A/N: My first multi-chapter TB fic in ages and it contains my new favourite pairing! The song is 'I'm Not In Love' by 10cc. All comments welcome.
I'm not in love, so don't forget it.
What was it, fourteen days? No, fifteen because she'd taken that Friday off sick after the events of the Thursday. So, fifteen days since… it… had happened and Diane Noble had been off her mind for all of fifteen minutes in that time. That wasn't exactly what she'd intended- or wanted- to happen. A family holiday with Doug and the kids; it was supposed to wipe it right from her mind. Instead, her disgust and irritation had routinely multiplied and abated depending on her frame of mind at the time. Half of her holiday had been spent staring into the bottom of a glass recalling with contempt the moment in the empty briefing room when she'd finally confronted Diane for an explanation on her destructive mood throughout the shift. It had led to a complaint of police brutality being levelled at her by an assault suspect; one which had thankfully gone away when Gina Gold had a brief word. Still, Nikki had felt sufficiently annoyed to bring it up with the PC when she'd seen her alone.
It should have gone from her mind long ago. The fact that she was still contemplating what Diane Noble had done was telling: though of what she was unsure. Nothing but utter contempt, surely? It had been a game on the part of the constable, that much was obvious. Why else would she kiss her?
The trouble now, of course, was that she had to work with Diane on a daily basis. It'd be a constant tension, a constant worry that she'd bring it up in some inappropriate situation; and what would happen then? Nikki herself had no intention of saying anything about it. She wanted to forget it.
So far it seemed she'd been fortunate. Aside from accidentally finding her eyes wandering over to where PC Noble sat next to Emma Keane in the briefing room she hadn't had any contact with Diane all morning. Being posted on custody was a mixed blessing: it was a posting she liked, but if Diane and her partner for the day, Reg, brought in a prisoner they would be nothing to do except deal with it and converse with Diane. Nikki wasn't quite certain she could manage that yet, especially considering she'd only accumulated four hours sleep the previous night. Her mind hadn't wanted to stop, and it had frequently dwelled on the moment she would come face to face with Diane Noble and be forced to make conversation. The thought of that moment coming then kept her awake in itself and the cycle had continued through the night. Doug, luckily, was a heavy sleeper and noticed nothing. That didn't give her the relief she'd thought it might. If she was honest, she felt a little alone.
'Nikki,' Inspector Gold said briskly as she strode into custody. 'We've got a van coming in. Bunch of kids Reg and Diane caught on the Larkmead lobbing bricks at an old lady's head.'
She felt her heart plummet a little but tried to mask it with a curt smile. 'Right.'
'Could be trouble. Apparently when back-up arrived the kids were chucking the bricks at each other. The joys of Canley!' the Inspector finished with an exaggerated sigh.
Nikki nodded. 'Yes, Ma'am.'
Gina stopped short at her formality. 'Are you alright?'
'Course,' she answered, fairly unconvincingly, even to her own ears.
'Yeah, not too bad. Can't complain.'
'You know, people always say that, but I never understand why not,' Gina replied with a smile. 'You complain if you want to, that's what I always say.'
'Well, I'll bear that in mind, Ma'am,' Nikki said as the Inspector left. Looking back to the report she'd been trying to complete about an incident with a prisoner a couple of hours earlier, she tried to focus then put her pen down. She was about to come face to face with Diane; Mr Hoit throwing a shoe at Tony Stamp could wait for a little longer.
About twenty minutes later they arrived. Nikki had placed herself protectively behind the largest part of the desk; ridiculous, she knew, but it made her feel slightly safer. Reg came in first, leading a scrawny youth with a tongue piercing and a foul mouth. Glad to busy herself she booked him in (getting past the refusal to give his name by informing him his fingerprints would be put through the database anyway) then, as Reg went back to collect another one from the van, Diane entered.
Nikki immediately felt her palms grow slightly sweaty. It probably wouldn't be noticeable to the naked eye- no, it wouldn't be noticeable to a microscope- but she felt it within herself and she almost recoiled at the thought. She didn't want to give Diane any indicator that her ridiculous trick to out-manoeuvre her had worked. Even if it had.
