Together we are Stronger

by AmyAmy

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© Copyright 2018 - AmyAmy - Used by permission. All rights are retained by the author. This work may not be reproduced for profit or without this attribution.

Storycodes: Solo-F; Other/f; FM; transform; rubber; alien; goo; encase; investigation; diner; meeting; reveal; cons/nc; X

Story continued from Part 13

Chapter 14: Heart Strings
By AmyAmy, based on an idea by John Hynden

It took him ten minutes to get to the Burger Bar. Everyone at the scene was eager to report useless information, delaying him from leaving. He ought to be on his way home, not digging himself deeper into this pit.

He pushed his way into the iconic Burger Bar fast-food franchise. He hadn’t visited a place like this in years. If there was a situation, he usually sent a constable to get food for everyone, but he never went himself. Once upon a time it had been a familiar kind of place. They hadn’t changed much from the days when he’d first started out, assisting D.I. Abness.

Back then, just a rookie plain-clothes constable, he’d seen too many detective shows, had expected the experienced detective Abness to be a loose cannon, or a drunk, or a lonely eccentric genius. He’d been none of those things. Instead he’d been a careful and methodical investigator, always by the book, and by the numbers, and with a talent for working out exactly what his bosses wanted to hear. Abness was the perfect example of how to make a successful career in the force.

As might have been expected from a man so well suited to rapid career progression, eventually, he’d gone on to become Superintendent Abness, and might yet be destined for greater things. Ridley’s career had followed in Abness’ wake to an extent that left him uncomfortable. Or viewed more positively, he’d learned from the best. It was a pity that Abness was skeptical about the value of Ridley’s new ero-drug task force.

Inside the Burger Bar, the lighting was red and turquoise, retro neon, a faux art-deco style, itself a relic, unchanged since the nineties. A freakishly beautiful woman was sitting at a table by herself, with an empty coffee-cup in front of her. It took him several seconds to realize it was Maeve.

Where on earth had she got those clothes? Her white top looked as if it had been sprayed on, and her skirt wasn’t any less revealing. Some sort of metallic tights and knee high black boots also fit her like a glove. He’d hadn’t seen her dress so provocatively in years, and hadn’t appreciated that she was still in the incredible physical shape required to carry it off. If anything, she looked better than she ever had.

He’d bumped into her off-duty recently, once or twice at police socials. She’d been dressing down in tank-top and scruffy jeans, and trying to blend into the crowd. She’d played it that way for years. Now this. What was going on?

He could feel the prickly gaze of everyone in the place on him, noting his bright fluorescent yellow vest with “POLICE” written in large blue letters, and his body-armor. He was used to being in plain-clothes, and wearing the safety gear felt wrong, as if he was an impostor. It was like he’d turned up to a party in fancy-dress, only to discover that it was supposed to be black-tie.

After a few seconds of weird silence, everyone turned away, seemingly disinterested, except for Maeve. She tipped her head to the side, watching him as he hesitated in the doorway. The grin was something he could place from the person he knew. But what the heck was she grinning at?

He briefly considered going to the counter and ordering something, then abandoned the idea and took the seat opposite her. He was sure everybody took special note that he’d joined the woman, the one dressed like she’d just stepped off the set of a super-hero movie, and an adult-oriented one at that.

It came back to him clearly, even though it was probably over six years ago. Maeve, sitting at his kitchen table, casually naked. It was early, almost the beginning of their relationship, and early morning, the light cold and weak, the room filled with grainy shadows. She’d lit the fire, which he never did, and the room smelled of smoke and paraffin. The table-top had been round, pale-gray stone, and underneath it was wrought iron. The floor was made of dark slate paving stones that were still ice cold underfoot. He’d stared at those paving stones, and her feet had been so pale in contrast. He’d sat down opposite her, and she’d put her foot up, in his lap. It had been freezing cold, chilled through, so icy that it had killed his erection in an instant. She’d looked over the top of her cereal bowl and given him that grin. The same grin she was giving him now, and the Burger Bar table-top was round, pale-gray stone, wrought iron underneath.

Once he sat down, her grin disappeared. “Have you seen my sister?” she said. Her voice had an intensity that permitted no equivocation. Her gaze was worse, he daren’t let her catch his eye.

“No. I’ve been on the train case.” He tried to keep his gaze away from her breasts, but it was all but impossible. Were they bigger than before? It had to be the outfit.

“Oh. The train case?” She closed her eyes for a moment. “Oh.”

“Even so, Brian called me from the hospital. He said he got Flora and Sarah out of your flat. Asked if I knew where you were.”

“It was on the news.” She leaned closer. “The report was vague. How are they? Are they alright?”

“As far as I know, upset. But the smoke inhalation is mild, and just a few scrapes and bruises. At least that’s roughly how Brian put it.”

“Internal burns?”

“He said they’d probably be discharged tomorrow at the latest, maybe tonight.”

