After Chandler hung up the phone, he strapped his watch to his wrist, lay his coat carefully over his arm, and squared up his pending reports with the corner of his desk. It was better now. It was better than it had been, after. He straightened the pending reports again, and only when the edges were equidistant at a crisp right angle did he finally let it be and enter the incident room.
"About time, boss," said Miles, hovering by the door, coat and hat already on. "I was about to go do this one without you."
"That won't be necessary," he said. Then, when Miles gave him a sceptical look, "I'm fine."
"Whatever you say," said Miles. "Dr Llewellyn will meet us at the scene. I'm driving."
Chandler might have argued that had Miles not already been halfway across the incident room, back to him and striding out with Chandler left in his wake. Nothing to do for it but carry on; the job was the thing right now, and despite any challenges he was still determined to get it done.
It wasn't late but the sky made it feel that way, overcast and hanging low over their heads like it aimed to smother them all. Everything was dark and dreary, made worse by the scene of a suspicious death where the lights were dim at best—and intentionally so, it seemed. For effect.
What from the exterior was a private residence, was on the inside clearly a place of business...of some sort. The front reception room was divided in two by a heavy curtain, the entryway lit by a dozen fake candles and behind the curtain a heavy table, shelves full of knick-knacks, and a dead body on the floor.
"What's the verdict, doctor?"
"Hard to say," she said, removing her mask as she stood up straight and stepped away from the body. "It's likely the blow to the head that killed her, but you know I'm not willing to say anything definitive until I run some tests. Time of death is between six and eight hours ago, so some time last night."
"That's your job," she said, "but look here, right at the table corner, it's chipped and there's a bit of blood. She might've done this herself."
"Accidentally," said Llewellyn. "A fall. Though I'm not discounting the possibility that she was given something to cause her to lose consciousness first."
"I'm not discounting any possibilities at this point," said Chandler. "Miles, ID?"
"No purse," he said. "We'll have to take a look around. The bloke who found her called her Madame Spencer. Might be time to ask him a few more questions."
"You do that," said Chandler. "I want a few more moments with the body."
"Now there's a first," said Miles.
"I'm ready to transport the body whenever you are," said Llewellyn. "I can't do anything else till I get her on my slab."
"Just a few moments," he said again, and spotted Miles leaving out of the corner of his eye as he studied the scene, wiping his fingers on his coverall even though he hadn't touched anything, with or without gloves. The pool of blood was large, the scene not especially violent or cruel but still disturbing.
The moment the scene stopped being disturbing was the moment he ought to find a new line of work.
"Was she moved after her death?"
"Not that I could tell," said Llewellyn. "The blood pool is undisturbed, and there are no visible marks to suggest she was lifted or dragged any distance. No, I think she's lying where she died."
"If she'd fallen and hit her head, she'd've gone more in that direction, wouldn't she?" said Chandler, gesturing to the side.
"Depends on a lot of factors," said Llewellyn, "including the state of her reflexes when she went down. Whether or not she was conscious. Whether anything was in the way."
Chandler glanced around. There was nothing on the floor broken or otherwise to suggest she—or something—had collided with it, and the scattering of items on the desk, while making Chandler itch a little beneath his skin, was nothing that the average person would find out of the ordinary.
There were already photographs of the scene from every conceivable angle; he needed to come at this a different way. The scene was only a small part of this story.
"Thank you, Doctor, I'm finished for now."
"I'll call you when I have some results."
Chandler had never let his habitual faint queasiness at a murder scene stop him from doing his job, but he still took a deep and bracing lungful of fresh air once he got outside the house. His hands trembled only a little, and he fixed that with a quick tug at his cuffs.
The young man who'd called in the body was talking to Miles, but Kent had just returned from canvassing and Miles was motioning for him to come forward, whether to join them or take over, Chandler wasn't sure. What he was sure of, was that it was not ordinary behaviour for Kent to immediately move off in the other direction. In his direction.
