"Have you ever heard from Denise?" I tossed the question casually at my partner, glancing in time to catch the furrow that appeared in his brow, and knew I'd have to wait for the inevitable thought processes before I got an answer.
For someone who Ray had only seen for a few weeks, and who, he said, hadn't been more than a casual date, she'd left quite an impact on him. Although as I was aware - having been part of the end-of-relationship post mortem - a lot of that had been guilt.
Not that he'd had anything to feel guilty about; Denise hadn't been injured in that brush with the Manleys, and hadn't even seemed particularly shaken up by it. I was sure that the sudden move to Manchester was just to do with her job, but in typical fashion Ray was convinced she'd moved to get away from him and the danger he'd put her in.
I suppose that there could be some truth in that; after one letter - on which Denise had somehow forgotten to put her new address - she'd never written again, as far as I knew.
As I glanced again at Doyle, his brow cleared as he figuratively shoved the guilt back in its box. "Not since that letter nearly six months ago."
"And you never tried to contact her?"
"Not much point, if she doesn't want to be found. Anyway, we weren't really that close." Unlike me and Ann, he could have added, but that wasn't something I was going to follow up on. Just after Denise had gone I'd made the mistake of joking that if he carried on like this London wouldn't have any publishers left, and it hadn't gone down well. I had no desire to provoke another mood like that one.
I let the subject drop. It had looked like Denise outside the club last night, but I only caught a glimpse and could easily be wrong. Ray clearly wasn't that bothered, it'd probably be better not to muddy the waters by mentioning it.
Of course, having made that decision it was only to be expected that I would see her again just two days later, and this time I knew I was right. I pulled the car into the kerb while I considered my options: I could pretend I hadn't seen her and let her go, or follow her and find out why she had dropped Ray like a stone. Obviously the first choice was the right one, so perversely I flung myself from the car to follow her into the large office building.
And missed her. She wasn't in the lobby and all the lifts were ascending; no way of knowing which she'd taken or where she got out. A quick check on the companies listed revealed three publishers - I didn't know which publisher she'd worked for or whether she still worked for them anyway, and didn't fancy traipsing into the reception of each to find out.
I didn't have the time either. Reluctantly I headed back to the Capri (just in time to save myself a parking ticket) and continued my journey to HQ.
After the briefing we headed for the VIP lounge, and I took advantage of the empty room. "You know I asked you about Denise?"
"Yeah?" I saw the suspicion spark into Doyle's eyes at this second mention. "Has she phoned you, or something?"
"I thought I saw her outside a club the other night. Thought that, if it was her and she was back in London, she might have got in touch. But you hadn't heard from her, and I could have been mistaken."
"I saw her earlier today, going into an office block." The look on his face said that I could still have been mistaken. "It was her, Ray. It was daylight and I was only a few feet away."
I waited, but there didn't seem to be anything to follow. "So?"
He looked up from the file Cowley had given us in the briefing. "So?"
"So, what are you going to do? Are you going to try and call her?" He seemed tempted. "Aren't you curious? She might be back for good."
"And she could just be on a visit to her parents, and taking the opportunity to catch up with some work colleagues, or even there for a meeting."
Ray didn't take a lot of convincing. "OK, OK. We'll go past that office tonight and see if she's about." He tapped the file. "We'd better get on with this, otherwise we won't be going anywhere tonight."
We left at four-thirty in order to get to the offices by five, but I'd barely turned in the right direction before the radio squawked at us. "3.7, 4.5."
I grimaced. "Not now... we're supposed to be off-duty."
Ray reluctantly answered the call. "4.5, go ahead."
"Message from Alpha One. He wants you to meet him at the stakeout. There's been a sighting of Carson."
Annoyed, I spun the car into a side road to turn around. "Cowley has great timing. We're going to miss Denise."
"Maybe it's for the best." Ray wasn't looking too dismayed and I frowned.
"I thought you wanted to see her."
He shrugged. "Maybe. But as I said, we weren't that close. She's probably just visiting, and there's not much point in chasing up old shadows."
I let the thought of Denise go, as something of more immediate importance occurred to me. "Damn. I hope this doesn't take long; I should be seeing Tricia tonight."
Ray had met Tricia. She had flaming red hair, boundless energy and the morals of an alleycat; and suited me just fine. He grinned. "You should have been taking it easy today then..."
The alarm woke me abruptly and I sent the clock flying onto the floor as I flung out my arm to stop the shrill noise. Peace was restored just as abruptly and I groaned, dropping back onto the pillow. No doubt it was broken and I'd have to buy yet another alarm clock.
