Authors: Jane A. Adams
âThere wasn't one,' Michelle Sanders told him coldly. âAs I said earlier, Robinson was a model prisoner. He was a potential success story.'
âWhose superior attitude caused offence sometimes? We all know that what might seem like a small spat, as you call it, in the outside world can fester in a place like this. I've seen men knifed because they used a word someone didn't understand and it was misread as an insult.'
âNothing like that happened here,' Michelle Sanders asserted. The hands relaxed now, and so did her tone. So he'd moved too wide of the mark, Alec thought.
âEnough, now,' Munroe said. âWe've taken up enough time. Michelle, thank you, we'll get ourselves out of your hair.'
She looked relieved, Alec thought. For that matter, so did Travers.
Alec stood up, prepared to go, shifting position so he could see both his boss and the prison governor. Travers held out his hand, and Michelle Sanders shook it automatically, but Alec was watching her face. The anxiety was unmistakable, as was the question in her eyes when she looked at his boss.
Travers shook her hand and turned away, and Munroe hustled them out of the door.
Naomi had spent the day with her sister, attending Sue's first antenatal class with her and then going for lunch at a local pub they both liked.
âI don't know why I bother with the classes,' Sue said. âI mean, this is the third time, I should know what I'm doing by now.'
âHabit,' Naomi told her. âIt's what you did before, so you're going through the same process now. Habit is reassuring.'
âAre you analysing me?' Sue laughed at her older sister. âYou could be right,' she admitted.
âYou going back to work after?'
âOh, I think so. Just part time, like I'm doing now. The agency said they'd be happy to have me back, and several of their clients ask for me by name now, so that's good. Though I had a chat with Harry, did he tell you?'
Naomi shook her head. âWhat about?'
âOh, the whole self-employed thing. School holidays are a nightmare and are not going to get better until this new one is old enough to look after herself.'
âOr himself. I just think this one is a girl. It feels different, somehow.'
âAre you going to ask when you have the scan?'
âUm, don't know. We keep talking about it but can't decide if we'd rather know or if we like the surprise. Anyway, working from home might be a good idea, don't you think?'
âWhat would you do?'
âAh, that's the thing. It's going to take a bit of thinking through. Did Alec tell you when he'd be back?'
âNo, he hopes only a couple of days.'
âYou OK in that big house on your own? I can move the boys into the same room and you can stop over for a day or two.'
Naomi was tempted. The thought of returning to what she usually regarded as her sanctuary was unnerving her. She loved the house she now shared with Alec, but after the events of the previous evening, she also felt as though it had been invaded, her sanctuary violated.
âI'll let you know,' she promised. âWe're all going to Patrick's exhibition tonight, so I might stay over with them or with Mari.' Mari was Harry's mother.
They left it at that and conversation moved to other things. Usually, Naomi reflected, she would have confided in her sister, but today â which was all about the celebration of new life and new plans â it seemed inappropriate. She was desperate not to spoil the mood or to cause Sue anxiety â though she also knew that Sue was going to be furious with her if this all came out later and she discovered that Naomi had been keeping important and potentially threatening things quiet. The sisters had always been close, and since Naomi had been blinded, Sue and her family had given her so much strength.
Resolving to talk to Harry first, Naomi let the matter lie. Later though, having taken a taxi home from her sister's house, the anxiety seemed to escalate, and when they pulled up in front of the house, Naomi almost asked her driver to turn around and take her back. George Mallard, the taxi driver, was an old friend. His family had run the small taxi company she regularly used for years.
âGeorge, do you mind helping me in with the shopping?'
âCourse I don't, my dear. Everything all right, is it?'
She managed a laugh. âYes. Why?'
âBecause you've been very quiet today. Not yourself, if I may say so.'
âI suppose it's with Alec being away.'
âHe's been away before,' George Mallard said pointedly. âNaomi, if you're worried, there are people you can tell, you know that.'
