"What now?" he muttered when his boss beckoned Detective Chief Inspector Jimmy Riley as he came in. He was not late, he had not done anything wrong lately and he was already working on a case. Today there was absolutely no reason for the Ice Cube to call him to order first thing in the morning, even before he had got his hands on a cup of coffee. If he knew why he could at least think of a defence as he got a cup. Usually she was right and his defence was useless, but he still always tried.
"James," her voice sounded when he sat down with his coffee mug. He needed that coffee, more so than a lecture this early, and he had gone to get it in spite of being ordered in. Only with coffee could he counter the unexpected attack.
Being called James was not a good sign. Detective Superintendent Sophia Clarke had several ways of addressing him, each for a particular type of message or tone, but James was new. Detective Chief Inspector was usually used to remind him of his rank when he had done something that was not compatible with it, Inspector was used when it was work-related, quick and not very important, Jimmy was rather condescending and Riley was the usual, when it had to do with him and not his rank.
He could not even begin to fathom what James meant, except of course for the fact that it was officially his name. It sounded like an attempt at being chummy, but Clarke never wanted to be chummy. She was always what she would call professional, but what the rest of them would call cold and stiff.
"Nobody ever calls me that except for my mother," he said. Clarke was not as old as his mother, but he never minded riling her. It always felt good to provoke the superintendent. She could take it and she was not too bad at dishing out some provocations of her own. He did not know how she had been before she attained this rank because she had been working elsewhere, but she must have built up some toughness on the way. She had probably worked with worse men and a little opposition did not fluster her.
"I hate to think what you did to deserve only nicknames," said the Ice Cube, "but I cannot say I'm surprised."
Riley waited for her to come to the point. It would not do, of course, to say that she was generally known by her nickname when she was not around. He prided himself on sensing what he could not say. Their mutual provocations always remained tolerably civil and he did not think he could recall her seeing angry with him. Annoyed, yes, but there was no harm in annoying anybody.
"I am frequently invited to cocktail and dinner parties at the Treminster Club, as you might know," she said, primly folding her hands on her desk.
"I didn't know you had a social life." He would have liked to keep it that way. Clarke with a social life was a rather disturbing image. He did not even know if she could be friendly if she liked. She was neutral at best. The worst thing about it was that she was not even ugly; people would try to befriend her because she did not look all that repulsive and then they met with the core of ice.
Clarke going to clubs was an even stranger image. He had never been inside the Treminster Club, but he knew where it was. Cocktail and dinner parties did not sound very shocking, though. Discos, now that would have been something.
Clarke ignored his comment. "Something isn't right at the Treminster Club, but I don't know what. Something might be happening in the other rooms of the place."
"How dare they, with Detective Superintendent Clarke in the building," Riley commented in mock indignation. "Don't they know you're with the police?" He contemplated adding something about her excellent track record as a woman in a high position, but that would be overdoing it. She was, however, always cited as an example. Personally he thought that was rather off-putting for the poor women in the lower ranks who actually had lives.
She was determined to relate her story in spite of his reactions. "The other rooms are always closed, but I expect they are open to the right kind of people."
"I never would have known you were not the right kind of people, ma'am." He was very polite; she could not reproach him for such a remark and his smile was a mix of innocence and smugness.
"It could be gambling," she speculated.
"Or a brothel," he grinned helpfully. The thought of Clarke innocently attending parties in a brothel was too amusing to suppress.
"It's harder to set that up for a night, I imagine."
Riley still wondered what she wanted and why he was not yet being told off. It usually happened a lot sooner, usually between the second or third disrespectful comment. She must be really serious about her misgivings if she did not even mind that he was not yet in the proper frame of mind to listen to them.
"These parties are invitation only," she said and looked regretful. "I can't just send you there to have a look."
He raised his eyebrows. He would think sending a constable would be much more logical. Having a look was practically menial work. Or did she mean he should send a constable? Besides, it did not make sense for another reason. "Do the police ever need an invitation?"
"Well, I'm not sure, so I'm not going to abuse police resources."
"But I'm..." He shook his head. "I see. I can be abused. But you are invited to parties there. Why didn't you have a look yourself?"
She rested her hands on her desk and leant forwards. "All doors were locked and I was instantly approached by someone who would not leave me alone. Helpful or suspicious?"
"Maybe they didn't want you to barge into the brothel because they knew you'd be shocked?" he suggested.
"Shocked?" Clarke frowned. "Of course in the course of my career I've never had any occasion to investigate illegal prostitution and what not. I lived in a bubble before I was made superintendent. Of course. You could have known all this. You would have known, if you hadn't got a one-track mind."
"Yes, ma'am," Riley said meekly, because only that sort of answer would be accepted. "I don't know, but what has this got to do with me? You won't abuse police resources, but you will abuse me? Am I not a police resource?"
"You will come with me next time."
He stared at her and then began to laugh. "To a party? Do I have to pretend to be your date?"
"Are you currently seeing anyone?" Clarke inquired. He seemed rather opposed to the idea. Maybe he had a girlfriend who would protest. In that case she would give him permission to tell his girlfriend their real purpose, but she had never got the impression that he had one.
"No one I couldn't cheat on, but that's not the problem. You're my boss."
And she was older, of course. She could hear that unspoken addition. It was respectful of him not to say it out loud, but it was nevertheless not very flattering, even if it was true. "It wouldn't be real. And do you ever ask two people about their precise relationship? It's only a way of getting you into the building. If you so desire you won't even have to talk to me much inside."
"Is it overtime?"
"I'd allow you to compensate. Don't write it down. This is between the two of us."
"All right then," he sighed. "But I'm not sacrificing my body or my money for your hunches. I'll have a look around, but that is all."
"Thank you." She smiled when he had left her office again. That had been easier than she had expected. She had never considered any others, something she might have had to do if he had said no. The problem was that the ones who were single were single for a reason; they would look strange next to her. She did not have to be ashamed of going anywhere with DCI Riley. For him it was not his looks that kept him womanless, like the others. In fact, she had always thought he had a whole string of girlfriends.
She would take him to the club and see if they could find out something. Two noticed more than one.
He walked to his office with a bemused look on his face. When he got there he remembered he had not wanted to go there at all. They had a large case at the moment and his team had one of the incident rooms. Clarke and her unusual request had thrown him completely off balance.
"You all right, sir?" asked Judy Lewis when he finally arrived where he should be.
She was still young and maybe she thought that being called in by the superintendent was something very grave and akin to being sent to the headmaster. Riley made an effort to grin. "Just the regular Clarke nonsense. Do you ever get called in for anything serious?"
"I never get called in, sir, but I have heard --"
"I forgot you'd get called in by me first. Keep it that way." He seated himself and rested his feet on a box. "You at least escape being called in for lateness. Where is everyone? I lost two constables to Patterson, but that still leaves several others who should have been here by now."
"I don't know." Lewis had started up her computer and was busy reading. "We can't all the be the first."
"True. They might have families." He had nothing to do in the morning except to get ready for work, but he had heard that families demanded attention.
He sipped his coffee and stared at the board to remind himself of what they were working on. "So we've got a guy somewhere with body parts in his freezer. Body parts that aren't his own." And it was a guy who made no secret of it. It had to be a man. He could not imagine it was a woman.
"He must have a large freezer," said Lewis. "Even if he did dump the largest part first."
"True. Legs and arms and the head are pretty large as well." He imagined a head looking up at him from a freezer. Only someone completely devoid of feeling, except possibly hatred, could deal with that. But the guy had a large freezer and he kept the head for longer than he kept a hand and a foot. That was odd.
Of course it could mean that he wanted to keep everyone in the dark as to the identity of the victim. Riley pondered that. It did not make complete sense, though. The head would have to turn up somewhere sometime and if it was in a freezer it would not even look very unrecognisable. They could publicise photos of it.
Clarke sauntered in with her mug. She went to the whiteboard and picked up a marker with which she drew a cross and a sort of square. "Look what I just thought of," she said very calmly. "Here's where we are and here the torso was found." She moved her marker a little down. "And later then a foot down here."
