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'Gin. Double.' Gill demands at the bar.

Then. 'And tonic.' An afterthought to salve the proprieties.

Her eyes flick to the door, and round the room, back again. The boy behind the bar is an absolute child but he nods and turns to with competence. What age is he, Gill wonders. Copper instincts mixed with getting old. This place is respectable enough to host a police awards evening, it must be sharp enough to make sure its staff are of age. Mind you, she has trouble believing Sammy is old enough to leave home, get engaged, get a proper job, start planning his life. And, if she looks carefully, this bar lad does look a day or two older than her Sammy.

'Too young for you.' He's grinning at her as he hands her the change. Gill takes a half-step back to bring him in to focus.

'Excuse me.' Her best Godzilla voice. Did she ask that out loud? Shit.

'Twenty-one actually.' He winks as he turns away. Godzilla is water off a duck's back here it seems. Has she really asked him that out loud?

Never matter. He got her the drink. Priorities. And he has left the tonic in a little bottle beside the glass. Good boy. Better still. Gill takes a long steady sip that halves the level of gin and slows the trip of her heart. It was stupid. So stupid. That stupid car. She pours half the tonic into her glass of complementary acid white wine and a splash in the remainder of the gin. Then she squares her shoulders and sets off to do a round of the room.

 

'Evening Sir, Ma'am.' Exchange a few shallow compliments, ward off a few questions, and on to the next. She finishes the gin after the first group but keeps the wine for the look of the thing. It gets easier too, her smile settling less brittle on her face, her legs starting to belong to her again, as the alcohol seeps into her bloodstream. She is able to tune out of the conversation as Detective Superintendent Wallace begins a tale of a particularly hilarious collar that she has already heard at least six times. She nods in the right places but her mind slips away, back to the cause of this rise of panic. That car out in the car park. The same one. Well, not the same one, logically. But the same type, looked the same, that make and model, and silver too. Like hers. The old one. The one that.... And was it the lights casting weird dark patches on the back seat that made it look like... A flicker on the glass that caught her eye. She had almost passed it without noticing the coincidence, intent on keeping her heels out of puddles, when something made her look. A figure, she'd thought. On the back seat. And dark stains spreading out around it. Oh God. Gill takes a swig of her wine. Chokes. Bloody awful stuff.

 

She tries to switch back in to the conversation, catches the climatic moment, laughs a half-second too early. She feels it, that awkward glitch as everyone else catches up, smooths it over. Fuck. What is wrong with her? She is good at this. Playing the old buggers at their game. Not shmoozing, she draws the line very firmly, but keeping them sweet. She is DCI Gill Murray. She can do this people thing.

The darkness of blood soaking into upholstery. The tang of it in the air. She swallows hard.

'Sir, can I get you a proper drink?' Her expression feels crooked but she hopes that is only from the inside.

'I mean, it's nice to get anything for free out of MMP...' She raises her wine glass. His own is dangling in his fist; stomach ulcer, she knows. 'But...' A respectful sort of grimace. 'I'm not sure I'd recommend it.'

A quirk of the eyebrow and Wallace is happy to accept her offer of a pint which gives her an excuse to escape to the bar and a proper drink for herself too.

 

That's better. The smooth spirit soothing down her throat and she blinks to dim the unwanted pictures. Gill catches herself fiddling with her the neckline of her dress, fingertips drifting upwards, just to check... She snatches her hand away. Pats the dress over her hips instead. Just a casual gesture. Perfectly normal. Just another nudge to hold herself together. Another sip and her joints seem to fit that bit tighter. That's good.

She loves this dress. Her best frock. Too expensive when she got it so she's determined to make it do every occasion possible. It's the one she wore to Rachel's wedding. Knows she looks bloody good in it. She wore it to Sammy's engagement do too. That night. But now is not the time to think of that. Although it was gin that helped her through that party as well. She raises a wry smile to her glass, tips it discreetly. Leaves it empty on the bar.