Why had I set it, anyway? What was I supposed to be doing? The previous day filtered slowly through the fog of sleep; I remembered having to cancel my date with Tricia because Cowley decided he wanted us to stay on the stakeout, which had paid off because we'd got to grab Carson but by the time we'd interrogated him and I'd crawled home to bed it was nearly four in the morning...
Maybe a coffee would help. I dragged myself out of bed to the kitchen, squinting at my watch. Eight-thirty. What had possessed me to set the alarm for a time which meant I only got a few hours sleep? Cowley had been delighted by Carson's arrest and given us the morning off, so I didn't need to get to HQ by nine, or anything daft like that... Ah. Light dawned as I poured hot water into a mug.
Denise. I'd decided - and I really should remember that decisions made at four in the morning were rarely good - to get up and go round to the office block. I sipped at the coffee and considered that decision.
We'd had several hours on the stakeout before Carson showed, and Ray had been reluctant to discuss Denise and unenthusiastic about tracking her down, which surprised me. In spite of his assertion that they hadn't been that close, they were compatible; I'd seen that for myself when we double-dated. She had her head screwed on and was practical and unflappable, and had been good for Ray.
I didn't understand it; but if Ray wasn't going to explain maybe Denise would, hence my decision to set the alarm.
Working that out whilst drinking my coffee had wasted time however, and it was now unlikely I'd get there before Denise went into work. I decided that instead of hurrying I'd take my time, stop off and get a proper breakfast somewhere, and get there in time to catch her when she went to lunch.
It was nearly one. The traffic warden had just been past for the third time, and she wasn't looking any happier than the first time she had come upon me. I wasn't causing a traffic problem as such and so far my ID had kept her off my back, but I'd been sitting there for over an hour and I wasn't sure how much longer I'd be able to convince her I needed to sit on the double-yellow. I was beginning to think that Ray had been right; Denise had just been visiting someone the day before and wasn't working there. There had been dozens of people going out for sandwiches but no sign of my quarry.
Just as I could see 'lovely Rita' approaching in the wing mirror for the fourth time, the door to the building swung open and I saw Denise, fortunately alone.
She hadn't been hurrying, but came to an abrupt halt as I stepped in front of her. "Hello, Denise."
"Bodie!" Her swift glance; around me, the car, and behind her, was almost comical, although the mixture of panic and dismay on her face wasn't.
"I'm alone." I glanced back; the traffic warden had stopped at the rear of the Capri and was glowering at me. "Are you on your lunchbreak? Can I buy you a sandwich?"
"I've got the afternoon off..."
"Even better, we don't have to rush." She still looked undecided and I gestured behind me. "C'mon, quick decision and save me from a parking ticket."
She laughed, nervously. "OK Don't want you getting into trouble."
As Denise got into the car, I found the traffic warden on the advance. "She's never your suspect...?"
"'fraid so. You can't judge anyone by how they look. But thanks to you, people can sleep safe in their beds..." Leaving her with that thought, I hurried to jump in the car and get away, before she realised I'd been winding her up.
Denise had obviously caught part of the exchange. "Just what sort of lies have you been telling now?"
"Nothing much. Just had to have a good reason for sitting on her precious bit of yellow line. You'd think they owned the bits of road personally."
"So it's not just coincidence - you were waiting for me?" Her tone was wary.
"I was. I spotted you yesterday, thought I'd take the chance to catch up with you..."
"You're taking me to lunch to interrogate me, are you?"
"Sort of." I softened my words with a grin as I pulled the car into an empty parking bay. "Indian OK with you? I know a small place round the corner."
Once we'd ordered and the wine had arrived I began my probing; easy enough to do without raising any suspicions, since it was obvious I'd ask what she'd been up to in the last few months. "So how's Manchester? Are you here for meetings, or something?"
I was conscious of a defensiveness in her posture, but she hid it well. "Actually, no. I've just changed my job; I moved back here last month."
"So you're just settling back in then. Still picking up with all your old friends."
"Yes, I am. I've just found a new flat, so that's kept me pretty busy."
Too busy to make contact with Ray. The thought was between us, left unspoken. But something didn't ring quite true about this. "What was wrong with Manchester? Too wet? It always seems to rain when I'm there."
That raised a laugh. "It does seem to have a higher than average rainfall. But not really. I just missed London; my family, and friends."
"Did you miss Ray?"
"So why didn't you stay in touch? Why dump him without a word?" She flinched at my question but didn't seem surprised; I suppose she was expecting it.
"It seemed - I felt it would be better..."
"Better for who? Ray thinks he scared you off; that you left just to get away from him."
"Is that what he told you?" Finally she met my eyes. "It wasn't. At least..."
I waited, wondering why I felt that Denise wasn't so much struggling with what she could tell me, as deciding what I might believe.
