|The Fourth Choice
Author: Joodiff PM
Post-"Waterloo". When Grace's life is threatened, Boyd drops everything to attempt to protect her, but there are unresolved issues between them that could easily lead them both into further danger... Complete. B/G. T for language. Enjoy!Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - P. Boyd & Grace F. - Chapters: 4 - Words: 26,284 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 2 - Published: 09-20-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8540863
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
DISCLAIMER: I own nothing.
Dedicated to all the good ladies of the OHT and everyone who still
enjoys this small but devoted fandom and this great 'ship as much as I do.
The Fourth Choice
It's ridiculous, of course, given how far away he is, but just the sound of his voice, as deep and potent as ever, reassures and soothes her. The line is bad, but there's no mistaking the resolve in his tone as he eventually says, "Oh, for God's sake, Grace, just do exactly what they tell you, okay? It'll take me an hour or so to get back to Auckland and then I'll be on the first flight I can get."
So typical of the man, the instinct to simply drop everything and head straight back to London. It's gratifying and it's comforting, but defiantly she grips the phone a little harder and says, "Don't be stupid, Boyd. I'm fine. I just wanted to hear your voice, that's all."
"It's not open for discussion."
Shivering slightly in the evening chill and pulling her cardigan tighter around herself, Grace shakes her head at the empty room. "This is silly; you're twelve thousand miles away."
"I'll be there, Grace. Just sit tight and do as you're told."
"It's a storm in a teacup," she tells him determinedly, knowing it's far from that. "Yes, I was shaken up, but – "
"I'm already heading out of the building," Boyd's voice says in her ear, and whether Grace likes it or not, that's the end of any kind of discussion. The subsequent farewells are brief, but despite her protests, she can't help the deep sense of relief that's slowly flooding through her. Boyd is on his way, and for many reasons that's a lot more comforting than the unnerving presence of the two armed police officers currently sitting in her kitchen.
To Boyd's credit, he'd made a real effort to hide it, but she'd very quickly realised he wasn't happy. Worse, Grace had quickly realised there were an increasing number of moments when he was genuinely unhappy; moments when nothing could quite disguise the melancholy, faraway look in his dark eyes. The harsh truth had broken her heart a little more every day simply because she'd been so very happy, so very content. Or she would have been if it hadn't been for the increasing distance and depression she'd sensed in him. She'd had everything she wanted – everything she'd wanted for a long, long time. She'd had him. All of him.
Naïvely, it hadn't ever occurred to Grace that Boyd would be unhappy. Not really. She'd expected him to mourn for his job, for his career – of course she had – but she'd genuinely believed that the opening of a brand new chapter in their lives would distract him, give him a new focus. Which, at first, it had, but as the days had turned relentlessly to weeks and the weeks had started to become months, it had become painfully obvious to her that it wasn't enough. She wasn't enough. At times he'd been so restless she'd wanted to scream at him, at other times so withdrawn and lethargic that even screaming at him would have had precious little impact.
It hadn't suited him, the very ordinary, very domesticated life they'd established together. They'd both soon known it, and yet Boyd had resisted all attempts to discuss the matter. He'd remained as inordinately stubborn as ever and Grace had immediately suspected that he imagined that admitting there was a problem was tantamount to admitting failure, and it had seemed that he was either unwilling or unable to do that. But she'd very swiftly known that everything that was simmering under the surface would inevitably reach boiling point, and she'd known it would be sooner rather than later.
She just hadn't expected the confrontation to happen on an otherwise quiet autumn evening when everything had seemed very calm between them, nor had she expected the startling intensity of Boyd's sudden fury. She certainly hadn't expected the explosive sound of shattering glass as his whiskey tumbler hit the edge of her fireplace and smashed into tiny, glittering shards, and she hadn't expected the venomous force with which he'd slammed the front door behind him.
Torn between forbearance and indignation, she'd waited up for him, hoping that on his return they would finally be able to talk. But Boyd hadn't come back that night, or the next. Or the one after that.
