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Persistence

 

"Bow before me!" proclaimed Owen, to anybody who cared to listen – which was precisely nobody. "I am your sovereign lord."

"You haven't even finished potting the reds yet. Don't get too cocky." On a platform above, where he had been detailed as ball boy, Ianto managed to sip from his cup of coffee with a show of such derision that Jack could not help but flash him a giant grin; giant even for Jack, who had practically cornered the market in such things. Owen glared.

"You're just the ball boy. You don't count."

"Why do you need a ball boy for snooker anyway?" asked Gwen, who was watching the match between bites of cooling pizza, and a half-hearted perusal of the latest set of Rift data. Given that the Rift specialised in unpredictability, keeping an eye on it always seemed to be the least useful job in their varied and gargantuan repertoire. Jack laughed.

"How long have you been here?"

"You know how long I—" Gwen broken off at a sudden loud screeching, ducking slightly through sheer instinct as a shadow loomed overhead. With a second bloodcurdling shriek, Myfanwy, their occasionally tame pterosaur, descended upon the snooker table and made off with the cueball. Ianto sighed.

"That's it. I'm sending her to a pet therapist."

"She eats snooker balls?" asked Gwen, staring up at the high ceiling, where the creature had once again disappeared. With a wave of her snooker cue, much like a teacher gesturing with a fescue, Tosh shook her head.

"Unlikely. Whilst it's entirely possible that she uses gastroliths to aid digestion, a snooker ball is more than likely too big for her to swallow comfortably. Possibly she thinks they're eggs. It is usually the cue ball that she takes. They're not really egg-shaped, but she does seem to be mildly short-sighted."

"Better book her in at the opticians when you call up the pet therapist." Jack told Ianto, earning a withering glare. "Anyway folks, I think that means the tournament's over. Owen wins 2-1."

"It was supposed to be the best of five," said Tosh. Owen twirled his cue like a majorette's baton.

"That's okay, I'm in no hurry. I can finish beating you later. You got something else in mind, Jack?"

"Oh, you know. Gigantic Rift in Cardiff. Weevils running rampant in the sewers. Regular alien incursions, displaced humans, the occasional battle-scarred Dalek. Just the usual." Jack screwed up a computer print-out, the better to make it travel the distance, and bowled it at Tosh. "Double-check my sums for me, could you? Either there's a hiccup in the local temporal field, or I should never have passed my Time Agent primaries."

"You think there's trouble brewing?" asked Gwen, setting aside her pizza to study her screens anew. Nothing looked different. Nothing looked threatening. Given the nature of the Rift, it struck her that that was just the sort of time to become suspicious. Jack shrugged.

"It's Monday. Never trust a Monday. I don't know, Gwen. Just keep your eyes peeled, yeah? Tosh, get those figures checked. Owen, have a look up top. Last time the Rift misbehaved, the sky turned black. Might as well see what's going on. Ianto..."

"Start cooking up another dodgy meteorological report?" the young Welshman suggested. Jack shook his head.

"Check up on Myfanwy. She's pretty Rift-sensitive. And see if you can get that ball back while you're at it."

"Yes sir." The younger man disappeared. Tosh hurried to her computer, smoothing out Jack's sheet of paper as she went. Gwen bent close towards her own screen, pizza discarded. The snooker game had been forgotten – until, quite suddenly, the coloured balls spread across the baize began to tremble.

"That's new," said Owen, in the slightly strained tone of one who did not like to show too much concern. The balls shook more violently, knocking against one another in their random clusters, then galloping suddenly from one end of the table to the other. The pink shot into a pocket. A red leapt out of another, twirled in mid-air, and promptly re-potted itself with a dull thud. Abruptly the table fell still again, and for three, pregnant seconds, silence hung over the Hub – then, in a shower of sparks, the lights exploded, Gwen's computer shut down, and two of Tosh's monitor screens shattered. Smoke rose in a lazy spiral from her workstation, whilst her oblivious computers buzzed and whirred happily beneath. She spluttered, and batted ineffectually at the smoke.

"Jack..."

"Don't worry, we've got plenty more. Go get yourself some new ones. Is everyone okay?"

"We're fine," Owen assured him. "What the hell was that?"

"Some sort of feedback." Jack shrugged off the incident for the moment, raising his voice to bellow for Ianto, who answered faintly a moment later from somewhere across the wide space of the Hub. His fears put at rest, Jack turned his attention to his wrist strap, running scans as the others began to look about, poking at the remains of Tosh's screens, and trying to reboot Gwen's computer. It bleeped irritably, deigned to start up only in safe mode, and then jammed itself into a round of self-analysis from which it would not be roused.

