Now they were committed, Brodie found herself wondering if she'd made a terrible mistake. There are some things that even friends, even good friends, shouldn't do for one another. Things that are better left to the professionals. Professionals who had seen it all before, and wouldn't laugh when you got it wrong.
But it was too late for second thoughts. Daniel would be hurt if she changed her mind. It had been, she knew, a long time since he tried this: if she put him off now, gave him instead the number of a girl she knew, left him with the impression that she had no confidence in his ability to come up with the right moves after so long, she thought he might never find the courage to try again.
She took a deep breath and tried to make herself comfortable. A dew of sweat was on her brow, which was ridiculous. There was nothing to be embarrassed about: this was something she did all the time. But not with him, and not giving a running commentary on how to do it.
At least he wouldn't be criticising her technique. Daniel had told her candidly that he hadn't been much good at it even when he was getting a bit of practice. When Brodie suggested giving him a refresher course, at first he was doubtful. Then he seized the opportunity with enthusiasm. As he said, who knew when he would get another? So she really had to go through with it. It would be over soon enough.
âOK,' she said, hoping she sounded calmer than she felt, âlet's do this. Gently but firmly. There's no rush, but don't think it's going to bite you either. Take a firm grip and push it in â¦that's it, that's good â¦and then, gently, let the clutch out â¦'
As the car moved forward with barely a lurch, intense concentration furrowed the brow between the top of Daniel's glasses and his mop of yellow hair.
âRelax,' Brodie said softly, âyou're doing fine. Keep an eye on the mirror and check your position on the road.'
âDrive,' muttered Daniel.
Brodie misunderstood. âYou want me to take over? So soon?'
âNo. I mean, we aren't on the road yet â we're still in your
Brodie started to laugh. The things they'd been through together, the things they'd survived, and this was what had reduced them to grunted communication through clenched teeth. âI thought we'd save that for the second lesson.'
She wasn't exactly laughing at him, but Daniel wouldn't have minded if she was. He brought her car to the most controlled of halts, put on the handbrake and got it out of gear before he turned to look at her. âYou really don't want to be doing this, do you?'
She linked her arm through his and hugged it. âOf course I don't,' she chuckled honestly. âLet's do it anyway.'
âOn the road this time?'
âOn the road,' she nodded. âYou've got your licence, the car's insured, and you're not suddenly going to throw a handbrake turn at me, are you? You've every right to be on the road. Daniel, you know how to drive a car. You passed your test when you were eighteen. All you need to do is get your eye in again.'
âIt's been a while,' admitted Daniel. He reached for the gearstick, eased it into first. âAs the actress said to the bishop.'
Brodie had her mouth open to correct him but then let it pass. Either they could discuss the respective lifestyles of the apocryphal couple or they could get on with the driving lesson. âExactly. Now, check the road and if there's nothing coming, turn left. And somewhere along here you might want to try second gear.'
He tried second gear, then third. He made a right turn. He overtook a woman on a bicycle. The tense corrugations of his brow began to soften and a boyish grin lit his face. âI'd forgotten how much fun this is â¦'
As if a malicious God had heard him, disaster shot out of a side street. They'd turned up Fisher Hill, passing Shack Lane where Brodie had her office. The short autumn evening had turned dark a couple of hours before and a fine rain was falling. There were street lights on Fisher Hill, but not many of them, and those that were working produced more glow than illumination. Neither Daniel nor Brodie saw more than a glimpse of the figure that, running in the rain, emerged from an alley between the old houses
and went to cross in front of them. But the resounding bang off the nearside wing left no room for doubt.
The car was only doing fifteen miles an hour and Daniel braked to a standstill almost instantly. He spared a second to look at Brodie, the eyes of both of them wide with shock. âI've hit someone,' he said quietly. Then he was out of the car. In another moment Brodie had found the handle on her side and joined him.
Her first thought â and she recognised immediately that it was a selfish one â was that they'd never had a chance of avoiding the accident. Someone who dashes in front of a car on a wet night wearing a long dark mackintosh is responsible for their own misfortune. Even now it was hard enough to make out what the thing beside the car was. It didn't look like a human being. It didn't even look like a bundle of clothes. Mostly it looked like a black plastic bag blown into the road.
Daniel was bending over it, wondering if he dared touch it or if it would only make things worse. âWe're going to need an ambulance,' he said over his shoulder. His voice had the flat, hollow sound of someone refusing to panic.
Brodie nodded jerkily and reached back into the car for her phone.
But before she could dial the black plastic bag gave a sudden spasm and sat up. Brodie saw a white face spattered with mud down one side and a white hand held up shakily to fend off the stooping man. A woman's voice rose in a tremulous crescendo. âGet away from me!'
On the bright side, thought Brodie, she didn't sound like someone hammering at death's door. She put her phone down on the car seat and went to see if she could help. âIt's all right, don't be afraid. You've had a bit of an accident but we'll take care of you. Are you hurt?'
As soon as it was out she thought it was a bloody stupid question: the woman had bounced off a moving vehicle and hit the road, of course she was hurt. She wasn't sitting in the gutter because she liked the view from down there.
And then she wasn't sitting in the gutter at all. With remarkable strength for someone who'd just head-butted a car
she staggered to her feet and backed away until she met the wall of the Fisher Hill cottages. They came in various colours: this was a pale pink one, rosier than usual in the soft-focus light from the street lamp.
