British Detective Kate Power struggles to keep her personal life together while investigating a difficult cold case in this historical mystery.
Still trying to find her feet in Birmingham, Det. Sergeant Kate Power is back in the Fraud Squad—under-staffed, under-funded, and under the leadership of a hostile boss who’s jealous of her relationship with Detective Inspector Graham Harvey.
Kate is facing challenges both professional and personal, especially since her new case is making her neglect Graham. Her complex assignment involves a forged will, a recent murder, and what may have been an unnatural death a generation ago. Now, Kate must solve the cold case and figure out how to jump start her personal life before everything comes crashing down around her . . .
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By Judith Cutler
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2002 Judith Cutler
All rights reserved.
DI Lizzie King pushed herself away from her desk, running a hand through her mop of red hair. 'Now you're here, Power, I suppose we'll just have to make the most of it,' she said, by way of welcome to the Fraud Squad.
Kate Power nodded with matching enthusiasm. She'd worked in Fraud before, with varying degrees of pleasure. Her relationship with Lizzie wasn't among the high points. But while she was awaiting the results of her inspectors' exams, Personnel had moved her – still as a detective sergeant – from her squad in Birmingham's city centre CID. There might, of course, have been other reasons. The promotion to uniformed sergeant of one of Fraud's most experienced detective constables, for instance. And others she didn't want to discuss with Lizzie.
'Do you want me to pick up Bill's case-load?' Kate asked, wondering when she'd be invited to sit down.
Lizzie's face said that no one could replace Bill. 'Oh, why not? It'll take Ben hours to fill you in, and weeks to train you. But until something else comes up, you might as well.'
'Right. I'll read through everything in the in-tray and then talk to Ben. Thanks, Gaffer,' she added, with a smile even she didn't think would be convincing, and made for the door.
'Any idea how long you'll be here?'
Kate turned back. 'Your guess is as good as mine, Gaffer.'
After a morning's unremitting poring over paperwork on which she had only the most slender of grasps, Kate allowed herself to stretch and look out of the window. No Ben this morning – he was in court. And – perhaps taking their cue from Lizzie – none of her other colleagues had gone out of their way to invite her to join them in the canteen for lunch. That was their prerogative. Kate had had to earn respect and comradeship before; she could do it again, though she'd have preferred not to have the odds against her stacked quite so high. She could simply wander down to the canteen and take pot luck with the company. As it was, the bright sun called her. She owed herself a new summer outfit to celebrate the end of the exams, and this might be just the day to go hunting for it. And for lunch there was a Prêt a Manger close to Rackhams, which was where she could start her hunt.
So it was by genuine coincidence that as she crossed the Cathedral Close she ran into Graham Harvey. Genuine but delightful. Almost as delightful as the joyous disbelief in his face lightening his usually sombre features. Pity the joy had to be suppressed and transformed into a workaday nod.
'All right, Kate?'
After all these months, she still couldn't get her head round the Brummie greeting as anything other than an enquiry after her health. 'Fine. And you?'
'Fine. What are you doing?'
It would have been nice if he hadn't had to look furtively round as he asked. But that was the price you had to pay, she supposed, if you were illicit lovers. No matter how hard they tried to keep the relationship secret, rumours started. Hence, probably, Lizzie's hostility. Lizzie was a fully paid-up member of the DCI Harvey Fan Club. Had been for years, according to gossip, which added that they'd once been lovers. Whether this was true or not, Graham was still married to the woman he always referred to simply as 'my wife', though a little espionage by Aunt Cassie in her residential home had disclosed that she not only had a first name, but that it was Flavia.
'Going to buy a sandwich,' she said. Her smile invited him to join her.
He looked at his watch, shaking his head. 'I've got a meeting. Look, what time are you finishing tonight?'
'Sixish, unless anything comes up.'
'If I dropped in at – let's say seven? – you'd be home by then? I'll phone if I can't make it.'
'Not at work,' she said, too quickly.
His eyebrows shot up. She said, evasively, 'Lizzie's hot on personal phone calls.'
'I could make it police work.' He pulled himself up and put on his official voice. 'DCI Harvey, here – can I speak to DS Power?' And he grinned, looking less like the schoolmaster for which he could usually be taken than a mischievous schoolboy.
It was hard to respond sensibly, but she did. 'She'd want to know why, chapter and verse. Just leave a message on my answerphone. No message, and I'll get the beer into the fridge.'
'I'll be putting on weight.' No smile. This might not be a joke.
She couldn't quip back that she knew ways of exercising calories off. Not yet. Graham was still too anxious a lover. So they exchanged smiles, no more, and went their ways.
Beer was supposed to be evidence to Graham's wife that he'd had a drink with the lads on the way home. Most evenings he did and his squad was – Kate was sure – the happier for it. But the occasional evening – an hour of the occasional evening – was theirs.
What if Lizzie wanted her to work late? Abandoning the shopping, she scuttled back to work. An extra half-hour's effort now might just save their evening.
'Kate.' Maybe Lizzie was impressed to see her back at her desk within the half-hour, a baguette in one hand, a highlighter in the other. Certainly her voice was friendlier, Kate suspected, than it would have been if Kate had done her shopping and now had a designer carrier bag beside her desk. 'No sign of Ben?' she continued.
