It seemed remarkably quiet in the office for a Monday morning, and DCI Tom Douglas couldn’t help wondering what particular set of circumstances had deterred the underworld of Greater Manchester from causing the usual weekend chaos.
His thoughts were interrupted as footsteps approached his office, and he struggled to hide his pleasure as he studiously pretended to focus on the spreadsheet of crime figures in front of him.
The footsteps stopped, and still he didn’t look up.
Tom slowly raised his eyes to the figure standing in the doorway, posed with arms spread out from her body as if taking a curtain call on stage.
Tom said nothing.
‘Glad to see me back?’ Becky Robinson grinned at him expectantly.
Tom was struck by how much thinner she was than before her illness, but her dark hair was as shiny and bouncy as ever, and it seemed she had lost none of her sparkle.
‘Beside myself with joy,’ Tom said in a bored voice, dropping his head back to the paperwork to hide his smile.
‘Huh. Well, I’ll just go again, shall I?’ Becky asked.
Tom didn’t have a chance to answer before another body appeared in the doorway, dressed in a dazzling white shirt and a pair of trousers with creases so sharp you could cut yourself.
‘Oh. Sorry, sir, ma’am. I hadn’t realised you were busy. I came to see if you would like coffee, sir?’
‘Thanks, Keith. That would be great.’ Tom nodded at the newcomer.
‘I’m good, thanks.’
Tom raised his eyebrows and gave Becky a smile as Keith spun on his heel and marched off to make the coffee.
‘See how well I’ve been looked after?’
For a moment Tom thought she was taking him seriously and he felt a stab of remorse. He pushed his chair back and stood up, not quite sure whether he should give Becky a hug or shake her hand. Since she had nearly died after throwing herself in a river in an abortive rescue mission, their relationship had changed. He had realised how much she brightened his days and how much he relied on her spirited determination to get the job done. He covered his momentary confusion by circumventing his desk to pull out a chair for her.
‘Sit,’ he said. ‘And seriously, you’ve no idea how glad I am to have you back.’
‘Keith not cutting the mustard, then?’ she asked as she sat down, her grin spreading.
Tom compromised on the hug by giving Becky’s shoulder a quick squeeze as he walked back around his desk.
‘Keith’s a perfectly competent DS who we decided might benefit from a temporary DI position in your absence. He makes an excellent cup of coffee.’ Tom said no more. He wasn’t in the habit of denigrating any of his team, but Keith’s obsequiousness had driven him to distraction. ‘Are you now fully recovered at last?’
‘Well, I do apologise for the inconvenience of my absence. But sadly the contents of the River Irwell didn’t agree with my delicate constitution.’
Tom knew what an understatement that was. After treating Becky for shock and monitoring her vital signs for a couple of days, the hospital had let her go home and, being Becky, she had come straight back to work. But a few days later she had been taken seriously ill again. It turned out she had ingested some vicious parasite. It took time for it to work its way out of her system, and it had left her weak and underweight. In the three months she had been off Tom had missed her, and he was delighted to see her looking bright and cheerful again.
A sharp knock on the open door diverted his attention for a moment.
‘Your coffee, sir.’ Keith placed the coffee, in a cup and saucer rather than in his usual mug, on the desk. ‘Are you sure I can’t get you anything, ma’am?’
Becky shook her head.
‘DI Robinson will come and find you when we’ve finished, Keith, and you can do your handover. Thanks for the coffee.’
‘My pleasure, sir.’ For a moment Keith looked as if he was about to click his heels together and salute, but he just lowered his head in acknowledgement and reversed out of the door, closing it softly behind him.
Becky grinned at Tom, but he ignored her and stuck to business.
‘Keith will bring you up to date on any current cases, but it’s been slightly less hectic than usual for some reason. I don’t suppose the peace will last, though.’
As if on cue, Tom’s phone rang. He shrugged his shoulders and picked it up.
Becky watched Tom’s look of concentration as he listened to whoever was on the other end of the call. He picked up a pen and started to doodle on his pad – not, as Becky knew, because he wasn’t listening. But the more intense the conversation, the more expressive his doodles became. He broke off in the middle of constructing a particularly elaborate elliptical shape to write a few words on his pad and lifted his eyes to look at Becky.
Must be a case, Becky thought.
She wasn’t sure if she was pleased or not. She was keen to get back into the swing of things, but there was something she had to say to Tom, something that was going to be difficult, and she had no way of knowing how he was going to respond. She valued their relationship, but what she was about to do might be going a step too far, and if it all went wrong – if Tom reacted badly – it could seriously screw things up. She could lose him.
He put the phone down, closed his eyes and shook his head slowly.
‘What’s up?’ she asked. ‘New case?’
‘No. Not new. Philippa wants to talk to me about the death of a police officer eighteen months ago. Hit-and-run. It was a stolen car, and it was found burned out on Blackstone Edge so it’s always been assumed it was joyriders, although nobody was ever caught.’
‘So why are they looking again now?’
Tom shrugged. ‘Who knows? Maybe someone has developed a conscience and decided to come clean.’
He smiled at Becky’s expression of disbelief.
‘I know, not very likely, but I’d better go and talk to Philippa about it.’
Becky knew that once Tom disappeared behind the door of Detective Superintendent Philippa Stanley’s office he was likely to be there for a while. Although Philippa was Tom’s boss, it had once been the other way round and they had an intriguing relationship, taking every available opportunity to share thoughts and ideas. Philippa, in theory, scoffed at Tom’s famous gut feelings about cases because she went strictly by the book – at least most of the time – but that never stopped her from asking his opinion. Philippa scared the hell out of Becky, so she kept all contact with the woman to a minimum.
She stood up to leave and turned at the doorway, hoping and praying she wasn’t about to blush.
‘Tom, I know today’s not ideal if you’re going to be tied up with Philippa, but do you think that tomorrow – or maybe later in the week – we could meet up out of work for a drink? There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.’
Tom looked up from his desk, where he had been attempting to reorder the chaotic pile of papers before leaving. ‘Sure,’ he said with a slight note of surprise. ‘Will Mark be joining us?’
‘No,’ Becky said. Mark, her boyfriend, had to be kept out of this. ‘If you can spare the time, I’d really like to buy you a drink. And I might need one myself. Later in the week?’
She could sense his puzzlement, but as he reached for his jacket he nodded. ‘Okay. Whenever you like. I haven’t got any plans after today.’
Becky let out a long breath. Mission stage one completed, she thought.
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