Author's Note - Hey there, this is my first ever Silent Witness story so bear with me. I hope you enjoy.
"….anyway, the coroner's report came through and – why are there no vegetables in the entirety of your fridge?" Nikki said, abruptly, as she poked around in the refrigerator, allowing the fluorescent light to stream into the room and silhouette her slender form.
"I think the bigger question," Harry replied, glibly, strolling over and pulling his nosy colleague out and closing the door with a loud click, "Is why you are in my fridge in the first place?"
Nikki grinned at him and leant casually back on one of the black granite counters. "I was merely interested in the contents of a bachelor's fridge and wanted to do a little research." She paused, still smiling. "It was as I expected: several wine bottles, a mouldy Camembert and ten ready meals. The evidence is certainly conclusive: you can't cook to save your life."
"Which is exactly the reason that we're getting an Indian," Harry retorted, picking up his glass of wine, "Now, I don't want you taking complete control of my fridge as well as my desk so shall we drift towards the sitting room? Come on, shift." He caught pushed Nikki's shoulder, playfully, directing her towards the other room.
The blonde woman stumbled as she moved and felt her elbow being caught, deftly, by Harry. "Perhaps," she laughed, "We should, before I do too much damage to myself."
"I concur." Harry's eyes sparkled.
Still chuckling, the pair wandered into Harry's spacious sitting room and threw themselves down on the comfy leather sofas, taking a moment to admire the evening view from the massive glass windows. Nikki felt herself sink into the cushions and let out a little sigh of bliss as she closed her eyes. Her friend's apartment was so comfortable and stylish and warm. The heating in her own home had broken over a week ago and she was still padding around in her thick woollen socks, hand-knitted scarf and massive fluffy jumper. Often, she felt like an Eskimo. That's why she was very pleased to accept the offer of a take away with her colleague on the grounds that it would be at his place and not hers.
A pillow hit her full in the face and she gasped in surprise, her eyes springing open again. In her lap, having fallen down, was a russet cushion, embroidered with gold thread.
"Harry!" she admonished, glaring at her companion.
"You looked too happy," he explained, grinning, and almost sloshing a great deal of crimson wine from his glass onto the cream carpet. He caught it just in time.
"In all honesty," Nikki said, having observed the mishap, "I'm quite surprised you actually had the coordination to throw it so accurately."
"Me too," Harry agreed, with a laugh.
"It doesn't mean I've forgiven you though. I'd watch out for retribution," Nikki warned, "It could come at any moment."
Her friend grinned at her. "I'm looking forward to it."
However, it seemed Nikki wasn't too inclined to exact her revenge just yet so they leant back and sat in companionable silence, both lost in their own world of thought whilst enjoying one another's presence. This was why Harry liked spending time with Nikki, she never pushed a conversation when it wasn't needed. It was a sign of a good friendship to be able to sit comfortably together and not need to talk about anything. Now, was a time for relaxing. Harry had had so many female friends and girlfriends that chattered for hours and never gave him a moment's peace. Being in the same line of work as him, Nikki had a mutual understanding of the need for quiet.
Suddenly, he was aware of a pair of eyes boring into him and he glanced over at his colleague to see her scrutinising him with those insanely dark brown orbs.
"What?" he asked, self-consciously, "Do I have a wine moustache or something?" He brushed his lips quickly and hoped that he hadn't embarrassed himself too much.
Nikki looked thoughtful for a moment and then she queried, curiously, "Why did you grow your hair, Harry?"
"Because I felt the need for a change," the man shrugged, running a pale hand through his brown, floppy locks. "Don't you think I look more mature?" he added, striking a model-like pose and smirking.
Nikki chuckled. "I don't think anything could make you seem more mature, Harry Cunningham, you're stuck in eternal boyhood. A real life Peter Pan."
"Thanks a lot," he said, sarcastically.
A pause. "I prefer it shorter."
"Why?" Harry questioned, frowning.
"That was the Harry I first met," Nikki replied, shrugging her slender shoulders slightly, "And I always thought it looked good on you. You pull off boyish charm brilliantly." She waved at his hair and purple shirt. "But this look, it's too….rock band. Actually, scrap that…that was your last haircut. Now you just look a bit like a girl."
