Chapter Twenty-Five

Being in the cell with that little shit was tantamount to torture. After the initial ‘Fuck you, bitch’ and other lines of poetry, he settled down to grin a moronic grin intermittent with lascivious leering at my chest.

I honestly don’t know how I didn’t slap him senseless. Thirty minutes in his company made me feel nauseous, and I could understand why he was disliked by anyone and everyone. Now … I always try to see some sparkle of good in everybody, but however hard I tried … nothing … he was a bad ‘un through and through.

Looking at him you could tell he was trouble. A shaved head that left a twattish fringe at the front screamed ‘Jailbait!’ as well as everything else about him. He must have weighed eight stone wet through, and needed high heels to reach the skirting boards … but he had a wiry strength which is ten times worse than facing some six foot body builder. Now his eyes … I still shiver when I think of them … his eyes were cold. Dead. Totally and utterly without a shred of compassion. Cold grey, but quick and sly. I knew he took in everything that was going on like a predator. This boy missed nothing and used everything to his advantage.

As I said. Trouble. With a capital T.

Trying to be civil to him was agonising.. I used all the textbook approaches, but it didn’t wash with him. He was too street smart, and demanded he should have someone there to defend him. The station had tried to contact his parents but there was no answer, either to knocking or phoning. Whether they were purposefully ignoring them, I don’t know. They were probably so used to getting call, especially since Sam didn’t give two shits about his court curfew or the ankle bracelet he had to wear to alert the authorities when he stepped out of his boundaries.

After thirty minutes I’d had enough. I knew if I didn’t get out of there I would pull his grinning waste of space carcass off the bunk and give him a good old-fashioned good hiding. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone violence in any way shape or form … but come on! He could try the patience of a saint.

Ash was waiting for me as I stepped out and nearly knocked me back inside the cell. I heard Sam shout ‘Evening Inspector’ from behind me, and grimaced as Ash gave him the look. Cold and hard. Fuck. Even I was scared and it wasn’t directed at me.

‘You’d better get comfortable, Read, as you’re going to be seeing a lot of this place.’ The self-assured smirk on his face wavered slightly as Ash stepped forward. ‘Get real comfortable, mate.’ The ‘real’ came out as a growl rather than a word, her teeth chewing around it.

She made a big deal out of slamming the door closed … the echo ringing around the basement of the police station.

‘Well?’

‘Erm …’

‘What did he tell you?’

‘Look … erm … well you can’t expect him to spill his guts on a first meeting.’ I didn’t know why I was trying to soften the blow, and, in effect, sign myself up for more of the same. She raised her brow, her lips turning at the edges. I could see her mind working double time and I knew I was going to regret answering the phone earlier that night.

‘Well tha…’ She didn’t get chance to finish the sentence, as the heavy door at the end of the corridor was thrown back and a woman came tearing through it, hair ruffled and, if I’m not mistaken, her blouse was buttoned up wrong.

‘Who’s in charge here?’ Stern. To the point. Full of authority. I liked her.

‘Who the fuck are you?’ Ash wasted no time in letting the woman know she was not taking any shit.

The woman stopped inches away from us, and slowly appraised Ash from head to foot. The sneer grew wider as she progressed down the long frame, and when she reached the bottom, she started the journey all the way up to her face again.

Honestly. I could have cut the air with a knife. They just stood there and glared at each other like a couple of kids who were arguing over a toy. To be perfectly truthful … I was just as bad. Gormless is the word. I just stood looking from one to the other, kind of comparing them in a weird kind of way.

The woman was only an inch or so shorter and her hair was a shade lighter … but even though she looked like she had literally been hoisted out of bed she was a stunner. And I could feel my mouth beginning to water. But then I looked at Ash and realised that even though I was attracted to Miss No Name … ah … you know … heart and all that.

‘Erm … Louise Turner … Lou … Turner.’ I didn’t even realise I had stepped forward in between the pair and turned my back on Ash to hold out my hand to the stranger. ‘Ed Psyche’

Initially I saw a flash of anger sweep over her face, but then it turned into something softer … more … let me think… more appreciative. That’s the word … appreciative, but not in ‘Oh I’m so glad you introduced yourself’ appreciative. More like ‘What do we have here?’ whilst licking lips appreciative.

I heard a distinct cough come from behind me, and I could feel Ash becoming restless. The woman’s eyes flicked over my shoulder and briefly landed on Ash before she gave me all of her attention, her hand slipping effortlessly into my own. ‘Gemma … Gemma Jackson.’ And then she closed her hand more firmly around mine. It was almost like a caress.

‘Sorry to break up the party girls …’ the sound of Ash’s voice sliced through Gemma’s and my greeting and I knew she wasn’t happy about being left out. ‘Detective Inspector Richards.’ A pause for effect. ‘I’m in charge of the investigation.’

‘Really?’ Gemma’s voice came out cold and full of sarcasm. ‘Well … Detective… You wouldn’t mind telling me why I only found out Sam Read was here thirty five minutes ago?’ That explains the hair and the shirt. ‘Don’t you know what you have done is illegal?’ Ash didn’t answer. ‘Under the Child Protection Act, any minor should have an Advocate present at all times.’ Her hand was on her hip, and she half-leaned back to glare into Ash’s face.

‘Really?’ Ash’s response was more sarcastic in delivery and I was beginning to feel the tell tale signs of one hell of a bitch fight breaking loose.

‘Yes … really. I am within my rights to demand that Sam be released and …’

‘Fuck that. That little shi..’

‘Ladies. Ladies. Please.’ My tone was coaxing, trying to delay the inevitable blow up. ‘This is not helping anyone.’ I felt Ash stiffen, even though I didn’t see her. Gemma’s face looked as if it was etched from stone. So, I tried the oldest trick in the book.

I flirted.

I know. I wasn’t even sure if Gemma was gay, but at least it was worth a shot. The smile was on my lips and my hand was smoothing her arm before anyone could say Jack Robinson. ‘Look … Gemma…’ Another smile. ‘Can’t we just grab a coffee and talk about this … I mean …’ and I looked over my shoulder at a fuming Ash, directing Gemma’s gaze there, and then looked at her squarely in the face before contorting my features into the expression that we should pity the Detective … as she knew not what she did.