"Oh, crap," said Riley. He saw the picture and it warranted rather a lot more excitement than Clarke was showing. It had nothing to do with keeping the victim's identity a secret. He pointed. "And a hand up there."
"Exactly." She drew the hand. "It could be a coincidence, but the arm may well turn up between here and there, and so forth."
He was still stunned, but not so much as poor Lewis, who only caught on with a gasp when Clarke drew an arm with dotted lines. Riley thought about the arm and wondered if they could predict where other parts might surface. The when was easier. Both times there had been nine days between the discoveries. "Lovely. That's a large area." There would be very few witnesses if the perpetrator dumped it in the woods and it would be impossible to lie in wait for him, even if they might expect which day it was going to occur.
"Nobody may see him do it, but he wants the arm to be found. Not yet, though. I'm betting on the other extremities first, to make absolutely sure we know we're being played."
"In that case, no more publicity. That should bother him tremendously," Riley remarked. "He's not dumping parts, but planting them one by one. If that doesn't get him the attention he wants..." Something desperate might happen if his audience did not react.
"Lewis," said the superintendent. "Find out the distances between the locations and check where the mirroring body parts might turn up -- which police area, I mean, since we cannot be exact, so I can inform them to keep it quiet when something is found."
"Yes, sir." Lewis set to work immediately.
Clarke looked so nonplussed by being called sir by another woman when she had undoubtedly campaigned heavily for women in the police force that Riley choked on his coffee. "Equal opportunities for police persons," he said. "Though I think we should all be called ma'am so as not to be misogynist."
Clarke ignored him, her best course of action, and she also ignored Lewis' little squeak. "Would he live in this town? He chose this as his centre."
"That would be simple. Maybe where he leaves the head is his head location? That's also symbolic. When you came in I was just contemplating why he wasn't getting rid of it, since a head in my freezer would give me the shivers. Should we get the psycho babe in?"
She frowned. "Psycho babe?"
"The psychologist. Good-looking, late twenties..." He grinned. The superintendent was very likely to disapprove of calling in a psychologist only because she was attractive. He hoped she still was, although on second thought she was probably no longer in her late twenties by now.
"I prefer to call one I actually trust," she said icily.
"But do we need one?" There might be a standard pattern that insane murderers followed. Profilers always said so, creating their own jobs. In that respect he would agree with Clarke's distrust.
"Not yet. We're perfectly capable of drawing our own conclusions -- and I don't want such people in my way, because I'd trust very few of them. There's not a lot to go on yet. A guess at his character is hardly going to help us find him at this point, is it?" She did not expect to be contradicted, so she merely gave them a pointed look and left.
Lewis spoke when Clarke was gone. "Do you like the psychologist, sir?"
"Well..." He considered carefully what he could say about young women to a young woman whose boss he was. "It's always better than an ugly man in his fifties, isn't it? Except if your name is Clarke, apparently."
Clarke's party was that same evening. She had not given him much notice, so he left work a little earlier than usual. He was a little apprehensive about the evening, though he had an appreciation for the absurd that also made him look forward to it. There were people with whom he could have a good laugh by the time this was safe to tell. That all depended on Clarke. So far he was loyal. Stiff she might be, unjust she was not.
Riley rang the bell at the address Clarke had given him. She probably lived here; the name plate read S. A. Clarke. The woman who opened the door looked very little like the superintendent at work, however. He supposed it was her nevertheless, but he could not refrain from being annoying. "I came to pick up Detective Superintendent Clarke."
She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "All right, Riley. Are you going to keep that up all night?"
"I was serious!" he protested, almost gaping open-mouthed at her trousers. And her pink blouse. Pink! That was such a daring colour for the superintendent, who mostly appeared in dark blue, brown or grey skirts with jackets. "You don't look like that at work." Well, the hair did, but the rest did not.
"There's not that much difference," she snapped.
"Have it your way," he muttered, but it made his life much easier. He had been wondering how he could convincingly pass himself off as Clarke's date if she was as stiff and frumpy as at work, but if she could look like this it would be much more manageable. He would still look younger, but she was not looking as if they came from different planets now. "I promise to be good."
"Excuse me for a moment." She disappeared behind a door.
He took in the sterile whiteness of the superintendent's hallway as he waited. He was glad she had not sent him home to change into other clothes. Apparently his suit was good enough, although she had not specified anything beforehand and he had worried a little and come early. It would not look wrong beside her outfit.
She came out of the door again and he caught a glimpse of an equally sterile living room. It looked as if she had recently moved, but that had in fact been a few years ago. Spending time decorating her flat was clearly not one of Clarke's priorities.
"Let's go," she said, putting her phone and a piece of paper in one of the pockets of her jacket.
At the entrance of the Treminster Club Clarke produced an invitation. It was approved and they were let in. "Why are they so strict?" Riley wondered. He did not see any reason for it. It was hardly a VIP event. The other people arriving at the same time were neatly dressed, but very ordinary.
"Free drinks, of course," Clarke replied as she put her invitation back into her pocket.
"Drinks?" He glanced over his shoulder. If he was not mistaken most of these people had come by car, because the car park was certainly full. What were they going to drink? But he should remember he was ostensibly on a date. "But all right. You'd keep an eye on that, I suppose. Would you like me to hang up your jacket?"
"No, thank you. It contains all my things."
"I thought women had handbags for things." He could leave his keys and phone in a pocket, just like Clarke, but she was a woman and she ought to be carrying much more. Apparently she was not. Then it made sense that she would not bring a handbag for it, he reflected, but it was still odd.
"Those are women who do nothing but stand around and talk, James," Clarke said somewhat condescendingly.
"I see." He wondered about her plans. She must have something more active in mind than merely standing and talking. Was it a dancing party? He nearly choked and then told himself to behave. "Shall I get you a drink, ma'am?"
"I'll walk with you. And don't call me ma'am."
"Have you never had a date?" he inquired. "You have no coat to hang up, no handbag for me to hold when you disappear mysteriously, you even come along to carry your own drink. You're not leaving much for me to do."
"It sounds as if you've dated some very strange women," she commented. "Is the point of dating that you should be given something to do? You know why I brought you. And suppose we have to leave in a hurry. It's inconvenient to have to look for my coat among hundreds of others."
That was true, although he did not expect a hurried departure at all. She must be leading a strange life if she reckoned with all those things. Oh well. Riley sighed and wondered if he was leading her towards the drinks or if he was being led.
"How may I help you, sir?" said a man in a security uniform.
"Just curious. I'd never been here before," Riley replied. He had looked around in the main room for a while, but he had seen nothing out of order. Most guests were standing around with drinks and some were sitting. Middle to upper middle class and not very young.
Because Clarke knew people and he did not, and he was not really sure she wanted the people she knew to meet him, he had wandered into the hall and the lavatories. She had said she had not got far when she had tried to do that. It looked as if he was not getting far either. The security man had popped up behind him very quickly after he rounded the corner into a long corridor.
"It's just offices that way," said the man, manoeuvring slyly so he was blocking the way to the corridor.
"Not a shortcut to the bar?" he asked in the stubborn manner of obtuse people.
"No, the bar is that way," the man pointed. "Back."
"Isn't it behind this?"
"Yes," the man admitted with some reluctance, "but there are offices and kitchens in between and there's no direct passage."
"See, I'm not totally lost!" Riley said triumphantly. "Though I did wonder why it was so quiet here. Thanks." He made a point of looking innocent and grateful.
There was no sense in trying anything if the corridor was being guarded. He had been obvious, of course, moving slowly and looking around, and this had instantly drawn the attention of one of the men who hovered near the entrance. Helpful or suspicious, Clarke had asked. He had the same question now. If left alone he would soon have found there was no way to the bar. There had been no need to tell him so unless there was something he was not allowed to see further down the corridor.
