DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Oh noes (as they say these days), this one is a little darker than usual. Wot, no banter? I'm throwing a planned proverbial spanner in the works in order to spin my series off in another direction. Let's hope I don't lose you all! Betaed by blob. The answer to last week's question was that all the female charactersí names were first names of the actresses who played Miss Marple, and the boys -- Poirot. See -- geekery!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SERIES: Part four of the 'Turning Points' Series.
By Claire G
"On three. One. Two. Three." The glass panel shattered; pieces clattered to the floor. PC Gallimore pushed open the door and rushed into the house; he was closely followed by another male and then a female constable. While his colleagues checked downstairs, he fled upstairs to the bedroom and took a deep breath before entering. The first thing he saw were the blood saturated sheets. A couple lay on the bed, only the woman covered by the duvet. He walked over to her side cautiously. "'Ello. Can you hear me?" A sense of relief washed over him as the woman began to stir.
"Who?" she asked groggily.
"It's Andy Gallimore. Where are you hurt?"
She shivered out of her deep sleep and felt shaken by the noisy awakening. She became disorientated and confused when discovering dried blood on her hands and cheek. Instinctively, she pulled the covers up to her chin to conceal her nakedness. She went to turn, to look at her bed-partner, when Gallimore stopped her. He held her by the chin and said softly, "Don't. Don't look".
The two other officers arrived. "He's long dead," the man whispered and turned away to speak into the radio attached to his flak jacket.
The woman felt as though a stone had dropped from her heart to her stomach and a shiver drove its way down her spine.
The female officer spoke: "We're going to have to take you in."
Emma's mind was too addled to recognise the voice; she just knew that it wasn't Kate. Her heart raced and her breathing reached panic levels.
"I'll go and get something for you to wear and then we'll take you down the station. Okay?" asked the officer.
She nodded silently.
Station examination room
The medical examiner scrutinised Emma for evidence of abuse and assault, taking samples from here and there and everywhere. She felt degraded. As they took scrapings from under her fingernails, she sat and wished she had never set foot outside the door the previous evening, and that Rick had never met her all those weeks ago. The same police officer, Samantha Dixon, who had been there in the morning, now collected her. Emma bowed her head as they passed her friends and colleagues. They came to stop outside a series of holding cells.
"A cell. Sam, I'm not sure I can." Emma looked at her with pleading eyes.
"I'm sorry, Emma, we have to. Someone will be along to collect you soon."
Emma watched as Samantha closed her in, leaving her completely alone. She sat down on the hard bunk and cried softly into her hands.
Kate's fingers clattered across the keyboard; she tabbed through the various fields and began typing again. After having to correct several mistakes, she rested her elbows on the table and put her head in her hands. She was completely unable to concentrate knowing that Emma was being cross-examined in the interview room by DCI Sullivan. Placing her palms on the table she pushed down and raised herself from her swivel chair.
"I can't do this."
Interview Room 2
"Is there absolutely anything you can think of that might help us?" asked Sullivan.
Emma covered her eyes with her hand. "I can't think of anything. We went to the bar, we went back to mine, we had sex and I don't remember anything else. Next thing I know, Gallimore is waking me up and I'm covered in blood."
"That must have been traumatising for you." Sullivan pulled out the chair opposite and sat down, clasping his hands on the table. He breathed deeply through his nose. "If it was self defence then we can --"
"I didn't do anything," Emma demanded. "You have to believe me."
"I'm trying, really. But your prints were on the knife, Rick was in your bed and the doors and windows were locked. You know better than anyone that you're in a corner."
Emma felt overwhelmed by helplessness. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat as the rough cotton outfit she had been provided with itched her skin. "Where's Ash?" she asked quietly as she dug the soft toes of her plimsoll-like shoes into the floor.
"DI Ashurst has asked to be excluded from this investigation."
Emma was speechless. She crossed her arms over her chest, wanting to cry, wanting to be held.
"It's completely possible that your drink was spiked and that it had a..." his voice trailed off.
"Psychotic effect?" she offered impatiently.
"Self defence is a perfectly reasonable --"
"It didn't happen. I didn't kill him." But the more she denied it, the less sure of herself she became.
"Let's take a break. Interview terminated at 8.17am." He flicked off the recording device.
"Can I at least see Ash?" asked Emma.
"Give her time."
