‘This one,’ Detective Chief Superintendent Ashdown tells Will, slapping a paper-stuffed manila folder onto her desk.
Will stands uncomfortably within the stifling confines of her office, shifting from foot to foot. While Chief Ashdown might be smart, no-nonsense and reliable, she was still intimidating to him after years in the same environment.
‘This one,’ she repeats. ‘One subject, male, suspicious of the usage and the selling of different illicit drugs to patients across London. You’ll find all the necessary information inside the folder.’
‘Thanks, chief,’ Will mutters, hurrying to leave as soon as he takes the bound folder, feeling grim at the singular, heavy weight of the document in his hands. He’s feeling sorry for whichever bloke who has it in for himself this time.
He’s halfway out of her door- oak, polished and expensive not unlike herself- when she calls, ‘Sergeant.’
‘Yes, chief?’ she’d asked him to call her Sophie, months ago, after working together for so long, but the habit of referring to her as his senior didn’t seem to ruffle her feathers a bit.
‘I almost forgot to mention. You will be working undercover in this case, since Sergeant Gray is in a delicate position in regards to this case,’ she tells him, not even bothering to make her request a question.
‘What doesn’t Tessa have?’ he would cringe at his whine later on, but now that his plans to binge Eastenders had gone out of the window, he was pissed.
‘Ah, Sergeant Herondale,’ she smiles, the Cheshire one, all teeth and intelligence. ‘In this case, it’s what she does. You’d better ask her for yourself.’
He huffs, and turns around to leave, when he realizes. ‘What will I work as?’ he asks her. God forbid, if he has to be some call boy again-
‘Not a call boy, Herondale,’ she’s still smiling, and he has a really, really bad feeling. ‘You’re a barista now- Gray says your social skills need work.’
‘No,’ he says aloud to himself, hours later. ‘No, no, no.’
His blazing laptop screen glares at him some more.
Having leafed through the folder Chief Ashdown gave him, Will was ready for another night of procrastination and sleep. However, if the guy they were supposed to arrest looked like this, he didn’t know whether he’d get any tonight.
Turns out, the guy -James Carstairs, 25, a barista at a well-known café in West End, fresh out of college with the silver hair and those impossibly deep brown eyes- was Tessa’s ex-boyfriend.
They’d met in Year Nine, Tessa had explained, the look in her wet-pavement eyes far away, as if they were lost in a different dimension. He’d been shy and gentlemanly and she spry and lively. She’d been in the art club and him music, and the two groups often did school events together. He’d caught her eye with the old-fashioned, charming mannerisms and those callused, elegant hands. Eventually, he’d started- Tessa snorted- courting her.
However, when she was still a detective constable, he started to dabble in things she couldn’t and would never understand. They fought, and in sophomore year of college, they’d went their separate ways.
Will could tell, as he could often read people, that she still missed him. She obviously didn’t love him anymore, but Will could tell- he could tell that they were true and real, and the hurt and the magic and the fallout were still there in her head.
He was angry with the guy who Tessa so sadly referred to as Jem, how he’d hurt her not once but twice, by dancing with narcotics instead of the beautiful and kind girl by his side.
But Will’s eyes had threatened to bulge out of its sockets when they read James’ medical history.
Look, he expected the guy to have a few issues- broken bone at six, scarlet fever at eleven- stuff like that, maybe just a bit worse. He hadn’t expected it to be two pages long.
Lupus, it read. Asthma and different allergies diagnosed at birth, deformed lungs.
Tessa had confirmed her participation in the case, yes. But no, she’d said, she wasn’t going to make an appearance in any part of it. Maybe at the end, when they carted him off to prison, but she said she couldn’t do it to him, not like that.
Will understood. Ever since Ella, he’d felt like shit. Surely losing someone to death and the opposite side of the law were the same.
He hated this guy already. But life was a bitch to him, as always.
James was gorgeous.
Will could see that, from his sweeping cheekbones and straight hair that stood up in tufts in the grainy photo of him entering Spin, a high-key London gay bar, during a rainy weekend.
And those eyes, half-smiling and mysterious even though the guy himself wasn’t, in many government shots, spoke to him through the paper, crying for escape and wonder and fuel, like they knew all the secrets in the universe and would gladly share them with Will in whispers under the starlight.
Will knew enough about him now- decidedly non-straight, pretty eyes, but all messed up with a history of misconduct and instability.
He was imperfect in that way people wanted all others to be, like burnt sugar, flammable and bright and so compassionate.
And Will was going to get him behind bars.