"Even with my manly jaw?" Harry asked, angling his head to the left to give her the full view.
"Yes," Nikki giggled.
"I see that wine has loosened your tongue. I never realised you thought about my hairstyles so much. If I had then I would definitely have gone punk. How do you think a pink Mohican would suit me?"
"Down to the ground," his friend snorted. "Especially if you brought back your infamous yellow scrubs."
Harry made a face. "I'll have you know they were limited edition."
"For good reason!"
Suddenly a loud buzzing filled the apartment and both pathologists jumped at the noise. For a second, in his alcohol induced state, Harry wondered whether a massive fly had invaded his home but then he realised it was the doorbell. The take away must have arrived. Climbing slowly to his feet and placing his glass on a side table, Harry headed towards the door. Nikki watched him go noting, with amusement, his slanting gait. He really had had too much wine. Hell, she'd had too much wine.
"Hullo." Harry leant on the doorframe and smiled at the young Asian man who stood in the hallway, clutching at a bag of curries. His face was pimply and his eyes blinked repeatedly, so much so that they were continuously watering. "Do you have my meal?"
"Y-yes, sir," the adolescent stuttered, "Here."
"But I ordered a Chinese," Harry stated, quite seriously.
"W-what?" Frankly, the boy looked terrified; his free hand twisted erratically by his side.
"A Chinese. Two number fives, a ten and an eighteen," Harry continued, doggedly, a smile twitching his lips.
"But…I," the delivery man was floundering, clearly distressed, "There must have been a mistake."
"For god's sake, Harry, stop teasing the poor boy!" Nikki reprimanded. She had levered herself off the sofa and was now standing beside her friend. Smiling kindly at the teenager, who was now mumbling frantically in Punjabi and staring at his feet as if the ground would swallow him up, she held out her hands. "Sorry, ignore this idiot, we have ordered an Indian under the name Cunningham?"
"Yes, that is this," the boy's tone sounded relieved and he looked up only to blanch at the sight of Nikki. His whole body seemed to stiffen as he stared at her with wide brown eyes.
"Are you all right?" she asked, concerned.
At first the boy didn't reply and then he leapt into action. "I am fine. Fine. I must go!"
He practically lobbed the warm plastic bag of food at her and then charged off down the corridor as if his life depended on it. Nikki stared after him, astounded, holding the take away in her hands.
"Wait!" she shouted, hurrying out of Harry's apartment, "We haven't paid you."
However, by the time she'd made it to the end of the corridor, the delivery boy was long gone and Nikki was left alone in the deserted passageway. Frowning thoughtfully, she turned back and walked towards the apartment door. That was so strange. Surely the boy's job depended on getting paid? He couldn't have been so scared by Harry that he forgot to get the money. Then again, Harry could be rather intimidating. Perhaps, it was his first day and he wasn't used to drunken fools.
Feeling rather guilty, Nikki wandered back into the apartment and closed the door behind her with a resounding thud. Harry was back in the kitchen and by the sounds of his clattering, he was sorting out plates and cutlery.
"Did you pay him?" the man called.
"No," Nikki said, coming into the room, "He'd gone and I couldn't catch him."
"Wow, a free meal. It must be our lucky night," Harry grinned.
"You scared him," Nikki felt the need to point out.
Her colleague scoffed. "Hardly, Nikki, he was just in a hurry and he probably forgot about payment. Maybe he had another job immediately after ours and wanted to get away. I expect he'll come back later and ask for the money. We'll pay him then."
"Why did you tease him like that, though?"
"Aw," Harry said, seeing her face, "It was slightly funny, you have to admit. Besides, unfortunately, when I'm rather pissed I seem to find everything funny."
"No more wine for you then," Nikki retorted, catching the bottle from his hand. "If you have anymore then you'll go into work drunk tomorrow morning and you know that Leo won't be happy."
"Its only…" the pathologist consulted his watch, "Half nine. It will be out of my system by tomorrow."