The two screens sat side by side showing duplicate Emmas squirming in duplicate distress. Kate leant forward and switched off one of the televisions. She sat back, interlocked her fingers and squeezed; her knuckles became pale. She watched Sullivan leave the interview room and then heard a click behind her as he entered the monitoring room. He stood behind Kate and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. They watched Emma place her head on the table and bang a fist down. Kate swallowed down her brimming emotions.
"It's not looking good," said Sullivan. Kate did not turn to face him. "We can only hope they find something in her system."
"And if they don't?" Kate asked.
"Then she's going to need a very good solicitor."
"So then what? She's jailed for manslaughter instead of murder? That's hardly a comfort."
"We can't deny the facts, Ash."
"But this is Scribbs; she's not capable of... of..." she didn't want to say the word.
"We're all capable. And if the prosecution find that boyfriend she attacked with a cricket bat, well --"
"She thought he was an intruder."
"You know that won't matter to a jury."
"What are we going to do?" she asked.
"Everything by the book, Ash. That's all we can do. Just as with anyone else."
Kate sighed. "But this isn't just anyone else."
Kate spent the rest of the morning trying to concentrate on another case, but was finding it near impossible. When Sullivan came over to check on her she took the opportunity to ask a question.
"Please can I have her keys? I'm going to get her some clothes; I can't bear to think of her in those things." She held an outstretched hand out to him.
"That's not strictly --"
"Please." Her expression softened and she frowned. "I need to do something."
Sullivan pointed over his shoulder at the possessions desk. "Very well. Take your time. Clear your head. Don't disturb the crime scene."
Keys weren't necessary as the door was still broken open. An officer stood guard over the entrance way; they knew each other but Kate flashed her pass anyway.
"Good morning, ma'am," he said.
"Good morning," said Kate distractedly as she pushed the door over broken glass. She cautiously climbed the stairs and went to the bedroom. Feeling like a voyeur, she peered round the doorway. Police tape blocked the entrance so she had to duck underneath. Faced with the blood soaked bed, the gravity of the situation hit her hard; she became weak at the knees and nauseated. Leaving the room she quickly went back downstairs and sat on the sofa. She felt something lumpy behind her and she pulled it out. Holding up a blue woollen cardigan, resting it on her knee, she ruefully pulled at the weave with her thumbs. Collecting her thoughts she rose to have a look around for more clothes. In the washer-dryer she found underwear, a pair of corduroy trousers and a t-shirt. Air caught in her throat as she felt as though she were sorting through the possessions of someone dead and lost.
"Shoes?" she said to herself, and promptly discovered a pair of muddy running trainers by the back door. She slumped against the door frame and tried to resign herself to this much changed life. "What have you done, Emma?" she said under her breath.
On her way out, Kate turned to push the door shut. It was then that she noticed a partial boot print on the base of the door. She used her shoe to move the chunks of glass aside and took a closer look.
"You have to lift Emma's door to open and close it. Only someone who didn't know that would have had to put a boot to it."
"Maybe it was Rick or even the officers who had to force entry. With only a partial print we can't deem much."
Kate sank into the chair. "You're right, boss."
"The investigation is yours if you want it, Ash."
"No, I still feel the same; I don't want to be involved. I shouldn't have even gone to the house."
Sullivan entered the cell and stepped over to the bunk where Emma was lying. He placed a bag on the floor beside her.
"Scribbs," he said quietly when she didn't move. Her eyes were sore from crying and she held an arm across them to protect them from the harsh neon light. She sat up slowly to look at what he had brought; her body shuddered as she breathed. She quietly unzipped the holdall and pulled out the clothes.
"Thanks," she said, hugging them to her body, breathing in the familiar smell of the fabric conditioner.
"I'll leave you to get changed." An uncomfortable silence passed between them. He placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed, then exited the cell.
Left alone, Emma changed into the clothes, grateful for any faint sense of normalcy. Upon pulling on the cardigan she felt an object in one of the pockets -- her wristwatch. She put it on and held it to her ear. Time was such a precious thing in a windowless room. She pulled out the shoes and noticed that they had been scrubbed clean. "Ash?" she wondered out loud, confused.
Eileen Jenkinson's house
"Did you see or hear anything last night, Mrs Jenkinson?" asked DCI Sullivan.
"I'm afraid I didn't, dear, but then my hearing's not what it used to be. She's a lovely girl next door. Feeds my cat when I'm away. Sometimes brings me a bit of shopping when I'm laid up with me foot. She's not in too much trouble I hope?" The frail old lady tipped her head to one side and frowned.
