He had come out of the bathroom to hurry her up and overheard some of the conversation. He tackled her about it.
‘What did you say? I’m just a boyfriend, nothing serious ... well thanks a lot.’
‘Paul, listen ... we agreed the job comes first. I can’t become involved in a relationship until this is over.’
‘I thought we were in a relationship.’
‘It wouldn’t be fair on you ... us.’
‘So I have to just drop out of your life ... is that it?’
‘I’ll be full time on this case, I’ll be a nightmare to live with, Paul.’
He shook his head. ‘I don’t believe what I’m hearing.’
She just looked at him and shrugged. Jackie had been pressurised, he could tell that. Debi Franks making small talk, being all touchy-feely while sounding her out; about him and her job commitments before coming in over the top with a real Gut Wrencher.
So Jackie had said.
He tried again. ‘Tell them to find someone else.’
‘I couldn’t live with myself. You must see that. Young girls are being killed.’
He hadn’t been sensitive; selfish more like. ‘So that’s it then? You’ve decided to go ahead, whatever I say?’
She snarled at him, losing her temper. ‘Paul, grow up.’
That stung; he reacted badly. ‘Sod you. Spend your birthday sucking up to Debi, then. Alone. I’m off to the pub to have lunch with someone who cares.’
...His mother was talking. ‘Paul ... Do you want pork or beef?’
He looked up. The waitress was waiting, notebook in hand. She smiled at him.
‘Or lamb, if you’re quick,’ she said.
He nodded. ‘Lamb it is.’ Just like he felt.
Led trustingly to the slaughter.
While the shower was easing away her headache, Jackie wondered how one phone conversation — admittedly a lengthy one — could have turned her life upside down. Debi Franks had played on her sensitivities; young girls in deep trouble, a nightmare. Twelve weeks, she had said — it could all be arranged — hell, it was already arranged; reporting to Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Wilson, who headed up the Met’s vice squad — but with a working location in the Bristol area. For that period of time Paul James had to take a back seat. Not that he took it too well; stormed off to have lunch with his mother.
Alternative hot and cold water jets did the trick; made her body tingle as it sluiced away the toxins. There was her impending court case. Sixteen year old, HIV positive, Carol Naringa was facing a manslaughter charge — for stabbing a sexual pervert to death. Carol had one failed suicide attempt behind her and was being treated by Bill Knox, a psychiatrist. Brains, as Jackie called him, was a good friend and confidant when the going got tough. And a little loopy.
She pulled the towel around herself; time to give Brains a call. He answered on the third ring.
His voice had a touch of playfulness. ‘Hello “Jackie calling” ... do I sense a problem?’
How did he know that?
Before she had a chance to reply he was off again. ‘It’s Bank holiday Monday: the day after the night before. I ask myself, what right-minded person would deign to converse with me while suffering a birthday hangover?’
Jackie chuckled, despite feeling a bit queasy and anxious. ‘Spot on, Brains. I need your advice.’
‘Twist my arm.’
‘Just us two ... how about meeting up at the Nelson?’
There was a hesitation. ‘Paul?’
‘Having lunch with his mother ... someone who cares.’
‘Don’t worry ... I’m not going to cry on your shoulder ... there’s something else.’
‘It all sounds very intriguing...’
‘Settled, then. I’ll see you there. One o’clock, suit you.’
Jackie sat nursing a glass of flat lemonade while Brains expounded his theory of perspective. He punctured a roast spud with his fork and pointed it at her.
‘Look at it this way. Three months on this case isn’t a lifetime. Save just one girl from suffering the same fate as Carol, it will be worth it.’
She poked at her half-eaten sandwich. ‘I suppose so.’
He slurped at his pint of lager; put the glass back on the top of the Formica table. Frowned, as if a thought had struck him. ‘Mind you .... it could be dangerous.’
A jolt of anxiety went through her mind. If she’d had her wits about her when Debi had twisted her arm, she might have had second thoughts. ‘I suppose so.’
He chewed on a piece of meat, while appraising her. ‘You don’t sound up for much.’
She pushed her plate away. ‘To be honest, Brains, I feel like I’m strapped into a roller-coaster climbing up the first incline to the top—and then knowing it’ll be hurtling down out of my control.’
The sound of laughter at an adjoining table. Someone cracking a joke, and the chink of glasses in response.
It had all gone pear-shaped.