The pair had been travelling for close to an hour in near continual silence by the time they came within close enough proximity to the old cottage for them to possibly pick out some of the finer architectural details of its exterior. Having found that it was futile to try and make themselves heard over the roaring wind and continual persistents of the torrential rain they had given up on making idle conversation very early on, and, fearing Dalziel's reaction if he had to listen to yet another pointless enquiry into how he was fairing, whilst struggling to conceal his own growing anxiety himself, Pascoe had kept his concerns for the remainder of the journey to himself.
He had made this very same mistake just half an hour into their hike, and, as a result, had received his most blunt response from Dalziel yet for his troubles.
"It's only my bloody arm that's knackered as a beach donkey, not my fucking legs. My brain's still intact, and I can still see. So until the time comes when I am no longer capable of putting one foot in front of the other, start spreading massages of peace on earth and good favour to all men, and can no longer see the puddles that are three centimetres ahead of me laddie…" At this he had trailed off but his harsh expression had conveyed all the rest that he had left to say, and Pascoe knew well when diplomacy enough was called for, and not to retaliate with futile verbal responses, but had nodded his agreement resignedly.
Even from this distance they could tell that the house was very old… not so much a house maybe, or even a cottage in the traditional sense, Pascoe surmised as he observed its sturdy stone frame… although he suspected that that's what it would probably go down as in an estate agents brochure. Its white wash walls stood out clearly against the inky black of the horizon, and as the rain mercifully began to subside he could at last make out the shape of numerous framed windows, set within several centimetres of deep wood. As he glanced over at Dalziel he noticed that he too had now also stopped, breathing heavily as he took in the view… he was hardly the fittest nor healthiest of policemen that Pascoe had encountered during his modest career, nor anybody else within the force for that matter, even as other superior officers with a significant amount of desk duty went… but he was the best at his job that the Detective Inspector had ever considered himself to have the good fortune to work alongside.
"Not far to go now sir." Pascoe promised as he pressed on with renewed determination to reach their destination before too much of the encroaching evening became lost to them… the smoke had already ceased to flow from the stone chimney just shortly after they had set out from the car, and Dalziel, much to Peter's frustration, had now begun to slow his pace and lag wearily behind.
"You're sure you're alright sir?" Pascoe asked.
"Never better." Andy Dalziel coughed sarcastically. "Never bloody better!"
The rain was coming down in such heavy form by now that even Dalziel's umbrella provided feeble protection from the torrential downpour of frigid water, which dripped in miserable beads down the back of Pascoe's neck, soaking into Dalziel's grey suit trousers from the knee down, turning them a sooty black shade.
He heard the Superintendent mumble ill-temperedly to himself at intervals, when he turned to see him mopping a thin film of rain water, and what he presumed to be sweat mingled in with the icy, unwelcome drizzle, from his brow and eyes, as Pascoe himself had to blink intermittently, swiping the chill rain from his own numb features.
Suddenly however there came a sound which struck a terror into both of their minds enough to alleviate all of the previous weariness they had felt. To anybody who may not have bore witness to such a sound before, in light of their current rural and largely uncivilised environment they may very well have mistaken it for the callings of some wild animal setting out on what it hoped to be a successful evenings hunt. But to the trained and seasoned ears of an experienced police officer the exclamation of human distress known as the scream can only be interpreted as that. So it was with this therefore that the pair set off in the direction of the cottage, from where they were convinced the sound had emanated, with renewed haste to their step and driven by the ever present fear of what they might find once they got there… or if something serious and untoward had happened, what they may discover if they got there too late.
Peter raced ahead, stumbling on wet grass and mud, legs aching as they made harsh impact with the ground below, and he had to struggle to stay upright. Dalziel, not quite so agile, and carrying a few stone additional to his younger partner, found himself slipping and sliding, making an unwelcome acquaintance with the spongy ground more times than he would have ideally cared to have done, until he found himself squinting around for Pascoe who was almost already out of sight.
As the Detective Inspector finally found himself at the front entrance to the property however, in the substantially shorter length of time than had they continued at the pace at which they had been travelling at for at least the latest stretch of their journey, all had gone eerily quiet again… and the only figure in sight as he peered through a thick blanket of rain was that of a lone woman slumped motionless in the grounds of her magnificent home.