Plenty of signs of Ben. His sandwiches on his desk, a can of Diet Coke, the Mail open at the crossword.
'Loo, I think.'
'Tell him I want to see him.'
Lizzie'd got brusquer, hadn't she? Even brusquer. It wasn't just the red hair, fiery tempter cliché: she'd always had that hair, that temperament. There must be some squad rumours. But Kate would hate them to involve menopause or PMS. And – yes – she'd hate to ask. Maybe when she and Ben got on gossiping terms. She'd never worked closely with him, though she and Bill had evolved a very good partnership.
She was highlighting the next obscure page when Ben returned, collapsing into his chair and grabbing his biro. Not the demeanour of a happy man.
'Problems in court this morning?'
'Fucking adjournment. As if I hadn't enough on my bloody plate without having to sit on my arse all morning.' He bit into his sandwich.
'Reckon you might be getting even more on your plate. The gaffer wants to see you.'
'What? Now?' He slammed the sandwich back into the box.
'I'd eat first. No point in getting yourself an ulcer.'
'Any idea what she wanted?'
'She had an air about her that made my in-tray quake. Which reminds me, Ben, when you've got a moment, I could do with picking your brain about some of this.'
He looked at her coldly: 'I thought sergeants were supposed to have an extra dose of brains. Specially those on the accelerated promotion scheme.'
She raised an eyebrow. 'You'd know about the sergeants' brains, Ben. After all, you passed at the same time as Bill, didn't you?'
'Fat lot of good it's done me.' Yes, still a constable approaching forty, and her a high-flyer not yet thirty. A bit of tact was called for.
'Same as the inspectors' has done me. Come on, Ben, you know you can have all the letters of the alphabet after your name and still be no good because you don't have the experience. And because you can't mind-read. Some of the stuff Bill thought important doesn't mean a thing to me.'
'Good cop, Bill.' He shrugged. 'Want to bring them over here?'
'Not till you've finished your sarnies. And the crossword.'
'That might take a little longer.' There was no doubt the deep lines from nose to chin softened a little, but you couldn't say he'd managed a smile. 'I suppose I'd better see the gaffer before I look at the stuff for you.'
'You better bloody had,' Lizzie snarled from the door.
Ben might be getting a bollocking but there was no doubt he wasn't taking it quietly. You could hear the raised voices all along the corridor. Tammy, a constable who looked as if she'd just finished her GCSEs but who had in fact an accountancy degree, popped her head round Kate's door.
'Any idea what's going on?'
'A free and frank discussion by the sounds of it.' Kate grinned. If it took a row to bring her colleagues along to see her, well, pity about the row but nice about the mellowing of relations.
'She's been like this ever since Bill went,' Tammy continued, drifting further into the room.
Kate got up and shook the kettle. Tammy nodded, perching on the edge of Ben's desk.
'Must be bad,' Kate said, dropping a tea bag into a clean mug, 'losing someone as experienced as him, and getting me to replace him. And then only after having to wait about – what, six weeks?'
Tammy snorted. 'You think it's his work she's missing! I'd say it was something else.' She mimed.
Kate wouldn't bite. Not in her situation. She hoped she wouldn't have anyway. Before she could say anything, Ben stormed back into the room. 'Her majesty wants you,' he said. 'Now.'
'You might as well drink my tea,' Kate said, putting the mug in front of him. There were some meetings with bosses to which you could take a drink, and others you couldn't. She had a nasty feeling that this was the latter.
'At least even you won't have to break into a sweat over this file,' Lizzie said, without preamble. 'Not a figure in sight. Just words. Plenty of them.'
Kate bent to pick it up off Lizzie's desk.
'Let me have your thoughts on it tomorrow.'
It looked as though she was in for a late evening. No. It would have to be an extremely early morning, wouldn't it? She turned to leave.
'And for God's sake, Power, stop picking on Ben. He's got enough to worry about without having to help you.'
Kate had a nasty feeling Lizzie was going to repeat all the stuff Ben had come out with about exams and brains. Hell, Lizzie was a graduate herself, so there was no excuse for her inverted intellectual snobbery. The only problem was that she'd got her promotions the hard way, not via the accelerated promotion scheme Kate was on – which Kate wasn't at all sure she wanted to be on any longer. But now wasn't the time to confide her doubts to Lizzie. Personnel knew about them, and so did her previous gaffer, Rod Neville. He, however, was now running the Murder Investigation Teams, and well out of her orbit. The only person with whom she could chew over her doubts now was Graham Harvey, and their time together was too precious to waste on career plan discussions.
'Will that be all, Gaffer?'
Lizzie, already opening the next file, flapped a dismissive hand.
The words came out before Kate could stop them. 'Are you all right, Gaffer?' she asked, in the tone of voice she'd use to a friend, not a boss.
'The Superintendent's off sick, they've cut back two DCIs, I'm doing the work of all three on a DI's pay, and you ask if I'm all right? Get real, Power.'
