"What about poison?" he lightly suggested, a chillingly sardonic note in his voice once again. "Since you're so close to him now and everything. Be easy, wouldn't it? Cuppa tea, drop of rat poison: Bob's your uncle. One nice, sweet, agonising death."
He'd been making these plans for years, and for years she had lived those plans with him. His enemy had died a hundred – no, a thousand – imagined deaths in that time, each one more agonising than the last. Even now, with his final vengeance so carefully planned and close at hand, there was still time for more murderous plotting and blissful fantasies of revenge.
She raised an eyebrow just slightly. "A little too obvious, don't you think?"
"A little too traceable, too," he admitted.
"Lacking in style," she continued. "We've already got a plan. Watertight. Don't go changing it now."
He moved to stand behind her, arms tight around her shoulders, burying his face in her hair.
"Oh I won't, I won't," he murmured in her ear. "But dreaming…now that's fun. Kept me warm, all those years inside."
She twisted around in his arms to look him in the face. "I thought dreaming of me was what kept you warm all those years." Her tone was arch; she could hear it in her own voice. "Dreaming of you was what kept me warm. Remember, revenge is a dish best served cold, not warm."
"Simmer, then bring to the boil," he whispered. "And you, my darling, you are what kept me going: you, and our plans. And now we're so close. Dead-duck Doyle. And then, my love, then we'll be free at last. Forever."
"Forever," she murmured, not meeting his eyes, wanting to believe it could be true.
Dead-duck Doyle. Everything came back to Doyle in the end, him and his fellow grass. Had done for too many long, weary years of growing despair.
She had very daringly risked a visit to that tatty little house he called home since his release from prison – but where else could they meet and be truly private? She needed to see him. Even more daringly, she took some time to kneel out in the garden pretending to weed a long-neglected border, alone with her thoughts, wondering how it had come to this. How had she reached this end? Her – Kathie Mason, a sergeant with C11 Intelligence, a law enforcement agent; conspiring to commit murder on behalf of the lover and husband she'd kept secret from the world for so long.
Almost no one had known about her and Geoff Preston, even back then, so long ago when everything was normal. Maurice Richards had known, one of the few, but she'd had few enough dealings with him. And she'd always known, deep down, what Geoff was up to, but she'd known without knowing, so to speak. She'd convinced herself that things would be okay. They loved each other, and that was all that mattered. He would leave his wife, and then they could come out into the open. Or so she'd persuaded herself. A tiny voice at the back of her mind whispered that in practise it might not have been so simple; he was a Detective Superintendent, her superior officer, and any liaison between them would have been severely frowned upon, whether he divorced his wife or not. Those few who had known had made that clear.
She'd refused to let herself listen to that voice, wanting to believe they would be all right in the end. But Geoff's fall from grace had destroyed all her hopes and dreams, leaving behind only despair and bitterness. And anger. His wife had left him, but Kathie had been unable to walk away, unable to break that connection. He was a bent copper, but she loved him. And she was all he had left. They'd married in secret as soon as his divorce had come through, just before the trial, and then she'd settled down to wait. Waiting for his release. Waiting for the day her life could begin again. Waiting for the day she could start to breathe again. Turning into ice.
And Geoff had changed. He'd become harsh, bitter, and vengeful. Obsessed. The desire for revenge had consumed him and left him hollow, and despairing love had done the same for her. He'd changed, but still she loved him and wanted him, would do anything to keep him. If they could just get this need for revenge out of his system, maybe they could still be all right, somehow.
Ray Doyle was the focus of this desire for revenge, although his DS, Maurice Richards, was also a target. Kathie had never fully understood why the force of Geoff's hatred was reserved for this insignificant constable so much more than his superior. They'd both testified against him, so what made one betrayal greater than the other? It wasn't a subject she'd ever been able to persuade him to open up on. He felt how he felt, and that was that. He wasn't willing to explain, but he expected her complete support. And she was in too deep already to refuse.
He'd talked revenge throughout his seven year jail term, and she'd humoured him, putting her career on hold for his sake, visiting in secret, feeling herself grow ever colder inside. It was only as his release date drew near that she'd realised those fantasies of revenge were more than mere fantasies, or so she'd persuaded herself. She wasn't so sure now. Perhaps she'd always known, deep down, that it would come to this in the end.