'Alright, Sarge?' Diane queried as she approached the desk. Maybe she was just being sensitive, but Nikki could swear that the PC's voice was less than level. Did that comfort her at all? She wasn't certain. 'Good holiday?'
'Better than working,' she answered, not looking at the constable but at the suspect instead. 'Name.'
When she'd finished booking him in she thought Diane would leave. Yet as soon as he was safely in a cell the PC leaned over the desk. 'I want to talk to you.'
She shook her head. 'We've got nothing to talk about.'
'You walked out,' Diane hissed. 'You didn't say anything, what was I supposed to think?'
What was she supposed to think?! That took the biscuit, it really did! Nikki felt colour rise to her cheeks, before she pushed it back into her skin the best she could. 'I don't know what you were hoping to achieve, but it didn't work.'
Diane's mouth opened but the return of Reg with another struggling prisoner silenced her. Glancing once over her shoulder, the PC moved to help her colleague and Nikki took the opportunity to clear her face of discomfort. It was easier said than done though, as she realised the moment Diane looked back to her, green eyes probing. Swallowing with some difficulty, Nikki managed to get through the rest of the arrests without once looking directly at PC Noble. Then afterwards, as the two PCs moved off down the corridor her resolve crumbled and she looked over as they retreated. Diane chose to look back and their eyes met. Instantly alarmed, Nikki focused her eyes on her report: Tony Stamp and the shoe-sending fiend.
At the end of the day, fairly certain she'd managed to avoid Diane satisfactorily, Nikki finished changing in the locker room and threw various items from her locker aimlessly into her bag. She wasn't exactly sure why she needed her emergency phone charger at home but she wasn't really thinking. There was something remarkably soothing in just clearing space: organising.
'Hi.' Diane's voice startled her- she hadn't heard the door open and close- but she refused to turn around. Instead, she popped a few old envelopes into her bag. After a long silence, Diane went on, 'You not talking to me?'
Realising there was nothing else in her locker she could take without real difficulty she closed the door and bent down to zip her bag shut. Still not looking at Diane she put her coat on and then turned to leave. Unfortunately, Diane was in front of the door, leaning casually against it, arms crossed over her chest. Nikki got the distinct impression Diane had been in that position, watching her with unwavering eyes since she entered. 'I have to go,' Nikki said finally.
'You avoiding me, Sarge?' Diane asked, ignoring her statement.
'Why won't you talk to me then?'
'Look, I've got to be somewhere…'
'Nikki…' Stepping forward, Diane checked herself, 'Sarge. I was worried about you.'
'Worried?' she repeated. 'Don't make me laugh.'
Diane actually had the gall to look a little hurt at that. 'What's your problem?'
'I don't…' Nikki hoisted her bag back fully onto her shoulder and moved further towards the door. 'I don't know what sick game you think you're playing but you can give it right up.'
'Oi, hang on,' Diane said, grasping for her arm. Nikki immediately backed out of reach and the constable let her arm drop. 'I'm not trying to mess with your head.'
'Well, you're doing a good imitation of it,' Nikki replied, glancing to the door with trepidation. Diane was practically guarding it, and the last thing she wanted was to have her hands anywhere… 'Will you move, please?'
After a moment, Diane shrugged and stepped aside. 'Sure.' She was surprised by her giving in so easily but she took the opportunity anyway and left the locker room. As she left she heard Diane add, 'Night, Nikki.'
'You look like you need a drink.'
Smiling briefly, Nikki placed her bag by the kitchen door and moved to kiss her husband. 'Where are the kids?'
'Andrew went bowling and the girls were watching telly in their room last I checked.'
'Liam?' she questioned, going to the kettle and flicking it on.
'Ah, now, he's sulking,' Doug answered, coming over and wrapping an arm around her waist. 'Don't think school went all that well.'
Nikki turned around and slipped her arms round his neck. 'You want me to have a word?'
'Do you mind?'
'Course not.' Clearing her throat at the recollection of having said those words already in the past hour, she let go of him and went to the door. 'Make me a cuppa.'
Doug mimicked a salute. 'Yes, Ma'am.'
