"Barbara!" Thomas Lynley spotted his partner across the road.
Barbara Havers quickly crossed to him. The snow was sifting down as they walked down the sidewalk towards the blaze of police lights.
"Convenient," she noted. The crime scene was less than 5 blocks from their offices back at the Met. "Has anyone found a note?"
"No," he answered, waiting for her to show her warrant card at the cordon before they made their way up the granite steps of the imposing home.
The body of Stephen Lawford, disgraced former MP, was on the floor of the first-floor library. The shotgun by his side was being packaged up as Lynley and Havers watched from the hall. The pair had donned coveralls, but held back as the body was carefully being readied for transport.
Lafferty nodded a greeting to them as he pulled off his gloves. "Of course we'll need the PM to be sure, but so far nothing counter-indicates suicide."
After a search of the room, Lynley continued to walk Havers through the home. They traced Lawford's last movements, stopping in front of a small upstairs office.
It looked like a letter bomb had been exploded. The color of the carpet couldn't have been identified for the layers of paper on the ground.
"Christ," Lynley breathed. "What happened here?"
"Sir? You knew him, yeah?" Barbara asked, her eyes skimming over it all.
"I did, yes."
"Yes. But we hadn't spoken in a decade or more."
"Of course," he temper began to grind. "Why?"
Barbara squatted down and indicated a piece of embossed Howenstow stationery amongst the sea of paper.
The bottom of the card was covered by some kind of credit card bill, but a close look confirmed it well enough. "It's a thank-you," Lynley closed his eyes in thought for a moment. "He sent something – a gift – after the wedding announcement. There were dozens of these."
Barbara didn't doubt it. "But why'd he keep it? I mean…this bill is from last month, and this… uh, some kind of charity thing dated just a week ago."
"You're right," he allowed. With a sigh, Tommy shook his head. They carefully walked the perimeter of the room but nothing else caught their attention.
Back outside, Barbara buttoned up her coat before pulling her ever-longer hair out of the collar. The movement caught his eye. Then he had a quick vision of Helen doing the same thing. He looked up into the snow, trying to clear his mind.
"You all right, sir?" she demanded.
Unbidden, Tommy was fighting the images of the funeral, of Helen's death and of all the days afterwards as they flashed through his mind. The world can wait. Without answering her, he turned and began walking away.
"Wait!" she called, jogging to catch up with him.
"Never mind, Barbara. I'll see you back at the office." A moment later, a taxi stopped for his lifted hand and he was gone – leaving a surprised Havers in his wake.
Lynley's office was empty when she arrived. She was working at her seat when the division secretary approached a little while later. "Detective Sergeant?"
"You're wanted in AC Evans's office."
The other woman gave her a quick nod and Barbara turned with a sigh.
"Sir?" By the time she arrived, Barbara's cheeks were half-frozen.
Evans motioned for her to step all the way in. As she pushed the door open, she realized that Fiona Knight was in the other chair. "Ma'am?"
"Hello, Barbara," Fiona responded.
"I'll get straight to the point," Evans pinned her with a severe expression and Barbara wondered if she were in some new kind of trouble. "Inspector Knight's requested you for the Kent task force."
"What, those assaults?"
"And now murders," Fiona looked grim. "The latest victim was found this morning – dead. We've got nothing by way of forensics so far, just like the others. And the girl we found Thursday is not expected to last the night. The head trauma is terminal."
"We need to get this sorted - and quickly."
"I'd have to…"
"He's already signed off."
"He has?" Barbara breathed in with surprise. "Right. Uh…OK, then. When do we get started?"
"How does now sound?"
The rest of the day passed in a blur. Hadi had insisted on helping her pack her small bag and Azhar had offered to keep an eye on her place. The drive to Canterbury took almost three hours because of some ridiculous accident on the M2. And through it all, there'd been no answer on Lynley's mobile.
Refusing to be distracted, she found Fiona in a conference room serving as the taskforce HQ. The Kent Police Station in Canterbury was a squat brick and glass box with a pronounced 80's vibe, but at least the offices the team had been given were recently painted and carpeted.
After a quick bite cadged from a nearby curry shop, the task force met. Together, they picked apart the details with new insights and ideas floated by individuals.