Geoff assumed she would always support him, no matter what he did, that she would go along with his every suggestion no matter how extreme, no matter how illegal, or immoral, or horrific, all for the sake of love. The truly awful thing was that he was right. He took her for granted, but that wouldn't stop her from doing it. She would do anything he wanted her to do in order to secure their future, in the desperate hope that when it was all over they could start to really live again. For the sake of love, whatever that meant. Something had died inside her the day she realised that, and there was no way back from it now. She was in too deep, and there was no way out of this now. Unless she was seen, out here at Geoff's place, before the end came…
"Haven't you finished that yet?" Geoff appeared behind her, hands stuffed into his pockets, looking as casual as if he wasn't plotting a killing spree. "Someone'll see you, out here all this time. And you don't want to be late for your date now, do you?"
There was that sardonic note again. Kathie painted on a smile for his sake and headed back indoors to tart herself up a bit, having brought with her everything she would need from the apartment that remained her home. But even while preparing herself to sparkle and flirt with the enemy, just as Geoff wanted her to, her thoughts were still churning away within.
On Geoff's instructions she'd followed both their careers with interest, both Doyle and Richards. Whereas Richards had continued to plod along to early retirement, opening a little pub along the river, Doyle's star had continued its ascent, all the way to the heady heights of CI5. Geoff had looked almost sick the day she broke that news to him. But he'd rallied, and Doyle's career change had become part of the plan. From that moment on their every energy was devoted to a resurgence in Kathie's own career, just enough to have her noticed by CI5. It took time, but it had worked.
The plan had still been fluid up till that point. Kathie was to infiltrate CI5 and so get close to Doyle once more, gaining the personal knowledge that would allow Geoff to finalise his plan for revenge. It had to be perfect. But even Geoff had been surprised by how easy it was. Her first interview had been all it took. Doyle and his partner, Bodie, had given her a lift home and thus provided her with all the information Geoff needed. The 180 automatic rifle: it had laser-lock sights, was capable of firing up to 15 rounds a second, and had a range effective up to at least 1000 yards. And Doyle was babysitting it. It was perfect, Geoff had decided, both for the final kill and for twisting the knife beforehand. Neither of them had anticipated that kind of luck.
Doyle himself was another thing Kathie hadn't anticipated. Funny that. He was the whole point of it all, but she'd immersed herself in shared hatred, never stopping to let herself think about him as a person, to remember who the man behind the name really was. Not until they were face to face, and it was far, far too late.
"Here's to your second interview," said Doyle. And he meant it too; she could see the sincerity in his eyes.
"If I get one." Leaning back in the corner seat they'd appropriated in the dingy little pub, Kathie smiled back at him, reminding herself firmly to stick to the mission. Flirt. Keep him busy. Keep him away from home all night…
"I'll put in a word for you," he offered, only to backtrack instantly. "No, maybe I won't. Cowley doesn't like his people getting too involved."
"We never were," Kathie reminded him, trying not to think too deeply about the games she was playing. Playing with his life, with her life, with all their lives. Tonight was so crucial, in so many ways. Make or break time. And yet, somehow, she was enjoying herself.
"We could have been," he insisted, and Kathie knew that it was working. As long as her nerve held, and she kept working it, she had him. And she felt dirty for it, ashamed of herself, ashamed of Geoff and what he had made of her. And sorry, as well: sorry for Ray and sorry for herself, that their lives had brought them to this.
She couldn't let herself start thinking along those lines. If she did, it would all start to unravel, and she couldn't let that happen. Not if she wanted to find a way to make a future with Geoff at last. Her love for him had been all she'd had to cling to, for too many years. She couldn't let go of it, not now, not when they were so close.
"I was otherwise engaged," she pointed out, hearing that arch tone in her voice again. He had no idea just how otherwise engaged she'd been, or who with.
"And now?" There was a challenge in his eyes.
She smiled at him then, enjoying his company in spite of it all. "Unexpectedly available for weddings and bar-mitzvahs.