 

Rachel. Where is she anyway? She is supposed to be around here somewhere, isn't she? Hanging on the arm of her new shag. Gill cranes her neck to scan the room. No sign. Perhaps her new Detective Sergeant is still squirrelling away at her desk, dutifully trawling through the jobs Gill dumped on her as she was on her way out the door. Ha. Gill almost laughs out loud. Chance 'ud be a fine thing. More likely lip-glued to the charming Detective Super in some dark corner. There is a bitter taste in Gill's mouth. The tang of blood. No not again. She's being silly. Has to get herself in hand. She scoops up Wallace's pint and makes her way back to the group, presents it to him.

'Was beginning to think you'd got lost there,' he smirks, all expansive jocularity.

'Queue.' She quips. 'Must just go say hello to the Assistant Chief Con.' She can't marshal another smile for him but she tries to keep her face neutral, thinks she has enough years practice to get away with it. Wallace's chuckles follow her for a few steps so she thinks she does.

 

A few steps, legs disjointing, feeling like a badly put together doll with her strings coming loose. This won't do. She doesn't know whether to go over to Zalinski after all. Or there's that DCI who was on the Creative Budget Management course a few months back, but she can't remember his name. Maybe she should have stayed put, dredged up a few more laughs for poor old Wallace. She dithers, hands empty having dumped the dreadful wine and tonic combination, too awful even for her, not that she's desperate. Empty hands with nothing to do and nothing to talk about, creeping inwards, twitching her dress, twitching her jacket. Settling around her arms. Across her chest. Fingers sinking in. Holding on.

Then a swirl of alcohol hits her bloodstream and soars through her brain. This won't do. She throws up her head. Arms drop. She will go pay her respects to ACC Zalinski. Of course she will.

 

'Ma'am.' She is confident now, sure that she's hitting the right notes of interest and professional respect.

'Gill. And how are things in Syndicate 9? Settling in to the new location?' Karen Zalinski is as cool as ever. Just like her to remember that. She's wearing a particularly dashing skirt suit with the kind of cut that would send Julie weak at the knees. Gill will have to remember to tell her. Just to enjoy her reaction. Pity she couldn't be here tonight. Then she remembers that Julie could have been, would have been, if Gill hadn't turned her down so bluntly on the phone this morning.

'It's a good turn out,' Gill hears herself say. What, is she really turning into a wind up doll? Walking, talking, cliché spouting DCI action figure.

'Hmm.' Zalinski purses her lips. 'What a venerable lot we are.' She turns more closely into Gill, lets her tone thaw a couple of degrees. 'Congratulations. On your medal. That must have been an ordeal.'

And the room really is too hot, too loud, too close. Gill shakes her hair back from her face, shakes no. Mutters.

'It was nothing, not...'

Not something to be proud of. Not something to talk about, think about, dream about, wake up shaking clawing at her throat. It's tight. The belt around her neck. There's nothing there. But nothing is notching tighter and tighter. And finally Karen Zalinski gets it, that she is in the no go zone.

'And how is Julie Dodson?' She smiles the kind of politic smile that gets you to the rank she is. Gill rakes in enough breath to speak.

'She's fine thank you Ma'am. Last I saw her.' When was that? Gill's heart skips faster again. Can't remember. Awful.

'I gather she's doing an excellent job in the new role. Streamlining.' Zalinski raises her eyes to heaven just a fraction, small enough that anyone less observant wouldn't notice, small enough for an officer of her seniority to get away with, significant enough to include Gill. 'It's all about streamlining these days.'

'Yes I've heard all about the new office.' Light, keep it light. Play the game. Not often she gets to work the old girls' club. But there's a shadow in her eyes. She's heard about this fancy office, all glass and clear surfaces, and Julie's rash declarations that this one she is going to keep clean and tidy. Not seen it yet though. Not that normally they live in each other's pockets. But it really has been a while.

Zalinski inclines her head. She's not one for fake levity. 'A lot of pressure.'

'Julie can handle it.' Gill's serious this time, determined that Karen understand Julie's strength.

'Oh undoubtedly.' Karen actually smiles. 'A very capable woman.'