"As Rift disasters go, that seems unusually restrained," said Gwen quietly. Owen's eyes met hers, a guarded relief upon his face that she was sure was mirrored upon her own.

"I'd better check upstairs," he said, and hurried towards their CCTV monitors, moving faster than he had in some time. The monitors were still active, if sluggish, and showed them an ordinary Cardiff Monday. The sky was its usual shade of October grey. Not especially cheerful, perhaps – but certainly not sinister.

"So... the world's not ending, at any rate," said Gwen, with something of her usual cheer. Jack did not look up from his wrist band. "Jack?"

"I don't like this." His familiar smile was nowhere to be seen, his usually playful blue eyes now hard and sharp. Owen waved an arm at the CCTV.

"Pictures don't lie. Well, except when they do, obviously."

"Just because the sky is normal, doesn't mean everything else is. If it all went crazy up there every time something bad happened, even humans would start noticing it."

"That's not what I meant. And... also I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be insulted by that." Owen gestured again at the screens. "There's nobody running about screaming. I usually count that as a good sign."

"Or the calm before the storm," pointed out Gwen, neatly worrying herself at the same time as she was bringing him back down to Earth. He glowered.

"You people just like danger, that's your trouble. Fine. I'll..." He threw his arms into the air in a gesture of exasperation. "I'll go check something. Somewhere."

"Do you really think there's something wrong?" asked Gwen, as Owen strode away, as purposefully as he could when he had no clear idea of where he was going. She had asked Jack, but it was Tosh who answered, pausing in her attempts to clear up the smouldering glass and plastic ruins of her monitors.

"Equipment doesn't explode every day. Fortunately. Jack, can I borrow Gwen to help carry the monitors? We can pick her up a new hard drive at the same time, and some more light bulbs as well. Is there anything else that you can think of?"

"No, that sounds good. If you see Ianto, point him back this way. I need a second pair of eyes to re-check the Rift data. And stay alert."

"Always," promised Gwen, although as she and Tosh hurried away towards the store rooms, they both privately thought that he was overreacting. The Rift often did weird things. Usually they came to nothing. If nobody was screaming, if monsters were not erupting from glowing portals in their midst – then generally they could look upon it as a good day.

**********

Feeding a pterosaur took a lot of meat. Ianto had long ago re-purposed a section of the morgue's cold storage in order to keep Myfanwy in the style to which she had become accustomed. He had headed there when Jack had told him to check up on the creature, for he had found that the easiest way to do that was with a haunch of sheep in one hand. It was dark there now, one bleak emergency light flickering in best horror movie fashion, the chill in the air adding its own touch to the atmosphere. Ianto whistled the most jaunty tune that he could manage, without quite convincing himself that he wasn't unnerved. He was almost amused by his fears. It was remarkable what a lack of light and a drop in temperature could do to an imagination. He was still trying to amuse himself in that way when a dark shadow flitted across the corner of his vision, and a blow to the head knocked him well beyond care.

**********

Up one level, where the temperature was better and the lighting worse, Owen had gone to check on the cells. There were two Weevils there, sharp-toothed, bug-eyed creatures that, in their own, cryptic way, were just as much a gauge of Rift activity as Myfanwy. In the darkness they were far more at home than Owen, less cowed than usual, and they loomed near the transparent cell walls with their teeth bared. Owen flashed a torch at them, trying to discern something useful from their body language, but their hunched backs and curling, clenching fists pointed only to their natural hostility, and their hissings and growlings might have meant anything.

Determined, Owen moved closer, standing bare millimetres from the toughened glass, half-convinced that Jack was being paranoid. There was nothing so very wrong here. As if in answer to his thoughts, one of the Weevils glanced up suddenly, seemingly looking past him toward something else. And was there something – some brief flash of something – reflected on the glass? Owen started to turn. He was still half-sure that Jack had overreacted when the prison's in-built gun ports swivelled to point toward him, and the jagged blue fountain of a taser blast dropped him senseless to the floor.

**********

The stores were as normal as always – or as normal as anywhere within Torchwood possibly could be. Ianto's precise filing system made navigation easy, but Gwen was never entirely sure of herself there. For one thing it was preternaturally silent, and for another it was almost disorientating in its size. It seemed entirely improbable that something so seemingly vast could fit inside the Hub, but when she had attempted to tackle Jack on the subject, he had merely smiled, and muttered something incomprehensible about doctors.

