The Empty Desk

Steve had to admit, it was easier to make the move to the desk that had been held by the other's colleague of many years without Brian in the room. He hadn't managed to get off on such a good foot with the northerner as he had with Gerry and to some extent his new boss, Sandra. He knew it wasn't entirely either of their faults; he was the new boy, taking over from an established face. On the other hand, he knew he was a good detective and he was, so far, enjoying being back in work, making a difference as only UCOS could. He missed Charlie, he missed Glasgow and he'd never admit it to Gerry but he did miss the occasional battered chocolate bar. The adventure that he and Gerry had recently embarked on, back home, made him miss these things all the more. There had been no more word on the establishing of a cold case squad on his home turf, yet he was hesitant to say that he wouldn't go for an interview if the opportunity arose. As it was, he moved only what was essential to his task over to the desk.

Gerry settled himself at his own computer, he and Steve having divvied up the research. He observed how Steve had removed only himself from the comfortable chair area in the time he had been outside. Pondering whether Steve had been telling the truth when he had said that he'd never fancied a desk job, something that Gerry could definitely relate to and believe in given the other man's attitude (sitting still was something he struggled to imagine Steve doing for very long), or whether he was going to be as permanent a fixture as Brian feared, he keyed in his password and relaxed for a morning of desk work.

~o~

"Hello Mr. Johnson," Sandra sat down opposite the prisoner who was shown in to the small interview room at the prison. "I'm Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman, this is my colleague, Brian Lane."

Johnson nodded at both of them in turn. He was in his early thirties, white, shaved head, average height. He wore blue jeans and pale blue shirt. He looked at them both with clear blue eyes.

"We're here to talk about James Carson and Elaine Parsons," she continued openly. "We understand you have new information about their deaths."

He pulled a peculiar expression of discomfort and nodded.

"Now, when you were questioned during the original investigation, you admitted to killing Carson and never denied Elaine's," Brian narrowed his eyes. "Why now?"

"I was involved," Johnson said quietly. He did not avert his eyes as they might have expected, instead maintaining open eye-contact with both of them. "And I did shoot Jimmy."

"Ok," Sandra leant forward. "Let's start there, why?"

"I was hired," his accent was a London one, but his tone was low.

"By who?"

"Some guy, wanted me to do 'im in, 'im and 'is girlfriend, that Elaine."

"Why?"

Johnson shrugged.

"Ok, why did you agree to do it?"

Again he shrugged. "The money."

~o~

Brian noted immediately upon their return to the office that Steve had availed himself of Sandra's offer to use Jack's desk albeit only the computer. For his part, the Scot rose as they entered and greeted them with the question, "Tea?"

"Please," Sandra pulled off her coat as she walked to her office. "How have you got on?"

"Brian?" Steve started to lay out the mugs on the side.

"Aye, thanks," Brian grunted as he hung his coat and fired his laptop into life.

"We've tracked down nearly everyone involved in the original case," Gerry announced as Steve made the tea. "Except this business partner, Bobby Harrow."

"Well, that's a start," Sandra replied from within her office.

"How was Johnson?" Steve inquired of Brian as he put the kettle on to boil. Having looked over Johnson's record that morning, he had found no indication in the man's profile that he was disposed to gun crime or had ever been linked before to anything more serious than nicking a postage stamp off his mother.

Brian shrugged. "Very open, considering that he's happily been serving part of his sentence for the murder of someone he didn't kill. Admits to being hired for killing James Carson, and did it. Admits to being hired to kill Elaine, but didn't. He was at the scene of the crime, but says he didn't pull the trigger."

"So who did?" Gerry asked taking his glasses off and adjourning to the comfy chairs for their tea break.

"Someone beat him to it, apparently," Sandra rejoined them. "Strickland's on his way down." She sighed as she sank into the chair and frowned at the faces on the white board as if they might like to just divulge the truth to her now, without the trouble of a full investigation.

"Genuine?" Steve delivered the mugs and sat in what had become his customary seat at his workstation. He never had wanted a desk job.