She sighed and seemed to relax. “What’s happening up on the overpass then? Funny spot for the drug task-force D.C.I. to be camped out in hi-vis. Smuggling drugs on trains now are they?” Her tone was casual, perhaps a little too obviously so.

He ignored her facetious question. “What’s going on Maeve? What happened at the flat?”

“Oh, we’re on first-name terms again, Paul? After so long?”

“Would you rather I was more formal? Should we be doing this down at division headquarters?”

“Doing what exactly? Am I a suspect? Good luck with that.” Something in the tone of her voice sent a chill down his spine, it enough to freeze a man’s bones.

“Look… Your flat burned down. Took three others with it. The investigative team says the place is full of black glue. I thought maybe you’d been taken by corporate mercs. I was worried about you. Clearly, it wasn’t that, so what happened?”

“You tell me? You knew something about that bottle, didn’t you?”

“The bottle?” he said. Why mention that now? Did it connect to the flat? Wait…

“No need to pretend.” She put her elbows on the table, meshed her fingers, rested her chin on her hands. Had her fingers always been so long?

“I’m not pretending.”

“You kept things back before. You have form for being selective with the truth.”

Damn, I need to get my story straight. But what do I have to hide? I’m not in the wrong here.

He’d done nothing, it just looked like he might. And what was going on with her? Something she was in no rush to explain.

“I’ll tell you, if you tell me. What have you been doing? Why did your flat burn down? Why did you go to the island again, then fly back by lifter? What’s going on? You can’t be on the take, so what?”

She grabbed his hand, her grip was strong, irresistible. She wrapped her fingers around his, warm, dry, and oddly smooth. “There are things that I can’t tell you, but I’ll show you, in a minute. For now, let’s talk about Patrice.” For a moment, there was a bass-note in her voice, a melodious undertone, that he hadn’t heard before, and then it was gone again. Perhaps it was just his exhaustion?


“Don’t play dumb. You know who she is. From evidence.”

“Oh Paddy… Patrice Grogan? You’re not still mad about that are you?”

She didn’t let go of his hand. “I’m not mad about it. But it might have caused some problems you didn’t expect. That’s why we have to talk.”

Her fingers were definitely too smooth, slick. Was she wearing plastic gloves?

“What sort of problems?”

“Patrice problems. She kidnapped Brian and my sister. She trashed my flat then burned it down. Insane on drugs, something from that bottle. Do you know anything about what was in it?”

“Paddy used that stuff?”

“Oh yes. She used it, and she liked it. But it didn’t like her.”

He wasn’t supposed to reveal anything about the bottle. If they found out he had, he’d be finished, but Maeve had already put him on the spot over holding things back.

“Alright,” he said. “Yes, that stuff has some history.”

“So, we agree it wasn’t just rusty water, don’t we? History? Patrice getting mixed up in this, it’s complicated, isn’t it?” Maeve said. “Odd coincidence, or just very complicated? You tell me?”

This was feeling more like an inquisition than a conversation. She had an axe to grind here, or several axes. Did she suspect he knew what had happened to Paddy, and why? If only he did. He hadn’t spoken to Paddy since he ended it with her, and that had been before Maeve, years ago. It had been too awkward to deal with her after that.

He better be honest. “Look… Back then, you’d dumped me. There wasn’t any point telling you that I’d been seeing her too. It would only have made you feel worse, for nothing. You understand why I didn’t say anything?” It was hard to seem sincere when his gaze kept on roving over her body. It was perfect, and her clothes weren’t doing a thing to hide it.

“I never gave it much thought, to be honest,” she said. “When I spoke to Patrice, she didn’t mention you exactly, but I could tell she was pissed off at me for something, and the way she looked at you gave the rest away. But it seems that lately, she had other things on her mind.” She closed her eyes. “Though now I consider it, you might have been on her mind.”

It was a surprisingly blase answer, as if she really didn’t care that he’d cheated on her with Paddy. It had been years. Or perhaps she didn’t know about the overlap? She’d ended it back then, said she was afraid it would undermine her career. That had saved him a lot of awkwardness at the time, but he’d always suspected that she’d known and hadn’t forgiven him for failing to end things cleanly with Paddy before starting with her.

“I should have told you before, but I was afraid it would seem vindictive, that I was just saying it to get at you.”

“Oh,” she said blandly. She let go of his hand, placed her palms flat on the table. “It is what it is.”

When she finished with him, he’d thought she’d had a good poker-face, but maybe the truth was, she’d never been that keen on him to begin with. It was a blow to the ego, if it was true, but also a cure for a whole lot of remorse.

Maeve held her fingers up in front of her face, making a narrow tunnel, peering at him through it. “So, do you have a suspect for my shooting?” Her tone was businesslike now.