She looked very beautiful Pascoe observed as he approached her, and despite her obvious middle-age had a distinct youthfulness to her appearance which showed little evidence of the day to day trials which had the unfortunate effect of prematurely ageing the majority of the rest of the general population. Though any previous fortune of a good nature or otherwise had obviously had little bearing on the events of this evening he thought sadly to himself as he tried to locate a pulse against her pale neck, relieved to find one still beating steady and strong before turning round to determine where Dalziel had got to.
He had barely a split second to notice him out of the corner of his eye however, just rounding the bend in the lane before turning through the front gate when the woman began to sir in his arms and he turned his attentions back to ensuring that she was indeed alright. He hadn't been able to easily determine the extent of her injuries whilst she had been unconscious, or why she was lying slumped outside her house in the middle of the pouring rain. There had been no outward or obvious sign of a head wound or any other physical abrasions, but he was at least relieved to see now that she had obviously not sustained any physical trauma.
"Peter!" He heard Dalziel call to him as he finally caught up with the somewhat younger, and substantially fitter Detective Inspector, wheezing heavily, and coughing an unhealthy, hacking cough, which Peter didn't like the sound of. The distinct sound of the Superintendent's heavy footsteps upon the gravel driveway told Pascoe of his superior's struggle with his obviously rusted limbs and heaving lungs, which must already have been stretched far beyond their normal limit of exertion. He grimaced painfully, although Pascoe didn't think that this had anything to do with his recent injury, more likely attributed to his superior's excessive love of cigarettes, booze, and take away cuisine, which he consumed to an unhealthy scale, on an almost daily basis with apparent little regard for his own health.
"You alright sir?" He asked.
"Course I am." Andy Dalziel wheezed breathlessly as he approached, "Nothing a good square meal, and a large, double whisky couldn't cure at any rate." He glared at Pascoe as he said this, "Instead of being stuck out here in the pissing rain with you sunshine… whose she?" He frowned, noticing the woman at his feet for the first time.
"Don't know." Pascoe shrugged. "No ID, but there's no sign of any obvious injury… she must have just fainted."
Dalziel's frown intensified as he observed the woman's features, long glossy locks of hazel red hair, set against a pale complexion, rosy, high-set check bones and green eyes set like precious stones in her delicately formed skull. She looked to Dalziel as though she could have been exceptionally beautiful once upon a time, now however the years had obviously seen fit to extenuate many of those prominent features, which the advantage of youth may once have softened, now giving the woman an air of the utmost of glamour and sophistication. Hardly the class of woman expected to be associated with the solitude of the West Yorkshire countryside, Dalziel considered, more so perhaps the upper class societies of the London aristocracy… even so, she was still very beautiful.
The woman in Peter's arms began to stir again, slowly now, her slim figure twisting to one side as she brought one slender arm up to conceal her face subconsciously against the elements, beginning to regain consciousness. She let out a long, muffled groan to start with, detracting Peter's attentions away from the Superintendent for a moment, his priority became to ensure that she wasn't at all injured beyond that which he had initially determined from his initial inspection and examination, as Dalziel however wandered a few paces ahead.
"Don't try to move." Pascoe tried to advise the woman, who was by now doing her best to sit up under the watchful and cautious eye of the Detective Inspector's gaze. He placed his hand on her elbow when it became apparent that she wasn't going to heed to his advice however. Watching as she stumbled to her feet. Unsure as to whether she had even heard him speak at first, until she stuttered in response.
"No, no, I'm fine." She assured him, getting to her feet to Pascoe's relief, the affirmation he had been seeking that she had at least sustained no significant wounds as a result of her obvious ordeal.
She staggered slightly to begin with however, unsure and unsteady, an uneasy from plaguing her expression. "Where is he?" She suddenly asked, looking about her as she did so, striking Pascoe with immediate concern. "Are you him?" She turned to him to ask.
""Who?" Pascoe enquired, uneasy himself with this.
"There was a man in the shadows." The woman explained, tone broken with fear and emotion. "I heard a noise, I came out to investigate. There was a man in the shadows with a gun… What happened?"
"You must have feinted." Peter explained to her, himself now getting to his feet. As he looked around however he saw nobody but Dalziel, whom he observed mere feet away from the farmhouse now.
"Andy!" He called to him, a renewed sense of the pair's previous urgency to his tone. The officer in him realised now that if the man was still around, and still armed they would all be at risk. But Dalziel failed to acknowledge his partners cries, neglecting to respond in the least. Instead, his generous frame clearly visible against the dark horizon could be seen conducting a thorough investigation of the ground immediately surrounding the old house, kicking up the soil and wet clay around him at intervals, before leisurely walking on.
