The tale of Frans break-in can be found in Team Trials, in the chapter called Wilful Damage, but you don't really need to read that first if you don't want to.
Bateman, his name was. I remembered him; he had been part of the investigation into my break-in. He looked like a cartoon character, the country cousin; I didn’t make the mistake of underestimating him. There were brains inside that bald head. And he had brought another policeman – Detective Inspector Maitland, plain clothes – to see me. Nothing to do with the break-in; that was a long time ago. No, apparently what they wanted was an expert opinion. Oh yes? I thought. The police have their own photographers. So I waited to hear what was coming.
“Sergeant Bateman tells me that you visit some of the clubs locally.” Sit still, Fran, look interested and wait. He can’t possibly mean. . . He produced an armful of prints, mostly, from the look of them, off a closed circuit security camera. Obviously he did mean.
“Do you know any of these people?”
“No.” Without looking.
He smiled, acknowledged his mistake. “Miss Milton, we know that you are FeLine the photographer. We also know that you participate in. . . I don’t know the right words for this. You occasionally attend some of these clubs. What you’re doing is legal and these days it’s not that far from mainstream. The clubs themselves don’t interest us; they’re privately owned and run, members only, fully licensed and the rest. There has been no suggestion of anything amiss at the clubs, per se. However, you may have seen in the papers that there was a major drugs operation about fifteen months ago between Manchester and Birmingham. We have now received information that some of the people we didn’t get have started up again in this area, and using these clubs. The club owners have been co-operative and several of them provided these pictures, and film. Sergeant Bateman recognised you and suggested that you might be able to help us with background information. I won’t deny that we’ve been through your records; we can’t find anything worse than a parking ticket.”
I looked at him, coldly. “As you said, these are private clubs. I don’t know much about the other members and I wouldn’t feel inclined to talk about them if I did. Drugs – I’ll grant you that’s serious and I’ll help put a stop to it if I can but I won’t talk about club members without you giving me cause.”
“I don’t want you to. Look, these pictures are from a night about a month ago. We know – we know – that there was something going on that night, and we had people in but we couldn’t lay hand on anything, and my Superintendent wants to know why not.”
The sergeant, who had been wandering round the office examining the prints I had on the wall, asked, placidly, and as if it had nothing to do with the previous conversation, “Did you think any more about the big men I mentioned when I called on you about your break-in? You never came back to me with any names.”
“Sergeant, I’m a photographer. I’ve done calendar photos for three football clubs, the rugby club, the cricket club, the rowing club and I don’t know what else. I did the wedding photographs for your own Constable Oliver. If you want lists of big men I can give you them, but I can’t help with that.”
Honour was approximately even. He knew that I had lied about the aftermath of the break-in, I knew that the price of him not pushing it was to look at his damn prints. I spread them out on the table, and looked. I know how to look and how to interpret: images are my business. Bateman came and sat down beside me, and he and Maitland waited. Policemen seem to be patient men. They sat, and said nothing, and waited. Presently I picked out three of the prints. “Your people are him, him, those two, and her.”
“We were that obvious, were we?”
“Yes. Wrong clothes. Wrong accessories, wrong attitude, physical, I mean, I don’t know how they were in their heads. All the serious players in the clubs would have known that they weren’t players. Might not have known what they were, but we would have known what they weren’t. So they wouldn’t have vanished into the crowd, and I would guess that a dealer would know how to pick out the people who don’t belong, even if he weren’t a player himself. I don’t think you could manage to go undercover in a club of this sort just by getting the owner to let you in.”
“We need to take part.”
“At least to look as if you might. You would get by looking like a tyro if you seemed keen enough.”
“What’s wrong with the clothes?”
“It isn’t so much the clothes as the way you wear them. Look, she’s dressed about right to bottom, but she stands like a Top. She’s giving off the wrong signals even in a still image. Those two together belong in a completely different type of club. So my guess is that if you didn’t see anything, it’s because you were seen.”
He swore softly. “A major op gone belly up, because we didn’t understand the rules. Look, Miss Milton, we’ve got another tip-off, for a club called Saintfields. Do you know it?”
“So, could you. . . could you go through with some of our people what they need to do to be inconspicuous?”
I thought about it. “Your best way would be to get three or four players onside – I think if you’re talking hard drugs it wouldn’t be too difficult to persuade some of the older members to help – and go with them. Pair up. Your people would pass as novices if they went with someone experienced.”
