A/N: I started this quite a time ago now, aiming it to fit into the 'I'm Not In Love' universe (see my profile for details). It still does fit neatly in there, although perhaps it can standalone. If you're reading it as a follow on from INIL then it takes place several months after the epilogue of that story. And this is dedicated to Nicola for many reasons.
'You could be suspended for less!'
Looking across the empty locker room at her lover, Diane was unrepentant. 'He deserved it.'
'And you're judge and executioner now, are you?' Nikki asked angrily. Her cheeks were glowing red, Diane noticed, and her eyes were also fired up. Still, she couldn't regret what she'd done.
'You're telling me you wouldn't have done the same?' she shot back in an equally furious tone. 'You would've let him take home his family - his kids, Nikki - knowing what's he's capable of?'
'We can't prove he's guilty of anything!'
'Yeah, fine, but that doesn't mean he isn't, does it?' Diane questioned hotly. 'You heard the DI: it was obvious!'
'You can't...' Nikki trailed off and shook her head. 'Forget it. Inspector Gold wants to see you first thing tomorrow.'
Diane crossed her arms over her uniform and prompted, 'Say what you were about to.'
When Nikki raised her chin up again it was obviously with a deliberate attempt to control her fury. That didn't help Diane's own anger at all. 'Alright,' Nikki replied slowly. 'You can't take the law into your own hands and dish out retribution where you think it should go. It makes a mockery of the system.'
Equally restrained, she asked, 'Have you thought that it is a mockery anyway? Rapists walk free, murderers get away with it. People die every day and we don't bother to find out why. You call it resources and maybe you're right but when a paedophile walks out of here without so much as a caution –'
'You think it's fine to break all the rules,' Nikki interjected. 'I might understand the sentiment but –'
'You care too much about your poxy job,' concluded Diane, shaking her head and going to her locker. 'Fine.'
To her surprise, Nikki grasped her arm tightly. 'Don't you ever accuse me of that.'
Perhaps it was unfair, Diane managed to concede, but in the current climate... 'Did you see his daughter, Nikki, hmm?' she queried coolly as she turned back around. 'About Rebecca's age, I reckon.'
What she expected to come from that deliberate inflammation, she didn't know, but she felt a twinge of disappointment coupled with a smaller twinge of regret as Nikki walked straight out of the locker room without another word. Diane watched the door crack back into the frame forcefully then she changed with as much speed as she could. She was out of the station within five minutes and gratefully blending into the shadows cast by the large buildings all around.
Almost by instinct she stopped at the off-licence at the end of the road. It was a bright spot in comparison to the foggy gloom settling over the street outside and she had to blink several times when she entered to rid herself of the spots in front of her eyes. She was the only one in the shop apart from the male clerk behind the counter who was seemingly building a house of cards.
She grabbed a bottle off the shelf, going by the percentage rather than the price. Taking it to the counter she plonked it down unceremoniously and went for her wallet. The clerk scanned it then held it up to the light. Diane frowned and looked up at him. 'What are you doing?'
His bushy eyebrows furrowed together in mock concentration. 'Doing my thing.'
'Well, could you do it a little faster? And with someone else's bottle maybe?'
He grinned impishly and put the bottle back down. 'Break-up wine.'
She cleared her throat impatiently. 'Excuse me?'
'Break-up wine,' he repeated. 'Bag?'
'For the wine,' he said slowly. 'You know a plastic one?'
Close to exploding at him she finally curtly nodded. 'Please.' Then she watched him carefully as he bagged it up and passed it over. She muttered, 'I haven't paid yet.'
'I know,' he answered with a shrug, setting his hands on the red striped counter next to his shuddering cards.
'What, so you're hoping I'm honest?' she asked, pulling a ten pound note out of her pocket. 'Your lucky day I suppose.'
'Not really,' he replied. 'Five ninety-nine by the way. Which is why it's a break-up wine.'
She was beginning to really wish he'd stop saying that. 'Why's it not your lucky day? I could be anyone. I could pull out a knife and demand your takings.'
'Half my best customers are coppers,' he declared. 'There'll be one by any minute, I bet.'
Diane smiled and took her change. 'You don't recognise me then?'
He cocked his head sideways and looked at her. 'Lift up your chin.'
'What?' Unconsciously, she complied.
'Yeah, copper's chin. Pleased to meet you,' he added, holding out his hand.
She shook it hesitantly. 'You've still gotta be more careful than that around here.'
'Oh, when you've been done over a couple of times you get used to it. Doesn't worry you half as much as it used to.'
'Especially with the CCTV, yeah?' she questioned, nodding up to a subtle camera in a nook near the window. 'That's a nice piece of kit. Not cheap.'
'No, you're telling me. So,' he went on, 'how about you tell Harvey all about the break-up?'
She was back to finding him irritating. She pressed her wallet closed and deposited it back in her pocket before looking at him again. 'There isn't one. What makes you think there is?'
'That wine,' he answered, nodding to the bag, 'has the highest alcohol content of that range. It's cheap as well, which means it's not a date wine. People spend a little more on a date.'
'How do you know I'm not just a cheap date?' she threw back at him, resting against the counter.
'It's the man's job to get the wine,' he said dismissively.
'Hmm...' Diane sniffed thoughtfully. 'That's shows how little you know about me.'
Suddenly he mirrored her position, bringing them dangerously close together. 'Well, you could always fill me in.'
Just as she was about to pull back and get the hell out of there the bell clanged signifying another customer. Her elbow nudged the house of cards into oblivion as she greeted the newcomer... 'Ma'am!'
'Well, you are having a busy day, aren't you, PC Noble?' Inspector Gold commented as she approached the counter. 'Two bottles of the usual, Harvey.'
He mock-saluted. 'Yes, Ma'am.'
As he turned to the whisky, Diane glanced nervously towards her superior officer. 'About the Gilkes case –'
'Tomorrow,' Gina interrupted curtly. 'We're not at work anymore, and I'm sure Nikki told you about our meeting first thing.'
The mention of Nikki was deliberate, Diane knew, and made her mouth dry out. She stepped back from the counter. 'Night, Ma'am, Harvey.'
'Enjoy wallowing in the wine, won't you?' he called after her, causing her cheeks to dramatically redden as she half-turned back at the door. The image she took out with her into the gloom was Inspector Gold narrowly watching her.
'Damn,' she muttered under her breath as the cold February chill hit her.
The icy build-up in her stomach, though, had nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with the fear that settled there occasionally. Her anger at Nikki's attitude had all but abated, having been replaced with a more tangible anger at herself for allowing her mind to wander into the situation she'd just walked away from. Even though she'd been doing nothing wrong she could see how incriminating it looked to Gina Gold, and justly so.
Of course, she was right to be irritated at Nikki. She wholeheartedly believed she'd done the right thing when she informed Brenda Gilkes precisely why her husband had been arrested and questioned twice in one day. She couldn't just let his wife stay oblivious to his true nature and let him put the kids to bed every night and... No, it made her sick just to think about Fred Gilkes. His wife deserved to know!
Still, some of her anger had come from frustration, she knew that much. She'd been tasked with talking to the twelve-year old Will and Sally had brought in, simply because the kid kept asking for the other officer who'd been at the school. Diane didn't know why the brief exchange they'd had as she and Smithy had arrested her librarian had stuck in the girl's mind but she'd wanted to take full advantage of whatever connection was there to get a conviction.
The trouble was, she'd pushed too hard. She hadn't grasped how to make the most of the connection and she fell flat on her face. Letting Kathryn go into the arms of her confused mother was one of the hardest things she'd ever had to do in her job and it was only surpassed by having to let Fred Gilkes walk half an hour later. She'd seen red, yes, and maybe she shouldn't have gone about it like she had but she didn't regret it. Nikki couldn't understand that, despite all the hot-headed things she'd done in her career.
Glancing back to the shop Diane saw Gina Gold emerge carrying a plastic bag of her own and she hesitantly caught up with her at the crossroads. 'Ma'am?'
The Inspector barely threw a glance in her direction as she crossed the road. 'Still here, PC Noble?'
Diane strode to keep up. 'Ma'am, what you saw –'
'Is none of my business,' Gina interrupted. 'I'm not your mother.'
'No,' Diane admitted, hopping up onto the kerb distractedly. 'But you're Nikki's friend, aren't you?'
Finally, the older woman stopped and turned to her. 'Yes,' she affirmed. 'I am. I happen to think a lot of her abilities as a copper. And I know something,' she added impassively, 'Nikki would never have lost Kathryn Mitchell as a witness.'
Stung, Diane muttered, 'I know that, Ma'am.' She looked away and swallowed. 'I made a mistake.'
'This afternoon or just now?' Gina questioned icily.
'Both,' she admitted quietly. 'But I'll find something on Gilkes, I promise you that.'
'No, you won't,' replied her superior forcefully. 'We will. We'll keep at him but you're not to go anywhere near the Gilkes family. That's his condition for not lodging a formal complaint.'
'I'd rather he lodged one, Ma'am,' she replied calmly. 'That way he'd have to defend himself, wouldn't he? Not filing a complaint just shows his guilt.'
'We all know he's guilty! But here's the funny thing about being a copper, you have to have evidence before you can publicly accuse someone of anything.'
'Even molesting kids?'
'Especially that! You get one half-baked revenge story and a man's life's ruined? That's not justice.'
'In this case –'
'No,' the Inspector interjected sharply. 'No more. I'll see you in the morning, bright and early. Is that understood?'
'Yes, Ma'am,' she mumbled then, before Gina moved, she said, 'Nothing happened in the shop just now. There's no need to make out like anything did.'
Gina glanced back at her with evident disdain. 'Two months ago you and Nikki publicised your relationship. That's a commitment I'd say, and I reckon it means something to her.'
'Of course it does,' Diane answered quietly. 'And to me.'
'That's alright then,' the Inspector retorted before vanishing into the car park and then into the shadows.
When Diane finally moved from her spot on the pavement a few minutes later she didn't set off walking in the direction of home. She took a few gloomy side streets, avoiding the well-lit areas full of people and cars and ended up, a good while later, outside Doug Wright's home.
As she'd suspected, Nikki's car was outside. It wasn't a night she was supposed to see the girls but Diane had guessed that after the comment she'd made about Rebecca it would've been her lover's first port of call. Saying that had been well out of line, she knew that now, but she'd felt antagonistic at the time. The rawest way to get at Nikki was through the kids; that was something she'd always been aware of and it was why Doug's insistence about visits or whatnot always struck a chord with his now ex-wife. However, as always, the thought of Nikki in there with him when they were barely speaking hit Diane like a gunshot. She didn't particularly want to go up and knock on the door, since that would win her favours with no one, but she couldn't tear herself away. Seeing the kerb behind her was dry and that she was shielded from the light by a stern yellow hedge which just caught the coolest of glances from the nearest lamp, she sat down, nestling the bottle of wine she still carried in the folds of her long coat.
Nikki emerged half an hour later, with Liam. He pulled the door to as they talked and ended their conversation with a sincere hug before disappearing back into the well-lit house. Without looking around (thankfully), Nikki got into her car and drove off, presumably to her own flat less than a mile away. Diane didn't feel the need to follow her there. Heavily, she set off in the direction of her own flat, more than ready to gulp down the wine she'd got just for that purpose.
The next morning, she approached Inspector Gold's office with trepidation. However, no allusion was made to their conversation of the night before. Gina merely reprimanded her on her conduct, warned her against letting it happen again and dismissed her after repeating that she was to have no contact with either the Gilkes family or Kathryn Mitchell. After that Diane went straight to the morning briefing, enduring disapproving looks from the likes of Roger as she tried to concentrate on the recent upsurge in violence on the Cockcroft Estate that no one could fathom. Nikki was conspicuously absent from the briefing, and though that wasn't unusual in itself, Diane did believe it was more about wanting to avoid another confrontation than anything else.
No matter, Di wasn't about to go looking for one. She just wanted to get on with her job. With that in mind she tracked Jo down to the canteen. 'Morning,' she said, sitting opposite her.
Jo's eyes narrowed as she looked over the rim of her cup. 'Why am I suddenly worried?'
Diane shrugged. 'Fred Gilkes –'
'No,' Jo interrupted immediately, downing her coffee in one go and standing. 'Sorry. Di.'
'Come on, Jo,' she pleaded, 'hear me out.'
The detective shook her head. 'I heard you out yesterday, as did most of the nick. And as I hear it today, you're not to talk to anyone involved with the case.'
'He needs to be locked up,' Diane replied in a coarse whisper.
'Yeah, and you need to let someone else do it,' her friend retorted, beginning to walk through the almost-empty room.
'Like you did with Lorna?' Diane called after her.
Slowly, the brunette halted and turned back to her, annoyance etched on her golden features. 'You had to bring that up.'
Again, she shrugged. 'I'm willing to play dirty.'
With evident reluctance, Jo sat back down and looked seriously at her. 'We'll get him, you know that.'
'Before he does it again?' Diane pressed. 'You can't guarantee that.'
'No,' Jo conceded, 'not now we have to pussyfoot around him.'
'I guess I deserved that,' she muttered, glancing away momentarily. 'But I'm not good in those situations. I never said I was.'
'You're better than you think,' answered her colleague, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms. 'I reckon the pressure got to you.'
Briefly, Diane wondered how much she was going to have to admit to in order to get what she wanted from this. 'Maybe,' she said eventually.
Jo nodded. 'And Nikki's had a go, hasn't she?'
'I'm not doing this for Nikki,' she said firmly. 'If I wanted to sort that mess out I'd back right off.'