"I was more upset by that attack than I wanted him to know. I went to stay with my parents for a few weeks - Ray probably told you that. The job offer in Manchester had already been on the table - and I suppose getting away seemed like a good idea."
"And Manchester seemed safer than London?" I wasn't exactly scathing, but it was a bit 'frying pan into the fire'.
"I wasn't expecting Eden," she retorted sharply. "But it's not that bad - I wasn't right in the city, anyway."
"OK. But you could've let Ray know where you were. It's not like he'd be chasing after you - or were you hoping he would?"
"No." Denise sipped at the wine. "Maybe it's because even if he had the address I knew he wouldn't."
Ah. Damaged pride, or something more? I didn't think her feelings had run that deeply, but maybe she was good at hiding that as well.
"We only went out for a few weeks anyway." I sensed some swift backtracking as she realised she'd given too much away. "It was hardly the love affair of the century. I haven't been staying in pining for Ray, and you're not going to tell me Ray has been celibate since I left."
"You wouldn't believe me if I did."
"No, I wouldn't." Ray had commented that Denise's demure exterior was deceptive, and her smile held the memories of their nights together. "So we've both moved on."
The food arrived, giving me a chance to think. They were both claiming to have moved on, but it didn't take a genius to see that neither actually had, not completely. I tucked into my meal - it had been a long time since breakfast - before I asked my next question. "Would you go out with Ray again?"
She avoided my eyes. "I don't know."
"To put it another way, would you have broken up with him, if you hadn't moved to Manchester?"
"Maybe not immediately; but I did move. And Ray might have wanted to break up with me, anyway."
I doubted that. My relationships were short-lived (mainly through choice) but providing he found the right sort of girl Ray's lasted longer, and their relationship hadn't run the course when Denise moved. She was the right sort of girl, and I'd've taken bets on them lasting a lot longer. "Not necessarily."
The look I got was both hopeful and reluctant. "Does Ray know I'm back?"
"I told him I'd seen you."
There was a pause. "What did he say?"
"Not much." It wasn't easy to gauge what she was thinking. "I'm not sure he really believed it was you. Because if you were back, you'd have called him."
"And you think I should?"
Denise had insisted on catching the bus home. I had no idea whether she would call Ray; she hadn't given me her address and apparently the phone wasn't yet on. But she couldn't disappear; I knew where she worked.
I shrugged and grinned to myself. What I was doing, playing Cupid? It wasn't even close to Valentine's Day.
"Where have you been all morning?" Ray was slaving over the typewriter in the VIP lounge, and I was delighted to see I'd timed my late arrival to perfection and he'd nearly finished writing up the Carson interrogation.
"Catching up with things." Which was true; I'd been to the bank to pay some bills before lunch. "Have to take advantage of a morning off. What did you want?"
I could guess. Since I'd intended to take him to where Denise was working I hadn't told him the address. But Ray has a streak of curiosity a mile wide; even if he hadn't approached Denise he would have gone to check out the building. I hadn't quite decided whether to tell him I'd had lunch with her, but that made up my mind. Either Denise would phone him, or he'd ask for the address and go looking; either way, they'd talk.
Further conversation was prevented as the phone rang with a summons from Cowley's office, but I was satisfied I could leave it at that.
Late as it was, the phone started ringing in Ray's flat as he opened the door, and he thrust the takeaway bags at me as he hurried to answer it.
"Denise!" I saw a measure of relief cross his face as the caller identified themselves; he'd resisted asking me for the address, and now he wouldn't have to. "Good to hear from you."
I took the bags through to the kitchen in search of plates and forks and by the time I'd returned Ray had finished the call. "You didn't talk for long."
"She was in a phone box. She's just got a new flat but no phone yet. We're meeting tomorrow night for a drink anyway. We can catch up then."
I nodded casually and handing him his plate tucked in to my own meal. I wasn't quite as enthusiastic as usual since it was my second curry of the day, but I hadn't told Ray that I'd had lunch with Denise and couldn't therefore confess to the first curry either. Still, I was starving and wasn't about to turn it down. "Say hello from me."
"We can double-date if you want."
"What, and spoil a beautiful reunion? Anyway, I don't think she'd get on with Tricia."
"No, you're probably right." Ray turned his attention to the TV, once again leaving me puzzled. Didn't he want to spend time with Denise alone?
"You're back then." I looked over my shoulder to my partner, who was lounging in the doorway, grin belying the unwelcoming tone of his words.
I grinned back at him. "And still in one piece, as well. Told you I could manage Carson's bunch of losers."
"Never doubted it for a moment." Ray lied smoothly, but unconvincingly as far as I was concerned. Neither of us like undercover jobs that separate us; I'd have been worried if the positions were reversed.
