Crime Traveller: The Sixty Thousand Pound Question
Author's note: I have to say up front that I vaguely remember reading another piece of Crime Traveller ff with a similar storyline, years ago, so it's sort of inspired but, I think, very different. No infringement intended, anyway! Oh, and apologies if it descends into cheese towards the end...
When Holly arrived in the office, the telephone on Slade's desk was ringing. Whoever was calling clearly did not know who they were dealing with; if they did, they wouldn't be trying to get hold of Slade at quarter past eight. With Nicky and Morris also absent from their desks, Holly put down her bag and picked up the phone.
"Jeff Slade's phone," she said.
"Is it possible to speak to Mr Slade?" the male voice asked.
Holly explained that he wasn't around, and asked whether she could pass on a message.
"Are you Mrs Slade?" the person enquired.
Holly nearly dropped her take-away coffee.
"No, I'm, um...this is his work number. I'm a colleague."
"Well, could you ask him to call Stuart Maxwell's office when he has a minute, please?"
Holly scanned Slade's desk for a pen, marvelling as to how he ever found anything he needed, and eventually located one under a stack of half-written reports. Finding a note pad or a post-it note was out of the question, so she resorted to scribbling the number down on a cardboard coaster Slade had lifted from the cafe where they sometimes had lunch.
When she was in her own office, Holly offloaded her bags, shrugged off her coat and sat down at the desk with her coffee and pastry. Once again, she had forgotten to go to the supermarket, so this was breakfast. She sifted through the mail she had brought from home, recognising most of the letters as bills or other similar correspondence; personal mail was a very rare thing. Feeling that she may as well get it over with, Holly opened the letter from her bank and, on seeing it was her latest statement, she held her breath. As her eyes fixed on the closing balance, she did a double take. When she saw the figure, she felt her stomach somersault – her balance was showing a five-figure amount. It was then that she realised that the initials beside the figure were 'CR' rather than 'DR'.
Holly scanned the statement and quickly found the reason why – a credit of sixty thousand pounds, paid into her account two days earlier. There was no doubt that this was a mistake, but there was little clue as to where the money had come from, just a sequence of letters and numbers beside the amount. For a moment she wondered whether there had been a development with her aunt's estate; her death had been months earlier, but perhaps there had been money left over once her house had been sold and the debts paid off. But surely her aunt's solicitor would have contacted her?
Holly glanced into the open-plan office, thinking she would show the statement to Slade, but although the office was filling up, he still hadn't arrived. Instead, she picked up the phone to call the bank.
It was a relief to Holly that, on this occasion, her appointment was not with the bank's assistant manager. The last time she had a face-to-face appointment it had been to apply for a loan, and she and Bev Stephens had not parted on the best of terms. Instead, she was greeted by a young assistant, who ushered her into a booth and asked her how he could help. Holly related the tale of her sudden and unexplained wealth.
"Let's have a look," the young man said, tapping at the keyboard of his PC. "Ah yes, I see it. So you don't know where this money has come from?"
"No. Do you know what the reference on the payment means?"
"It's a fund transfer reference. If I'm remembering correctly, this one is for a holding company that moves money on behalf of a client."
"What sort of client?"
"Often a solicitors firm, you know, when buying and selling houses, that kind of thing."
Holly frowned. Her aunt's estate was starting to sound like the most plausible explanation.
"How would I find out the name of the solicitors and who instructed them?"
The clerk was busy jotting some details on a pad.
"I should be able to track down the solicitors for you, but it might take a little time," he said. "As for finding out who they're working for, it would be up to their client whether they want to disclose that information."
This made little sense to Holly; why would someone want to anonymously donate sixty thousand pounds to her?
She left the bank with an agreement that the clerk would call her once he'd managed to track down the information about the solicitors, and returned to the office. Detectives were traipsing back in from their lunch hour now, amongst them Slade, who pushed through the milling bodies to catch up with her. Because of their respective work schedules, Holly hadn't seen him for a day or so, and realised how good it was to see him again.
"I've been looking for you," he said, falling into step with her.
"Why?" she asked, sceptically. "Did someone take some paperclips from the stationery cupboard, and you need to go back in time and find out whom?"
"You know, sarcasm doesn't suit you, Holly," he said.
"You've driven me to it," she replied, smiling. "So what did you want to see me about?"
"I'd thought we could go out for lunch, but when you weren't in your office I assumed you had a better offer."
They had reached Holly's office, and Slade opened the door for her. As he followed her inside, she eyed him suspiciously. When Slade made a gesture like this, it was usually because he wanted something – and there was usually only one thing he wanted.
"Actually, I had to go to the bank," she told him. "There's been a mix-up with my account."
