A/N: The title for this comes from the film and song, 'Please Don't Eat the Daisies.' Much thanks to Flootzavut and Pina for the beta and the patience with this chapter.
This is a first for me: a case fic with plot and varying character points of view. I've only ever published a drabble in this fandom, so feedback and leniency for my characterization would be much appreciated.
This is an adventure, and I'm excited to be on it. Look for more in a few days.(Crossposted on ao3.)
The indiglo numbers of his watch glowed pale green in the pitch-black. Brian watched the milliseconds tick up, holding his breath until his watch went to sleep again. If he squinted, he saw light, like the thin crack of light under a crooked door. What must have been bricks under his back were cold through the wool of his lucky coat, and he sat up. His head swam like he'd been on a week-long bender even though he had been sober for years.
The crack of light died. And the resulting darkness swallowed up the outlines and structures of the basement into shadowed obscurity just as he was starting to get his bearings. In a sudden burst of panic, Brian caught his tongue between his teeth and huddled over his wrist, mashing the light button. 12:39:48.
He scanned the pitch black, making nothing out of the darkness. That light, if he hadn't imagined it, had looked like the light under a door, and perhaps the outline of a staircase in the gloom as if the panels or the bricks were no longer quite square, with light seeping through from up above. Perhaps he was in a basement: it was dark enough, and cold, and musty, the way old basements smelled. Darkness and basements and dust: bad bad bad. Brian put his hands on his head, counting off by threes, keeping the faint glow of his watch in the corner of his eye.
He remembered 9:15. That was the last time he remembered looking at his watch, not necessarily the last time he had looked, just the last time he remembered looking. It meant that he had lost nearly 3 hours, 24 minutes and 53 seconds. 54 now. Only when he had been in the full grip of alcoholism had he been so unconscious of time.
There was a pounding in his ears, and not even on his worst days would Esther have ever locked him in the basement: she knew all too well about his claustrophobia. There had been a linen cupboard once on an overnight train, and Esther had eventually forgiven him for ruining her new summer frock; focus, Brian. He had lost so much time. His heart rushed and the pounding followed suit, and Brian began to scrabble on the floor in a wide circle. There had been a sofa in a jade paisley print, and two white china teacups with blue roses sitting on an oak coffee table; he scrambled onto his hands and knees, uncaring of the filth in which he might be lying, not caring that the pounding had increased into a full-scale brass band.
"Jack," he called, urgently, "Jack."
Gerry leaned around the governor's door. Sandra had her handset jammed against her ear in the ticked off fashion she did when DAC Strickland had talked past long-winded into lecture, and she held up a finger for him to wait. Gerry obliged. Five minutes later, he shrugged, and was sneaking a chocolate covered McVities out of Jack's bottom drawer—Brian, poor sod, had the shortbread stashed away somewhere squirrelly—when he caught Sandra's face going from glazed over yes-sir-no-sir-three-bags-full-sir to full alertness. He leaned back around the door, nonchalantly hiding the stolen biscuit behind the door frame.
Sandra nodded once, pulled back her teeth in a mockery of a smile as she said good-bye and hung the phone up like she drank her dry white, forcefully and with not inconsiderable haste. Gerry leaned back for the inevitable explosion. It was not long in coming.
"DAC Strickland is concerned," Sandra mimicked Strickland's accent with the fluency of much practice, "about our lack of progress on this case."
"Concerned about the lack of press coverage of our progress, you mean."
"Such cynicism doesn't become you, Gerry."
Gerry snorted again. He hadn't earned his sergeant's stripes by being the cheerful, cocksure Cockney, that was for sure. And the day that Strickland was actually concerned about their progress in a case was the day that he threw in the towel and moved to America.
"The lab rang," he said, feeling the chocolate on the biscuit melting between his thumb and forefinger. "Preliminary results on the skeleton suggest that it is a familial DNA match with Minnie Turner. They'll have full confirmation by the end of the day."
The discovery of a skeleton in an allotment in Fulham Palace Meadow Allotments had triggered a flurry of tabloid publicity, a small-scale panic upstairs, and a massive paperwork hunt as they dug through the missing persons reports of the last fifty years in London. If Jack hadn't pulled a clever trick by asking to see the records of who had worked the allotment instead, a Mr. Joseph Turner, then Brian would never have realized that both he and his sister-in-law Alice Stevens had both been missing since 1978.
"Now we're getting somewhere," Sandra crowed, slinging her hair back as she stood up with alacrity. She tugged her shirt down, and Gerry's eyes followed the movement instinctively, and then, remembering where he was and who he was looking at, wrenched his gaze past the very shapely darts in his boss's red button-down blouse to the blue wall behind her.
"Yeah, to a hole in the ground with a thirty-year-old skeleton in it." Gerry refocused just in time to jump back as Sandra sidled past him. He preserved the tea in his mug, but only just.
"Bodies don't just accidentally end up buried in garden allotments, Gerry."
"Look, Prescott might have been a total prat, but even he didn't suspect Alice Stevens of being murdered."
"DI Prescott certainly had ideas about her sister though." When Sandra was taking that kind of tone, Gerry knew very well to get out of the crossfire. Especially about retired womanizing DIs. Of course, no one had ever convicted Gerry Standing of being sensible, and plenty of people had called him a retired womanizing so and so, and it was perhaps natural that Gerry bristled in response.