"I believe Sergeant Miles requires your assistance," he said, and he knew it was too curtly the moment the words were out of his mouth but there it was. He was the Inspector and Kent was the Constable and they were in a professional situation. It wasn't actually inappropriate, only...awkward.
"He seems to have it under control, sir."
"I think I'll let him be the judge of that," said Chandler, nodding at them pointedly.
Kent looked away, then nodded, then turned tail and headed back in Miles's direction. The warm and familiar hug he received from their witness was not what Chandler had been expecting at all. And even though Kent pulled away and kept them at arm's length from then and after, he still felt a twinge deep down, and a violent curiosity that he had to tamp down before it interfered with the case.
Said tamping did not, however, prevent him from going over and doing his duty. "You two know one other."
"Know each other?" said the witness. "He's the bloody reason I was here in the first place."
"Oh, come on," said Kent, eyes shooting up at him from where they'd been firmly fixed on someone's shoes. "I'm not."
"Indirectly," he said, almost grudgingly, and Chandler was clearly missing the particulars of the undercurrent there but there was no mistaking the reluctant familiarity. "And there she was, blood all over the place."
"It was a head wound," said Kent. "Those are real bleeders."
"Chandler, this is Oliver Davies," said Miles. "As you can tell, he found the body."
"Kent, is this going to be a problem?" said Chandler, cutting immediately to the root of it.
"No, sir," said Kent, eyes right back down again. "Ollie's an old friend." Well, old friend covered a multitude of sins, didn't it. "He was here on business."
"What kind of business?" said Chandler. "What does she do here?"
"You know," said Ollie, shrugging his shoulder. "Personal business."
"You do know that we're the police, don't you?" said Chandler. "And that she's dead?"
"Personal business is her business," said Ollie. "She, you know, helps people with their problems."
"She was a therapist?"
"No," said Ollie impatiently. If he didn't want Chandler grasping for his meaning, he needed to be clearer. "She made magical trinkets and things. Stuff to make your life better."
"Oh great," said Miles. "This nonsense again."
"It's not nonsense," said Oliver. "The stuff she did really worked."
"I'm sure it did," said Miles. "And what did she do for you?"
"Well, nothing, she was dead when I got here," he said, like talking circles around it would keep them from noticing that he'd never told them just what his business was with her.
"I think I can take this from here," said Kent, which Chandler thought was tremendously overstepping until Kent gestured at the car pulling into a nearby driveway. "Looks like the neighbours just got home."
"Yes, thank you, Kent," said Chandler, and motioned for Miles to join him for a spot of questioning.
The neighbours, a young couple with enough piercings that they were probably in danger every time they passed a strong enough magnet, were quite eager to be helpful. Overeager, perhaps? Or Chandler was just so used to stony reluctance that any no-strings-attached cooperation seemed suspect.
"That one's a real witch," said the young man, Bruno.
"There's no need for that," said Miles.
"No, an actual witch," said Bruno. "The good kind. Potions and spells and that sort of thing. Well, you've been in there, you've seen it. She made my cousin a good luck charm and the next day she found a ten-pound note right there on the pavement."
"Anyone could find something like that, it's just chance."
"But everyone didn't find it, did they? She did."
"So have you availed yourselves of her services?" Chandler asked them.
"No, I figure that's just asking for trouble," said the young lady. "If you get a bit of good luck, don't you have to get a bit of bad luck to balance it all out, you know, karmically?"
"I would have," admitted Bruno, "but Sky here's a bit more superstitious." Chandler declined to point out the irony there. "She was good, though. Don't think anyone had it in for her."
"Maybe someone got their bad luck," said Sky pointedly.
Maybe someone got some bad luck indeed, Chandler thought. "Thank you for your time," he said. "If we have any further questions, we'll be in touch. And if you think of anything—"
"We're to call, right?" said Bruno. "We've seen all the programmes."