"If he keeps to the schedule, we can expect the next attack to occur between 4:30 and 5:30 Monday morning," Fiona informed them. "And most likely within 5 miles of where we sit. Every available copper will be out there that night, keeping watch."
"Begging pardon, Ma'am, but will we be able to join them?" One of the DC's, a local, interrupted.
"We'll have a rota for volunteers but we need to focus our energies on what we do best." Fiona finished her briefing and urged them all to get a couple hours' kip before going on patrol. After everyone else had finally broken up and moved out, Barbara fetched a couple of cups of tea.
"Thanks," Fiona gave her a grateful smile. "You're lodged at the Falstaff, by the way."
"I don't expect to be sleeping much until we catch this guy," Barbara shook her head.
"No, but bathing is mandatory."
They both proved prophetic. Over the next few days, another victim was found and the team averaged not enough sleep and not enough baths chasing down every hint of a lead. By Tuesday night, Fiona resorted to sending Barbara back to the hotel with strict orders to rest. Havers dragged herself back to the inn in a stupor.
And there he was - sitting alone by the old brick fireplace, nursing a pint.
Lynley turned and locked eyes with Barbara.
"Where the hell have you been?" she demanded, her heart beating erratically.
"Hello to you, too." Lynley stood and indicated the table. "Join me?"
"I called," she responded stubbornly.
"I know. I'm sorry," he stepped towards her.
"If you want on the case…"
"That's not why I'm here."
"You just disappeared."
"I know," he repeated. "I'm sorry."
With a huff, Barbara sat down and dropped her purse on the table. "So?"
"The card, Helen's handwriting…I just needed a few moments. The next thing I knew, Evans was informing me that you had been seconded to this taskforce."
"You didn't answer my calls," she reminded him.
"All right, I needed more than a few moments."
"It's been 3 days."
"I left you a message."
"Last night. While I was in the midst of this."
"As I said."
"You can't…" she sputtered.
"Keep disappearing, sir."
"I was on leave," her reminded her brusquely. "That's different."
"Oh, right." With a deep breath, she stood. "Well, I need sleep."
"Barbara," it was a request.
She considered it.
"Just tell me…it's a good team, here? You're all right, I mean? Making some progress?"
"Don't fish," she warned.
"You are. This has to stop, sir. You can't push me away and then come 'round 'cuz I've got a new guv."
"That's not what I'm doing."
"It's not? Because last time…"
"This isn't last time!" He exploded.
"Fine," she didn't argue. He wanted absolution, and she was tired of fighting. Tired, full stop.
"Sit back down for Christ's sake."
She perched on the edge of the seat, ready to bolt.
"Lawton has been designated a suicide."
"I heard. What about that card? Anything?"
"I think… well, he knew Helen, too. It's possible it was just a keepsake."
She noticed his voice didn't hitch when he said his wife's name. Progress, then. "What's next? This?"
"I was on my way to Howenstow."
"It's the opposite direction. You're taking leave?"
"Not entirely the opposite. And yes, a few days. My mother has had some trouble with the new manager; nothing major but warrants a visit."
"All right," she drew out the last word.
"Yeah, OK. Consider us patched." She stood up again and gathered up her coat.
He got to his feet as well. "I'd had a crazy thought that you'd come with me."
"To Cornwall?" Barbara didn't cover her surprise. "I have to be up again in less than 6 hours to try and catch a killer."
"I meant…when this is over."
"Who knows when that will be. But I'll see you when I get back, yeah?"
"Right. Sleep well," he offered, watching as she headed to the stairs.
The next thing she knew, the alarm in her phone was buzzing loudly. Barbara turned on the light by the bed and checked for messages before pulling herself over to the bathroom. It took several gallons of hot water before she felt clean but by the time she'd dried, she was feeling almost human again.
The trouser press revived her pantsuit and she pulled on a fresh blouse. Hadi would be proud, she thought as she draped her coat over her arm and let herself out of the room.
"Hello." He was leaning against the wall outside her room.
"God!" Barbara slapped her chest in surprise. "I thought you were heading to Cornwall?"
"Not right away. There's a killer here, first."
She shook her head. "I knew it," she muttered.