Proceeding up the stairs she knocked once on her stepson's bedroom door and entered. Liam was sat on his bed, listening to some loud rock music on his headphones. When he saw her he pulled them down onto his neck and switched the music off. 'Alright?'
'Yeah,' she replied, sitting down on the edge of the bed. 'You?'
He shrugged. 'Yeah.'
'How'd it go today?' she questioned carefully. One of the main reasons they'd gone away just before the new year of school started was to give him a break. He'd been in some trouble the previous year, when he stood up for himself and managed to break a bully's nose. The school- and, thankfully, the parents of the lad involved- accepted provocation, they knew Liam was a good kid really but he'd just never fitted in. It hadn't exactly helped shipping from one school to another when he moved from living with his mum a few years ago to living with his dad, stepmother and half-sisters. Andrew had found it easier, but then he was a couple of years older and a bit surer of himself. Nikki sympathised with her younger stepson, and found it extremely fortunate that he seemed to trust her enough to confide in her.
'It was okay,' he answered, unconvincingly. 'You know, just normal.'
'Normal, eh? That's why you're sat here with a face like your Dad after he loses at Scrabble?'
He smiled slightly. 'It was alright. Couple of guys had a go but… I sorted it.'
Nikki raised her eyebrow. 'Not like the last time, I hope.'
'Nah, I just told them where to go. Reckon they're probably scared of me or something.'
'Well, your Dad's worried about you. Why didn't you tell him it went alright?'
Liam shrugged. 'Didn't think.'
Nikki pulled him up. 'Come on. You can help me with the tea.'
'Oh, do I have to?'
That was the last time she invited one of the kids to cook with her. Or at least if she did it again she'd do the blending herself- custard all over the worktops was not an experience she was eager to revisit. Still, he'd been alright and that was what mattered. He'd even managed to distract her mind from Diane Noble for the evening.
Still, that particular worry was back with a vengeance now she was walking back into work. Conscious of the fact that she was uptight, she made an extra effort to hide her discomfort while she got changed and made her way to her office. Once in there, and finding it thankfully empty, she sat down heavily, however; feeling like she hadn't been properly rested in a month.
Her peace and quiet didn't last long. There was a knock at the door and Emma Keane entered. 'Sarge?'
Dragging a polite smile onto her face, she questioned, 'Emma, what is it?'
'There's a woman in reception kicking up a bit of a fuss, claims she's been assaulted. But she won't let us get near her so…'
Nikki stood. 'I'll give it a go.'
'Thanks, Sarge. Diane might've calmed her down already, you never know.'
Diane was there? It struck Nikki to be a little odd that the constable hadn't jumped to inform her of the problem herself. It would've been, after all, a perfect opportunity to make her feel even more uncomfortable.
When she followed Emma into reception the woman, in her late forties, dishevelled and more than a little manic, was rebuffing Diane's attempts to get her to sit down quietly. The PC barely glanced over at their arrival. 'Come on, if you just sit down we can talk about it! We're not getting anywhere like this!'
'He hit me! He hit…' One of the flailing arms caught Diane in the face, knocking her backwards.
'Grab her,' Nikki instructed, kneeling down beside the injured constable, whose lip was bleeding. 'Are you okay?'
Diane struggled to her feet. 'I'm fine.' As Emma and another officer dragged the woman into the back, she continued angrily, 'I was getting through to her!'
'She just whacked you!' Nikki answered, standing herself.
'Careful, Sarge, you're sounding like you care,' Diane retorted before storming into the depths of the station.
Nikki stood uncertainly for a few seconds. Whatever reaction she'd been expecting from Diane, that wasn't it. She'd felt a little burst of anger: one of her team had just been injured so of course she was a little annoyed, and she'd thought Diane would… Well, Nikki would've guessed that she'd be gloating a little, if she was honest. But it hadn't happened that way. Diane seemed angry with her. Why though?
She managed to locate the PC in the ground floor toilets, tending to her split lip. 'You alright?'
'It's only a bust lip,' Diane said dismissively. 'I've had worse.'
'Right.' Recognising she wasn't wanted, Nikki moved to leave.