'Oh, it's a mess, is it?'
'Jo, that's not why I'm here,' she repeated. 'I just want some justice for all the kids he's manipulated, that's all.'
After a moment, Jo scratched at her neck and sighed. 'We've got nothing on him. The initial complaint came from an ex-pupil, Harriet Smythe, but she's struggling with a drug problem now. She's not a reliable witness and we were just hoping that Kathryn would lead us to something.'
Diane felt the accusation deeply and pressed her lips together. 'What about other ex-pupils?'
'None that we know of,' Jo answered.
'Can't Harriet give you more?'
'Grace couldn't get anything out of her yesterday,' the DC said with a small shrug. 'Nothing but a load of swearing anyhow.'
Diane nodded thoughtfully. 'You got an address for her?'
Jo snickered. 'That'll get you into trouble.'
'I can quote back what Inspector Gold told me, Jo. She said no contact with the Gilkes or Kathryn. She never mentioned Harriet.'
'That's semantics, Di, and you know it.'
'Do I?' she asked. 'I've always been a mite thick.'
Sighing, the detective again stood. 'I'll find it for you.'
'Jo,' she said, drawing the brunette back again. 'It won't lead to you. And I appreciate it.'
Instead of responding, her friend just left the canteen briskly leaving Diane to think quietly over what she was about to get herself involved in.
It was merely semantics, and she knew that Inspector Gold wouldn't accept ignorance for an excuse on this one. Still, she had to do it. She just considered herself fortunate that Jo was a help rather than a hindrance.
As she moved to track down Tony a few minutes later she walked past the Inspectors' office. Opposite Gina Gold was Nikki, grave-faced and deep in discussion with her colleague and friend. Diane bit her lip then quickly walked on after Gina caught sight of her.
Tony was waiting for her in the car. 'That took longer that you said it would,' he complained, starting up the engine.
'Yeah, sorry,' she said absently.
After several minutes of silence as they drove towards Canley High Street, he questioned, 'So you gonna tell me what's going on or do I have to guess?'
'Nothing's wrong, Tone,' she replied tiredly.
'So this face of yours isn't about what happened yesterday?' he asked matter-of-factly, swerving slightly to miss a slow pedestrian. 'Idiot.'
'That's all forgotten,' she answered, glancing at the sauntering lad with headphones on as they passed.
'Is it?' He smiled knowingly as he turned them into the lower end of the high street. 'Fair enough.'
Staring out of the window as they travelled up the road she crunched heavily on her lower lip. 'He shouldn't have walked yesterday.'
'Everyone knows that,' he replied with a brief glance in her direction. And not everyone reckons you were to blame either.'
'Yeah?' she muttered. 'I do.'
'Well, I don't,' he said firmly. 'I've dealt with enough cases like that to know that a result's luck more than anything. You can throw your best detectives at it but if the kid's too scared or intimidated to talk... That's no one's fault. There's only one person to blame and that's the fella at the heart of it.'
'I want to get him,' she went on finally as they emerged at the top end of the high street.
'But do you wanna lose your job along with it?' he asked.
'Does the job matter?' she countered, paraphrasing her internal arguments. 'What's the point of covering up cases like this?'
'We get them in the end,' he said decisively.
'You've got more faith than me,' she said as her phone beeped. It was Jo's text of Harriet Smythe's address. As luck would have it it wasn't that far away. 'Tone,' she said suddenly, 'can you cover for me for... half an hour?'
For a second she thought he'd ask her why but he didn't. He just nodded. 'Sure. Keep your radio on you though.'
'Course,' she replied with a brief smile as she slipped out of the car.
She found Harriet's flat without difficulty. It was just off the bottom of the high street, above a kebab shop. After pounding on the door for a good couple of minutes she was finally let in by a pale looking woman who had obviously vomited in the recent past.
'Not more coppers,' she moaned, using the doorframe as a crutch. 'I said all I had to and I bloody wish I hadn't.'
'Can I come in, Harriet?' Diane asked, taking her hat off.
'Can hardly say no, can I?' the younger woman said, leading the way up the dark staircase. 'Lights blew yesterday.'
'Right.' Entering the tiny flat Diane walked straight past the needles half-hidden under a rack of old newspapers and into what passed for the living room. It was strewn with clothes, magazines and smelled of mould. Gingerly taking a seat on the edge of a fold-out chair, she began, 'I suppose you know why I'm here.'
Harriet flopped unceremoniously onto a pile of clothes on the floor. 'Because of what I told your coppers yesterday.'
'Yeah, exactly.' Diane took a breath of stuffy air before she continued, 'He's done it since, Harriet.'
'So you've arrested him?' the flame-headed woman said, rather hopefully.
It stung to admit, 'No. We haven't. The only other witness we have won't make a statement and ...'
'I'm a heroin addict,' Harriet concluded. 'Yeah, I get it. Doesn't matter that what he did... That he's the reason... That he...'
'Hey,' Diane cut in sharply, 'if I thought that I wouldn't be here, would I? Harriet, I wanna make sure he pays for what he did to and anybody else he's abused working at that school, but I need your help.'
'That's what your detective said yesterday. Except she didn't give a damn about me, or him. She just wanted to be able to arrest someone from what I saw.'
'Well, you might be right about that,' muttered Diane. 'And I won't say I don't want the arrest. I want to arrest him, get him inside an interview room and make sure he never sees the inside of a library again. I reckon you deserve that.'
Harriet seemed to be considering it. Then she shook her head. 'I don't know anything!'
Diane sighed. 'There must've been others! People who didn't say it but showed it. Friends, classmates or teachers who suspected...' Seeing Harriet drifting at that comment, she questioned, 'Someone suspected?'
'My Biology teacher, Mrs Youmans, walked in once. She almost saw something but she didn't. He made out like he'd just forgotten to do up his trousers in the toilets and I was behind the bookcase because I was in trouble.' Harriet shuddered at the memory and abruptly stood up. 'But she didn't see anything.'
'I'd like to ask her that,' Diane answered. 'You never know. Does she still work at the school do you know?'
Harriet shrugged listlessly. 'She's probably retired.'
Pulling out her notebook, Diane questioned, 'What was her first name?'
'Jean, I think.' Glancing over her shoulder, Harriet asked, 'Why are you bothered?'
Diane stood to leave. 'A better question is why no one else is,' she threw back as she went. As an afterthought she dropped a card onto the sofa. 'Call me if you think of anything else. Or if you just need to talk. Anytime.'
Reaching the street she checked her watch. She still had ten minutes of her half an hour. With that in mind she called Jo and began walking slowly back up the high street.
'Hi, Jo, it's Diane. I might have something.'
'Oh?' The anxiety was evident in her friend's voice. 'What exactly?'
'One of Harriet's teachers might've suspected what was going on. I've got a name: Jean Youmans. Can you check it out?'
'And where do I say I got the tip-off from, hmm?' Jo queried tightly.
'You don't. Come back to me. I'll talk to Jean, see if she knows anything.'
'I hope you know what you're doing,' replied Jo, hanging up.
Returning to the car she found Tony accompanied. Inspector Gold had apparently decided to check up on them, or, more specifically, her. Tony wasn't the one in the doghouse, as was made plain by the interested eyes Gina immediately threw on her. 'You didn't catch him then, PC Noble?'
Behind her back Tony made a crude gesture, but one which Diane understood. 'She got away, Ma'am, and she had a hood. I'm sure someone must've seen something though, so we'll get her.'
'Well, I'm glad to hear it. Wouldn't like to think you were neglecting your duties.'
'Of course not,' Diane said tersely. 'I wouldn't anyone to suffer while I was looking the other way, would I?'
Tony began scratching his forehead zealously as Gina frowned in a dangerously blasé manner. 'I'd be grateful if you didn't.' Glancing to Tony, she added, 'I'll get back to that obbo. Keep her in check, Tone.'
'Will do, Ma'am,' he answered. Then, when she had turned the corner and was well out of earshot, he looked back to Diane. 'Have you lost your marbles, Di?'
'Probably,' she replied, slotting herself back into the passenger seat of the area car.
'She's basically alright, you know. One of the good ones.'
'Not as ballsy as I thought though,' she said, shaking her head.
'Is this still about Gilkes?'
'I don't know what you're talking about, Tone,' she answered. 'Let's get some work done, eh?'
'Well, I found her,' Jo announced, following Diane into the toilets a few hours later and checking the cubicles. 'You're not gonna like this.'
'Is she dead?' Diane questioned calmly. It was something which had crossed her mind already, at least she was prepared for that possibility, even if she didn't know where it would leave the case.
Jo shook her head as she leaned against the wall. 'She's Brenda Gilkes' mother. Fred's mother-in-law.'
'Damn,' she muttered, turning away briefly.
'That's that then,' said Jo, bringing her back around. 'She's a family member.'
Chewing on her thumb thoughtfully, she eventually pointed out, 'Harriet didn't tell me that.'
Jo growled. 'Unbelievable!' Resting her arms over her chest, she went on, 'I don't know why you're so interested in this, but it has to stop. You're putting your job on the line. Mine as well, come to that.'
'No one can link anything back to you,' she dismissed. 'I can get an address myself.'
After a tense moment Jo pulled a folded print-out from her jacket pocket and handed it over. 'Harlington Avenue, down by the river.' She paused then questioned, 'How's Nikki taking your involvement in this?'
'I haven't discussed it with her.'
'Brilliant, Di. Great way to keep her onside.'
Glaring at her, she muttered, 'I'm not doing this for Nikki.'
'Of course not; silly me. You screwed up –'
'Yes,' she interjected icily, 'I screwed up. I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone. I know I screwed up. This should've been over by now and that... man... shouldn't be in the same house as his kids. I couldn't close it down and now he is there, and he shouldn't be.'
At least Jo seemed to understand that. Still, she suggested, 'Just let the DI and Grace deal with it. They want to get him as much as you do.'
'No,' she answered with a grim smile. 'They don't. They didn't look at Kathryn Mitchell, not really. I was the one who sat there and saw exactly what she was feeling. She trusted me and I closed her down somehow. I don't even know how it happened. I just... I lost her. And I have to get her back. I owe her that much.'
Without giving Jo more room for argument Diane quickly left the toilets. She had two hours before the end of her shift. It'd be stupid to risk going off the radar now when Inspector Gold was already watching her like a hawk. No, she could pay a visit to Jean Youmans in a couple of hours and in the meantime she had some paperwork to catch up on.
Absorbed in her work she hadn't heard the door open and close again. She'd been alone since Beth had been called out on a shout twenty minutes earlier and she had to admit that she'd got more work done since then than in the hour before it.
Nikki cleared her throat. 'Hiya.'
Putting her pen down slowly, she half-turned then changed her mind and looked back to her form. 'Hi.'
'I've been looking for you,' Nikki said quietly, glancing over her shoulder and then approaching the desk.
'Well, I've been here,' she answered, studiously avoiding looking anywhere but at the pen she was running around her fingers. 'Paperwork, you know how it is.'
'Course, yeah.' Nikki paused. 'Listen, I have to talk to you about something.'
Frowning, Diane briefly glanced sideways. Nikki looked a little nervous. 'What?'
'Gina had a word with me earlier.'
When her partner took a breath Diane dropped her pen loudly onto the desk. 'Right.'
'Are you okay?' Nikki queried, concerned.
Unable to look at her, Diane just cleared her throat. 'What did Inspector Gold have to say?'
'It was about Kathryn Mitchell actually. She wants me to talk to her and see if we can...'
After she trailed off, Diane swallowed briskly and concluded the sentence. '... Salvage the case.'
Hearing the detached nature of her voice made Nikki step forward hesitantly. 'Gina just thinks –'
'I know what Gina thinks,' she interjected coolly then she forcibly altered her tone. 'I can see where she's coming from, that's what I mean. We need a result on this and you're the one who can get Kathryn Mitchell to talk.' For a moment she was silent. Then she added, with a brief sideways glance, 'I'd be annoyed if you didn't do it.'
Nikki nodded. 'Well, I'll give it a go.'
Diane inclined her head slightly then picked her pen back up distractedly. 'Anything else?'
'Mmm. Daisy's conned Doug into letting her have her new friend, Teresa, over for a couple of days. I offered to have Rebecca stay with me, so he'd only have two screeching kids around instead of three.'
'That was nice of you,' Di replied, not fooled for a moment.
'Gives me some time with her anyway. You know what Daisy's like, she always manages to take over so...'
'Yep. It's good idea.'
'Right. Okay. So if we wanted to... talk, it'd have to be –'
'Tonight,' Diane interrupted briskly. 'Yeah, alright. I'll meet you after the shift, how's that?'
Nikki opened the door so abruptly that she'd obviously had half a hand on the handle. 'Yeah. I'll see you then.'
At the moment she had a choice. She knew Nikki would be waiting outside the front office and that the right thing to do would be to go and meet her. The sooner they sorted this mess, as she'd explained it to Jo, the better. For one, she hated sleeping alone. And, secondly, she recognised that her comment about Rebecca had been bang out of order. Recalling that now was enough to make her want to plonk all blame on her own shoulders and be done with it.
The trouble was, she wasn't ready to do that. Part of her was still angry, and she was still completely determined to lock Fred Gilkes up for a good long stretch. That was why she was hidden in the shadows beneath the wall chewing on her lip and trying to make a quick decision. She wanted to visit Jean Youmans. That was the truth of it so...