Grace wakes alone, just as she has every single morning for over a year now. She's so used to it that she doesn't even glance at the empty space once occupied by her erstwhile lover. The mornings of waking and wondering just how and why things changed are very definitely a long way behind her. Besides, in the end it was Grace who deliberately chose to let go. There's one of those trite, hippyish phrases from way back when that describes her situation perfectly, but the days when she used to wake with it echoing endlessly in her mind are long gone, too. Very much like Peter Boyd himself.
Now he's coming back, exactly as he promised he would.
"If you ever need me, Grace…"
She sits up quickly, momentarily distracted by noises from downstairs. Quiet, domestic noises, not at all threatening. Her unwanted and only grudgingly tolerated houseguests moving around, she assumes.
Somewhere out there in the slowly-waking city there's a man who's determined to kill her if he possibly can. It's a coldly sobering thought. Not as sobering as the two bullet holes in the driver's door of her car, but incredibly sobering nonetheless.
Next to the bed, the telephone starts to ring. As instructed, Grace makes a slow mental countdown before picking up. Cautiously, she offers, "Hello?"
"Grace," a very familiar male voice says. "How are you? Everything all right?"
Despite herself, she smiles slightly. "Hi, Spence. Yes, everything's fine. Stop worrying."
"Huh," he says, his scepticism quite clear. "Listen, I've been onto Hewitt this morning – I've checked and double-checked, and there's been no sign of Rowse at any of the places he used to hang out."
"I told you," Grace says. "He's far too smart to go anywhere near any of his old haunts."
"We'll get him, Grace."
"I know," she replies, more to reassure him than because she actually believes it. Carefully, she continues, "Spence, I spoke to Boyd last night."
There's a disparaging and very telling snort on the other end of the line. "Sorry, but I really don't think the Kiwis can help us, Grace."
"He's on his way back to London."
Spencer's reply is an immediate and incredulous, "Oh, tell me you're not serious…?"
She sighs. "I know what you think, Spence, but it's nothing to do with you."
"Why the hell is he coming back? We don't need him."
His voice is sharp. Hard. "No, Grace. No. He walked out on you for no bloody reason, and the next thing I hear is that he's buggering off to the other side of the world to join the CIB."
Exasperated, she asks, "How many times have we talked about this, Spence? It was me who told him to apply for the damned job. Now he's coming back, and that's that. You don't have to be pleased about it, but I don't want you causing any trouble. I've got enough to worry about without you pursuing some stupid grudge against Boyd."
"I just think – "
"That's enough, Spence," Grace says briskly, swinging her legs out of bed and getting to her feet. "Now, tell me exactly what Hewitt had to say."
Fuller, the older and stockier of the two armed protection officers currently assigned to her, is quite obviously not a happy man. Grace has some sympathy, of course, but not nearly enough to change her plans for the day. Obdurately, she says, "I always meet my niece for lunch on a Wednesday."
More-or-less physically barring her way, the big man nods sagely. "And it's a safe bet that Rowse knows that, Doctor. Please, be reasonable about this. We simply can't guarantee to protect you in such a big, open public space, and nor can we guarantee that Rowse won't cause casualties amongst innocent bystanders if he – "
"Not the way he does things," Grace says calmly, hitching her bag more comfortably onto her shoulder. "Michael Rowse is a very controlled, very calculating individual. He doesn't kill on impulse, he kills for sport. He kills because he enjoys it, Sergeant. The hunt, the planning, the detail, they're all very important to him."
"This is different," Fuller tells her despairingly. "This time his motive is revenge."
Grace shakes her head. "No. Revenge is only a very small part of why he's doing what he's doing. A fringe benefit, if you like. Certainly not enough for him to change his modus operandi."
Fuller doesn't move. "Doctor Foley, our orders are straight from the Home Office and they're very clear – we're to do everything we can to protect you until Rowse is located and detained. That includes taking you into protective custody if necessary."
Grace raises her eyebrows. "Oh, come on, Sergeant. A little extreme, don't you think?"
He remains quiet and phlegmatic. "I think you've already seen that you're in significant danger, Doctor. Trust me, cooperating with us really is the lesser of several evils."
"So what you're actually telling me," Grace says coolly, "is that I'm virtually under house arrest?"
Fuller looks down at her. "No, Doctor, what I'm telling you is that you're in clear and present danger and our orders are to do everything we can to ensure your safety."
"And that includes refusing to let me step outside my own front door, does it…?"