He grits his teeth on the first day, the day he starts not as Sergeant Herondale, but William Hodgkinson, surname of course credited to Theresa Gray, detective sergeant, your resident smartass with the funniest sense of humour, not.
‘Hodgkinson makes sense,’ she said through snickers, dodging the biro he’d thrown at her expertly. ‘It’s got three syllables and begins with an H, like Herondale.’
‘Herondale is melodic,’ he argued, wondering which way Cecily would laugh at his made-up name this time. At least it was better than White- the last one he’d been forced to use. William White. Utterly hilarious.
Tessa’s laughter died out and her face turned serious, more than before. This case brought back bad memories for her- an estranged half-brother co-owning the café they were going to work at, and an ex-boyfriend behind the counter.
Tessa refused to talk about the half-brother when they walked there- you’d think they’d go by car. Nathaniel Gray didn’t seem like a mass murderer to Will, but he was sure that Tessa had her reasons.
They turned the corner, and the hole-in- the-wall place came into sight. Will watches Tessa shake her hair out, soft brown hair tumbling past her shoulders.
‘Here we go,’ she says, before the back door is flung wide open.
‘Tessie!’ A tall, blond man with an infectious grin stood in the midst of the orange lights inside. ‘It’s been so long!’
‘Nate,’ Tessa replies tersely. Nathaniel Gray either doesn’t detect her stiffness, or has chosen to perpetually ignore it, when he pulls her into a hug.
‘This is Will.’ She gestures behind her, averting her eyes.
Will and Nathaniel shake hands and exchange pleasantries, while Tessa looks on, arms crossed. She looked like she would be sick any moment.
‘Come,’ Nathaniel Gray pulls away and slings an arm around Tessa, who grimaces at Will over his shoulder. ‘We have so much to discuss, and so little time!’
They are ushered in and they meet Henry and Charlotte Fairchild, the couple who owns the shop along with Nate. The couple are a sincere, smiling pair who listen with apt attention when Will explains the case.
‘James Carstairs.’ he tells them. Henry gasps into his Earl Grey and promptly starts choking.
Charlotte elbows her husband, who elbows her right back. She sighs. ‘Jem?’ she asks, and her eyes are tired.
‘Well, yes.’ Will tries to sound professional, but the way she said Jem made him think of spring and lost time.
‘Jem,’ she repeats. ‘Are you sure?’ she narrows her eyes. They have a streak of iron in them, just like Chief Ashdown’s.
‘Very, Ms. Fairchild,’ Will replies, firm. ‘Our Chief gave his file to us, told me to do whatever I could.’ The last part isn’t exactly true, but he has to do what he has to. ‘The investigation will only be carried out if the three of you consent to it, but if you don’t, we’ll carry it out via different methods, anyway, but off your property.’ He hopes his voice isn’t as harsh as he feels.
‘It’s just…’ Henry begins, then reaches for his wife. She squeezes his hand. ‘Jem has been our most loyal and trustworthy employee to date, and he’s responsible in everything he’s assigned to do.’
‘He’s a good man,’ Charlotte starts, eyes fierce now, 'He would never do something like this.'
‘I understand, ma’am,’ Will keeps his tone smooth. ‘But all of our sources point towards this very person. However, if you would allow us to carry out the investigation, and we are proven wrong, you would not have to lose anything.’
The charisma is working; he can see Henry waver. ‘We understand, but are you certain it would be Jem?’
‘Nothing is certain yet, Mr. Branwell, but once the investigation is over, everything will be in the light.’ He looks toward Charlotte.
Instead, Charlotte turns to the Gray siblings, who have been silent all through the conversation. ‘Well, Nate? What do you advise?’
Nate shrugs lazily. ‘Sounds okay to me. I mean, Jamie can’t possibly be the culprit, but what’s the matter? Just let them do what they do best, I say, and we’ll all be fine.’ He takes a fag from a pack in his suit jacket, and lights it. Behind him, Tessa wrinkles her nose.
Charlotte meets her husband’s eyes, whose mouth twists unhappily. ‘I suppose, then,’ she looks down. ‘I feel so sorry for him.’
Will got the feeling that James Carstairs must be an expert liar and chameleon to deceive Charlotte Fairchild, who wasn’t unlike Chief Ashdown herself, to feel sorry for him.
He doesn’t say any of that. Instead, he says, ‘Thank you for your kind cooperation, Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild, Mr. Gray.’
Both Tessa and he exhale their relief when they get out.
Will was determined to catch James Carstairs for hurting so many around him.