That was the trouble with this whole plan, she'd realised as soon as she ran into Doyle after her interview, as she prepared to finally put the final phase into motion. The trouble was Doyle himself. It had sounded so easy when she and Geoff planned this out: get close to him and learn his strengths and weaknesses, so that they could use them against him. She'd hated him for so long, for Geoff's sake and for her own – for the sake of the future they'd been robbed of. But remembering all that wasn't so easy when they were sitting together at a quiet table in this small, crowded pub, getting to know one another again. He was so personable; she'd forgotten that, not having seen him for so long and having invested so much emotional energy over the last few years into hating him and thinking of him as a target rather than as a person. Fun to be with, and sinfully attractive…which should make one detail of the plan much easier to go through with, she told herself, bitterly.
"I thought Cowley didn't like his operatives getting too close." Kathie continued to play the game.
"You're not on the squad yet." Doyle's eyes were sparkling as he watched to see how she'd respond.
"No," she acknowledged. The chances were she never would make the squad. She no longer needed to, although of course Ray didn't know that. Being here with him tonight, she'd already achieved just about everything she needed to with CI5.
"Leaves us a few days." His chat-up attempts were actually a little pathetic – she remembered him being much better at this. It was amusing, and also touching. He seemed to genuinely like her, and it was making him a little nervous. But she couldn't allow herself to be distracted.
"Yes." She smiled again, determined not to let herself give in, trying hard to hold on to the hate.
"It's just that, uh, we haven't got much time."
"No." Getting this over and starting to live again was all that mattered. She could do this. She just needed to hold her nerve and not tell him everything. It was, after all, because of him that she and Geoff had lost so many years.
Leaving Doyle's partner, Bodie, alone in the pub to juggle both his date and the girl he was trying to chat up, they headed out, making their way on to another pub.
"I enjoyed that," Kathie told him, and meant it. It had been a long time since she'd had an evening out like this, not since Geoff left prison – and for a long, long time before that, come to think about it. She'd distanced herself from all her old friends. Keeping the secret would have been too hard otherwise. But now, tonight, and even with all the lying and deceit, she'd still managed to enjoy herself – largely thanks to Doyle. The man she was plotting to kill.
"Yeah, it was fun." He gave her a crooked smile, his eyes sparkling with life and vitality. "Policemen used to walk around here in pairs, you know. Afraid they'd get done up otherwise. Used to be my patch."
"I know," Kathie said. "Maurice Richards used to be your DS."
"Maurice keeps a pub down here," Doyle told her, flashing that crooking smile again.
"I know," Kathie repeated. "He left the Force."
"You know a lot," Doyle observed, and she felt a sudden stab of panic. Maybe she'd gone too far, and let too much slip. So much rested on tonight. She couldn't let it all fall apart now.
"Wouldn't you?" She put every ounce of sincerity she could muster into her voice. "If you wanted to get into CI5?"
He seemed to accept that. "Yeah. Yeah, I would."
As they continued to walk, heading for Maurice's pub, Kathie was aware of a dark shape following them. Geoff's black Porsche, keeping tabs. She could feel his eyes burning into her back.
Going to Richards' pub was probably a mistake. He knew about her and Geoff, after all. She could see the faint look of puzzlement in his eyes when she turned up with Doyle. That could be a potential wrinkle in their plans, but then Geoff had plans for Richards, too. Visiting his pub was necessary to check that things were still ticking over for him here. It was risky, but if they knew for sure where he was, they could finalise their plans for him, too. But turning up with Doyle hadn't been part of the plan. They'd just have to hope he wouldn't let anything slip until his part in the plan had been resolved.
It occurred to her, midway through a far too enjoyable evening, that she could have made a halfway decent career for herself in CI5, under different circumstances. After all, she'd already got undercover down to a fine art, keeping Geoff secret for so many years.
Doyle was relaxing, having fun, and enjoying her company. The same was true for her, up to a point, but at the same time she was steeling herself for what she was about to do. She was about to betray her marriage vows with her husband's greatest enemy, under instructions from her husband himself, as part of a plan to kill the man.
She felt sick to her stomach, whoring herself out like this, and forced herself to focus on Doyle. He was laughing, running a hand through his unruly curls. Glancing up, he caught her eye and flashed a dazzling smile at her. It was time.
Preston sat in his car outside Maurice Richards' pub and watched as his beautiful Kathie came out, arm in arm with Doyle, game face firmly in place and laughing at some joke he'd cracked. He felt his lip curl at the sight. Starting the motor, he followed them back to where they'd left Doyle's car, and then on to the apartment he'd bought for Kathie with the proceeds of his 'ill-gotten gains'. He snorted at the thought, imagining the life they could have had together, if not for those nosy interfering do-gooders grassing him up and condemning him to years inside at her Majesty's Pleasure.