She remembers Michael Rowse very well indeed. Late thirties, smooth, arrogant. Initially very low on the CCU's list of possible suspects for the unsolved murder of a wealthy farmer and his two children, his first interview was almost just a formality. All of them, including Grace, had expected to quickly rule Rowse out of the investigation completely. Within minutes of meeting him, however, she'd cast a quick, shrewd glance at Boyd and had seen her own suspicions mirrored straight back at her. They'd known instantly, both of them, that Rowse was their man. Proving it had been far more difficult, but grim tenacity and sheer hard work had paid off, and barely six months after that initial interview Rowse had been sentenced to life imprisonment for a specimen count of eight meticulously planned murders. No-one involved with the case had ever doubted that the true cost of his cold brutality was much higher.
It wasn't her testimony that ultimately convicted him, but Grace clearly remembers the way he stared unflinchingly at her as she gave her evidence and then responded calmly to a very flimsy cross-examination from a defence that was already in complete disarray. He'd watched her steadily, with no hint of aggression, as if he was simply deeply interested in everything she had to say about him and his mental state. It hadn't frightened her, but something about his stillness, his attentiveness, had made a strong and lasting impression on her.
No-one involved in his trial and conviction – least of all Grace – had ever imagined he would somehow manage to escape from the back of a broken-down prison van a little over seven years later.
The text is very simple. It's not even a threat. Two words, "Hello, Grace."
"'Pay As You Go' number," Fuller confirms within the hour. "Cheap phone, cash sale in Hammersmith. The CCTV's being checked right now, but – "
" – it's Rowse," Grace finishes for him with a nod. "He's just reminding us that he's out there. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if he'd already dumped the phone."
Fuller nods in agreement. He says bluntly, "DCS Hewitt is currently talking to someone from the Home Office, Doctor. I know it's not what you want to hear, but I think you'd better go upstairs and pack an overnight bag."
"I'm not leaving this house," Grace tells him grimly, getting up from her chair and unconsciously starting to pace the dining room that has become an unofficial operations room. "And before you accuse me of being a foolish, stubborn old woman, you need to properly consider the way Rowse does things. He's meticulous, organised. Part of his plan relies on knowing exactly where I am – "
"Absolutely, which is why I think – "
"You've never been a detective have you?" Grace asks without hostility.
Fuller looks slightly bemused by the question. "No, ma'am."
She nods and explains quietly, "Most criminal investigations resemble a jigsaw puzzle, Sergeant. Sometimes there are lots of random pieces that can slowly be fitted together to make a complete picture and sometimes there are very few pieces and the picture doesn't emerge until later. This time we have a fair number of the pieces, and some of them are our knowledge of exactly how Rowse will proceed while things appear to be going to plan for him. While he knows where I am, his actions are entirely predictable and therefore much easier to counter."
"Doctor Foley – "
Grace waves his words aside. "Let me talk to DCS Hewitt."
She's nowhere near stupid enough not to be afraid. A convicted murderer Grace has good reason to believe has already killed more than a dozen people has – quite literally – set his sights on her, and she knows he will be a serious threat to her safety until he's found and returned to captivity. Rowse won't simply get bored and give up, won't shrug his shoulders and choose another, easier target. Grace knows he's enjoying what he's doing, and she knows that every obstacle in his path will simply increase his sense of satisfaction. He's not going to weigh the odds and retreat, he's going to wait for as long as he needs to wait for the perfect opportunity to strike. It's a game, one he lives for. She doubts he's considered anything beyond the methodically planned and executed kill.
The shots fired at her moving vehicle weren't a mistake, they were an announcement. A signal. Rowse had no intention of wounding her, much less of killing her. Not then. No point in killing unwary, unsuspecting prey that isn't terrified.
It's past midnight now, and she's lying in bed wondering how long it will be before Rowse makes his next move. There are armed officers with her in the house, uniformed officers standing guard outside it. God alone knows what the neighbours think is going on. As long as Hewitt holds his nerve, it will be Rowse who's forced to break the current stalemate. She wonders how he'll do it. A direct move, or something altogether more subtle?
She's too old for all this. Semi-retirement wasn't supposed to include a significant threat to her life.
How close is he? A mile away? More? Less?