Without further analysis she shot out of the shadows, striding purposefully towards the road. It was in her favour that she hailed a taxi immediately, because she could feel Nikki noticing and then watching her. As she rode past she chanced a glance over and all she saw was a forlorn figure, hands entrenched in pockets. It made her stomach churn ominously.
By the time she reached the posh end of the borough where Jean Youmans lived she was questioning her decision but it was too late. Now she'd started this she might as well get on with it. Paying the cab driver, she approached the front door of the spacious detached property and knocked before she changed her mind.
It was answered by a plump ageing woman with deep-set eyes and a long chin. Diane questioned, 'Jean Youmans?'
The woman sighed. 'You're a police officer.'
It was a statement, not a query. That didn't bode well. 'Diane Noble. PC Noble,' she amended. 'Can I come in?'
Jean nodded and let her in without a word, closing the door and leading her through a lengthy oak-floored hallway into a large lounge which was heavy on the beige. She didn't speak until they were both sat uncomfortably in large armchairs. 'You've got that police look about you.'
'Yeah, I've been told that before,' she answered easily. 'I've yet to work out whether it's a compliment.'
'I know why you're here,' Jean went on after a moment. 'I have spoken to my daughter. If you wanted to know whether she's still with her husband, then yes she is. She didn't believe what she was told.'
Diane pressed her lips together. 'Right.' Then she asked, 'Do you remember anything about Harriet Smythe, Mrs Youmans?'
Jean abruptly stood and turned away. 'I remember her.'
'Well, I had an interesting chat with her earlier,' Diane persisted. 'She remembered you clearly, and something you might've seen once.'
There was a lengthy silence during which Jean kept her face inclined away. Eventually, she said, 'I remember Harriet. She was a bubbly girl when she first started at school. She was bright, one of my better pupils. But she stopped trying, quite abruptly. I lost track of her when she was moved into the lower sets.'
'Have you any idea what caused the change in her?' Diane questioned, feigning innocence.
Jean just looked shrewdly back at her. 'Are you the one who accused my son-in-law in front of Brenda and the children?'
Diane swallowed the lump which had suddenly formed in her throat and nodded. 'I thought it was my duty to tell her what her husband is really like.'
To her surprise, Jean laughed and came to sit back down. 'Diane, is that what you said your name was?'
'Yeah. What's so funny?'
'Well, Brenda already knows all about Fred,' answered Jean bitterly. 'I told her everything, about Harriet and the others.'
'Others?' Diane repeated. 'What others?'
Jean shook her head. 'The point is, Diane, that Brenda has lived with him ever since. I can't give you any information without damaging my daughter.'
'And what about your grandkids?' Di burst out incredulously. 'He could be doing to them what he did to Harriet!'
'No,' replied Jean icily. 'He wouldn't dare.'
'So you risk that on, what, a hunch? Or you trust him? What about all the kids he's abused since Harriet?'
'He swore he hadn't touched this girl, this Kathryn.'
Diane just gaped at her. 'Are you joking? I spoke to her, she's terrified of him.'
'Then why didn't she say?' Jean challenged.
Letting out her breath in disbelief, Di stood. 'I should leave. I don't understand you.'
Jean also got to her feet. 'Fred's a good man.'
'Do you just say that so you can carry on checking up on your grandkids, Mrs Youmans? I can see myself out.'
Back on the street it was freezing. There had been sub-zero temperatures predicted: the last cold snap before spring arrived forcefully. As she crunched down over the gritted street Diane struggled to comprehend the conversation she'd just had. A woman like Jean was her ally, she'd assumed that going in. An ex-teacher, a mother, a grandmother; why wouldn't she detest a man like Fred Gilkes? But she'd seemed so... Diane couldn't put her finger on it. There was fear there maybe. The fear of not being allowed to see her grandchildren again if Brenda had her way. And Brenda! How could she justify keeping those kids in the same house as that predator?
She was back to square one. No fresh information from Harriet, no Jean onside and certainly no upcoming confession from Mr Upstanding Librarian himself. Added to that, Di knew she'd blown any chance of an immediate reconciliation with Nikki for the time being. It hadn't been a productive evening.
There hadn't been anything from Nikki the previous night, no messages or anything. Di wasn't surprised: if the roles had been reversed then she'd be fuming and not eager to forgive. The reason she hadn't called to apologise was because Nikki would then demand an explanation- she knew that. She didn't have one to give. Well, one that didn't put Nikki's own job in danger for assisting her in a secret investigation anyway.
Sleep had been a joke as well so she walked into the station bad-tempered and not ready to deal with Jo pouncing on her the second she was through the day.
'Did you go see Mrs Youmans?' the detective questioned, pulling her across to the side of the corridor.
Diane crossed her arms. 'Do we have to do this now?'
'I need to know if anything's going to happen.'
After hesitating she shook her head and looked at her friend. 'Jo, I didn't go see her, alright? I didn't see the point in the end.'
Jo frowned. 'You were dead set on it yesterday.'
'I changed my mind,' she answered smoothly. 'That's allowed, isn't it?'
The brunette shrugged. 'Just didn't think you'd let it go so easily.'
'I haven't,' she said. 'I didn't think Jean Youmans was the way to go, that's all. Look, Jo, I have to go, alright?'
'Course. See you later.'
She felt a little guilty for lying as she moved off towards the locker room, but not too much. What Jo didn't know wouldn't come back to bite her in the future. As for her own course of action, Diane didn't know what was going to happen next. She was used to not having a plan, playing on her own instincts and shooting in the dark, but the stakes were higher this time. Losing wasn't an option.
Nikki was again absent from the briefing. Two days in a row was unusual for the hands-on sergeant who liked to keep herself in the loop. Di was under no illusions: she was being avoided and it felt like a knife wound. There was little she could do about it though. She attempted to concentrate on the briefing, supposing she about passed for attentive by the end of it.
However, when Inspector Gold pulled her aside with a brisk, 'PC Noble, a word,' as she tried to flee the briefing unnoticed she guessed she hadn't been as good an actress as she'd hoped.
When the room emptied, albeit it with a few curious looks from Tony and Emma, Diane cleared her throat. She had no intention of letting Gina comment on Nikki, if that's what she was about to do. 'What's the problem, Ma'am?'
Gina crossed her arms. 'I assume you know that Nikki's currently with the Mitchells?'
'Good. Well, what I need from you is a more detailed report of your dealings with Kathryn. The one you submitted was a little vague.'
Diane frowned. 'I put down everything I could. Besides, the interview's on disc. Can't you use that?'
'You didn't say anything about her demeanour at the school when you arrested Gilkes,' Gina replied.
'I hardly saw her at the school.'
'You must've seen her enough for her to single you out like she did.'
Another dig. Diane took a moment to steady herself before muttering, 'I'll see if I can remember more.'
'Good. With any luck we won't need it,' added Gina. 'Nikki may be able to talk her round.'
'Let's hope. Anything else, Ma'am?'
When the Inspector shook her head she was out of the room swiftly. She literally bumped into Tony in the corridor, nearly taking out his eye in the process. 'Oi, watch where you're going.' Maybe he saw something on her face because his easy smile vanished. 'Everything alright?'
'Fine,' she said curtly. Over his shoulder she saw Nikki coming through the double doors and going straight into her office without seeing her. Distracted, she muttered, 'Sorry, Tone. Just not with it I suppose.' Brushing past him quickly she followed Nikki into the office and closed the door.
Somehow, in such a brief pause, Nikki had already managed to switch to focused and lifted her chin in half-irritation at her entrance. That emotion soon became undecipherable amongst the others and Diane involuntarily winced – she knew this wasn't going to be easy.
Nikki was mutely waiting for her to start. Resolutely, she gathered herself. 'How did it go with Kathryn Mitchell?'
Her eyes flickered sideways but Nikki nevertheless replied evenly, 'Not good. Her parents wouldn't pull her out of school so it's either talk to her on a night or not at all. They don't want any more disruption.'
'Are they insane?' Diane queried. 'She's already been disrupted!'
'Yeah, well, they're blaming us for inflaming something that wasn't there,' Nikki answered. 'According to them, we barged into the library to arrest Gilkes and put ideas in Kathryn's head.'
Diane sat down and shook her head. 'Do they know their daughter at all?'
Nikki shrugged. 'I understand it. Easier to pretend nothing's going on than admit something might be wrong.'
The tone of the statement made Di glance up. Nikki's face was impassive, but the comment had still related to more than the Fred Gilkes case. She immediately brought them back to business. 'Are you going to press it then? Going round tonight?'
'I can't,' Nikki said, leaning back in her chair. 'I've got Rebecca. I can't let her down.'
'Let me watch her for a bit,' Diane said abruptly. 'You'll be an hour tops. I can cope with that.'
'No. Thank you.'
'Nikki, come on, she knows me. I reckon she likes me.' This felt odd – usually it was Nikki doing the cajoling about interaction with the girls. 'You need to talk to Kathryn,' she went on. 'Quickly, before the dust settles too much.'
'I'll ask Doug if I can pick her up later,' Nikki replied, reaching for the phone.
Diane reached across and rested a hand on the receiver. 'I'll be there.'
Nikki briefly met her eye, masking her cynicism poorly. 'Okay. Come round after the shift.'
Nodding, Di stood and left without another word. She didn't want a domestic in the nick after all and, besides, the idea that Nikki didn't trust her at the moment wasn't the best feeling. She'd have to sort out her feelings on that later, the more pressing concern was rewriting her analysis of Kathryn for Inspector Gold. It might not have needed it but she was determined to follow any and all of the conditions put upon her in order to secure a conviction for Fred Gilkes.
She was mildly irritated to find herself covering front office over lunchtime, especially since there was a big raid going on over on the Larkmead involving pretty much all of Uniform. However, Gina had decreed so that was that. The report was done and hopefully acceptable. All she could do now was hope Nikki had some success with Kathryn. She didn't know where else to follow the case to personally. Harriet had been helpful only in that she'd mentioned Jean Youmans and Jean had been... Well, Diane had tried to explain it to herself a dozen times and had come up with no sane answer for that one.
After she managed to extract a homeless drunk from the spot he'd tried to squat in by reception she was surprised to turn around and find Lorna and Sarah walking up towards the station.
'Hiya,' she called, waiting until they came closer before asking, 'What are you two doing here?'
'Come to extract Jo for some lunch since we've both got the day off,' Lorna explained then added, 'Hopefully.'
Diane smiled as they moved inside the warmer front office. 'I think you're in luck. There's an operation going on but I think she's still here. I'll call up.'
'Are you okay?' Lorna asked shrewdly before she had a chance to move.
One look at the CSE's face told her that Jo had been completely honest with her partner. However, Diane was mindful that Sarah was close by and attempted an easy smile. 'I'm fine, Lorna, honestly. Just had to get rid of a smelly drunk, that's all. Not the best thing to do this close to lunch.'
Sarah grinned softly. 'I'll bet. How smelly?'
Diane leaned down to her level slightly. 'What's the worst thing you've smelt?'
'I don't know.' Sarah chewed on her lip for a moment then glanced to her mother. 'Well, there's a boy at school...'
'And that's quite enough of that,' Lorna interrupted, though she was also smiling.
'That's about how smelly he was anyway, I reckon,' Diane answered, straightening up. As she did so she cast her face towards the station doors and caught a glimpse of someone staring right back at her, hands hung loosely in his pockets and mouth grim.
Lorna recognised her distraction and followed her gaze. 'Diane? Who's that?'
'I'll be right back,' she muttered, walking straight outside.
Fred Gilkes almost smiled as she approached. 'PC Noble, is it?'
'Don't act like you don't remember, Fred,' she cautioned, beginning to walk further away from the entrance. She felt under surveillance from a certain CSE so when he followed her she felt a small wave of relief. 'If I was arrested for child abuse,' she went on, abruptly stopping and turning to face him, 'I wouldn't forget the copper who arrested me in a hurry.'
The sharp pencil eyes that had perturbed her by shooting up above a bookshelf days earlier now made her blood ice over as he answered, 'No, you're right.'
Trying to draw his gaze back away from the front office where it had wandered idly, she asked, 'What are you doing here?'
'I heard you spoke to my mother-in-law. That goes against my conditions, doesn't it?'
'I didn't know she was your mother-in-law at the time,' she lied seamlessly. 'As far as I knew I was following up on a potential witness. Not that I have to explain myself to you.'
'Then why are you?' he challenged quietly.
'I'm not,' she replied, beginning to turn around.
He halted her with a brisk, 'I could report your harassment, you know.'
Again, she turned to him. 'Yeah, but you won't. You wouldn't want us looking too closely at you, Fred. Maybe talking to all your students, every single one. I'm sure one or two might have something to say.'
'Only in your head,' he retorted.
'Yeah,' she replied. 'Course.'
Once more he looked to the station. He seemed about to say something else but he didn't. He spun around and trudged off towards the street. Diane watched him until he was out of sight then returned to the front office.
Lorna had evidently been watching the whole exchange. 'What's going on?'
'It's nothing,' she muttered, trying to smile. 'I was getting Jo, wasn't I?'
Maybe Lorna was unconvinced or maybe it was her own guilty conscience that was telling her lies. Either way, she felt distinctly uncomfortable around mother and daughter until Jo jogged down the stairs a few minutes later.
'I'm ready, I'm here.'
Sarah shook her head. 'Late.'
'Oi,' Jo argued mildly as they walked outside. 'I have important stuff to do.'
'More important than lunch?' Sarah questioned.
