DISCLAIMER: I own nothing.
A/N: I have no idea what insane WtD universe this belongs to, sorry.
Dedication: this one's for all my pals who need a bit of cheering up.
Mel's blue eyes are wide with incredulity. She blinks, says, "Seriously…?"
Spencer nods. "Apparently so."
Frankie, ever-practical, looks from Spencer to Mel and back, clears her throat and inquires, "Yeah, but wouldn't… Well… Wouldn't you actually know for sure, Spence?"
Spencer's expression is momentarily frozen between bemusement and outrage as he demands indignantly, "Me…? Why the hell would I know?"
"You used to play squash with him," Mel points out, seemingly following Frankie's line of thought perfectly.
"Yeah," he agrees smugly, leaning back in his chair. "Until he got tired of having his ass whipped – "
" – but why the hell would you think I'd know something like that?"
"Locker room," Frankie says gravely. "Communal showers."
Spencer snorts, the sound very adequately conveying his comprehensive disgust. "Listen, unless you want to be picking your teeth up from the floor, you don't look. You just don't."
"Oh, come on…!"
"No, he's right," Mel interjects, settling herself back behind her desk and starting to rummage through her overflowing in-tray. Not looking up, she continues, "It's a man thing, Frankie. Specifically it's a heterosexual man thing. An entire rugby club, fine, but put two straight men alone together in a locker room and the poor things are instantly too traumatised to even make eye contact, let alone look anywhere else."
Spencer glowers. "Don't you two have any work to be getting on with?"
"You brought the subject up," Mel tells him, still rifling papers.
Frankie nods. "Yeah. Sorry, Spence, but you can't pass on gossip like that and not expect us to – "
Her words are abruptly curtailed by the loud clattering of the squad room doors and the sudden appearance of a large and very irritable-looking Detective Superintendent. As is customary at such moments, everyone suddenly manages to look incredibly busy. Whether or not Boyd is remotely fooled by the hive of industry the dingy basement has suddenly become is entirely debatable.
Grace Foley is no-one's fool. True, she has one conspicuous weakness – nearly six foot tall and in possession of a particularly jaunty beard – but she's no-one's fool. Grace is calm and Grace is quiet, and not only does she have very sharp hearing, she has a knack for being able to make herself so inconspicuous that many extremely interesting things unwittingly get said in her earshot. And so it is today. It's not so much Spencer's revelation that makes her smile to herself, but the highly predictable response of Mel and Frankie. Their intense, fascinated curiosity is a palpable thing, and it amuses Grace no end. So much so, in fact, that when she finally relates the tale to Boyd many hours later she can't help chuckling. A chuckle that becomes an unrestrained laugh at the perplexed, outraged expression on his face.
He glares in response, dark brows drawing down. "It's not that bloody funny, Grace."
"Oh, it is," she contradicts, now very close to tears of laughter. "It really is, Boyd. You have no idea…"
"Who the fuck's Spence been talking to?" Boyd growls. "That's what I'd like to know."
"One of your exes?" she suggests cheekily as she pauses to fiddle with the clutter on her large antique dressing table. "Ms. Baxter from the CPS, perhaps? Or the lovely DCI Morley from – "
"Yes, thank you," he interrupts, impatience very clear. "That was largely a rhetorical question, Grace; I don't need a complete list of possible suspects. For God's sake… stop cackling like an old crone and just get into bed, will you? I'm tired."
His tetchiness only makes her laugh even more. Which really doesn't help the situation.
He hasn't spent the majority of his adult life as a serving police officer for nothing. If Grace has a talent for overhearing things, Boyd has an uncanny ability to simply sense them. And he can spot guilty behaviour a mile off. Uncharacteristically, he doesn't loudly slam his way into the squad room that morning; he ghosts in quietly, light on his feet. Usually his canny subordinates scatter in all directions before he even sets eyes on them, but this time he's ahead of the game. Of course, they quickly spot him and rapidly disperse before he can actually learn anything useful, but predictably it's Mel and Frankie that look the most flustered – and who scurry away the fastest. Spencer – apparently the cause of it all – merely looks faintly uneasy, as if he is beginning to suspect that something untoward may have accidentally reached his commanding officer's ear.
"Spence," Boyd says gruffly, by way of greeting.
Boyd eyes him speculatively for a moment. A straight question would probably garner a straight answer, but he's not about to risk giving any credence to the tale his DI has evidently heard. Even though it probably is, in essence, largely true. Though doubtless luridly embellished. Boyd is a wily old fox. There are other, better ways. Accordingly, he merely demands irascibly, "Well? Do you have the O'Connor file for me?"
"On your desk," Spencer says promptly. He looks slightly relieved. And therefore as guilty as sin.
Boyd has a hunch that it's going to be a very long day in the Met's Cold Case Unit. Sadly, his hunches are very often right.
