He cleared his throat. ‘Jackie ... I mean DS Steel, meet our new DCS, Mary Welles.’
Jackie stood up and shook the proffered hand. ‘Pleased to meet you, ma’am.’
There was a twinkle in Mary’s eyes. ‘Wait until I start chasing you for results, you won’t be so pleased then, I bet.’ She nudged Angers. ‘Isn’t that so, Chief Inspector?’
Angers frowned. ‘Quite right, ma’am.’
Jackie sensed he seemed uncomfortable in his induction role — ma’am this and ma’am that, it would drive him up the wall. Mary seemed approachable, though, perched on a chair and listening while she gave her a briefing on Operation Duty-Free. When Jackie explained her role and the expectations of Debi Franks, Mary tapped her on the arm to stop.
‘If I’ve got it right,’ she said, her words crisp and to the point. ‘You’re putting your personal safety at risk without adequate back-up, or access to a safe house. Is that correct?’
In a nutshell.
Jackie kept quiet, just nodded.
Mary put on her politician’s hat, squeezed Jackie’s arm. ‘I can understand resources are stretched, and your part in this Met investigation is minor. However, our Chief Constable made it quite clear. At Bridleton we look after our own ... don’t we, Chief Inspector?’
Angers seemed flustered. ‘Of course, ma’am ... that’s what I was trying to explain...’
‘I think you and I need to talk.’ Mary stood up, motioned him to follow her as she marched to the door.
Jackie suppressed a grin; Angers’ face was a moving picture — a contortionist’s delight. With any luck, Paul could be in the frame. That’s if, he wanted to.
It was a whole lot better than that. A team of four: herself and Paul — with Tony and Smithy on standby, plus an up to date, unmarked Astra. Not that Albert was pleased. The irascible Desk Sergeant was not best pleased that two of his constables and a pool car had been assigned to Duty-Free. Jackie and Paul were signing out when he vented his spleen.
‘I’m getting too old for this,’ he said, running his hand through his silvery hair. ‘My duty roster’s shot to hell.’
Albert was approaching retirement — as far as Jackie could remember, he only had a year or so to go; most of it spent on tea breaks and filling in the Sun crossword.
‘Look on the bright side,’ she said, waving the car keys at him. ‘I won’t be complaining about a clapped-out banger.’ It was a standing CID joke that some of the pool cars were job lots from the knackers’ yards.
Paul laughed and Albert snorted. ‘Very funny ... I don’t think.’ He shooed them away. ‘Now if you’ve finished winding me up, I’ve got work to do.’
Meaning it was crossword time.
Jackie winked at Paul, raised her voice. ‘Fancy a ride in my new motor, DC James?’
Albert was muttering obscenities under his breath as they walked out into the spring sunshine.
With the roof slide open and Deep Purple blaring out of the speakers, it could have been a carefree time on the road, but they both knew it wouldn’t be like that.
Paul started the ball rolling. ‘So why the U-turn?’
Jackie signalled to overtake a truck. ‘I thought you’d be pleased.’
‘I am ... it’s just...’
Paul shuffled in his seat. ‘A week ago I was sidelined. Now I’m back in the picture. Why?’
She flicked on the cruise control while they sped down the M5 towards Bristol. ‘You’ve read the file, so did the new DCS, Mary Welles. It’s a repulsive picture of human trafficking, a dangerous ring of paedophiles on the loose ... all heavy stuff.’
She glanced out of the window at the flock of sheep in a nearby field. Paul was quiet, fiddling with his safety-belt, seemed to be waiting for her explanation. ‘Angers told me that she pulled a few strings up the line, stirred up the Chief, and he had words with his counterpart in the Met. Politics played a part — probably a golfing invitation — and all that, however Tony Wilson and Debi Franks came good.’ She punched the air. ‘End result, more resource, costs shared.’
Paul didn’t sound convinced. ‘Yes ... but why me?’
Jackie cursed at a speeding BMW that shot past. ‘Bloody idiot must be going at least a ton.’ She glanced sideways; Paul was waiting for her answer. ‘I twisted Angers’ arm, said a couple armed with holiday brochures and endless questions on places to visit wouldn’t raise any suspicions.’
He was staring at her. ‘Jackie ... you didn’t tell Angers we were a couple?’
‘No ... hang on ... what do you mean by that?’
He raised his hand. ‘It’s just ... well ... you know.’
She slammed on the brakes to avoid a motor cyclist who had drifted into her lane. ‘Bloody lunatic, did you see ... oh, I get it. Keep it quiet that you’re my toy-boy ... don’t want everyone to take the piss ... is that it?’
‘No ...yes ... I don’t know. It’s just that you blow hot and cold.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Jackie ... I don’t want another argument. I only want to know where I stand.’
Why is it so difficult to say what I feel?
She moved into the inside lane that led to a service station. ‘Let’s have a coffee.’ She risked another quick glance. By the look on his face, he wasn’t going to be sidetracked. She took a couple of deep breaths.
Spit it out, for god’s sake.
‘The truth is, Paul ... I’ve missed you ... is that enough?’
His voice raised an octave, sounded amazed. ‘You’ve missed me?’
I’ve had time to think.
She nodded. ‘You ... and your mother ... and Daisy can be a pain in the arse at times ... but yes ... I’m thirty, now ... and I want it all ... my career ... a stable relationship ... before I reach my sell-by-date.’
He frowned. ‘You’re sure that’s what you want, because…’
She put a hand on his arm. ‘One day at a time, Paul … remember? Here’s where it starts to get serious. I want to nail those perverted, murdering scumbags ... the lot of them.’
And Sonja Borski is our way-in.