A tug in Gill's chest. Pride. She doesn't dare smile in case her face betrays her and all her feelings shine out there, broadcast load to the whole world. Too much. She buttons them down with a very proper, 'Ma'am.'

You don't get to be where Karen Zalinski is though without honing sharper observational skills than even Gill has. There's a glint in her eye as she leans in a fraction.

'Don't tell her I said that.'

 

Then she's gone. And was that a wink? Or a hint of a wink as she glided past? Gill is left slightly stunned. Was it just a twitch? Or is she reading too far into this, her imagination running away with her because she knows how this encounter would leave Julie reeling? Is is just because she's heard far too much about Julie's frustrated attraction for this woman that it's starting to cloud her own judgement? God she's going to kill her when she gets her hands on her. Getting her into situations like this. Gill fans herself with her hand. Checks to see no one is watching. It's hot in here now it's filling up. That's all. But Karen Zalinski didn't get to be who she is without learning how to leave people reeling. One way or another. Bloody woman.

She will have to tell Julie all about this.

 

'DCI Murray? It is you.'

Gill has only been standing there a minute when there's a hand on her shoulder that she can't quite not flinch from, and a voice in her ear. For fuck's sake why do people do that? The stranger gets a flash of Godzilla glare before she can stop herself. And why should she stop herself? People should be more... respectful... careful... sensitive, God no not that. At any rate, they shouldn't sneak up on people. On her.

He's a tall man, smartly dressed. They're all smart tonight but he's obviously got some practice in at it. DI something-or-other. Smarm comes off him in waves. Gill bristles, then slides an armour of politeness over her reaction.

She lets him jabber on for a minute, her mind taken up because over his shoulder she can see the door. Will Pemberton walking in. She watches. Waits. Numpty beside her is hooking a young DC in to his side, introducing him. She shakes hands automatically, her eyes flitting swiftly back to the door, to Will's striking figure already moving through the room, back to the door. No Rachel.

She focuses on the Detective Constable who is tugging nervously at his jacket. Very young. Bright by the looks of him. Keen, or he wouldn't be here tonight. No Kevin Lumb. She twitches hard. A failure. One of hers and look what he did. Betrayal is still a dark hole inside.

They're from fraud, aren't they, these two? Half-heartedly, she tries to follow DI Smarm's monologue. She's forgotten their names already. Once she would have taken note. A contact to call in. Young blood to keep an eye on, check if he really is talent. But none of it matters now that she's retiring. Just as soon as she wants to that is. Soon.

 

Her eyes search out Will Pemberton again. His height and colour make him easy to spot. MMP is still disproportionately white, especially at the higher levels. There's something about his stance that draws the eye as well. He is relaxed. Hands in pockets, laughing openly. He carries his authority without any of the strain in so many of the tight-suited shoulders around him. Maybe she should go say hello.

'If you'll excuse me, gentlemen...' She bites off a smile for the Fraud officers and circles round the edge of the room, doing her best not to listen to whatever that greasy bastard is telling his sidekick about her. Once she would have got a kick out of it. Knowing it would have been equal parts jealous bitching and admiration. Now she's not so sure.

 

Definitely no Rachel. Gill reckons she's got a special radar for that one by now. Always trouble. Often brilliant. Magnetic. Got to keep an eye on her.

Will turns his head to greet someone and Gill is assailed by an image of her brilliant Detective Sergeant melting into his arms. She blinks furiously. The picture is swept away by another, of the two of them snogging in a car. Dim. Streetlit. Seen from behind, from the back seat. Their mouths meeting and moving, tiny intimate noises of lips and tongues that you can only hear from inches away, the rasp of fingers against stubble. Their heads filling the gap between the seats. Hands cradling. Fingers in Rachel's hair. Fine, fine strands. The smell of two bodies heating up together. Behind them, the rear view mirror. Gill raises her eyes and meets, not her own reflection, but Helen Bartlett's eyes staring back at her, dead-grey and seething with furious pain.

 

Gill jolts backwards.

''Steady there.” The young barman swings a tray of empties wide and over her, steps lightly round her. Her head burns.