Grace isn't aware of finally dozing off into a light and restless sleep, but as she startles awake she realises she must have done exactly that. The glowing hands of the small clock by her bed tell her that it's now just a little past three in the morning and she guesses it's the commotion downstairs that roused her. She knows perfectly well who's responsible even before she hears his impatient, indignantly raised voice.
He looks good. As first thoughts go, it's not the most appropriate, given the situation, but he does look good. Fit, tanned and bearded, and even sideways on she can see he looks a damned sight less haunted and careworn than he did the last time she saw him. Somehow she always knew that New Zealand would absolutely suit him. As Grace quietly walks down the stairs he's still barking angrily at Fuller who's looking extremely harassed but remarkably unintimidated. A tough, experienced officer, it seems it takes far more than a tired and belligerent former Met Superintendent to unnerve him.
Close to the foot of the stairs, she says calmly, "Boyd."
He turns to face her, and she sees – clearly – the depth of fear and concern that the bristling aggression is masking. As she descends the last couple of stairs she wonders inanely what the etiquette is for greeting a former lover in such bizarre circumstances. It doesn't appear that Boyd thinks about it at all, or if he does, he's not predisposed to dwell on it too much. His greeting is fierce and impulsive – very much like the man himself. It's a little startling, the sudden bear-hug Grace finds herself swept into, but she can't remember another time when she's been so disinclined to put up any resistance. It's familiar and unfamiliar, and for a moment Grace allows herself to simply cling tightly to him.
Fuller clears his throat loudly. "Doctor Foley…?"
"I told you," she says, aware that her voice is slightly muffled by the breadth of Boyd's chest. "I told you to expect him."
"We need clearance from the Home Office to admit any visitors, Doctor," Fuller replies obstinately.
Boyd answers for her. "Like fuck you do. Sergeant."
"I'm just about done in," he says, running his fingers through his hair, and then collapsing into the chair in the corner of her bedroom. The chair where once upon a time he used to casually throw his clothes at the end of the day. "And I've been through so many bloody time-zones in the last twenty-four hours that my body-clock's completely screwed. Give it to me in words of one syllable, okay?"
Grace does. At least, she genuinely does her best, finishing with, "Hewitt's still working on the theory that he has an accomplice, but you know Rowse – he always worked alone. There's no fun in sharing the sport with someone else."
"What a complete fuck-up."
"Succinct," Grace says, watching him as he closes his eyes. "but essentially correct."
"So what's the great master plan?"
"I managed to persuade Hewitt to let me stay put for now, but he's jittery about it. I think they're going to go down the protective custody route sooner rather than later."
Boyd opens his eyes again. "Which, you, of course, are going to object vociferously to."
"Obviously. But this isn't about me, is it?"
Grace glares at him. "I'm not going into protective custody, Boyd. I'd far rather take my chances with Rowse."
"You don't mean that."
Boyd studies her for a few moments before saying, "Let's just wait and see, shall we? Maybe Hewitt will pull his head out of his fucking arse and actually find the little bastard."
"So eloquently put."
He grins tiredly. "You know me."
Grace nods. "Yes I do, and I'm really not liking the direction I suspect your thoughts are going in. You don't have jurisdiction here anymore, remember? You're a Kiwi now."
"Bollocks am I. And right now, my thoughts aren't going much further than how comfortable I remember that bed being."
Perched on the edge of the bed in question, Grace snorts. "You can forget that idea straight away."
Boyd groans in response. "Have a heart, Grace, I'm an old man and I've just flown halfway round the world for you…"
"On your own initiative. You can use the bed in the spare room if you like."
"Thanks," Boyd says, his tone heavily sarcastic.
She smiles sweetly at him. "You're very welcome."
Of course, in the end they grudgingly compromise. Boyd sleeps where he is in the chair, and she lies awake on what was once her side of the bed and tries not to remember the way things were between them before the fatal cracks started to appear.
Grace wakes first, and she wakes to the sound of gentle but persistent snoring. Lifting her head from the pillow, she looks at the long-limbed figure sprawled uncomfortably in the chair, and she's surprised to find that it's affection rather than irritation that wells most strongly in her. In the end, the last goodbye was a remarkably civilised affair, given the circumstances and their long history of confrontation and argument, but it was extremely painful – for both of them – and from that day on she never really believed she would ever see him again, despite all the vehement promises he made. Realising that she's still so very fond of him makes Grace feel… vulnerable. More vulnerable than knowing she's in very real physical danger from Michael Rowse.