“Patty was investigated after she went missing. We had to consider she was connected, and there was also the theft. Obviously suspicious, but it didn’t lead anywhere. There was nothing to build a case on for the shooting. All we had was a missing piece of evidence, and there wasn’t any concrete proof she did that. For all we knew it was simply mis-filed.” He leaned in closer, lowering his voice. “It’s understood that we don’t bring a case against one of our own unless there’s no alternative? And there was an alternative.”

She nodded, eyes closed.

Of course, the investigation into Maeve’s shooting had drawn a big red box around Paddy. They’d gone to her house, but there’d been no trace of her there, and nothing unusual apart from an impressive collection of BDSM sex toys. There was no motive for her to shoot Maeve, and her theft, if she’d actually done it, hardly qualified her as the mastermind of corruption in the department.

Her eyes snapped open and she slammed her hand down over the empty coffee-cup. It wasn’t loud, but it was enough to shake his equilibrium.

“Tell me about the bottle,” she said. “Why were you interested in it?” Again, that melodic undertone, highs and lows that weren’t normally in her voice. It was fierce, but beguiling, difficult to refuse, an earworm burrowing into his mind and making its home there, an annoying song that got stuck in his head, a subtle threat to anyone foolish enough to refuse this polite request.

“When you picked it up on that raid, it was supposed to be in our evidence store, in the high-security area. It had been there since the sixties.”

He looked into her eyes. They glittered like cold blue diamonds, lit from within. When had she learned to stare like that? It was a gaze to make interview subjects roll over and beg for a deal. He could see all his weaknesses reflected there, every fear, every failure. He tore his attention away, shook his head. He must be more tired than he thought, imagining things, falling asleep at the table.

“I hadn’t expected our evidence store to double as a library for hipster junk that masquerades as antiques.”


“Let me get this the right way around. It was in the evidence store, then I found it. Then we put it back in the evidence store, and Patrice took it out again?”

“Possibly. Or yes, if you’re quite certain that she stole it.”

“Oh yes. I’m certain of that. She stole it the first time too.”

“That bottle had been locked away in the back room since before the reorganization. I’m sure you’re wondering, the people you found in possession… What they were planning to do with it? What they paid for it, if anything, I can’t even guess.”

“Was it valuable?”

“I don’t know. To somebody, obviously it was.”

“Patrice thought it was worth millions.”

“I doubt that, but I suppose it’s possible. I know less about this than you seem to imagine.”

“Why would it be in evidence all that time? There wasn’t a cold case was there? How could there be?”

Ridley considered answering her question, thought better of it. He had trusted Maeve, but people changed. She could be mixed up in something he didn’t understand. She might have been fooling him since she came back into his life and onto the squad. She could even have been working for someone else from the very beginning.

“I didn’t know it was missing until I saw your evidence pictures. Even then I thought, it had to be something different, at least not the exact same one that was supposed to be in our store.”

“So, you sent Brian?”

“Yes. I didn’t think it would trigger any alarm bells if he asked. Whereas, if you’d done it, there would be no chance for the original thief to cover it up. Cornered, they might have been dangerous.”

“Turned out, I asked anyway, and they were dangerous. Murderous even.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Good. So, what did he find out? Seeing as you never bothered to tell me at the time. As usual.”

“He confirmed it was the same one. So, somebody in the division had smuggled it out. If it caught any attention, it was bound to be awkward for them. Questions would be asked. An investigation would be inevitable, and it would turn up-”

“-stones best left unturned?” Maeve said, cutting him off.

“Something like that.”

Maeve nodded. “And you figured they would want that embarrassment to go away? So, basically you knew they’d go after me? Convince some clueless patsy to call out a hit on me?”

“I tried to keep you out of it. The bottle was back where it belonged. I thought maybe somebody would fudge some paperwork, or try to cover it up quietly. It doesn’t explain your shooting.”

“It has to though, doesn’t it? Wait… Why do you think that happened? Don’t pretend you don’t have a working theory.”

* * * * *

“At first I thought it was just ruffled feathers. Somebody crooked on the task-force. I thought maybe they meant to send you a message. It got out of hand. They hadn’t figured on you falling and bumping your head. Something like that?”

“I’m supposed to buy that?”

“I admit it smacks of wishful thinking.”

“And the military issue bullets that lodged in my own personal H-M manufactured vest? Just a warning?”

“I revised my theory. They wanted to send me a message, using your corpse. They were saying I’d better stay quiet about that bottle, or other people would turn up dead. Probably me.”

“Patrice said that somebody had framed her for the shooting, and basically, they blackmailed her to finish the job. She didn’t know who they were though. Whoever it was, they were good at keeping her at arm’s length. Only contacted her via disposable phones, or a special web-site, run out of some dodgy data-haven, and paid for with crypto-coin, no doubt. Never used their own voice. Never sent her items, or received them, except through an intermediary. You might call it paranoid.”

“That makes no sense,” he said. It came out a bit more abrupt than he’d planned.