‘We could just … you know …’ I stepped forward as if I was bringing her into my confidence, but in the process I eliminated personal body space.

Gemma didn’t back away and I could see a smile play along her lips. Just a little more, Turner.

‘We could talk about Sam … and get to know each other a little better.’ A pause – then a hurried ‘in case we will be working together.’ However, the look I gave her said I was interested in anything but work at that moment.

I could see her conscience fighting with her libido. Her fingers came up and played with stray locks of hair and then move with deliberate agitation to the buttons on her shirt … the ones in all the wrong holes. I could feel a laugh bubbling up inside me, and I had the urge to tell her the buttons were all wrong. But that would have defeated my objective. There would be no way she would agree to anything I wanted if she felt like a prat.

‘We could all grab a coffee.’ Ash had decided to come into the conversation at last. To be truthful, yet again, I felt relieved. I didn’t fancy going for a coffee with Gemma alone …and to use an old adage … ‘I had bitten off more than I could chew.’ I looked at her face, and I knew she wasn’t happy about playing along with this woman, but the alternative was Sam Read walking tonight.

And after thirty minutes with him, there is no was I wanted him loose on the streets that night or for a long time after. Especially because it would fall into my jurisdiction to take care of him. That was the last thing I needed.

Gemma didn’t answer, just looked at me and raised her eyebrow.

‘Sounds like a plan.’ And looked her straight in the face, obscuring Ash’s view of me whilst I made a grimacing face and slightly shrugged my shoulders in forced resignation. Even though inside I felt completely different.

Ash sighed behind me, a deep dramatic sigh, that said she knew what face I had pulled and I felt the colour in my face begin to darken to a pinkish hue.

‘Shall I lead the way?’ With that, she pushed past the both of us and marched to the door, leaving the two of us to stare at each other.

‘Is she jealous? Are you two …’

‘No way!’ Quite forceful to say the least … Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

I shot a worried look in Ash’s direction. She had the door partly open and was just standing there. I could only see part of her face, and I couldn’t read anything … it was closed off.

Shit.

I don’t even know why I wrote shit there. It’s just a feeling I had at the time. Whether it’s because I felt exposed, or maybe it’s the fact I thought it reminded her of the night she kissed me and ran.

‘Come on then.’ And as I walked towards the exit, I felt a little less cocky than I had five minutes ago.

                        **************************************************************

Chapter Twenty-Six

Coffee was fine. Gemma wasn’t as hard nosed as I had first thought. The only down side was that Ash seemed off … well … put out is more the expression. All the time we were discussing Sam Read, she answered briefly and could barely make eye contact with me … or Gemma … and kept looking towards the door of the canteen, her mug of coffee gripped tightly in her hand.

Come to think of it, I don’t think she actually took a sip.

After twenty minutes, we were all caught up with events. By all accounts, Gemma was no fan of Mr Read and this was definitely not her first visit to the cells on his behalf. Eleven times she had been called out to represent him, twelve including the current one.

She told us a brief history of his crimes and misdemeanours, nothing that would surprise us. Over the last four and a half years he had been brought to book twenty one times.

Twenty one times!

The only time Ash livened up was when Gemma said she should really go and speak to him. I saw her eyes become animated again, and she tried to hide the fact she was pleased to see the back of her with a question.

‘Have you noticed any change in Sam and his behaviour in the last couple of months?’

A simple enough question.

Gemma chewed her lip, her brows furrowing.

‘Well … erm …actually … now I come to think of it…’ she leaned forward almost conspiratorially. Both Ash and I followed suit and we gathered across the table as if we were planning world domination. ‘This last month Sam’s crimes have been a little more bizarre … and his behaviour too.’

‘Any chance he could be on drugs?’

Both Gemma and Ash looked at me and then looked away.

‘No … not like drugged bizarre. More like he seems as if he is even cockier than he already was. You know …’ No I didn’t. And neither did Ash by the look on her face. Gemma sighed the sigh of someone who is talking to an idiot. A pair of idiots, actually. ‘I mean he acts like he doesn’t care … like he is above the law.’

‘He’s always thought he was above the law, and being caught twenty one times should tell you that.’ I couldn’t hide the note of sarcasm in my voice. From the corner of my eye I saw Ash grin … you know … the crooked one that makes her seem so self-assured.

Gemma didn’t notice, or if she did she ignored it. ‘Above the law as in he isn’t afraid of being caught. Either he is trying to impress someone or he thinks he will get away with it for some strange reason.’

That knocked the grin off Ash’s face. ‘Has he mentioned anybody … anyone he is working for, or with?’

‘Not that I can remember … erm … wait a minute.’ And we did. Literally. Whilst she was wracking her brains trying to remember if King Shit had mentioned anyone else. ‘There was one person he kept on talking about … someone called Danny …’ We bolted upright on the chairs. Danny Spencer… it had to be him. ‘I’m sure he said Danny …’ Another pause. ‘A northerner who has come to Norfolk for a break.’

Think.’ Ash’s voice was stern and controlled. ‘Are you sure he said Danny? A northerner?’

‘I think so ... but I wouldn’t stake my life on it.’

The conversation went on pretty much the same until Ash had convinced her to try and find out a bit more about Sam’s new friend. Funny thing was she didn’t really go into detail … not like she had for me anyway.

After Gemma left, the silence between us was deafening. I fiddled about with my coffee cup, taking sips of the cold liquid, grimacing behind the cup. Now and again, I stole glances at Ash. She was just sat staring ahead of her, her face unreadable, and those blue eyes half closed as if she was contemplating something.

‘If you’ve finished with me …’ I let the sentence drift off. And drift off it did … and hung about in the air for a bit. I sat and waited a little longer.

It was weird. Sitting with Ashley Richards after all of this time and not talking non stop. We had never had difficulty talking … and even if we did stop for breath, it was never uncomfortable. Although, strangely enough, it wasn’t uncomfortable now … just bloody weird.

Twenty years had passed and I was here with the person I had classed as the love of my life … obviously it was going to be weird. It couldn’t be anything else. Too much had happened in my life since the last time I spoke to her. Too much water had flowed under that proverbial bridge for it to be any other way. I was not the naïve seventeen year old from then. Thankfully.