By contrast the woman â or maybe she was only a girl, late teens or early twenties â had no colour at all. Her face was ashen, her long wet hair dark, her long wet coat black. But there was no blood that Brodie could see, and none of the crippling awkwardness that betrays a broken limb.
Brodie reached a hand towards her. âWon't you sit down for a minute? Sit in the car while we work out if we need an ambulance or if we can safely take you to A&E ourselves. What do you think â is there much damage done?'
Afraid the girl might have injuries she was not yet aware of herself, Brodie touched her shoulder with no more than a fingertip, to guide her to the car. The girl's reaction was out of all proportion. Unable to retreat further she spun sideways, her eyes staring wildly, keeping close to the wall. âStay away from me!' she yelled again, her voice cracking.
By now the noise was attracting attention. They didn't twitch net curtains on Fisher Hill â they opened their front doors and stood on the steps, watching with undisguised interest.
âYou need to calm down,' Brodie said, allowing a trace of firmness to creep into her voice. âYou need to calm down and sit down, and I'll call the police and let them know what's happened.'
âYeah, right!' snorted the girl. The shock was giving way now to anger: such anger that she shook and panted with it. âWith half a dozen witnesses I don't suppose you've much choice. Well, tell them what you want. Tell them it was an accident; tell them it was my fault. They'll believe that â they think my whole damn family's suicidal. But I know who sent you. Give him my regards. Tell him, better luck next time.'
Daniel was peering at her through his thick spectacles, his plain round face bewildered. âI don't understand. Are you saying â¦you think I hit you
The girl managed a wild, half-hysterical laugh. âWhatever would make me think a thing like that?'
âI don't know you. Why would I want to hurt you?'
âI don't think you wanted to hurt me,' spat the girl. Hatred vibrated in her voice. âI know what you wanted to do. And I know why you wanted to do it. And who knows, maybe next time it'll all work out for you. But think about this. That'll leave
as the last soul alive who knows what Johnny Windham is capable of.'
And with that she was away, running, across the road and into another of the Fisher Hill entries, vanishing in the darkness.
For what seemed a long time Daniel and Brodie looked at one another, and at the woman in the floral pinny and the man in the sleeveless pullover who'd come to the door with his dish-mop still in his hand. Finally Brodie gave herself a shake. âI suppose I'd better tell Jack about this.'
Daniel's frown was disapproving. He was embarrassed by Brodie's habit of bending people to her use. âJack's a detective superintendent â this was a traffic accident. I'll go round to Battle Alley and report it to the duty sergeant.'
Brodie shrugged. âIt'll go in the book.'
go in the book. That girl could be hurt. Someone ought to find her, make sure she's all right.'
âShe looked all right,' sniffed Brodie, using a long-fingered hand to push the cascade of dark curls away from her face. âYou know what vets say â you don't have to worry about patients you can't catch.' He went on regarding her with that quiet reproach that was harder to ignore than an argument. âOh, all
let's do the thing properly. Do you want to drive or â¦?'
But he was already in the passenger seat and refused to meet her gaze.
Sergeant McKinney saw them on the CCTV, put down the mug of tea he'd been looking forward to and went out to the front desk. There would be other tea-breaks. But a man who took an interest in events in and around Dimmock couldn't afford to take his eye off this pair for too long. âA problem, Mrs Farrell?'
Brodie explained what had happened.
âAnd Mr Hood was driving?' Daniel nodded. âCan I see your licence and insurance?' Daniel produced the one, Brodie the
other. âWell, that seems to be in order. She ran out of Hunter's Lane, you say?'
Daniel gave his lopsided shrug. âShe must have. She was running, and there was nowhere else she could have come from. But I didn't see her until she hit the wing.'
âMe neither. You know what the lighting's like up there,' said Brodie. âAnd she was wearing a long dark coat of some kind.'
âAnd afterwards she got up without assistance?'
âGot up and ran off,' nodded Brodie. âInto The Ginnell. Whether she had a car parked up there or was making for one of the cottages I don't know. I was too surprised to follow.'
âAnd you didn't get her name.'
âThere wasn't much time,' said Daniel apologetically.
âThen it's hard to see what more you could have done,' conceded Sergeant McKinney. âI'll check with the hospital to see if she turned up there. But it sounds to me it was more her fault than yours and there was no great damage done anyway. If she makes a complaint I'll get back to you; otherwise you should probably forget about it. Only next time you fancy a driving lesson, Mr Hood' â he lowered one eyebrow meaningfully â âperhaps a nice sunny day would be more suitable than a wet night.'
âWe'll bear that in mind,' said Brodie, a shade tartly. She still thought they could have met the letter of the law by recounting the incident to her partner. âCan we go now? My babysitter will be wondering where we've got to.'
After they'd gone Constable March, who was manning the desk, said, âWasn't that â¦?'
âThat's right, son,' said Sergeant McKinney, deadpan.
âShe's a bit of a looker, isn't she?'
âOut of your class, that's for sure.'
âAnd she and Detective Superintendent Deacon â¦?'
'And the guy with her â Daniel Hood. He's her â¦bit on the side?'
Sergeant McKinney bent a censorious eye on him. âYou're new around here, lad, so I'll give you a word of advice. Mrs Farrell and Mr Deacon are an item, Mrs Farrell and Mr Hood
are not. They are friends. Nothing more, nothing less. You don't have to understand it, I don't have to understand it. We don't even have to believe it. But those of us who don't want to wake up with a crowd round us and the imprint of Mr Deacon's fist on our noses would do well to remember it.'