Another completed chapter today. As ever, to read the previous forty-eight, please click here.
Monday 18th November 1985: 10.45 – 11.10
‘Er — yes please, Sal — Sally — Sal — Sal — er…’
‘Sal will be fine, Kevin. Just this once.’
Kevin waited while Sally disappeared back into the outer office. There was the gloop of the coffee pot, then she reappeared, mug in hand, and placed it on his desk.
‘How many’s that, now?’ he asked.
‘Oh, good. Another twelve and I might be able to function again.’
‘I did think your read might have that effect.’
He stared down at the manuscript, the final page (so far, that was; he suspected there was more to come, and come in a very odd way, if Sally was to be believed, which she always was) face down at the top of the rest. ‘You say there were forty-seven chapters when you checked this morning?’
‘And now there are forty-eight.’
‘And it still wasn’t the postman, because I’ve been here from just after you counted the forty-seven, and he hasn’t appeared in the time since then, and — what the hell is going on, Sally?’
‘I really don’t know, Kevin. But I don’t like it, whatever it is; I can tell you that.’
‘I’m with you there.’
He took a gulp of coffee. It was scalding, but he barely registered that it was stripping the lining off the roof of his mouth. His nerves were jangling so much, it felt like an ashram’s worth of wind-chimes was going off in his body.
‘And, erm — this Page 119. You’re not going to let me read it?’
‘Not a chance.’
‘Not even if I leave this office, go into your desk, where Page 152 reckons you’ve hidden it, and take it out?’
‘You won’t find it there; I’ve hidden it somewhere else, now.’
‘Oh, right. You would, of course. And — if I were to speculate that it was somewhere about your person?’
‘Then I’d have to walk out of here without bothering to hand in my resignation.’
‘Ah. So…’ He fell silent, not even wanting to contemplate that.
He crossed all his fingers and toes, and hoped to God that the next thing he said wasn’t going to be the wrongest and very last thing he ever said to her. ‘That bit about “where it would lead to” that you seem to be quoting from it…’
‘If I said that that was complete fiction… Would you believe me?’
‘After the way this book’s handed you all my thoughts with a bow wrapped round them? To quote you — not a chance.’
‘I thought not.’
There was silence again. Just for once, Kevin wasn’t filling it internally with thoughts of Sally on the office carpet, nor even, in this instance, of a pleasurable game of ‘hunt the missing sheet of paper’. Among other things, he was filling it with thoughts that he’d just admitted to Sally that what she’d been reading about what he’d been thinking, was exactly what he had been thinking, and should he have really admitted to that, given that what he’d been thinking was precisely the sort of thing he now wasn’t thinking, because he was thinking about this instead?
That was too complicated. What he should be thinking was…
‘What should we do, do you think?’
Her top teeth toyed with her bottom lip, and he was astonished to see, for the first time he could remember, uncertainty in her face. ‘I really don’t know, Kevin,’ she said eventually, almost mumbling the words.
‘Do you think we should maybe call the police?’
She frowned. ‘And tell them what?’
He gave an expansive shrug, arms held wide in a what-can-we-tell-them-other-than-the-truth? gesture. ‘That we have a manuscript here that seems to be laying out everything that’s happened in the last couple of weeks; at least, as far as our two lives are concerned, and possibly Joe’s as well, and who knows who else’s? And that it’s referring to three crimes that we know have actually taken place, ’cause Joe told you about them last week and I sort of witnessed one of them myself. And if it so happens that they’ve been solved in the way the manuscript says…’
He left the last sentence hanging in the air, and saw Sally nod, then give a small shrug of her own. ‘If you put it like that, I suppose it is the only thing to do.’
‘I think it is. Could you get me the Yellow Pages, please?’
‘Of course.’ She strode out to her desk, and was back in an instant. ‘It’s the local station you require rather than 999, I assume, given that that’s easy enough to dial without looking it up?’
Was that humour? Who knew? At the moment, it possibly wasn’t important; but at some point, they’d need to discuss what they’d been reading, and then…
Well — then, they might both need all the humour they could conjure up.
He waited while she flicked through the pages. ‘Here it is.’
He picked up the telephone receiver and punched in the number she dictated. A ringing filled the silence, then a voice answered, ‘Camtown Police Station.’
‘Ah, hello,’ Kevin said. ‘I need to speak to somebody concerning a book I’ve been reading. I think it might be a Chief Inspector Meredith I need, if he actually exists?’