‘So will you help us?’

Huh?

Crap. I had done it again. I had missed the beginning of a conversation … again. I hadn’t done that for years, and it was one thing I’d not missed.

‘Help you … do what, exactly?’

She leaned closer. ‘Help us put those little fuckers behind bars where they belong.’ Her face was mere inches from mine and my heart was hammering against my rib cage. I was definite she could hear it.

‘Sure.’ Good start, Turner. ‘But I’m telling you now, I’m not doing anything that’s illegal.’

Ash leaned back in her chair and let out a loud guffaw. Yes … some people still use the word guffaw. I just sat and stared at her, the anger inside began to bubble. What the fuck was she laughing at? Me? She’s better not be or else I …

‘Sorry about that.’ She didn’t look sorry. ‘It’s just … just … we’re the police and …’ and off she went again. I thought this would make me get angrier but I felt a laugh building up in my chest and snaking its way into my throat.

It was good hearing her laugh. It made me feel good to see, and hear, her laugh. I loved the way she looked so relaxed and happy, like the old Ash, you know, instead of the Detective Inspector Richards who had a stick up her arse.

So I joined in, and the more I laughed, the more she did too. A weight seemed to lift from my shoulders for the time we were in a state of uncontrollable hysterics.

Sometimes we forget, as we grow older, that laughter is good for the soul.

                        ***********************************************************

It was nearly five thirty in the morning by the time I turned my key in the lock of my front door. I should have been tired, but I was wide-awake. Too much had happened in the space of the last four hours for me to just strip and climb back into bed in search of Jodie Foster.

Holding a steaming cuppa, I strolled into my spare room that doubled as an office come storeroom, and sat at my desk. Piles of crap surrounded me, and I shuffled through it half-heartedly, holding the beverage in one hand whilst using the other to sift and separate unruly papers. I couldn’t concentrate on the job at hand, even burnt my lips twice on the tea. My mind was definitely elsewhere.

Placing the cup down on the desk, I turned my attention to the stack of boxes piled haphazardly in the far corner of the room. I stared at them for a while … just stared, before I tentatively moved across the room.

Inside my head my inner voice was telling me to just leave it … go to bed … now was not the time. But I was on a mission. In for a penny: in for a pound.

Quickly, I moved the top three boxes, as I knew where the object of my desire lay. The top of the box was the only one not sealed, and I pulled back the edges to reveal a tattered children’s book. Reverent fingers stroked the rippled and browned surface, across the faces of some badly illustrated characters, before they tentatively grasped the edges as if it would suddenly crumble into dust.

Gently I lifted it, placed a soft kiss on the cover, and laid it to the side. Underneath the book lay Yazoo’s Upstairs at Eric’s, the corners bent out of shape after being thrust into the box on countless occasions. It joined the book.

Next came the ultimate. Red. Woollen. Ash’s.

Carefully I lifted the jumper up to my face and brushed it over my lips, eliciting soft kisses along the front. Then I let the material hang limply in my arms before hugging it closely to my chest, like I was hugging a baby, protecting it … seeking comfort from it.

My heart felt fit to flood … to burst … to rip through my shirt and claim the owner of this jumper.

But that was never to be. The red jumper was the only thing I would ever have of hers.

It was nearly lunchtime when I woke to find the record stuck and repeating Alison Moyet’s voice over and over again … ‘you … you … you … you … you …’ with one crumpled and slightly wet red jumper nearly morphed into my face.

                        ****************************************************************

Chapter Twenty- Seven

By three o clock Sunday afternoon, I was showered, fed and back at the station. The police could hold Sam for twenty-four hours, but then they had to let him go. They could charge him, which Ash had said they weren’t going to do, as it would ruin their chances of getting Spencer. This was going to be used as a ‘getting on the right side of Sam’ period. And if we were lucky, maybe getting a bit more information from him before he was released back into the community.

A different desk sergeant escorted me down to the cells, and I felt a little disappointed to find Ash absent. Even a little hurt. Stupid, I know.

As the desk sergeant was turning to leave, after unlocking the cell door, the question popped out of my mouth before I had time to stop it.

‘Are you expecting Detective Inspector Richards back anytime soon?’

He stopped, and turned to face me fully. ‘She didn’t say what time she’d be back. Just that she was going to freshen up and eat.’ The face said ‘is that all’ and I just nodded and pushed the door open. It didn’t even enter my head that the sergeant should have stayed with me, I was too concerned about other things … and because of this I wasn’t paying attention.

Big mistake.

I was just inside the room when I felt someone grab my hair. The pain was excruciating. I was pulled backwards and slammed into the wall, and Sam was on me like a dog in heat, his face pressed up to mine. The whites of his eyes gave him a manic air and spittle was collecting around his mouth … spittle that flew into my face as he spat out ‘Bitch’.

Momentarily, I was paralysed.

Momentarily.

My knee came up to meet his crown jewels and I felt them crunch into his groin. I would have preferred them to be introducing themselves to his nostrils …

A puff of air escaped him and I saw the tears well up in his eyes, the only time I had ever seen him show emotion in them. My right arm came up and caught him under his chin, pushing him backwards and around so he was pinned against the wall by his windpipe. My left went between his legs and grabbed his testicles that were slowly descending to their rightful place.

I knew he wouldn’t be able to move, as both my arm and my hand were pushing and squeezing him into submission. I leaned in closer, my face showing him I was not best pleased by his greeting, my eyes flaring anger and resentment, not just at him, but at myself too.

The words I was going to deliver were cut off as the door to the cell was slammed back and Ash came rushing in. Her hair was flying; the panic in her eyes gave her the appearance of someone who had lost all sense of control.

‘You ok?’

I nodded. I was too angry to talk, and knew I would burst into tears if I opened my mouth. Sam was sliding down underneath my hand and I looked at is face. Sweat poured from him, and his cocky stance had been well and truly eliminated.

Fuck. What was I doing? I could lose my job …

It was as if I had been burned. My hands shot from him and he slumped to the floor, rubbing his neck and his crotch at the same time. For a brief moment he looked defeated, and then he looked me in the face. His eyes were full of hatred. And if they could have spoken they would have told me to watch my back.