“No. We would have to do vast numbers of security checks and there isn’t time. “
“Then I don’t see how you can do it. I’ll try, if that’s what you want, but there’s too much you need to know, and there’s a lot of attitude stuff. . . I know how to do it, but I don’t know how I know.”
“Could you take somebody? Even just one? Is Saintfields big? You wouldn’t have to do anything except act as cover. We aren’t looking to bust people, just to watch, so you wouldn’t have anything to explain later.”
“No, it’s a small club. I don’t go there very often, but I’m known. I could take one of the men: I don’t play with women and it would be too obvious if I turned up with one. But I’m a Top, not a Switch. I don’t switch, and on the rare occasions that I go to the clubs, I play. So whoever went with me would have to be prepared at least to look as if he wanted to be there.” I felt Sergeant Bateman shift uneasily beside me, and the Inspector was obviously aware of it too.
“Sergeant, take the car back to the station. I’ll call for somebody to pick me up when I’m ready.”
When he was gone, Maitland turned back to me. “All right. Say you had one willing copper to take into the club. What would I need to know?”
“I’ve done it before.”
“What, the clubs?”
He made a face as if I weren’t as bright as he had been expecting. “Undercover work. I don’t actually belong to the police here, I’m from another force. I’ve been drafted in because I was part of the operation last year and because I’ve done undercover work before. People don’t notice me, and can’t describe me. It’s a useful characteristic in a policeman.”
I looked at him, hard. “Yes, I see. Hair: brown. Eyes: brown. Height: average. Weight: average.”
“You’ve got it. Distinguishing characteristics: none. I’m neither good-looking nor ugly, so I don’t stand out. So I’ll go and observe in Saintfields, if you’ll hold my hand and stop me being conspicuous. And you’re in charge.”
I snorted with laughter. “You don’t know how true that is. I told you: I top. Exclusively. Can you bottom?”
“I don’t know. I presume Tops and Bottoms are what I used to know as Doms and Subs?”
“Well, you know the words at least.”
“I did twelve months in Vice in London. It was a real education. I think I could bottom, at least for show. How far would I have to go?”
“Not very. Like I said, I do play but only the early stages. When it gets serious I tend to go home with whoever. The clubs are something I prefer to do with my current partner.”
“Ah. A complication. Is there a current partner?”
“No. What about you? Are you hetero, for a start?”
“Yes. And there’s no partner, I’m divorced. There was a magazine piece about you and that South African rugby player – he’s not likely to turn up making trouble, is he?”
“Pieter de Vries and I are good friends but we are not in a relationship.”
“Well, then, if I treat it like any other piece of undercover work and then you tell me what I need to know? Normally I would start by deciding who I was, if I couldn’t be Nick Maitland. And I think I would rather not be Nick Maitland. I don‘t think Nick Maitland goes to that sort of club.”
I smiled. “He’s in good company then. You’ll find that a lot of the people in the clubs have more than one name. A work persona and a play persona, if you like. It’s probably a good idea if you choose a name you’ve used before, or something close to your own, so that if I call you by it there’s a reasonable chance of you answering me. I do that myself: Fran Milton is the photographer, but the full-on Top is Frances. Or Miss Frances. Does Nicholas Maitland go to clubs?”
“Actually, it isn’t Nicholas, it’s Dominic. Dominic Maitland. Dominic might go to clubs. Do I need to admit to Maitland?”
“No, you can go in as my guest and they won’t ask you for ID because you’re obviously over age. You’ll have to sign in, but a capital letter and a scrawl will do. Dominic. Dom the Sub. Yes, well, it can’t be helped. O.K., what do you know about this sort of thing?”
“Almost nothing. Well, nothing except the sort of stories that turn up in the papers. Crash course: what do I need to know?”
“You need to know the vocabulary, mostly. Look, let’s boot up the computer. I’ll give you a couple of websites and you can go and look. Take pen and paper. Write down anything that squicks you completely. Even if we aren’t going to walk the walk, we’ll have to talk the talk, and it’ll be easier if I don’t say anything to make you go ‘Ew, yuck.’ Make a note of anything you don’t understand, and ask me. I have absolutely got to do some paperwork, but we’ll talk about it when you’ve got some idea of how it works. Remember, you’ve got to get your head round the idea that whatever I tell you to do, you do. No argument, no stopping to think about it.”