'Well, no,' Jo admitted, wrapping an arm around Sarah's shoulders as they disappeared out of sight. Lorna, however, lingered for a moment, watching with a troubled expression on her face. Diane froze her face into an amicable grin until it was safe to fall back into the intense frustration and anger she really felt.
Her encounter with Fred Gilkes stayed with her throughout the shift. She couldn't help thinking that him giving in and walking off as suddenly as he had meant something, though she couldn't fathom what. Perhaps it was an admission of guilt. But, no, she didn't buy that. Fred Gilkes wasn't the confessing kind; they'd have to beat it out of him with a big stick, Diane was sure of that. Even so, she had to clear of her mind of that as best she could when she landed on Nikki's doorstep at half-past.
Nikki opened the door and managed to exchange less than ten words with her before leaving her to it. Sighing, she went to locate Rebecca in the flat's small living room. Finding her sketching in an A4 pad, she flopped down next to her and questioned, 'Is that school or fun?'
'I suppose I have to stop if it's fun,' Rebecca answered, glancing up rather angelically over her pencil.
Diane chuckled. 'Not for me. I think it's pretty good actually.'
'Do you even know what it is?'
'It's a big cat, I was nearly there.'
Rebecca grinned and returned to her drawing for a minute or so. When she next looked up she was chewing on her lip; 'Where's Mum gone?'
Hearing the concern, Diane shook her head. 'It's nothing to worry about. It's just work.'
'That's what they always say. I'm not a kid. I know what they do.'
'Well, I think they'd rather you didn't,' Diane replied, settling against the arm of the sofa lazily.
'Why? I think it's great.'
She smiled at the determined expression on the near-teenage face. 'Tell them that.'
Sliding the pad down onto the coffee table, Rebecca asked, 'Why did you want to be a police officer?'
'Oh, erm...' Coming from the girl sat next to her the question sounded new. For a moment she couldn't think of a suitable answer then she shrugged. 'Well, to help people. You know, you see someone on the street crying or whatever and you wanna help... I can do that now.'
'You can do that anyway,' Rebecca pointed out.
'But the thing about people,' Diane said carefully, shifting to look Nikki's daughter straight in the eyes, 'is that they don't always mean what they say. The uniform me and your mum wear means that people might trust us more.' Wryly, she thought of Kathryn Mitchell and Harriet Smythe. 'That's why you've gotta be careful who you try and help. I mean, if you try talking to someone who just doesn't wanna be helped you end up getting hurt.'
'Is that what Mum's doing now?' Rebecca queried shrewdly.
Diane grinned. 'Nice try. Now, am I meant to be feeding you or not?'
Resigned, Rebecca reached for her pad again. 'Mum said she didn't know.'
'Well, I'll take that as a yes.'
An hour and a half, and a pizza, later, Diane was just about contemplating trying to get Rebecca into night mode when the door rattled. Rebecca jumped up in the way that Diane had anticipated she might and went to greet Nikki in the hall. Diane followed slowly and saw mother and daughter in a bone breaking embrace and who knew who was doing the bone breaking? Finally, noting her presence, Nikki pulled away and instructed her daughter, 'Go brush your teeth, you.'
Rebecca complied without a word, grinning happily at Diane as she passed. Nikki went straight into the kitchen and, after a moment where she thought she should just get her coat and leave, Diane followed her in. 'Do you want a cuppa?' she asked, going to the cupboard and pulling out their usual mugs.
Nikki just nodded and sank down at the table, her hair, wet from the feathery rain outside, splashed across her face. Her view masked Diane had to content herself with making the tea. When she sat opposite Nikki a few minutes later and slid across a mug of steaming tea she got a brief smile for her efforts.
'How did it go?' she tentatively asked.
Pursing her lips, Nikki shook her head mutely.
Diane winced. 'That good?'
It seemed that the sergeant, who was often ruffled but rarely showed it, was struggling to find the words. She settled on, 'I don't understand.'
A feeling she could more than relate to, Diane reached for her lover's hand and cupped their fingers together over the table top. 'They wouldn't shift then?'
'If it was me,' Nikki said after a moment, 'and if one of my kids told me that...I'd kill him before I found out whether it was true. They've got a twelve year-old crying constantly in her bedroom and they don't believe she's telling the truth.'
'They don't want to believe it,' Diane reasoned.
'Yeah, I know that, but this is about more than their... pride,' Nikki concluded, practically spitting the word out. 'Gilkes is dangerous. He needs to be locked up. I wish there was some other way of doing it. Kathryn can't deal with this. You know, maybe she could if she had support but... There's no way she's ever going to make a statement,' she went on bitterly.
Some of that bitterness, intentionally or otherwise, was directed at her, Diane knew, and the thought made her release Nikki's fingers slightly. 'So what next?'
Nikki shrugged and finally brushed her hair out of her face. What was left underneath was a pale spectre of the woman Diane knew so intimately. 'There's nothing we can do. Wait till he...'
'No,' Diane interrupted, feeling nauseous, 'there's gotta be something.'
'If you can think of it, go ahead!' Nikki offered
She couldn't and that stung bitterly. Standing abruptly, she dragged her hand away from Nikki's resolutely. 'I should probably get going.'
Nikki didn't respond to that. Instead, she asked, 'How was Rebecca?'
'Fine, Nikki. She was fine.' Going to the living room she retrieved her coat and arrived back in the hallway as Nikki dislodged herself from the kitchen and blocked her path.
'I need to know what's going on,' she said plainly.
Diane's stomach flipped. She couldn't lift her chin up so she ended up talking to somewhere around Nikki's cleavage which, though it was usually fine by her, was no real help at the moment. 'I don't know what you mean.'
'Why did you walk off last night?' Nikki pressed. 'I saw you. I was waiting...'
'I forgot,' she lied. 'I'm sorry. I was back at home before I realised. I know it's a lame excuse...'
'It's a lie is what it is,' interjected Nikki coldly.
Di lifted up her head to catch the pained expression in her lover's eyes. She exhaled heavily. 'Nikki, I...' She trailed off abruptly. She what? She'd ignored explicit instructions and investigated Fred Gilkes against Inspector Gold's advice? That she'd flirted with some idiot shop clerk because she was angry that Nikki was better suited to the case than she was?
'What?' Nikki demanded. 'Tell me!'
Shaking her head, she swallowed. 'I'm sorry I wasn't there, alright? I can't explain it so there's no point trying.'
After a moment, Nikki stood aside. More than that, she turned her back and crossed her arms. Diane quickly slotted her trainers on and was out into the fresh air before she knew it.
She wasn't really conscious of herself for the next twenty-four hours. She was walking in someone else's shoes, functioning in a miraculously normal way and taking part in undercover drug operations with DS Turner at the helm and generally being coherent. How she was managing it was a different story. If her body had been when her brain was, strung across Canley like a balloon about to pop, she knew she'd have got more than a stern warning. As it happened, though, the shift thankfully came to an end and she dodged a drink invitation from Sally in order to get out of the station as quickly as possible.
However, the thought of going home alone once again didn't appeal to her. Against her better judgement, she stopped at the off-licence at the end of the road again. This time she bypassed the wines and went straight to the counter.
No card castles this time. Harvey was building a model aeroplane, obviously taken from one of the magazines tightly packed next to the door, and his blonde eyebrows were furrowed with concentration.
Impatiently, Diane cleared her throat. 'Excuse me?'
He dropped the rear wheel onto the cockpit, shattering everything into a heap. With a hefty sigh, he looked up, an amiable smile on his face. 'I'll get it yet.'
'Sure you will,' she answered. 'Bottle of Inspector Gold's usual,' she added, pulling out her wallet.
He reached to the spirits and picked up a particularly hefty bottle of whisky. Turning, he placed it delicately on the counter next to his broken plane. 'This is strong stuff, you know.'
'I think I can cope,' she said dismissively. 'How much?'
He didn't answer. 'Break-up going that bad?'
If she hadn't been in the mood last time now she most definitely wasn't. 'Leave it, Harvey, yeah?'
'I'm just trying to help,' he replied, holding up his hands in mock-defence. 'Thirteen minus a penny.'
'The Scotch,' he amended. 'Twelve ninety-nine.'
She pulled out a twenty and handed it to him. He dallied a bit with the change until she prompted, 'What's the problem?'
He shrugged and countered, 'What's yours?'
'My problem...' she said slowly, stringing the words along her lips. 'My problem,' she repeated, 'is how I'm meant to tell the woman I love, that I'm meant to be honest with, that I screwed up.' She looked up for his reaction, and was half-disappointed to see it muted.
After a few seconds he nodded to the whisky. 'Well, that won't help you.'
'Wanna bet? It's about the only thing that will.'
'What did you do?' he questioned briskly. 'Cheat on her?'
'Course I didn't.'
'No,' he went on suddenly and thoughtfully, 'you wouldn't do that.'
She glared at him. 'And how the hell would you know?'
'You look honest,' he said lamely.
'And you look thick.'
He chuckled. 'It's been said. No, you look... You look in love, that's what. Or heartbroken.'
'I'm not heartbroken,' she said icily. 'We haven't broken up.'
'Yet,' he answered darkly.
'Well, you're a ray of sunshine, aren't you?' He finally handed her the change and she turned to go. However, she halted at the door and glanced back. 'You say a lot of your customers are coppers?'
He nodded. 'A fair few, I reckon.'
The question sounded stupid to her own mind but she had to ask it now. 'Any of them ever look happy?'
'Yeah,' he answered after a brief pause. 'Inspector Gold after I've served her.'
She chuckled grimly. 'Thought so. Night, Harvey.'
As she walked slowly home with no real sense of anticipation or even dread she contemplated what her next move should be. Talk to Gilkes? Stupid and career-destroying. Jean Youmans had already proven herself to be a mad dead end and Kathryn Mitchell was completely out of question. There were no moves left, she'd played all her moves and the case was paying for her bad strategy. Nikki had been absolutely right, hadn't she? The only way they could back up Kathryn's original version of events was with another abuse claim.
Reaching her flat, she had the bitter sensation in her stomach that that was the way it had to be and the notion that it was like that because of her cut into her more than Gina Gold's attempts to make her feel responsible had.
Sighing, she opened the external door and started up the stairs. She heard ragged footsteps behind her, two pairs, as the door was caught by someone. A moment later and Jo appeared at the foot of the stairs, Lorna close behind.
'You said you'd dropped it,' Jo spat.
Lorna put a hand on her partner's arm. 'Upstairs,' she advised.
Though Jo was obviously fuming, she nodded. Diane was baffled. She'd never encountered Jo truly angry before and she'd be doing better if she knew what had caused the explosion in her friend's head. Opening the door, she let Jo and Lorna past and watched them into the living room. Dropping her bag by the door, she followed them.
Jo had been looking away but she turned around, her face still flaming. 'You told me-'
'I never said I'd dropped it,' Diane interrupted.
'No, but you lied. You said you hadn't seen Jean Youmans.'
The look on Jo's face told her false defence was akin to suicide so she mildly shrugged. 'I didn't want to involve you in that if I could help it.'
Jo chuckled inhumanly. 'Not involve me?'
Lorna, who had been carefully watching, just muttered, 'Jo...'
'Not involve me,' repeated the detective. Her voice lowered an octave. 'Wanna guess who walked Sarah home from her music lesson tonight?'
Diane bit down suddenly on her lip. Glancing down to the carpet and swallowing, she murmured, 'I'm sorry.'
Jo shook her head. 'This is your fault. He saw you yesterday –'
'I couldn't help that.'
'You wound him up! You're out of control!'
'I want to lock him up!' she retorted. 'What's so wrong with that?'
'Aside from you sticking Sarah right in the firing line?' questioned Jo. 'Oh, I can't think!'
'It was hardly intentional, was it?'
'If you'd have left it,' her friend went on, 'if you'd have done what you were supposed to for once instead of thinking you know best all the time –'
It was Lorna who interrupted with, 'This isn't helping.'
Jo glanced briefly over. 'It's making me feel a little better.'
Diane licked the blood from under the rim of her lip then asked, 'Is Sarah okay?'
'She's fine,' Lorna answered. 'She didn't accept a lift from a stranger, she let him do all the talking. As far as she's concerned, there's nothing wrong.'
'Wait till she learns,' Jo muttered, stepping towards the door. 'Lorna?'
'I'll be there in a minute,' her lover replied. 'Wait in the car.'
After studying her for a moment Jo gave up and trudged out of the flat, slamming the door behind her. Diane sank down onto the sofa and repeated, 'I'm sorry.'
Lorna sat down next to her. 'You should've told me who he was yesterday. At least then I'd have been ready for Jo's reaction. It was more than I'd ever have expected.'
'That's Jo,' she murmured. 'Never does anything by half.'
'Like someone else, hmm?' Lorna said shrewdly.
Diane shrugged her agreement. 'I honestly didn't think you'd get caught up in this. He must've followed you. Jo's right; that is my fault.'
'Because you were seen talking to me?' Lorna chuckled. 'Diane, do you know how many coppers I talk to in an average day? I've had my fair share of threats from the criminal community in my job. Just rarely on my doorstep, that's all.'
'You're pretty calm,' Diane observed, looking over. 'If it was me...'
'Jo taught me once to live in the here and now and not worry about what might have been. Sarah's safe, she's certainly not going to see that monster again and she's adamant he just talked to her about music. Jo's forgotten her own advice for a little while. Besides,' she added with a vacant smile, 'I had to listen to tales of what Alex had done or might have done or what he was capable of. It's a frightening thought; but I'm getting used to it.'