Diane sighed. 'Nikki, I'm sorry.'
She turned back, frowning at the look on Diane's face- she couldn't quite decipher it. 'For what?'
'Well, what I…' She went to back to dabbing her lip with some tissues. 'I shouldn't have kissed you.'
'No,' she agreed, leaning against the wall. 'You shouldn't have.'
'It won't happen again.'
That should have been enough for her to walk away but she couldn't. It had been on her mind too much recently for her to let it go just like that. 'So why did you do it in the first place?'
Diane's eyes flickered left and right and she moved to get some more paper towels for her lip. 'I don't know.'
'Come on, you can do better than that.'
'Nikki,' Diane said finally as she moved to leave. 'You're not stupid, work it out yourself.'
As the door clicked shut behind the constable Nikki closed her eyes. That was the last thing she'd wanted, or expected, to hear.
'You alright, love? You've been quiet since you got home.'
She glanced guiltily up at Doug, whom she was resting against on the sofa. 'I'm fine.'
His concern was only making her feel worse. 'Yeah, course. Just had a bad day that's all.'
'Ah, see, when you were at Barton Street I'd know that.'
'You miss me, do you?' she asked quietly.
'It's a bit strange,' he admitted, shifting his weight slightly so he could look at her. 'Why, do you want to come back or something? Is Sun Hill that bad?'
'No, it's…' She sighed and shook her head. 'No, I love it. Just had an off-day, that's all. Need to put it out of my mind.'
'Well, it's easier said than done sometimes.'
'Mmm,' she agreed, reaching for her wine glass. Doug refocused his attention on the television but she couldn't. Her mind was swimming.
If she'd interpreted Diane properly earlier- and she still wasn't completely certain she wasn't just on the receiving end of some ploy to annoy her- but if she had understood right and Diane had kissed her for the same reason that everybody kissed anybody then she was absolutely lost. For starters, she'd never had an inkling the constable was that way inclined- she had a son for God's sake! Still, she wasn't naïve enough to believe that meant it couldn't occur but she certainly hadn't anticipated it. A few pieces were beginning to fall into the jigsaw that she hadn't expected a few months ago. Perhaps this had been brewing for a while and was part of the dislike Diane had for her in her early Sun Hill days. Yes, they were different types of police officer, and Nikki had thought that had been the basis of it, but what if it was only part of it? That idea was unsettling. The thought that Diane had been watching her for months and only just… Well, it was concerning. It put a different slant on every insignificant conversation they'd ever had.
Doug chuckled at something on the television beside her and she tried to focus back on the screen herself. It was easier said than done sometimes.
Another night with very little sleep had given her a headache when she awoke and dragged herself out of bed. Then a mild disagreement over breakfast with Daisy had led to yet more irritability. So when she finally arrived at work Nikki had already had her fill for the day; however, the sight of Gina Gold standing by her office door to greet her gave sharply reminded her that the day was just beginning.
'Nikki, morning. Need you down at the Trager Street Post Office. We've got a young lad and two unconscious females.'
She frowned. 'What?'
The Inspector shook her head. 'I've no idea. It looks like the women might've been trying to rob the place and the customers didn't like the idea or something. Don't know where the boy fits in though.'
Nikki nodded. 'Well, I'll get down there, Ma'am.'
Walking into the Post Office ten minutes later Nikki surveyed the scene. One of the counter windows had evidently been attacked by the chair that lingered legs up on the floor a few metres away. One smartly-dressed man being talking to Tony obviously worked there; the two unconscious women, both in their mid-twenties by the looks of it, were being moved by paramedics. Emma and Will were each talking to witnesses and Diane Noble was kneeling beside a young boy who was refusing to look at her.
Quickly composing herself, Nikki walked over to them. 'Hello, there,' she said, directing her smile first at the young lad then, as an afterthought, at Diane.
The PC met her eye, albeit very briefly. 'Hiya, Sarge. This little man won't give me his name, will you, mate?'