Maeve’s eyes widened again, perfectly penciled eyebrows lifting. “Sorry?”

Again, that unsettling feeling. It was better when she kept them closed, and she did seem to be avoiding looking at him, as if she knew her unwavering attention was deeply unsettling.

“We didn’t find any evidence that Paddy was involved in the shooting. There was nothing, not even anything solid to connect her to the bottle. Definitely nothing tied to you.”

“She mentioned a deal done on the dark web.”

“How on earth would we have found out about that?”

“The dead assassin’s phone, or computer, or something?”

“Apparently, he wasn’t that stupid.”

“Oh.” She put her palms to her temples, gave a long low sigh, ignoring him, then grabbed the coffee-cup, picked it up and stared into it. After a time, she looked up. “Oh well… I have two theories.” She held up her hand and gave him the double-finger, Agincourt style. “One. It was all Patrice, crazy, driven by revenge and greed. But for various reasons, I know that’s not it, but I suppose somebody could pin it on her if they tried hard enough.”

“I agree on that. If she instigated the shooting, it was out of character,” he said. “To be honest, I never imaged that she missed me very much, but I could have been wrong about that.”

“Yeah. You might have been. Just a bit.” She tilted her head and gave him a look he couldn’t decode, unless it was chilly disappointment.

“You haven’t got to point two yet, but before you start, I don’t think Paddy was a murderer. She didn’t even seem the sort to steal the bottle. I can’t imagine the kind of blackmail it would take to get her to do either. But if, as you say, that was what happened, in my professional opinion, the blackmailer was a real piece of work, a proper fucking weasel.” He shook his head. “I can’t think of a better way to put it.”

Maeve sniffed. “Weasel? I wouldn’t be so generous. From what I’ve learned, we’re dealing with the kind of scum that makes the average serial-killer look mildly sympathetic. A psychopathic sadist that gets a special thrill out of making people do whatever it is that they least want to, the thing that hurts them the most.”

“Do you have any motives for this person’s actions, besides being criminally insane?”

“Alright, theory two. In this version, some, as you put it, weasel, got his hooks into Patrice years ago. Right after you discarded her, when she was down and vulnerable, she stole drugs from evidence, for her own use. Our weasel found out somehow, and brokered that blackmail material into more, and then more, until he had the sort of stuff on her where she was too afraid even to kill herself to escape, because he would take revenge on her family.”

“It sounds like you’re blaming me,” he said.

“Does it?” She didn’t give him a chance to answer. “Anyway. Our weasel is clearly in the force, and bent as they get, and doesn’t like what the task-force might dig up. He’s taking a big protection cut on ero-drug sales or something. So, he pays for the hit on me, two birds with one stone. Gets rid of the annoyance and warns you to back your little task-force off. But it fails, so our weasel goes to plan-B. He already has a lever to control Patrice. He gets her to steal the bottle again, and makes her try to finish me off. But…” She hesitated, rubbed the bridge of her nose between her fingers, then peered at him accusingly. “Then some stuff goes wrong, and she accidentally tastes the bottle-contents, and after that she’s not really herself.”

“It fits my model of Paddy better, but we’d need to find the evidence, fake or real, that was used to move her. If we had that, we could do something.”

“Patrice didn’t screw-up finishing me off just because she had the worst ero-addiction ever. She was also unlucky. I know where she was hiding, so maybe there’s some evidence there. But there’s something else, something concrete. This weasel, he kidnapped Patrice’s sister as bonus leverage just after I was shot. She’s been missing since. Didn’t anyone report this?”

“They might have done, but it might not have come to me.”

“Wouldn’t the system trigger all kinds of alarms when it saw Patrice was missing, and under investigation, and then her sister goes missing too?” Maeve was talking faster now, was she heading towards some conclusion?

“It probably would, and I didn’t see any.”

She leaned close across the table. “And weren’t you involved in the investigation on Patrice? Wouldn’t they go to you?”

He felt dizzy for a moment. Clearly, far too tired. Needed to sleep sooner rather than later. Who was this angel sitting across the table from him? Was it really Maeve? So pure, and yet so unbelievably hot, so… He shook his head clear.

“Sorry. I think I had a micro-sleep there. It’s been a long couple of days.”

She nodded stiffly and sat up, backing away slightly.

“But like you said. If the system spotted something, I would definitely be included, and if anybody tinkered with that, there’d be a record of who. But if it was our weasel, somehow I doubt he’d have done it under his own login.”

“And didn’t you have a very short list of people who knew I was going on that raid?” It was more an assertion than a question. Where was she headed?

“Yes. Very short.”

“Let’s say I can find Patrice’s sister, and rescue her from whoever has her, some petty thug most likely… And let’s say that her mother reported her missing weeks ago, and was given a story by someone that stopped her going to the press. Could you use that story, and the evidence of the tampering with the system to identify our weasel?”