'You shouldn't have to. Not on my account.' Diane sighed and leaned back. 'Jo's right. Inspector Gold's right. And Nikki. My judgement's been clouded. I want to get him so much.'
Lorna didn't speak for a long moment then she said, in a strangely detached voice, 'One of my first lead cases was a brutal murder. When I got to the scene all the officers were outside. None of them had been able to stomach looking at what was inside but it was my job. I had to go in.' Lorna paused and Diane listened mutely to the silence. Then the CSE went on, 'Upstairs, in the nursery, was a body of young girl, seven or eight so I thought at the time. She was six, I found out afterwards. But you wouldn't have deduced her age if you'd have seen her. She was covered in her own blood, any skin I could see was mutilated. Her stomach had been ripped open with a perforated blade. Her hair had been chopped off and ground into her mouth. Even her toes had been pulled off, using pliers or something.'
Diane's head involuntarily twitched. Her eyes were still on Lorna's lowered face which now raised to grimly smile at her.
'Polly,' she said eventually. 'That was her name. You know, people ask me a lot how I can do my job. I lie. I tell them that you get used to it and it's a job like anything else. But it isn't. It's a... vocation, I suppose. Each time I solve a case or try to get justice for someone, I'm trying to get justice for Polly. Because they never did. And I know in reality that putting dozens of murderers and paedophiles in prison won't get justice for that poor little girl... But it's what keeps me walking around some days.'
Completely surrounded by the images in her head, Diane tried to shake them away. 'Why..?'
Lorna correctly anticipated the questioned. 'Because I know whose cause I'm fighting for. I'm asking if you do.'
Silently, she nodded.
The CSE stood abruptly. 'Good. I'll see myself out.'
Diane didn't sleep much that night. Lorna's tale had opened a few wounds that she wasn't willing to acknowledge and that meant she couldn't turn her mind to rest. She lay for hours staring up at the ceiling and when she finally determined to herself that she had to sleep or be wrecked for her upcoming shift, she found herself watching Nikki's vacant space beside her.
As a consequence, when she got to work she was shattered. Barely keeping her eyes open, she started towards the locker room with her bag slung over her shoulder like a shackle dragging her down. She stopped short when she rounded a corner and bumped into –
DC Masters raised her eyes upwards then crossed her arms. 'Look, I've really got nothing to say.'
'You had enough to say last night,' Diane answered tightly then shook her head. She was tired and she was irritated and taking that out on Jo wouldn't help. 'I said I was sorry,' she amended. 'I don't know what else you want me to say.'
'Tell me why you lied,' Jo suggested. 'Might be a start.'
'Is Sarah okay?'
Jo exhaled heavily. 'Not an answer, Di.'
'I know it's not an answer, okay? And I know you want me to give a miraculous explanation for why Gilkes turned up at your house last night but I can't do that. He's playing games! You know that.'
'You don't have to make it easy for him,' Jo hissed, glancing around at the few officers milling about and pulling her to the side of the corridor. 'She's thirteen. Daisy's age?'
'Jo, shut up.'
'Have you told Nikki about this, hmm? Or are you just –'
'Don't,' she warned. 'You can't blame me. This is all Gilkes.'
Jo snickered. 'That's all you're interested in: blame!'
'Well, aren't you?' Di asked. 'You're a copper, Jo. You can't tell me you're not interested in blame and justice and –'
'And what?' Jo interjected. 'Loyalty? Friendship? Yeah, I'm interested in all those.'
Diane fell quiet. Finally, she muttered, 'I was trying to protect you.'
'Admirable, I must say.'
Shaking her head, she stepped back. 'It was better you didn't know.'
'No,' Jo replied. 'It was better that you didn't get involved in the first place. Because a whole lot of good you've done, eh?'
With that the detective stomped off. Diane lowered her eyes and when she lifted them Nikki was stood in front of her.
'What was all that about?' Nikki queried, her voice detached.
'Nothing,' Di muttered.
'It looked like something.'
When Nikki turned to leave, Di called, 'Wait.'
Ever cautious about flaunting their relationship at work, Nikki looked around before she returned. 'Yeah?'
'I missed you last night.'
Nikki again glanced about the corridor. 'Me too,' she said shortly. 'But without you –'
'It's Gilkes,' she interrupted, surprising even herself. Swallowing, she went on quickly before she lost her bottle, 'I let him get to me, that's all. I shouldn't have and I'm sorry.'
When she looked back at Nikki she found her eyes strange. 'Gilkes?' she repeated. 'Are you sure?'
It wasn't a lie, only half a truth. 'Well, that and I'm tired. Haven't got much sleep lately.'
Nikki caught her meaning and almost smiled. 'Rebecca's staying the weekend and then we'll see.'
The lack of certainty in that statement made Diane sigh. Still, she wasn't being entirely honest and maybe Nikki knew that. As they parted she thought again of Fred Gilkes then of Lorna then Kathryn Mitchell. She had to leave it be. As much as it stung, she wasn't able to do anything else. She'd screwed up and that was all there was to it. Fred Gilkes would be brought to justice, but it wouldn't be by her.
That night she was meaning to go straight home and try to catch up on her sleep, but she instead found herself outside Jo's home, the house she shared with Lorna and Sarah. After a brief hesitation on the cold doorstep, she knocked.
It was Lorna who came to the door. Obviously surprised to see her, she opened the door a little wider and let her in. 'You must be freezing.' Closing the door again, she added, 'I'm afraid Jo's not home yet.'
'Can I wait?' Diane asked carefully. She didn't want to impose here but... 'I just... I'd like to talk to her. If she'll let me.'
Lorna smiled slightly. 'She's calmed down a little bit. I don't think she'll be long. Do you want a coffee?'
'Yeah, please.' Following the CSE into the kitchen she found Sarah at the table reading a book. 'Hiya.'
Sarah glanced up pleasantly. 'Oh, hi. What are you doing here?'
'Getting warm,' she quipped. 'I think it might snow.'
'But I've got Maths in the morning.'
It took Diane looking at Lorna to ascertain that it was actually a serious fear. She couldn't help but grin. 'Keep your fingers crossed then, yeah?'
By the time she'd finished her coffee at the table with Lorna and Sarah while chatting mostly about the current cold snap, she was feeling warmer. The apology she intended to fling at Jo was still in a muddled form in her head though, even if she'd been hoping it would miraculously be poured out with the coffee. She needed to clear things with Jo; it felt as wrong being on the opposite side of the fence to her as it did to Nikki.
The front door opened and Jo announced herself while cursing the weather and Mrs Parker's bloody spaniel up the road. Lorna quickly cleared her throat; her face had become serious in a matter of seconds and even Sarah noticed the sudden mood change. She slipped out of the wooden chair, grabbed her book, and went upstairs, greeting Jo briefly as she passed.
After a few seconds Jo came into the kitchen. 'What's wrong with her?' she asked, then she caught sight of Diane. Her relaxed expression faded into a mesh of anger and irritation. 'What are you doing here, Di?'
'I've dropped it,' she answered, feeling it was wrong to be below Jo's level at this point and so standing. 'I know I implied it before, but this time I mean it. I'm not going anywhere near Gilkes, Kathryn Mitchell, Harriet Smythe or anyone to do with them.' She shrugged and lowered her furrowed brow a little. 'It's a case,' she went on. 'I shouldn't have made it personal and I'm sorry for what happened.'
Jo was watching her, arms crossed, when she raised her eyes. For a long moment the detective studied her silently and then she nodded. 'Fine. Just make sure you leave it alone.'
'You make sure you get him,' she replied seriously.
'We've got a couple of other angles. We will.' Looking to Lorna, she muttered, 'I promised Sarah I'd help her with her homework.'
Lorna didn't say anything, just let her leave the kitchen. When she was gone she pushed the door to and turned around. She was nibbling on her lip. 'Did you mean it? About leaving Fred Gilkes to CID?'
'I don't see any other option,' she admitted. 'Lorna, if I thought I could do it, I would.'
'No matter the consequences?'
'You mean Jo and Nikki?' she queried. Lorna inclined her head and Diane swallowed again. 'If Jo didn't understand in the end I'd be surprised. She gets it, I know she does. It's just the way it's happened that's pissed her off.'
'Well, yes,' Lorna admitted, sitting back down at the table in front of her empty yellow coffee cup. 'Jo's passionate about her job. She's put herself on the line more times than I can count to get a result.'
'And that's what I respect about her,' Diane returned.
Lorna paused. 'And Nikki?' she asked again.
Di cleared her throat. 'What did Jo tell you?'
'Me and Nikki,' she said slowly, 'would be able to work it out afterwards.'
'After what?' Lorna probed gently.
'Armageddon,' Diane answered wryly. 'Look, I should get going. You don't want me intruding.'
Lorna shook her head as if laughing at a private joke. 'You're more than welcome. Diane,' she suddenly continued when she made to open the kitchen door, 'can you drop it?'
She let her hand slide away from the knob. 'I have to. I've got nowhere else to go. I'd love to lock him up tomorrow but I can't. It makes me feel helpless to be honest.'
'I know that feeling,' Lorna said, stretching her fingers out around her mug. 'I don't think you can give it up. I saw you with Gilkes, I saw how angry he made you. I couldn't give it up,' she added honestly. 'If it were Alex...'
'That was more personal,' Diane replied.
'Don't try telling me this isn't,' said the CSE, sweeping her hair back over her shoulders. 'But what do I know?'
This time Diane opened the door definitively. 'Thanks, Lorna. See ya.'
Maybe she did drop it. Or perhaps she didn't and was just poised waiting for something else to happen. That moment came on Sunday night. She'd spent more nights away from Nikki, not sleeping very well, but Rebecca was going back to Doug's and then... It was all that was keeping her breathing, the thought that she hadn't royally screwed up and that Nikki was coming back to her. She managed to cover up the fog of Fred Gilkes with that one coherent thought.
The illusion was broken though on Sunday night when there was a knock on her door. She supposed it to be Nikki being overly-polite, or perhaps a neighbour but it was wasn't. 'Lorna?' she muttered uncertainly, after she opened the door to the CSE. 'What's going on?'
'Can I come in?' Her soft voice was unnaturally tight.
Diane let her through immediately. Standing opposite her in the living room she asked again, 'What's going on?'
Lorna's face might've showed concern but her eyes showed something clearer – anger. 'I've seen him again.'
Di felt a jolt in the region of her own stomach. 'Is he following you?'
'Oh, he's much cleverer than that. It's incidental. The park, the supermarket. Too many coincidences for my liking.'
'Have you told Jo?' she asked, even if she already knew the answer.
'I don't think she'd react all that well.'
'Don't hide it because of me,' Diane warned. 'Let her think what she wants, let her hit me if she wants. I don't care.'
Lorna took a second then she shook her head. 'I'm not here to ask your permission for that.'
Taken aback, Diane cleared her throat. She nodded for them to sit side by side on the sofa and when they were settled she still took a few moments before asking, 'Why are you here?'
'Did you have a plan?' Lorna questioned.
'No,' she admitted, leaning back. 'It didn't get any more specific than locking him up.'
'How much evidence do you need to get a warrant do you think?'
'Another witness. Maybe more than that.'
'Catching him in the act, you mean.'
Di nodded. 'Yep. Thanks to me we can't touch him.'
Lorna sighed. 'What about visiting the school?'
Well, she had to say she'd thought of that one. 'I go in there as a copper and he'll know about it. He'd be the model librarian for the half hour I was there. Besides,' she added coolly, 'I'd be suspended for going anywhere near him and my word wouldn't count for anything with Inspector Gold.'
The CSE chewed on her lip thoughtfully. Then she suggested, 'So don't go in there as a copper. Go in as a parent.'
'What, pretend I want to send Robert to the school?' She turned it over in her mind then shook her head. 'No, they wouldn't believe it, not after I rushed in there to arrest the librarian.'
'How about me then? They don't know me, Sarah's the right age and –'
Diane was shaking her head vehemently. 'No way.'
'It's a solution.'
'Yeah, and not one Jo'd appreciate.'
'Sarah's not in the way of harm,' Lorna argued. 'You can come with me, you can slip off and have a look around.'
'No! Look, I appreciate you wanting to help but this is my mess and I'll sort it out.'
'Can you?' Lorna queried tightly.
Di fell silent. The truthful answer to that question was no, but admitting that was... well, stupid, especially considering the resolute look on Lorna's face at the moment. Finally, after a stretch of over a minute, she was saved by the ringing of Lorna's phone.
The CSE answered it impatiently. 'Lorna Hart?... Jo...' Her eyes flickered over and Di stiffened slightly. More aggravation with Jo was just what she didn't need. However, Lorna wasn't a fool. 'No, I'm at home but I haven't started it yet. Why?... Missing? How old?... Is it anyone I know?...' Lorna's face became impassive. 'Right. Well, call me as soon as you hear anything.' Abruptly hanging up, she went on, 'Kathryn Mitchell's gone missing.'
'This afternoon. Now you know as much as I do.'
Di stood. 'I have to get into work. I have to find her. It's my fault. I let her down.'
Lorna nodded. 'I'll give you a lift.'
Lorna dropped her around the corner. The journey had been silent. Diane was trying desperately to focus. Her one coherent thought was that she wanted to crucify Fred Gilkes, and that was less than helpful at the moment. She assumed Lorna's thoughts were less vicious, but along the same pattern. At least, when she left the car they exchanged a loaded look- Lorna basically asked her to reconsider. As she walked into the front office Diane had all but decided to take Lorna up on her offer.