"Shall we split up?" asked Tosh. "I'll get the monitors if you'll get the light bulbs."

"Okay. Do you trust me to pick up the right hard drive?" It was a gentle tease – Tosh had a tendency to assume that she was the only person who knew how to operate computers correctly. The technician smiled a little shyly, half-embarrassed and half-flattered to be included in a workplace joke.

"Yes. They're all much the same down here anyway. I'm not sure whether Jack got a great deal with a wholesaler, or just hijacked a shipment. Meet you back here in five minutes?"

"Provided I don't get lost. Looks like we need to fix the emergency lighting at the same time as the main circuit."

"That and two hundred other things. If things ever slow down, we need to give this place a thorough overhaul." Tosh sounded as though the Hub's rather patchwork aesthetic offended her technician's sensibilities. Gwen smiled.

"If things ever slow down. How many light bulbs do you think we need?"

"Good question. Better bring a box. I'll get a trolley for the monitors, and with two of us to push it, it won't be hard to carry everything back."

"Fine." Gwen headed off, focused on her search for light bulbs. Ianto might have the place arranged as neatly as he did everything else, but there was still a lot of ground to cover, a lot of shelving to negotiate, and a great deal to be distracted by. She lingered by the pieces of a kitchen-cabinet-sized computer unit, fitted with giant spools of tape; beside the dismantled sections of a huge, domed rifle that was tagged, with typical Ianto precision, as: Lumos XII: laser percussion rifle, firing mechanism removed. Three feet further along, and two shelves up, lay a pristine flintlock pistol, fallen straight out of the eighteenth century, presumably courtesy of the Rift. She could almost smell the powder. It was tempting to linger and toy with it, and she had to hurry herself along.

Moving forward, she started guiltily at a noise from behind, sure that Tosh had caught up, all finished, and with her not even started. Instead, as she turned, it was to see the largest of the bits of laser percussion rifle swinging inexorably towards her head. She ducked, instinct galvanising her body into action long before her thoughts had had a chance to catch up. One hand went for her gun, she opened her mouth to shout a warning to Tosh, and a dark shape loomed suddenly close, lashing out furiously with the chunk of broken rifle. Her shout stopped before it began, her concentration required elsewhere as she threw up one arm to deflect the blow, bringing up her own gun with the other. She was fast, and years of self-defence training had made her ready for almost anything, but an unseen foot kicked at her ankles, and her sudden evasive action had left her unbalanced. Unsteady and vulnerable, she fell. The sharp edge of a shelf caught her elbow, the heavy chunk of laser rifle slammed into her shoulder. A dark shape laughed in brief satisfaction, and she was sure that it was a laugh she knew. The thought did not have time to connect itself to a memory. The laser rifle was swinging again, and this time there was no opportunity to defend herself. In the murk of the ill-lit storeroom, she sank somewhere darker still.

**********

"Is Gwen back?" Pushing a trolley somewhat awkwardly before her, Tosh hurried as best she could back into the office area. "I lost her in the stores."

"I haven't seen her." Seated on his desk, Jack was surrounded on all sides by data. The two computers on his desk were whirring away, a printer some forty years old was churning out reams of old-style, perforated computer paper, and his equally archaic-looking wrist strap was projecting bright blue holograms, of a sort that fascinated Tosh endlessly. She had always been desperate to get her hands on the wrist strap. So far the closest she had ever come was when he had shaken her hand to welcome her to work on her first day.

"Have you found anything?" she asked, already working to set up the two new monitors. Jack shook his head.

"Did you see Ianto?"

"No."

"Owen?"

"No." She frowned then. "Are you worried?"

"Almost constantly, about everything." He flashed her a grin. "I'm probably overreacting."

"The Rift looks more dangerous than this several times a week," she pointed out. He nodded.

"I know."

"You don't usually jump at your own shadow."

"I should do. It's a great shadow." His smile had not wavered, but the familiar light was not in his eyes. "I'm old, Tosh. I'm not claiming to be wise, but I am old. A whole lot older than you. And I've spent a lot of my life alongside the Rift. I can feel it when things are different." He gave a flick of his wrist, and the electric blue holograms folded themselves up and disappeared. "Something's... changed. Something has happened. Like..." He shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong." His eyes were suddenly warm and bright. "Maybe I need a holiday. Last time was... 1937, I think. I'm probably about due another."