'Sorry.' She refuses to stutter. Rather sound like a bitch than a drunk, or someone who is flying to pieces. She is near the bar again, and she is tempted. But she doesn't think she can take a glass without her hands shaking. Won't let them see that. Because they are, her hands, and more of her now. It's a fine internal tremor creeping up her spine. Gill locks her arms around herself. Toilets. Only place to have a breakdown and put herself back together again in five minutes flat before the ceremony starts.

 

She dodges round a group of people to find the clearest path and stalks towards the door. Her knees are telling her they are dislocating again, ankles threatening to tip over the sides of her heels, hips clunking in and out of joint with every step. If she just keeps breathing she will make it. If she just holds onto herself tight enough. If she just breathes lightly against that thing around her neck she won't choke. And slowly, oh so slowly she is getting there.

Until Will bloody Pemberton raises his hand and makes eye contact. Smiles.

All she has to do is raise one arm. Crank her shoulders down. Keep breathing. Peel one arm away from her body. Sketch a wave. Winch her eyebrows up in recognition. Jerk her head slightly. No don't jerk. Too much. Too sharp. Too late.

But she can't stick around to register his puzzlement or wait long enough for him to translate it into concern. She has to get out of this room. Now.

 

The rest of the journey to the toilets is a dark haze. She finds herself leaning heavily over a sink, staring at herself in the mirror. Her head whips round. No one there. Back again. Nothing strange. Air shudders into her lungs.

 

After a minute it is enough. She knows, in the deep rational part of her brain which can never stay silent for long, that she is not actually going to break into pieces. That's enough that she can ease her fingers away from the sink, whip through her hair with a brush and touch up her make up. Even enough that she doesn't jump too obviously when someone else comes in behind her. The bang of the door is what reminds her of Julie in fact. The last time she saw her they were out drinking, dancing a bit, talking work and family and shit. Talking lots but not about the undercurrent that was bothering Gill. It had been good – great to get out, relaxing to know that she had to get a taxi home so Julie didn't have to know about her car thing, reassuring to have someone who matched her drink for drink and thought nothing of it, fun to have no more weighty decisions than the choice between another vodka or a move onto tequila. She had ended up in the toilets though, gripping the sink like tonight, when someone had come up behind her on the dance floor. It used to be a laugh, that, moving with a stranger for a minute if you liked the feel of them, or snapping round and giving them the police stare, backing it up with a warrant card if they didn't get the message sharpish, and all the time knowing that she and Julie covered each other, were each other's ultimate back up. But that night the hand sneaking round her had come with a threat and the body closing in on hers was a horror and she had lashed out, ran. Julie found her in the toilets, nearly cracking tiles with the force she banged the door open, concern spiralling down off the edge of panic as she took in that Gill was there, fine, ok. Julie held her too. Warmth and softness and the bulk of a human body that was comfort, not threat. But Gill wouldn't let her talk. Had snogged her when she tried to ask questions. Pushed past Julie's hesitations and queries, distracted her with base tactics of hands deep in her hair and teeth tugging at her lip and sheer desperate wanting that she knew Julie couldn't resist fulfilling.

 

There's a influx of women into the Ladies now – the last rush before they all have to sit still and be good for an hour. Gill tugs her jacket immaculately straight, smooths down the simmering heat of the memory. There is a similar rush on at the bar when she gets back out so she is able to slip into the throng and order from a girl who hasn't served her yet. There is movement up on stage. A microphone crackles. Seats are already beginning to fill up. Gill takes a deep breath. It's still tempting to walk out of here, walk right away from that award. But you can't run away when they're trying to brand you as Brave . Nobody would ever understand. So she tucks herself into a seat in the back row.

 

It's the Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medals first. Gill lets her eyes blank. She has got one of those tucked away somewhere. A little kick of pride in a box that has never quite worn down. It seems a long time ago that she was picking it up though. Lot of changes. It was after the divorce that she got it. She's not quite sure how long any more. Back in Manchester full time. Tied. She remembers it as a welcome boost, a glow that helped carry her through some of those early years in MIT.

