Counting Sheep

It was Danny who found him, the sun trying desperately to stream in through the tattered curtains, water pooled over the bathroom floor and soaking into the carpet. He'd seen dead bodies before – he'd seen his mum's cold face whenever he closed his eyes for months. But he wasn't used to the… the disappointment.

A copper like Angel deserved better than to die in his underpants, his head facing the wrong way after it hit the edge of the bath on the way down.

His dad made the call to London, and the whole force stood with their hats in hands out of a show of respect – though the Andes muttered and giggled quietly when no one was watching. Danny got to meet the ex that Nicholas had spoken of in the pub – which meant he got to avoid the gawking locals – though he forgot her name the instant she said it.

"You were his partner then?" Dark eyes under dark hair looking him up and down, scrutinizing.

"His friend, yeah," said Danny, irked by the shape her eyebrows made as she judged him like a pony in a show. And because he'd seen how these things were meant to go, he added, "He talked about you."

She laughed. "Did he really? How'd you manage to get him to do that?"

"Took him down the pub," Danny said, trying to match her wonky smile with a grin, but she looked so sad. "Got a few pints into him."

"Nicholas didn't drink," she replied.

In the background Danny could just make out the faint murmur of Angel's old sergeant asking, "How was his hand coming along?"

"Got the impression Nick didn't do a lot of things," Danny said at last. "Doesn't mean he can't. Or couldn't at least."

Another look - harder this time, making Danny fidget – before turning her gaze over the sparse contents of Angel's locker, thinking of his room at the Swan. "I haven't got a clue what to do with all this. You may as well take what you fancy."

"Oh no," Danny said, hurt at the speed with which a man's possessions could be written off, "I couldn't."

"Take the orchid at least. When it's not impounded."

"It's a Peace Lilly."

"It's a bother I haven't got time for." Dark eyes under dark hair, and hard lines spidering out from the edges of her lips. "And he'd have wanted it looked after."

Danny nodded, and reflected idly that he was ending up with quite a collection.

Nicholas was at the pub that night, no glass in front of him and standing out like a light bulb amidst the empty tables. Danny sat down across from him, two pints on the table between them.

"Busy day today," he said.

"For you too, I noticed," Angel replied.

"Was a bit of excitement," Danny agreed, "a bit going on."

"There's always something going on," Nicholas replied, a lazy smile on his face.

"No doubt you'd say it was murder. The Andy's were joking about putting that in your obituary, but dad told them to stop being harsh. Said you couldn't help being a city cop, Sandford was meant to be doing you good."

"A lot of good it did me in the end."

And Danny had to look away, because Nicholas was just a bit too bright, a bit too fluorescent. "How's the hand?" he asked out of someone else's habit.

"Still stiff. Everything's stiff."

"You're just a big ol' stiffy now."

"That's not funny," Nicholas said sharply, and Danny woke up.

Danny didn't quite know where to put himself – the patrol car seemed too empty with just one, and wandering from shop to shop made him feel like he was being followed via transmission: "Look at that Danny Butterman," "Aye, looking right down today," "'tis to be expected, the poor dear," "Aye, the poor dear."

He tried sitting in the station, flipping through the manuals and protocol updates that had been gathering dust and propping tables level, but the station gossip started drilling into his brain.

"Bit rich, innit? Top of the class yet he can't put a bath mat down."

"Looks like Mister Angle had an acute fall."

"That's sick that is. I heard from the doctor that the water in his mouth was still warm when he was checked over."

"Be the only time the hot water in that place ever worked then."

"That's probably what did it then – got so shocked he jumped and landed on his head."

"Skull that thick, amazing he got hurt at all…"

The pub seemed too dark and dreary after the ill-glow of… well. And the car was equally uninviting, so Danny walked home for the first time since his school days. And even in his own home, with his own action movies, his mind just wouldn't shut off.

Strange that the water was warm, what with the bad plumbing. You had to stand there for nearly an hour with the hot tap on full blast and the cold tap turned one eighth on before anything even remotely warm came through – Danny knew from having stayed there with his dad while neighbours sorted through his mum's things.

And Nicholas didn't even slip on the wet floor in the change rooms like everyone else did. And who honestly showered in their boxers? It was like when sheep from two flocks got mixed up, and the only clue you had was that the numbers were wrong. The whole thing was odd.

But that was the thing about accidents, his dad had said. They're odd because you don't expect them, and if you expected them they wouldn't happen.

His dad's backdoor was unlocked as usual, and creaked as Danny let himself in.

"You home, dad?" he called, helping himself to a beer from the fridge.

"You just caught me – on my way to the NWA meeting tonight."

"I thought you hated them."

His dad pulled a face. "They're a bit over the top, but it's not right for the police chief to be left out of the work they do."

"It's amazing," said Danny after a long pull of beer, staring at his feet. "Every time something… like this happens, I keep expecting the world to stop, you know? It's like my head is having too much trouble with one thing and it's just rude of everything else to keep on happening."

He felt his father's warm, cracked hand on his shoulder, and the image of a red scar cutting through the palm to the back of a different hand flashed across his mind. Which was strange, because Nicholas didn't like touching anybody.

"Son, I know he was your friend, but the world won't stop for mourning. There's always something that needs attending to."

"There's always something going on," Danny said by rote, his brain ticking even though he couldn't put words to his thoughts.

"Exactly," his dad's voice was saying. "Don't you worry, Danny. Everything happens for a reason. Now, off to help the greater good."

Danny stared at the linoleum floor long after his father had gone, pack in hand. "I think that's rubbish," he said to the empty room at last. "It just doesn't add up."

He rested his notebook against the top of his dad's fridge, and wrote in careful handwriting: How can an accident have a reason?

He thought for a long time, and had another pull of beer before writing underneath: What's the reason for your accident?

His hand was shaking now as he continued a third, and fourth line: How could an accident help the greater good?

What kind of greater good needs you dead?

He chewed on the end of his pen for a minute before writing underneath it all: There's always something going on.

He could feel Nicholas on the other side of the room, smiling.