There was something else, though, wasn't there? Surely there must be. However stressed, however resentful, good bosses like Lizzie didn't turn into raging monsters. She didn't think she bought Tammy's theory, either. Kate had seen nothing during her partnership with Bill to suggest that he might be having or indeed concealing an affair. Indeed, he'd always seemed rather fond of his wife, and proud of her achievements. But she didn't have time to speculate now. She had to get her head down to some good hard work, and make sure she was home in time for Graham.
Ben was on his own when she came back, elbows on desk, his forehead supported by splayed fingers. The tea she'd passed him was untouched. She shut the door quietly and pulled a chair across. 'Problems?'
He looked almost relieved to have his thoughts interrupted. 'Sounds a cliché, doesn't it? But I'm worried about Lizzie.'
'Losing it, isn't she,' she agreed. 'But you don't have to take what isn't due to you.'
'She's a mate,' he said. 'And I give as good as I get. But I don't like to see her like this. She's always had a rough tongue, no doubt about that. It couldn't – it couldn't be a woman's thing, could it? You know, the change or something?'
'She can't be much over forty. But I suppose it's possible. Or is it a work thing? She seems to be doing the work of three.'
'And you and me both. And we don't go ballistic like that every time someone gives us a new case. I see she's lumbered you with it, by the way.' He nodded at the folder she'd dropped on her desk. 'Actually, she should have given it to you in the first place. It's a nice little one-off-er. You should be able to start and finish it on your own.' He grinned. 'And it leaves me to finish Bill's fag ends. Just as easy to do that as to tell you what to do.'
She glanced at the door. 'I've a nasty suspicion that you'll have to do that anyway. I reckon the gaffer will be checking up on my progress.'
'You're probably right. When do you want to start? Over a snifter tonight?'
Snifter? Ah, Black Country for drink.
She sighed. 'Have to take a rain check on that, Ben. I've got to get home – plumber. How about tomorrow?'
'Fine. Only one thing, Kate: would you mind not calling me Ben?' he added in a rush. 'It was Lizzie's idea of a joke – you know, Bill and Ben, the Flowerpot Men. We're both keen on our gardens, see, and swapped cuttings and such like. And it stuck. Would do, while Bill was here. But I'm really Derek.'
'And you probably have a surname too. I ought to know in case people ask for you. Though I was here all those weeks and everyone always called you Ben – and nothing else.'
'Baker. Derek Baker.'
She reached to shake his hand. 'Hi, Derek.' This time both smiles seemed genuine. 'But how public do you want to be about this? Isn't Ben a bit of a shibboleth. If I call you anything else I'll be marked down as an outsider?'
'As far as I'm concerned, Kate, it marks you as an insider.'
'Sufficient of an insider to bum cuttings and advice about my infant garden? I had it completely reorganised. My great-aunt – you know how she gave me her house – wouldn't recognise it. Nice paths. Seating area.'
He whistled. 'That must have cost a bit. No problem with the plants, though. I'll be splitting quite a lot of stuff this autumn.' He looked at his watch. 'Tell you what, let's check through that in-tray now, so you'll please her majesty, and you can tell me what you need tomorrow over half of mild. Oh, and we might talk a bit of shop too.'
Would the red light be flashing? God, how absurd to have your pulse-rate ruled by a tiny light.
Kate fumbled her keys into the locks, killed the alarm and headed for the answerphone. A message.
'I'm sorry. I really am. But my wife's ill. She phoned work – pulled me out of that meeting. Talk to you as soon as I can.'
No greeting. No farewell. No endearment to hold on to.
And, of course, no Graham.
Kate wandered blindly back to pick up the post and close the vestibule door. As an afterthought, she went back and bolted the front door. No need to leave it for Graham, who seemed to derive an extra pleasure from letting himself into her house. Presumably his wife's checks on his private life didn't extend to his key ring.
Come on: this is what you get when you have an affair with a married man. Except it hadn't been like that with her and Robin. She poured herself a glass of wine and wandered into the garden. The plants were so tiny the place looked more like a pin-cushion than a garden, but everything would grow. Even the seeds she'd scattered between the new shrubs to give some green, some colour in the garden's first season. At the far end, instead of the ancient shed and the hoard of buttons it had concealed, were a bench and table. She tipped her head back to absorb the evening sun. She and Robin had been police partners months before they became sexual ones. Partners, not DCI and sergeant, so there was never any hint of promotion politics. And Robin had left his wife before they so much as kissed. So they'd never had to be furtive. They'd never had it easy, and the circumstances surrounding Robin's funeral had been especially hard to bear. But at least, ninety-nine per cent of the time, they could be open and frank about their love.
So was that what she and Graham shared? Love?
She ran back to the house.
Lorraine from the Domestic Violence Unit. Did she fancy a game of tennis? She and Midge had found a third keen player, and needed a fourth.
Sit around hoping against hope that Graham might phone, or an evening with the girls? Come on, what sort of woman was she?
'So long as there's a balti afterwards,' she said.
It was a good hard game, and an excellent meal with rather more lager than she should have had.
But there were no more messages on the answerphone, and no matter how much she despised herself for doing it, she cried herself to sleep.
Excerpted from Will Power by Judith Cutler. Copyright © 2002 Judith Cutler. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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