When the boy shook his head Nikki crouched beside him and Diane. 'Well, you don't have to tell me your name if you don't want to. But you could do me a little favour, if you don't mind.' He shrugged and raised his head a little. 'You can just nod or shake your head, okay? Alright. Those two ladies that the paramedics are with- is one of them your mum?' Immediately, he shook his head. Exchanging a look with Diane, Nikki then went on, 'Thanks. Now, if it's okay with you, my colleague here's going to take you back to the police station with her and you can stay there till we find your parents. How'd you like that? You can even have a ride in a police car,' she added. 'And if you ask nicely she might even put the siren on for you.'
The youngster grinned slightly and, pleased with herself, Nikki glanced at Diane whose eyes were fixed on her, a smile playing across her lips. Then the constable suddenly stood and took the boy by the hand. 'Come on then, mate.' As Diane was leading him to the door she looked over her shoulder. Nikki tried to smile, but recognised she probably failed.
'Erm, Sarge,' Tony said, drawing her attention away from the door. 'That's the owner,' he continued, nodding to the suited man he'd just been talking to. 'Now, he reckons that the women were arguing when they first came in and he doesn't think they planned anything.'
'What, so they walked in here and just decided on the spot to rob the place?'
Tony nodded. 'He also said the way one of them was talking, he wouldn't be surprised if she'd taken something. She was definitely agitated.'
'Okay,' Nikki said thoughtfully. 'CCTV?'
'Yeah, he's getting it for me. Covers the counters and the entrance so we should get something pretty concrete.'
'Right, cheers, Tony. Anything else? How did they end up unconscious?'
'Ah, well, this is where it starts to get interesting,' he answered with a seasoned smile. 'The blonde apparently flipped when she couldn't break the window with the chair and started hitting her mate with it. Then that man over there, the one with Will, tried to restrain her and she fell and hit her head.'
Nikki frowned. 'Alright. Listen, can you and Emma follow the women down to St Hughes, and let me know when they wake up. I'll take this CCTV back and try to get a couple of names for us.'
Having procured two fairly good screen-grabs of the women Nikki was on her way to collect the prints when she decided to stop by the soft interview room and see how Diane was getting on with the boy. The door was slightly ajar and since Diane had her back to it, her presence wasn't noted. Nikki watched for a few minutes as the PC tried to coax the boy out of his shell.
'Bet you've got a computer at home, haven't you?' Diane said. 'My boy's never off his. He's always playing football games. You like football?' The youngster nodded. 'Well, I'm not a big fan myself and I don't know much about it. Could do with a teacher. What team do you support?'
Finally, the boy muttered, 'Arsenal.'
'Really? Now, they're good aren't they?'
'Yeah, they're brilliant,' he agreed.
'Have you ever been to a game?' Diane asked after a second. Nikki crossed her arms, wondering where this was going.
'My Dad takes me sometimes,' he answered.
'Oh, right.' Diane paused. 'Do you live near the ground then or does it take ages to get there?'
He shrugged. 'Just round the corner.'
Nikki smiled as she recognised the fruits of Diane's questioning and she was just about to turn and leave unnoticed in order to make a couple of phone calls when her foot clipped the bottom of the door. Diane turned, saw her standing there and then, rather ambiguously, smiled and refocused her attention onto the boy. Nikki watched the back of the head for a moment more before she left.
It was strange that Diane always distanced herself from this kind of work and yet she could actually do it when she got the opportunity. Perhaps her strengths weren't just chasing and arresting; there were other things in there. The question that itched at Nikki's mind was why was she so afraid to show them? Defensiveness was always a possibility.
'Right, you lot, listen up,' Nikki said loudly, causing the briefing room to gradually fall silent. 'We've got two women in St Hughes, suspected of attempted robbery and abduction of this little lad here.' She directed their gaze to a screen-grab of the child then proceeded, 'Now, we haven't got his name yet but we do know he lives just around the corner from the Emirates Stadium. We've got officers in Holloway looking into possible connections. But at the moment we're trying to find out who these women are and what they were doing with this young lad. Sergeant Smith is coordinating a door-to-door around the Post Office; Will and Reg, if you could help with that. PCs Stamp and Keane are still at the hospital, neither of the women have woken up yet, doctors have detected some anti-depressants present in the bloodstream of the blonde.'
