Authors: Fox Harper
I raised my eyes to the ceiling. "Oh, for fuck's
," I whispered. This must be a nice peaceful
to work. I could hear pigeons and doves
about in the roofspace. There were rain
skylights, seagulls wheeling above them. I
let this go
pull out the stool from under the
and sit down. My back was killing me
, and I didn't stand a chance
every corridor and broom closet.
But I was here on a last-chance assignment
my boss. Bill hadn't put it to me that way,
I knew. If I screwed up a simple witness
, how long could I expect to keep my
foothold at Mansion Street? As for
my arse. I was a one-trick pony, a
peg hammered so tight into its round hole
I'd never fit properly anywhere else again.
And last time I'd looked, I'd still been a copper.
So I ran. I tossed aside the ogre's warnings
caution and starting from cold, and I just
off the way I had used to, full throttle. I
the fire door open and pelted down the
beyond it. No doors, no turnings. My
had to be here somewhere, and he hadn't got
much of a head start. I dashed down twenty
or so of lino-covered floor, and for all but
of them I managed to outrun my damage and
. On the twentieth, I had to slow to make a
, and there it all caught up with me. I
to a halt, clutching at the wall, fingers
. Christ, it was like being stabbed
; I'd taken a knife during a pub fight and not
as royally fucked up as this. I doubled over,
one hand on my knee. It had been for
, too. I'd run into a storage unit, a bloody
end. Clyde must have peeled off through a
I hadn't seen. I'd lost him.
Well, at least I was alone. That was a
alone, I could unleash the pain and
in a brief explosive roar. "Ah, fuck it!
"Who the hell are you?"
I jolted upright. My balance was screwed
I fell back against the wall in my effort to spin
. My hand flailed for a weapon I hadn't
in six months. "Police officer," I managed.
stay right where you are."
That wouldn't work, though
I couldn't see the
. "On second thoughts, step out and show
A set of tall cabinets had cast a deep shadow.
After a moment, a random patchwork of light and
stirred and became a human shape. Clyde
, as slowly as I could have wished. He
sheet white, and one side of his face
I hadn't seen
was a mass of bruising. Not
the pussy I'd taken him for
plainly he was
, but his spine was straight, the set of his
defiant. "You're from the police?"
"Yeah. Who did you think?"
"I don't know. You don't look like a cop.
Show me your ID."
Swallowing hard, trying to get hold of my
, I pulled out my badge. I held it at arm's
for him. Maybe I needed to clean up my act
bit. A plain-clothes brief didn't extend to
a thug. Maybe I needed a more
, employable face to show to the public.
"All right," I said. "I'm sorry I scared you. Are you
Clyde took a good look at my badge, then a
one at me. After a moment he nodded. "Yes.
"Well, I am too. So can we go back to your
and start over?"
I let him lead the way. That gave me the
length of the corridor to grimace and limp
wipe the cold sweat off my brow. By the time
reached the gallery I had everything more or
under control again. I could even envy Clyde
easy grace with which he hitched himself onto
draughtsman's stool. He was too thin, but nicely
, more on the lines of a dancer than an
. He gestured at another stool nearby, but
was a chance I couldn't take. Instead I assumed
I hoped was an official-looking posture,
myself discreetly against the wall. "So
I began. "Who did that to you?"
"No idea. But it happened the day after your
started tagging me around, so I'd guess it's
to what happened in my building the
night, and the crack baron who got pulled in
it." A faint smile flickered, poignant against the
. "Any chance you can call off your dogs?"
"The baron was called Goran Maric. What do
know about him?"
"Just what I saw on the news."
"And you think this happened to you..."
"Because I had two great big flat-footed
making me conspicuous, yes. And it hurts,
I'd really appreciate being left alone."
"Have you had it seen to?"
"No. The guys who did it said the fewer
I talked to, the less likely I was to end up in
Tyne with a concrete block tied round my
." That was probably why the kid on
had looked so scared. "I know
you've come to ask me, Detective
Carr. And the answer's no."
"Vincent, not DS Carr. Vince."
He had dark, finely marked brows. One of
lifted a bit. "You can call me Rowan. It's still
"Can I have a look at your face? I take your
about the concrete block, but you're already
"So things couldn't get any worse?"
Something in the dry little query almost made
laugh. "You might have a cracked cheekbone, a
skull. Let's see."
sat impassively under my brief examination
. I kept it arm's length, impersonal. His
was warm against my chilly fingertips but I
that observation aside, pressing gently at the
of his eye socket, the corner of his jaw where
bruising was worst. "Okay. Nothing broken.
Get yourself some arnica. Why did they only mark
up on one side?"
"Oh, I'm sure they would've done both. That
the bit they were thumping off the wall when a
came up the alley, that's all."
"I wasn't accusing them of inefficiency." I
back from him. So far
more or less
the friendly, sympathetic cop, tried my
public-relations trick of offering him my
name, not that he'd fallen for that. "You
they were warning you off?"
"What else? I wasn't mugged. They left me
wallet with fifty quid cash in it."
"But they were wasting their time. Because
live up on the top floor of Half
Chambers, and you didn't see a thing."
For the first time, his wary gaze flickered. He
the mess on the floor, and I didn't stop him
he bent to pick up the canvas. I almost asked
it was damaged, but I was bad cop now, who
"That's right. Nothing."
"And you were nowhere near the crime scene
He righted the easel and set the canvas back
it. He was a decent professional, I had to admit,
the piece even while his fists clenched
nerves. "No. Nowhere near."
"Then why did Maric's thugs target you? How
they even know?"
He swung to face me. I tensed a little
I'd misread that clench of the hands. "I've seen you
here before, haven't I? With your kids."
It was harsh, sudden, almost a demand. I
about giving him some awful old line
the questions around here, sonny
bad cop, I didn't want to alienate him. If I gave a
, maybe he would. "Not my kids. My sister's.
But yeah, we come here a lot."
"And your other half. The northeast's answer
That was far enough. I didn't have an
. I never had, even when Jack Monroe had still
with me, large as life and twice as dangerous.
Men with other halves were screwed, if the other
detached itself and left. Were half-men. "
Clyde, this will be quicker for both of us if you
just answer my questions."
now, then." He was picking up
scattered brushes and I couldn't see his face,
there had been the faintest edge of teasing in
tone, as if I were a man who could be laughed
, played with. Well, I had been. Not any more.
"No, not any more. Listen to me. Two weeks
, someone broke into a basement flat in your
. There were two Chinese students living
. They were mixed up to their arses in this
's crack trade, but they didn't deserve to be
. They were nineteen. One was a girl. Look me
the face right now and tell me you didn't see
, and I'll piss off and leave you alone."
He obeyed as far as the look. Again I felt that
pang. I wished for an instant that we hadn't
on the battlefield
that I might have bumped
him in a club, bought him a drink and maybe
that look in the alley outside. Half
, half-protesting. Hot and full of promise.