Riley returned to the main room and, ignoring the people to whom she was speaking, laid his arm around Clarke's waist. "Don't you fancy some privacy?" he whispered in her ear. She had better understand that, because he could not think of any other way.
"Soon," she whispered reassuringly.
He hoped that was not too much of a dismissal, but he winked nevertheless. He could get another drink while she rid herself of her company. As he waited, he struck up a conversation with the girl behind the bar. If Clarke did not come soon, it would be difficult to break off his conversation, he feared, and he glanced over his shoulder a few times.
But there she was. He handed her a glass of wine and loosely laid his arm around her waist again. Then he slowly led her towards the hall. The lavatories were directly across from the main room and it was fairly busy there, but a little further there was a corner, half hidden by a few large plants, with a few couches and a table.
There were worse positions a man could be in. He was seated on one of the chairs in the corner, half hidden by a plant, and Clarke had her head on his chest. She looked one way and he looked the other. It was not unpleasant and she had a nice perfume. He had contemplated going further, but he could not bring himself to kiss the woman. This would have to look cosy enough.
But then Riley stiffened. "Oh, shoot." His mother came out of the lavatories. His mother! What was she doing here? She might wonder the same thing about him, just when he was pretending to be cuddling an older woman and his boss at that. He tried to disengage himself.
"What is it?" Clarke whispered.
"My mother is about to --" He was cut off when his mother was quicker than he had thought. She must have eyes in the side of her head.
He turned his head and did not even try to fake a smile. "Hi, Mum. What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here?" His mother very curiously studied Clarke, who now sat up, something she should have done much earlier.
"Er, attending the party." He did not even know what sort of party it was and in whose honour. Charity? Some organisation? She had better not ask him anything about it.
"And this is...?" she asked in that annoying manner mothers had when one failed to be well-mannered.
If Clarke was not invisible he supposed he must say who she was, but he did so with reluctance. "Oh, er, this is Superintendent Clarke."
Mrs Riley raised her eyebrows. Clearly she did not think that women who had been in intimate embraces should be called Superintendent.
"Sophia," Clarke corrected.
Clarke even squeezed out a polite smile. Riley was completely at a loss now. He should not be; he should be telling his mother very politely to get lost, without letting her know she was disturbing serious police work. Clarke thought of this as serious police work, after all. She was not subjecting herself to this for fun, he presumed.
"Are you with the police too then? Is that a higher rank?" Mrs Riley wondered. "I don't think James has been a superintendent yet."
"Mum," Riley said through clenched teeth. She should get lost. Instantly. In a moment she would start asking Clarke's age and marital status, and the status of their relationship. Mothers could never curb their nosiness. And why was she pretending to be an absolute moron? He hoped she would not sit down and start conversing with Clarke.
"We're undercover," Clarke whispered.
While this and a few knowing looks got rid of his mother, it did nothing to set Riley at ease. "You do realise she may now tell everybody?" He could just imagine her doing so.
"It's better than her telling everybody that her son is having an indiscreet affair with his boss."
He agreed with that, especially because it was difficult to deny if he was seemingly caught in the act. If he did they would think he was embarrassed about the difference in their ages. "We're behind a plant. How is this indiscreet?" he said petulantly.
"Running into someone's mother is a first," Clarke commented.
It had never happened to him before either and he did not think he was to blame for it. "It's perfectly normal to have a mother. Or did you hatch from an egg?"
There was a sharp, annoyed intake of breath.
He continued, although he was resolved to mind his words a little better. "But what if the fact that we're undercover somehow gets out to the people you suspect of dodgy dealings?"
"Could your mother be involved with them? If she's not, I don't see how. She clearly didn't buy it, so why should she tell anyone? Those locks on those doors could be picked easily," she added in the same breath as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
"I'm not going to do your dirty jobs for you, Superintendent," Riley said in determination. "Is that why you brought me? So I could pick locks illegally just because you have a hunch? Because everyone knows Riley isn't too strict. Can't you just go outside and look in?"
"The blinds are down. Didn't you see that when we arrived? Besides, the offices in the middle of the building don't have outside windows. Can you pick a lock without looking at it?"
"I'm sorry?" His arms were not long enough to reach a door from where they were and if he walked over, it would not matter if he was looking at the lock or not. The security man would undoubtedly come to ask him what he was doing.
Clarke had found a way around that problem. "You could pretend to be kissing me, while picking a lock."
He was too startled to come up with a good reply. This was Clarke speaking. Clarke, who would probably gag at getting kissed, was suggesting this. It was insane. "Everyone knows men can't do two things at the same time. So, no."
"You would have done it had it been your own hunch."
"I might have. You can't be sure of that. I'd never tell my boss."
"Well, your boss knows you cut corners. And you have been known to grant yourself access to places that should have remained closed to you."
"And that's why you brought me." It became a little clearer.
"Not entirely. I also thought you might be more into our current undercover activities than, say, Patterson."
"Patterson," Riley repeated. "Well, to be honest I don't blame you for not wanting to snog Patterson, even with something as important as your hunch. I do groom myself a little better, but I wouldn't want to place any bets on our willingness. And I'm serious. I'm not going to pin you against a door and pick a lock while making it appear as if I'm fondling you. No way. But I bet Patterson wouldn't mind giving it a try next time."
Clarke gave him an icy stare.
The next morning he had to get back to the case at hand and he had no time to spare for either Superintendent Clarke or her suspicions. He had left drawing conclusions to her. They had not seen much apart from a possibly suspicious security man. Once a man had opened one of the offices with a key, but he had not stayed in long, nor had he brought anything or anyone out.
When their lengthy pseudo-snogging might inspire some curiosity, or perhaps when she had got tired of it, Clarke had suggested returning to the main room. Riley had hesitantly mentioned his mother, although he was afraid of being mocked, and they had gone home instead. She had not said anything about missing the rest of the event, but perhaps she did not care.
His mother rang him at midday to ask if she and his father could come over in the evening. He rubbed his eyes, tried to figure out if he had enough time to do his grocery shopping and said yes. Only later did he remember that his mother had seen him with Clarke and that her desire to see him might be related. But the damage was done and he would simply have to receive her.
As he walked through the supermarket and passed the wine section he remembered that he had seen on his way out that it had been an evening of the wine lovers society, of which he had never known his mother was a member. The same applied to Clarke, though superintendents could afford good wine. All members of the society could, he supposed, but what they might be up to was a mystery to him. It could be the staff of the club who were up to no good, too. He would have to ask Clarke if all events had been organised by that same society.
But a second after thinking he should ask her, he told himself he should not. It was her thing.
Detective Superintendent Clarke stayed at work late as usual, but she had used the opportunity to do some research into the Treminster Club. It all looked perfectly unsuspicious at first sight. That was a pity, but she had not yet changed her mind in spite of the fact that she had not seen anything untoward the night before. The security guard had been looking at them a lot, but that might have been because not many people were seen romantically entwined in the hall, even if the soft couches seemed to have been placed there for that purpose.
Speaking of that, DCI Riley had surprised her. Either being too close to her had disgusted him or he was not the Casanova she had always taken him for. She had not expected such hesitation -- or decency -- in his manner. It had not become any better after his mother had seen them. Had anyone on duty ever run into his mother? He was lucky he had not been with any male colleagues. He would never have lived it down.
But Riley's referring to her as Superintendent Clarke had been unintelligent. Was he really so easily shaken by his mother that he could not invent anything? He was a DCI and should be more unflappable. Had his mother never caught him with a woman before?
They would have to visit the club again, of course, but not as guests. They had to try something else first. She realised she thought in the plural, although it might be difficult to get Riley to come along in his spare time another time. He had come along because he thought her strange, undoubtedly, but the novelty of that would quickly have worn off. What would be left was some irritation with her having hatched from an egg.
She could not possibly make her investigation official. There was a chance that she was wrong. She only had the behaviour of the security guards to go on, after all. The only way to find out was to look into the matter herself.