“Identify, a slim chance? Get anything done about it, none at all.”

“Don’t worry about the last part. I can-” she cut herself off short. “We can collect more evidence once we know who we’re dealing with. Trap them with a sting or something.”

“It’s possible. But it would be best if you gave me the information so the investigation was clean and legitimate. But I can hardly put it in the system. If you’re right, our friend is obviously looking at what I do there.”

“I know. That’s why I didn’t go into headquarters before calling you.”

There was no escaping the obvious, there weren’t many people who could have known about the raid and also had the kind of access needed to tamper with the system, or to make an admin tamper with the system and pass it off as a simple error. There were so few people who knew about that bottle that he’d got it down to a list of two possibles already. Knowing that they’d been aware of his affair with Patty, and the end of it, that they’d been able to find leverage over Patty effortlessly…

There was only one person who could have done all these things. Only one senior officer who didn’t like the ero-drug task-force. One senior officer who’d known about his affair with Maeve, had told him, “Marry the wench, and get her knocked-up and out of the bloody force before she ruins your career.”


It had to be Abness, but it didn’t make sense. He had everything to lose if it ever went wrong. And surely one day it would? That was just statistics, something criminals ignored, but senior officers lived and died by.

“When did you speak to Patrice then? Is she alright? Still on those drugs?”

“No. She isn’t. She is about as not alright as a person can possibly be. She hasn’t been alright for years, have you been paying any attention at all?” Maeve’s tone was cold and jagged. “At least her pain is over. You understand?”

She must have been closer to Paddy than he’d ever realized. Perhaps they’d had a secret ‘let’s hate Ridley’ club together, that he knew nothing about until today? It would make sense.

The way she was acting, she blamed him for all of this, for the mess Paddy had got into, and everything that followed from it.

* * * * *

Ridley made a conscious effort to unclench his jaw, let the tension out. The way she’d put that question was personal too. There was no doubt, she and Paddy were close friends. And Paddy was dead. The fact left a cold empty hole inside him, but that was all. He hadn’t been close to her in years, if he’d ever been close to her in the first place. Could he even trust Maeve’s account? Was Paddy really dead after all?

Maeve said Paddy had gone crazy after using the drug in the bottle. Had Maeve neglected to mention that she’d tasted it too? Was that why she was … strange? No, it couldn’t be that. He was simply tired, and she clearly had something going on, but she wasn’t doing the things people usually did on ero-drugs. If she had been, they’d have had two kinds of sex by now, maybe three.

“What?” He took a deep breath, tried to get a story straight in his head.

There was no way he could tell her the truth about Abness. If she went off half-cocked, it would sink both of them. It was unquestionable that Abness would have buttressed his position to the point where any accusation against him would look like a smear from somebody trying to cover their own guilt. With Maeve’s recent history, any accusation she made was more likely to rebound on her.

“Look, Maeve, I don’t know what I’ll find if I double check the system. Maybe it will be nothing. Have you considered that? I admit it’s unlikely, but it’s possible that the villain you’re looking for lies outside the division.”

She frowned, silent. Tears welling in those glittering gemstone eyes. She blinked and they were gone.

“I’m just saying, we don’t know…”

“You seemed convinced before. She deserves more than this Paul. Her sister is in his hands. What do you suppose he plans to do with her? Or has already started to do? This is a fiend who makes a business out of ero-drugs. Isn’t he the exact person you formed the task-force to stop?” She paused, tilted her head, her expression hardening. “You know who it is already? Don’t you?”

Her voice hummed through him like a power line, dark and musical. It had been different a moment ago. Was it only different when she lost her cool?

“You’re jumping to conclusions.”

“You really…” She leaned forward and whispered to him, conscious now of the people that might be listening. Her face was hot from the tears. He could feel it from here. “Fuck you Ridley. Fuck you. Imagine what it was like for her. Patrice. If she wanted you? If she wanted you more than the guys she rebounded onto, however young and fit they were. Imagine, if she’d fucking loved you all this time, and turned her heart into a rock just so she could get through day after pointless empty day without you? But it’s worse than that, because that scumbag got his hooks in her, and he made her do things that people on drugs wouldn’t even do. And then, at the end of it, the fucker takes her sister, takes her baby sister and plans to make her into an addict, or a sex-zombie, or drug a factory… And you…”

She glared at him across the table, and for a moment it was as if her eyes were frosted over with gold, the dead gaze of a statue, staring at nothing for eternity. He moved his mouth as if to reply, but the words wouldn’t come.

She grabbed his hand in a grip like steel, though she didn’t seem aware of how hard she was squeezing. He could understand that she just wanted to touch something inside him. But the tone of her voice was enough to make his bladder tense. Unsettling. It made it hard to concentrate, and he had to keep his head straight. If he told her the wrong thing now she’d never forgive him.