"Perfectly natural police response when a woman files a missing person on her missing husband and sister," Gerry retorted. "No wonder Prescott thought they did a flit. Fingered Minnie as the jilted wife." He accidentally waved the biscuit in front of Sandra's nose, and then watched as she plucked the biscuit out of his hand in a blur of blond hair and frustration. "I was eating that."
"No, you weren't," Sandra said, waving the biscuit in front of his nose with a set of sleek manicured French nails. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. And she called him petty! "Prescott's interview of Mrs Turner reads like a slew of bad pickup lines and innuendo—"
Gerry cleared his throat to object, but Sandra just carried right on, "—but even Prescott realized the possibility that Joe Turner, the husband, could have killed his sister-in-law Alice in a fit of jealous rage and disappeared. But there was no body, no motive and no weapon."
"Mrs Turner admitted that she thought Joe had been having it away with Alice," Gerry pointed out, honestly enjoying the way she was licking chocolate off her fingers. Sandra had a blatant enjoyment of food that was always a turn-on. Not that he was turned on by the governor, not when she was in this kind of mood: with upstairs breathing down her neck and Jack-the-peacemaker nowhere in sight.
"Only because their marriage was quote troubled unquote," Sandra shot back, taking in the state of the operations board. Brian had put up photographs of all three: Joe Turner, Minnie Turner and Alice Stevens. A husband, wife, and sister-in-law, two of whom had vanished almost thirty years ago, frozen in the black and white stills of the police files.
The glossy, high resolution photographs of the new crime scene next to them looked almost grotesque: the smooth textures of the embankment dirt caught in strange juxtaposition with the rough, almost grungy bones of the arm and shoulder of the skeleton, encased in the gray-brown clay soil.
A week and a half of heavy downpours had swept out the rotting supports of the allotment's shed, causing a small embankment to shear off in a cavernous chunk, revealing the last resting spot of Alice Stevens almost entirely by accident. No wonder Gerry was never, ever going to get interested in gardening—no matter what Jack said. He liked his ancient history and bad mistakes to stay buried, thank you.
"Plenty of people have troubled marriages without murdering anyone. Look at me!"
Sandra did not turn a hair at this statement; she knew Gerry too well.
"Prescott suspected," Sandra said as if she hadn't been interrupted, leaning over Jack's desk to pick up the witness statement, "that Alice's son, Sam, was actually Joe's son."
"Good-looking bird," Gerry said, gesturing with his tea at the board before taking a sip, then corrected himself. "Good-looking birds." He resolutely didn't look over at Jack's desk, or the governor leaning over it. She was reading the file upside down now. "Must've been bloody difficult sandwiched between wife and sister-in-law." He leaned closer to the board, licking at the chocolate on his fingers and peering through his glasses. "It's not hard to see why Joe was playing both sides of the biscuit."
"Yes, thank you for that astounding insight, Gerry," Sandra mocked, straightening up and walking absentmindedly over to the coffee maker. She stopped, mug in hand. "It's nearly half twelve, they should have been back ages ago, even with bathroom breaks and the traffic from Ealing."
"They only went to ask Mrs Turner a few questions! If Brian has gone haring off on one of his wild goose chases again—"
"You'll do what, Sandra?" Gerry interrupted, and Sandra's face tightened into a scowl, then she shook her head, pouring her coffee. "Threaten them with no tea time? Leave them with the paperwork? Sentence them to the comfortable chairs?"
Left unsaid: that Brian loved paperwork and Jack would have done ten stacks of even the DAC's paperwork for a more comfortable chair.
"I," Sandra said with menace, "would think of something."
She would, too, and it would be deliciously ironic: Jack on a beginningtyping course, Brian on tea and biscuit detail for a month. Sandra had learned early on that she had to think of new and imaginative tricks to punish her wily team of old dogs. Gerry remembered with a pang not altogether fond how she had signed them all up to the MET's Idiot Guide to Computers for Old Gits course after they had forced DAC Bevan into retirement.
Whether it was a punishment for the complete cock-up of that case, or a reward for pointing the finger at the boss's boss; or both for getting injured in solving the case, they had never quite agreed. But at least PC Clarke had gotten a transfer to S019 out of it, even if they missed him.
"Look, if Brian's gone haring off, he's probably figured out some obscure fact that will help us solve the case. Jack wouldn't go along with it unless it were a good line," Gerry explained, looking with some patience for a look of enlightenment to cross the governor's face. None came.
"Yeah, but a good line of what?" Sandra said, blowing on her coffee, and stalked back into her office. Not before her finger uncurled around her mug long enough to point one imperative fingernail at Gerry's desk, where there were a pile of witness statements on his desk four inches high, nicely tabulated in their green folders.
Gerry eyed them with distaste, and contemplated escape routes to his back-door smoking corner. He looked over through the window at Sandra, bent over her computer. But his fingers abruptly altered course from his fags to the glasses in his breast pocket, as Sandra, not looking up, said casually,
"Forget the fags, Gerry, you just had your tea break." A pause. "And I heard that!"
"I didn't say anything!"
"You didn't have to."