fists. Tania had stood him up again. Bitch had another with her – vaguely familiar – on his date. His date.
How dare she?
His perfect plan was compromised. Jimmy had been eliminated; her neighbours had left; the cottages were empty, and snow was falling.
It was all her fault.
He was horned-up and ready; drooling with anticipation. All week he had busied himself by building a shrine in her honour at his flat: photos, press cuttings and recorded TV pictures. He had suppressed his urges, even while fishing – but now he wanted her.
They went inside, a light came on. The dog came out. His surgical gloves fingered the cosh and the twine in his pocket; he steeled himself, and took several deep breaths.
He crept up to the side of the house. The dog came trotting back. He was ready with the cosh, but the dog just sniffed around his feet, and then started to whine and scratch at the door.
Whoever opened the door would be struck – and he would use the surprise to do the same with the other. If the dog intervened, he’d kill it.
He had all night.
Nobody to disturb him.
Jackie moved to the front door. Tania was saying something, her phone was ringing; Jackie turned to listen as she opened the lock, Caesar scuttled in between her legs.
She felt the cold air – there was a sharp pain in her head.
And then it all went black...