âGeorge?' Naomi questioned. âThis sounds more than speculation.'
George Mallard laughed. âGot me there,' he admitted. âLook, he meant no harm, but the wife's cousin's boy, he joined the police just under a year ago.'
âPC Watkins,' Naomi guessed.
âThat'll be the one. Anyway, he happened to mention he'd been over at your place last night, knowing as how we know you. He knows we're fond of you, you see, and the wife, she thought . . . well, she thought I should make sure you were all right.'
Naomi laughed. Unexpectedly, she found tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. âThanks, George,' she said. âIt's kind of you all, and he seems like a nice young man. And yes, I'd be grateful if you'd go in with me, just have a quick look around.'
Inside the house all was very quiet and very still. George did a circuit, checking the windows and the doors and looking out into the garden. âLooks like you've got a couple of messages,' he said as they returned to the hall and Naomi prepared to say goodbye. She felt her stomach tighten.
âProbably just Alec,' she said, even though she knew that Alec would call her mobile and not the home phone. Few people did; all her friends knew that she kept her mobile close to hand almost all the time.
âYou want me to . . .?'
âThanks, George, I think I'd like that.' She pressed the button to replay the messages, but was met with only two dense blocks of silence.
George came over and pressed 1471.
Number not known
, they were told.
âNaomi, maybe it would be better if I took you back to your Sue's.'
She shook her head. âI'm not going to be scared out of my home, George,' she told him firmly. âAnyway, Harry will be here soon. I'm going to Patrick's exhibition. I'll be fine.' He'll be on the phone to Watkins as soon as he leaves here, she thought. The idea soothed her a little, but she still made double sure that the door was locked when George Mallard finally left and the silence of the empty house settled around her.
More silence as Alec and Travers drove back to their hotel. Alec had spent the day looking over Robinson's files, briefing Parks, Munroe and the now returned Eddison on the Robinson affair as he had seen it from his angle and looking at background information on Freddie Gains. Travers had said little. He had set to work collating information, creating databases both on the board and on the computer, busying himself with tasks Mac doubted he'd done since he'd been a sergeant in uniform. He'd done a good job, Alec admitted grudgingly, but it had not escaped any of them that Travers was doing anything and everything that did not involve him in direct interaction with his colleagues.
âSo,' Alec asked him when they were finally alone. âYou know Michelle Sanders then?'
âAnd you think that, why?'
He hadn't denied it, Alec noted. âThe way the pair of you were deliberately trying to give the impression this was the first time you'd set eyes on one another.'
Travers laughed; a rare sound in the past few days. âOK, Alec. Yes, Michelle and I knew one another. Emphasis very strongly on the past tense. It was a long time ago.'
âKnew? In the Biblical sense? This before Maureen, was it?'
âIs that your business, Alec?' He sounded weary rather than annoyed.
âI don't know yet, do I?'
Travers sighed. âThere was some overlap,' he admitted. âMaureen took a long time to understand just how demanding the job could be. In the early days I was never at home, and when I was we rowed about the fact, soâ'
âSo you went home even less.' Alec was familiar with the pattern. âWhere did you meet? Another bloody conference?'
âActually, yes, it was. Eddison was there too,' he added. âHe was just another delegate, not a speaker. This was years ago. We were looking into computerization, use of databases across the police network. You know how much of a mess it all was to start with.'
Alec nodded. Computer systems had been set up piecemeal, really only getting any kind of priority in the late eighties, early nineties, and even quite recently there had been no truly centralized system. It took the deaths of two children and several other rather high-profile cases for a proper network covering all police forces and all levels to get prioritized.
âSo you and Michelle Sanders were involved, and Eddison knew about it.'
âYes, he knew.'
âAnd he made it his business, why?'
âBecause that's what Eddison does,' Travers said bitterly. âHe collects the scraps and leavings from people's lives, and he stores them up just for the day when they might be valuable enough to make trouble.'
Alec looked sharply at his boss. âAre we talking blackmail here?'