"So what's been happening here?" I waggled my eyebrow suggestively. "Anything interesting I should know about?"
"Well, rumour has it that Betty was seen getting out of Murph's car the other morning."
"No!" We all knew Murphy had been trying it on for months, but I couldn't believe the ice-maiden had succumbed.
"Oh yes. Although I did say it was a rumour, Bodie - you can't believe everything you hear."
"What does Murphy say?"
"Not much, but you know how tight-lipped Murphy can be. When I tackled him he admitted to giving her a lift."
"I'll bet." I smirked. "We'll get him drunk sometime soon and extract the details. What about you; seen much of Denise?"
I'd been undercover for nearly three weeks; Ray'd had plenty of time to get his feet back under her table.
"We've met up a couple of times."
"A couple of times? After all the effort I put into getting you back together..." Damn. I hadn't meant to let him know about that.
Ray merely grinned tolerantly. "Don't worry, Bodie. Denise told me you'd tracked her down. She couldn't understand why either."
"Just call me Cupid."
"Stupid, more like."
It was said without rancour, and I refused to bite. "So why haven't you seen more of her?"
"I haven't been having a holiday, just because you weren't here. The Cow has kept me busy, and Denise has been busy as well. Besides, it's only a casual relationship."
It hadn't seemed that casual a few months ago. Something had changed, and since I knew it wasn't Ray it had to be Denise. "Is she fed up with you, or something? Decided to dump you in favour of me?"
"You should be so lucky."
"A man can hope." I wouldn't mind, actually. Although not the sort of girl I'd normally pursue, Denise was attractive and I enjoyed talking to her. "Or are you thinking of dumping her?"
"What, exactly, then?" Ray was being evasive, which was guaranteed to set my alarm bells ringing.
He sighed, recognising that I'd shifted into persistent mode. "I don't want to just dump her; I like Denise, and unlike you I let my girls down gently. But it's not the same, and I don't think there's much point in continuing to see her."
"What's changed?" My question was lost as the door banged open to admit Murphy and Anson; the latter waving one of his disgusting cigars and badgering Murphy. "You were giving her a lift to work? I didn't think Betty lived anywhere near you."
I saw Ray shrug at me; our conversation ended. Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. "What's this I hear about you and Betty, then?"
I came abruptly awake as Ray gave me a push. Cowley had been apologetic about sending me straight out on a stakeout, but it hadn't stopped him doing it. I hadn't been all that bothered - I would only have gone home to bed, and with Ray to keep watch I could sleep in the car.
Except he was waking me up. "What?"
One hand on the butt of his gun, Ray was staring ahead, to the small terraced house where Mackinson was supposed to be. "Thought I saw movement at the window."
The house had been under surveillance all day, and to all intents and purposes was empty, according to the reports. I straightened in the seat, also reaching for my gun. "Sure?"
"No. But I'd rather have you fully awake than half asleep if something does happen."
"Fair enough." I shook my head to clear away the last vestiges of sleep. "Which window?"
Several tense minutes of concentration later, nothing had moved. "What did you see?"
"Curtain moved. I think," Ray added with a sheepish grin.
"I can't see anything. Maybe there's a window open somewhere; caused a draught?"
"Maybe. But it seemed more positive than that. Like the curtain had been pulled back and dropped again."
After another few minutes, Ray sighed. "Looks like I was wrong. Sorry, mate. Didn't need to wake you after all."
"Doesn't matter." Although I was properly awake now, and was unlikely to doze off again. Still keeping half an eye on the windows, I relaxed. "You were telling me about Denise earlier. Care to enlighten me further?"
"She's changed. Although - I suppose..."
"You suppose what?"
"I suppose I've changed too, the way I treat Denise. I'm not sure I can trust her."
Well, that was an odd thing to say, and not what I'd anticipated. "How do you mean?"
"Just that." He flicked me a glance before returning his focus to the house windows. "When she left for Manchester, I took it at face value; we parted on good terms and I thought she'd stay in touch. But that letter was odd, and I decided to see if I could get a phone number for her. I tried Directory Enquiries. They didn't have a Denise Owen listed."
"So she hadn't got a new phone number?"
"No, they didn't have one listed at all, not even at the London flat. Whoever was paying the bill at that address wasn't using the name of Owen."
I had a bright idea. "Maybe her father was paying for it? She mentioned her family a few times; they still seemed close. Although - the surname would still be Owen, of course."
"That's what I thought. Until I remembered her saying something about her mother remarrying when she was very young, so it could be her stepfather instead, which didn't leave me any closer because I had no idea what his name was."
Another glance in my direction. "So I checked it out from the opposite direction, and traced the number back to the listed owner."