"Do you have access to Miss Scribbins' house?"
"I've got a key if that's what you mean."
"Have you let anyone else use, or see, the key within the last few days or so?"
"No, dear, it's been on the key rack by the door, but I've had no visitors at all this week, apart from you that is." She placed her hand on Sullivan's and smiled.
"Why don't you come and talk to her?" Sullivan asked Kate.
"And you actually think I could look her in the eye? I thought I knew her." Kate rubbed at the back of her neck; she was tense.
"Would you interview his parents for me then?"
"I'm sorry, but I stand by my decision."
"Then maybe you shouldn't be here at all. Go home and have a think about where your loyalties lie." He sounded oddly angry.
Kate blinked and agreed.
Sullivan watched CCTV footage from the previous evening of the Zed Bar's exit. He saw Emma and Rick leave the bar, hand in hand, happily falling about drunk. No one followed, nothing suspicious at all.
Kate nudged food around her plate. She felt numb and the food seemed tasteless. Eventually she pushed her plate away. Turning the wine glass stem between her thumb and forefinger, she wondered whether Emma was holding something back. Was she keeping secrets from them? Most importantly, was she lying about not remembering the event?
"Eat something," said Gallimore.
"No thanks," replied Emma.
"You've got to stay strong."
"What for? I'm a hopeless cause."
"The DCI is doing everything he can. He'll work it out for you," he said kindly.
"Andy, is Kate still here? I need to talk to her."
"Sorry, Scribbs. She went home hours ago."
Emma bowed her head in response. Stray locks of hair fell into her line of vision and she scooped them back behind her ears.
Emma lay on her bunk, one foot flat on the floor beside the plate of untouched food. She stared up at the grey ceiling, tracing the cracks with her eyes. She sucked and bit on her bottom lip whilst winding a lock of blonde hair tightly around her finger.
'I feel bloody sorry for anyone we've ever put in here,' she thought. Breathing deeply, she rubbed at her eyes. Time was slipping away, every minute extending into infinity. She looked at her watch; the second hand appeared to slow and she felt as though she would remain in that room forever. The lights flicked off, plunging her into darkness, and a fitful night's sleep began.
Kate lay awake in her bed, restlessly shifting about under the covers, unable to sleep. Images of a murderous Emma flashed into her mind, instilling in her the idea that it was actually possible her partner was a killer. She ran a cold hand over her face and onto her forehead. Having solved numerous cases of murder she had confronted many culprits, and each time she was faced with the question, 'What makes a person become a murderer?' Any answers she had previously arrived at now seemed all the more intangible.
Emma held her watch to the base of the door to light its face, in order to read the time. Six o'clock was fast approaching and the sun would rise soon. She formulated a plan. Resolute in her decision, she called for the supervisory officer on duty by pressing the buzzer for assistance, and before long the keys jangled in the lock.
"Mike?" she asked in a quietly strained voice as the door opened.
"You okay?" he replied as he tucked the keys back into his pocket.
She held her head in her hands. "I feel really sick. Can you take me through to the toilets?"
"You've got a toilet there." He pointed to the corner.
"Please, Mike, I need to wash my face. I feel like death."
"Can you wait? 'Cause we haven't got a female officer on shift 'til six."
"Please? It's only me, it's not like I'll scarper or anything."
"Hm. Yeah alright. I'll just stand outside, okay?"
They walked together to the ladies' toilets and Emma entered. She turned on the tap of the middle sink and made a show of washing her hands. As she raised water to her face, the door closed and she was left alone. She quickly dried her hands, went into one of the cubicles and put down the lid of the toilet. Climbing up, she placed one foot on the lid and the other on the cistern. Reaching over she pulled at the handle of the window; it was tight and she struggled to move it. The door to the room opened slightly and she ducked back down out of sight.
"I won't be a minute," she called out.
"Err, right, yeah, okay," said Mike nervously, then closed the door again.
Emma cautiously stood up again and with a strong shove managed to get the window open, but as she did so her hand skidded forward and caught on a sharp edge of metal, cutting a line from her knuckle to thumb. She winced and almost cried out but the cut was not very deep and she contained herself. The window was small and not exactly an ideal means of escape. She pushed it as far as it would go. She looked out at the dim expanse of ground beneath the drop and took a deep breath.