âWhat? Oh, not in the money sense, no. Nothing as crude as that. Eddison goes for the jugular in a far more subtle way, but once he has something he'll use it.'
âAnd he's used this affair against you how?'
âIt wasn't an affair,' Travers snapped.
âSo what was it then?'
Travers shrugged. âIt's hard to explain,' he said.
Travers fell silent again. They had reached the hotel, and Alec knew he had missed his chance. Still, this was progress, of a sort. âMeet you in the restaurant? Say, an hour?'
âYou've got to eat.'
Travers nodded reluctantly. âAn hour, then. Have you called Naomi yet?'
âShe spent the day with her sister, and she's out tonight with Harry and Patrick. I'll talk to her again later.'
âAnd she's all right?'
âShaken, but she's all right, yes. Trav, why didn't we tell our esteemed colleagues about the phone calls? You can't pretend it's not relevant.'
âAnd I will, tomorrow,' Travers promised. âAlec, trust me on this, there's someone I want to speak to first.'
Alec hesitated. âThis is Naomi we're talking about. Trav, ifâ'
âI know. I'd not risk anything happening to her, you know that.'
He got out of the car, and Alec had no option but to follow suit and then to follow in his wake as Travers stalked across the car park and into the hotel.
aomi was ready to go out again long before Harry and Patrick arrived. She had made herself a sandwich and a cup of tea, and had showered and changed, all the time listening out far too intently for anything unusual, any sound that did not belong in her home. Listening so hard that she realized she was actually imagining things. Eventually, angry and impatient with such wimpishness, she grabbed a CD from the rock section of their considerable music collection and put it on. The sound of Bruce Springsteen filled the house, singing about hungry hearts and oversized motor bikes, and she sang along, defiantly and tunelessly â holding a tune was, she freely admitted, not among her accomplishments.
By the time Harry rang the bell and then tried the usually unlatched door, she was sitting on the stairs, waiting, Napoleon's head resting against her knee.
He rang the bell again as she crossed the hall. âNaomi, it's us! The door was locked,' he added as she opened it and bent to fuss the dog.
âYes, sorry, I forgot to undo it for you. All set then? Is Patrick nervous?'
âI think he is, rather. Is everything all right?'
âNo, not really,' she admitted. âBut we'll talk about that later, if you don't mind. Let's not spoil Patrick's evening.'
âIt's all right, Harry, we'll talk about this later. Promise. In fact, is it OK if I stay the night?'
âYou know it is. Is that your bag?'
She could hear the concern in his voice, but knew also that he'd put it aside until she was ready to talk. She locked the door behind her, heard Harry check it â not because he didn't trust her to do it properly, but because that was what Harry did â then he helped her into the car. Napoleon, sensing that this was not a formal outing, was already in the back with Patrick.
âAll set then,' Harry said. âCameras at the ready? Right, off we go.'
Alec had sat for some time in the restaurant, waiting for Travers to arrive. Finally, he had given up and ordered dinner, irritated with his boss, but not really surprised that he had not shown up. Who, Alec wondered, was the mysterious someone he'd needed to call before talking to Alec about his affair with Michelle Sanders? Alec was angry with himself, too; he should have pressed the point.
He probably should have mentioned the note slipped to him by the inmate at the prison too. Alec slipped it from his pocket now; he had sealed it in an evidence bag, but was still none the wiser as to the significance of this little slip of card, torn from a cigarette packet. Like as not, he thought, it was a wind up, a laugh at his expense. Or had been dropped accidentally and would turn out to be the phone number of a girlfriend or some such.
That it was a phone number, Alec now knew. He'd dialled it from his hotel room, though there had been no reply, the phone just ringing out into emptiness. A local number, he thought; there had been no dialling code. Alec was still not even sure why he had failed to tell someone about it back at the prison. Simple dislike of his new colleagues? Maybe so, but that was still a deeply unprofessional attitude to have.