Which he could only have done through official channels. Of course we weren't supposed to use our authority for personal means, but we all did it. "And who is the listed owner?"
It took a few seconds for the name to sink in. Reginald Slater. "Reg Slater? Not the guy Cowley had us after a couple of years ago?"
Ray was nodding. "I couldn't believe it either, so I double-checked. Rosemary Owen was a widow with a three-year old daughter when she married Slater."
"Wow." I wasn't sure what to say to that. Reg Slater was definitely crooked; our investigations had revealed that much. But hard evidence was thin on the ground, potential witnesses had disappeared - or turned up dead - and Slater was still on Cowley's hitlist.
"And that got me thinking... About what happened to Coster, and the Manleys."
"You think Slater sorted them out?"
"It makes sense. The Manleys assaulted Denise and they worked for Coster. We told Denise their names." Ray met my eyes. "If you hadn't arrived in time, the Manleys would almost certainly have raped her, Bodie. The way they were dealt with ensured they wouldn't be raping anyone for a long time."
Coster had been scum and was better off dead, and the Manley boys weren't much better, but Ray's conscience was obviously troubling him. "Forget them," I advised. "Remember what they were going to do to you. Question is: does Denise know what her stepfather is?"
"I don't see how she could fail to, Bodie. She's not naïve." He sighed. "Anyway, once I'd discovered all that, I decided it would be best to let her go, and not track her down. Not least of which because I couldn't have Cowley finding out about her."
"I guess not." Ray would want to protect her from that, the same as he had tried to with Ann. And in just the same way, Cowley would have tried to force Ray to use Denise to get in with Slater. "I take it you haven't asked Denise anything about all this?"
"How can I? Not the sort of thing you bring up casually, is it. But it's at the back of my mind, and Denise knows there's something bothering me."
"You don't think she's working for him; trying to find out about us...?"
"She's never asked anything about CI5; nothing about cases, where we work, or anything. I doubt she even knows we were after Slater. But I can't be absolutely certain, so I can't keep seeing her." He sighed. "I'll phone her later, before Cowley gets wind of anything."
The sooner the better. I wished I'd kept my mouth shut about seeing Denise. Although - "See what happens when you keep me out of things?"
"Yeah. But I'd do the same again."
So would I, probably. What having a partner was all about, even if it did backfire occasionally. I was about to respond when I caught sight of movement at the window and this time there was no doubt about it. A face came up close to the glass, peered right and left and then disappeared again. "Was that Mackinson?"
Ray shrugged, reaching for the R/T to report in. "4.5. We've just logged movement at the stakeout. Any orders?"
"Hold on, 4.5."
"I wouldn't swear to it in court, but yes, I think it was," Ray answered me. "Cowley will be delighted if it is."
"4.5, orders from Alpha One. Apprehend if suspect tries to leave property."
"Got that." He leaned forward to return the R/T to the hook. "'Apprehend'. Easy for them to say."
I nodded. Ray had filled me in on the salient details of Mackinson's file and it wasn't exactly bedtime reading. "Some assistance would be useful. How are we supposed to cover the back as well?"
Fortunately for us, it looked like being an academic one as the face appeared at the downstairs front window. Simultaneously we flicked open our doors and slid from the car into the shadows, catching sight of a flash of torchlight in the front doorway, swiftly extinguished as the door was pulled fully open.
Footsteps crackled on the broken tiling of the front path; slow, cautious footsteps. On the other side of the gateway I could see Ray had made his way into the dark shelter of the hedge; I was slightly less well hidden in front of the neighbouring wall. Still, Mackinson wasn't expecting us - at least, I hoped not.
Hardly breathing, my senses were all focused on the second that the man would touch the gate, pull it open...
A slight, almost imperceptible clink as his hand grasped the gate. A screech as the rusty hinges were forced into action, then he was out of the gateway, turning away from me, towards Ray...
...who rose like a wraith; a shadowy shape suddenly taking solid form. He scared the shit out of Mackinson, who fell back practically into my arms, yelling in shock.
It took only a few seconds - and my Browning - to convince Mackinson to give himself up without a fight.
I grinned at Ray as we bundled Mackinson into the car. "What the heck were you doing, appearing like Macbeth's ghost? Nearly scared me, let alone him..."
"It was Banquo's ghost, not Macbeth's," he corrected me. "And if I'd stayed where I was Mackinson would have fallen over me. I didn't have a lot of choice."
"Well, the ghost haunted Macbeth." I knew as much Shakespeare as Ray. "That makes him Macbeth's ghost in my book."
"If you say so. I'm too tired to argue." Ray slid into the driver's seat and started the Capri. "Let's get back and hand him over to CI5's answer to Macduff. Then we can both go home and get some sleep."