Suddenly however Pascoe heard the sound of the woman's scream beside him, and he turned to see the look of terror in her eyes, following her line of vision to where she pointed, in the direction of a dense overgrowth of wild grass and weeds, bordering what could only be described as a small thicket of trees. There the black silhouette of a man stood clearly visible against the landscape. His build indistinguishable however as the raincoat he was evidently wearing, a faint shade of blue filtering through the darkening twilight hours, appeared at least several sizes too big for his frame.
The woman screamed again, distracting Pascoe's attention for only a moment, when the sound of gunshot rang out. He looked up just in time to see the figure of the man disappearing back into the trees and Dalziel slumped to the ground, his superior form meeting the earth with an audible thud even from the distance at which Pascoe now stood.
"ANDY!" The Detective Inspector yelled, recognising immediately what must have just happened with this, "Call an Ambulance… and get the police up here right now!" He instructed the woman beside him, before racing to his superior's side, finally reaching him in a puddle of sticky clay and rainwater. "Andy?" He asked.
Dalziel had been shot, he could clearly tell from his superior's pained expression, and the angle at which he now lay that he hadn't simply fallen to avoid the risk of injury at the sound of the gun going off. Although in the dwindling light of evening he was unable to determine the exact location or extent of the injuries he had sustained… he was however at least conscious.
"Peter." Andy Dalziel smiled at the sight of his friend and colleague. It had started to rain quite heavily again by now, and as he approached Peter Pascoe instinctively removed the coat which Dalziel had offered to him so readily earlier on, draping it over his boss where he now lay. Relieved that he at least would have significant cover from the torrential downpour, which appeared now to be mocking them both as it soaked the two for a second time. Pascoe shivered violently as the icy water returned much of the chill, which had gripped him earlier that evening.
"Shhhh." He assured his superior, bending down beside him as he did so. "Don't try to talk."
"How is she?" Dalziel asked anyhow, despite himself.
As Pascoe knelt down beside his boss he recoiled as he finally gained a closer look at the wound. It was still proving undeniably difficult to determine the full extent of the Superintendent's injuries, although to Peter's growing anxiety he quickly realised that Dalziel was bleeding heavily from a bullet wound in his abdomen.
"Who, the woman? She's fine." Pascoe explained as he gently took the sling from around Dalziel's injured arm, prising it gingerly from beneath the Superintendent's broad shoulder and applying it to the wound, before placing his superior in the recovery position.
Dalziel smiled. "You must be loosing your touch Peter." He grinned.
"I'm afraid I didn't get her name." Pascoe explained with a somewhat guilty smile. "There wasn't time for any formal introductions." Understanding the Superintendent's meaning immediately without need of explanation. The two had been working together, had been friends for long enough now to read each other like an open ale list, and Pascoe realised that Dalziel's force of humour was simply a defence mechanism, his way of dealing with his current condition.
He knew that it was either this or Andy Dalziel may very well have been in the process of kicking the verbal shit out of him by now, a prospect Pascoe considered to be the last thing either of them could do with, for the moment at least. Although there would come the time, once again, when he would be only too glad to take the third degree from Andy Dalziel, back at the Station, alongside colleagues who cared almost as much for the outspoken, straight talking Superintendent… for he had come to mean a great deal to them all each in their own way.
Suddenly now however Dalziel let out a slow exhale of breath, unconsciousness intruding upon the already blurred edges of his vision.
"Andy?" Peter asked again. "Come on Andy, stay with me."
"Mmmmm." Dalziel groaned, eyelids already beginning to grow heavy now, as sleep offered a welcome release from the pain which now enveloped him. Pascoe felt for a pulse, and was relieved at least to find it, still strong and regular.
"Come on Andy." He tried again, this time to find Dalziel by now only just clinging onto consciousness.
The sound of sirens could by now be heard approaching in the distance, carried on the empty air, and miles of sparse horizon, but this was not soon enough for the anxious Pascoe's liking.
"Where's that ambulance?" He raised his head to shout for the woman who he had thought had up until now been standing just a few feet away from where the two were now positioned, both cold, both wet, both covered in an equal measure of soggy soil and clay.
She was however no longer anywhere to be seen. Pascoe looked this way and that in a half hearted and futile attempt to determine her whereabouts, he had more pressing issues to deal with now, but the woman had simply gone…