“Actually, that’s probably less of a problem than you might imagine. I mean, O.K., I can tell Sergeant Bateman what to do and expect him to do it, but there are people ranked above me who tell me what I’ve got to do. So if I sort of slot you in at Chief Superintendent level, with several years’ seniority. . .”
“Are you calling me old?”
“Certainly not. I know how old you are, you’re two years younger than me. But Miss Frances has experience, and I know how that works in the police. So you’ve got two crowns on your shoulder and that works in my head.”
I nodded. Well, that’s how the scene goes, isn’t it? You make it work in your head. Two hours later, he had a list of questions for me, and a comprehensive blush when I gave him some of the answers. There were several places where he said flatly that he couldn’t ever comprehend wanting to do that, so if I could manage not under any circumstances even to threaten it, he would be obliged. “Miss Milton – “
“No. Fran will do here, and Miss Frances when we go out.”
“Nick, then. Fran, how does this work when you do it for real? I mean, how do you manage as a couple to sort out what you will and won’t do? Presumably you have things you won’t do, too?”
“Of course. You talk. You talk in advance about what you’ll do, or you have some means of putting a stop to what you’re doing if you find you don’t like it, or you say: O.K., tonight we’ll go this far and if it doesn’t work we’ll try something else. It’s got to be a relationship of absolute trust. I don’t do anything with blades. I won’t asphyxiate. I don’t do electrical, or cigarettes or anything to do with what is delicately called watersports. I’m not terrifically keen on clamps, although I have used them. I’ll do bondage for a partner who wants it, but I can take or leave it myself. I’ll do handcuffs willingly enough, and spreaders, but to tease, not to hurt. I don’t like serious gags but I’ll twist a scarf into a partner’s mouth if it seems right. I don’t play without a safe word. I don’t break the skin, that’s for the heavyweight players or for incompetent Tops. I won’t do age-play. I know a lot of people like it but it makes my skin crawl. That’s what I don’t do.”
“And what you do? I’m sorry, it’s an impertinent question, but if I’m to appear as if I’m willingly in your company I need to know what I’m supposed to be there for.”
“I spank. And all the associated stuff.”
“Strap. Cane. Riding crop. Flogger. I’ve been taught how to use a bull whip and I have a good eye but it’s rare for me to find anyone willing who doesn’t also want the other stuff that I don’t do.”
Now he was uncomfortable. Tough. He had approached me and he was a copper, for pity’s sake! He must have heard of this sort of thing before.
“What else do I need to know? Oh, you said clothes?”
“Not for Saintfields. You picked the wrong club before – that was Poison, wasn’t it? I thought so. Poison has a fairly tight dress code and a lot of the people who go there are more interested in the image than the activity. Saintfields is looser. You’ll see a fair number of folk who do the dress thing, but most look like vanilla breeders with a twist.”
“And a vanilla breeder is?”
“You are. Go for jeans, black if you’ve got them, and a button up shirt. I like buttons, and that’s something else that’s known. Plain white and the newer and heavier the better. Boots, lace up. Can you do that?”
“If I take the insignia off my uniform shirt?”
“Perfect. And then if we collar you, and perhaps wrist bands, that will be enough.”
“What sort of collar?”
“Standard black dog collar, with or without studs. I’ve got one somewhere, and a plaited short leash. I’m careful with equipment, but if you don’t want to wear something that someone else has worn, you can bring me another one.”
“I – yes, I think I’d rather do that. Just an ordinary dog collar?”
“Tie something loosely round your neck and measure it. It wants to be fairly slack, or you’ll be uncomfortable. Then go to a DIY store and find those leather wrist protectors that glaziers use, and get a couple of anodised D rings, small ones.”
“Because then I can link your wrists behind your back.”
“Oh. Yes, sorry, that’s obvious.”
“And, look, you’ll have to accustom yourself to the idea that I’m going to touch you.”
“Yes. In that club, you belong to me. So there is no part of you that I can’t touch, and touch in public.”
I do so love watching a man blush. I like to do the head games just to make that sweep of colour run from the throat to the hairline. Nice throat he had, too. He had said he was unremarkable looking, and in some ways so he was, but there was certainly nothing wrong. He had a slender throat and good shoulders. And a lovely rear.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to feel you up, but I’m quite likely to squeeze your bum, or stroke your chest.”