He waited until he was sure they'd settled in for the night, feeling his blood boil at the thought of what they were doing together, his hatred for Doyle rising steadily. He let the emotion simmer for a while, but then brought it back under control. He could make use of it later. Then he calmly started the engine again, heading for Doyle's apartment, which, thanks to Kathie's sacrifice, would be alone and unguarded all night.
He'd been planning this for a long, long time, and had staked out Doyle's apartment since the day Kathie had led him there, learning everything close surveillance could tell him about the place. Kathie…he allowed his thoughts to drift for a moment. Kathie, bless her, had done everything he'd ever asked her to. His revenge would not be possible without her support. And then he thought again about what she was doing right now, for his sake, and felt that surge of rage once more.
He controlled it. The time for allowing that rage its release would be there soon enough. Right now he had work to do.
Doyle's apartment had excellent security. Preston would expect nothing less from CI5. But he had a few tricks of his own up his sleeve. Prison had been an educational experience. With no fear of the apartment's sole inhabitant returning any time soon, he took his time, bypassing every security device installed. The gun was stashed away in a cupboard, locked, but easy to break into. And then that deliciously lethal weapon was all his.
He retraced his steps carefully on the way out, making absolutely certain that no trace of his presence remained. That should give Doyle something to chew over.
Job done, Preston's mind returned to Kathie, and to Doyle: together in her apartment, all night. He returned there and, in spite of the dark, found his way across to Doyle's car, an elderly Jaguar. CI5 wages couldn't be all that bad, he noted with some ire.
His careful sabotage of Doyle's car was a work of art, he congratulated himself: just enough to give him a bad fright, first warning that the hunt was on, but not enough to kill him, not yet – not unless he was really careless. And then he returned to his own car and waited, allowing his jealousy and anger to simmer.
By the time a slightly dishevelled Doyle emerged from the apartment block, the sun was rising. He was whistling happily to himself. Seething, Preston pulled out that deliciously lethal gun and with the sight followed Doyle back to his car, allowing that tell tale red dot to rest on the man. Everything that had gone wrong in his life could be traced back to Doyle. To Richards, also, but mostly to Doyle: the original whistle-blower, who had set his entire downfall in motion. It would be so easy to pull that trigger, to cut him down right here, right now. Bastard. Sleeping with another man's wife…
As Doyle got into the car, Preston allowed his focus to drift, panning with those laser-lock sights across the car park and up to the window of Kathie's apartment. She was standing in the window watching Doyle leave, like a good little lover. His wife, sleeping with the enemy. Blinded momentarily by his rage, he allowed the red dot of his laser-lock sight to travel up the wall onto Kathie, hovering over her throat.
Her hand came up, rubbing that spot on her neck where the sight rested. His heart melted once more. She loved him so much, had gone to such lengths for his sake. It was all Doyle's fault, not hers. He couldn't do this without her. And when this was over, then their new life together could begin at last. It had been such a long time coming, and now his revenge was close at hand.
She'd missed her calling in life, Kathie decided, distantly. She should have been an actress. After all, she'd proved, over the last few days, how good she was at it. She'd put on an act for everyone – acting the part of the diligent police officer bucking for promotion to CI5. Acting the part of the flirtatious former colleague. Acting the part of the perfect lover – although, that part hadn't been quite so much acting. She would never dare admit to Geoff how much she had enjoyed her night with Doyle; he would see that as the ultimate betrayal. Perhaps playing the part of the loyal wife, whatever ends it led her to, was simply another part of her act. She was no longer sure. She was even pretending to herself. She should have been an actress.
Instead, she'd become a killer.
Thinking about that turned her insides to ice.
It was all going wrong, she could feel it in her bones. It had all been wrong from the start, but it was too late to start realising that now.
'Wait at the house,' Geoff had told her. 'It'll all be over soon. Think about Buenos Aires, and wish me luck.' And then he'd taken the gun and gone off after Doyle, setting the final section of his plan in motion.
It'll all be over soon, she told herself, drifting into the kitchen for a glass of water to steady her nerves. All be over – one way or another.