Slade nodded. He hoisted himself onto the counter-top, and immediately started toying with a piece of her lab equipment. He had a manual fixation that meant his hands were always engaged with something, be it the baseball from his desk, a stapler or anything Holly left lying around in her office.
"What's the mix-up?"
"Let's just say I woke up today richer than I went to sleep last night."
"Maybe you've got a secret admirer."
Holly felt herself blushing a little.
"It's sixty thousand pounds, Slade."
He exhaled deeply.
"Yes, well, I'm trying to get to the bottom of where it's come from and how to give it back."
"Who says you need to give it back?" Slade said, hopping off the worktop.
Holly turned to look at him, trying to gauge whether he was serious.
"Slade, it's a bank error. Are you suggesting I withdraw all the money and get on the next flight to Paraguay?"
"I'd go for the Bahamas," Slade replied. "No extradition treaty with the UK."
"Well, thanks for the advice, but I think I'll do things my way."
"Suit yourself," he said, putting the piece of equipment down on the table in front of her. "But I'd have thought sixty thousand pounds would go a little way to helping you perfect the machine."
"Yes, of course it would," Holly replied, realising when she was being teased. "But it's not my money, Slade. And something tells me that the real owner is going to miss it."
"You never know, it could be Richard Branson."
Holly was all set to respond when her phone rang. Slade indicated that he had somewhere he had to be, and slipped out of the room. The call, it turned out, was from the bank.
"I've been able to find out a bit of additional information about the transaction," the man told her. "The holding company was working for a firm called Lansdowne & Ray, and I can confirm that it was a genuine transaction intended for Miss Holly Turner of 67 Sundown Court."
Holly felt her hand tremor for second.
"So where...who has it come from?"
"That's the bad news," the bank clerk told her. "You would need to apply to the solicitors for the identity of the donor, and even then it may not be in their powers to give it to you."
Holly's spirits now took a plummet. She wasn't sure why it mattered to her so much that she found out the source of this money, but she had got through life solely on her our resources and wasn't used to conceding to outside help. Also, there was something uncomfortable about this; the idea of feeling beholden to someone whose identity she didn't even know. She had to act on the only clue she had.
Leaving work early, Holly drove to the offices of Lansdowne & Ray. Before leaving the office, she had looked around for Slade, thinking that this was probably the sort of thing he would want to tag along for. However, he was nowhere to be seen; interviewing burglary suspects, according to Nicky.
The solicitors' firm was in a modern glass-and-chrome complex, and Holly made her way to the fifth floor. It occurred to her that whoever her mystery benefactor was, he or she had probably visited this building at some point – perhaps even in the last week. The receptionist regarded her with an aloofness that Holly more associated with banks.
"Can I help you?"
"Yes, I'm here enquiring about a particular case I understand was handled by this firm," Holly said, trying as hard as she could not to sound incredibly suspicious.
"I'm afraid we can't give out information about over clients' cases," the woman told her.
"I appreciate that, but this one involves me."
Holly explained the situation to the woman, who continued to view her with suspicion the whole time she was talking. When she had finished, the receptionist asked Holly to wait, and she left the room for a couple of minutes. She returned with a business card that she handed to Holly.
"This is the solicitor who managed that particular case. He's still in court, but you could ring the office tomorrow and try to speak to him."
Holly was about to answer, when an absent glance at the business card stopped her short.
"Actually," she told the receptionist. "I don't think that will be necessary after all."
The name on the card, Stuart Maxwell - Holly immediately knew where she'd heard that before.
When Slade answered his front door, his shirt sleeves were rolled up and he was holding a tea-towel, which he had presumably just used to dry his hands. If he was surprised to see Holly, he wasn't showing it. Instead, he offered her a broad smile, the sort that had the unfortunate effect of turning her insides to jelly.
"Is it really possible that you can smell my cooking all the way from your flat?" he said.
"Can I come in?"
He stood back to allow Holly into his flat. The smell of proper home cooking was a powerful distraction, but she was determined to remain focussed.
"Slade, I know it was you."
"What was me?"
"The sixty thousand pounds in my bank account," Holly said, watching him pointedly. "It came from you."
Slade's expression immediately changed to one of someone who knows the game is up.
"Ah," he replied. "You found out."
Even though Holly knew she had to have been right, his admission still took her a little by surprise.
"Did you really imagine that I wouldn't?" she asked. "And that I wouldn't then have a lot of questions?"
"Such as?" Slade said, putting down the tea-towel and bracing his arms against the kitchen worktop.
"'Such as'?" Holly repeated, unable to comprehend that they were both talking about the same scenario. "I don't know where to start, Slade. Where did you get that kind of money, for one thing?"
"Don't worry, it was perfectly legal," Slade replied, with a dismissive gesture. "And I didn't sell a kidney either."
"Then where?" Holly persisted. "You don't have that kind of money. If you did, you'd buy some furniture for this place."