A movement close in front of her draws Gill's eyes and she realises that Will Pemberton is just two rows ahead, rising to receive his medal. He's a good bloke. A good copper. Able to move well with the times, learn and adjust, and a good leader. She likes him. She really does. Except the like tastes sharp in her mouth, tainted. She looks at him and she sees Rachel. Her Rachel. Skulking behind her back and having it off with her superior officer. Climbing. Not that Gill wants to have it off with Rachel, she tells herself. Not that she ever, ever, would. But... But... She looks at Will and she sees Rachel and him together. He's a nice bloke, Will is, and he's good looking, charming. She can see why Rachel's gone for him. She would bet money he's a good shag. That doesn't help. He is up there now on the stage, shaking hands with the Chief Constable and all she can see is the two of them in bed. Hands on skin, mouths meeting, bodies pressing together in rhythm, Rachel's head thrown back, hair trailing, mouth gasping.

The chairs jostle as Will slips back into the row. He catches her eye and grins. Gill discovers in horror that she was already smiling. Her stomach roils. What the hell on earth is wrong with her tonight? Her fingers slip and grip the glass. She sips steadily, the action is calming. It's jealousy, she thinks. Harsh, but true. She is jealous of Rachel, maybe, or of Will, if she's forcing herself to be honest. It's been too long. Months. When was the last time she shagged anything more responsive than her own right hand? Months. The answer pops into her head quick as a light: Julie.

 

Julie never made it to Sammy's engagement party. Or if she did, Gill doesn't remember, too far gone by ten o'clock to be sure of anything after. But she dropped round two nights later when Sammy had decamped to Orla's place and the house was quiet and rattling empty. Julie had asked how she was, first off, but she hadn't pushed it. Let Gill get away with “Fine.” They curled up on the sofa with takeaway and gin, stayed dry eyed, watched telly. Then Julie dissolved into tears over some stupid TV advert and couldn't stop sobbing. Gill called her a mad cow, patted her back like an automaton. Felt cold right through. Eventually she took her to bed to try and put them both back together with a shag.

Shit decision. She'd reckoned without the depths of Julie's feelings that night, the reaction.

Julie had figured out pretty quickly that you can't kiss and cry and do both properly. Kissing won. Gill was banking on that. Too much co-ordination required to squeeze breathing in between if you're trying to sob at the same time as someone has their tongue in your mouth. So she had stopped crying long before they made it up the stairs. Gill wiped away the tears with a rough hand so she didn't have to keep tasting saltiness. It was nothing like blood, nothing like the sickening weight of blood in the air, but it was too human, too much of a sign of sheer bodily weakness, for her to handle. She kissed the spot just under Julie's ear instead, the one that always made her gasp. And she tackled her clothes, fumbling with shirt buttons and blaming it on the drink. She was grateful for the way Julie pulled her closer, held her tight, shifting until Gill was almost in her lap, above her but held. Grateful that Julie accepted it, went with it. Her hands sliding under Gill's top, spreading wide across her back, soothing, firm, safe. Then wanting. The fine edge of nails against her ribs. The moan of desire as Julie caught her lips in open-mouthed kisses. It was gorgeous not to think. Not to have those images twisting around her brain. To narrow her focus so close that Julie's body took up all the space of her attention. To let mouths and skin and hands and the familiar scents of Julie, just Julie, completely surround her. To let heat and desire overwhelm until they were rutting on the sofa like teenagers, Gill scrabbling at Julie's stomach, chest, bra, with fingers totally unable to process the complexity of hooks or buckles or fastenings. It was great. Until they went upstairs and somehow Gill lost control, let Julie turn her frenzied need into a passion so caring and intense that it nearly undid her.

Julie undressed her. Slowly. Item by item. Mouthing kisses over skin as she uncovered it. Walking Gill backwards to the bed. Cradling her head in her hands to kiss deeply. Lacing fingers through her hair again and again until her scalp tingled and her brain buzzed, like she was unpicking bad thoughts from Gill's head and teasing them out. Julie ditched her own clothes at speed so she could press Gill back onto the bed, spread over her. Skin. Sliding against skin. Gill clung to her, clawed at her back, straining to move things faster. But Julie was deliberate. Intent. She locked eyes with her. Pressed a knee between Gill's legs and rocked her there. Gill closed her eyes, unable to bear the connection and all that Julie was saying with her look. But she felt Julie shift and lean over her. Breath on her cheek. Felt Julie watching her. Then the tiniest tickle of eyelashes on her cheek and the breath in her ear.