The station was silent. Almost every available body was out there looking for Kathryn. Diane was eager to pitch in and changed in the locker room as quickly as possible. As she came out she walked into Sally coming down the corridor hurriedly. She spun as she saw her. 'I thought you went home.'
'I heard about Kathryn Mitchell. I wanted to help.'
'Does Inspector Gold know you're here?'
From Nikki, from Jo and even from Lorna she could handle criticism. But Sally was another matter. 'I don't need her permission to look for a missing girl. What are we looking at here?'
Sally shook her head. 'It looks like she went off of her own accord. But she's been missing for five hours. Her parents have only just reported her missing.'
'They're insane,' Diane muttered, more to herself than Sally. 'Where was she last seen?'
'CCTV caught her at three o'clock on Baker Street.'
'That's half a mile from Gilkes' house!'
'Yeah, that crossed Inspector Gold's mind as well.' Sally began walking. 'Me and Ben are heading down there. Come on.'
She didn't speak to Sally in the car. Not that the fact stopped Sally incessantly wittering on to her, but Diane barely absorbed a word of it. When they reached Baker Street it was nearing nine but the number of fluorescent jackets on display rivalled match day at Stamford Bridge. It took them a few minutes to locate the hub of senior officers but when they did Gina Gold waved them in the direction of Nikki who was apparently coordinating the search down to the canal.
Diane stopped mid-step as she caught sight of Nikki. She wasn't alone next to the area car: Doug was standing with her. They were deep in conversation and, while she watched, he reached over and squeezed Nikki's shoulder. Jealousy suddenly spurted into her stomach, as intense as it had ever been where the ex-husband and wife were concerned. Why was that something that never diminished?
'They look close,' Sally observed, noticing her stop.
Determined not to let Sally see her discomfort, she strode forward and within seconds was in front of the Wrights. Seeing her, Doug let his arm drop. A tight expression settled on Nikki's face. 'What are you doing here?'
'What do you think?' she questioned, attempting to ignore Doug. 'Where are we at?'
Nikki glanced to her ex then cleared her throat. 'Door to door of the area leading down the street and off in both directions at the t-junction. I want you, Ben and Sally at the south end of Gale Avenue.'
'So we are heading towards Gilkes?'
'The canal's the priority,' Nikki answered. 'The banks are slippery in winter.'
'No problem.' Turning she went to relay the information to Sally. The last she saw of Nikki before she pushed through the throng of officers was her grimly nodding at something Doug said.
The door to door turned up nothing. It was understandable that no one remembered anything- thanks to the Mitchells any trail they might've had vanished with the five hours they took to report their daughter's disappearance. Returning to Sally at the t-junction she found she'd had no luck either.
'This isn't looking good, is it?' Sally commented.
Diane didn't see the point in answering that. They returned to the hub of activity on Baker Street and searched out Nikki in the crowd. At least she was alone this time as they approached.
'Anything?' she called when she spotted them.
'No,' Diane muttered, watching the fragile hope slip from Nikki's face. It was soon replaced by a mask of impassiveness that might've had Sally fooled but didn't touch Diane for a second.
'Alright,' Nikki went on after a second, 'Sally, join the search team combing the canal banks.'
'Yes, Sarge,' Sally replied before vanishing.
'What do you want me to do?' Diane questioned.
'You're not on shift,' Nikki said. 'Go home.'
'Nikki, come on, I'm not doing that.'
Her partner nodded. 'Well, I had to ask.'
Diane sighed. 'What's the timeline?'
'Kathryn left the house on her own about two o'clock. Her parents thought she was going to her cousin's house but they didn't bother checking she'd turned up.'
Nikki exhaled. 'I know.'
The old idea of not understanding silently resurfaced. 'And she was last seen here when?'
'Six hours ago. It's not a lot to go on.'
'On the CCTV was she alone?'
'And has Gilkes been questioned?'
'Really questioned? Not just a polite 'have you seen her'.'
'He was thoroughly questioned.'
'By who?' Diane asked.
Nikki met her eye. 'By me. Do you think I know how to do my job?'
'Sorry, I just... Sorry.' It took a lot for her to apologise like that with no defence and she knew Nikki spotted it. 'What do you want me to do?'
Clearing her throat, Nikki replied, 'We'll be widening the search perimeter if the search of the canal turns up nothing. To be honest, I'd be happier if it didn't.'
Diane refrained from following her urge to reach out to her girlfriend, too aware of the fact that they were in public and that Doug was still around here somewhere. Every single parent on the team would be battling to keep their personal feelings out of this but Nikki had more of a stake.
'So which direction are we taking the search? Towards Gilkes?'
'And across the canal,' Nikki added. 'You can join that team.'
'I'm capable of –'
'This is about finding a missing girl,' Nikki interrupted. 'We want the focus on that.'
Diane nodded. 'And it is.'
She checked her watch and discovered it was past midnight. It seemed as though she'd been on the streets for an eternity, knocking on doors and checking derelict buildings. She was paired with Roger but for the last few hours they'd barely exchanged a word. They were in the process of checking several deserted houses at the far end of Rishworth Road when the order came over the radio to return to the station.
The hope that Kathryn had been found, though, was dashed when they got back. John had given the order to call off the search until daylight, reasoning that no further contact with the public could be made until then. He advised everyone to get sleep, ready to return at first light, but after glancing around the room Diane sincerely doubted many people would be getting a lot of sleep tonight.
Nikki was busy with Gina and Smithy but Diane hung around till the briefing room emptied and Nikki sat down beside her with a heavy sigh. Not caring where they were, Diane wrapped an arm around her shoulder and was grateful she wasn't immediately pushed away.
'Who's looking after the kids?' she asked quietly.
'Doug roped Andrew into it.'
'Do you want to go round there?'
Nikki smiled softly but shook her head. 'They'll be asleep.'
'You need to get some sleep yourself,' Diane reminded her. 'Let me take you home.'
Although she nodded her mind was obviously elsewhere. 'Maybe I didn't question him properly.'
'Of course you did. Besides,' she went on, 'I've been thinking and it's not his style, is it? He's a coward, he hides behind his library shelves. I know he's out to prove he's better than us but he's not stupid.' An image of Lorna's face as she reported on Gilkes following Sarah crossed her mind and she faltered. But, no, he was just playing games. 'Did you speak to Brenda?' she asked.
'Mmm. She doesn't know anything about this either.'
She hadn't told Nikki about Jean Youmans' revelation that Brenda knew about her husband's activities and had for quite a while. But, still, did that mean she'd knowingly accept an abducted girl into the house? Who could tell? Diane was past the point where she thought she understood the way people worked. At the end of the day, though, this was an angle that could affect the case. She'd never forgive herself if she didn't raise it and it turned out to be vital.
'Nikki, Brenda knows quite a bit about Fred. According to her mother she's known about him since Harriet so what I told her wasn't really a revelation.'
A pair of eyes lifted to hers. 'You've spoken to her mother? Since Gina took you off the case?'
'I didn't know she was her mother,' Diane said then grimaced. 'Actually, that's a lie. I did know but that wasn't the reason I went to see her. Harriet said that there'd been a witness – '
'You've been to see Harriet as well?' Nikki interjected. 'What the bloody hell were you thinking?'
'I wasn't. Not beyond catching him anyway. But I'm telling you because it might be possible that Brenda's covering for him. I don't know, I'm just...' She trailed off as she saw the expression on her girlfriend's face. 'Don't look at me like that. Please.'
Shaking her head, Nikki stood and moved towards the door. 'You don't listen, do you?
Diane was also on her feet. 'Where are you going?'
'See if Gina's left yet.'
'And tell her what?'
'If Brenda has knowledge of Fred and accepts it she might very well be colluding with him. It warrants investigation.'
'Yeah, but there's no evidence to back up what Jean Youmans told me.'
'Well, we'll talk to her ourselves,' Nikki answered. 'She was a witness?'
'To one of the repeated assaults on Harriet Smythe. But – '
'She's a witness, Di. What else is there?'
This work-focused Nikki was getting on her nerves. She knew it was her coping mechanism for being lied to but it was infuriating and anything she said would just be dismissed. How to explain to a fantastic parent like Nikki that a mother and grandmother had turned a blind eye to a man's child abuse?
'I'm waiting,' Nikki said testily.
'Jean Youmans won't cooperate,' Diane replied quietly. 'She's made her mind up to ignore Fred's actions so that she doesn't lose contact with her grandkids. She told Brenda who's pretended not to notice for whatever reason.'
The anger had been momentarily replaced with disbelief. 'Excuse me?'
'Yeah, that was my reaction. I didn't know what to do with it so I didn't do anything.'
Nikki's brow furrowed further. 'So you just sat on the information?'
'I didn't obtain it through the proper channels, did I?'
'You could have told me!'
Turning away, Nikki strode to the back of the room. Diane watched her for a minute, feeling her tired muscles clench with the anticipation of what was about to happen. She could see the pain in Nikki's posture and fought the urge to approach and try to plead her way out of this. But at the end of the day, this wasn't about her; it was about a missing girl. With that in mind, she stayed put. She knew she'd cocked up here, she'd known that all along but she'd been so set on getting the result.
'Anything else?' asked Nikki in a detached tone.
She searched her mind. 'Only that Gilkes saw me with Lorna one day when he came here. He... walked Sarah home to make a point.'
Nikki swivelled back to face her. Diane could almost feel the distaste radiating from her gaze. 'And you didn't think to bring that up either?'
'I said I was sorry,' she murmured.
'Get out. Go home.'
'No, not like this.'
'Di, seriously, just get out of here.'
She steadfastly held her gaze. 'Just let me explain.'
Nikki suddenly gained a few inches and crossed her arms. 'PC Noble, I'm giving you an order. Leave this room, get your things and go home. Now. You're not on shift tomorrow and you'd be advised not to volunteer for extra duties.'
The words were like a sledgehammer to her stomach. Any fight she'd had left in her had been smashed to pieces by Kathryn's disappearance. If Nikki was treating her as guilty then she had a right. Pulling rank was only her way of getting through a blank wall. Both of them knew it was the only way she'd listen to argument. Turning on her heel, she left with her chin held high. She made it through the ritual of changing in the empty locker room and she was out on the street before she let her emotions rise to the surface. Even then it was a brief respite. Instead of hailing a cab she began walking in the direction of the canal. She'd follow it down towards the last known sighting of Kathryn and go from there.
About five o'clock she sat in an all-night cafe with her second cup of murky coffee in front of her. The first one had barely warmed her through and the taste of the second was viler than the first. Still, it was serving a purpose.
Bringing her phone out on the table she double-checked that Nikki hadn't called. She wondered if she had gone straight to Gina, whether she was going to be suspended in the morning. Actually, it was the morning already. Was that a good sign? She scrubbed at her temple and turned her mind back to the lengths of the canal she'd been searching in the sub-zero temperatures for the past few hours. She was acutely aware that if Kathryn had spent this icy night out in the open there might not be any chance of finding her alive.
'Will you be wanting another one of those?' the waitress asked from the counter. 'Only I was going to nip out back.'
'Go for it,' she muttered.
'I've got the till key in my pocket before you try anything.'
Diane just nodded, not really listening. When she found herself alone she swallowed the rest of her coffee in one gulp and toyed with her phone again. Her mind was circling around the mess she'd made of this situation. All roads led back to her being unable to coax a statement from Kathryn Mitchell. If she'd managed to do that then the girl wouldn't be missing, would she?
She left the cafe when the waitress returned and wandered the streets for an hour. Unless she was specifically called in, she wouldn't go to work. She'd have more luck going at this on her own. In fact, didn't she have another angle to work at? She recalled the look on Lorna's face the previous afternoon and wondered if her offer still stood. She checked her watch. It was after half-past six now. Shaking her exhaustion away, she called a cab and headed home. Once she was showered and had managed to force down a little breakfast, she called Lorna.
'Are you still up for going to the school?'
'Have you actually had any sleep?' Lorna questioned when she picked her up.
'Nope. How's Jo?'
'She got a few hours, under duress.'
'Has there been any more news?'
Lorna glanced at her curiously. 'Aren't you in the loop?'
'I'd be surprised if I've still got a job,' Diane answered.
As they drove she explained briefly how she'd screwed up. Lorna didn't say anything, just kept her eyes fixed on the road. When she'd finished they were close to the school. Lorna pulled into the visitors' car park and found a space close to the main gate.
'Do you really think Gilkes has got her?' Lorna questioned.
'Part of me hopes he has,' she replied, 'because then at least she didn't fall into the canal. If he's in work,' she went on swiftly, sensing Lorna's disapproval, 'then he hasn't got anything to do with it. So fingers crossed for that.'
Lorna seemed preoccupied. 'I've taken this upon myself. I've had nothing to do with the investigation and it could just be that I am switching Sarah's school. But you...'
Diane winced. 'Yeah, I'll be out on my ear and Nikki... Well, I've blown that already.'
'Surely it's not that bad?'
'I've behaved like a vigilante idiot. She'd be right not to forgive me.'
'After everything, though, is she really going to walk away?'
She shrugged, not wanting to vocalise her fears, even to someone easily reading them on her face. 'We'd better get on with this.'
The school secretary was very dim. When Lorna assured her they had an appointment which she failed to have a record of, she believed her without question. Diane could only assume it was a regular occurrence at this place. Then again, this place was the kind that apparently didn't investigate allegations of potential child abuse against staff members. One quick question ascertained Fred Gilkes was in work today.
'This is my sister-in-law,' Lorna explained to the teaching assistant drafted in to show them around. 'My husband was called away to work but we didn't want to cancel the visit.'