Outside, Tommy touched her on the shoulder to point out his car. Barbara paused a moment before capitulating and following. He could face the music with the SIO on his own. And the leather seats of his Bristol were comfortable to her in a way she couldn't explain.
"Seat belt," he reminded her.
"York Street in Ramsgate," she rolled her eyes, ignoring the overly paternal tone he put on too often. "I'm working with morning patrol."
"Right," he said, releasing the break and heading into the dark.
"Yes, thank you. The room was surprisingly comfortable. You?"
"Yeah," she said, covering a yawn.
It was a 30-minute ride to Ramsgate. Lynley showed that he'd done his homework and asked pertinent questions. By the time they found parking and pushed into the old glass doors into the station, he was almost as prepared as she was.
"Ma'am? Fiona?" Barbara approached with a tickle of anxiety. There was no hiding who was following her into the room.
"Tommy," Fiona stood and shook his hand. "Good to see you again." She wasn't just saying the words; her weakness for tall, dark and broody types hadn't waned.
"Inspector Knight," he responded with a tight smile.
He looked around and realized that the cops around them were bundling up and moving out with speed. "Report of a car just parked over on the esplanade," she explained. "It would be ahead of his established schedule, but still…"
"Not exactly a nice night for a stroll," he agreed, pulling his driving gloves back on. One of the PC's gave Barbara a radio and Tommy a star-struck stare. Fiona led the team quickly out into the cold. Sirens and lights kept off not to spook the killer if he was still out there.
Barbara gave him a pointed look as he drove. "You called ahead," she accused.
"Texted. Look," he pointed out the windscreen. The cop cars had flashed on their lights and sirens. "They've found something."
It was a quick run through though the scrub to the tiny copse of trees. The seventh victim was miraculously still alive, but barely recognizable as a woman underneath all her injuries. She was transported swiftly to local hospital as the rest began hunting for evidence.
The hours slipped past in freezing blur. The car turned out to have been stolen. The victim was identified. Frantic parents were driven out from Gillingham to sit by their daughter's bedside. Fingertip search again yielded no useful forensics.
It was gone lunch before anyone thought to take a break. Fiona slipped out to the nearby Starbucks for a cup of awful American coffee. She knew before sitting down that Thomas Lynley, Mighty DCI and Earl of Asherton, was right behind her. The admiring glances of the women in the shop – or for that matter, many of the men – gave it away.
"Sit," she invited, taking a sip and savoring the froth.
"You look well."
"I'm a good 8 pounds 10 ounces lighter than last time," she pointed out.
"Yes, of course. My belated congratulations."
"And my belated condolences to you."
He inclined his head a moment and then looked back up. "You have a good team."
"I have a great team," she corrected. "And a great skipper. But you knew that all along, didn't you?"
"There were some impediments."
"Like the fact that the chip on her shoulder would eclipse most of Southeast England? Or that she considers most authority and anything remotely upper echelon to be a malignancy?"
"Underneath it, though, she's as fine as they come. And she's come a long way even since we worked together last. Barbara could go far if she keeps on like this."
"I know," he smiled softly.
"I know you know," she quipped. "The question is, what now?"
"Barbara won't stay in Kent."
"Not even to make DI?"
"Oh," Tommy sat back, surprised. "You're serious?"
"I need a strong DS, and yes – it would be promotion tracked. Not like the Met, of course, but…"
"Oh," he repeated. Needing a moment, he got up and ordered a cuppa for himself.
"Can you let her go?" Fiona asked when he returned.
"It's her choice," he responded.
"Oh, don't," she chided. "You forget I know this Punch and Judy show. The question was to you."
"But it's not you I owe the answer to," His tone brooked no argument.
"Fair enough. Though, Tommy… a word of advice?" Fiona's eyes were compassionate. "Barbara's lovely, but…"
"Don't be ridiculous," he interrupted. Then he stood and left the café without looking back.
Barbara worked with one of the local DC's driving as they revisited the last-seen locations for each victim. She knew there was something more she wasn't seeing. But by the time they returned for the afternoon, her frustration level was off the charts. She wasn't alone. Everyone was watching the clock and feeling the pressure.
The urgency to find the killer was now under growing national attention and by the time Barbara stepped back into the Falstaff, it was almost 9 and long since dark. She was practically to the stairs when she heard Lynley call her name. Rubbing her eyes, Barbara turned and headed over to the small bar.