‘Everything right in your world again, Ernie?’
DCI Meredith had stopped by the front desk on a much-needed observational tour of the station. Since his decision to get out of his office more, he’d not actually had a chance to get back into it; what with clearing up the paperwork around the St Marmaduke’s murders (and how to phrase everything so it didn’t sound as though he needed a full psychiatric evaluation and the rest of his life on gardening leave) and the arrest of the Chaffords, and Jack Hampshire’s resignation, he’d been so busy in CID that this was his first opportunity to get out and about and interact with some of the station staff he didn’t normally get to meet.
Not that Ernie Bulstrode was one of those, of course. If there was anybody in the station he’d interacted with more than enough, it was Ernie. He was, however, wanting to see more of young Dawson in action. Opportunities were opening up…
‘Right enough, sir.’ Ernie had switched into Formality Mode, given that Dawson was currently ‘in action’ nearby waiting for the kettle to boil; probably for the eighteenth time that morning, if Meredith was any judge of Ernie’s capacity for tea-drinking. Meredith had been pleased to notice, though, that a copy of The Official Police Training Video (known to all in the station as Carry On Arresting) sat on the desk inside the kitchenette, probably borrowed from the staff library (a converted cell staffed solely by a mysterious character called PC Pseudonym, whom nobody, so far as he knew, had ever met, but who drew a significant salary each month; Meredith rather suspected that Ernie Bulstrode had more than a finger in the library pie, but the bastard was so clever that months of investigating a couple of years back had turned up nothing, so he’d had to let it drop); and if it was Ernie who’d borrowed it rather than Dawson, he’d eat his hat, his coat, his shoes and (shudder) the largest helping of Brussels sprouts his wife could think to serve him up at Christmas.
‘But?’ Meredith could sense that Ernie was not wholly his normal gruntled self. It might only be that the latest copy of one of those magazines was late in delivery, but he felt it his duty, as senior officer, to ask.
A wry twist attached itself to Ernie’s mouth. ‘I keep thinking of that bloody voice in the St Marmalade’s case; the one with no bugger attached to it. I’m pissed off to think we’ll never get to find out what the bloody hell it was all about.’
Meredith nodded. ‘Must admit, I feel the same. I keep thinking I should write up a report and bury it in my filing cabinet so, in future years, some other poor sod can find it and have the worry of whether to open it as a cold case or not.’
‘Give it to young Chowdhary. Apparently, she heard the voice as well; ten minutes in her hands, it’ll be solved and whoever the bastard is behind it’ll be doing twenty years.’
‘You have a very high opinion of DC Chowdhary, don’t you? Ah — thanks, Dawson.’ A mug of steaming tea had been deposited in front of him; plus (and he noticed both such a look from Ernie that it was a wonder Dawson didn’t drop dead of dagger wounds on the spot and a look of such defiance from the constable it was a wonder Ernie didn’t splatter against the wall opposite from the sheer force of it) a blue-wrapped chocolate treat. ‘Very nice,’ he added, unwrapping it with ultimate slowness just to annoy Ernie even more.
‘I do,’ Ernie grunted through what sounded like very clenched teeth. ‘As I told you before — she’ll have your job off you one day, with any luck.’
Meredith decided to firmly ignore the insult implicit in the last few words, choosing instead to believe the sergeant wasn’t aware of it. He munched his caramel wafer v-e-r-y slowly, sipping his tea between each bite to make it last even more annoyingly longer.
‘Still a bloody shame we’ll never get to know what that voice was all about,’ Ernie grumbled.
And the phone rang.
To Meredith’s complete non-surprise, Dawson was the one to answer it. He listened for a second, then said, to Meredith’s complete non-non-surprise, ‘Mr Meredith, sir — it’s for you. A Mr Proctor, from some publishing company. Wants to talk to you about a book he’s been reading.’
‘A book?’ Meredith stared at Dawson, then at the receiver being proffered to him. ‘Wasn’t Proctor the one you said was outside the Foster woman’s place, Ernie? Why would he want to talk to me about a book?’
Ernie grunted something again, which Meredith didn’t quite catch. It did sound suspiciously like, ‘Probably doesn’t realise you’re a DCI. Thinks you’re intelligent enough to be able to read.’ But as he couldn’t be sure, he did, of course, have to ignore it again.