The woman – young and pretty if you liked brunettes – waved them down the first lengthy corridor from the reception area. 'It's alright. You know what men are like. He'll follow your opinion anyway.'
Lorna chuckled. 'If he knows what's good for him.'
'Are you new to the area?'
'No, no, just considering moving schools. Sarah isn't settled where she is so we're considering our options.'
As they proceeded around the first leg of the tour which Diane knew to be miles away from the library, she grew steadily frustrated but tried to mask it with disinterested but pointed answers. Lorna was better equipped to deal with the inane chit-chat and steered them through it all quite quickly. Even so, it was still a relief when they entered the ovular building at the far end of the complex which housed the sports hall downstairs and the library upstairs.
As soon as they entered the lower floor, Diane felt in her pocket. 'I've got a call coming in. Can you excuse me a moment?'
The woman simply nodded. Di got the feeling she'd done nothing but alienate her since she arrived but that didn't matter now. Smiling at Lorna, she headed back out of the door, waited for a few moments then slipped back inside and up the staircase. This was the part of the school she remembered all too well.
The library was extremely quiet when she entered. It was a large maze-like room, colour-coded in a gaudy selection of fluorescent shades. At first she was disappointed, believing that nobody was around. It took her a moment to realise that it could be to her advantage. After all, the chances of catching Gilkes in the act, so to speak, were slim. His office was through the back though. With that in mind, she weaved through the desks until she reached the desk and office. Everything was deserted, however, which struck her as odd to say the least. There were some decent pieces of computer kit up here and they were left unsupervised?
Filing that away, she rounded the desk and tried the office door. It was open but it was as empty as the rest of the library. The computer was on screensaver; she twitched the mouse and was grateful it didn't request a password. Seating herself at the desk she opened up the documents folder and skimmed through the contents. She almost growled when it turned out to be all work-related.
Navigating back to the desktop, she stared at the collection of folders for a minute. It all seemed so normal but there was definitely something amiss. She couldn't put her finger on it but that didn't mean it wasn't there. Then suddenly there is was. All the folders were blandly named – labelled for years and categories – but according to this system there were three world wars. At least, there was a WW1, WW2 and a WWs. It could be nothing but she clicked into it anyway.
Inside, there were four seasonal folders that made no sense to her. Clicking into the first one she found photos of spring scenery and several sub-folders with numbers attached. Those all had similar contents and some had sub-folders of their own. She was meticulous in her checking, both of the spring folder and the summer one that followed it in her search. However, it wasn't until the third sub-folder within the autumn folder that her finger froze on the mouse.
There were pictures. Lots of them. And none of them were of autumnal scenery. A shudder passed through her as she scrolled down the page. Though you couldn't see the face of the abuser in any of pictures, the victims were clearly visible. Diane tore her eyes away long enough to glance around for a memory stick but there was nothing on the desk nor in the drawer. Well aware, she didn't have long, she opened up the web browser and navigated to her home email address.
She prepared an email to Jo, stating where the pictures were found and advising her to get down to the school straight away, and started to attach some random pictures. There was a sub-folder at the bottom containing videos. A brief look at the first one brought a triumphant smile to her face. Gilkes was clearly audible giving directions. She made sure to attach that but once she clicked to send it said the transfer time would be six minutes. Here she was, a sitting duck at someone else's computer and she had to stick around.
Pulling out her phone, she typed a quick message to Lorna – Get to library, keep Gilkes away from office. Got something.
With that sent she had nothing to do but watch the time counting down and listen anxiously for noises outside the office. As she waited she had plenty of time to dwell on what the hell she was doing and what might be the results of it.
Her relationship with Nikki was in bits. Yes, it was down to her and she had no doubt people would delight in reminding her of that for months to come. In fact, if she and Nikki did split one of them would have to leave Sun Hill.
She couldn't believe she was thinking so clinically about this. If she and Nikki split? That wasn't going to happen. She wouldn't let it. They'd fought so hard to get to this point. Three months ago Nikki had finally made the decision to take their relationship public. It was an amazing feeling, an end to all that secrecy and caution that still felt like something of a punishment for breaking up a happy marriage. But there was inequality between them, there always would be. As long as Nikki could pull rank like she had about this then –
But, she immediately argued with herself, Nikki pulling rank had been justified. Any other officer would've done the same. Maybe that was the problem: she'd needed Nikki to stick beside her as a partner in this but there was the job blurring the lines and putting a barrier between them. That's why she was here with Lorna really, wasn't it? Maybe working at the same station with the person you were sleeping with didn't work. Then again, Nikki had managed it with Doug, hadn't she?
It always came back to him somehow. Even though he was always going to be involved in their lives she sometimes wished he'd choke on his own generosity. Of course, he always hoped that somewhere down the line he'd get his family back. Maybe he would now. If Nikki ran to him...
No. That wouldn't happen. Too much water under the bridge and all that.
Three minutes to go. She wondered where Lorna was and, more importantly, where Gilkes was. There were footsteps outside. She stiffened and prepared to staunchly defend herself but suddenly there were voices. She couldn't hear what Lorna was saying but at least her voice – and the footsteps – were getting further away.
One minute thirty seconds. Gnawing on the edge of her thumb, she watched the timer filling up and up then finally maxing out. The email closed and she quickly shut down the web browser. The predicament of putting the thing on screensaver was quickly resolved by the fact she didn't have time to think about it.
Moving quietly to the door, she listened for a moment. Nothing. She pulled it open and slipped out, dipping behind the desk. She could hear voices coming from the far end of the library and to her knowledge that was the way to the only exit. Inside her pocket, her phone began buzzing. It was an incoming call from Jo. Rejecting it, she raised her head and then plunged into the maze of shelves ahead of her. Pretty soon she was lost within the history and geography sections.
She was fairly certain that this maze had two entrances, one at either end. She followed the corridor around and passed into the languages section. She'd somehow passed the voices and was closer to the exit than she'd anticipated. Only a minute later she was back in the stairwell, breathing a little more easily. She dropped off a text to Lorna when she reached the car park and then made as fast an exit from the school as she could muster.
Once she was clear of the complex she allowed herself a brief moment of triumph. Then, of course, she remembered that getting something on Gilkes was only one part of it. Kathryn Mitchell was still missing and that was still her fault. Perching on a wall she rubbed the exhaustion from her eyes and tried to think clearly with the last of her sense.
She focused on the extra bits she'd included in her report for Gina. But she hadn't been able to remember everything, no matter how hard she put her mind to it. What the hell had they talked about while Smithy was reading Gilkes his rights? Books, that was it. Kathryn had a book in her schoolbag that she pulled out and started reading to enable her to ignore questions. It was a book on homeless dogs. She'd asked Kathryn why she was reading it and the girl had quietly replied that she liked to go feed the rescue dogs.
An idea was stirring in her head. There was a rescue centre near the canal, a small one but a centre nevertheless. Hang on, wouldn't that be one of the places the Mitchells would look for their daughter first? Well, not if that was another thing she didn't tell them. From her experience of the Mitchells they didn't notice anything unless it was waved in front of their faces in fluorescent letters.
It was worth a shot. As she heard sirens heading in the direction of the school she set off towards the canal.
The search teams were still around here somewhere but she hadn't run into one. Nikki would probably be out here coordinating but seeing her was the last thing she wanted. Her phone hadn't rung; she didn't know if an arrest had been made at the school or if she still had a job. The longer she could avoid all that for the happier she'd be.
As she'd expected, the team at the rescue centre itself hadn't seen a girl matching Kathryn's description and had already explained that to one set of police officers. Diane was as cordial as possible considering the level of fatigue she was battling with but her demands to be let in the garden to have a proper look around were curt to say the least. She knew she only had a limited time before they called the station to check whether this was legitimate. As such, she conducted her search quickly.
The yard was empty, all of the outdoor enclosures were deserted, and a couple of shouts brought nothing back. She wandered over to the far corner and stepped through the gate, pushing it to behind her. This seemed to be a deserted storage area, full of broken bowls and a rather potent compost heap. She sidestepped around that and found herself in front of a thick hedge with a broken wooden gate to the left of it. She assumed it led onto the road but there must've been an alley of some sort before that.
'Kathryn? Kathryn, it's Diane Noble. Do you remember me? I was at the school when... well, before. We talked, do you remember?'
For a long moment there was nothing but silence. She began to think she'd got it wrong and she was talking at thin air but then she heard the scuffing of a shoe. Putting her hand on the gate, she pushed it forward gently. It caught against something soft.
'Kathryn, could you come out here for me? Please? I'd really like to talk to you.'
'I don't want to be yelled at anymore,' said a quiet voice.
Diane let out her breath. 'I won't yell, I promise. You can trust me on that. Come on,' she coaxed, 'I don't feel comfortable talking to an old gate.'
Finally, a red-eyed pre-teen stepped into view. Diane edged back so Kathryn could get into the storage area then reached to pull the gate closed behind her. The girl flinched at the potential contact.
'Hey, it's okay. I'm the only one here, I promise. Who's been yelling at you anyway?'
'Mum and Dad. They want me to stop crying and lying all the time.'
Diane frowned. 'So they ask you why you're crying and when you tell them they accuse you of not telling the truth? That's not very fair, especially when I know you are telling the truth.'
Kathryn lifted her head. 'When you were interviewing me before it didn't seem much like it. You thought I was lying, didn't you?'
She shook her head. 'I've never thought that. I was just... I was trying to help you but I was trying to do my job as well. And I got the two a little mixed up. It was nothing to do with you, it was all my fault.'
'No. Maybe I was wrong.'
'You weren't wrong,' Diane said forcefully. 'I was the one who screwed up, Kathryn, okay? And I want to makes amends for that if you'll let me. I want you to try again to tell me what that – what he made you do and I'll listen this time. I promise.'
'Will you arrest him again?' the girl asked.
'Yes. If we haven't already and I think we have. Believe me, with your statement and our other witness we can make sure he never hurts anyone again. I know,' she went on quickly, 'that doesn't help you or change what he did to you but I know you're a bright kid and a good kid. You wouldn't come down here helping these rescue dogs if you didn't care. So you can change the future for a lot of people and it just takes a bit of bravery on your part. What do you reckon?'
Kathryn was shaking, or was it shivering? Diane pulled her jacket off and wrapped it around the slight form. She didn't press her for an answer, didn't even look at her until she wanted to speak.
'Will it be you I'm talking to again?'
'Probably not,' she conceded, aware that Gina would let her closer to a bullfight than the inside of an interview room with this girl. 'But there's my friend, Nikki. You know the lady who came round to your house, the blonde one? She really wants to help you, as much as I do. If you talk to her you'll be okay. What do you say?'
Very slowly, Kathryn nodded. Diane inhaled deeply and reached for her phone, finding Gina's number in her address book. It rang three times before the Inspector answered it.
'Ma'am, it's PC Noble. I've found Kathryn Mitchell. We're at the dog rescue centre near the canal.'
There was a long pause. 'I'll send a car to fetch you,' Gina said stiffly.
'Not Nikki,' Diane said quickly.
Gina let out an impatient sigh. 'Fine.'
An hour later Diane sat in the Inspector's office, gazing in frustration at the same spot she had been since Gina had sat her down and warned her to stay put. There was the threat of being struck down where she stood if she tried to leave the room. Nevertheless, this caged feeling didn't suit her. Plus the thirty-six hours plus of no sleep was starting to drive her mad.
Finally, the door opened and Gina Gold stormed in, slamming the door behind her.
Diane instantly felt numb. 'Tell me it didn't collapse.'
The Inspector dropped into her chair, removing her tie. 'Oh, it didn't. Fred Gilkes has been charged with twenty-six counts of possessing indecent images of children. Kathryn Mitchell has given us a statement. Couple that with Harriet Smythe's original accusation and he's going away for a long time.'
Gina gazed at her narrowly. 'I'm all for it personally. What I don't agree with, however, are the methods used in the pursuit.'
Diane winced. 'Ma'am, I – '
'You'll listen to me for a moment, PC Noble,' Gina interrupted warningly.
The tone was non-negotiable. 'Of course, Ma'am.'
'Right. As far as I'm aware you weren't on shift today, nor were you drafted in to help with the investigation. Nor did you volunteer. Am I correct?'
'So how do you account for you presence in the area?'
'I remembered something I'd forgotten, something that Kathryn had mentioned in passing at the library. She said she helped rescue dogs. I remembered the rescue centre down by the canal, that's all.'
'And instead of calling it in you decided to...'
'Help if I could,' Diane answered. 'As a concerned citizen I was keeping an eye out.'
'Well, if you hadn't cocked up the investigation so royally in the first place we wouldn't have been in this situation, would we?'
'You found Kathryn so we have something to be grateful to you for. However, you should've informed the investigating team. And I'm not even including the fact that we've failed to trace Donna Wilson. Have you heard of her? She's the woman who signed in alongside Lorna Hart at the school earlier today. Presumably she is DC Masters' secret source for the pornographic photographs which led to Fred Gilkes' arrest this morning.'
Diane bit down on her lip. 'Presumably, Ma'am.'
Gina studied her intently for a moment then reached for a pen on her desk. 'I'm authorising two weeks of annual leave effective immediately.'
'Is that pending an internal investigation?'
Pausing, Gina strung the suspense out for as long as possible before she answered, 'No. Unless somebody lodges a complaint I'm content that your conduct has gained us an important result and taken a paedophile off the streets. However, Fred Gilkes or his wife could put in a complaint, or his mother-in-law for that matter. The Mitchells may disapprove of your course of actions and any one of your colleagues could be irritated at the way you've handled this situation. I'm speaking for the Superintendent when I say that we don't want to lose you as an officer but it may be out of our hands. Take this time to think and we'll see what happens.'