"Have you eaten?"
"Where have you been?" she sat down in the chair he pulled out.
"I've got Chinese. Still warm, I think."
"Cheers," she gave him a tired smile. "But I think I'm past food."
"Try," he urged, pushing the container across the table.
She nibbled, savoring the steam that came up off the rice. "I didn't see you at the meeting."
"I went back to the drop sites. I tried to call a couple of times."
"Yeah, I was at the grab sites. We found some more video off a couple cash machines. Nothing useful, yet."
"Havers," she responded.
"Well, it used to be 'Havers' – unless you wanted something. What happened to that?"
He sat back, thinking.
"I noticed it during the Thompson case, actually."
"I hadn't noticed it at all. Do you mind?"
"I'm not bothered," she looked at him warily. A trickle of adrenaline warned her that the conversation had suddenly taken a strange turn. Barbara pushed the food away and thought about heading up to her room before it went any further.
As though reading her intentions, Tommy reached out and carefully touched her forearm. She could feel the heat of his hand through her jacket and down to her skin.
He closed his eyes and slowly opened them again. He knew her confused expression was mirrored by his own.
And as soon as pulled his hand back, she was gone.
Tommy nursed one more drink before heading up to bed himself. Careful not to get drunk – not after what happened with Julia. But enough that he sank into a deep, dreamless sleep.
When she opened her door at 3, she wasn't surprised he was there.
"Good morning," his voice was rough – almost a whisper. "You look nice."
"Morning," she answered, thrown off by the compliment.
"No, Kent Station in Maidstone. We're briefing the Chief before he gives his appeal. "
"So. Tell me again about the grab sites," he urged as he drove them through the darkened streets.
"Uh, public places. Mostly Canterbury proper. 4 pubs, one sort of bistro restaurant, one car park, and one sidewalk between a cash station and a book shop, and the most recent from the parking lot of a senior home."
"All in or near Canterbury. Nothing physically similar. The pubs were different sorts, the car park and parking lot were just slabs with completely ineffectual security. The sidewalk the same. There were pubs near all the locations – but there were also churches. I mean, it's Canterbury."
"The drop sites are all bits of woods. The first 4 were small forests just near car parks. The next two barely copses. All at least 30 minutes from Canterbury along and near the seashore. Last one actually being ON the seashore."
"And a stop along the way to commit rape, torture, and battery." Barbara thought a moment. "None of the victims remember anything specific –between the darkness and the drugs, right? But the ones who've we been able to interview said things like they had this sense of when they were little and would hide under the bed or something like being 'boxed up'. The girls are a type, but otherwise random. So I keep thinking that our link must be the special place he takes them to. Isolated, strong enough that there's not a lot of outside noise, dark even in daylight."
"A place where he controls the environment. Especially the forensics."
"Yeah," she agreed, the wheels turning in her mind. "This is all local. The girls. The sites. So the place is local, too. A private bolt hole. A place he's had –known about, or even used before– for a long time. That's key."
"So we re-do the overlays," Lynley agreed. "And we find it."
At that hour of the morning, the 30 miles had taken less than 30 minutes. Tommy dropped Barbara off and then entered separately some minutes later.
Tommy had to keep himself from marching to the front of the room. But after a while, he realized that it was interesting to see Barbara operating separate from himself. Crossing his arms and leaning against the wall, he watched as she was brash about her opinions – of course – but stayed on point. She conveyed more of the big picture than he expected her to.
Lynley thought back to a time when he'd held back to allow a young Cornwall detective a chance to follow his own leads. How he'd cautioned Barbara to follow suit. Now, he watched as she, in turn, encouraged the DC's to give their pieces to the Chief.
After an hour, they relocated back to Canterbury and watched the appeal on the monitor there. "He did all right," Barbara approved.
"So did you," Tommy said, for her ears alone.
"Oh. Thank you," she responded, a little bemused.
Fiona gestured the blown-up map on the board. "So, another mapping exercise? Haven't we done enough of these?" She pointed to several computer-generated pages pinned up on the board.
"I'll say," one of the DC's agreed from behind his computer.