"I'll say." Tosh finished connecting up the new monitors, and watched the streams of data rolling up the newly lit screens. Her computer had been busy, unconstrained by her lack of vision. It took her several moments to make sense of what she was seeing, for she was in essence walking into the cinema halfway through the film. "On the other hand..." she began. Jack glanced up.

"You got something?"

"I..." She wasn't quite sure at first. Something rankled. Something buzzed at her, tickling the back of her brain. It was not until the twin streams of data had had a chance to coalesce, to synchronise with each other, and with her own racing brain, that she saw what was wrong, and her eyes opened wide.

"Jack, there are six people in the Hub."

"Six?" His eyes bored into hers, and he was at her side so fast that he might almost have teleported. "You sure?"

"The computers are." She pointed at the nearest screen, although she could see that he was ahead of her. He joked that she was the only one who could understand such technological details, but there were times when she felt that he was so many steps ahead, she might almost have been from the Dark Ages in comparison. His eyes narrowed.

"Something's wrong."

"That's what I'm trying to tell you. There are—"

"No. Why aren't the alarms sounding? Why aren't the computers registering an illegal presence? It's as though they recognise the intruder. As though it's somebody known to the system." His eyes found Tosh's, and held them. "As though they're one of us."

"But there are no more of us. And even if there were others, this is a new system. Old Torchwood members wouldn't register on it. Not unless they'd been here in the last twelve months, and that only leaves—" Her eyes widened. Jack's narrowed instead, thin slits of blue fire as bright as his impossible holograms.

"Suzie," Tosh said, her throat suddenly dry, her skin turning clammy and cold. Jack nodded, staring now into the shadows thrown about them by the malfunctioning lights.

"Suzie."

**********

"You called?" She was standing on a walkway, where it was just light enough to see her, and just dark enough not to be sure what she was doing. Enough was visible for Jack to see that she was still wearing the clothes she had died in – the most recent time, that was. His imagination filled in the bloodstains, but it was impossible to make them out in the murk. He sighed.

"You know, a guy could soon tire of you."

"Pot, kettle. And anyway, why should you be the only one who gets to bounce back? It's boring out there. Cold and dark and dull." She shrugged, lightly and almost carelessly. "So I thought I'd come here instead."

"It'll be easy enough to get rid of you again." His hand was on his gun, although as yet he hadn't drawn it. Tosh, over by her desk, and caught wide-eyed like a startled rabbit, wondered why he didn't just shoot her and have done with it. It seemed a perfectly sensible reaction to her.

"Oh, you're not going to shoot me, Jack. Not now, not just like that. Not without getting a few answers first. How am I here, how dangerous am I?" A burst of suggestive laughter coloured her tone. "And can you draw and fire without me doing something unpleasant to poor, sweet little Tosh first? Especially if bullets are as useless against me as they were last time." She turned her head at that, offering what looked like it might have been a smile in Tosh's direction, and Tosh answered with a furious glower. "And then there's the rest of the team. Not seen them in a while, have you. Dear, sweet Ianto. Does he taste of coffee, Jack? I don't know why, but I always rather assumed that he would. And Gwen. Good old Gwen. Sitting at my desk, doing my job."

"You weren't needing it," said Jack. Her indistinct form twitched, and she came forward a step, ever so slightly more into the light.

"I could have. There was so much more that I could have done. So much more that I could do. I know our history. Compared to some of the people Torchwood has employed, I'm practically a saint."

"Our history. My history. That's irrelevant." He spoke as though he was without a care in the world. Tosh's eyes flickered uncertainly from one to the other of them. Was he keeping Suzie distracted? Was she expected to do something? But there was nothing that she could think of to do. She was unarmed. The only obvious things to hand, amidst the usual office debris, were a desk stapler and a snooker cue. She didn't have the strength to use that as a weapon at this distance, and the stapler was no use at all. All the same, Jack did have Suzie's attention. Tosh forced herself to relax, to appear unthreatening, and let her remarkable mind begin to buzz.

"But I'm not irrelevant, Jack. You and your little team here, buried under Cardiff, pretending that you're making a difference to the world. That's a different question. Torchwood needs a leader who'll use all this technology. There are people in government who'll listen to me, and you know it."

There was silence for a moment. Tosh saw Jack frown, although she still could detect no particular concern in his expression. He was faking his casual attitude, at least in part, she was sure; but he was faking it well. If Suzie had hoped to cause a stir, then by now she must be beginning to seethe. She had proven in the past that she didn't manage her anger particularly well.