"Mmm, I think so," she pondered the question.

"Trouble is," Brian paused. "He wouldn't say who pulled the trigger, and I think he knows."

"Yeah, well, we'll see," Sandra sipped her tea. "So, what's the problem with Bobby Farrow?"

"Well, he was a sleeping partner in the business according to the original case file, but I can't find any obvious connection that he ever had to the restaurant or the Carsons. Of course, being a sleeping partner he wouldn't necessarily be but it does make him harder to track down; he's no longer at the address in the file but didn't leave a forwarding address and it must have been some sort of cash deal because there is almost no trace of him in the sale of the house, which was registered to Gene Richards."

"The other partner?" Brian recognised.

"Yeah," Gerry confirmed. "His daughter, Hallie, now runs Friars."

Steve and Gerry presented Sandra with the list of names and addresses they had managed to source. Sandra started to annotate the list with numbers and initials, organising how they would interview each of the involved parties while Brian set about researching the restaurant, requesting full financial records to be sent to the office. Gerry returned to chasing profiles of the characters in the case while Steve remained in his preferred seat, re-reading, making notes on and familiarising himself with the original case papers. When DAC Robert Strickland entered this hive of quiet industry, he almost thought he was in the wrong place.

"Afternoon," he greeted them, receiving what he had come to accept as thinly veiled contempt over the years. "Sandra, are you ready to brief me on this case?"

"Absolutely, sir," she smiled. The fact that they were already hard at work on the case and would probably continue to worry away at it regardless of what he thought, amused her. He had sent it to their department anyway, creatively making Elaine Parsons' death an unsolved case while in actual fact it had simply been left as a sort of assumed attachment to Carson's. His concern would be about the necessity to interview DCI Thomas and ex DCI Parsons. Warnings to tread carefully would ensue, his voice taking a deep tone as it became serious. She shook her head slightly as she indicated for him to take a seat. The sound of his voice was not something she needed to be thinking about when about to brief him on their progress so far.

He listened to each of them as Sandra indicated they present. It was something she insisted on, whilst usually sympathising with their lack of respect for her boss, she didn't see why they couldn't pull their weight in bringing him up to speed so that she didn't have to. The case promised to be less than straightforward; the team promised to be more than sensitive; he requested a private word with Sandra.

"How's Steve settling in?" he asked as he closed the door.

"Oh, fine," she walked to her computer and pressed the power button.

"Good," Strickland nodded. "I see you've released the embargo on his using Jack's desk."

She fixed him with a look which he was if not immune to, at least used to. "He needs access to a computer," she shrugged. "I don't think he's really a desk person anyway."

"No," he sighed. It appeared that he had allowed her to employ yet another wild card for her team.

"Is everything alright, sir?" she asked. He seemed distracted today, it wasn't unusual for him to be under pressure, and it was none of her business, but the question was out.

"Oh, I'm fine, thank you, just a lot on at the moment," he offered her an unconvincing smile. He didn't like lying, to anyone, but he recognised well enough that she was his subordinate and that her concern, although genuine, was not something he could respond to. She had turned him down before, not that he had ever had the boldness to act upon any feelings he had toward her, but in a quiet understated way, she had at least given the impression that even if she were not an officer under his command, she would not want to show him anything but dedication to her duty. But then, she had noticed a change in his demeanour today, the only person to after all those he had encountered so far since six am. He remembered her loyalty to him in the Fisher business, not so long past. He recalled the look in her eyes, the trust that she gave him that had probably saved his life.

"Sir," she hesitated. She did care about him, in a strange way. He was a part of her life in as much as a way as the boys were sometimes. He was a pain in the political arse and he was her boss. But he had come to them over that 'maelstrom' business, hadn't he? She wouldn't easily forget the fear that she had seen in his eyes in the car-park that morning, wouldn't easily forget the need she had felt to do whatever she could to take it away. Something had changed.

"Tread carefully," he had to leave before he said or thought something he oughtn't.

"Sir," she acknowledged.