Slade smiled at that.
"Does it really matter where I got it?" he said, taking a step closer to Holly. "I want you to have it, to help you finish the machine."
The tone of his voice and the focus of his gaze had a confounding effect on Holly at the best of times, but when coupled with this offering she suddenly felt her words deserting her.
"That's...an amazing gesture, Slade," she managed to say. "But I can't accept it."
"Because it's sixty thousand pounds!" Holly exclaimed, by this time almost laughing at his failure to understand. "And because I don't know where it came from."
Slade briefly raised his eyes to the heavens and then sighed.
"Okay. Someone left it to me."
The words had strong implications.
"Has someone..." Holly begun. "Has someone died recently?"
"Not recently, no. The money was sitting in property for a while."
"Go on," Holly said gently. She had gradually learnt that extracting the truth from Slade required persistence and the refusal to accept his first, second or even third answer.
"There's something you're not telling me. If it was just an inheritance, wouldn't you be using at least some of the money to pay off that overdraft you're always complaining about?"
"The overdraft's my problem," Slade said. "I want the money to go on something more worthwhile, something that could change the world...She would have liked that."
Holly immediately looked up.
She saw Slade swallow, glancing down at the floor before looking up at her again.
Holly heard the words before she realised she had spoken.
"I...I don't understand...Slade, were you...did you used to be married?"
She was amazed that she had managed to get through that sentence, if you could even call it a sentence. The confused tangle of thoughts in her head seemed to be refusing to fall into a coherent order.
"Yes. Hard to believe any woman would have signed up to that, right?"
Typically, Slade was trying to make light of it, seemingly for her benefit.
"No...I...why didn't you tell me?"
Slade propelled himself away from the counter and went to sit on the arm of the sofa, a couple of feet from Holly.
"I don't know," he said, with a sigh. "It's not something that tends to come up in conversation very often."
"Yes, but..." Holly didn't know where she was going with that sentence..."I'd have wanted to know."
"And I wanted you to know. It's just...where do you start with something like that?"
Holly considered this for a moment, acknowledging from her own experience that revelations sometimes need a reason to come out.
"By giving someone sixty thousand pounds?" she said, with a smile.
"I guess I knew you'd work it out eventually. I just hoped that by the time you did I'd have worked out what to say."
Holly moved to sit on the sofa, and Slade swung around from the arm to sit beside her.
"When...when was all this?" Holly began. "I mean, when did she, your wife...Jessica...?"
It was hard not to cringe at her own ineloquence.
"Seven years ago."
"And how long were you...?"
"Three months. Actually, we'd known each other three months; we'd been married three weeks."
Her expression must have been causing Slade concern, as he reached out to briefly touch her shoulder.
"Holly, it's fine. It was a long time ago."
"Yes, but to have married so quickly, you must...you must really have loved her."
Slade smiled, but kept his gaze on her.
"Yeah, I did. Everyone thought I was crazy – except Jessica's parents, who just thought I was trouble."
Holly smiled, and then Slade did, too.
"I know, some things never change," he said, before pausing, glancing down at the coffee table. "She died in a road accident on the way to work, two weeks after we came back from honeymoon...Holly, you're not crying, are you?"
Holly had hoped she wasn't being so obvious, and she hurriedly dabbed at the corners of her eyes.
"No...I...I just...that must have been...how did you cope?"
"I didn't," Slade smiled. "Not for a long time. Just ask Grisham; she gave me more chances than I deserved. Anyone else would have kicked me off the force years ago. But I'm grateful she didn't - otherwise we would never have met."
When Holly realised the earnestness of his words, she felt herself blush.
"So why now?" she asked. "Why the money after all this time?"
"Jessica's house has been sold. When we got married, she rented the house to her sister. In Jessica's will, she left the house to both of us – her sister and me, fifty-fifty. I didn't want any of it, and that's where we left things. But then a month ago, her sister got in touch out of the blue to say that she was selling the house and wanted me to have half. She was pretty adamant, said she thought Jessica would have wanted it. Told me that if I didn't want to keep it myself, I should give it to charity, something that's personal to me."
Slade nudged Holly's leg.
"And that's what I want to do," he added. "If you'll let me."
"Slade, I can't take your wife's money," she replied.
"It's my money now," he replied. "And you have to let me give it to you, because I don't know what else I would do with it. Besides, I know that Jessica would have got a kick out of it if she'd known she'd be investing in time travel. Beats investing in the stock market, or property."
"A lot less reliable, though."
"Jessica wouldn't have cared about that," Slade said. "She thought life should be an adventure."
"Is that why she married you?"
Slade stretched his arms across the back of the couch, an unmistakable gleam in his eye.
"That, and my powers of persuasion."
Holly snorted, and he looked at her with mock disbelief.