Clarke had looked around at work, but Riley appeared to have left. She could not get another excursion off her mind, however, and looked up his address. On her way home she could stop by his house and discuss it with him. She was let into the building by someone just leaving, which spared her the embarrassment of having to beg him to let her in. She was already going to have to beg him to come with her another time. It might be difficult; the egg comment still rankled.
According to the directions in the hall, he lived on the third floor and she took the stairs. There were two flats on each floor and she looked at the other door suspiciously, hoping it would not suddenly open.
Riley opened his door after half a minute and stared at her in surprise. He quickly became anxious. "What are you doing here, Superintendent? I have dinner guests!"
Clarke had not expected that sort of reaction. She was taken aback enough to be at a loss. Saying sorry and leaving would make her look weak and stupid, and she was too proud for that. She was his boss; he could not dismiss her like that. "We need to discuss the case. My case."
He frowned and stepped back, as if he was going to close the door in her face. "Not now I can't."
She pushed her foot over the threshold, because she was not going to allow him to send her away with nothing. "You must."
He looked annoyed. "Just because you have no personal life doesn't mean I don't either. Wait for my guests to leave, if you insist."
Clarke found herself pulled into the hall, around a corner and then pushed into the first room at hand. It was Riley's bedroom and it was a frightful mess.
"Was that the front door?" asked Riley's mother.
"Was it? I'll have a look. Maybe I didn't close it properly earlier." He had not told them who was at the door and he certainly had not told them about Clarke in his bedroom. He had not expected her to stay there long, but if the sound had really been the front door, she had stayed rather long -- or she had left the door open and this was a burglar leaving now. But somehow he could not imagine Clarke leaving the door open for a burglar, no matter how irritated she was.
He had not forgotten about her, but he had been reluctant to go to her before his parents had left. She would be angry and she would raise her voice, whereupon his parents would come out and see her. That would be too difficult to explain, to his mother especially. Clarke could not possibly be undercover in his bedroom, no matter the explanation. If he did nothing, she would quietly leave.
The front door was closed now. He looked into his bedroom and stood open-mouthed. It was tidy. The clothes that had been strewn across the floor were now in an overflowing laundry basket. The books that had been under his bed and beside it were neatly piled up. There was another pile with assorted rubbish, but all in all it looked superb. He pulled open his closet. That too looked as if someone had been through it most thoroughly. And the bed! There were new sheets on the bed as well.
Could all that be done in an hour or two? He always put it off himself because he did not have time for it. Superintendent Clarke was evidently a most efficient woman, just like she was at work, but he had not expected her to clean up. He had only needed to hide her somewhere and this room had been most convenient.
She might not have left the building yet and he might be able to intercept her. The lift took ages. Riley shot to the other side of the flat, to the bedroom that gave onto the balcony. There was too much rubbish in that room -- everything he had taken out of the living room before his parents had arrived had been dumped there -- and he panted slightly when he could finally lean over the railing to look out on the car park.
Below, Clarke was tossing something that looked like his old bedsheets into her car. She was insane. Why was she stealing his sheets? He could shout, but then everyone would hear him, including his parents. Unfortunately the living room gave access to the same balcony and his parents would come out to look. He ran back to his living room and dialled her number. His parents were looking at him strangely, but he ignored them. "What did you do?"
"Wasn't that obvious?" Her tone was cool and smug.
"What did you take?"
"Ah, you noticed," she said. "Well, the offensive bedsheets and a couple of Hawaii shirts."
"Why?" he cried. Why had she taken them and why were his bedsheets offensive? Who did she think she was? She was his boss, not his cleaning lady or a second mother. She had no business going through his personal stuff. He was nearly seething, but he had to control his anger for his own sake. His parents were listening.
"To prevent you from coming to work in them. Jimmy, don't forget to load the washing machine."
He ended the call before he could say something nasty.
"What was that all about?" asked his father. "Was someone in your flat?"
It took him a while before he could speak. First he replaced the phone, his movements slow and controlled. "Nothing. Just someone annoying I happened to see from the window. I didn't want to shout down. That's so..."
"Very odd. Just like that stuff with your boss undercover," said his mother. She had not mentioned it until now, which had been quite a feat. "I looked it up. She's higher than you. Older, too."
"Undercover? What was that?" His father had not yet heard.
"Oh, didn't I mention that I saw James at the Treminster Club last night? He was being very, very friendly with his boss behind a plant. I was surprised to see him and surprised to see him like that, so I walked over, but his boss told me they were undercover." Her voice dripped with sarcasm. "She's a regular guest, but when she brings her toyboy she's undercover? And for goodness' sake, why are you a toyboy now? James, you were promoted on your own merits. There's no need to have an affair with your boss. And no need not to tell me."
Riley told himself to stay polite and patient. Of course it was more insulting to have an affair and not to have told his mother about it, than to have an affair at all. "Have you ever been to the other rooms in that building?"
"No. There is nothing else that's open to guests. Precisely what are you suspecting? Well, pretending to suspect. I expect it was just an excuse to get your hands on each other."
Of course. He was glad to see his father could not imagine it in the least. They would not both interrogate him and he hoped he would be able to distract his mother by not taking the bait. "Look, Mum. I don't know. We were there to find out."
"It's ridiculous. Only decent people go there."
"As if people with money and a good job never do anything wrong," said Riley.
"I don't see the problem," said his father. "Why should his boss lie about an affair? Is she married?"
"No." Actually he had no idea, but it seemed highly unlikely. No Mr Clarke or Mr Anything had ever accompanied Clarke to functions. She could have one at home and simply never mention him, but it was very unlikely.
His father shrugged. "Well, then. She can be friendly with James as much as they like. It's not our business."
"Thank you, but we were working and not being friendly," Riley said. "Do I have to explain how two people just sitting may look suspicious, but two people sitting closely do not? How often do you go to the Club?"
"Oh, you're wondering if you'll run into me again next time," said his mother. "Well, I've done some snooping of my own and that boss of yours comes there much more often than we do."
That was probably why Clarke suspected something and his mother did not, but it would be useless to say so. Riley merely sighed. It sounded as if he had been won over to Clarke's side if he was prepared to defend her hunches. This was scary.
"How old is she?"
"Superintendent Clarke? I have no idea." He did not even want to have any idea. "Look, Mum. We were working. I've had to do worse things."
But that was not the most felicitous thing he could have said.
His mother had washed the dishes before she left and Riley had used that time to start a load of laundry, not because Clarke had ordered him, but because he wanted to escape his mother's comments about the state of the kitchen. On no account did he want to reveal that it had looked even worse before she had arrived. He had managed to clean up just a little bit after work. It was hardly visible, but it had taken him rather long.
Usually he did not need so much counter space in the kitchen. He ate at work or he heated up some dinner in the microwave. In the morning he had coffee at work and no breakfast until his mid-morning walk to the supermarket near the police station. There were days that he did not set foot in his kitchen at all. The state of it had worried him as well, but there had not been more time to do anything about it. And anyone not living here had no reason or right to complain.
If he was home he would rather spend his energy on cleaning rooms he actually used, such as the bathroom. He could be proud of his bathroom. It was very clean. Of course his mother had not said a word about that. It was typical. Women only looked at what was wrong. Just look at Clarke -- she had only commented on the clothing she did not like, disregarding the fact that she had left 99% of his wardrobe in his room.
"All right, who keeps turning over the photo of our dead body?" DS Mann exclaimed in frustration when he cast a glance at the wall.
"It's a dead torso and --" Riley began.
"You, sir? Why?"
"No, it wasn't me. I can see, though, why someone might. Aren't the photos of the foot and the hand gruesome enough?" He could also see why someone might not think the torso needed turning over: it was that of a woman and a particularly well-endowed one at that. There had been reactions when the photo had first come in. Naturally.
"The torso isn't particularly gruesome."
"Mann, my office," Clarke said icily. She had suddenly materialised in the doorway.
The rest of the team suddenly feigned activity. To be called into Clarke's office was something they wanted to avoid at all costs. Only Riley leant back in his chair and studied the photo of the torso on the board. It had been Clarke who had turned it over, no doubt. He could not imagine it had been one of his men. Nor Lewis, the only woman. She would not dare. He wondered why Clarke had thought it necessary.