‘Get up!’ Ash was standing in front of him; the tone of her voice told me that she was on the verge of doing something worse than I already had. I felt the fight leave me, all the energy seeping from my body and lying in a heap on the floor.

Sam didn’t move, just sat there glaring and rubbing. Ash didn’t ask him again, she just leaned down and grabbed the shoulder of his shirt and yanked him off the ground in one swift movement. His legs dangled like a puppet as she nearly threw him across the room where he stumbled onto the bed. ‘Sort yourself out, Read. I’ll be back in ten.’

With that, she turned to face me, her face softening instantly. ‘Come on, Lou. Let’s wait outside.’ I saw her begin to offer her hand to me, stop … look at what she was doing, then pull back. ‘Come on. We’ll talk to him later, ok?’

I nodded. The last thing I wanted was to come back into this cell and face Read again. But a little respite was good for a start.

Outside the cell, Ash turned to me her face full of apology. ‘I’m sorry you had to experience that. When the desk sergeant told me you were here and on your own … I panicked.’ Panicked? Why panicked? ‘I met him as I was coming down … I’d told them I was ok to see Read on my own, and they took it as he isn’t a threat.’ She snorted. ‘Bloody male egos.’

I could feel the emotion building up inside me once again, and the tears from before were begging for a performance. I tried swallowing rapidly to ease the pressure, but it just incensed them. One lone tear struggled free and trickled it way down my cheek.

‘Hey ... come on. You’re safe now.’

Another tear chased the previous one. Bugger.

‘Oh Lou … come here.’ With that, I found myself in the arms of the woman I had loved all those years ago, my face buried in her chest, the smell of her exactly the same, her arms around me and hands stroking up and down my back.

Obviously, this made me cry even more. Not because of what had just happened, but because I knew this was the place I belonged …and I knew it was a place I could never hope to be.

This made me cry harder: made Ash hold me tighter … made this all one big vicious circle.

I knew I should have pulled away and pulled myself together. But instead I guiltily stayed in her arms and pulled myself to pieces instead.

In this life, you have to learn to take every crumb. However much it hurts.

                        *************************************************************

One very hot and shaky cup of tea later, I had explained to Ash that I had taken martial arts when I had moved to Norfolk, as it seemed like a good place to meet people of my own age. She was quiet the whole time I was telling her about how difficult I had found settling in.

She looked surprised, and made as if to say something, when I told her that Jo had moved back to Manchester so soon after we had moved.

I paused, thinking I should ask her to say what was on her mind, but realised she had settled back into her chair and her face had closed off. This was a definite sign she wasn’t up for a major discussion. It would’ve turned into one, as what else could it have done. The conversation would have moved on to that night … the night … the night I had kissed her and she had kissed me.

No way. How could I even consider talking about something I knew she felt uncomfortable with? The past is best left there … in the past. There was no point dragging it up to analyse and decipher when all it would do was dredge up old wounds. My old wounds at that. Wounds that had never really healed in the first place.

‘I spoke to Gemma after you had gone.’ Her voice sounded eerily distant, and I looked at her, more than she was doing to me. She was staring at the far side of the canteen watching two uniformed police officers playing cards and laughing.

I didn’t respond, just looked back down at the empty mug I was holding fiercely in my hands.

‘She seems quite taken with you.’

My eyes shot up and were captured in blue. ‘Really?’

‘Yes. Really. She was disappointed you didn’t wait for her to finish talking to Read. Said it would have been good to compare notes.’ The last part of the sentence was spoken sarcastically, and quite cutting to say the least. ‘She asked me to give you this.’ A piece of paper was thrust into my face and I had to pull back to try and focus on it before I could take it. ‘Her phone number. She said, and I quote “Tell her to call me anytime”.’

If I didn’t know better I would’ve bet money on the fact Ash was jealous … even if it was a teeny bit … jealous.

Nah. She couldn’t be jealous of Gemma … could she? Why would she be jealous? Was it because I could get inside information and she couldn’t?

‘Well … are you going to take it or what?’

The piece of paper was dangling in front of me like the proverbial carrot, and Ash’s focus was on my face, which by this time had gone scarlet.

Slowly, my hand raised itself on its own volition to snag the paper between pert fingers. For a split second, I could feel Ash resist the pull, and I looked at her. One eyebrow had raised itself in mock challenge before the grin appeared.

‘Oi … give it up Richards.’

‘Give it up! Give what up?’ Her grip became firmer, and I tugged again. She pulled it out of my way and then held it above her head. ‘Don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Such a cocky grin.

I squinted my eyes at her and mock scowled. ‘Give it to me now...’

‘Feisty little bit aren’t you.’ Her eyes were twinkling and I could see the residue of the Ash I had known all those years ago. Beautiful. Happy. Off limits.

Definitely that. Off limits. My heart sank a little further in my chest and I could feel it nudging my stomach awake, which had been snoozing peacefully for a while.

‘Was that your stomach?’ I blushed. ‘Jesus, woman. Have you hidden a monster in there or what?’ Could I go any redder? ‘Let me feed you and then you can call Miss Jackson.’ She stood up and rummaged her hand through her pocket to look for cash. ‘Here.’

She threw the piece of paper in front of me and then sauntered off to the Servery, where she leaned on the counter, her gaze fixed on the dishes displayed in front of her.

Tentatively, I picked up the paper and unfolded it. Neat small writing greeted me and two phone numbers – one was her mobile. ‘Lovely to meet you. Fancy a coffee or something one day? Call me. Gemma’.

 

Shit. I didn’t think it would go as far as exchanging numbers. I only wanted to charm her a little bit so I could calm the situation.

Double shit. Now what would Ash think of me. I looked up from the paper to see Ash staring back, her expression seemed odd for a split second, like she was studying me studying the paper. Then as soon as it was there it was gone, and she turned around to pay the woman behind the counter before lifting a tray with a plate of something on it.

I felt guilty. Don’t ask me why, but I did. Stupid I know. For one … I was only looking at the piece of paper. And two … why should it matter to Ash who I wanted to see … although it kind of gave the game away about my sexuality. But then again, having me shove my tongue down her throat kind of gave her the idea I was gay in the first place.