The snoring has stopped. Still, she startles when she finds herself staring into deep, dark eyes that regard her quizzically from the other side of the room. His voice thick with sleep, Boyd says, "You're jumpy."
"I wonder why?" Grace retorts sardonically.
"Christ," he says as he attempts to sit up straight. "My back's killing me…"
Not a great surprise. Trying to sound solicitous, she asks, "How has your back been?"
"That'll be the mild climate."
"That'll be the great lady acupuncturist in Freemans Bay."
It might be a gentle gibe. If it is, Grace is not rising to it. "Acupuncture? You? Good God."
"You should try it, Grace. Very good for – "
Whatever Boyd is about to say is lost forever in the loud, staccato retort of a single gunshot and the resounding chaos that immediately follows it.
Fuller is dead on the kitchen floor, a neat, blackened hole in the centre of his forehead. Grace thinks he looks faintly puzzled, but that might just be her imagination. Sightless hazel eyes stare impassively up at the ceiling. There's a pool of blood around his head, and tiny spatters of blood, bone and tissue decorate the far wall indicating that the bullet's exit wound is probably considerably larger and messier than its entry wound. Grace can't quite stop staring at him.
"Why wasn't anyone watching the railway line?" Boyd demands.
Hewitt turns away from his intent scrutiny of the bullet hole in the kitchen window to glare at him. "It's not my policy to discuss operational matters with – "
"Don't play fucking stupid games with me, Hewitt. I was locking up psychos like Rowse while you were still at Hendon learning how to polish your boots properly. Why the hell wasn't the railway line under observation?"
"There was a uniformed officer on the footbridge," Hewitt says sullenly. "And another one down on the footpath to the north."
Boyd seems far from mollified by the information. "Well, either they were fast a-fucking-sleep, or he climbed up the embankment and took the shot from there. Either way, it's gross incompetence on someone's part."
"He had a wife," Grace says quietly. "A wife and two young kids. The youngest one's only just started school. He was telling me about them yesterday."
The sudden silence is only broken by the ticking of the clock on the wall and the agitated wailing of distant sirens.
"The SOCOs will be here soon," Hewitt says abruptly. "We'll need statements from both of you."
"Well?" Grace asks when they are finally alone together.
Boyd looks straight at her, dark brows drawn down. "We get you the hell out of here, Grace."
"Just like that?"
He grimaces. "No, not just like that. But we get you out. Tell me you really trust Hewitt to protect you?"
Thinking of the dead man in the kitchen, she shakes her head slowly. A surge of common-sense makes her say, "It's not just a question of trusting him or not, though, is it? It's question of manpower, resources…"
Boyd makes a disparaging noise. "Tell that to Fuller. Or his wife and kids."
Grace winces and sits down on the edge of the sofa. Beyond the closed door there are loud, officious voices, one of them recognisably Hewitt's. As calmly as she can, she asks, "So. Do we assume Rowse is watching the house?"
Boyd is leaning contemplatively on the mantelpiece. He looks over his shoulder at her. "We don't assume anything, Grace, you know that."
"So what do we do? We can't just walk out of here, right under Hewitt's nose."
"Actually," he says slowly, "I think that's exactly what we're going to do."
"You've got a plan," she says, not sure if it's an accusation or not.
"I've got a plan," Boyd confirms, starting back into motion. "Call Spence, tell him to pick me up at the end of the road in about twenty minutes."
It doesn't seem the right time to tell him that the greeting he's likely to get from his former subordinate will be barely lukewarm at best, and quite possibly a lot more glacial. Instead she asks, "Why?"
"Just do it, Grace. Go upstairs and pack a bag. Necessities only – we're travelling light. And if Hewitt tries to get you to leave with him, do whatever it takes to stall him."
Grace eyes him suspiciously. "What are you up to, Boyd…?"
