Half past nine in the pub on Tuesday, Barbara Havers is spinning tales.
"-and then he just pitches into the water after him!" Barbara laughs. "I mean, the suspect's thrashing around like a bloody wild horse, he could've drowned the both of them. Idiot." She shakes her head. Winston, beer in one hand, watches her with amusement.
"I'll tell you," she continues, "whatever else they pass out with those Lordships, they could try including a bit of common sense."
At this, Winston bursts out with a laugh. "I'll tell the DI you said that."
Barbara pffts this away as an empty threat; after seven years and more of partnership, she's relatively secure in the belief that he isn't going to trade her in for a new Sergeant. Security, she thinks, sipping her beer and glancing around the pub, there's a new one. She has a steady job, a flat, work mates to have a drink with, even a best mate, and the things she doesn't have are ones she doesn't particularly give a toss about anyway. Miles from where she used to be, though she could've done without all the bloody trauma along the way.
She's very nearly proud of herself, though her memories keep her away from that more days than not. Best not to be tempting fate.
"Must be nice," says Winston, breaking through her thoughts. "Being a Lord and all."
He raises an eyebrow. "Being rich and landed doesn't hold much appeal for you, does it?"
"What would I want with a title?"
Winston raises an eyebrow. "Better tables at restaurants?"
"Nah, I mean the whole thing's just another way of making some people better than others for no reason. Save your great- great- great- grandfather killed a stag with an arrow at two hundred paces or something. Chopped someone's head off."
Barbara pauses, takes a drink. "The manor's quite nice, though. Have you seen his house?"
Winston shakes his head.
He sighs, swirls his glass around. "Oh, if only."
"You're daydreaming. Time you were home."
"Oh, thanks, Mum."
Barbara smirks. "That's Detective Sergeant to you. Constable."
Sunnier days notwithstanding, gunshots echo through her dreams, even still. Barbara wakes up clutching her side and whimpering softly, her eyes in the darkness focusing on anything tangible: the curtains, the hairbrush on her dresser, her bright blue coat hanging on a peg.
She's devised a sort of ritual for these situations: she gets up, makes a cup of tea, and perches on her sofa, taking careful sips and flipping through whatever late-night dreck is on the telly, until she's calm enough to sleep again. No need to make a fuss about it. What's happened, happened, and she isn't scared of shadows. Not anymore.
(Of course she thinks of phoning him, but never does. She grips her mobile like a talisman, turning it over and over in her hand, safe in the knowledge that she could call, if she chose.)
"Male victim, unidentified, found outside of a...community centre? Why exactly are you expecting problems with this one, sir?"
The next morning, Barbara glances over at her partner, who's steering their car at a fair clip through gray, misted-over central London. He looks tired, she thinks, but flipping through her mental checklist of warning signs yields nothing to be too concerned about. A year since Helen died, and he seems to be doing alright, but Barbara never knows for certain, and hell will freeze over before His Lordship the Eighth Earl of Asherton Detective Inspector Mister Thomas Lynley will deign to share his emotional state without first being beaten over the head with a blunt instrument.
"The area is heavily populated with Muslim immigrants," he's saying, "and I've heard Special Branch is quite keen to take this one on."
Barbara shakes her head in confusion. "Where do they get off nicking cases before we've even determined cause of death?"
"Look, if there's any trouble, I'll have a word."
Barbara lifts an eyebrow.
He chuckles. "Your faith in me is touching, Havers."
"Just don't go overboard, yeah? I'm really not in the mood for a territorial pissing match today."
"Are you all right?"
She tugs a bit at her seatbelt. "Yeah, yeah, fine. Just a bit tired, is all."
Recognizing this as the thinly veiled code it is, he reaches over and squeezes her shoulder.
Barbara smiles faintly, looks down. "I really am all right, you know."
"I know," he says, putting his hand back on the steering wheel. They drive in silence for a minute.
"You would tell me if you weren't, though, Havers?" he says, looking over at her, worry creasing his brow.
Barbara smiles again, properly this time.
"Your faith in me is touching, sir," she says.
He rolls his eyes. "Well, I see you're chipper enough for sarcasm, at least."
"Oh, I'm never bad off enough to do without that."
The scene is chilly, wet, and crowded. Standing near a fence post, Lafferty waves them over, squinting through the rain, his yellow scrubs making him look, thinks Barbara, like a particularly annoyed, damp chicken.
"Nice bunch we've got down here today," he says, tucking a pencil back into his clipboard.
"What the hell is all this?" Tommy's expression is stormy as he surveys the crowd of uniforms, detectives, and medical examiners. Lafferty exchanges a glance with Barbara, and shrugs.
"Special Branch, apparently. They've not done much but stand around." And get in our way, Lafferty very pointedly doesn't say. Barbara shoots him a sympathetic look.
"Who's in charge here?" asks Tommy.
Lafferty indicates a young man standing near the tented-over body. "That's DS Hallet. They're waiting around for their DCI, I think."
"Sir-" Barbara starts, the dawning look of righteous indignation in his eyes beginning to make her slightly nervous.
"Havers, stay here," says Tommy.
Barbara nearly splutters. "What?"
"I'm going to speak with DS Hallet over there, see if I can't get the cavalry to hold their horses back a bit."
"But-" Barbara protests, but he's already striding away. She settles for shouting after him, "Just remember what I said in the car!"
He half-turns (along with several uniforms), has the temerity to wink at her, and keeps going. Barbara sighs, crosses her arms and leans back against the fence.
"Everything all right?" asks Lafferty.
Barbara shakes her head, watching as her partner approaches the supervising DS. "He's going to go off on him."
"He does have a tendency to be a little…I mean, I know he's your partner, Barbara, but-"
"No, no," she says. "Whatever word you're thinking of is more likely nicer than the one I would use."
The two of them watch Tommy and DS Hallet speaking. Barbara shifts against the fence post, pushing a damp lock of hair behind her ear.
"Well, it doesn't look like anyone's shouting," says Lafferty. "Yet."
Barbara snickers. "He has gotten a bit better, you know," she says.
Lafferty looks down at her, smiling. "Is that loyalty or is that the truth speaking?"
"Oh," she says, and shrugs. "Probably a bit of both."
It is true, though. However much of a pompous git he sometimes still acts, the stormy moods, the drinking, and the terrible distance that followed Helen's death have largely subsided. Barbara never expects, would never expect him to completely get over it (not a day goes by when she doesn’t think of her brother, not a single one), but she watches the conversation that is (still, miraculously) not an argument, and her heart is easier than it's been.
She's mended, gotten better, and so will he. And until he does, she'll keep looking after him.
He comes back over to them, smiling, and says, "I think I've bought us fifteen minutes." Barbara raises an eyebrow at that, but the scrum of police officers are slowly drifting away from the scene. Hallet's called them off.
"What'd you say?" Barbara asks, falling into step beside him as they follow Lafferty to the tent.
"I pulled rank on him. We have until the DCI gets here."
"So, if we find a lead-" Barbara starts.
"-they may let us have it," he finishes.
"Well," she says dryly. "I guess that shouldn't be too difficult."
Tommy pulls back the fabric of the tent to let his partner out of the rain.
"I have the utmost faith in you, Barbara," he says.
"Aw," she says, laughing, and then, offhand: "Don't put yourself down, sir; you might find something if you try."
She turns around to catch his smile before they set to work.