"How did she take it?"
Ray had called me for a pick-up from the pub near Denise's office; he was waiting outside and there was no sign of Denise.
"How do you think? Although - in a way, I think she was relieved."
"Did she ask why?"
Which could mean she'd guessed Ray knew more about her than he was letting on. Few girls - in my not inconsiderable experience, anyway - let you end a relationship without at least asking why. And fewer still like the answer - it's much easier just to stop calling them.
"Anyway, it's over. I just hope we don't get sent after Slater again next week."
"No reason we should. Cowley's still got his sights on Mackinson's gang." Right on cue, the R/T gave its usual imperative signal, and Ray answered it to a summons from headquarters. I glanced in the mirror as I pulled away; that was Denise who'd just come out of the pub, and surely she was with someone...?
Ray's car wasn't in its usual place, I noticed, as I headed inside. It was unusual, but maybe he was late for a change.
He still hadn't appeared by the time Cowley started the debrief; a fact which I knew hadn't escaped our boss' attention, but of which no mention was made until the session broke up.
"Don't know, sir. Maybe he slept through his alarm?" That wasn't impossible - we'd spent nearly forty-eight hours on duty rounding up Mackinson's gang. I had managed eight hours straight and was still half-asleep myself.
Betty popped up by our side. "There's no answer from 4.5's phone, sir. I've tried several times."
I needed no prompting. Ray could be so knackered he hadn't heard the alarm and phone, but...
The gold Capri stood at the kerb and I bypassed it, heading straight up to Ray's flat. I tried the buzzer once, but without any hope, already fishing out the keys.
The door was shut, but only the cylinder lock was engaged. I searched swiftly but the flat was empty, and I paused to consider the evidence. The bed had been slept in, yesterday's clothes discarded. Used coffee mug in the kitchen - which was fresh, Ray hadn't been home for two days and what remained would have dried up if it was that old - and a plate with toast crumbs.
So, Ray had been OK up until this morning. He'd got up and had breakfast - and then disappeared? The flat wasn't particularly tidy, but there wasn't any obvious sign of a struggle. Except -
I took a closer look at the doorframe. Those were fresh scuff marks on the skirting board, and as I crouched down I spotted Ray's keys half-hidden by a chair leg. It didn't look like he'd gone willingly...
I snapped upright as someone knocked on the door; drawing my gun and wrenching the door open in one movement.
It was Denise.
She was as surprised as I was, and for good reason - she expected Ray; and got me and a gun.
"Bodie? What's going on? Where's Ray?"
I drew her into the flat, only holstering my gun once the door was closed behind her. "That's a good question."
"I don't understand. Isn't he here? I spoke to him last night, he said I could come over and collect some records I left."
"Ray was expecting you?" He'd have been cutting it fine, to have made it in for the briefing and back in time.
"Well, yes - but I'm early. I said I'd wait until he got here, but I saw his car was downstairs so thought he must be back. Has something happened to him?"
Something had; that was certain. It could be a result of any one of a number of cases, maybe barring Mackinson's gang, that was too soon. I ran my mind over recent cases; we'd handled everything together other than Carson, and I'd been involved with that, not Ray. Unless it was something he'd stumbled over while I was undercover with Carson...
I focused on Denise, not liking where my thoughts were going. If it wasn't work-related, did it have something to do with Denise's family?
"Did you arrange to come round just so you could be sure he'd be here?"
"What do you mean?" Her bewilderment sounded genuine. "Of course I did - I just told you, I left some records here." She pointed to several LPs set aside by the phone. "Those ones - Ray's got them out ready for me."
That looked genuine as well, but... "Denise, we know about your stepfather."
"I thought you did; I guessed that was why Ray broke up with me." She shrugged, apparently undismayed by the revelation, and continued defiantly. "What do you expect me to say? I know what they do. I'm not proud of it. But they're my family, and whatever they are I can't - and won't - disown them."
It might be misplaced, but I could admire her loyalty. "Did they know about Ray?"
"They know I've been seeing someone." Her brow crinkled as she tried to make the connection. "Are you saying Ray not being here has something to do with my family? Why should it?"
"You tell me." I could be completely wrong - but my instinct didn't think so. "They don't know what Ray does for a living?"
"Of course not. I'm not stupid, Bodie."
Neither of us were. The repercussions of the Slaters finding out who Ray was were already obvious to me; and I saw Denise pale slightly. "It can't be anything to do with my family. They don't know who I've been seeing, his name or anything."
"Who were you with, just after you saw Ray the other day? I saw you leave the pub with someone."
"Chris, my brother. He came to meet me."
Came to meet her, or was he already there because he'd been following Ray? "Did you tell him Ray'd just broken up with you?"
