Authors: Jane A. Adams
âLong day?' Naomi asked.
âOh, far too long. Too many figures.'
âWell, that's what you get for being an accountant.'
âIt is indeed.'
Harry freelanced for half the week now, keeping his old job on part time. He seemed happier, Naomi thought, though the workload was sometimes much heavier. He was eight years older than Naomi, but Alec always reckoned he looked ten more than that, with his once sandy hair now faded grey and a face creased by too many wrinkles. A lived-in face, as Patrick always said. To Naomi, who had lost her sight before Harry had returned to Pinsent, he was still the older brother to her then best friend. A freckled teen, with a friendly smile, pale-blue eyes and a slight tendency to carry weight around his middle even then.
âYour mother phoned to finalize Florida,' Harry said to Patrick. âWe'll be flying out on the first of August.'
âGood, we'll be in time for Rick's birthday.'
âThat was the idea.' Harry sounded a little uncertain about it. Not surprising, Naomi thought, as Harry and Patrick's mother had been divorced for several years now and it must feel a bit odd to be going along when Patrick went to visit. Rick was one of Patrick's stepbrothers. Patrick got on really well with both of them, as the need for both families to buy a Skype phone attested. He even liked his stepfather now he didn't actually have to live with him, and relations between Harry and his ex and her new husband â once Harry's old boss â had thawed, largely because of the way both sets of children had clicked.
âIt'll be fine, Dad,' Patrick told him. âI want you to be there, and I'm really looking forward to New York.'
âAh,' Harry said mischievously. âNow we're getting to the crux of the matter. You want me along just so you can get to New York.'
âParents have their uses you know.'
The sound of the front door opening again surprised them all. Harry looked at his watch. âEarly for Alec.'
The front door slammed.
âNot in a good mood,' Naomi said.
âYou want us to leave?'
âNo, of course not.' Too late by then, anyway. Alec had opened the kitchen door and stood in the threshold.
âI've got to go away,' he said, sounding utterly aggrieved. âThey've bloody seconded me.'
âWho has? Away where? And don't I get a kiss?'
âOh, sorry.' He bent and kissed her. Harry had been more enthusiastic, Naomi thought, amused. She heard Alec pull out a chair and sit down and Patrick set a mug on the table in front of him and then Naomi.
âSo tell,' she said. âWhat's going on? Where are they sending you and when?'
âTonight,' Alec told her, and she understood why he felt so put out. âNo notice, no time to even think about it. I've got to collect Travers in an hour and will be gone for God knows how long.'
Naomi, who had been a serving officer herself, was familiar with that problem. She'd once gone on what she'd been told was a three-day cover for an industrial dispute and ended up being away for a full month. âSoâ'
âFraud case,' Alec said.
âFraud? But you're notâ'
âIt impacts on a case I was involved in a year or so ago. Apparently, there have been developments, so I've got to reprise the investigation from my point of view and bring the current team up to speed and then . . . Well, then who knows?'
Naomi tried to work out what case it might have been. Had they been alone, he would have told her, but Alec was discreet, even with very close friends.
âWe'll get off,' Harry said. âLet you pack. You know we'll be around for Naomi while you're gone.'
âThanks, I appreciate that. Naomi, any chance of a sandwich while I throw some clothes in a bag?'
Naomi saw Harry and Patrick out, settling on a time for Harry to collect her for Patrick's exhibition and assuring them that Alec would be fine when he'd got over his fit of pique.
âSo,' she asked, when he came back down and settled to wolf his sandwich, âwhat's going on?'
Alec swallowed and took another gulp of tea. âYou remember Neil Robinson and that insurance scam he had going?'
âWell, whatever it is I'm being seconded to do is related to that. There, now you know as much as me. I'm not even sure where I'm going. Travers is coming with me, so we're taking his car. I dropped him and then drove it here. More reliable than our heap is at the moment. Look, if you get the time, can you ask Harry to take you car shopping? Three times this week the damn thing refused to start. I had to leave it at work this time.'