A few minutes passed and Mike checked his watch. "I'm going to have to come in, Scribbs," he called through into the room. There was no response. He stepped in and saw that all the cubicles were empty. Cold air blasted in through the open window. "Shit." He ran out of the room and down the corridor, shouting into his radio.
Emma breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped out from behind the door, where she had been hidden before Mike entered the room. 'As if I'd try and squeeze through that,' she thought as she looked up at the window. She heard voices outside the building as they began their search. Holding paper towels to her wound, she covered it over with the sleeve of her cardigan. Ducking her way out and into the now empty corridor she made her way out to the rear exit of the building. She moved in and out of sight of the few people who were around before dawn. Reaching the back door she realised it was a no go zone as two officers were having a conversation, probably about her escape. She would have to try the front. Passing by the glass-doored locker room she typed in the door code and dived in to grab a uniform jacket. Pulling on a female officer's hat she tucked her hair up inside. Before she could exit, a cleaner entered and they almost bumped into each other.
"Mornin'," the cleaner said in a friendly manner.
"Morning," replied Emma, as she caught her foot on the mop and bucket, and stumbled.
"Careful, sweetheart. Cor blimey. You look like you need more sleep."
"Yeah. Tell me about it." Emma half smiled.
"Have a good one, dear."
"Thanks," Emma called back as she made her way out, walking steadily to the front doors. Before she knew it she was out and away. Stashing the hat in the bushes, she turned the jacket inside out to conceal the insignia and put it back on. Now she just had to find a phone box.
Emma had never seen Middleford High Street at this time of the morning, not sober anyway. Apart from shopkeepers unloading their goods, the roads were practically empty. The air was hazy and reflected her state of mind. Mist settled lightly on her coat. Spotting a familiar police officer on the beat, she ducked out of sight and into an alleyway. She watched as they stopped near the entrance way; holding her breath she felt as though the thud of her heart beat would give her away.
'What am I doing?' thought Emma as she hunched down, back to the wall, behind a wheelie bin.
The officer seemed to be listening. He turned to look down the alley. Emma shut her eyes tight and held her breath. As the officer took a step towards the bin his radio buzzed into life and Emma heard a voice; the words were covered by white noise.
"You're kidding? I'll be right there," the officer responded to the call as he looked back to the road and strode off.
Emma breathed a sigh of relief.
Kate's tired eyes slowly opened as she heard the phone ringing. She got out of bed and answered. An automated voice was asking if she would like to accept a reverse charge phone call from 'hopeparkwestgatenow'. She pressed the appropriate button to listen to the request again. This time round, when she heard the question asking whether she would like to accept the reverse charge call, she replied with a categorical "no" and hung up the phone. She recognised the trick; Emma had done it before as a way of avoiding call charges. Kate's hand hovered over the phone as she considered contacting the station. Before she could grab the receiver it began to ring. Hesitating for a moment, then ran back through to her bedroom to get dressed.
The sun was peaking over the horizon, casting patterns of light through the mosaic of leaves on the trees. Emma sat on a park bench, elbows on knees, hands cupping her cheeks. She watched the world go by, appreciating it for its beauty. The familiar figure of Kate soon appeared and a bolt ran though Emma's chest; she leapt up and ran over to where Kate was standing.
"It's so good to see you," she said, positively relieved. Her face fell when Kate crossed her arms and turned away looking distinctly uncomfortable. "Ash?"
"Why are you putting me in this entirely impossible situation?" Kate asked without turning to face her.
Emma frowned and grabbed Kate at the elbow. "I had to see you. Ash, look at me, damn it." She tugged her coat to pull her round to face her, but just Kate looked down. "Do you know what I'm going through?"
Kate wanted to say how much she was going through but held her tongue. Instead she said, "Running from the station isn't going to help your case". Keeping her eyes on the ground, she couldn't help but notice that Emma's trainers were, once again, covered in mud, and her heart gave a little flip.
"You do believe I'm innocent, don't you?" Silence. The morning birds twittered and the strong wind blew leaves around their feet. Emma had not considered that Kate might think she was guilty. "Don't you?" A lump formed in her throat and tears began to well up, blurring her vision.
Kate looked up into Emma's eyes but was still unable to say anything.
"Why won't you at least investigate this? Why won't you help me?"
Kate looked away again.
"You're the only person I really trust. Help me," Emma said desperately.
"I can't," said Kate flatly.