"Yeah, OK, I know. But what's the harm in trying again?" Havers challenged.
Lynley opened his mouth to agree when Fiona shot him a quelling look. "What's your thinking, Barbara?"
"I want to try this a different way – more like an exclusion than an intersection diagram." Barbara explained. "I think our killer would go to great lengths to protect his… lair, for lack of a better word."
"You think we need to look at the where he hasn't been?"
"On with it, then" Fiona approved.
Nodding, Barbara began to draw the connections between each grab and each drop site. Then she began highlighting circles that were not touched by either. The result was a kind of Picasso-ish polygon that stretched in ribbons through Kent.
"OK, do you see anything in all this?" she backed up to where Lynley was leaning his hip against one of the desks.
"Maybe I can help narrow it down," Lafferty announced. He breezed in with a packet of papers and handed them over to Fiona. "We found maize."
"Like, corn, you mean? That isn't exactly breaking news in Kent," Fiona responded, skimming through the report.
"Aye, Guv – but this stuff was dirty and had fibers from maybe two or three different dyed cottons, like from clothing."
"Dirty?" Tommy thought for a moment.
"Look, we've known all long that he washes the victims very thoroughly before wrapping them in bin bags prior to dumping. Now we think that he's specifically been using a power washer."
"Power washer?" One of the DC's repeated.
"Yeah, there's minute traces of a particular kind of cleanser. But even more revealing is the bruising; consistent on top of the other injuries," Lafferty demonstrated, using one hand over the other in a criss-cross pattern. "It takes some hours to appear on the survivors because it's done last before he gets rid of them. But this time it might have done more to reveal our guy than hide him; the power washing seems to have pressed a maize stem deep into her ear canal. The bits of it that escaped the wash are covered in trace material."
"Dirty corn…" Barbara said softly. She looked over to Fiona, and shook her head. "Like…lots of people cutting through a farm?"
"Or…" Fiona pointed at her. "Like a Maize Maze."
"That would fit," Lafferty nodded.
"How many of those in the area?" Tommy jumped up and looked closely at the map.
"Two I can think of that match this - Haguelands Village and Quex Park." Fiona took a red pen and circled the two locations – each well in the highlighted areas. "All right, let's split up – you lot, with me to Haguelands. The rest with DS Havers to Quex," Fiona instructed, grabbing her coat and purse.
"Ride with us?" one of the DC's asked as they all headed to the door.
"Thanks, but I know the way," Tommy announced, pushing through the doors in a hurry. He paused when he realized she wasn't following right behind. Realized, too late, that the question had been more aimed at her – not him. "Barbara?"
She met his gaze. "I'll ride with Inspector Lynley," she announced to the others. "Meet us there."
It was about 10 miles, but Tommy practically flew the Bristol over the road. They pulled into the drive in front of Quex House and began looking around. An elderly caretaker came down the stairs to meet them, complaining that the grounds were only open on Sundays.
Lynley and Havers produced their warrant cards while they gave the senior a close look. He was leaning on a cane, and tiny. Possibly an accomplice, but not the killer they were looking for.
The rest of the officers came streaming in, and gathered around. "Not that we need reminding – but if he's followed pattern, he's already taken his next victim, yeah? And she could be somewhere, right here and now, needing us to find her."
"Where's the maze?" Tommy demanded from the caretaker.
"It's been taken down," he replied, still a little outraged by the intrusion.
"Taken down where?" Tommy pushed.
With a shaking hand, the caretaker pointed to a group of outbuildings. The team moved at a run. As they approached a greenhouse, a young man came racing out of it. Tommy and 3 cops took chase while Barbara rushed in the door and began searching around. Some loose corn was on the concrete floor. A power washer was coiled up by a drain. There were what looked like to her a few marijuana plants growing in a corner. But everything seemed quiet, otherwise.
"Detective Sergeant? Here! We have something!"
She jogged over to an adjacent tool shed. It was probably original to the place – walls made of old stone with a rustic double door. One of the DC's was pulling up a wooden slat from the floor. Beneath it was a narrow, dark hole and Barbara pulled her torch from her pocket as she approached.