Mann returned, looking subdued. "I'll never pin the Ice Cube on my wall; I'll tell you that."
There was no reaction to that, as the rest could see Clarke was not far behind him and she had probably overheard him. "Detective Chief Inspector? A word," she said and turned on her heels.
"Uh oh. You have to keep us in line, sir," said someone.
While that might be so, it might just as well be related to the Treminster Club. Riley shrugged. He followed Clarke into her office and waited for her to take up a position behind her desk. He was not worried. He had not done anything.
"Do you have any idea why I called you in?" she asked.
He decided not to feel baited by the implication that he had no idea. "He must not lose sight of the fact that the victim was murdered, even though she might have large breasts," he droned. Well, something like that. The large breasts featured in there somewhere. Or simply breasts, regardless of size.
She looked a little surprised. "Have you told him that?"
"I have not." He had been about to tell Mann something, but he had not known exactly what and he had never got the chance to finish. He thought it might have ended up being something about all the extremities that had been cut off, which did not make for a pleasant sight.
"I'm sure he knows."
"What would the victim's family think if they heard Mann speak -- and undoubtedly not only Mann?" She narrowed her eyes and studied him for signs of guilt.
They had no idea who the victim was. The body parts were all from the same woman, but it was nobody who had been reported missing lately. Either the victim had no family or they cared very little. He was surprised that Clarke seemed to care. She was always detached. But she probably knew what was correct behaviour regardless. "Not a whole lot, since they didn't even report her missing."
Clarke glared when she was reminded of that. "You know what I mean."
"I do. Maybe you should send Mann to seminars next time. I'm not like that." He had been sent to a few that had all been a waste of his time. She knew that. He suspected she used it as a form of punishment.
"All men are."
Riley leant over her desk and spoke in a sympathetic voice. "Would you like to talk about it?"
Clearly she did not, because she gestured. "What I'd like you to do is to interfere much sooner when such behaviour rears its ugly head in your team. Nip it in the bud."
He saluted, although he had no intention of even trying to eradicate it completely. That was impossible. He supposed all jokes would be forbidden as well. "You seem to have a better radar than I do. I never realised anything was up until you had turned that photo over."
"But you did know it was me?"
"Who else? It's fine to lecture Mann, but don't go photoshopping bikinis onto the corpse," he advised. "We can do that ourselves. It would be how we coped. With bad jokes."
Clarke looked astonished. "Are you telling me what to do? Are you saying I'd do something like that?"
"Well, if you'll allow me, I'd also advise you to take off the jacket. I'm not naming names, whatever you will say, but someone called you The Never Sexier Sophia when you came in. It's the equivalent of the Hawaii shirt." He studied the jacket critically again. It was awful and shapeless. The skirt, which he could now not see, was the same. Even a huge bin bag would be more attractive.
She stiffened instantly. "I'm not here to be sexy."
"You're not here to be mocked either, are you? How fair is it to deny me my flowered shirts because I wouldn't be sexy enough in them?" He knew he was treading dangerous territory, but she had not yet given any signs of being seriously angry.
"Point taken, James. I'll make a concession before you spread that news and I'll take off the jacket."
He grinned. She was not so bad.
Clarke took off her jacket and hung it over the back of her chair. She would humour Riley this once. He was not so bad. Just as bright and successful, but less strict about rules. But what would work be like without Riley's interpretation of the rules and his impertinence? At the Treminster Club he had been normal, though. He had not overstepped any bounds at all.
Maybe when he had pushed her into his bedroom, but that might have been her own fault. He had had guests and she should not have insisted.
His bedroom had at first shocked her, but because she had thought he would soon come to speak to her, she had looked around and seen that most of the mess was clothes. Picking up Riley's dirty clothes had given her something to do -- if she did not think about it -- and extending the effort to his books had only been a small step. But he had never returned and she had left. She did not know who his guests had been and why they had not been allowed to see her. From the state of his bedroom she guessed they were not girlfriends. And that reminded her of something else.
She got up and walked across the corridor. Riley was seated on a desk and not on a chair. She envied such nonchalance; she would never be able to sit on a desk and look convincingly unaffected. Because she often came in to check up on them, he did not stop speaking. It sounded like a summary of their findings so far, so she stayed to listen.
The men and the only woman on the team dispersed after this talk and set to work. Some left the room and others picked up the phone. Riley stayed on his desk, looking at her. He said nothing, though his eyes signalled that she was supposed to understand something. "Speak," she ordered.
She inclined her head towards the door. "My office."
"The corridor will do," he protested. He lowered his voice when they got there. "I was trying to let you know you should undo the top buttons of your blouse. It's all part of my fashion advice."
"A man cannot go wrong with a suit, but ties and socks are another matter, and let us not even mention the rest of your wardrobe. You're not one to dispense fashion advice, Detective Chief Inspector." She had got too good a look at his wardrobe, but that was not the matter that was causing her eyes to flash angrily. This was definitely overstepping his bounds. "And asking me to unbutton my blouse is something you might actually come to regret."
He sighed and looked away in frustration. "As if you don't know I'm talking about two buttons. Two nights ago..."
Yes, she was aware that she had worn something with a lower neckline two nights ago. That blouse then could not even have been buttoned up to her chin if she had wanted to. "That was off duty. You have no idea where I'm about to go. I need the buttons and I need the jacket. All right?"
"Want me to come and beat them up?"
"That'd be really good for your career," she said sarcastically, but she sensed that the offer was sympathetic at heart. He had looked very sympathetic, at any rate, and not provocative. And he had understood her far too well, when she should not even have said that much.
"Oh, so they are your bosses?" he asked with a shrewd look.
"I don't want to talk about that. I needed to ask you something else. When I asked you to come to the Treminster Club, you said there was no one you couldn't cheat on. What does that mean? Does that mean there's no one who would complain if you went to a party with another woman just once? Or are you completely free to do as you like in the evenings? Always?"
Riley crossed his arms and leant against the wall. "Oh, no. I'm going to be pressured into more parties, aren't I?"
"No, not at the moment, but it does involve overtime. Are you involved with anybody, Riley?"
"I'm not sure. There are about half a dozen who are still going to ring me, but I guess if they haven't rung me in the past two years, they never will," he shrugged with a nonchalant smile.
"What does that mean?" she exclaimed.
"Exactly that. I never ring them back and I tell them to ring me, but..."
Clarke sighed. "I was mainly concerned with your possibly having a serious relationship that might be jeopardised by late-night outings, but I see I needn't have been so considerate." Date and dump, was probably his modus operandi.
Riley let out a mocking laugh. "The police force has never shown any consideration towards relationships that might be jeopardised in whatever stage. It's a bit late for such consideration now."
"Does that mean you are free to go?"
"I'm a bit surprised you would give some thought to the feelings of a girlfriend, but not to mine," he said with some amazement.
"I don't doubt your cooperation," she said with a cool smile. He was intrigued and he was loyal. He would not be able to pass up this chance and although he doubted her, he was not entirely sure she was wrong. It was all too clear. "Because you could have said no to the party as well and my next plan isn't anything like that. We won't give your mother the opportunity to trouble you about your supposed relationship with someone her age."
He stared in a way he had never stared before. "Someone her age? Don't tell me -- no."
"Hyperbole. Not that you don't think forty-five is the same as fifty-five, sixty-five, seventy-five...but to me the difference is rather crucial, as you will understand."
"You gave me a scare. I thought I'd seen that all wrong."
He shook his head. "Never mind. I'm going back to work."
Clarke's car picked him up at nine outside his flat. She was in jeans. "Jeans!" said Riley in awe. He had never seen her like that, but they did not even look brand new. She must have had them a while and this was difficult to comprehend. "I'd almost think you were normal."
She focused on getting her car back onto the road. "Normal? Don't insult me."