"There's got to be a way of finding out," Frankie says determinedly. When faced with a tough challenge, it's not in her nature to give up easily. It's one of the things that makes her very, very good at her job. For a moment she thoughtfully taps the smooth metal surface of the empty examination table with her pen, producing an irritatingly discordant rhythm. "Come on, Mel. We've got to think of something."
Wandering over to join her, Mel shrugs. "I still say we should just ask Grace."
Exasperated, Frankie sighs pointedly in response. "She's not going to tell us, is she? Even assuming she does know the answer."
"How can she not know the answer? They're definitely… you know."
"We don't actually have any empirical evidence of that."
Looking pained, Mel says, "Frankie, I hate to break this to you, but some things are far better not scientifically proved."
"Whatever. She's still not going to tell us, is she?"
"She might, you know; with the help of enough Shiraz."
Frankie shakes her head. "Doubtful. Grace can drink Spence under the table, you know that."
"To be fair, that's not difficult. Even I can drink Spence under the table."
Silence falls over the CCU's small but well-equipped laboratory for several moments as both women ponder the intriguing dilemma. Eventually Mel looks sideways at her colleague and offers, "You know, you could simply ask Boyd."
"Oh, great idea, Mel. I can just imagine… Wait…" Frankie eyes the younger woman suspiciously. "I could ask Boyd? Why me?"
"He likes you," Mel says simply. "A lot."
"He likes Grace a lot, too, and if you think I'm risking pissing her off…"
"Surely you're not scared of Grace?"
Frankie ignores the gibe. "Listen, you think it's such a good idea, you ask him. You're daddy's blue-eyed girl."
"I'm not asking him."
"Well, neither am I. Ever."
Mel shrugs again. "Fine."
Frankie just glares. "Fine."
Another contemplative and deeply frustrated silence ensues.
"It's driving them mad, you know," Grace says conversationally. From her position seated in Boyd's office, she has a clear view of most of the squad room beyond, and she's well-aware of the infuriated, furtive glances being cast in their general direction.
"Good," is Boyd's immediate and unsympathetic reply. "That's what they get for listening to scurrilous gossip."
"Actually, I think you'll find it's only scurrilous if it's not true."
She smirks at him and takes another sip of coffee. Ensconced behind his desk, Boyd is projecting an air of menacing disapproval that she perversely finds far more entertaining than daunting. She says solemnly, "I should watch out, if I were you, Boyd. You know how determined Frankie is, and once Mel's got an idea in her head…"
"I'm a big boy, Grace, and – "
"I know that."
"Thank you," he says gravely, before continuing, "And… they wouldn't bloody dare."
Eyebrows raised, Grace asks, "You're quite sure about that, are you?"
Boyd seems to consider for a moment before dryly retorting, "If I find myself face down in the interview room with my strides round my ankles, you'll be the first to hear all about it, I assure you."
Again, she smirks. "Oh, the visions…"
He regards her reflectively. "Did you come in here just to annoy me, or was there some other reason?"
"No, just to annoy you," Grace confirms. Surveying the squad room again, she says, "Don't you feel even the tiniest bit sorry for them? They're going through absolute torment out there."
"Good," he says again. Malevolently. "Let them bloody suffer. They deserve it."
"You're so hard-hearted."
It's Boyd's turn to smirk. "You know what they say, Grace. A hard man is good to find."
Grace rolls her eyes. "And, moreover, so juvenile."
"No," Spencer says firmly. "Absolutely not. Forget it."
"C'mon," Frankie cajoles, perching herself on the edge of his desk. "All you've got to do is – "
"No," he repeats with an intimidating scowl. "For a start he wouldn't fall for it in a million years, added to which I'm sure he already knows something's going on, the way you two have been carrying on."
"Then why not just tell us who told you?" Mel suggests reasonably.
Spencer snorts. "Yeah, right. I know damn well what will happen if I do, and it'll be me who suffers for it. Nope, the pair of you are on your own with this one. Go and find somewhere else to plot."
"You're no fun anymore, Spence," Frankie complains. "Ever since you got promoted…"
He smiles ferociously. "You can needle me all you like; I'm still not helping you."
Mel pouts. "Spoilsport."
Grace has been known to accuse him of paranoia. Sometimes Boyd suspects she may be right. But not today.
"Oops," Frankie says innocently as he scowls down at her. "Sorry, Boyd. Didn't see you there."
Still pithily cursing under his breath, he looks at the empty plastic cup in her hand. He's very wet, and the water now sticking his shirt to his belly is evidently straight from the water cooler and therefore unpleasantly… cool. Having already roared angrily at her, Boyd takes a moment to mentally count to ten as he considers his predicament. Really very wet. Mainly it's just his shirt, however. Frankie's aim is evidently not as good as it might be. Though he's tempted to award points for sheer audacity.