A tiny whimpering sound sent the team into a frenzy. Within moments, they had ripped up several more slats until the opening was wide enough to reach in. The young woman at the bottom of it was crying and blinking against the light. Barbara ripped off her coat and reached down to cover the girl before carefully removing the gag. "It's all right," she soothed. "You're safe now. We're the police."
Barbara slept past 7 the next morning and then took a soak before dressing and packing. She smiled as she entered the lobby – for the first time, she was actually going to get to eat the breakfast. Her expression only faltered when she saw Lynley motioning to her.
"Good work, yesterday," he acknowledged, pouring her a cup of tea from the carafe on the table.
"Thank you. Took 3 of us to bring him down."
"Still," she gave him a small smile. "I thought you'd be off to Howenstow by now."
"Have you given it any thought?"
"Coming with me. You're due a few days, at least." Tommy swallowed a flare of impatience. Then he looked at her pinched expression, the way she'd pulled her fine hair into a messy ponytail, and the pretty blue jumper she had on over her jeans. All at once, she was both familiar and new to him.
"Is this because of the job offer?" Barbara asked him. "Fiona told me last night that you knew."
Tommy exhaled. "Have you decided?"
"No," she shook her head in a tiny motion, never losing eye contact. "But it's tempting."
"I never would have imagined it - the constabulary, I mean."
She fidgeted with her cup. The two Met DC's entered the dining room with a boisterous greeting and Barbara and Tommy moved over to make room at their table. For the next half-hour they re-hashed the gruesome details of the case while eating, as only seasoned coppers can do.
Finally, Tommy stood and said his goodbyes. With a long look at Barbara, he gathered up his duffel and headed for the door.
A few moments later, she stepped out onto the sidewalk. The Bristol slid to a stop in front of her. She slipped into the passenger seat, tossing her rucksack in the back. "The DC's are going to bring my car back to London," she said softly. "I told them I'd take the train back in a couple of days."
Neither said anything more until after they'd merged onto the M25.
Daze looked at her son fondly as he, in turn, watched the fire. "You're looking better," she announced.
"Well, I could hardly do worse," he answered.
"You know what I mean," she chided. "It's been hard on you, these past couple of years."
He wanted to point out that it had been harder on Helen, but swallowed it back.
"Barbara looks well."
"She is," he agreed. Tommy glanced at his mother's expression and sighed. "What?"
"I… well, it's none of my business."
"No, it's not," he sat across from her. A little more gently, he added; "There's nothing to say. The case in Kent was particularly difficult."
"I saw, on the news. Well, we're happy to be an antidote, Tommy." She stood and kissed his cheek before withdrawing for the night.
A few moments later, Barbara herself slipped into the room. She was in a dressing gown; a new one, he noted.
"Thought you'd be asleep by now."
"I guess I'm still wired a bit from the case," she admitted. "I saw your mother just now. Are you sure she's all right with me being here?"
"Don't be absurd," his voice was severe. "She's delighted. As am I."
Barbara gave an inelegant snort. "Delightful."
Lynley crossed to the bar and poured himself a drink. Barbara shook her head at his lifted brow, so he dropped the ice in his glass and carried it back to his chair. "I know you consider it to be in fun but it gets irritating," he announced. "Your jibes."
Barbara coughed. "That goes both ways."
"Neither of us could help our births. So why persist in denigrating my circumstances?"
"As though you respect mine," she shot back. "The look on your face when you saw that caravan!"
"The scorn in your voice, just now," he answered.
"Damn it," she cursed, standing up and moving towards the door. "I told myself I wouldn't do this."
"Fight with you."
"Ah." He took a long swallow, felt the warmth trickle down inside his chest. "That also goes both ways, I expect."
She reached out to touch a framed picture of him and Helen on a bookshelf. She realized, with a start, that she'd been there when it had been taken. It seemed like a million years back.
"You haven't asked my opinion."
She turned back to face him.
"But if you're considering this because you think I'm about to be kicked upstairs, I can assure you that it won't happen. Not anytime soon. I won't let it."
Barbara opened her mouth, surprised. "Why would my decision have anything to do with you?"
"Right," he recoiled. "Of course." He tossed back the last of his drink with a quick salute and returned the glass to the bar. "It's late," he told her. "We can talk about this tomorrow."
"Yeah," she agreed, stepping to the door. "Good night, sir."