Once. Twice. Three times. The paper folded in my hands, before I slipped it into my jacket pocket.

Slam. The tray hit the table with such a force the salt and pepper pots fell backwards in complete submission.

‘What the fuc…’

‘Lasagne. You like Italian, right?’

Then she was gone. The lasagne was half off the plate and leaning nonchalantly on the tray. What on earth had gotten into her?

I shook my head from side to side. One minute she was playful and the next she was throwing food at me. I couldn’t work it out. I looked over to the Servery to see if she’d had an altercation with someone there, but there was only one rotund elderly woman wiping down the glass. She seemed perfectly happy … although slightly demented if her grinning at her reflection gave any indication.

‘Y’all right dear?’

I nodded and looked back at the tray, then around the room. Empty. Even the card sharks had pissed off and left me to my slopped out dinner and own company.

But, as they say, the beast must be fed. I don’t know who said it … maybe it was just me (and my stomach, who decided now was as good a time as any to start whimpering again).

Fork in hand, intention clear. Dinner … gone.

                        **************************************************************

Chapter Twenty-Eight

‘Fuck it!’

Once again, Ash let rip with the same two words. This time the two words were accompanied by a violent picking up of a stack of papers and throwing across the room. Well. When I say throwing, what I actually mean is ‘attempt’ at throwing, as they didn’t go more than a foot away from her. The resistance in the air halted their journey and decided to lift them up, swirl them into total chaos and then spew them back down again.

Obviously the same two words came out again, but this time more vehemently than the last, and accompanied by ‘Oh for fuck’s sake!’

I couldn’t help it. I swear. The laugh just popped out, honestly. I would’ve told Ash this too if I hadn’t been pinned by her stare. Jesus! That woman could stare. I think I even felt a little trickle of pee escape into my panties. And like all idiots … I laughed again, but this time it was out of nerves. Once again – no time to explain …

‘You think this is funny do you? Read is walking in two hours if we don’t do something.’

‘I thought you were letting him walk anyway?’ I took a tissue from my pocket and pretended to wipe my face, but was in fact using it to stop myself laughing again. I decided that I would avoid going down that path.

‘It would have been nice if we could’ve got information from him before he was released.’

I had tried again to talk to Read, but he wasn’t haven’t any of it. His main concern was trying to intimidate me. And like I was going to be intimidated by that wankstain. Therefore, the gig was up as far as my getting him to squeal. I doubted he would give me the dirt from under his fingernails, and believe me, there was quite a bit there.

‘Do you want me to call Gemma?’ By this stage, Ash was on the floor gathering her rage. She stopped, and gripped the papers tightly in her hand. I saw them screw up and the knuckles grow white.

‘Do what you like. It’s your life.’ Each word was cut out of stone.

‘I know it’s my life. But I was thinking about getting her to talk to Read again. He quite likes her … kept on saying how he’d like to give her one when he got out.’

‘Must be contagious then.’

By this time I was getting pissed off with her snide comments about everything and everyone, especially when they were connected to me, or something I had said.

‘Look, Lady Muck. I don’t have to be here you know. I’m …’

‘Why don’t you go then? You can always see Read when he gets back to school. That is your job after all isn’t it?’

The anger I had felt bubbling inside me for the last few minutes was screaming to be released. My hands gripped the table edge and I raised myself up out of the chair.

‘You are an ungrateful bitch. Do you know that?’ She just stared up at me from her crouched position on the floor, one eyebrow rising into her hairline, her lips curling slightly. No answer, which got my dander up even more. ‘I have spent all fucking day trying to help you out and all you can do is pick fault.’ Still no answer.

I leaned over the table, my hands taking the weight. When I knew I had her full attention, I was off again. ‘What is your problem? What the fuck have I done to warrant you being a pain in the arse?’

Ash pushed herself back onto her haunches and then stood up, the papers firmly in her grip. It seemed as if she had grown since she had been down there. The trickle of wee was back.

The shadow from her tall frame hit the table and landed across my chest. ‘You want to know what the problem is?’ The papers were thrown onto the table, and I followed their journey across the veneer and onto the floor again. ‘The problem …’ I looked into her eyes; such cold eyes … eyes that showed nothing but contempt. ‘The problem is you.’ The last word was spat out. Honestly. I felt the metaphorical wetness hit my face like a slap.

Most people would have shrunk back and crawled into a corner. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those people. I do wish I was though … on many occasions, and not just this one.

Me? You weren’t saying that at two thirty this morning when you were nearly begging me to help solve your little problem.’ I kicked the chair away from me. ‘Link my arse.’ Bag snatched up from the floor. ‘And you, can kiss it.’ The last sentence was accompanied by a liberal slapping of the aforementioned body part.

Within two minutes my feet were hitting concrete and I was storming away from the station. I could hear her calling after me, but I just lifted my hand and gave her the two-fingered salute and kept walking without even looking back.

If I had, she would have seen the tears glistening on my face. She would have known that she had broken my heart all over again.

Never again. Never ever again. This I would make sure of … I couldn’t handle going through it all again.

                        **************************************************************

Two days later saw me snug and cosy in my front room with Gemma Jackson. Honestly, I invited her over to talk about Read who, funnily enough, had not been to school since his release. I should have guessed that talking about the case would have been the last thing on her mind. I should have known this from the minute she realised it was me on the phone.

It was amazing how the professional ‘I take no shit from anybody’ voice changed and wrapped itself around her mouth to fall like velvet covered love letters from silken lips.

Yeah … corny crap. But that’s what it sounded like, or would sound like if you were into all that mushy stuff. In retrospect, I should have worn a chastity belt and swallowed the key. But we are not all gifted with the art of prophecy are we.

It wasn’t too bad to start off with. Or should I say she wasn’t too bad to start off with? She was quite the lady… even sat on the far end of the settee. She was slick though, I’ll give her that. Every gesture or piece of information she thought I should look at was handed to me in such a way that she was steadily getting closer and closer. Me, being me … and thick as custard, didn’t even notice until she was just about to make her move. And even then I had to have it nearly spelled out to me. I know I give the impression I am a bit of a Lady Thriller – I’m not. My motto is ‘If it falls on your lap and is willing then go for it.’