"It's so light outside. What do we do?" He had wondered about that, but she had said nine. It must not matter to her plans that it was not yet dark.
"We sit in the car until it gets dark."
"I thought you were dragging me along to something exciting," he complained. It was not getting dark until after ten. They would have to pass a very boring hour first, assuming they would get out of the car after that, of which he could not even be sure. The sight of Clarke in her jeans would eventually begin to bore him, he assumed.
"I have carrots to pass the time."
"Carrots?" Riley said idly. "Is that a game?"
"No, they're vegetables. Small, orange vegetables. Do you know what vegetables are?"
He groaned. "Do you mean we're on a dinner date?"
"I'm sorry I didn't dress up for it -- though you're ogling me as if I did," Clarke said with a sideways glance. "And I suppose I must suffer it, having dragged you along myself."
He was not aware that he was ogling. He had just looked curiously; that was all. "If you don't know by now that I'm purely verbal..."
"I've never cared to wonder what you are, Detective Chief Inspector. I'm going to park in the car park so we can observe the building."
Riley said nothing and waited until she had driven there and found a spot for her car. He did not know what to think about the spot, but Clarke seemed happy with it. If asked he would say he saw very little from there, although the other side of the coin was that hardly anybody would see them, unless they were the owners of the car directly beside them. But she was his boss and he was only here to follow orders and to observe her, rather than the building. She was very strange.
"I see a fire exit and a few windows," he remarked, expecting the carrots to come out any second. They would gnaw like rabbits while watching a door and a few windows where nothing happened. It might all be taking place elsewhere. Or nowhere at all, which was more likely.
Clarke had done her homework. "Yes. As you know the main room spans the entire other side. Nobody would enter on that side if they wanted to go unnoticed. Either we can see them go through this door, or we can see them go around the corner. If anyone comes by at all."
"Ah, that's the crucial question." Riley leant back and waited for a carrot. She soon produced them and when he had finished one, he spoke. "There is no Mr Clarke, is there? Or you wouldn't be eating carrots in a car on Friday night with someone who annoys you." He could not imagine she was giving up an agreeable evening at home for this. It must be the same as for him: any company was better than none.
"I don't tolerate anybody in my flat for too long, so I would be here in any case."
"Surely nobody would let his wife go alone."
"Don't be sexist, Jimmy," she said, still in the same cool tone.
"Actually, you began when you tidied my room and told me to eat vegetables. You don't think my male colleagues would do that, do you?" He was deeply disturbed by the fact that he did not even seem to mind very much. After his initial anger he had actually been grateful, but it was nevertheless disturbing.
"I think your male colleagues wouldn't have tidied your room because they wouldn't have been shoved into a bedroom, but they would have been allowed to meet your guests like normal people."
"My parents were there. If you'd turned up at my house my mother would have had a fit. She had reversed the matter -- thought the undercover thing was an excuse to be touching, not the other way around -- as all women reverse matters."
She said nothing.
"You don't even contradict me," he said with some surprise.
"What would be the point? Your mind is made up and you are probably right about your mother. You know her best."
It was getting darker. Clarke had finished her carrots with the help of Riley, she had taken a few sips of her water and then she had spoken. "Let's go."
Riley fastened his seatbelt.
"No, out of the car."
"Action? All right, where to?" He was ready for some action, but he would have to stretch a few muscles first.
"Around the corner," she indicated. "And around the next corner to the back of the building. We can't be seen there."
Even in the darkness he could see her eyes gleam. Her voice had also become more animated. She was crazy. The Ice Cube, completely bonkers and in jeans. It was interesting. He followed her through the undergrowth until she dropped down behind a bush on a path of grass. "If we are found here, what's our excuse?" he whispered.
"Romance," she replied without glancing back. She was looking at the club. "You know, er..."
That answer did nothing to correct this new impression of her insanity. "I'm not sure it's logical here." He could not imagine anyone would come here to be romantic. If anyone chose a place as open as the lawn, why behind a plant? It made no sense. And she could not get the word out, but she did want to pretend she was doing it? Although he supposed many more people suffered from that affliction.
"Oh, why not? We could say we've done it everywhere else already and we like variation."
"If they knew you they'd never believe that," Riley muttered. He lay down beside her and left it to her to observe the building while he looked at the sky. Clarke was crazy to invent a mystery so she could sneak around in the dark. That desk job must not be satisfying her completely. Or did she think she was a superhero after hours?
"You're right; I'm not excitable," she said after a while, but then an excited tremor ran through her body. "Sssh! A light!"
Riley rolled onto this stomach to have a look. It was indeed a light. Someone had come into one of the offices, but the blinds were closed rather quickly. It had been a man in a suit, not one of the security guards.
"Good," Clarke whispered. "Now we can approach without being seen. Come. Lift me up so I can peer through that gap up there."
He had followed her reluctantly, mostly to keep her out of trouble, but he was not going to do more. "No. I'd never call you fat, Superintendent, but I think lifting you up would be too much for me. Besides, even if I managed for a split second, you would knock against the window." And he did not have to explain what would happen if there was someone inside. Would she still use the romance excuse? That would be a little difficult to keep up.
"Detective Chief Inspector, lift me up."
"I'll be out with back trouble on Monday," he said under his breath, but he did not doubt that she had heard him. He had wanted her to. "Will you come and nurse me then?"
Riley bit back the hundred and one comments about professionalism that occurred to him. He lifted her up by the waist and let her look over his shoulder. She pushed herself even higher by resting her hands on his shoulders. If he let go she would land with her nose against the window pane. He had to avoid that at all costs, but she was heavy.
"Going down," he warned when his strength ran out and they landed on the grass, thankfully not against the window.
Apparently Clarke had suffered no injuries in her fall in spite of having landed underneath. "I'm disappointed in you. Shouldn't young men be able to hold that just a little bit longer?"
"Shouldn't old women be at home?" He rubbed his ribcage where Clarke had planted something bony. Her knee, probably.
"Don't you mean shouldn't all women be at home, period?"
"Not a discussion we are to hold here." Riley pulled her to her feet and dragged her back to their former hiding place, an action for which he chided himself. He did not believe there was anything going on here, so there should not be any reason to be careful. "Did you see anything?"
"A table full of art things." She felt in her pocket. "I'm going to take pictures."
"With my phone."
"Through that hole?" Riley could not believe it.
"How would I look at the photos on my phone?" Clarke wondered when they were back in her car. She had taken a few, which had taken rather long, because Riley had had to give his arms some rest in between attempts.
Riley stared. "Are you telling me you took photos without any idea of how to see them?" He had expected her to want to do more, such as break into the building, but she had seemed very satisfied with her photos and said they could go home because it was late. He estimated they would be home by half past ten. Very late indeed for a Friday night, he thought sarcastically.
"I know that; I don't know how to get them onto a computer," she said patiently. "I'm not a gadget person and I've never had to do it before."
"Fair enough. I'll do it for you. Just come by with your phone."
"At work? It's Friday, almost Saturday."
"No. Well, I could bring the cable to work, but..." He did not think she would be able to wait that long.
"But everyone would wonder," she finished. "Can we do it now? I'm curious."
"I'm curious too, but I doubt there's anything usable. Nobody can take pictures with a phone through that hole. Fine. Come home with me and you won't have to spend the entire weekend wondering about your failed photos."
"You're wireless," Clarke said enviously when Riley seated himself on his couch with his laptop. "I don't know how to do that. I mean, I don't have time to find out." There was nothing she could not do; there should not be. Maybe she should look into how it was done.
"It's very useful when your table is cluttered -- but I don't expect your table to be cluttered. Would you like a drink?"
"I don't expect you to have any juice." She did not expect him to have very much at all. His table might be cluttered, but his fridge would not be. And anything coming out of that fridge was a bit suspect. There was a bottle of wine standing near the window that looked safe, on the other hand. It had not yet been opened and there was no dust on it.
"That's right. There should be some leftover wine in the fridge from when my parents were here."
That was not too long ago and he would not poison his parents. She could take that risk. "I'll help myself. You?"