I could see from her expression that she had. "Just how protective of you is he?"
"Too protective." I saw a fleeting, painful, memory in her eyes, and Denise went to the phone, lifting the receiver and dialling a number. "It wouldn't be the first time he's thrown his weight about... There's no answer."
From what I could remember of the case files, Slater had two sons. "What about your other brother?"
"Matt shares the flat with Chris." She hung up. "I can take you there."
I doubted they'd have Ray there. Even if Ray were just the nobody they believed him to be, you didn't beat up someone in your living room. No, they'd take him somewhere only they knew about - somewhere Denise wouldn't know.
But her father might.
I wrenched the handbrake on in the large drive outside Slater's house. Denise was beside me; I'd have preferred to leave her behind but I hadn't had the time to argue.
It hadn't taken much for me to convince her that I needed to find Ray fast. She knew what her brothers were capable of; I couldn't be sure that they wouldn't issue the same treatment as the Manleys got. Worse still was the knowledge that Ray had to have been carrying his gun and ID. If they didn't know who Ray was when they grabbed him, they would by now.
A top-of-the-range Jaguar stood gleaming in front of the property which seemed to indicate Slater was home. Denise produced a key and let herself in, hurrying along the plush hallway to a door at the far end. I followed, not waiting for an invitation. I had no idea if Slater would recognise me, but was prepared to pull my gun if he did.
"Denise!" My sudden presence interrupted his welcome for her. "Who's this?"
Denise ignored his question. "Daddy, we need to find Chris and Matt before they do something stupid."
"And just what do you think they're doing?" He spoke calmly, but warily - and I could see on his face that he knew exactly what was going on.
Stepping forward, I drew his attention. "They're about to make a very big mistake."
"They're just taking care of some business. Family business." His focus was fully on me now; unsure of how dangerous I was. If anything happened to Ray, he'd find out.
"You'd better stop them. I want my partner back here, unharmed."
His eyes narrowed. "No one messes about with my daughter. It took her ages to get over him last time. He's going to learn not to play about with her feelings."
From Slater's comment, it seemed I'd been right about the depth of Denise's feelings for Ray, and that she hadn't successfully hidden them from her family either.
"I'm old enough to fight my own battles!" We both turned at Denise's annoyed cry. "I never wanted any of you to interfere. And for your information, I dumped Ray last time!"
"That doesn't matter." Slater was obviously used to dismissing her opinions. Her fierce independence made some sense; if he had always tried to run her life. "You can't tell me you weren't upset the other day."
"Of course I was! But I don't want this..."
Slater had turned away from me, retreating to his desk. "The boys won't hurt him, much. You'll get him back."
"Your boys won't hurt him at all, Slater. Because you're going to call them, or find them, and stop them. And you're going to do it quickly unless you want to be an accessory to murder."
I ignored Denise's attempt to interrupt, holding out my ID. "Ray and I work for CI5, Slater. If he doesn't walk away from this mess, you'll be going down for a long time."
He stared incredulously at me, then Denise. "You went out with a copper? How stupid can you get?!"
"That's why I dumped him! I couldn't risk you all -"
"Then you took up with him again. Christ!"
"You should leave the recriminations for later, Slater. What are your boys going to do when they find his ID?"
"They'll phone me."
Denise cut in sharply. "Ray went missing ages ago, and they haven't phoned you yet."
Slater was running through the choices in his mind; I could almost see the wheels turning. "You'll go down as well. I'll make damned sure of that."
"And so will I."
Slater practically yelped in surprise. "Denise! What the -"
"I mean it. I can't stand by and watch Ray get hurt, or... If you don't stop them, I'll be a witness against you."
It was a brave statement, and I wondered even then if she'd go through with it. I prayed she wouldn't have to.
But it got the right reaction; backed into a corner, Slater headed for the door. "Come on, then."
I was close behind. "We'll take my car."
Following Slater's directions I pushed the car as hard as I could along the busy streets, but nearly twenty minutes passed before we arrived at the small lock-up.
Denise scrambled from the Capri after us.
"Stay there!" We said it simultaneously, and with no doubt entirely different motives, but the end result was the same. Neither of us wanted Denise to be hurt.
I followed him into the apparently deserted building. "How do you know they're here?"
He grunted. "This is where I told them to bring him. They'll be up back."
We heard them before we could see them; soggy sounds of punches landing punctuated with groans, and Slater increased his pace, barging into the rear room without caution.
"Dad! What're you doing here?"
Ray was down on the ground at the back. He was crouching and clutching at his ribs but was moving, and in view of the fact that Matt Slater was standing to one side holding a pistol, I wasn't inclined to put myself in the firing line. I settled for making sure I could reach my gun easily.