I flirt. I am a flirt. But an innocent kind of one. The kind that is shocked when it actually works. The kind that when a woman smiles at me in an empty room, I still look over my shoulder just to make sure. Then look over it again.

So.

The move.

Gemma’s plan of attack.

As I said before, she edged her way slowly but surely, very much like a snail on tranquillisers, until she was right next to me. I was reading the court minutes of Read’s last hearing … skimming through it really, when I could feel her eyes on me. Eyes that two minutes ago had seemed a bit further away.

Have you ever noticed that when you feel someone staring at you, you can’t help but look at them? It works in kind of the same way as a tractor beam … you’re pinned … and then get sucked in. That’s what happened. I didn’t intend it to. It sort of happened in a weird Star Trek way.

It felt as if I was slowly falling forwards and into her. It was millimetres … honestly … millimetres until touch down and then …

‘Brrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnng! Brrrrinnnng! Brrrrinnnng!

‘Brrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnng!’ Saved by the bell. My eyes, which had been slowly closing by this stage, shot open to reveal Gemma’s face up close and personal.

‘Ignore it,’ slipped softly and effortlessly from her parted lips.

‘Brrrrinnnng! Brrrrinnnng! Brrrrinnnng!’ Whomever it was, definitely wanted to be let in. And for that I was thankful.

‘Just let me …’ I trailed off as I nearly sprinted away. Fuck. What was I doing? Two thoughts rampaged through my head. One was … ‘She’s offering herself on a plate! She’s hot and willing. Why are you answering the door?’ The second one was …

‘Ash.’

There she stood, or slouched, against the wall. One arm languished against the brickwork, whilst the other dangled behind her back. If I hadn’t heard her insistent doorbell ringing I would have thought she was as laid back as she pretended to be.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Can we talk?’ She pushed herself away from the wall in one fluid movement and stood erect, straightening her jacket as she did so. ‘Inside.’

I just stood there, paralysed for a moment. She was here. Waiting for me to let her in. Wanting to talk … not shout or hurl abuse … to talk.

I stepped aside to let her in, as I was unable to answer her. The biggest and boldest lump in my throat had taken root, a bit like I had swallowed an apple whole. It wasn’t until she had put her foot inside the door that I remembered Gemma sitting in the front room.

Shit.

Once again. Why shit?

I don’t know … but it’s a good a word as any. To say I knew Ash didn’t like Gemma would be saying I knew England’s weather is a bit crap. It’s redundant. But why get in a tizzy about it? Why resort to toilet language to express this knowledge? The knowledge that Ash didn’t like Gemma, and that Gemma knew it.

‘Erm .. I’m not alone.’ Ash’s body stiffened slightly, but forced itself to relax. The eyebrow raised itself and she looked at me as if to say ‘go on’. ‘Gemma’s here.’

The eyebrow was joined by its twin, leaving her eyes wide and her expression open. Obviously shock.

Wait a minute.

Why shock?

Didn’t she think I would call Gemma because I knew she didn’t like her? Stuff that. I know … I know … irrational. But you must remember that every time I saw this woman, rationality flew out if the window.

‘If I’m interrupting …’ The voice was cold and reminded me of a slap I had received from a girl at school, who, by the way, had very cold hands.

‘Wait!’ She had her back to me by this point and was stepping back outside. ‘I thought you wanted to talk?’ Blue eyes scrutinised me from over her shoulder, her body rigid, her hands clenched for some unknown reason. God. I knew she didn’t like her, but this was a little on the extreme side. This wasn’t the Ash I had known … that Ash had been happy and sociable … even when I knew she didn’t like someone. Like Tracy for example – the Goth queen.

‘It can wait – it’s no biggie.’

Before I knew it, I was outside, my hand clenching her arm, holding her back. I knew I didn’t pull her around, I knew she only half-heartedly wanted to walk away, but the relief in my chest when she turned to face me was unbelievable. ‘Look. Come inside. Have a coffee …’ I saw doubt flit across her face, ‘Tea even …’ Was I begging? ‘Orange juice?’ The last came out more like a squeak. But it worked. I saw the smile glimmer around her lips, felt the muscles relax in her arm, and throughout her body.

‘Ok. Just a cuppa then.’ I released the breath I had been holding; a breath I didn’t realise I had held captive in my lungs until it hit the air outside with an audible oof.

Gemma’s face was a Kodak moment if ever I had seen one when I led a grinning Ash back into the lounge. She had made herself comfortable on the settee … shoes off … hands behind her head, the perfect example of, as my mum always says ‘Getting your feet under the table.’

Upon spotting Ash, she nearly broke her neck sitting upright, but then stopped, and lounged back again, almost like she was announcing we had been doing something a little risqué.

‘Do you mind?’ Ash slapped her foot, indicating she wanted to sit down next to her. Another Kodak moment. I would have loved to have filmed it … sent it off to one of those TV shows where they pay money for people fuck ups. Couple of hundred quid in the bank.

Gemma made a song and dance about getting herself straight. Huffing and puffing her way into a seating position. Ash stared at her for a while before asking, ‘Do you work out?’ A glare … from both of them. ‘Or is it asthma?’

I saw Gemma open her mouth to respond … ‘Coffee? Tea? Anything?’ They both looked in my direction, back at ach other, and then back at me.

‘Coffee.’

‘Tea.’

Spoken at the same time.

I didn’t get it. Why did they dislike each other so much? I mean, they both had a job to do, and if they were civil to each other, they could scratch each other’s backs, if you know what I mean.

But no. It was like having two hateful teenagers sitting there – sulking. And we all know how teenagers can sulk. Big time.

I took my time in the kitchen. My main thought was ‘Leave them to it’. I couldn’t be bothered getting involved with petty squabbles and tiffs. For Christ sake, we were all in our thirties. We should have grown out of it by now.

Initially, the next room was quiet. I believe I could even hear the clock ticking... Come to think of it … I should have known – and I definitely shouldn’t have left them alone together.

Raised voices seeped into the room, and I couldn’t quite make out what was being said – just knew they weren’t talking about the price of bacon. Then Ash’s voice came thundering in, blanketing out all other sounds.

