Authors: Jane A. Adams
âIt's good of you to do this for her then.'
A withering look greeted that comment. âIt's what you do, isn't it? She needed help, I was there.'
Not everyone reacts like that, Alec thought. âIt's still good of you,' he said. His phone chimed, telling him he had a text. Excusing himself, he took it out. It was from Naomi.
Hang in there
, it said.
We're all thinking about you, and Harry says I can stay at his as long as I need.
A pang of jealousy that Harry was with her and not him.
He was putting his phone away when a second text arrived. This one was from Eddison, summoning him back. Now. Alec sighed. âI'm going to have to go.'
âDuty calls, and all that?' Sally smiled at him.
âYes. Look, the family liaison should be here soon. Whoever it is, they'll stay with Maureen, so if you need to get home, she'll not be on her own.'
âThanks,' she said. âSee you again, Alec.'
He was acutely aware that she was watching him as he walked away.
Alec arrived to find that Munroe had called a briefing for all the hotel staff still on the premises and any guest that cared to come along to the restaurant and listen. Eddison stood off on the sidelines watching. On the face of it all it was very informal, with police officers helping staff to serve hot drinks to guests in pyjamas and dressing gowns, who were looking both bleary eyed and fascinated. It was, Alec realized, looking at his watch, a little after two in the morning. Somehow he had expected it to be later.
âWhat prompted this?' Alec asked.
Eddison shrugged. âWe've had some calls from the media. A film crew showed up about a half hour ago. Parks has promised them a statement in an hour or so. We just want to make sure everyone is singing from the same page of the hymn book.'
âYou didn't ask how he is. Travers, I mean.'
âI know who you mean.'
Alec glanced at the battered, rugby player's face, but Eddison gave nothing away. The grey-blue eyes glanced at everyone, failing to settle, seeing and appraising.
âI know how he is. I've had someone calling the hospital every half hour. He dies and I want to be the first to know.'
Alec wasn't sure what to say. He started to speak, but Eddison motioned for silence. Munroe had taken up position next to the serving area and was about to begin.
âLadies and gentlemen, this must have been a very traumatic and difficult time for everyone. As most of you now understand, a man was attacked in his room, we think about seven p.m. yesterday evening. The man was a guest here and happened to be a serving police officer, here on secondment to an unrelated investigation. He is presently in surgery, and I believe the prognosis is better than we first feared, so that's the good news. I must stress, here and now, that we have absolutely no reason to believe he was targeted in particular, or that the fact of him being a serving officer had any bearing on this happening to him.'
The general murmuring picked up again, and Alec looked hard at Eddison. âWe know that's notâ'
âShut it, Alec,' Eddison hissed.
âHow can you be sure of that?' someone asked.
Alec looked to see who it was; the voice sounded oddly familiar. He realized that the speaker was the young receptionist he had alerted when he couldn't rouse Travers. She was speaking to Munroe, but glancing at Alec, her puzzlement evident.
âBecause,' Munroe said smoothly, âwe've had three reports from other guests along that corridor of someone knocking on their door. Fortunately, and for various reasons, no one else responded. We think our colleague might have opened the door because he was expected someone he knew. Unfortunately, what he found was a bad man with a knife.'
âWhat the hell is he doing?' Alec whispered. âThere were no other guests involved. It's allâ'
âAnd I said
, Alec. Leave it!'
Furious, Alec clenched his fists and clamped down on all he wanted to say. Eddison was right in one respect: it would do no one any good if Alec chose this moment to make a scene. But what good was it doing to plant the idea of some random attacker, threatening any guest foolish enough to open the door to him? The young receptionist was looking fully at Alec now. This isn't true, her expression said. That isn't what happened. You and I know that.
Guiltily, Alec tried not to meet her gaze.
âThe bad news, of course, is that the attacker escaped â we believe through the bedroom window and out across the staff car park.'
Munroe paused, allowing the new tide of gasps and fearful little murmurs to subside. âWe are, of course, very concerned with where he went next, but the one major factor on our side is that the motel and its environs are very well covered by CCTV camera. He will be on one of them, and we will be able to track where he went, and it's very likely we will be able to get a good look at his face. Now, I know that's no comfort to you at the moment, but we'd just like to assure all of you that this is probably the safest place in the country right now.' He gestured to the uniformed officers. âThere are more of us, proportional to all of you, than you're likely to find anywhere outside of Buckingham Palace.'
Uncertain laughter at that. Maybe not the best of examples, Alec reflected, given the rather high-profile security breaches there in past years.
âWho would do such a thing?' someone asked. Alec looked for the speaker: a man in striped pyjamas and a red dressing gown, sitting uncertainly on the edge of his chair.
âSome nutter,' someone else muttered. âI mean, got to be, hasn't it?'
Sounds of agreement, approbation, nervousness.
Alec watched as Munroe allowed the speculation to continue, the seed of the idea to grow. Of course, Alec thought â let the idea spread that it was some random nutcase, some escaped mental patient. Easy answers. Acceptable and digestible.
Munroe cleared his throat, and expectant eyes turned back to him. His timing perfect, he interceded just before the speculation could drift into other, less manipulable explanations. He was good at this, Alec thought grudgingly.
âOf course, there is no evidence of that being the case. We really can't speculate. I can only assure you that we have officers mobilized from three counties and full cooperation from the CCTV providers. Technology really is on our side.'
âSo tomorrow, or the day after, we'll be hearing about an arrest then,' Alec said bitterly. âSome unknown, unnamed non-existentâ'
âThe police don't do that sort of thing, Alec.'
âDon't we? But I'm forgetting Munroe isn't police, anyway, is he?'
Eddison's jaw tightened, but he gave no other sign that he had even heard.