Slater answered Chris' question impatiently. "Coming to clear up the mess you're making, you idiots! Why didn't you call me?"
"He's a plant, Dad. We found this ID on him; figured he'd been coming onto Denise to get in with us."
That possibility seemed to have passed Slater by and he turned suspiciously to me.
I responded calmly. "If we wanted to do that, we'd hardly have admitted our jobs to Denise - she knew months ago."
Ray lifted his head at the sound of my voice. "Bodie?"
I made my way towards him, before he could try and get to me. Close up, I could see he'd taken a hiding, but judging from Chris and Matt he'd got in some blows of his own as well.
"Cavalry's here, sunshine."
He rubbed at various bruises. "Wish you'd stop sending the horses in first..."
I chuckled. He was still able to joke; things weren't that desperate. Except, I realised as I turned back, the Slaters had fallen silent, and maybe things were that desperate...
I hadn't even considered calling in for back-up. One of these days I'd learn to follow procedure. I supposed I could always appeal to their sense of humanity - if they had one.
Chris and Matt were looking to Slater for instructions or guidance; his hand was hovering over his jacket in a way I was all too familiar with.
I straightened up and let my hand hover as well. I could see the wheels turning in Slater's head again. He was trying to work out whether he'd land himself in more or less trouble by letting us leave, and I tried some encouragement. "So, Ray and I will just leave you to explain the misunderstanding."
Hooking my hand under Ray's arm I hauled him upright, ignoring the gasp he gave. A few twinges from his ribs would be the least of his worries if I didn't get us both out of there.
Slater pulled his gun, and Matt brought his up to bear on us. "Just stay there."
Nobody moved for about thirty seconds, but we couldn't stand there all night. I took a step forward.
No one shot me, so I risked another one, pulling Ray forward as well. "We're going to walk out of here, Slater. Unless you're intending to stop us."
I wasn't certain I'd get away with it, but there wasn't much of a choice. We walked, or we fought - and at that moment I'd not give much for our chances. I could see Chris and Matt's confusion and hoped that Slater's indecision would last long enough to let us get out of the room.
Another step closer to the door. "Hold it."
We stopped, and I tensed my hand ready to go for my gun; mind already planning how I'd push Ray to one side, where I'd shoot first...
Denise appeared in the doorway. I might have known she'd follow us in.
Ray was the first one to react. "When are you going to learn to stay out of trouble?"
She stalked into the room to stand between her family and us. "I wouldn't have any trouble if I learnt to stay away from all of you!"
Ray laughed, wincing as his lip split. "Got a point..."
Slater made a move towards her, but was halted by Denise's expression. "I meant what I said, Dad. You hurt them and I'll be a witness for the prosecution."
I hustled Ray towards the door while they were all struck motionless by Denise's cold statement, and kept a wary eye on our backs as we made our way out to the car.
Ray collapsed into the passenger seat as Denise hurried out of the lock-up after us. He managed a grin for her, as she knelt beside the open door. "I'm OK."
As okay as you could get, for someone who'd been beaten up. I squeezed Denise's shoulder as she turned a concerned face to me. "He will be. I'll get him checked out."
"I'll come with you."
I looked over to the doorway. Guns now out of sight the Slaters looked less menacing, but I didn't think it was wise to attempt to leave with Denise. "I don't think so. You have some things to sort out."
She straightened up. "I suppose."
It was only fair to warn her. "Sooner or later, we'll be coming after them again. It'll be easier for all of us if you're out of the way."
She nodded in understanding. "Maybe I'll really move to Manchester."
I slid into the driver's seat. "Stay in touch, this time."
"Either you let the Doc check you out or I take you to Casualty." Ray was, as usual, being difficult. "With those bruises you're not going to hide it from the Cow, so you have to be able to prove you're OK."
"All right." He gave in, grudgingly. "It is only bruises, so I'll see the Doc. But we have to have a story for Cowley. I can hardly tell him the truth."
"Not if you value your life, no. Make it a partial truth. We'll tell him you found out the hard way that the latest girlfriend was married."
"We will not! He won't believe that."
"He did when I used it."
"That's because it was true," Ray reminded me with a grin, wincing. "What about telling him I rescued an old woman from some muggers?"
"If you like. Whatever you tell him, I'll back you up."
"That's settled then." Ray leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes.
It was as good a story as any, and it didn't matter much what we told the Cow; I think he disbelieved it all on principle.
What did worry me was the fact that we might have to confess anyway, at some point. Slater was still out there, still on Cowley's hitlist. If Cowley ever decided to send us undercover we'd have a problem.
Time enough to worry if or when that happened; for now we could put it behind us.
I wondered if Denise would find it as easy?