"Because... " Kate closed her eyes as she said it, not wishing to look at Emma's reaction. "Because I don't want to be the one to prove you guilty."
Emma looked aghast. "Then prove me innocent, Ash!" She stepped forward and grabbed the lapels of Kate's black woollen coat, one in each hand.
Kate frowned in sympathy with Emma's distress. She licked her lips, trying not to cry, jaw jutting forward as she sighed raggedly. "I'm just too involved with the case, with you. I categorically can't do this. I can't let the... I can't interfere; my judgement is so clouded."
Emma let her head drop as she sank to her knees, pulling Kate down with her. Dew soaked into the knees of Kate's jeans and into the shins of Emma's trousers as they sat back on the soles of their shoes. Kate held Emma tightly by the shoulders, wanting to pull her near but feeling unable to close the gap between them.
Kate noticed the damage to Emma's right hand, which was still clasped onto her coat lapel. She watched the blood soak through the paper towels.
"I'm sorry. I have to take you back now," apologised Kate. "Will you come quietly?"
Kate glared at Sullivan and crossed her arms. "If there is going to be one day when I'm insubordinate, then it's going to be today. I'm going to speak out of turn and demand that you don't punish her for running from the station."
"I wasn't going to."
She paced back and forth in front of his desk. "I mean of all the bloody foolhardy things... pardon?" She turned suddenly to face him.
"I'm not going to. She has enough on her plate."
"Right, well, good."
"Ash, are you all right? This must be hard for you too."
Kate turned on her heel and walked back and forth. "What did she expect me to do? Patch her up and keep her hidden?"
"To be honest, I think she just wanted to see you."
Kate clicked back to the start of the audio file. She closed her eyes and listened again, holding the headphones to one ear. The girl sounded young and poorly spoken. She could be one of hundreds of teenagers who loitered in Middleford in the small hours. The 999 call had been made from a mobile phone, from which there had subsequently been no response. There would be no way to track down the girl who had called to report hearing the incident whilst walking past Emma's house on the night of the murder. Kate had so many questions for her. What exactly did she hear? Did she actually see anything? Why didn't she report it until the next morning, six hours after Rick's death? Had she been afraid? Was she drunk? Kate put the clip on loop and gradually dragged down the program's control bar for background noise. Nothing more became apparent. She sighed and tried another setting to enhance the noise. There was something she had not noticed before; she paused and clicked back. It was a faint beeping followed by the sound of a moving vehicle. At first she dismissed it as the signal from a pedestrian crossing but it was not quite right, nor did it appear to be a security alarm. It was some time before it occurred to her what it was. She called over an officer and sent her to find the street camera footage from the only place in town where it would be heard.
Interview Room 2
"DCI Sullivan interviewing Emma Scribbins."
"We have the results of the tests back."
"Anything?" she asked.
"They couldn't find anything conclusive, no."
Emma's shoulders sank. "It's not like on the telly, is it? They always find something on the telly."
Sullivan studied the report. "No sign of physical attack upon yourself. There was evidence of sexual contact, but..."
"I remember that bit. I just can't remember anything after that."
"This is not the time to be facetious." He looked at her.
"I wasn't. I really wasn't. I'm just sick of going over the same things. I have been set up."
"Can you think of anyone who would have had a vendetta against you?"
"Pick anyone I have ever arrested."
"What about Rick?"
"I... don't know. I didn't know him all that well. We'd barely been dating a month," said Emma.
"Did you recognise anyone at the bar?"
Emma shook her head, "I don't think so."
"Did you notice anyone acting strangely?"
"I wasn't paying attention. We drank a lot."
"I have to ask: is there a history of violence or mental health issues in your family?"
"I had an auntie who kept an orange in a bird cage because she thought it was a budgie; does that count?"
He ignored her. "Ever had a blackout?"
"No, never." She looked dejected. "There's no hope for me, is there?"
"There's always hope, Scribbs."
Kate had moved so little in the last hour that the movement detection lights had turned themselves off. She sat in the dark, lit only by the blue glow of the monitor screen, gaze still fixed on her reading material. She checked the computer clock; it was almost half past eight in the evening. One by one she skimmed old police case files for criminals who had been released from prison. She had built up quite a bundle of information and the thought of tracking them all down made her heart ache.