Briefing finished, she went back to her office, wanting to be close to the phone. She was surprised to find Diane sat in there with the young boy next to her. 'Hello.'
'Hiya, Sarge,' Diane replied. 'Me and Tyler here thought we'd drop in.'
'Tyler, eh?' Nikki said, smiling.
'Yeah, Tyler Sharp,' Diane continued. 'He lives with his Mum, his parents are separated and he loves raspberry jelly.'
'Really? Well, if you go to the canteen and ask nicely we might be able to rustle up some of that for you.'
Tyler smiled bashfully and Diane stood. 'Will do, Sarge.'
'Diane,' Nikki said as she passed her on her way out of the office. 'Well done.'
The PC shrugged. 'Thanks, Sarge.'
'Mr Sharp?' Nikki questioned when she walked into the front office early afternoon.
The businessman turned to her, worry etched on his face. 'Yes, hello.'
'I'm Sergeant Wright. We've got Tyler here, I'll be happy to take you to see him. But I wonder if I could ask you a couple of questions first?'
'Of course,' he answered.
Nodding, she led him into the front interview room and indicated he should sit down. Putting the two screen-grabs of the women on the table, she asked, 'Do you know either of these women, Mr Sharp? These are the women your son was found with.'
'Yes,' he said immediately, pointing to the blonde. 'This is an old neighbour of mine. Erm… Lydia Johnson, I think her name is. She lives on the same street as Tyler and my ex-wife.'
'Right. So, could she have been babysitting for Tyler today?'
'Well, I doubt it. Caroline doesn't trust her, or at least she didn't when I lived there. Sergeant Wright,' he went on, 'I haven't been able to contact Caroline. There's nobody at the house. I'm a little concerned.'
'I can look into that,' she answered. 'Now, I'll take you to see Tyler and you can take him home. But we might need to ask both of you some more questions at some point.'
'Yes, that's fine. Thank you so much for your help.'
The gratefulness was a nice change from the hostility she usually encountered from the public. Taking him through to the canteen she saw Tyler and Diane talking animatedly over large portions of jelly and approached with a smile. 'Hi, Tyler, look who's here.'
'Dad!' he grinned, jumping up, then he looked down to Diane regretfully. 'Do I have to go home?'
'I'm afraid you do, mate,' the constable answered. 'But thanks for the lesson in football.'
After they saw father and son out of the station, Nikki turned to Diane. 'I need to investigate an address. Do you want to come with me?'
Ten minutes later Nikki was questioning the wisdom of confining herself to a small space with the brunette as she manoeuvred the car out of the yard and onto the main road. But, in all honestly, part of her felt like nothing had happened. It was as if the previous day had just melded into a distant past. Nikki had thrown herself into this case and Diane just happened to be working alongside her. Not only that, she was doing a good job and so it was perfectly natural for them to carry on working together. It had seemed that way back at the station anyway, but now she was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. She concentrated on the road to take away the nerves in her stomach.
'Couldn't the local nick do this?' Diane questioned after several minutes of silence.
Nikki briefly glanced sideways. 'Yeah, I suppose. But I wanted to stay with it.'
'Fair enough. It looks better on our sheet than theirs.'
'Well, that's one way of looking at it, yeah.'
'Yeah, I know, I know,' continued Diane suddenly. 'It's not fair to push the family from pillar to post if it's not necessary.'
Nikki looked to her left then steadily gazed at the road. 'No, it's not really.'
There was another lengthy pause. Being out of her patch, Nikki had a good excuse to focus, but she wasn't concentrating completely on the tarmac and traffic lights; not really. Diane had surprised her again, and she wasn't certain how to take it.
'This is the street, Sarge,' Diane said eventually when they turned onto a quiet suburban road. 'Number twenty-four…. It should be on the left.'
Nikki slowed down as Diane squinted for the numbers. 'Which one?'
There was a pause then the PC snapped her head back to face the road. 'Keep driving, Sarge. Don't stop.'
'What?' Nevertheless, Nikki complied. Driving further down the road she pulled into a small street on the left and looked to Diane. 'What?'
'There was someone in the upstairs window, a man.'