"Is that it?" His hand falling away from his gun at last, Jack folded his arms, and sat down on the corner of the nearest desk. The movement took him slightly away from Tosh, dragging Suzie's line of sight away from her as well. Tosh pushed herself harder. There had to be something that she could do. The reason for Gwen's disappearance now seemed horribly clear, and she could not help but wonder what fate might have befallen her friends. She had to find out, and quickly. Meanwhile there was a hint of an incredulous laugh in Jack's voice, as he continued to keep Suzie occupied.

"Seriously? You came back to life to swap small talk with politicians, and take over my job? 'Cause if you want it that much, you should just have asked. I'm always happy to let somebody else handle the paperwork. You came back to life, Suzie. And you wanna hang out in a hole underneath Cardiff, and worry about the annual budget?"

"Don't get smart, Jack." Suzie's voice had a sharp edge to it suddenly – the first indication of a temper beginning to stretch. She lifted a hand, and in the dull shadow something caught the dim light with a metallic gleam. She was armed, then. Only to be expected – still, it was always good to have a hypothesis confirmed. Tosh noted the new data, and altered her reckoning accordingly.

"Smart? Me? Hell, if I was smart I'd have had your body encased in concrete the last time I killed you. I won't be making that mistake again."

"You won't be getting the chance again." She cocked her head on one side, smile just about visible. "It's a nice idea though. Thank you. I've been entertaining a few, but I like that one better."

"Yeah. Sure." The lightness had gone from Jack's tone. Now he just sounded bored. "So that's what this little visit is all about? Talking us to death?"

"Are you really that eager for oblivion? You might be disappointed by it. I certainly wasn't all that impressed."

"So you said. Just how did you get back this time, incidentally? There's no glove anymore."

"You have a very precise method of corpse storage, Jack; or rather Ianto does. I knew where I'd be put, or guessed that I did. Which neat little drawer in your charming freezer of infamy."

He shrugged. "Rules are rules."

"And we are so known for following rules here, aren't we. Anyway, the Rift has its peculiarities. A particular energy signature that repeats itself every so often. I might have had to wait a century or two, but I knew that it would show up again eventually. And when it did, this lovely little gadget—" she held up a black sphere, encrusted in tiny blue lights— "restored me to my former glory." She frowned, and for a moment looked down towards her chest, where the last time she had died, she had been perforated with bullet holes. "More or less. There's an odd sort of draught, I admit. Still, I expect I'll get used to it."

"Living with a hole where your heart should be. Ever get the idea the universe was trying to tell you something?"

"Yes. That I'm alive. That I've beaten you again."

"So?" He shrugged, the look on his face surprisingly boyish, surprisingly good-humoured all of a sudden. "I've killed you, what, twice now? Trust me, I'm good for a few more goes. It's practically a hobby."

"No, I don't think so, Jack. This time I'm here to stay."

"Yeah. Didn't you say that last time?"

"You got lucky then."

"I always get lucky." The mockery was clear in his tone. Tosh almost smiled. She was afraid; of the gun, of Suzie's unpredictability, of what she might have done to their friends. All the same, Jack's manner, with its mixture of boredom, amusement and effrontery, was perfectly judged. Soon enough, Suzie was going to lash out. Tosh knew that she had to be ready. If nothing else, she was as much in the line of fire as Jack; and far less likely to live through the experience. Once again her eyes ran over the items on her desk. Once again she judged their relative worth. There was a gun in Gwen's desk, but she dared not move that far. Besides that there was her computer equipment, the snooker cue, the stapler. A roll of Sellotape, an mp3 player, half of a Twix, and half a cup of now very cold coffee. She returned her attention to Suzie, studying that dark silhouette, just indistinct enough to present a bad target, whilst still remaining visible. The gun, pointed unwaveringly at Jack, but able to move fast enough to point at her, if she did anything too noticeable. Suzie was a good shot; Tosh knew that only too well.

One thing had changed though. Her equipment might be the same as before; the situation might be the same as before; but there was one thing that was new. The black sphere, with its dusting of tiny blue lights. She studied it as best she could from a distance. The lights pulsed, she noticed. Faintly, but enough to be obvious if she concentrated. Pulsing with a familiar rhythm. It made her wonder. How vital was that little gadget? It had apparently brought Suzie back, but was it keeping her here as well? Tosh frowned, and her fingers, slowly, cautiously, edged towards the snooker cue. It was no use as a weapon, but it might be something else. Her hand closed around it, just as Jack made some new joke at Suzie's expense, mocking her for her continual attempts to thwart death. A hiss of fury escaped Suzie's throat, and she moved forward a step. Two steps. Three. Right into what remained of their illumination.