‘I’m just saying … don’t fuck us about!’ Bollocks. At this rate, they would never be able to come to a compromise over Sam Read’s case. The shit was definitely hitting the proverbial fan, and the only person to stop it was making the scrappers a cuppa.

I lifted the mugs, took a deep breath, stepped through the doorway and into the hall, just in time to hear Ash’s ‘Fuck you’ farewell, and then see her storm out of the door.

I stood there. Steaming beverages tightly gripped in each hand, looking all the world like a learner driver gripping the steering wheel. I felt the colour drain from my face (must be test day), but I knew that this situation must be resolved. I would have to work with Gemma again, and Ash … well … it was Ash wasn’t it?

Cups thrown to the wayside … or in reality, placed carefully on the sideboard making sure to balance on coasters … and I was off, tearing down the hallway, out of the front door and down the road.

Her car door was open, and she was just lowering herself into the driver’s seat when I finally caught up with her. It sounds like quite a way, but it was only the matters of about thirty metres.

‘Where are you going?’ I was breathless. Yeah … I know … thirty metres and breathless … it was more from nerves than anything else.

The look she gave me could melt concrete, just before she slammed the door shut in my face. Not one to be deterred I banged on the window and motioned for her to lower it. I could see her lips moving but couldn’t make out the words. So I motioned again.

This time she begrudgingly slapped her hand on the button eliminating the barrier between us, turning her head in my direction in one sharp movement. ‘Why are you going? I’ve made you a cuppa.’ Good call, Turner. Any more gems like that one hiding up your sleeve?

I saw her bite her lip before she answered. Saw her try to contain something from bubbling out … and I knew that for that small mercy, I would be grateful. A couple of swallows … ‘Look. You’re busy with … with … what’s-her-face … we can chat later without Big Ears listening.’

I should have said okay and walked away. Should have. But no … Miss High and Mighty came out to play. ‘Her name’s Gemma …’ Ash glared. ‘And I don’t think its right you slagging her off behind her back.’

She tried to deny it … saying she wasn’t slagging her off, that she was telling the truth. Gemma did have big ears. But, I was on a roll … I think it was out of panic or something very much like it. You must have been in the situation where you feel one way and act in the complete opposite. You know … like when your child nearly gets hit by a car, and you grab him and give him a good telling off, but inside you’re thinking ‘My baby … my angel … I was so scared …’. The sentences coming out of your mouth resemble someone who had problems stringing a sentence together … ‘Why you little …’ and ‘When I get you home you …’.. Disjointed because of the deletion of nouns that should never be spoken to a child.

Obviously, this antagonised her. Obviously. And when I got to the part where I shouted ‘What’s your problem?’ I should have known what was coming next.

Next thing I knew I was half way back to my house, the anger pouring from me with every footstep … the hand gestures not fit for the faint hearted … all I could hear were two things. The blood rushing past my ears and the roaring of her car engine as she sped away.

Gemma was waiting for me at the door, coffee cup ensconced in her hand, the look of ‘Oh poor you’ fixed firmly in place.

Do you know what the first thing I thought when I looked at her? Nope … not about the kiss … and where it could lead. Not about how she could help me with my case.

Not even what she and Ash had argued about.

None of the above.

It was one thing that sprinted into my head and jumped up and down.

Fuck. She did have big ears.

                        ********************************************************

Chapter Twenty- Nine

What was it with her? Why did she have to be such a … I don’t know… such a pain in the arse? You would think we would be all over each other, in a friendship kind of way, considering we hadn’t seen each other in twenty years.

But no. The only thing that was getting any action was my ability to go off on one at any given opportunity. What had happened to the Ash I had known back then? She seemed so cynical and angry all of the time. Where had that happy go lucky girl gone?

Metaphorical head scratching moment methinks.

I hadn’t heard from her since that day two weeks ago … almost. Funny thing was … I missed her. I know. Twenty years without a word and then ‘puff’, here she was back in my life again. In the flesh. Looking more beautiful than my heart remembered … and acting completely differently.

Ah well …

Work had taken up most of my time, especially since I had taken over Read’s case. I had spent my time reading through his files, speaking to teachers at the school, who all thought he was a wanker too, and I even interviewed his mother. Would have liked to speak to his father too, but he was serving four years in Wandsworth for breaking and entering.

Nice to see the family genes didn’t stop with good old dad.

His mother was neither use nor ornament. The typical council estate haircut and the skin-tight Lycra leggings found on the extremely rotund, to use a tired old euphemism, were firmly in place, alongside the continuous chain smoking. Maybe her fringe wasn’t peroxide after all.

I spent, or more to the point, wasted, over an hour with her. She was trying to hold down a conversation with me, watch some crappy daytime show, and smoke herself stupid. Now, if I believed she could walk and chew gum at the same time, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But she couldn’t. End of.

Eventually I had decided to call it a day and made arrangements to come back later in the week. Her acknowledgement to this was a brief look in my direction, a nod of the head, and then back to gawp at the talking box in the corner.

It was on my second visit that I saw Ash again.

Bugger.

A younger version of Sam let me into the house, and I could hear voices being raised in the front room. My stomach forgot all about the smell, as my head and my heart both recognised Ash’s voice above the din of the TV. At least it stopped the gagging and retching I had to go through because of the smell of stale chip fat and cigarettes. But then again, there were the butterflies to contend with … the whole battalion of them inside my gut.

‘Can we turn off the TV, madam?’ I didn’t hear a response, but just thought I’d gone deaf when the house took on an air of eerie stillness.

The scene that greeted me was something you would probably see on a crime prevention poster. Ash stood there in all her six-foot glory, hands on hips, whilst two uniformed policemen flanked her sides. She was looking down at Mrs Read with nothing short of contempt written all over her face.

‘I said I don’t know where ‘e is. He doesn’t tell me where ‘es going.’

Ash just stared, the eyebrow twitching, needing to lift and help pin the woman even more firmly in her chair. She moved a step forward and lowered herself to her. ‘If you know what’s good for you you’d better start …’ She stopped, froze in a sudden way, and then raised her eyes to mine. I watched as her mouth dropped just a little … then snap back in place.

‘Detective Inspector. Good to see you again.’ I couldn’t believe how normal my voice sounded, a little too self-confident, a complete juxtaposition to how I was feeling.