“That should improve my standing with the uniformed division,” he said, courageously.
“I just don’t want you to squeal in outrage and dot me one in the eye. It won’t convince anybody that we’re together. But I’ll put you about as a beginner, so it won’t matter if you jump and squeak a bit.”
He made a faint, non-committal noise.
“And – when are we doing this? Saturday? I think it might be a good idea if you came here on Friday and we had a dress rehearsal. Just an hour or so. So that you’ve actually tried doing things like kneeling down and standing up with your hands behind your back. You can make yourself look a complete prat if you fall over. And if you’ve never done anything like this you may find that things which seemed all right when you read them give you the screaming yips when you actually have to do them.”
“Ah – yes. Would eight o’clock suit you? I have to show my face at my own desk on Friday, which is as far again the opposite side of where I live, so that would give me time to go home and change and eat.”
“Sure. Later if you like. How long will it take you to get home from here?”
“Three-quarters of an hour, now that they’ve opened the bypass. Maybe a little longer.”
If any more blood left my brain for my groin, I was going to faint. Why had I agreed to do this? Why in hell’s name had I volunteered for it?
Be honest, Nick, it was a combination of cowardice and lust. Cowardice in that when they asked for volunteers and Dennison suggested me, I didn’t have the nerve to refuse, in case somebody worked out why. It was quite true, I did almost all the undercover work, because you wouldn’t turn your head to look at me in the street. Mr Ordinary, that’s me. And lust because the minute they mentioned that sort of club my dick took over the driving from my brain.
Oh yes, I’m experienced at undercover work. I’m experienced at deception. I was deceiving Fran Milton, and I got the distinct impression that not many people did that. When she showed me the websites and I blushed and stammered, it wasn’t outraged innocence. No, it was knowledge. These sites I had seen before, at home, on my own computer. I knew the vocabulary.
The vocabulary was all I knew. I had never done anything like that. I wanted to: as long as I could remember, I wanted to. When I was married, I hinted a little, but Kate was of the ‘what sort of normal person would ever want to do that’ persuasion. Vanilla breeder to the core. And in the end that was what did for the marriage: no, not the kink, I never told her about that, but the breeding thing. Kate wanted children; I didn’t care one way or the other, but Kate wanted children with a man who was occasionally there. The police force is bad for that, specially once you move to plain clothes. The hours are unpredictable, and the detective who goes home is frequently angry and depressed and frustrated. In the end there were too many broken promises, too many times I was definitely going to be home for dinner, for the theatre, for the party, for Kate, too many phone calls of ‘sorry, darling, there’s a case come up’. She didn’t have the essentially solitary nature which could put up with that. She was married again within a year of the divorce, pregnant six months after that. She’s happy. I’m happy for her.
After the marriage I wondered about – what do they call it? Exploring my sexuality. I hadn’t the nerve. I told myself it was common sense, a policeman is best blackmail material, but it wasn’t. When Inspector Gillan came out, announced that he had been living for years with another man, he thanked me one night for my support. Said I had helped, just by being his friend and not changing the way I talked to him. Said it was good for him to know all the way through that at least one other copper didn’t despise him. Despise him! I envied him. I envied him the courage to say: this is the deal, this is what I am, get over it.
So when Frances Milton talked the talk, I gave thanks for loose fitting trousers, and kept my face schooled to a stony impassivity and nodded occasionally. Hell, I knew who she was. I’ve got three or four magazines under my bed with her work in them. I was vaguely surprised when we checked her out to find that she’s known for her photos of gay couples too, although I suppose there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be. And oh, God, the very idea of a rehearsal with her, of going through the motions just with her. . . I wasn’t at all sure I was fit to drive home – but a senior police officer can’t stop to jack off in a lay-by, so I was just going to have to think about mental arithmetic or the police regulations or something for the next fifty miles.
I know about having another persona to go places. I have three or four I use for work, but I’ve never had any difficulty keeping them separate from Nick Maitland. Dominic might be another matter completely. I went back on Friday night with Dominic locked in a box. I would answer to his name – my name – but Dominic wasn’t coming out to participate. This was Nick who didn’t go to these places or do these things. It was Nick who put on the collar, who joked with Fran about the expense claim he had submitted for one dog collar and lead, large, one pair protective wrist cuffs and one packet metal links. It was Nick who walked obediently to heel, learned to kneel neatly, back straight and head lowered, hands behind his back or linked behind his head. Nick who submitted to having Fran cup her hand around his cheek, trail a finger down his chest, squeeze his backside. Nick is an undercover cop and he’ll do what he needs to for a lead into a drugs bust.