'Okay?' So soft it hurt. Julie always asked something like this: are you sure, ok, do you want to? Gill couldn't get the words out, had to swallow through too-tight, raw vocal chords. She willed her body to say it for her but Julie was waiting for real confirmation. Words came out as a whisper. Fierce as she meant them.

'For God's sake slap, just fuck me.'

And Julie leaned back to lock eyes with her again, surprising Gill into that scrutiny. Then she bent again. Traced Gill's ear with her tongue. Breathed.

'I am so fucking glad you're here.'

Then she was travelling down, tongue to Gill's jaw, the ends of her hair just glancing the skin of Gill's neck, setting off a shiver that broke into a gasp as Julie's kisses fell on her breasts, working round until her mouth closed long, wet and hot, on one nipple. The shiver didn't stop as Julie kissed her way down over Gill's stomach and hip. And by the time Julie shifted lower between her thighs and slid her tongue up her cunt, Gill was positively shaking. But it was good, it was great, and she was rasping out 'yes, yes' on every other breath. It was everything she could want at that moment to feel Julie's tongue licking her open, Julie's lips against her clit, Julie's whole mouth feeling like the centre of the universe, drawing her out of the small dark place she had been locked inside herself, until she was cracking gently, spinning, about to fly apart into a million tiny points of light.

It was too much.

She was stumbling, falling out of that car.

She was on the cliff edge. Gasping. Choking. Wind whipping air out of her mouth. Head ringing. Senses full of blood. Eyes behind her.

It was too much.

Desperate to hold herself together, Gill lurched up to sitting. Shoved herself up the bed.

'What's wrong?' Julie's eyes fixed her, seeing too much. Her voice was gentle, careful. Far too much.

'Nothing.' Gill gasped. 'Your turn.'

And she knew Julie didn't buy it really. But Gill tugged her closer and rolled her over and moved so surely across her body that she didn't give her much time to argue. It was better to fill her senses with Julie, nose to her skin, nails tracing patterns over her shoulders, arse, hips. It was safer not to talk, keeping her lips busy kissing down Julie's spine, not licking, not tasting, just this once, avoiding the salt of sweat that reminded her of tears she would not shed. It was easier to ignore the shaking in her fingers when they were inside Julie, pushing her fast toward a climax.

 

Gill has been lost in the memory, managing to gloss over the mundanities of the various awards handed out, speeches made, clapping listlessly in the right places. Hearing her own name jars her back to the present. She zones in on the introduction to what is obviously going to be her award and immediately wishes she could switch off again. But the Chief Constable has a carrying voice and now that she is alert again, snippets break through.

'… incredibly difficult and dangerous situation... immeasurable courage... dedication to duty... the strength of the spirit...'

 

Part of her mind is still back there with Julie, in her bed. But in that part, Julie was trying to touch her again, and Gill laced her fingers in Julie's, pulled them up to her mouth to keep them. Gripped tight.

'Gill?'

'It's fine. I'm fine.'

But Julie's expression said she knew damn well that Gill didn't come, she knew that something was very wrong, that she was being fobbed off. And she hated being lied to.

 

So Gill would rather be in this function room after all, anywhere but having to face the exposure of her terror, or how far she has run from the truth. The Chief Con winds up his plaudits by announcing her name again and she has to stand, remember to put down the glass that she has been clutching all this time, and make her way up to the stage.

 

It's a blur, that's the best she can say. There is a handshake. There is a photograph. She doesn't think she smiles, in fact she's so used to being serious for the press that she probably gives the photographer a someone-just-died look, but at least that's professional. And someone did die.