"I need a drink," she muttered to herself as she rose from the chair. The lights flashed back on and Kate blinked as her eyes adjusted to the brightness. The complement of skeleton staff barely acknowledged her as she made her way to the kitchen, and they made no mention of her late-night presence. She walked purposefully past the locker room, reconsidered and swivelled on her heel.
Emma turned uncomfortably in her bunk. Her blanket had twisted around her waist, pulling her tightly into the lumpy mattress. She yanked it free and turned back to lie on her other side, this time facing the wall. At first she thought she could hear her heart beating loudly but soon realised it was the sound of regular footsteps. A single beam of light pierced the darkness and illuminated the wall above Emma's head. It faded and she could sense she was being watched. 'Doesn't feel like the right time for the hourly check,' she thought, trying to look at her watch in the dim light. The silence in the room was screaming at her like tinnitus. Through the hum of nothingness she thought she heard a voice. Turning quickly to face the door, she breathlessly called out, "Ash?" but the spy-hole had been sealed. "Don't be stupid," she said to herself, and turned back to the wall. "She's not there".
Kate could only see the back of the man but she watched carefully as he talked to a girl at a bus stop. An exchange took place and the girl made a call from a mobile phone. Kate paused the video and checked the time against the 999 call: it was a match. If she was right, the girl was paid to place the call. It was small but enough to give Kate a glimmer of hope.
Eileen Jenkinson's house
Kate rang the bell and waited, hands in pockets, foot tapping on the step. Eileen opened the door and Kate flashed her pass.
"I'm really sorry to disturb you at this hour. I'm DI Ashurst of Middleford CID. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"
Eileen squinted at Kate's identification. "It's a bit late, dear, but all right. Come in."
They sat at the dining table, Eileen with her fleecy, peach-coloured robe buttoned up to the chin.
"I need you to think: at any time in the last one, two or possibly even three months, has there been anyone in the house who you didn't know personally?"
"Goodness, Inspector. Well, there's always tradesmen. I had work done on the bathroom, and then there's the gas man."
"I see. Yes, of course," replied Kate sullenly.
"And then there was the policeman. He was very nice."
"Right, yes. DCI Sullivan."
"No, dear, though he was nice too. This one was a few weeks ago."
Kate jumped back into her car and flicked on the overhead light. She rummaged through the various files and papers on the passenger seat and eventually found what she was looking for. "I'd better not be wrong about this." She pulled on her seat belt. The wheels of the car squeaked as she revved up the engine, pulling out into the quiet night road.
The Zed Bar
"No, I'm sorry, love. Don't know the face; we get an awful lot of punters through here."
'This is pointless,' thought Kate as tiredness set in. 'He wouldn't risk being seen; he'll have paid someone to do his dirty work.' A young barman squeezed past Kate and she caught him by the jacket. "Do you recognise this man?"
He began to sweat and chewed his middle finger. "No. No, never seen him, sorry." He pulled his way out of her grasp. Kate followed him outside and found him emptying rubbish into one of the bins. He looked startled when she came up behind him and showed her ID badge.
"Are you quite sure you don't know him?"
He scuffed his feet and then made a dash for it. Kate ran after him. He slipped on a Coke can and stumbled. Kate took her opportunity to push him up face-forward against the wall and force his arm behind his back.
"Correct me if I'm wrong but people who run usually have something to hide."
"Look, I seen him alright?"
"And nuffin'," he said.
"I can arrest you as an accessory to murder if you prefer."
"Wha? Alrigh', alrigh'. He gave me fifty quid to slip somethin' in the drink," he said conciliatorily.
"This blonde bird and her boyfriend. Oww, don't press so 'ard. He said it was drugs to make them go off their heads. He said he knew them and that it was a joke. I aren't no killer."
She released him and he scurried back into the bar.
"Don't leave town. We'll be contacting you for a statement," she called after him. Kate flipped open her mobile and dialled. "I need a check running with the parole office. Now."
Kate tentatively pressed the doorbell and stood back, running a finger along the line of her shirt collar. Seconds ticked by until the door finally opened.
"Good evening. I was wondering if you might be able to help me with my enquiries. My name is Detective Inspector Ashurst and I work for Middleford CID."
"Sullivan's lot," said the tall stocky man, whose name was Ray.
"I've heard of your division. You suburbanites don't know what it means to be a real copper."
Kate shrugged. "Perhaps then you could tell me why I'm here."
"Advice from an old pro, p'rhaps?"