Dominic was screaming blue murder to be allowed to come out and play.
Nick drove soberly home running over in his head the useful acting skills he had learned for the next night’s observation exercise. Nick drank some coffee, ate an apple, went upstairs to have a shower before bed. Dominic broke out with a roar and stood under the pounding water imagining Frances Milton doubling the dog lead in her hand, and saying: bend over. Dominic had come twice before Nick managed to get back in charge and turn the shower off.
I just knew this was going to be a bad idea.
I just knew this was going to be a bad idea.
I liked Nick. I rather thought I liked Dominic too, although I had the impression that Nick had collared and restrained him a great deal more tightly than I ever would. I wasn’t very sure whether or not Nick liked me, but I suspected that Dominic did. The problem might be that Nick didn’t like Dominic. The man was definitely interested – curious, as the current term is, but it seemed to me that everything was buttoned down so tightly that the curiosity wouldn’t be expressed. Well, he was a policeman after all. Prime blackmail material. Hands off, Fran. If he wanted to play, he was an adult, he could ask. And it was perfectly likely that once he got to a club, he would find he didn’t like it at all. I’ve met that before: the novice who’s all keen until he actually tries and then finds he doesn’t care for it in the flesh. On the flesh. It’s rather sad, actually, because one always suspects that the fantasy will be permanently spoiled by having tried.
He came to pick me up in good time on Saturday. “Do you mind if we go to the station first? The Superintendent wants to run over final instructions. Actually, I think she wants to see you too, to make sure you aren’t going to do anything to deprive her of an acting officer.”
“I’ll promise to bring you home by two and in the state in which I took you out.”
He grinned at me. “That should do. She’ll probably ask if I have a clean handkerchief and enough money for a taxi in case you aren’t a proper lady and don’t bring me home.”
“Given that you’re driving,” I said dryly, “she should ask me the same. I said we could go on the bike.”
He shuddered. “Those things scare me. Are we ready?”
“Have you got your collar? Please note that I am not asking you to put it on now, in case it scares your boss.”
“In the car. Let’s go, before I lose my nerve.”
I was duly inspected by the Superintendent, who seemed to think me weird but harmless. Then she dragged Nick away for final instructions, leaving me in the main office with Sergeant Bateman and two other uniformed plods, one of whom was looking at me as if I were something from the zoo. In the end I stared back. Gave him the Look. He flinched a little, and turned to his colleague, saying, just loudly enough for it to be obvious that he wanted me to hear, “Can’t imagine why anybody would want to do that sort of thing, specially not with a woman bossing. S’not normal. Why would you want somebody telling you what to do and call it fun?”
Well, you know I’m not reliable in a crisis. I did the Walk. The very slow one, all hips and threat. I’d dressed to match Dominic, black and white, but my black was leather trousers and my white was a heavy silk shirt, and my heels were very high. If I didn’t have to ride the bike, I could wear the shoes. And the lipstick. Can’t do lipstick on the bike, it comes off inside the visor and then smears up my face when I pull the helmet off. In somebody else’s car I can wear lipstick the colour of old sins. I leaned over his desk, hands braced across him, and waited for a moment until he got me into focus.
“Don’t you ever wonder,” I purred at him, “what it would be like just to give in? Not to be responsible? Don’t you ever think: I wish I didn’t have to make all the decisions? At the end of a bad week, when the inspector has been in a bad temper and has passed it on to the sergeant and the sergeant has passed it on to you, when everybody has wanted you to do something, read something, be original, show initiative, do this, finish that, and all by yesterday, and with no clues as to how to do it, don’t you ever wish that somebody would take it all away, give you one clear instruction and not ask you to think about it?”
He swallowed, and opened his mouth, but Nick’s voice came, lazily from behind me.
“Nah, if that was what we wanted, we’d have gone into the army.” He came across the room, swinging his car keys. “Let’s go. Oh, and constable?” He gestured at me, hand at eye level. “The lady is up here. Not” and the hand dropped level with my breasts “down there. Talk to the bridge.”