Ash stood up sharply, straightening her jacket with the palm of her hand. The look of shock had completely vanished by this stage, and she looked in control once again, the cocky grin appearing on command. ‘Miss Turner. What a pleasant surprise.’

The two police officers just looked at each other, then me, then Ash. Neither of them said a word. Mrs Read was reaching for her cigs by this stage, apparently believing she was off the hook for the moment. Ash’s hand shot out and trapped hers under the gold packet. ‘I have already asked you nicely. Don’t smoke in front of me. I don’t want to breathe in your smoke.’

Mrs Read just nodded, her hand slipping from underneath Ash’s to release the cigarette packet, although her eyes never left it, and I could see her lips twitching just to hold the cylindrical cancer stick in her mouth and puff away a few more years of her life.

‘I do have an appointment. Four thirty. Remember, Mrs Read?’ Of course, she didn’t remember. I could see it written all over her face. Not a spark of recognition … not … a … spark. Not surprising really, considering she had been watching a re run of Sally Jesse Raphael the last time I was there.

‘If you’re after Read, he’s not here.’ Ash’s tone was brusque, matter of fact and definitely to the point. If she had just said ‘Fuck off’ it couldn’t have been clearer. ‘And we don’t know where he is now, do we?’ A glare at Mrs Read, who graced both Ash and I with a brief look, before shaking her head and looking surreptitiously back at her cig packet.

‘I haven’t come to speak to Sam. Just his mother.’

‘Do you mind if we sit in?’ It should have come out like a pleasant request, but … I don’t know … it just got my back up for some reason or another.

‘Erm .. actually … I’d like to cover some sensitive areas with Mrs Read today. Mainly to do with Sam’s absences from school and…’ I caught the expression on Read’s mother’s face – she was trying to play it cool, but she knew her ticket was up. If a child continually plays truant, then the parents are fined, and it was the first time I had ever gained her attention.

Ash spotted the change in her too, and I knew she wanted to stay … badly … and ask questions that she felt, as I did, the mother would be more receptive about answering.

‘No can do, Detective. This is a private case. If you want to find out more then you’ll have to make an appointment with me.’ I smiled to soften the blow. Bollocks did I. I grinned. Full out – teeth – the works. Ash’s teeth were grinding together – so I grinned wider. Both officers and Mrs Read were watching me with avid interest by this stage, so I coughed … coughed again … and composed myself.

‘So … if you don’t mind …’

‘I think it would be wise if we stuck around for a while.’

‘Okay.’ I saw the smug smile light on her mouth. ‘Just make sure you close the door on your way out.’ It started to slip. ‘We can make arrangements for your appointment when I’ve finished.’ Smile … completely … gone.

It wasn’t until I saw her back disappearing through the door that I released the breath I’d been holding. I fully expected her to go off on one, as I had been up close and personal to the new Ash’s temper tantrums when things weren’t going her way.

The fact my heart was begging her to stay was another matter completely. Funny things hearts … they still recognise their desire even if it has completely changed.

Unfortunately.

I turned in time to see Mrs Read lighting a cigarette, the obvious relief on her face making me want to hurl. I wanted to tell her to put it out, be more assertive, but instead I just placed my briefcase on the floor and bent over to retrieve Sam’s file.

To the naked eye, I looked completely on task. But my head was far from the point at hand. It was with my heart, and that lay on the other side of the door.

                        ****************************************************************

As expected, Ash was waiting outside for me. What I didn’t expect was for her to act sheepish. The uniformed officers were nowhere in sight … it was just her.

‘Hey … you ok?’ That tone. It was like a blast from the past. Soft. Caring. The Ash I remembered. I felt my insides do a jig and I felt a sense of home pervade me.

‘Fine. Does the term “sing like a canary” mean anything to you?’

‘I didn’t mean with Fag Ash Lil in there. I meant, are you ok?’

Once again … surprise. I know her tone was softer, but she actually seemed to want to know how I was feeling.

And, as a woman of few words, I shrugged and mumbled a ‘yeah’.

She came towards me, the swagger that had been prevalent all the other times I had seen her was well and truly gone now. Worry radiated from her face, and I couldn’t understand why. I had only been in the room with Mrs Read for just over an hour, and I wondered what had happened to make such a change in a person. Did I have a face full of spots? Or look flushed?

I knew I felt fine … but you know how it is … when someone asks you if you’re ok and look at you like you are at death’s door, you kind of feel a little queasy. Stupid questions always gather and rant at the addled brain, begging to be told if the body had been invaded by the germ army.

And this time was no exception. My stomach decided to gurgle and churn and I had the distinct impression my blood was surging up into my ears. Damned overactive imagination. Then, to add insult to injury, I felt my paperwork slip out of my hands and flutter all over the front garden … not good.

Ash moved so quickly, and chased after errant sheets, slamming her foot down on top of the little buggers, snatching them up until she had them all safe and sound in her hands. Obviously I was dying, so I couldn’t help.

‘Here you go.’ And there she was … standing directly in front of me offering the papers like a sacrifice. My fingers reached out and clasped the corners of the sheet, as if I would be burned if I touched the places where her hands had been.

I couldn’t even say thank you in case I hurled up over her, just raised my eyes to her chin and smiled weakly.

‘Look … Lou … I … erm … Look, I’m sorry for being a twat,’ I looked up. ‘You know … earlier.’ I faced her fully now, the blue eyes intense. ‘I don’t know why I acted like that… just under a lot of pressure to catch Spencer …’ Her voice trailed off, and my stomach and nausea calmed down a little, but the butterflies were back …jigging again. Little tykes.

‘No problem … I understand it must be a lot of pressure to pin anything on him. By the sounds of it he thinks he’s covered everything up …’

‘Can we go and grab a coffee or something to eat and talk about everything. I think there are a few things you should know.’

‘Like what?’ I was intrigued … to say the least, but just nodded.

It wouldn’t hurt would it? Just a coffee … or a coffee with a bun … or two?

I didn’t even think about the near death experience I had undergone minutes before – my stomach was on the case … more than my head was at this stage.

            *****************************************************************

part 9

Return to the Academy