"Oh, why not? It's Friday."
He plugged the small cable into her phone as she poured the wine. She placed his glass -- thankfully there had been some clean ones -- on the table and sat down beside him. "Ready yet?"
"Almost." He tapped a few keys.
A few thumbnails came into view and she nearly pulled the laptop out of his hands. Those thumbnails were much too small.
"Superintendent," Riley said in exasperation. "Get off me."
She backed off a little. "Sorry, sorry. Could you make them larger?"
"I could, but do you really think a major change occurred between your looking in and your taking pictures?"
"You never know." She did not think there would be anything different, but he did not know what she had seen and showing him was just as important. He was still not taking her very seriously. He had not even wanted to look at the photos on her phone.
He did something and then the photos appeared. Three were useless, but two were relatively clear pictures in which a table full of objects could be seen. He was amazed. Maybe he should not underestimate either phones or her ability to take pictures. "Art, indeed," said Riley. "Or is this the studio of the local pottery club?"
She frowned. "This is professional stuff. The local pottery club doesn't make things like that. I know. I was a member once upon a time."
He could not suppress a snort. "If you hadn't already gone crazy before the wine I would have blamed it on that."
"You're not taking me seriously at all," she said with dignity, not understanding why being a member of a club warranted such a reaction. "I am completely serious."
"I was referring to your behaviour, ma'am, which is markedly different from at work."
She was aware that it was slightly different, but not markedly so. She had to think of what she said and did at work. Here she did not and Riley, apparently, did not either. He was a lot more disrespectful than usual if he dared to call her crazy. Maybe she ought to say something about that.
"I'm hungry," said Riley all of a sudden. "Omelette?"
She had seen he had not got very much except eggs, so she laughed mockingly. "Do I have a choice?"
"Between yes and no you do."
"Yes then. If they're still good." She had had a quick sandwich before setting off and then her carrots, which had not satisfied her completely. Some more food would be welcome.
He handed her the laptop. "Had you researched the club yet?"
"And the wine lovers? Why are you a member anyway? Of all these obscure clubs?" And which others? She had admitted membership to both clubs that had come up in conversation so far. This could be a coincidence, or she was truly an obsessive club member due to a lack of another sort of social life.
She shrugged. "They love having auspicious community figures and women are always in short supply."
"I'd think men were in short supply in pottery clubs."
"It was called an arts and crafts club, thank you." She looked it up for him.
"You can't drive home. You've had wine," Riley suddenly realised when he observed that Clarke was nearly dozing off, something he would like to do as well. He had been sitting there while she played with his laptop and it had made him tired.
It would cost her her job if she was caught. They had to provide good examples to the public. She might not get caught, but the chances were always a little higher during the weekend. "It's Friday night. You know they're --"
"You'd do it. Drive me," she said lazily.
He might do it on a single glass, but only if he was alone. He glanced at the clock. "And walk back? It's too late for that. Get a taxi or take the other half of my bed." He would neither offer his couch nor sleep on it himself. It was not comfortable enough to be slept on and much too short. There were limits.
"Taxi," Clarke sighed. "I just want to go to sleep."
"Suit yourself." Riley went to the bathroom to brush his teeth. When he came out she was curled up on the couch and he gathered she had not yet rung a taxi. He dropped a towel and a t-shirt beside her. "See you in the morning. Or in a few minutes. Or Monday."
Riley was in a good mood when he woke, cheerful enough to brave the mess in his kitchen. Common sense was not as absent as it had been at 4am, but it had still not returned completely. He took advantage of it and tackled his dishes.
Clarke was suddenly standing in the doorway. Although she was wearing a bathrobe and her hair was not done she looked as if she wanted to return to the order of the day without any acknowledgement of the night. He was not surprised. "Breakfast?" he suggested.
She did not return his smile. "This could be very bad for our careers."
"Who would find out?" His career. It was not likely to suffer in itself, but a good working relationship with his boss might. Clarke would be suspected of giving him a preferential treatment even when she did not -- and he had no idea if she would.
It was not even clear if this was a relationship. Although she had eventually dragged herself to the bathroom and to the bed, none of that had been with the intention to pursue anything romantic. Why something had happened hours later was a mystery to him.
He turned to look for a towel and when he looked her way again she was gone. Moments later he heard the shower running. That was no clue as to whether she would eat breakfast here or not, but he continued his dishes just in case. His bathroom was spotless and he hoped she would notice.
Fortunately after doing the dishes and changing the bin bag the kitchen looked almost presentable. He went to his bedroom and pulled his sheets off his bed. Clarke would appreciate that, although because she had absconded with his other set of sheets there was nothing to put on the bed until he had washed these. After tossing them into the washing machine he sat down to wait until she had finished her shower.
"I'd rather not talk," she said when she came out of the bathroom.
"Then don't." He felt the same way. What could be said? "But I'm not carrying anything, you know." However, she did not seem to think even that should be said, because she turned away. He shrugged. It was better than having to speak about who was to blame. Or what it had meant to him. It had had embarrassingly little to do with Clarke personally, he feared.
By the time Riley had showered and dressed, Clarke was sitting at his dining table with two mugs. She had tried to think of the future, but she had only managed to revisit the past night and this bothered her, because there was absolutely no justification or explanation for it. "I know how attached you are to your coffee in the morning," she said, holding out a mug.
"I don't want to talk about it," she said again. It was easier to wait and to pretend it had never happened in the meantime. That moment of weakness and lust had never occurred. She could wipe it from her immediate memory just like she could forget the details of gruesome cases. If she had not woken up rather differently from how she had gone to bed she might even have ascribed it all to an embarrassing dream. But the evidence could not be ignored.
She had seen he had removed the evidence. For some reason this had relieved her. If it was out of sight it might be forgotten more easily, although she had no intention of going into that room again now that she was dressed.
"Fine," he replied.
She was ashamed of herself. In retrospect asking Riley to the Treminster Club had been a move in the wrong direction. Things had gone downhill from there. Why had she agreed to his -- innocent, she had believed -- offer to sleep here? Had it all been premeditated on his part?
But he had not touched her until very early in the morning and she had known that was an accident. To which she never should have responded. She could die of mortification. It was all her own fault. She needed to forget it.
Her phone rang. It was Halburton and they had found the second foot. This interruption was a blessing. It was his case. Riley would have to go. That was good. It was less good that she might have to go with him to ascertain whether it was still the best thing to do to keep it under wraps. Then again, something to take their minds off the night might work very well. They would have to continue working together without ever letting on that this had happened. If they started being nervous around each other everyone would notice.
They had been right. Halburton was exactly where Judy Lewis had reckoned the other foot could turn up and it was again ten days after the previous find. Someone was playing a game with them. "When you've finished your coffee, we're off," she said. "Another foot."
Riley put down his mug. "My second dates always get interrupted. Always."
Clarke gave him an uncomprehending frown and stood up. "My car. Let's go." Then she remembered she had said he could finish his coffee first. "Are you ready?"
She was afraid he wanted to talk about it, because it did not sound at all as if he was going to say something about his coffee. She did not want to talk about it. "Yes?" she snapped.
He spoke very quietly. "I think you should go home to change your clothes first."
"Why? I'm sure nobody could see..." She tried not to look embarrassed. It had happened. It was behind her. It did not affect her. It was certainly not visible in her clothes, because they had been off.
"Jeans," he nodded.
Clarke looked down at her jeans. She suddenly did not know what to do. In other circumstances she would not dream of going anywhere like this, but they would go to Halburton. She had worked in Halburton. They had seen her like this before and might think it funny if she appeared in a suit. How did he know?
"Sit down." Riley pushed her back into her chair. "And you haven't even eaten. I'll make us some breakfast while you think about your clothes. The foot won't walk." He winced. It could appear a bad joke, although he had not intended it that way.
She rested her chin in her hand and gazed into her mug. Breakfast was something else she had forgotten about. She was not all there this morning, was she? This never happened to her. She was always controlled and organised, not a libidinous scatterbrain.