We went to the car. “Nice line,” I complimented him. “You want to be Top, huh?”
He shot me a sideways glance. “You’re not annoyed, then. It wasn’t just you, he does it to the Super too, and it really ticks her off. I don’t think he even knows he’s doing it. I was sort of hoping that if I drew his attention to it now, he might stop doing it to the boss and his career might last a little longer.”
He grinned. “Bottom. I’m trying to remember. Dominic is a Bottom.”
The club car park was fuller than I had expected and we had to park in the street. “Put on your collar and cuffs.”
Headspace time. “Here, Dominic. Now. And don’t argue or you can go in there with your hands linked behind your head.”
I had to help: he couldn’t get the collar to fasten properly. “Now, put the lead on. Presumably you’ll want to have a good look round, so we’ll work the floor for a bit. If you see something and want a better look, tug the lead, gently. Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to. Do not, under any circumstances, call me Fran. Miss Frances, or ma’am. Ready?”
He was quivering: I didn’t know if it was nerves, or Dominic getting away from Nick, or bloodhound police enthusiasm or a combination of them all. He nodded.
The place was heaving. I had never seen it so full, and with people I hardly knew. There were a few unfamiliar faces, but not many. I see faces, remember. I recognise people again. Images are my stock-in-trade, and I’m like a royal aide for remembering where I saw you before. We circled the floor twice, and then I found a stool. Just one, but that didn’t matter. I gave a little tug on Dominic’s lead and he dropped obediently to the floor. I leaned over him, smoothed the hair away from his ear – he startled a little as I touched him, but he hid it – and put my mouth close. “There are far too many people here. It shouldn’t be like this unless there’s something special going on; some of these people belong at Poison or Cobra, so I think you may take it that your tip-off is right. Where do you want to go next?”
I turned fully to him, smiling, with my fingers under his chin: the image of an indulgent Top offering a Bottom a treat. He played it back to me, head lowered, eyes looking up, begging. “To the bar, please. I think I’ve seen a familiar face.”
I unclipped the lead and doubled it into my hand. His eyes widened and there was a flash of something, too fast for me to catch it. “Go and get me a drink, then. Dry ginger with a splash of lime. Bring it here and then I’ll allow you to get yourself one so you can have two trips to the bar and work the length of the room twice.”
“Want to apply for Special Branch? You’ve got the touch for this.”
He came back from the bar looking shaken, and knelt at my feet again.
“All right? What happened?”
“Nothing except that I haven’t had so many people groping my bum since I went undercover in a gay bar in Soho. And some guy heard what I was buying and said: oh, you’re Miss Frances’s choice, aren’t you the lucky bunny?”
“Who? What did he look like?”
“He said to tell you, October said hello. Does that make sense?”
“Is he here? I haven’t seen him for ages. I brought him here first.”
“You did? But he’s. . . um. . . he must be. . . shall I stop digging?”
“Would be a good idea, yes. He is fourteen years younger than me. I topped him for about six months. He likes older women. Go and get yourself a drink.”
By the time he came back a second time, there were some people who had come to talk to me. Dominic checked on the edge of the group, and hesitated, looking at me. I held out my hand.
He came, and dropped neatly to his knees, holding his glass rather awkwardly. I took it from him, and held it up to him; for a novice he managed quite well. Then he shot a quick glance round the group, and lowered his eyes again. Mal grinned. “A beginner, Frances?”
“You know I love a novice. And he’s doing very well, aren’t you, pet?”
“Until that. Up. Turn round.” I dealt a smart spank on each cheek with the doubled dog lead, more sound than fury. He yelped obligingly, and knelt again. “What do you call me?”
“Next time you forget you’ll go over my knee, understand me?”
I deliberately looked away. I hadn’t hurt him, but too many people were looking at him. Time to move the conversation on. We talked of nothing, the way you do, and presently, I rose, crooked a finger to Dominic and we moved round the room.
“I couldn’t let it go.”
“I know. You warned me. Can we go this way? I think I’ve seen. . . bloody hell! We need to get out quick. Can we go, please?”
“Come on, then. Put your lead on. Now, walk, slowly. Slowly. Here. What is it?”
“I’ve seen somebody I know and if we can get him and he’s dealing. . . Please, we need to get out quick. I’ve got to call in.”
“Does he know you?”