"Harry, stop behaving like a drunkard and have some food."
Offering him a particularly stern expression, Nikki slipped the aluminium wrapped packages out of the carrier bag and placed them on the table. She carefully consulted the labels so she would know what was in them and then peeled back the lids. A beautiful aroma of spices and herbs filled the kitchen and she smiled.
"Mmm…I'm famished," she declared and plonked herself down on a chair. Harry followed suit and soon they were lost in good food and amiable conversation; the incident with the delivery boy completely forgotten.
Pecking Nikki gently on her soft cheek, Harry inhaled her sweet perfume mixed with a whiff of spicy curries and smiled, pulling back. Her brown eyes met his and they twinkled like the stars that were no doubt studding the sky outside.
"Thank you for a wonderful evening, Harry," she said, sincerely. "I don't think I'm really looking forward to going back to my cold, dark flat."
"Didn't you say that a repairman would be round to fix your heating tomorrow afternoon?"
"Yes," Nikki sighed, "But that's not now is it? If I don't come in tomorrow it's probably because I've died from hypothermia in my sleep so don't worry, okay? I went peacefully."
Harry laughed and hugged her one last time before handing her the handbag which she'd left on the side. It amused him that he'd carried Nikki's bag more times than he could count. He should really stop because it couldn't be doing much for his reputation or his masculinity. This particular one was made of greenish-blue leather that went with her winter scarf – the scarf that was wrapped tightly round her neck to keep out the chill that she would be stepping into once she went outside.
"Try not to get frostbite," he smirked, "See you tomorrow."
Nikki left the apartment and decided to take the winding staircase in order to burn off some of the rich food that she'd consumed that night. However, as she descended, she decided that perhaps that wasn't such a good idea because of her recent alcohol consumption. It made her wobbly in her high heeled boots. She had to grab at the rail several times when she came perilously close to plummeting head first down the stairs. Next time, she would definitely take the lift.
Whilst she had been in the apartment, she had ordered a taxi because neither Harry nor herself were in a fit state to drive. They had received a phone call just a few minutes ago to confirm that the cab had arrived so she hoped that she wouldn't have to be out in the cold for too long.
Pushing open the front door of the block of apartments, Nikki tottered into the street and scanned the road for any sign of her transport. She had expected to see the headlights of a waiting taxi but, as it was, the street was completely almost empty and quiet. That was odd. A couple of decrepit streetlamps were casting pitiful pools of orange onto the pavement but other than that there were no lights anywhere. Wrapping her arms tightly around herself, Nikki braced herself for her chilly wait.
As she stood there, trying to ignore the biting wind that had picked up, she wondered whether she should give up and go back into Harry's. Maybe she could ask him whether she could stay the night because she really didn't like the prospect of returning to her deserted home. That way she didn't have to abandon her car and she could head home, clear-headed, in the morning. Her exposed cheeks were stinging and her blond curls were being tossed around by the swirling air.
It was just as she was about to give up that a sharp glint of light caught her eye and she frowned. Squinting, she could just about make out a dark shape a little further down the road. Perhaps that was the taxi; maybe she had just missed it. Hurrying down the pavement, hearing her boots clacking on the tarmac, she drew closer and realised the light which she had seen had been caused by the shiny wing mirror of the black cab. It had reflected the moonlight. Glancing up into the sky, she smiled at the prettiness of the suspended white orb.
She could see someone sitting in the driving seat so she knocked on the window. Strangely, she received no indicator that he'd heard her. She tried again. Still no reaction. Frowning, Nikki tried the door handle and found it was unlocked. Gingerly, she pulled it open and peered inside. It was then she realised why the driver had no replied.
He was dead.
There was a single bullet wound fired straight through the centre of his forehead. Blood had spilled from the wound, down his face, and onto his clothes, pooling in his lap. The fact that it hadn't tried suggested it was reasonably fresh. Nikki felt her heartbeat increase, uneasily.
That's when she heard the footsteps behind her.
With a gasp, she whirled around and just had time to glimpse a muscular torso before she was brutally knocked out.