"I'm finding it a little hard to conceive that you started out as a DC in your normal type of skirts," Riley remarked when he set two plates on the table. He was glad he had two that matched. "You would have been mocked. And you were previously at Halburton, weren't you?"
Clarke had gone in her jeans. She had taken Riley to the place where the foot had been found, driving very silently except for the phone call she received on the way. The foot itself had already been taken away, but several officers were still searching the scene and its surroundings.
"Clarke!" said a woman who was standing by with her hands in the pockets of her coat. "Quite a case you've got here. We're a bit jealous. You were lucky. We'll be able to keep this quiet, I hope."
"Thanks." Her eyes darted around as she took in where they were. "Oh, this is DCI Riley, who's leading the investigation," she muttered without looking at either of them.
Riley shook hands with the woman, who introduced herself as DI Jones and who was not unattractive. He never minded that. They examined the scene while Clarke wandered around with her phone.
"Not very busy, is she?" Jones commented a little snidely. "She slept her way up."
Riley had several reasons to doubt that, but he did not say so. "It works, apparently," he said airily. Jones did not like his answer and he laughed.
"And she's not only lucky in who fancy her. Another potentially high-profile case."
"Potentially," he agreed and chose to concentrate on his job rather than on Jones' jealousy.
So far there had only been mild curiosity and interest in the media after the second body part, which had increased a little after the third finding. When the body parts could not yet be linked to a missing person, it seemed it did not matter who it had been. For a truly high-profile case a name and a background were required, not to mention that they were going to be silent about new findings from now on.
"I only have robberies and burglaries at the moment."
"Both of which are more likely to happen to the public anyway than being chopped up," he said encouragingly. "More satisfaction if you solve them, I'd say."
"So, how did you get promoted?"
"By doing my job." He wanted to do it now too. That was why he was here and he looked around himself.
The foot had been found in a bus shelter. The road ran through woodland and the bus stop was not often used. It was in front of a restaurant -- someone who worked there had found it -- and there was a lane nearby that led to two farms. The bus stop could not be seen from the farms, though. Only people in the road would have been able to see anything, but the road would not have been busy earlier this morning.
"Where's the person who found it?" he asked.
"Preparing lunch at the restaurant," Jones replied.
"I'd like to talk to him or her."
She did not think that necessary. "We already did. Two people arrived here around ten o'clock this morning -- one by car and one by bus. They were the first to come to work. One didn't see anything and one found the foot. That's all."
"But..." He should not have to explain himself. The first bus would have come by at 8:55 -- he had checked the schedule in the bus shelter -- but it was unclear what other traffic there might have been. The foot had been left there well before ten o'clock. People who worked here might know what else happened around here as a rule. They might even have seen something in the preceding days.
Clarke walked towards them. "Have a look outside," she said. "I'm going in."
He would, if she said so, but there was not much to do. He walked a short distance down the road in both directions, but he did not find so much as a tire mark.
After looking at the scene and at the surroundings, there was nothing more to do. Jones had promised to lend them two men who would make discreet inquiries. The disadvantage of not going public was that they could not ask anything of the public at large. This was a risk they had to take, but the previous finding places had not yielded any useful information either, only calls from people whose friends or relatives had gone missing. Although the body had clearly been a woman's, they had even received inquiries about men who had disappeared. All in all only two of these inquiries had been about women who fell in the right age group, but they were eliminated for other reasons. And of course they had long been checked through the database of missing persons. The public could be useless.
"Did Jones invite you for drinks?" Clarke asked with a suspicious look when Riley joined her by her car. He had spent too long saying goodbye to Jones, she thought.
"Yes, but I said no." He might have said yes had the episode with Clarke not happened that morning, but it had and that precluded any other developments until he knew what sort of development that had been. Besides, he had come in Clarke's car.
That answer mollified her. "She slept her way up."
He burst into laughter, although that was in part to mask his discomfort. "She said the same about you."
"You must have stolen her blokes," he said and she shot him a murderous glance.
"How long would he spend on researching locations, I wonder," she said, returning to business and refusing to think of sleeping her way down. "So far all these places have had in common that there will be someone at some point, but that most of the time there is no one around. Coincidence or research? How did he know? He can't have been familiar with all these places."
"He won't actually have needed to stop here. Just driving by once would have done the trick. It makes sense that at a bus stop like this there wouldn't be a huge crowd getting on or off on Saturday morning. The only thing would be the volume of traffic on Saturday mornings that he couldn't know about."
"The girl who got here first works from ten to five. She says there is no one here between midnight and ten, unless there is a party, but there wasn't one last night. She drove straight onto the drive and didn't look at the bus stop, but, she says, she didn't arrive very long before the bus did. Neither she nor her colleague saw anyone around. The foot was dumped much earlier. We may be able to get a time on when it was taken from the freezer. It was in a plastic bag. That doesn't mean we know when it was put here, but the boy who found it says it smelled. I can't imagine someone would drive in such a smell for hours. The bus running so infrequently probably rules out that a bus driver saw anything. Is Jones sending anybody to talk to bus drivers?"
Jones had not seemed to care all that much, Riley thought. She had offered two men, but she had not done any helpful thinking. "No. They'll be doing the farms and the regular dog walkers. I'll have Lewis find out who drive the 26 and talk to all of them."
"Do you see why Jones had to sleep her way to promotion?" was Clarke's quick retort.
He rolled his eyes, even if she was probably right. "You're great friends, aren't you?"
"Is it any wonder?"
"I'll ring Lewis to let her know the good news."
"Are you picking on her because she's the youngest or is she actually on duty?"
"I'm picking on her because she's usually left behind if we go out -- and I don't think anybody could really mess this up because I don't think anybody saw anything. It would be a good opportunity to see how she handles it. Not all bus drivers will be available today, so she will have to work around that."
When he had finished speaking to Lewis, who was quite excited about the assignment and who promised to get onto it right away, Clarke was already close to his flat.
"You have household chores," she said. "I'll go to work and call someone in if necessary."
There was too little for him to do if insisted on going, so he had no choice but to go home -- even if he did not think he had household chores at all.
Riley went to the gym instead of to his laundry. After eating something he walked to a pub where he knew he might find some friends. He did not have much else to do. The pub was the usual. Some friends were there, some were not, and they covered the usual topics. After work and sports it was time for women. He listened to Rob's successes, but he had nothing of his own to share. He could hardly tell them about Clarke.
And Jake was going to move in with Eve. Riley wondered who Eve was. Talking about moving in with somebody was frightening as it was, but it was even worse because he could not at all remember this Eve. He did not come here every Saturday, so he could have missed a week or two of news, but not this much, surely? Did people really move in with women they hardly knew? Well, he knew they could sleep with women they hardly knew, but that was a different matter -- he had been acquainted with her for longer.
"Nothing in your life?" someone asked.
"Nothing lasting, I think." He did not know what it had been. It was too soon to tell what it was or what he wanted.
He went home early and wondered what the auspicious community figure Ms Clarke was doing. He had slept with Clarke. That was enough to drive anyone mad who had not been there. He had liked it, though. Of course he had. It had been ages since he had even got within touching distance of anyone and then Clarke was thrown into his lap. He had settled on taking a pragmatic approach to the episode. It had happened and the good aspects could not be taken away from him anymore.
The bad aspects could still come back to haunt him at some point. Something that might trouble him was her age, but it had not mattered, had it? It could easily have been someone else, because there had been nothing about her that had reminded him of his boss at work.
Clarke had done some work and then she had gone home. There, without any distractions, thoughts of her unprofessional behaviour of early that morning began to plague her again. It was unbelievable that she had let herself go like that, with all the risks attached. She had gone over those that morning in the shower, but she had been pushing them away since then.
Fortunately Riley had not said a word about it all day. He must be disgusted. If pretending to be on a date and being seen by his mother had already unnerved him, this must have shocked him even more. It was good that he did not want to talk. She could not imagine what they could say to each other.
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