âIt's probably just the battery.'
âI changed the battery.'
âTwo years ago. But yes, I'll ask Harry. And you don't know how longâ?'
âDon't know a damned thing. I'm sorry, Naomi. We had plans for this weekend.'
âWhich will keep. Don't worry about it. Patrick will be disappointed you're missing his show, though; we'll send pictures to your mobile.'
âDo that. I'm sorry, too â this is a big thing for him, isn't it?'
âFirst of many, I hope. Seriously, though, how long do you think you'll be gone?'
She felt him shake his head. âI've packed for three or four days. Hopefully, that will be it. And I'll make a point of getting back as often as I can, you know that. Just now I'm not even sure
I'll be going. Someone's supposed to be sending a route through to Travers so he can program the satnav.'
âIt all sounds a bit mysterious.'
âDoesn't it, though. But that would fit. Apparently, Robinson was ripping off some big names, government bods, and there was a hint at foreign government deals.'
âI thought it was just an insurance scam?'
âSort of. I mean, that was one part of it. That was what we actually got him on in the end, and on that basis he should have been out of jail any time now, but we knew he was something of a con artist â some kind of Ponzi scheme, you know, stock market stuff. I'd started to make inroads there, but it'd lost me and I handed over to the experts. We prepared a case based on what we knew about the insurance scam, got him to court and sent down for two years, and that's the last I heard. There was talk about filing other charges later.'
âSo the prison sentence allowed them time to prepare another case against him.'
âThat's about the size of it. Seems they did, and I was right: Robinson was part of something much bigger.'
âYou said he should have been out of prison by now?'
âThis month, yes. He'd served most of his sentence in a category C open prison down South. All seemed fine, so he got time off for good behaviour and because we can't keep anyone for too long, not with the waiting list we've got. Anyway. Last week Robinson was found dead in his cell. He'd been complaining of chest pains, and the medic had been called. By the time he got there it was too late. They did a PM and found someone had poisoned him.'
âPoisoned? No chance it was suicide?'
âApparently not. He was about to be released, so the assumption isâ'
âSomeone on the outside didn't want him around?'
âSomeone didn't want him talking. Turns out he, or someone on his behalf, had made three phone calls to Jamie Dale, in the past month.'
Jamie Dale? Wasn't sheâ?'
âKilled in a car crash just over a week ago.'
âSo, what had he told her?'
âOr what was he about to tell her? And what was she about to write about it? Whatever it was, she can't tell us now, but we can't rule out the possibility it had something to do with him getting killed, so the pressure is well and truly on.'
When Alec had left, Naomi felt flat and very out of sorts. She had looked forward to an evening with Alec, probably not doing anything very much â a walk, maybe, down beside the river, a bit of television later on. And she hated sleeping alone.
When she had moved into her flat she had relished the idea of her own space and her own bed. Of being independent of anyone else's wishes. Since marrying Alec and moving here, into what had once been just Alec's house and, more particularly, since the events of the winter, when at one point Naomi had been certain she was going to die â and a meaningless, pointless death at that â she had grown more and more to dislike being on her own at night. Night-time was when the world and all its memories crowded in upon her and when bed was not a sanctuary unless that space was shared. Not even Napoleon's comforting presence could really sooth her.
She poured herself a glass of wine and took it, and the phone, outside into the garden and settled in the swing seat beside the pond. She heard Napoleon bend to lap the water and then dip a paw to splash at the fish. Birds sang out to mark their evening territory, and something rustled in the flower beds. Peace, she told herself. Quiet and calm and warm evening sun. All was fine.
She remained unconvinced.