"I'm surprised you're not quaking in your boots," said Kate, narrowing her eyes.
"And why should I be doing that?" he asked as he shrugged his shoulders.
"Because you never expected us to make the connection. The connection between you and the murder of Rick Scott."
"I don't even know who that is," he laughed back at her, shaking his head.
Kate followed him into the front room. "I suppose you think you're clever. Using all your knowledge as a police officer to head us off at every pass; a perfect crime scene lain out for us ready to point the finger." She jabbed a finger in his direction.
"Pray tell m'lady, at who am I s'posed to be pointin' fingers?" he said sarcastically.
"You know full well who. You can act all unknowing but I'm here to tell you that you're not as infallible as you think you are. The 999 call, for instance. You were wise enough not to make the call yourself, I'll give you that, but you didn't choose the location very well: near a level crossing? Now that was careless. Even more careless was letting yourself be caught on CCTV whilst talking to a young girl at a bus stop next to that crossing. What was the deal? She makes the call and in return she gets to keep the phone, while you destroy the SIM? Am I getting warm? Or perhaps you always deal in cash?"
She paused for a reaction but Ray stood solidly without flinching.
"The young bartender certainly must have been happy with his fifty pounds for five minutes' work. What else is there? Let's see. As an ex-officer you know it's a crime to impersonate a policeman, and that's exactly what you did to gain access to the neighbour's house so that you could make a copy of a spare key. It must have been very neat being able to let yourself in and lock the door on your way out. After all, why would we ever suppose that someone would go to so much trouble to cover their tracks?"
"Are you finished? Why don't you just shove off and leave me in peace?"
Kate stood her ground. "We have two witnesses already who can connect you to the crime and a third if we can find the girl. That's enough for us to search this place, for starters."
"Go ahead," he said sternly as he stepped forward to invade her personal space.
She needed more. She needed to provoke him. 'Come on, Kate -- think. How do I squeeze the information out of him?' she thought, and then she realised. "Did you think about killing her?"
He just glared back.
"Was that not good enough? Your idea of retribution was to frame her for a murder which you would commit and she would serve the sentence. I bet that sounded really good -- just deserts. How long did you spend planning it? All that time in prison? And then to prepare? Well, you've been out for three months; that's more than enough. If only she hadn't testified against you all those years ago, you'd have never been jailed for manslaughter. If she'd never walked in on you with the gun in your hand, you could have been away and free. Spoilt all your plans, didn't she?"
His face loomed closer to hers but she steeled herself.
"Didn't she? The day you cold-bloodedly murdered your partner."
He gritted his teeth but still refused to speak.
"I'm not going to let my partner down. I will move heaven and earth to prove her innocent and you guilty." Kate practically spat the words at him. "Raymond Stabeller, I am arresting you on suspicion --" Her speech was halted as he grabbed her shoulder.
"I am not going down again. You were wrong to underestimate me," he said with hatred in his eyes.
Kate looked down and suddenly noticed the small gun grasped in Ray's free hand. He grabbed her tightly, holding the barrel to her chest, squeezing the trigger gently. He leaned in and spoke directly into her ear. "It was so easy, so perfect."
The closeness of him made her cringe and shiver. She attempted to pull her ear away from his mouth.
"I guess this means you're going to be my number three. Shame I can't set her up for your murder, too. That bitch ruined my life."
"You ruined your life the moment you committed murder." His grip raised tears to Kate's eyes.
"Do you know how easy it was? It was as easy as this."
A sudden panic rose in her, akin to that feeling when your mind knows that even if you ran until your lungs burned with pain you would still be too late, but your body wants to try. A rush of adrenaline helped her to make one bid for flight, for to fight would be foolhardy.
She struggled free of him but managed only a few steps backwards before he pulled the trigger. Kate was thrown against the wall by the force of the impact. She slumped to the floor, unable to breathe properly. With a bang, the front door slammed wide open and two uniformed officers ran in and dived on Ray, pulling him struggling out of the door.
"Ash." Sullivan rushed in and knelt down beside Kate.
She grappled at the buttons of her suit jacket, frowning with pain.
"Are you ok?" he asked.
Sullivan helped her off with her coat and jacket. He plucked free the crushed bullet which was nestled in the fabric of the padded metal bullet-proof vest. "Souvenir?"
"No thanks." Kate groaned with pain as Sullivan released the velcro from her shoulders and pulled the armour free.