The fear wasn't going away. She paced nervously, frightened and desperate for an end, wondering yet again how it had come to this. How had a love affair turned to murder?
She'd been feeling increasingly guilty, being so close to Doyle, helping him work, watching him fret over who could be stalking him like this. Wondering who could have murdered Maurice Richards. Never dreaming he was talking to the murderess herself. And in spite of it all, he'd still found room in his head to be concerned about her, worrying that because of him she'd blown her chances of getting into CI5.
She'd nearly lost it when he said that, came so close to confessing all. All he'd done was tell the truth. He didn't deserve what she and Geoff were doing to him, not if she was honest with herself. Neither had Maurice Richards.
She allowed herself a moment of remorse, thinking about Richards. She'd never killed before. It had been Geoff's idea, for her to take care of Richards and quickly, his recognition of her forcing them to take him out of the picture more rapidly than originally intended, before he could pass on any warning to Doyle. But it had still been carefully planned, ensuring that Geoff would have the solid alibi of being with his parole officer at the time. Great policewoman she was, she scornfully mused, far too late – she'd never stopped to wonder about her own alibi.
She should have been an actress, definitely, she decided. She'd shown no trace of her inner turmoil to Doyle, presenting a mask of tranquillity and offering friendly support in his hour of need. And she'd gone further than that, taking him Geoff's dummy bomb with a picnic basket; just another way of turning the screw. Doyle'd tried to protect her then, too.
It was too late for regrets now.
Geoff was taking a long time. She started to worry again, wondering how he was getting on, and whether things were going to plan. If he didn't hurry up, they wouldn't make it to the airport in time for their flight. There was so much that could go wrong, no matter how carefully they'd planned this.
Arranging to meet back here before making their getaway had been a really bad idea. She'd no sooner thought that than the thought was proved right as a commotion outside heralded the arrival of the cavalry. CI5.
She opened the door before they could break it down, seeing no point in postponing the inevitable and realising again that it was far too late for regrets. She deserved whatever happened to her. She found a moment to wonder if Geoff had had time yet to take care of Doyle. It would mean so much to him if he could bring his plans to fruition, even if he ended up back inside, as he inevitably now would. And yet a tiny part of her allowed itself to hope that he'd fail, that Doyle would make it. He didn't deserve what Geoff was planning.
She felt as though she was betraying Geoff by thinking that. If he didn't achieve his final revenge then this had all been for nothing. He had to succeed, if they were to live with the consequences.
No hint of these mixed emotions showed as she sat in icy silence while Mr Cowley and his men pulled the house to bits, as efficient as you'd expect. This was, after all, CI5. The shouting started when Bodie arrived, frantic with worry about Doyle. He'd been like a dog with a bone over the whole case. Doyle was, after all, his partner. It was all about loyalty.
"You bitch!" he snarled. "You set Ray up!"
Numb with despair, mask still firmly in place in spite of it all, Kathie thought about Geoff, about their hopes and dreams, about the future they'd planned, if only they could get past Geoff's need for revenge. She tried to stay strong. If she could just buy him a little more time…
"You'd better tell me, my lovely," Bodie told her, his tone low and menacing as he brushed a stray lock of hair off her face. "Because if anything happens to Ray, I'm going to find your sadistic boyfriend—"
"Husband," Kathie rallied. She was frightened now, despairing more than ever, but she couldn't allow that one to pass without protest. She still had a little pride left.
"'Husband'," Bodie smoothly amended, more menacing than ever. "And kill him. Very slowly. And then, to save you the pleasure of spending the rest of your miserable life in jail, I'm going to do the same for you." He leaned in close, whispering in her ear. "With great joy."
Kathie stubbornly maintained her outward composure, even while falling apart on the inside. "Did you hear that, Mr Cowley?"
"I never heard a word, Miss Mason." The CI5 Controller looked at her, stern and composed. "Not a single word."
Bodie leaned toward her again. "His eyesight's not very good either, you know."
Bodie sprinted for the door, armed with the information Kathie had given him, Mr Cowley hot on his heels.
Still guarded by the men they'd left behind, Kathie watched them go. A huge weight had been lifted, and yet she felt dead on the inside, cold, and dead.
It no longer mattered if Doyle lived or died. Either way, at long, long last, it was over.
written April 2005