Naomi sipped wine and listened to the night-time sounds gathering around her and breathed in the scents of jasmine and honeysuckle and the thornless rose â the name of which she could never remember â that Alec had planted next to the swing seat. And she tried to remember what, if anything else, she knew about the Robinson case that had now called Alec away or about the dead journalist, Jamie Dale. Professionally, she and Alec had run into Jamie Dale on a number of occasions. She'd started out working for one of the free newspapers, covering school fÃªtes and consumer issues, and Naomi and Alec had inevitably met with her when, as young, uniformed officers, they had been present at some of the same events. For a while, Jamie and Naomi and a group of other young women had met regularly for nights out. As, one by one, they had begun serious relationships or got more demanding jobs, those regular nights had become occasional and then diminished altogether.
Alec and Naomi had gained promotion, and Jamie had become a stringer for a couple of national papers. Apart from the odd Christmas card, and occasionally remarking upon her name when they happened to spot her by-line, Naomi had largely lost touch with her. Naomi vaguely recalled that Jamie had moved away; she had turned to filmmaking as a way of reaching broader swathes of the public, and so far as Naomi could remember Jamie now lived in London or wherever it was they produced such things. Pinsent had certainly never been big enough to contain the likes of Jamie Dale, anyway.
Naomi closed her eyes as she still always did when trying to recall something more sharply and tried to remember Jamie the last time they had met. Small, slightly built, coffee-coloured skin and intense brown eyes. Hair that was always either braided or embellished or extended or dyed some unlikely hue; that last time it had been adorned with sky-blue streaks. But she had been young then. They had all been young then. A smart jacket or blazer worn with faded jeans; that had been Jamie's uniform. She had once told Naomi that she carried a coordinating skirt in her bag, just in case, along with a decent pair of shoes. Back then, Naomi recalled, it was a standing joke that it was always the same skirt and shoes; Jamie had once confided that her jackets were all bought in sales or were her sister's cast-offs and
went with any of them. She was, she had joked, mistress of the capsule wardrobe.
âI liked her,' Naomi told Napoleon, slightly surprised to remember how much. The dog came over and nuzzled at her hand, and she stroked the silky ears and smooth head.
And now she was dead. Accident? Coincidence? Or was there really a link to Neil Robinson â and if so, what?
Naomi sighed. It must be getting dark by now, she thought, wondering if Alec had arrived at wherever it was he was going. He'd promised to call, and she knew he would, when he got a minute, but Naomi knew from experience that might not be until much later â earlier, even; he'd let her know all was well, even if that meant a text at two in the morning. She picked up the phone and wine glass and, Napoleon pressed against her leg so she didn't slip into the pond, turned back towards the house, almost wishing herself back in her little flat again, an almost overwhelming sense of isolation crashing around her.
t had taken three attempts to program the satnav. They'd been given directions and an address, but no postcode, just a building name and road. Travers had no patience with technology.
Finally, Alec had taken over, assuring his boss that they could always phone when they were within striking distance, make certain they were heading for the right place. He sensed that Travers' impatience and bad mood had little to do with the mini computer suckered to the windscreen.
âMaureen isn't pleased at you being called away?' he ventured at last.
Travers grimaced. âWe had plans for this weekend,' he said tightly. âI kept telling her I'd do my best to be back, but she kept reminding me that I'm Detective
Inspector now and that I'd promised her promotion would mean less time on the job and more time at home.'
Alec said nothing; there didn't seem much point in remarking that this was the first weekend Travers had come close to working in the past year. He'd become very apt at being elsewhere, out of reach, if a call came in. Alec could sympathize. He, like Travers, had endured a long career of interrupted plans, lost weekends off and unscheduled â often unpaid â overtime. Time off in lieu never really panned out.
âYou're lucky,' Travers grumbled. âNaomi understands these things.'
âNaomi gets impatient with it too,' Alec said mildly. âAfter what happened last year, she's not so keen to be at home alone at night,' he added pointedly.
Travers was momentarily contrite. âNo, I don't suppose she is.' He paused. âLikely, I'll come back to the decorators or some new three-piece suite Maureen's taken a fancy to. Credit cards are weapons in her hands.'