Spencer arrives at the house almost exactly an hour later. He walks in full of the kind of loud bluster and bravado more usually associated with Boyd himself, and he's followed by a slim female forensic technician in white coveralls, one who immediately seems strangely familiar to Grace, despite most of her face being obscured by a protective mask. Spencer marches along the hallway towards the kitchen, barking questions at startled junior officers and causing so much chaos and disruption that eventually Hewitt himself appears on the scene, his expression one of grim displeasure.
Grace doesn't see what happens next. A hand on her arm tugs her firmly but gently back into the living room, and she suddenly finds herself face-to-face with the technician who arrived with Spencer. The mask is quickly pulled down, the hood pushed back, and she finds herself looking at Katrina Howard, the only junior officer ever to be mysteriously removed from the CCU on direct orders from New Scotland Yard. Softly, she says, "Kat? What's going on?"
"You're asking me," the young woman says with a slight shrug. "Boyd said it was best if I didn't ask too many questions. Help me out of this, will you? You're supposed to put it on and walk out of here with Spence before Hewitt works out what the hell's going on."
"You've spoken to Boyd?"
"Only on the phone. I'm supposed to be over in Shoreditch questioning a robbery suspect."
"I see. But…?"
Kat shrugs again. "Never was much good at doing what I was told, was I?"
Grace suppresses the urge to hug her former colleague. "Thanks, Kat."
It's absurdly easy. Spencer is virtually ordered out of the building by an angry Hewitt, and Grace, masked and with the coverall's hood pulled up, simply walks out with him, the contents of her overnight bag hurriedly bundled into the lightweight aluminium briefcase brought in by Kat. There's so much activity, and so many other figures in identical coveralls milling around that no-one spares her a second glance, even when she gets into Spencer's car. It's not the subtlest of plans, but between them they carry it off with considerable aplomb.
Not removing her mask as they drive out of the normally quiet residential street, Grace says, "Thanks, Spence."
He spares her the briefest of glances. "I'm only going along with this because Hewitt's got no bloody idea what he's doing."
"And Boyd does?"
"When it comes to Rowse, I trust Boyd a damn sight more than I trust that jumped-up…" Spencer says, letting the end of the sentence trail. "Look, Grace, I don't know where he's taking you, and to be honest that's probably just as well, but for God's sake don't let him try to play games with Rowse. Any sign of him, and you call the cavalry straight away, okay?"
"I will," Grace promises, finally removing the mask and hood. She hesitates, then risks, "It went all right? You and Boyd?"
"If you mean, did I resist punching his teeth down his throat, then, yeah, it went all right."
Grace is silent for a moment. Honesty makes her finally say, "It wasn't all his fault, you know. It takes two to make – or break – a relationship."
"Why do you always defend him, Grace?" Spencer asks wearily.
"Because he's fundamentally a good man. You've always been far too quick to judge him."
"Maybe because I'm not completely blind to his faults."
Grace shakes her head. "And you really think I am?"
He shrugs as he slows for a junction. "Maybe, maybe not."
It takes them far longer to rendezvous with Boyd than Grace expects, mainly because Spencer takes a very long and circuitous route, apparently randomly zig-zagging his way towards the river before finally crossing over into Southwark. Grace seriously doubts anyone could possibly have followed them, but Spencer cautiously parks up and waits for a good ten minutes before finally heading for a narrow street not far from the Elephant and Castle. Boyd is waiting for them, seated in the driving seat of an elderly and nondescript saloon that has very definitely seen better days. She doesn't ask where he obtained the car, but she doubts any documentation was supplied with what can only have been a swift cash transaction. Coppers and villains. They both seem to instinctively know where to quickly get hold of such a vehicle.
What has, until now, felt like an exciting and slightly surreal adventure suddenly seems frightening and all-too real. Both men are as tense as Grace has ever seen them, and they communicate in short, direct bursts, neither of them bothering with any unnecessary words. The fear's become deeply lodged in the pit of her stomach, and she wonders if she's really doing the right thing, wilfully turning her back on official protection. It's too late now. Spencer passes her a small, unlovely phone, a cheap brand with no unnecessary features. He says gravely, "You call me, Grace. If you even get the slightest sense that something's not right, you call me."
"I will," she promises. "Thanks, Spence. For everything."