"Um," she says, gesturing with the now empty cup. "Maybe you should take those wet clothes off? Come to the lab and I'll lend you a lab coat…"
Thank God the long working day is – at last – almost over.
Early morning sunshine. The distant noise of a commuter train clattering its way determinedly into the capital. Grace is awake. Boyd is not. Not yet. He will be soon, and once he is, the day will doubtless be charged at with energy and temper. Accordingly, she is enjoying the calm before the storm. It's already warm, despite the hour, with the promise of soaring temperatures later. Boyd is sprawled on his front, head burrowed into the pillows, only marginally covered by the duvet. Her fault – summer or winter, Grace somehow always greedily acquires most of it during the course of the night.
Boyd invariably sleeps au naturel. Much more alarming to wake up to when he is stretched out on his back rather than his front.
Presented with a very clear view of her irascible lover's muscular rear-end, Grace is smirking. Again.
Once upon a time, so the story goes, there was a very young and still rather naïve police constable who was universally cooed over by the kind of large and maternal WPCs who would eventually pass into legend. Boyish, ingenuous and weighing a good forty pounds less than the gruff Superintendent he was later to become, the nick-name eventually bestowed on the young man by his older and more experienced colleagues may indeed have been far more appropriate at the time than it would seem in later years.
Grace watches indolently as he stirs. It won't be long before he's fully awake. Until then, she looks at him and idly tries to picture the young man he once was. Naturally enough, her gaze is slowly drawn back to his bare rump. The ink has faded somewhat over the years, but the cheeky depiction of Oryctolagus cuniculus is still very clear.
In the halcyon days before political correctness, a young policeman who went out drinking heavily with his older and wiser brethren would almost certainly have ended up in all sorts of trouble. Particularly if he had a propensity for making unwise bets when more than three sheets to the wind.
"I loved Beatrix Potter when I was a child," Grace muses, trying not to look as if she is overtly peering out into the squad room.
"Hilarious," Boyd says dryly from behind his desk. As befits a man who has an important meeting at Scotland Yard in just an hour or so, he is looking unusually dapper – ruthlessly well-groomed and well-dressed. Very handsome and debonair. Distinguished.
"I had all the books," she adds. "The Tale of Tom Kitten was always my favourite. Ah, ha. Mel's just come in."
"Will you stop hovering by the bloody door?"
"I just want to see the look on her face."
"And you say I'm juvenile…" Boyd accuses, shaking his head.
"Juvenile, with a very warped sense of humour."
"You wound me, Grace. For God's sake, get over here, will you? Try to at least look busy."
Reluctantly, she obeys, taking the chair opposite his. Pointlessly poking at the paperwork spread out on his desk, she inquires mildly, "Did it hurt?"
Boyd looks momentarily bemused. "Did what hurt…? Oh. Well, how the bloody hell would I know? It was years ago and I was absolutely paralytic, Grace."
She chuckles. "No, really?"
Arrive. Hang coat up. Get coffee. Go to desk. Sit down. Autopilot.
But as Mel settles, her attention is immediately drawn to a medium-sized manila envelope perched on the very top of the unstable heap in her in-tray. Internal mail. Could be anything, but it doesn't bode well. The CCU is a small, specialist team, and it's generally far quicker and easier to pass things from desk to desk than it is to consign them to the vagaries of the Met's internal mail. Internal mail comes with signatures and initials, and is much more difficult to ignore than something casually handed over by a passing colleague.
Worse, as she peers more closely at the envelope, Mel can see the spine-chilling moniker Det. Supt. Boyd in large, authoritative capital letters. And yes, the sharply-drawn and accusing initials PTB are in the narrow right-hand column adjacent to the boldly printed name.
Getting internal mail from Boyd is Not Good. Everyone knows it. Why waste time with such a thing when he can just bellow impatiently for a minion and then throw whatever needs to be distributed at them?
Ignoring the envelope and hoping it will eventually go away is – sadly – not an option.
Mind already racing as she tries to think what she's done to incur his displeasure, Mel reaches out a cautious hand. Maybe Spencer was right. Maybe Boyd – who has a preternatural instinct for such things – is well-aware of the curiosity and speculation that has been mounting behind his back. Maybe the envelope contains a written warning?
Doesn't feel like it. Too heavy, too bulky. Warily, Mel peels open the resealable flap.
This is all Frankie's fault. Who the hell actually cares if Boyd has a bloody tattoo on his scrawny arse? And who the hell cares if it's true they used to call him –
It's a book. Nothing else, just a book. Hardback. Small. Thin. Definitely brand new.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
After one bewildered moment, Mel starts to laugh. Not simply from relief.
Grace is right. Peter Boyd has a very warped sense of humour.
Whether he also has a cute bunny rabbit indelibly tattooed on his backside, Mel doesn't know. But looking at the title of the book in her hand, she suspects the rumours are entirely true and he assuredly does. She can't wait to tell Frankie.
- the end -