'Are you sure he was in Lydia Johnson's house?'
'Yeah, I was counting the houses.'
'Right.' Nikki paused. 'Okay, you get onto Tony and see if Lydia Johnson's woken up and mentioned a husband or a boyfriend or anything.'
'Where are you going?' Diane queried when she opened the door.
'Just to have a look around.'
Nikki glanced back but Diane had already started speaking over her radio. Shaking the strange feeling in her stomach, she quickly scouted out the back of the row of houses. If there was someone else inside Lydia Johnson's place they'd need back-up: there were too many exits and variable factors. Going back to the car, she questioned, 'Did you get through?'
Diane nodded. 'She came round about twenty minutes ago. She's got a husband, Jeff, and she admitted them going to the Post Office was his idea, though she's a bit sketchy on the details.'
'This just gets stranger,' Nikki commented. 'The husband forces the wife and some other woman…'
'Apparently Lydia's sister,' supplied the PC.
'Right. So he makes his wife and his sister-in-law take the neighbour's boy and… Well, do what with the mother?'
'Lydia Johnson reckons her husband had Caroline with him in the house.'
'We're gonna need some back-up,' Nikki thought aloud, immediately calling for some. Then she looked over to Diane again. 'We should just sit tight.'
'Well, we could have a look, couldn't we, Sarge?' Diane asked. 'Just see what's going on.'
Nikki acquiesced, partly because she didn't want to be sat in the car awkwardly for any further period of time, and partly because Diane's tone was quite persuasive. They left the car out of sight and went to the front of the house. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. Indicating they should enter the garden not of the Johnson household, but of the Sharp home to diffuse a little suspicion were they being watched, Nikki moved over to look through the window.
Diane followed suit. 'Neat place, isn't it? You'd never think there was a kid in there.'
'Well, I can tell you my house never looks that good,' Nikki replied, glancing over to the house a few feet away. 'Nothing looks out of place.'
'You want me to check round the back, Sarge?'
'Yeah, go on then. Just remember we're waiting for back-up.'
After watching Diane around the corner Nikki then went back to her examination through the window of the Johnson house. It did look a little too good to be true, there didn't seem to be signs of recent occupancy, let alone the trademarks of a young kid. Scooting to her left, she craned her neck to look into the depths of the hallway but there was still nothing that she'd deem 'normal' for the home of a single-parent. It was almost as if someone had cleared up thoroughly, and the only reason Nikki could think of for someone doing that would be to hide something. She wished she'd had the foresight to borrow a key from Brett Sharp before he'd left the station but, as she hadn't, all she could do was stand there and wonder.
'Sarge?' Diane's voice crackled over the radio.
'What is it?'
'I've just had a look through the kitchen window of Lydia Johnson's. Jeff's in there, he looks agitated. I don't think we should leave him alone very long. If he has got Caroline Sharp in there…'
'We need to wait for back-up,' Nikki interrupted. 'He could be armed.'
'Yeah, but, Sarge, I really think…'
'Diane, I'm giving you an order.'
There was a lengthy pause. 'Sarge,' Diane answered finally.
Believing she'd won Nikki returned to her post looking through the window. Then, suddenly, she heard an almighty bang from the area behind the houses. Cursing, she ran around the side, angry to find the back door smashed open and shouts echoing inside. Drawing her asp, Nikki entered the house cautiously, noticing a woman she could only deem to be Caroline Sharp tied to a chair in the large dining room. Holding up a hand, she followed the shouts and found Diane tackling Jeff Johnson at the bottom of the stairs.
Dragging him up, the PC cuffed him. 'You weren't worried, were you, Sarge?'
Too aware there was a prisoner with them, Nikki just turned on her heel and went to release Caroline Sharp from her bonds. When back-up arrived minutes later she instructed the PCs to take Johnson in then she finally went back inside to see Diane.
'Can you go in the ambulance with Mrs Johnson and see she's checked out?' Nikki said eventually, after debating for a moment whether to grill the PC. Since she couldn't at that precise moment, she'd settle for a distance. 'I'll inform Brett Sharp at the station, get him to meet you there.'