âIn the meantime,' Munroe continued smoothly, âI suggest you all try to get some sleep. Those of you that haven't yet spoken to one of the officers, please make sure you've at least checked they have your name and address, and please, if you think you might have seen or heard anything â anything at all, however seemingly insignificant â don't be afraid to come and tell one of us. Please, don't be worried about it being nothing, we'd much rather know about it.' He smiled, a surprisingly warm smile . . . provided you didn't look at his eyes, Alec thought.
âAre we free to leave?' a woman asked.
âIf you've spoken to one of my officers, then certainly. Though I really would urge everyone to try and get some rest before they go. It's late, and I'm sure everyone is exhausted.'
He'll be telling them next that tiredness kills and they should take a break, Alec thought angrily. Munroe's soft, patronizing attitude was jarring on him, or maybe what was jarring was that people were responding to it. He was telling them what they wanted to hear.
âYou called me back from the hospital for
âBest you're present at the briefing, Alec,' Eddison said smoothly. âBest we're all kept in the loop, don't you think?'
Alec grimaced at the implied rebuke but didn't rise to it. âSo, what now?' he asked tightly.
âYou get some rest and we talk in the morning, decide what your position is going to be in the ongoing investigation.'
âIf I still have one, you mean?'
âNot my call, Alec,' Eddison said and wandered off to join Munroe.
Alec stood impotently for a moment, wondering what to do. If it wasn't Eddison's call, then whose was it? Munroe's? He caught sight of Parks chatting to some of the guests. His blond head tilted sympathetically to one side, the cherubic little mouth tight with concern. He nodded briefly in Alec's direction and then turned back to the anxious little group.
âIt didn't happen that way, did it?'
Startled, Alec turned towards the speaker. The receptionist. âDidn't it? I don't think any of us are clear what happened yet.'
She said nothing, but her expression spoke of betrayal. She had been sure he would listen to her, tell her what was going on.
Alec sighed. He hated this. But two people were dead, he reminded himself, and another almost so. Instinct warned him that the best thing he could do for this young woman was to toe the party line.
Gently, he took her arm and led her aside, aware that Eddison had seen and was now headed back their way. âLook,' he said quietly, âsometimes we have to give out half truths in order to keep what really happened out of the media. If the media get hold of too much then the criminal will know exactly what we know. Sometimes we have to deliberately mislead, hold certain things back, certain things that might only be known to us and to the killer. You understand?'
âI think so.' She still looked doubtful. âSo whoever it was really
out to get your friend?'
Alec hesitated for a second and then nodded. âWe think so,' he conceded.
Oddly, she looked relieved then. âBut you want the killer to believe that you don't know that. To think you've not made that connection?'
âThat's exactly it.' Alec was glad to resort to at least a half truth. âSo, even though you know differentâ'
âI don't say anything.' She nodded, half smiled. It would please her, he thought, to feel she was privy to some secret thing. That she was helping out by staying silent about her doubts. Hopefully, silence would also help to keep her safe. He noticed Eddison observing them and assumed he had heard. Alec excused himself and walked past the senior officer towards the lobby.
âGood move, Alec,' Eddison growled.
Alec ignored him and walked on, heading towards his room. It took all his self-control not to just get back into Travers' car and drive away.
regory sat at Christopher's bedside and watched the old man sleep. The light was dim in here, and the nurse had covered the lamp with something that filtered the light and turned it fragile and pink.
She had no idea who Gregory was and had been doing the job long enough not to ask. She entered now, touched Christopher's hand and checked his pulse, tucked the frail hand back under the covers and asked Gregory if he needed anything.
He shook his head. âHow is he?'
âComfortable. That's the best we can offer.'
He nodded. He wanted to ask âhow long?' but he was afraid Christopher would hear, and that seemed wrong, somehow. His boss, his mentor, his friend and, latterly, his protector, Gregory was still uncertain what this death would mean for him.
âWe are dinosaurs, you and I,' Christopher said.
âAre we? What kind?'
The nurse smiled at them and left the room.
âOh, something slow and heavy and about to become extinct. We must make way for the mammals, Gregory. The world of the warm-blooded.'
Gregory laughed softly. âWill they make the world a better place?'
A harsh chuckle from the old man. âOh, if I thought that, my friend, I could die more peacefully.' He reached a pale hand towards his one-time protÃ©gÃ©e. âYou should not keep coming here, you know that. Separation, Gregory, that's the key now, keeping yourself distant when the
begins to fly.'
He took the hand. âToo late for that,' he said. âYou know what pains me? It was that in their own way they were both innocents.'
Christopher laughed, and then choked.
Gregory looked anxiously towards the door, wondering if he should call the nurse.
âI'm all right. Innocents, you say? Well, yes, the young woman was guilty of idealism, no more than that, and I do believe we both suffered that affliction once upon a time, before the world got far too complicated for us. But Robinson? He was a career criminal, Gregory. He even tried to take you down.'
âHe was an amateur,' Gregory said. âOut for what crumbs I might have spilled. He didn't deserve to die for it.'
âGregory, my friend, Robinson didn't die for that, as well you know. He died for what the girl may or may not have told him. And remember, too, he found out enough to know who you are. He was one of the mammals.'
Gregory smiled and nodded, and Christopher closed his eyes. He stayed until he was sure the old man was sleeping, and then he laid the hand beneath the blanket and slipped away.
Some decision seemed to have been made overnight, and Alec was woken by a call from reception asking him to meet his colleagues for breakfast.
Alec glanced at his watch. Ten to eight. He had slept after all. How had that happened?
Alec could remember texting Naomi to tell her that he was OK and things were looking better for Trav, and then he'd lain down on the bed, fully clothed, still in half a mind to leave. Sitting up now, he realized that he was still fully clothed, stiff and crumpled and as muzzy headed as though he'd got a hangover.