"Well, then you'll know just what to do," said Miles, and had turned his back before Chandler had finished shaking hands.
"Well, that was informative."
"It's going to be one of those," said Miles grimly. "We have all the luck."
"I don't know about that," said Chandler, his eyes scanning the pavement for the rest of his team, placing all of them just so in his mental geography. "We already have a lead on motive, and other people's belief in the supernatural doesn't make it anything...sinister. It doesn't make it real."
But he knew his own expression was grim just the same. Too many of these, in too small a span of time, and his division never seemed to catch a break.
"We need to talk to some of her other customers," said Chandler. "She must have records around here somewhere."
"You lot," said Miles, commandeering the nearest available constables. "Find her customer information."
"Her computer ought to tell us what we need to know."
"Do witches use computers?"
"She's a businessperson," says Chandler, "and businesspeople keep good records or they don't stay in business for long."
"That was sarcasm," said Miles. "Even my Gran uses computers and she can barely see."
"Wel, if it's there, our people will find it," said Chandler. And until they did, he was going to head back to the station to sort through what they'd already turned up.
Miles was quiet on the way back, filled with grim determination, and Chandler wished that just once they'd catch something ordinary, something straightforward. But that wasn't what their job was about, and he'd finally made his peace with that. Or if not made his peace, then at least come to terms in their ongoing battle.
He cleaned up in the men's toilet, stopping just short of putting on a fresh shirt. He'd got nothing on his, not even sweat, and he had to draw the line somewhere. He had to be in control.
Mansell and Riley were waiting when Chandler joined them by the board, and he saw Kent coming their way for a moment before he got a call on his mobile and held up a finger and turned back the way he'd come.
"Did you see that bloke Oliver?" said Mansell. "No wonder Kent's having a tough time with his love life if that's the sort he goes for. Thick as a brick, that one."
"Oh, you're one to talk," said Riley. "Fit, though, isn't he? If I were Kent, I'd've done the same, got my money's worth and moved on."
"Can we perhaps focus on the task at hand?" interrupted Chandler, feeling a distinct pain beginning to blossom behind his eyes.
"There's nothing at the scene, boss," said Miles, hanging up the phone. "No computer. No cabinet of files in a corner somewhere. A few notes here and there but nothing that could be called decent record keeping. We've got some identification, though. She's called Helen Spencer, not Madame, and it doesn't look like she's got any sort of record."
"This is looking less and less like an accidental death."
"Never looked accidental to me in the first place," said Miles. "I'm sure the good doctor will confirm for us shortly."
"Even if we didn't find her computer, there are likely still traces of her transactions somewhere in the ether," said Riley. "Any of those notes include account information?"
"Could've done," said Miles. "I'll make sure they make their way to your desk."
"Good," said Chandler. "Have we made a complete canvas of the neighbourhood?"
"Loads of people not home during the day," said Mansell, "but we can probably catch them later on. Maybe someone saw something last night."
"Let's hope," said Chandler. "I want you and Kent back on that."
"Sure," said Mansell, "just as soon as he finishes having phone sex with the witness."
"I highly doubt Kent is—"
"Lighten up, boss," said Mansell, clapping an unwelcome hand on his shoulder. "At least it'll put a smile on his face again."
Chandler most certainly did not want to think about Oliver Davies putting a smile on Kent's face, particularly not in that context. But he trusted that Kent at least, if not Mansell, would not waste valuable time in the middle of an investigation. If he was talking to Oliver, then surely it was related.
"You and I have a date at the morgue," said Miles, steering Chandler's wandering thoughts in a more fruitful direction.
"Do they have something for us?"
"I guess we're about to find out."
The morgue had never been Chandler's favourite place, but at least there was something sterile about it, everything clean and in its place. In this place—perhaps in most places other than the ones he was forced to visit—the dead were neater than the living.