Digesting that, Diane leaned back in her seat and nodded. 'I will.'
'Good. Now, I suggest you get your stuff and get out of my nick before I change my mind.' Taking the hint, she was almost at the door when Gina added, 'Nikki is covering custody.'
Diane hesitated with her hand on the door knob. 'How much does she know?'
'Oh, she's a smart woman. I think she's got it about figured out.'
With that in mind, Diane left the office and turned her feet towards the locker room. It took only five minutes for her to gather her things and leave by the front entrance, barely speaking to a soul as she went. Determined not to hang around, she walked to the bus stop, pulling out her phone and finding a familiar name in her phonebook.
It was answered almost immediately. 'Di, what's wrong?'
She chuckled. 'Why does something have to be wrong?'
Steve cleared his throat. 'You're about as likely to call in the afternoon when Robbie isn't here as I am to don a hairnet.'
'Well, you'll look good,' she quipped. 'Seriously, would you mind a visitor for a few days?'
He was suddenly concerned again. 'What's happened?'
'Can I tell you when I get there?'
'Course. And Rob'll be happy to see you.'
'At least someone is,' she retorted.
'That bad?' he asked
She kept telling her body if it just held out for a few more hours it could collapse for a week. It responded well to the bribe. In fact, it was only after she'd packed and navigated her way to Kings Cross that her vision began to blur. Once she was on a train she might wangle a nap, though knowing the East Coast Mainline she'd be lucky to get a seat.
Leaning heavily against her bag and the wall, she waited for her train to appear on the board. She was deliberately trying not to think of anything but the journey then she'd focus on Robert and then she'd pray nobody mentioned Nikki. She didn't want to think about that now. Or ever, as it happened.
'Doing a runner?' asked a voice beside her.
Her head snapped sideways to face Tony. 'What are you doing here?'
'Looking for you as your phone's switched off.'
'Didn't fancy talking,' she said pointedly. 'Anyway, how did you know I'd be here?'
'Your boy lives up there, doesn't he? When Gina said you'd taken leave and you weren't at home I just assumed...'
'No offence, Tone, but why do you care?'
He looked hurt. 'Because I've got a lot of respect for what you did today, even if the powers that be might not be so approving. And because you're a colleague and you're a mate.'
Instantly, she felt guilty. 'I'm sorry, I just haven't slept for a bit, that's all.'
'Understandable. Does Nikki know you're going?'
'She's a smart woman, she'll figure it out.'
He frowned. 'Are you trying to wreck your relationship?'
'I think I've already done more than enough to sort that one out, Tone. Right now it's best for both of us if I'm not around, believe me.'
At least he seemed to understand that. 'Any messages you'd like me to pass on?'
'Just... tell her I'm alright. Tell her I'm being a selfish cow and to be pissed off more than anything else. How's that?'
A smile pulled at his lips. 'Wise words. You take care, okay?'
The first thing she did when she got to Steve's was to take a bath. Robert took one look at her, pronounced her to look like hell, then demanded she go to bed. It was sweet in a teenage way and not something he'd be doing again in a hurry. She kept her phone switched off but the first thing she did when she woke up the next morning was turn it back on. There was nothing from Nikki but a congratulatory text from Lorna and a curt thank you from Jo. Diane didn't want to consider what might be going on in that household at the moment.
She hovered with her finger over the call button for a long minute before she stowed the phone away. She couldn't talk to Nikki, she didn't know what to say. It was painfully true that she missed her like hell right now but without an apology or some sort of explanation how could she call her? And so it continued for the week she remained with Steve and Robert. Then she felt strong enough to catch the train home and wander back to her empty flat.
It was too quiet. She dropped her bag by the door, read through the mountain of junk mail and then promptly left the flat again. It was early evening and the pubs were just coming alive. She drove purposefully past the crowds and pulled up outside Nikki's flat. She entered the door code but made a deliberate decision not to use her own key to get inside the flat. Instead, she knocked on the door and waited patiently for Nikki to answer.
When she did, Nikki looked surprised but not exactly happy. Holding the door open, she let her past and Diane walked through into the living room. The television was flickering in the background but was already muted. Had Nikki just been sat here silently?
'I'm sorry I didn't call,' she began hesitantly.
Nikki just shrugged. The look on her face was indecipherable. 'I didn't expect you to.'
'Right.' She didn't know what to say to that. Should she just congratulate Nikki for knowing her so damn well or mount some kind of defence? She opted for somewhere in the middle. 'Have I missed anything at work?'
'It's not work but Jo moved out for a few days, slept on my sofa.'
'Are they okay now?'
'They will be. Jo was taking it out on Lorna because you disappeared. She would've rather yelled at you.'
'I'm a coward, couldn't give her the opportunity.'
Nikki shook her head. 'I wish you were a coward. Everything would be a lot easier to explain. But I've never seen you run away like that, not from a case.'
'I wasn't running from the case,' she answered quietly.
'Me, then,' concluded Nikki.
Rubbing at her forehead, her girlfriend dropped onto the sofa. She looked shattered, as though she'd spent the last week trying to sleep but without success. Diane knew the feeling. She might've got her body back to normality during her week with Steve and Robert but she was far from sleeping properly. Moving to the window, Diane gazed out onto the rear car park. She liked this flat, probably more than her own. It was Nikki throughout. Plus, it was her and Nikki combined. She helped put together half the furniture in here, paid someone to do the rest when she lost the will to live.
'There was a lad,' she said softly, not turning from the window, 'back at my first nick. He came in crying abuse against a family friend. I was tasked to interview him alongside my sergeant but his story was full of holes. For starters, he was a known troublemaker. Actually, he'd got a few juvenile convictions for assault and theft. I thought I was justified in not believing in. Then I found out he was accusing an old corporal with an exemplary military record. Happy husband, devoted father, absolutely nothing to suggest the accusations were true. The boy refused to submit to a medical examination so the charges were dropped.'
She heard Nikki stand though she didn't approach. 'He was guilty?'
'Someone was. We pulled the lad out of the river a few weeks later. Post-mortem revealed extensive internal injuries brought on from systematic sexual abuse. The colonel never confessed and we couldn't prove it but...'
'So you saw Kathryn Mitchell and..?'
'Someone else I'd failed,' she replied. 'Went out my way to muck it up and tried to fix it again.'
'I suppose telling me this a month ago would've been too easy?'
Diane spun on her heel. 'I screwed up. I didn't want to apologise for it or just explain it away.'
Nikki dipped her head. 'So instead you just mess up an investigation, screw up several relationships along the way, and just think that since you managed to fix it all then it doesn't actually matter what you did?'
'Of course it matters. If I didn't know that I would've fronted it out, wouldn't I? I don't give a damn what that lot think of me. Gina could've sacked me or whatever. I just wanted the result. And I got it,' she added with a touch of defiance. 'Gilkes is locked up and Kathryn's safe.'
Nikki sighed. 'Did you have to drag Lorna into it?'
'Wait a minute, she dragged herself into it. I never asked for her help, I never asked her to interfere.'
'Someone helps and it's interfering?'
'She was worried about her daughter, that's all.'
'Sarah was only in danger because you put her there.'
'Not on purpose,' Diane replied. 'Mmm, I stood there and thought 'who can I cause more trouble and pain for'. It wasn't intentional.'
Nikki lifted her chin. 'It never is. You jump in without thinking.'
'I can't believe you're accusing me of that. Who was it who waltzed into a building to meet a known cop killer a few years ago?'
'That was different.'
'Because it was you? That's not even a lone example. The first time I met you you were being held hostage.'
It seemed her argument had struck a chord. Turning, Nikki left the room. Diane followed her into the kitchen where she automatically put the kettle on and leaned back against the counter. She couldn't shake the feeling that Nikki looked exhausted, both mentally and physically. That was enough to prompt her to apologise.
'I was a selfish cow, I'm sorry. I was so focused, I didn't stop to think about who I was hurting. No, that's not true. I knew what I was doing, I just didn't want to slow down.'
Nikki raised her eyes and finally Diane saw a flicker of understanding there. She stepped hesitantly forward and reached out for her hand. She was infinitely relieved when Nikki didn't push her away.
'Professionally, I've barely been able to hold my head up in the nick. What I don't need on a daily basis are the likes of Roger and Sally looking at me as though I've been duped or, worse still, that I bloody helped you. At the end of the day I know I didn't and I might have a rank on them but that doesn't make it easier.'
'I can't follow your lead just because we're together.'
'Chance would be a fine thing. I'm not asking that,' continued Nikki, 'I just need you to follow the rules. Is that so difficult?'
'I follow the rules,' she objected, 'I've followed them all my life. That's what I do. This was a one-off.'
'So splitting up my marriage was following the rules, was it?' Nikki retorted then she blinked and looked away.
Diane let their hands drop and turned to the kettle just beginning to boil. She watched it until it was spurting hot steam then she went through the motions of making two cups of tea.
Finally, she glanced over her shoulder. Nikki was sat at the table massaging her forehead. 'It's the same old argument then, isn't it?' Diane asked. 'You don't trust me on any level because of that.'
'Of course I do,' Nikki argued. 'We've been over this a hundred times.'
'Yet here we are again.'
'I'm sick of going round in circles,' admitted her girlfriend. 'Every time we get on an even keel something messes it up.'
'Something meaning me,' Diane said shortly.
'No. There's always something happening, that's all. The kids or work or...'
'Us,' Nikki clarified.
Diane sighed, aware she couldn't deny it. If it wasn't Doug standing in the way it was something going on at work. The amount of time they spent together was dwindling; maybe that was why she hadn't been able to confide in Nikki during the investigation.
'I know that I behaved like an idiot, Nikki, okay?' she said quietly. 'I'm sorry for that. And if you reckon that this is it then I'll have to respect that. But to be honest I don't want to give up. We've come a bit too far for that, haven't we?'
Nikki lifted an eyebrow. 'Is that the most romantic you can get?'
Diane's lips twitched. 'Well, I haven't had a lot of sleep lately.'
A moment later and she found herself in Nikki's arms. She considered concluding the argument but it was already over anyway. She drew back and returned to the tea mugs.
'How would Sgt Noble sound, do you reckon?'
Nikki slid two arms around her waist. 'Worrying.'
Diane smirked as she turned her head and kissed her. 'That's about right.'
'I come in peace,' Diane said as soon as Jo opened the door a crack.
The detective surveyed her through the gap before grudgingly stepping aside and letting her past. 'Lorna's helping Sarah with her homework.'
'Well, it's you I wanted to see really,' she answered.
Jo cleared her throat. 'You'd better come through.'
The kitchen still smelt like the casserole they'd had for dinner. Diane sat down at the table and waited for the go-ahead to speak. Jo pursed her lips together and seemed to wait for her to speak so she finally took that as the okay.
'I know I owe you an apology. I screwed up massively and I owe you for not selling me out to Inspector Gold about those pictures. You know, I realise that I was the reason you couldn't investigate Gilkes in the first place and I was trying to make up for that. In my own roundabout way, of course.'
Sitting in the chair beside her, Jo admitted, 'Lorna has already explained that it was her idea to go to the school. It was a pretty good idea actually. I just wanted to kill you for it at the time.'
'I didn't think about the wider picture,' Diane said after a second. 'When Lorna offered to help, I tried not to take her up on it. But Kathryn going missing was the last straw, you know? I needed to fix it. And, Jo, I'm sorry, okay?'
'Yeah. It's okay.' She inhaled deeply. 'You're not the only one who got too personally involved in this. When I saw Gilkes with Sarah I wanted to string him up there and then.'
'There's no shame in that.'
'Maybe not, but I don't like feeling that out of control. It only happens with Lorna, nothing else.'
'That's funny,' Di said with a half-smile. 'Nikki's usually my trigger as well.'
Jo's lips twitched. 'Fancy a pint?'
'Don't you have to seek permission or something?'
'Don't you?' Jo shot back.
Relaxing, Diane shrugged. 'Would be courteous, yeah.'
Resting beside Nikki, she stared at the ceiling shapes and tried to coax herself into sleep. It was late, mainly because she'd spent hours making it up to Nikki – both with words and actions. The evening had been painful but beautiful. And it was ending just how it was supposed to. And yet... Well, she still couldn't sleep, could she?
'For God's sake, Di, go to sleep,' Nikki murmured.
She twisted onto her side. 'I thought you were.'
Rolling over, her partner answered, 'How can I when your tension's vibrating through the mattress? What's wrong?'
Running a finger down Nikki's cheek, she shook her head. 'I'm being an idiot, that's all.'
'What else is new then?'
'Cheeky.' She leaned forward to kiss Nikki gently. 'I've got no right to ask because I know how much of a screw up I am but... please don't leave me. I need you. Can't imagine what state I'd be in if I didn't have you.'
There it was: she'd laid herself bare and she waited for the outcome. Nikki's hand snaked across to her forehead as a smile spread across her face.
'Just be honest with me in future, will you?' she asked. 'I want you. I love you. But don't lie to me. Even if you think you're doing me a favour.'
She chewed on her lip. 'How about if I tell you why and when I'm lying and fill you in on the details later?'
Nikki's lips pressed together as she tried to prevent her grin growing. 'Why do I get the feeling that's the best offer I'll get?'
Diane kissed her again. 'Because you know me, that's why.'