“Paul, you’re the one person who ought to understand, you can’t turn around and lie to protect the asshole responsible. Don’t you think that if you know anything that might help me find her before it’s too late, you should tell me? No matter whether it will stand up as evidence or not. It’s not about a case, it’s about a young woman’s life. I have to find her.”

He got it now, could see that it wasn’t only Paddy that she was talking about. Paddy hadn’t rebounded onto anybody, hadn’t gone through a series of muscle-bound young studs like a jet-ski in a paddling pool.

“Are you talking about her, or about yourself? Which is it?” he said. The words tumbled out, and as soon as he said them, he knew it was another stupid mistake.

“Why do you care? You two-timing lothario piece of shit.”

For the second time, Ridley’s world was upside down again. All the signs, all the clues, all the pieces of the puzzle… He was supposed to be a detective. He’d made a bit of a success of the job, over the years. All this time, he’d believed she hadn’t cared, believed it because it was so convenient if it was true. She’d ended things with him, but that last day, when she had played so wildly, it hadn’t been about sex, she’d wanted him to offer her something more, and like an idiot he hadn’t even seen it. She’d been looking for a gesture, something, anything. And it hadn’t been forthcoming. Because he was a fool, a fool who’d let her slip through his fingers.

Wherever that left Paddy, he wasn’t sure, but here was the fury he’d deserved to suffer five years ago, or was it six now? She probably knew how long to the day, but he wasn’t even certain of the years without working it out. How much of this had she felt, even then? Had she found out about Paddy on her own?

This was what he deserved. All that was left was to try to be an adult.

“I earned that, but are you just stating for the record? Or do you want something to change?”

“You’re a bastard Ridley. A total shit. Why on earth is it there’s even the slightest uncertainty in me that I might still want you?”

“I don’t know. I agree with you. Brian’s a better man than I am. Braver, kinder, smarter, younger.  Better looking too, I suppose. Only the kind of pond scum that I am would hit on a young detective constable, fresh out of uni, knowing from the start that it’s the stupidest thing he could do. Knowing… Knowing that in the end, everyone would be hurt, everyone would be damaged, everyone would pay a price. And yes, I didn’t close things up with Paddy until we’d been together for a couple of months. But for a while I thought you were just a fling and I’d never leave her. Until tonight, I never imagined. I really never imagined you’d ever told me anything but the whole truth about how you felt.”

“I told you, but you weren’t listening.”

“Probably for the best. We would have been terrible together anyway. Even if you’d dropped out of the force, we’d be divorced by now anyway. I couldn’t ask that of you, or even through inaction, let you to stumble into it .”

Maeve grinned through the tears, brightening up almost instantly. She tapped her finger on the table between them. “I may have overstated the situation, but I mean it about Patrice’s sister. If you’re holding out on me, and there was something you could have done to help me find her, I will never forgive you. Past is past, but she’s alive, and in danger, and we can help her.”

He looked away, “I’m not sure what you want.”

“I don’t know myself. The truth just hit me. It’s going to take some time to work through it. There are a lot of obstacles. Probably, it’s just the start of clearing you out of my mind, getting closure, so I can move forward with Brian. But you know, Patrice had a lot of unresolved feelings for you? Even at the end, she was thinking of you, as well as Jess.”


“Jessica, her sister. I can’ t believe you didn’t know about her, what with the time you two spend together.”

Maeve’s voice was back to normal again, or maybe it wasn’t normal, that the normal was the act? Was it possible that all the time he’d known her, Maeve had been hiding her real voice, her real self? Trying to seem less? Now, pushed to the limit, was she letting the act slip? It would explain the differences. He’d always suspected deep down she was so far out of his league.

“It’s not like she took me home to meet the family. She was a very compartmentalized person.”

“I guess you have a point there.” She glanced down, noticed she was still holding his hand and let go of it. She sat back in her chair, face flushed. “Sorry.”

“Think this through. I don’t believe I know anything that would help you find her. Even if I told you a name, there is no way on earth that you’d connect him to a kidnapping. He’s not that clumsy. From what you’ve told me, about how he blackmailed Patty, I’m confident that he handles everything at the same level of remove. I want to nail this guy. I will get him, somehow. It won’t help that cause by throwing accusations around and making it impossible to bring real charges later without it being shouted down as crying wolf.”

She peered at him from beneath lowered brows. “Alright.”

“But there is one thing. There’s definitely a connection between him and the attack on you. You must have been getting too close to something? It has to be the bottle. And if somebody has…” he hesitated. “If somebody has this girl, then it’s probably them. We just need to find them again.”

“And you think that’s likely?”

“If he was making sure I didn’t get alerts from the AI, then it’s possible that alerts about them came through, and he buried those too. If I run a fresh check, something might come up. It’s worth a try anyway.”

“Yes, or maybe there’s another way I can connect to them. I have a plan. I won’t go into it now.”