Gill is back in her chair, weighed down with a huge, framed certificate that she already hates, in the flick of a cat's whisker. She sits upright, stiff, holds the awkward thing on her knee. It's not how she imagined getting one of these. Over all those years. Back when she was bright-eyed and bushy haired. She would have given almost anything to be worthy of a Police Bravery Award. That's the trouble – she would still give almost anything to feel worthy of it. A wave of sadness washes up through her body. She slumps in the chair.

 

'You know I was the Incident Commander?' Julie's voice in the dark, close in her ear, later that night when they'd both been pretending to sleep. Gill had jumped. She hadn't known. Not for a fact. A question that she deliberately hadn't asked, hadn't wanted an answer for. Julie's hand on her hip tightened for a moment then released, giving her space. Gill swallowed. Checked she could still breathe. She tried to imagine Julie watching everything from a distance, following their movements, making plans and deploying officers, ordering those phone-calls.

'Thank you.' Her voice very small and serious. Tears stood in her eyes as she stared into the dark room, too scared to close them. She kept her back to Julie, not wanting even her to see. Only mouthed into the pillow the other words she wanted so desperately to say. I'm sorry.

 

Gill sighs. The ceremony trundles on. She sets her award on the ground and her heel clinks against her glass from earlier. Just a sip left. She swirls the clear liquid then tips it smartly down her throat. It's a dull sort of pleasure but it grounds her. All she has to do is wait out the next few minutes and make a few more pleasantries then get herself home. She wonders if she's drunk enough to justify a taxi. The thought of the walk back across that car park, past all those strange cars, each one a potential trap. And then her own car. No one to check it... Maybe one more drink would make a taxi necessary. Good enough excuse.

She wishes Julie was here. The feeling rises up through her like the sadness, flooding up from her toes to tighten in her throat. She wishes now that she hadn't been so adamant about refusing that plus one. It would have been right in a way. It was always the two of them back in the day when they first started training, coming up with mad ideas of how they would earn great accolades. She had always pictured them getting awards together, patting each other on the back, celebrating together. But she has been avoiding Julie since that night out a few weeks ago in case she asks too many of the right questions. And maybe Julie has been avoiding her.

 

'I'm not playing games, Gill.' She wouldn't come home with her that night, after the snogging in the toilets. She had put her in a taxi on her own. 'Ring me, when you want to talk.'

 

There is a general movement to stand, everyone clapping, as the whole shabang finally concludes. Gill rises with the rest, gathers her things. She feels a right twit lugging the Thing as she joins the throng at the bar. It's far too big to fit in her handbag or conceal in any way. Everyone here knows about it though, of course, so she has to put up with various congratulations, to nod and attempt not to look as sour as the taste they bring to her mouth. It's horribly crowded by the bar and Gill feels the tic of panic quickening again. She is just about to give up and attempt to elbow her way out when there is a gentle tap on her arm. Not her shoulder, thank God.

'Can I get you a drink, DCI Murray?' It's Will Pemberton. Oh if the ground would open up. She is blushing, she's sure she is.

He is smiling, still looking relaxed, though this close she can see the tension round his eyes. Reigning her brain firmly to the present moment, Gill tries to remember how to be charming.

'Thanks, but I think I'm going to make a break for it.' She thinks that's a smile her face is making, hopes it's not a grimace. 'Congratulations on your medal. I've got to dash actually, taxi'll be waiting.' She gallops to the end of her breath, grabs his handshake and elbows through the crowd away from his response.

 

She phones for the taxi from the doorway. Waits. Tired now. Adrenaline, guilt, frustration and gin swirling through her bloodstream. Tonight has not been a success. She looks down at the certificate. Suppose she'll have to put it up in the office somewhere. The fancy script blurs. She can't bear the thought of it looking down on her, day in day out. She doesn't feel brave. Just about feels like she's hanging on.

 

People start to leave around her so Gill slips outside, leans on the far side of a pillar and stares into the night. There's the car park, then the darkness where the lighting stops, beyond that the city, and somewhere in that direction her house sitting waiting for her, cold bed and a night of whirling thoughts, then get up tomorrow and another day at the office.