"I'll see you soon," he tells her solemnly. "Hopefully Rowse will get careless when he realises you've given him the slip."
Not something Grace would be prepared to put money on, but there's a slim chance Spencer's right and their unexpected gambit will draw the man out from wherever he's hiding. Spencer hugs her quickly, gives Boyd a final curt nod and gets back into his car. He drives away without another word, his part in her escape done. She watches him out of sight and then turns to Boyd to ask, "Where are we going?"
The response is laconic. "Kent."
Not the answer Grace expected. Bemused, she asks, "Kent?"
Boyd opens the battered saloon's passenger door for her. "You'll see."
When they head north just before Sittingbourne, Grace is fairly sure she knows where they're going. The road signs only reinforce her hunch. Boyd is driving steadily, sedately, even, obviously not wanting to attract any undue attention. She casts him a knowing look. "I thought you hated Sheerness?"
Something in his tone makes her say, "Oh, please tell me your idea of a safe hideout isn't a draughty caravan on the edge of the North Sea?"
"Would I do that to you, Grace?"
"You might," she says darkly. "You have a very warped sense of humour."
"Only in your opinion."
Banter. The mainstay of their relationship – personal and professional – for years. They're very good at it, always have been. It surprises her, though, just how easily they have fallen back into the familiar pattern, given the circumstances. They're on the Kingsferry Bridge now, crossing the Swale, and as she gazes out at the water below them she's struck by a deep and poignant sense of regret. When this… nightmare… comes to an end, he will doubtless go back to his new life without a single qualm. Masochistically, she reluctantly asks, "So how's the CIB?"
Boyd looks faintly bemused, as if his thoughts are so far away from such things that the question makes no immediate sense to him. He hunches a shoulder slightly. "Different."
"Different good, or different bad?"
Again, he shrugs slightly. "Just different. The crime rate in New Zealand is much lower than here, and it's still slowly falling, but there are endemic problems, particularly in urban areas."
"Auckland's hardly New York, though, is it?"
Sometimes Grace tries to picture the life he has now, tries to imagine all the things that the few emailed photographs she's seen simply can't convey. The modest but attractive rented house in Pakuranga, the colleagues he occasionally references in short, disjointed emails, the investigations he's been involved in. He's not coming home when his tenure ends, she's certain of that. He doesn't believe there's anything for him to come home for. Her fault. She did everything she could to ensure he believed it – and kept believing it. Trying to shake the advancing tendrils of depression, she says, "Maybe I'll come out for a holiday one day."
"You've been saying that for months, Grace."
She misses him. He's been such an important part of her life for so long. Deliberately changing the subject, Grace asks, "So where are we going?"
"Shellness. Well, as good as. We used to go there every summer when I was a kid. My uncle had a holiday place in the middle of nowhere. Turns out it's still there. Bit basic and a bit ramshackle, but beggars can't be choosers."
She sighs. "Oh, this just keeps getting better and better."
Perversely, it's almost a case of love at first sight. It shouldn't be – Grace is as fond of her creature comforts as the next woman – but it is. The house, if that's really the best word to describe the dilapidated single-storey wooden structure, is set a decent way back from the road just a short distance from the private hamlet of Shellness itself. Behind it are flat, water-logged saltmarshes, wild and uninhabited. Towards the hamlet itself there are a few similar buildings just in sight, but there's a definite air of remote isolation that's strongly reinforced by the distant sound of waves and the odd plaintive cry of a seagull. It's really too late in the year for most day-trippers and holidaymakers, but when she climbs out of the car Grace is surprised to find that although the breeze coming across the road from sea is brisk, it's not unpleasantly cold.
There's no garden to speak of, no driveway, no perimeter fence. A small upturned wooden boat – obviously very rotten – and a few stray, unconnected posts may or may not mark the property's legal boundary. What really catches her eye, though, is an eccentric collection of driftwood and beach treasures; those, and the untidy, weather-beaten sheds and lean-tos that give the place the look of a small, defiant shanty town. It seems inconceivable that the busy, bustling centre of London isn't much more than forty miles away.
"It's like a different world," she says with a small, shaky laugh.
"I told you. Middle of bloody nowhere. It's busier down here in the summer, of course, but at this time of year... Here," Boyd tosses her a large single key. "Go and open up while I empty the car."