He eased back in his chair, his whole body was full of tension, every muscle tight. He rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck, trying to release some or it. “We’re good right? You’re not holding a grudge against me for past sins?”

She laughed. “That’s just the start of it.” She wiped her eyes, tried to look like it was nothing. “But I’m not quite done with questions yet.”


“Seriously. That bottle?”

He kneaded the back of his neck. He was getting a headache. “Go on.”

“You seemed to know something about its origin. It wasn’t Hanley-Muller was it?”

“If that thing was theirs, the shit-storm is only just getting started.” He glanced upwards, almost expecting corporate mercs to crash through the ceiling on zip-lines, guns blazing.

“I see,” Maeve said. She sounded unconvinced again. He didn’t blame her for doubting him, even if he was telling the truth, or something close to it.

Her confidence seemed to falter. She slipped one of those long thin fingers into her mouth, as if about to chew on a nail. He’d been suspicious since she’d held his hand, she really did look like she was wearing forensic gloves, skin-tight and transparent. There was still something she wasn’t telling him.

He had to ask. “Why are you worried? Has anyone from Hanley-Muller approached you? Or anyone that might be from them?”

“It’s hard to be sure,” she said.

“That stuff in your flat?”

“Complicated, but not them.”

“You ask a lot of questions, but you don’t give up much.”

“I’ll tell you about it later, but now isn’t the time. You were saying, the bottle?”

“You’re being even more frustrating than usual.”

“Just go on.”

“If that bottle was linked to a big corporation, it would make exactly the sort of cuckoo-crazy story that the conspiracy theorists love. Unless you want to lose all credibility, probably best not to make that link. Not unless your evidence is bullet-proof. Maybe even if it is.”

“Thanks for the warning,” she said. Her tone ambiguous. She’d regained her composure, and her expression revealed nothing.

Had she really faltered there? Maybe he was on the track of something?

“This is all I know. That liquid was kept in the high-security section, in the hazardous items safe, boxed and sealed. I only saw it taken out once, to check it was still there. There was documentation, notes, history. Warnings. I read some of them.”

“Why would you… they… even keep something like that around?”

“I don’t know. The decision was made before my time.”

“Decision? About what?”

“I shouldn’t say, you’re deep enough in this already.”

“But you’re going to say anyway. No point holding back now. They already shot me.” She tapped her finger on the table.

She had a point.

“It was from a big thing in London, back in the sixties. There must have been an attempt to start it up again here, but our predecessors arrested the local lot.”

“You talked to any of them?”

“I would have liked to. All the members died in in prison, long before I joined the force. Probably killed themselves. And the ways they did it… Like something from a cheap horror movie. Tabloids would have loved it.”

“Would have?”

“D-noticed and covered up. You see how high this goes?”

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to start a blog.”

“It’s all deniable anyway. It happened before I was born. The remaining traces could all disappear just like that. Worthless as evidence. Wouldn’t stand up to any scrutiny. The bottle was supposed to be destroyed. Somebody high-up here decided to keep it, against home-office order. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. It’s been a sword hanging over our heads since then. Everyone who knows about it is complicit, which includes me.”

Maeve tapped her finger tips on the table irritably. “When I brought it in, you knew people were doing something with it, and you didn’t tell me? And Patrice drank that fifty-year-old filth.” She made a face, as if she could taste the bitterness of it.

“You have a right to be angry, but it won’t help anything.” He paused, sighed. “And I don’t think Hanley-Muller would ignore you trying to link them to that gang. It’s just a little too close to their inception.”

She leaned in, curious. “What do you mean, inception?”

“The actual Hanley and Muller got together in London, the year after the gang imploded. Publicly. But it’s speculated that their relationship went back years before that. And that they came up here, and literally buried bodies.”

“This in the secret records too?”

“No. I was watching a Nilma documentary last week.”

Across the table, Maeve pressed her fist into her mouth to suppress a laugh.

“Ludicrous. That’s the farce my life has become.”

“If you say so.”

“So, really? Why are you wasting your time on a stuck train where nothing interesting happened? Wouldn’t be the first train to break down on that line, right?”

She was wrong about that. Something had gone on there. Everyone in the carriage was unconscious.

She was giving him an odd look. He needed to say something quickly.

“I can’t run the scene at the flat because it’s your flat. As your direct superior, I can’t run anything close to you. There could be allegations of a conflict of interest if I went anywhere near it. Surely, you did the training modules?”

“If we’re on that topic, Patrice heard a rumor from a uniform that we were screwing each other. Not in the past, but right now. And that we were on the take. Big time. You knew about that story going around, didn’t you?”

Of course he’d heard it, but it wasn’t credible enough to be damaging. It was common knowledge in the division that she was seeing Brian. Paddy was one of the few people that knew they’d ever had a connection. But it was always possible others had noticed back at the time, and kept it to themselves, then used it now. Or maybe, it was completely invented, and pure coincidence that there was a grain of truth in it?