As she turned to go, Diane began, 'Sarge, I did what was…'
'Not now, PC Noble,' she interrupted, walking out of the door.
'Penny for 'em.'
'Hmm?' Nikki looked up from her report and blushed a little at the sight of Gina Gold watching her like a hawk. 'Oh, they're not worth it.'
The Inspector came in and closed the door. 'I heard you sorted out that mess earlier. What was it in the end?'
'Erm…' Trying to focus, she smiled briefly. 'Well, from what I can gather, it was the husband who was the brains behind it all. If you can call it a brainy operation, that is. Lydia Johnson told Tony that a few months ago she was told by doctors she couldn't conceive. Jeff wasn't best pleased and he got a bit of a fixation on the little lad next door- Tyler Sharp. So he concocted this plan where they'd take the boy and run off with him. Which they did, then he cleared the Sharp house of everything belonging to Tyler and got ready to go. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out.'
'Now there's a surprise,' Gina quipped.
Nikki managed a laugh. 'He roped his sister-in-law into helping. What he didn't count on was her talking Lydia out of it when they went to clear out their savings accounts. The whole situation in the Post Office was contrived to make us take notice. I don't think the intention was for them both to be unconscious by the time we got there though.'
Gina let out her breath. 'I'm glad I let you deal with that one.'
'Yeah, thanks, Ma'am,' Nikki replied. 'I really appreciate it.' After a brief pause, she found herself continuing, 'I actually had a problem today, Ma'am.'
Inspector Gold raised an eyebrow. 'Oh?'
'Well, it was PC Noble…'
Very eager to get out of the station, Nikki changed quickly and was about to leave when the door to the locker room opened. It seemed that fate wasn't on her side; especially considering the glare present on Diane Noble's face as she closed the door behind her.
The PC took a moment before she spoke, probably to calm herself a little. 'Why did you do that?'
Nikki sighed and then swallowed. 'Look, you were…'
'I know I was out of line!' Diane interjected. 'But I had to get in there!'
'You couldn't have waited two minutes for back-up?'
'I made a judgement call.'
'One that went against mine,' Nikki answered. 'I'd already given you an order and the fact that you couldn't follow it suggests there's an issue here.'
'Oh, come on!' Diane said, snorting derisively. 'I got him didn't I?'
Nikki shook her head. 'It's the way you went about it!'
PC Noble was quiet for a moment. She walked to her locker, opened it and pulled out a bottle of water, fiddled with it and placed it back into the locker. Then she turned back. 'So it was all professionalism, was it?'
'What else would it be?' Nikki queried steadily.
'Oh, I don't know…' Diane allowed that to linger as she came closer. 'What was the real problem, Sarge?'
'Your professional conduct. Or lack of it. I'm your senior officer and when I give you an order…'
'You expect me to stick to it. Yeah, I've had the lecture from Inspector Gold, along with the recommendation I take some owed leave.'
Nikki glanced up. 'What?'
'Two weeks, effective immediately. So, thanks a lot, Sarge.'
When Diane turned back to her locker and began loosening her garments, Nikki quickly made for the door. Just as she was about to open it, she let her grip on the handle slide. She didn't turn around though. 'I'm sorry.'
There was a lengthy pause. As she couldn't see PC Noble she could only imagine the expressions on her face and what was going through her mind; Nikki wasn't keen on any of the options. 'It's alright,' Diane said finally. 'You were right. I should've listened to you.'
Nikki turned and was faced with the image of Diane's shirt half-unbuttoned. Ignoring that, she simply said, 'He could've been armed.'
'But he wasn't.'
'But he could've been! And that's a risk you always have to take into account. I shouldn't have told Inspector Gold without talking to you myself first. I'm sorry for that.'
The PC nodded. 'Apology accepted. So… Well, I guess I'll see you in a couple of weeks then, Sarge.'
The way Diane looked down at the floor self-consciously made Nikki smile. 'Have a nice break, enjoy yourself.'
'Don't think I can manage that,' answered Diane with an apologetic shrug. 'Not in my nature.'
'Give it a go anyway,' Nikki advised. Smiling again, she left the changing room.