"What, you don't find it charming?"
"Wearing, more like," Holly replied, although they both knew the truth.
"But it's a yes, right?" Slade said. "You'll take the money."
"Do I have a choice?"
Slade sat forward again, and Holly noticed that their knees were now touching.
"Holly, I don't want to make you do anything you don't want to do," he said, fixing her with his gaze. "But it would mean a lot to me if you'd let me do this. I feel like I can finally give you something you need."
The words hung heavy in the air, and Holly felt her mouth suddenly dry up.
"Thank you," she told him, her voice little more than a whisper. "It's the most amazing thing that anyone has ever done for me."
Without thinking, she leaned across the small space between them and kissed his cheek. As she was moving away again, she felt Slade gently catch her elbow, which had the effect of stopping her, whatever he had intended. When she looked at him, he was regarding her intently, a slight smile at the corners of his mouth. His face was still close to hers, and all it took was a tiny shift in angle and they were kissing; a tender, gentle kiss that nevertheless had the instant effect of raising Holly's body temperature by several degrees. She raised her hand to touch Slade's face, her fingers grazing the stubble on his cheek. Then, Holly was struck by a wave of guilt.
"Oh God, I'm sorry," she told him, pulling away and quickly getting to her feet.
Slade was looking at her quizzically, his expression somewhere between surprise and delight.
"I shouldn't have done that," she said, horrified at the situation. "It's not right."
"Felt right to me, Holly," he replied, smiling.
"No, but I...you've just given me sixty thousand pounds – sixty thousand pounds of your wife's money, a wife I didn't even knew you had until a few minutes ago, and... it was a really inappropriate thing to do. I'm so sorry."
"Which bit are you sorry about? The kissing part?"
Holly sensed Slade might be making fun of her, which she couldn't understand given the completely insensitive thing she had just done. Or they'd just done. Had she initiated the kiss? She couldn't recall any rational decision process; it just seemed to happen, though that was no excuse.
Slade got up from the couch, so they were standing virtually toe to toe.
"Holly," he said, clearly still unable to banish the smile from his face. "I may be going out on a limb here, but what just happened, that wasn't about the money."
"No, but your wife-"
"Is in the past," Slade cut in. "It took a long time, but I've come to terms with losing her. But I don't want to lose you. And believe me, Holly, if we hadn't kissed just now, I'd have been looking for another excuse pretty soon – even if it cost me another sixty grand..."
At this, Holly had to smile, and she felt the atmosphere change again.
"You don't have another sixty grand," she said, raising her eyebrows at him.
"Could sell my flat," Slade replied, airily.
"Oh yes, and then what would you do?"
"Throw myself on the mercy of a beautiful woman with a roomy Victorian apartment and an unusual tenant in her living room."
Holly narrowed her eyes.
"What makes you think she'd take you in?"
Slade shrugged nonchalantly.
"I think she might have a soft spot for me," he replied. "She's started turning up at my flat at night and kissing me without warning."
Holly was blushing again, but she couldn't help smiling, too.
"I could be wrong," Slade continued. "She might just be doing it for the free meals."
At the mention of food, Holly felt her stomach protest at being so neglected, and she remembered the glorious aroma that had greeted her when she walked through the front door. But at the same time, there was a certain attraction in staying right where she was and seeing where that took them.
"So, does sixty grand earn me a second kiss?" Slade asked, as though reading her mind.
"Slade!" she exclaimed. "We are not linking the two!"
"I'm kidding!" he said, throwing up his hands, before adding, "What about dinner? Would that be a fair exchange?"
Holly fixed him with a stare.
"Well, that depends. Do I get to taste dinner first?"
"What, and risk offending the chef?"
"Oh, I wouldn't want to do that."
"How about you kiss me now, and if you don't like the meal, I'll give you a refund?"
"And let me guess," Holly said, raising an eyebrow at him. "Refunds take place on the first floor?"
Slade's eyes flicked up to the gangway that led to his bedroom, before settling on Holly again. She could tell from his expression that she had caught him slightly off-guard, but it didn't take him long to rebound.
"I'm fine with that if you are, Holly," he replied.
For a man, Holly thought, who knew how to talk himself into or out of any situation that was thrown at him, Slade didn't seem to know when it was best to shut up. And if she didn't do it now, Holly knew there was every chance she'd lose her nerve. Arching herself onto her tiptoes, she used Slade's shirt to gently tug him down to her level, so she could bring her lips to his. As soon as she felt him reacting and returning the kiss, Holly broke away. She saw his confused and somewhat bereft expression before she turned to walk to the kitchen.
"Starters," she explained with a smile, responding to his silent bemusement.
It came as no surprise when his eyes lit up and he quickly found a grin of his own.
"In that case, I can't wait for dessert..."