“I heard, but it’s irrelevant to the corruption board. They won’t acknowledge that officially unless there’s no alternative. It would attract too much media attention. For them, it’s better I’m just your superior. A corruption investigation is inevitable now, and I have to keep things by the book.”

“An investigation of who?” she said. “Me?”

He sighed. It wasn’t fair that she’d be investigated, but it was almost certain to happen.

He drummed his fingers on the table-top. “Are they going to find anything?”

She made a disgusted noise. “I thought we just talked all this through.”

“You haven’t given me anything, so I can’t help you. In any case, you can’t mention Paddy. If that comes out there’ll be a scandal. The super does not like scandals.”

“So, we shouldn’t be having this conversation?” she said. “Too late to undo it now.”

He’d thought she had something important to explain, but it seemed like all she had was questions. He ought to leave now. Both of their emotions were high. A little distance would be a good thing, time to think. They could talk it over later.

Or, maybe, she wanted protection, was afraid of somebody else? But she didn’t seem afraid. Far from it.


“No. You look,” she said. There was no arguing with her tone. “This goes in another direction, one you know nothing about. There would have been no point me giving you any details, you wouldn’t believe them without seeing. So you have to see, for other reasons…”

“What are you talking about?”

“I can’t show you right here. Come with me, into the toilet.”

He hesitated. Was she planning to restart their old relationship with a bang? That would be a disaster.

“Are you out of your mind Maeve?” he said. “You know how that sounds?” If the corruption investigation was to clear both of them, they had to keep away from each other.

“You have to come with me now. Get this over with.”

“Are you mad? If somebody gets a photo, it will put us in a tar pit with ethics. Right now your flat is being investigated, and we haven’t declared a prior connection. Going into Burger Bar toilets together is the sort of thing that ends up on a news-site, with pictures.”

“Forget that. If you hurry, nobody is going to take any pictures. We won’t be photographed. You can be sure of it.”

“This looks a bit off. Everyone here is watching us, and your clothes… You can see how this looks.”

“I know. That’s why I can’t show you right here. And going outside together, it would be just as bad, or worse, wouldn’t it?”

“I need to think things through. So do you. How about we revisit this in a couple of days?”

“No. This is non-negotiable. It changes everything. It will only take a moment. Stop worrying about drones. Nobody has a phone out. You’re perfectly safe.”

Her eyes glittered, cold and blue. Blue? That’s what had been bothering him. Why hadn’t he remembered sooner? Some detective he was. Weren’t Maeve’s eyes green? He couldn’t remember with absolute certainty. Probably he’d just forgotten, the sort of thing a woman would never forget. Maybe it was contact lenses? Maybe she thought she was in disguise? Maybe it simply wasn’t Maeve?

There was definitely something wrong about her. He should have asked about it earlier. Like why was she dressed… the way she was?

“It only takes a second to make an exchange. They could say that’s what happened. The bottle. Or cash.”

“What are you talking about?”

“All that money you spent on Aesir Air, earlier today. It set off some alarm bells.”

“And when they look, they’ll see I cleaned out my savings to do it. To get back here in time to save my sister from Patrice.”

“I thought you and her were on the same side.”

“Only after we sorted this out.”

“Alright, I believe you, but what matters is how it looks to the inquiry.”

“I’m past caring how it looks. You have to see this. I mean it. If you don’t agree, I will do something worse. I will make a scene here that people will definitely remember. Come. With. Me. Now.”

The best thing he could do was to leave, quickly. He rose to his feet, pushing the chair away.

She was already standing next to him, her fingers entwined with his, her skin too smooth to be real. How had she got there? Had she moved before him?

“Damn it Maeve. Why are you doing this?”

“It matters. You need to know. Take my word on this.”

He shook his head. “Alright. This time I’ll do as you ask. Under protest, but only because I trust you.”

“I doubt that last part, but protest heard. Loud and clear.”

She walked ahead, and dragged him through the swing door that led into the short corridor when the toilets were. He couldn’t help watching her ass as she did it. Her legs were impossibly long, the sway of her hips had a timing to it that made his underpants suddenly uncomfortable. Her skirt looked like skin-tight rubber that clung to her legs and stretched revealingly between her smooth thighs. Rubber… He better not think of it, there was too much history there.

Maeve had never been like this before. She had a good-girl charm, that was a perfect foil for her willingness to try almost anything, but there was nothing good-girl about this. Nothing at all. It was as if she’d taken off a mask, and the Maeve underneath was more than a little unsettling.

He should leave. He should tear his hand free and head in the opposite direction, but he’d given his word. It would have made more sense if they were going to resurrect their dead relationship, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. If Maeve had made a confession, it was a burial, not a exhumation. Whatever remained between them, they would never be lovers. The disappointment in her voice, more than once during their conversation, had given that away.

story continued in part 15


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