“Right. I’m going to smack you and pull the lead, O.K.?”
“I don’t want to be conspicuous.”
“Sorry. Go on.”
I walloped his backside twice, hard. Mind you, through denim, he’d hardly have felt it. “Outside, you. We’re going home and I’m going to warm your arse for you. You don’t speak to me that way. Go on, out.”
We were outside in two minutes without having attracted any attention other than mild amusement from the Tops nearby. Another minute saw us in the car and Nick on his mobile. “It’s Jamieson in the club, and MacAllister with him. Get a car down here, quick. There are two exits, the main door and a fire exit on Welford Street.” He leaned over and kissed me exuberantly. “The whole evening was worth it for that. We’ve been after that pair for three months. All we need to do now is wait to make sure that they don’t leave before the squad car gets here.”
“Take your collar off before the squad car. . .”
“Oh shit, yes!”
We waited in silence until a uniformed officer slid round the side of the car and tapped on the window. “Sir? No sign?”
“Not this way. I don’t know about the back.”
“The fire door’s wired to the alarm,” I offered. “I did a photoshoot here a couple of months ago and one of the models set off the siren going outside for a smoke. So if we didn’t hear anything, I don’t think anybody’s come out.”
“Right. The Super says, will you two get out of here so that you aren’t seen. There are enough officers who know that pair that you aren’t needed. She says you can go home, and it was a good job.”
“I’ll run Miss Milton home, and then I’ll be off. I’m not in until Monday, tell her, but I’ll have the mobile on tomorrow.”
I drove her back to her flat in a heady mixture of satisfaction at a successful job, and teenage lust. She hadn’t hit me hard, either time – there was no sting in my arse, but I could feel where her hand had touched as surely as if she had branded me. But by the time we pulled up, the buzz was receding to a weary disillusionment and anticlimax.
“Thank you for your help,” I said formally. “I expect the Superintendent will be in touch to thank you too.”
She just nodded, and opened the door. I heard my voice go on. “It wasn’t true, you know.” I didn’t look round, but from the corner of my eye, I saw her turn her head back towards me. “All police officers know about the feeling of: let somebody else do the decisions. Somebody else’s turn. Usually it passes, and. . . usually, it passes. But it isn’t true, what I said, that I don’t want that.”
She didn’t move at all for a moment, and then she said, quietly, “Lying to your Top? That always warrants a spanking.” Then she got out of the car, closed the door and walked towards the steps, keys in her hand. I heard the front door close behind her, and a minute later a square of light appeared on the bonnet of the car. When I looked up, I could see her in the lit window for a second, before she drew the curtains.
I sat there for – I don’t know. Half an hour? Forty minutes? Long enough that the car coughed when I started the engine again, long enough that it was past midnight when I pulled up at the Southgate roundabout to let an artic go past. And I must have been there for several minutes, when the tap came at the window again. It made me jump and I hurriedly rolled down the pane.
“Broken down, sir? Oh, it’s you, Inspector. Is something wrong?”
“Sergeant. No, it’s. . . I’m. . . No. Sorry. Lost concentration, that’s all.”
“I wondered why you were just sitting at the junction, sir. It’s only a roundabout, it’s not like you’re waiting for a gilt-edged invitation, is it? Perhaps you need to go back to the station and have some coffee, before you drive home?”
“No, no, I don’t think so. I’ll go. I was just wool-gathering. Goodnight, sergeant.”
Two miles. Five. Seven. Another roundabout, and suddenly Dominic has broken out of his box and is screaming in Nick’s ear. “What were you waiting for? A gilt-edged – guilt-edged? – invitation?”
Round the roundabout, all the way round, back down the by-pass, hope to God the sergeant has gone home because it’s bad for the image if the Inspector is done for speeding and this is speeding. Back through the town, back to the spot under the window. Even with the curtains drawn, I can see that the light is still on. Out of the car, heading for the steps, swear, back to the car, scrabble on the passenger seat, fuck, the damn thing isn’t. . . scrabble under the passenger seat, fingers close on the collar, can’t get the bloody thing on! Calm down, Dominic. Is this Dominic? Is this Nick? Who cares? Calm down. It’s a dog collar. It’s the same buckle as you use on your belt, for heaven’s sake. Push the tongue under the loop. Lock the car.
Ring the bell.
Click on Idris the Dragon to go back
© , 2005