"Good night, Barbara."
It was almost lunch before Tommy exited the Estate Manager's office. With a heavy heart, he called his sister and confirmed that they needed to start interviewing replacements.
"I could come back," she sighed. "At least until John…"
"We've tried that," he answered. "You have your own life, Judith. It can't keep going on hold. If, or when, John comes back we will welcome him but in the meantime, this one won't cut it."
"No, I agree. That's what I suspected. I'll contact the agency."
In response, she hung up on him.
Shaking his head, Tommy stepped into his mother's sitting room.
"I know that look," she tapped her fingers on her desk. "You've let him go."
"I had to, Mother. He's just not up to an estate this size."
"This is the second one," she complained.
"Well, Babbacombe Lee got lucky on the third try – perhaps we will, too."
"Or perhaps you could come home?"
"Mother," he gave her a fond look. "Please."
"I still think I should be doing it…"
"We've been through this."
He moved towards the window. In the distance, he could see Barbara returning from a walk. Her pink nose visible even at 100 yards.
"Tommy? Allow me some motherly counsel."
"Yes?" he looked back at Daze, his expression guarded.
"Don't stop looking for love."
His mother held up her hand to silence him. "What I mean to say is, you married a dear and wonderful woman. And there's no doubt you were the closest of friends. But companionship is not enough. I do know your reputation, Tommy."
He felt himself blush a bit and tried to stop her, but she would have her say.
"No, we won't discuss that. It just goes to show that you need more than a friend in a partner. And more than your job. Yes, it's important. But out there is a woman who will engage you. She'll be irresistible. And all I am asking is that you don't hold that against her. I know you hate distractions but the honest truth is that if a woman can't distract you then she isn't the one."
Tommy leaned back on his heels in surprise. He felt the wheels in his mind grinding, trying to form a response.
Daze recognized his discomfort. "Just think on what I said, please?"
"I will," he promised, making a hasty retreat.
Barbara found him back in the library, on the computer. Nursing a hot cup of tea, she wandered along the shelves looking at the books while waiting for him to finish.
"How was your walk?" he asked.
"Really good, actually."
"I'm glad," he moved to the sofa and she joined him there. "I've been thinking about last night…"
"Me, too. You should know; I'm not about to take it."
"It's a great opportunity," he mused. "Your advancement is important."
"It is. I just can't imagine leaving the Met. Or you. Our partnership, I mean."
Tommy rubbed his chest with his left hand and exhaled slowly.
"Nothing. It's nothing, really. Look…"
"Surely you can call me by my name in private?"
She stared at him, "That, again?"
"Barbara," he kept his eyes on hers. "Why is it so important to you to keep me in my place? We're friends, surely?"
"Keep you in your place?" she echoed. "Talk about backwards! Look around you. Look where we are."
"Is that all? Then let's talk in Acton. Or would Edinburgh do? I know, we'll fly off to America. No class nonsense there. We'll have plastic food in plastic chairs and be covered in firearms but we'll be able to talk as Barbara and Tommy?"
She pursed her lips, her expression that long-suffering mulishness that he hated.
"Fine," he capitulated.
"You know, for all your talk – you're worse than I am."
"You're not serious."
"Aren't I?" she challenged. "Well, my Lord, please do tell me what I am feeling, then. And thinking. And what to say. And don't forget to remind me to fasten my seatbelt."
He leaned his head against the back of the sofa and closed his eyes. "You call her Fiona," He said softly. The statement was almost an accusation.
She didn't know how to answer. All her arguments died on her lips – it was useless to speak them, she knew. Because at the end of the day, they were both aware that there was really only one reason. "We do well – no, better than well – just as we are. Don't you think?"
Lynley dragged both his hands through his hair. The clock ticked through several minutes as they sat together in silence. "To be honest," he turned his head to meet her eyes. "I'm not sure what I think."
The silence pressed back between them, tense and uncomfortable. They were skirting a big line and they both knew it.
At last, Barbara stood. Tommy moved to stop her, then thought better of it and followed.
"I'm suddenly reminded of the recording in Tube stations."
"Oh? What's that, sir?"
He met her eyes, his expression gentle. "Mind the gap." Opening the door, he stepped back and let her go.