Inside, the house is surprisingly neat and tidy; small, of course, but comfortable enough. Besides the single main room with its squat wood-burner, Grace finds a bedroom, complete with a bed that's either a very large single or a very small double, and a bathroom that's basic, but clean and obviously only recently re-decorated. Clearly someone still uses the place as an occasional retreat. She decides not to dwell on the obvious question of their sleeping arrangements. There's a big, scuffed leather couch in the main room, one that looks comfortable enough to pass a night or two on. No television, she realises, wandering out of the bedroom, but there are several shelves filled with an eclectic range of books – everything from cheap thrillers to scholarly guides to the local flora and fauna. There's no separate kitchen, just a small tiled area at one end of the main room that includes a sink, a fridge and a microwave, and a small electric cooker of uncertain vintage. Not exactly the lap of luxury, but when Grace looks out of the window that looks out over the marsh, she finds she doesn't care. The flat, watery landscape isn't exactly stunningly beautiful, but it certainly has something.
"Rowse may be a canny bastard," Boyd says, dumping carrier bags filled with provisions on the small square wooden table behind her, "But he'd have to be bloody psychic to find us here."
"Let's hope so."
"He can't hide forever, Grace."
"Neither can we," she points out, turning to look out of the window again.
Boyd moves up behind her, and she senses an uncharacteristic moment of hesitancy in him before he gently puts his arms around her waist. Evidently he's just as unsure as she is where the boundaries lie between them after everything that's happened. He says quietly, "They'll get him, and soon. Cops don't like cop-killers, you know that."
"Thanks, Boyd," she says, slightly amused by the unintentional implication.
He sighs audibly and his arms drop away. "I just meant that it's not going to be just a localised operation anymore. Every plod in the south east is going to be looking for him now."
Grace misses the comforting physical contact immediately. Despises herself for it. She was strong enough to tell him to go, to look him straight in the eye and lie to him, so she's surely strong enough not to need him now. She looks out at the marshland and makes an effort to gather her thoughts. Behind her, she can hear him moving around, unpacking the thin plastic bags. Methodical. Always very methodical on the domestic front. It used to make her laugh. She turns to speak to him and freezes immediately.
Boyd is in his shirtsleeves now, casual jacket untidily draped over the back of one of the spindly, unattractive dining chairs, and the black pistol grip sticking out of the waistband of his dark trousers is brutally apparent. Shocked, she stares at the small of his back, the cold reality of their situation suddenly biting hard. Boyd is armed. Boyd, who was every bit as qualified as Spencer to carry a weapon, but always chose not to, is armed.
He half turns and frowns at her expression. "Grace…?"
"It was Fuller's," he explains impatiently. "For God's sake, Grace…"
"You took a dead man's gun? Oh, you're unbelievable sometimes, Boyd."
"Damn right I did. And yes, if it comes down to it, I'll shoot first and ask questions later."
"You're an idiot," she accuses loudly. There's no-one to overhear her. They are standing outside at the rear of the house, glaring at each other. She stabs a finger at him. "You never stop to think, do you? What's the first thing Hewitt's going to do as soon they realise Fuller's gun's missing from the scene? I'll tell you, shall I? He's going to do everything he possibly can to find us."
"Good luck to him," Boyd growls. "No-one knows where the hell we are. Not Spence, not Kat; no-one."
"He'll find us, Boyd. The only question is whether he finds us before Rowse does."
He shakes his head. The sea breeze ruffles his silver hair, plucks at his shirt. "No-one's going to find us. This place belongs to my cousin now, and he visits it about twice a year at most."
"We have to go back," she announces decisively.
"Great plan, Grace," he says sarcastically. "We go back now and we're both sitting ducks. No, we stay here, we keep our heads down and we wait for Spence to tell us Rowse has been picked up."
"And how long is that going to take?"
He shrugs. "A day or two, who knows?"
"And what do you suggest we do, stuck out here on our own for forty-eight hours?" Grace snaps at him angrily. "And don't you dare answer that or I swear I'll – "
Boyd holds his hands up, palms towards her. His crooked grin is faded and weary but still engaging. "Be gentle with me, Grace. I'm still very jet-lagged."