"Death hasn't done a lot to improve your temper, has it," said Jack. Tosh's breath caught in her throat, afraid that Suzie was going to snap; afraid that her half-seen gun was about to fire. She did her best to remain focused; thinking, planning, figuring, taking the best advantage she could of the distraction Jack was giving her. Carefully she picked up the snooker cue, and judging distance, calculating vectors – and, perhaps, thinking up a few hopeful prayers – she weighed it briefly in her hand and let it fly. It flew as though built for the purpose. Striking the alien sphere dead centre, it knocked it flying from Suzie's hand, to carve itself a blue-sprinkled arc through the darkness. There was a dull clang as it struck the metal walkway, bouncing off at an angle with a noise that rang out around the Hub. A moment later it had vanished from sight. Tosh almost wanted to cheer.

"You!" Suzie's head snapped around to face her, eyes wide and protruding, face drained of what little colour death had permitted it to retain. "I'll—" She turned, the rest of her body following her head in a jerky, awkward movement. Her gun came up to bear upon Tosh, but the manoeuvre lacked grace, lacked the ease of a body's usual motion. Tosh's own eyes widened as she stared at the gun, but Jack's own weapon barked once, twice, and Suzie's gun clattered away somewhere into the gloom.

"Damn... you..." Something was failing. Something inside of her, or outside of her perhaps, was clearly powering down. "Damn all of you. I'll..." Her legs gave way suddenly, and she sat down hard, the impact reverberating along the walkway. "I'll... I'll come back. I'll... come back... again."

"I almost believe you." Jack went over to her and, after a brief hesitation, so did Tosh. She stood beside Jack, staring down as her former friend and colleague slumped onto one side. Her eyes blinked furiously, but they seemed to be all that she could still move. Jack crouched down beside her. "Just remember. I'm here for the duration, Suzie. Any time you want a rematch, remember who's waiting for you." The fury in Suzie's eyes was clear, but all that she could manage in reply, hissed through thick tongue and useless lips, was an old and very earthy obscenity. Jack laughed. A second later, Suzie was gone.

"Is she...?" asked Tosh, who wasn't at all sure how one could tell in such circumstances. Jack nodded, and without a word, bent down to lift up the corpse. He slung it over a shoulder, then nodded along the gantry.

"Find that ball."

"The others..."

"They'll wait. She won't have killed them outright. Not when she might have needed them to get to me. Find that ball. I don't want to take any unnecessary risks."

"Right." Her eyes drifted to the sad, slumped form on Jack's shoulder. "What are you going to do with her?"

"That concrete idea wasn't a bad one." He flashed her a grin that was almost the usual, million watt Harkness trademark. "I don't know. The same as before, probably. Keep her close."

"Do you really think she'll come back again? Even if we can be sure that we stow her away without any more little gadgets?"

"I'm certainly not ruling it out." He turned away, his feet clattering and echoing along the walkway. "She's about stubborn enough."

"We could stuff her in the incinerator?"

Jack swung around, blue eyes alive with humour. "You have a grim streak to you, Tosh. I like it. Yeah, maybe. Maybe I'll let the others decide; they probably have the right. Now get that ball. Put it in my office, so we're sure it's a safe distance from her, and then round up the others and get the lights back on. I'll be in the morgue."

"Will you... I mean, is she... Should you be alone with her? Is she... safe?"

"Yeah." He muttered something else then, under his breath. She thought that it was 'for now'. "Get going, Tosh. And well done." A wry smile lit his face. "I was hoping you'd think of something smart, but I never dreamed of a snooker cue. Course, I'd have aimed for the gun..."

"I thought of that. But she seemed more focused on it. I think she was planning to use it. I reasoned that she would have been holding it more tightly, so I took a chance, and hoped that the ball was important."

"And it was." His smile broadened. "Nice work."

"Thank you." Suddenly flustered, never completely comfortable with praise, she coloured slightly and hurried off. Jack, meanwhile, with a brief and sorry sigh, turned to carry his grim load back to the morgue. He had mocked Suzie with the suggestion that killing her had become a hobby. At the back of his head was the worry that it might have to become just that. He dismissed the thought, with a determined grin to a room full of memories. How could she come back again? It was impossible. All the same, it might pay to investigate the concrete idea.

Just in case.

 

The End