"Let's get you to hospital. I'm not taking any chances with you."
Kate carefully unpinned the wire she was wearing and handed the recording device to Sullivan. "Did you get everything we need?"
"Yes. You did brilliantly, Ash."
"Thank god he was the bragging type. He should know that I never underestimate anyone." As they walked outside, Sullivan supporting Kate's weight, they passed Ray being forced into the back of a police van. "By the way, you have to lift Emma's door to get in. I'm sure the boot print will come in handy!" He snarled at her. "Idiot," she muttered.
The heavy steel door groaned as it slowly eased open. Emma was on her side, curled up on the uncomfortable bed, a coarse itchy blanket covering her. She blearily watched the pattern of light grow larger as the door swung wider. A dark figure stood in the corridor, silhouetted.
"Scribbs, I've come to get you out of here" Kate sat down beside Emma, who sat up and moved to one side.
"Breaking me out?" Emma said sarcastically as she massaged her right shoulder. "I've tried that and it didn't help."
Kate ignored the comment. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry I wasn't ready to believe you." She took Emma's left hand in her own hands and stroked the back of her wrist with her thumb. "I should have trusted you." Unable to look up into Emma's eyes, she kept her gaze on the back of her hand. "You were framed by someone you testified against; your suspicions were right."
Emma placed her free hand on top of Kate's; the wound was now dressed and covered in gauze. "Who was it?" she asked calmly. The fear and dread which had so consumed her drained from her body.
"Ray Stabeller. It was a case you were involved in when you --"
"When I was in uniform. I remember. The... " She paused and swallowed as she thought about Ray in her bedroom. "Bastard should have gone down for murder."
"Well, now he will."
Emma was silent. She was tired and after two days in the station under lock and key, she finally felt as though she might be able to sleep. A thought struck her. "Ash. I really don't want to go home. I don't know if I can face it yet."
Kate looked up and their eyes met. "I'm going to drive you to my flat and you're going to stay with me." She considered how controlling she sounded and added, "If you want?"
"I promise I will let you sleep in," she smiled, trying to prompt a smile from Emma. Kate felt her throat tighten and her smile faded.
Emma leant closer until their shoulders touched. Sitting in silence they simply looked into each other's eyes.
Kate could still see that Emma was feeling hurt and she frowned. "I --" She was interrupted by the appearance of Sullivan in the doorway.
"Scribbs, I'm very glad this ordeal is over. I never liked locking you up, you know. If you ever need anyone for a talk, or a hug, you can come to me." He casually leant against the door frame and smiled.
"I appreciate everything you've done, boss."
"Don't thank me, thank Ash. She figured it out." He folded his arms and nodded at Kate.
"But I thought..." Emma frowned and looked expectantly at Sullivan.
"Even made the arrest herself. Thanks to her sagacious nature, the risk --"
"Boss," interrupted Kate, "Let's not bore Scribbs with the details. I'm sure she's very tired," she said pointedly.
"Yes, of course. Now. Scribbs. You take as much leave as you require; you've been through a lot."
Emma nodded, mouth open, unsure quite what to say.
"Ash, good work. Ladies, goodnight," and with that he left.
Emma looked back to Kate. "I thought... I... You said you wouldn't investigate the case. What made you change your mind?"
"You're Emma. Just kind, sweet, silly, smiley Emma."
"I thought you were going to say something else then. I was preparing myself to be offended," she joked. The realisation that she would be free gave her a sense of elation and headiness. Not that a little actual intoxication would go amiss.
Kate had wanted to go on, to say that Emma was not a malicious person, never unkind and certainly not a murderer. That she should have been there for her from the outset, when Emma needed her most. She blinked and looked up at the grey ceiling, guilt swelling in her chest.
Emma could feel the inner turmoil that Kate was going through. "Look at me. It's fine. You came through for me and that's what matters." She squeezed Kate's hand. "Honest."
Kate still looked sorrowful.
"Come here." She beckoned Kate into a close hug. "Thank you for not giving up on me."
Emma clung on tightly despite the throbbing ache in her hand. She grasped Kate as firmly as she could. Kate winced with the pain in her bruised chest but, regardless, she too held onto Emma and squeezed tighter, attempting to embrace away the hurt she had caused.
Will Ash and Scribbs' friendship recover from their previous trial? Sent undercover at a top hotel to investigate the links between the deaths of three clients, will they resolve it before their tensions get the better of them?
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