"Look here," said Llewellyn, drawing their attention to the body. "Bruising here and here, on the back of her neck. It wasn't visible till we got the body back here."
"As if someone grabbed her from behind—"
"—and slammed her head into the corner of her desk."
"It's faint," said Llewellyn, "like he only put pressure on it as he impacted—"
"From the width of the finger marks," she explained. "But he put the majority of the force into gripping her hair, like this. Easier to hide."
"He wanted us to think it was an accident, that she fell."
"That's my guess," she said, "and from the amount of alcohol in her blood she might well have done, if he'd waited a little longer."
"Killers, always so impatient," said Miles. "Thank you, Doctor."
"Still some toxicology tests to run. I'll send the report up just as soon as I've signed off. But as of right now, we're definitely calling this one a murder."
"Suppose we just carry on as we were, then," said Miles. "I knew it was murder. It just didn't smell right from the start."
"I'm going to go bring Buchan into it," said Chandler. "I'm sure all his witchcraft files are handy and well indexed and cross referenced by this point."
"I practically know his witchcraft files at this point," said Miles. "Good luck and all that, but I don't think he's going to be much use this time."
Still, Chandler took the time to examine the possibilities with him, the history of punishments for arcane activities, the many and varied deaths attributed to witches (instead of their actual causes: misadventure and cold-blooded murder). He mulled over the possibility that this was another case of punishment, but the cause of death was so mundane. It was a crime of passion, not of torture or revenge. Which reminded him, after sifting through several boxes, that it was high time he pulled himself out of the bowels of the department and checked in with the team.
Kent was talking to Riley in quiet tones, too low for Chandler to overhear, and when he realised he only knew that because he was trying to overhear he turned himself back to the task at hand.
He scrawled a couple more things on the board before beginning, the names of a couple of the victim's associates they'd turned up, the result from the morgue.
"All right," he said, tapping it a couple of times with the pen. "Yes. Have we come across anyone who knew her, who knew anything about her life outside of her work?"
"Family was a dead end," said Riley. "Self-employed. No real friends that we've found mention of. Would help if we had her phone."
"Would help if we had a lot of things," said Chandler. "What about our canvass?"
"The woman at the corner, Radhika, she said that the victim gave her a charm for prosperity for her new business," said Mansell.
"She's still in business, so she's convinced it's working," he said, shrugging. "I'd be looking for something a little more concrete myself. Same with the woman who said Madame Spencer got her a job interview. She didn't get the job, but she said the interview was enough proof that it was working."
"And her neighbour, the one with the three kids, she says her cousin went to her looking for help passing his exams. What do you know, the next day, he spots a sign for a tutor."
"Apparently, much like God, magic helps those who help themselves."
"What about your mate, Emma?" said Mansell. "What was his story?"
"Looking to improve his love life," he said reluctantly, and Mansell gave him an elbow and a grin.
"So you drove him to it, did you?"
Kent shoved him back. "He says his friend Gina went to her for the same thing, and she's engaged to be married now."
"Have we talked to this Gina?" interrupted Chandler. He didn't expect anything to come of it, particularly, but when leads were this sparse on the ground, every one of them needed to be chased down.
"We should be talking to the people she didn't help, not the people she did," said Riley.
"Well, we don't know who those are, do we?" said Miles. "Maybe if we follow enough links down the chain, we'll start to find them."
"She didn't help anyway," said Chandler. "Let's not mistake mental association with cause and effect. Unless her fiancé materialised out of thin air, I doubt any magical trinkets had anything do to with it."
"Whether they did or they didn't, her happy clientele isn't going to kill the golden goose," said Miles. "Kent, you and Mansell follow up with this Gina."
"Riley, any luck with the records?"
"Not yet," said Riley. "If they're stored in the cloud somewhere, I haven't managed to find the right accounts yet."
"With our luck, she really is old school ledgers and they've met a toasty end already."
"Contracts signed in blood," snorted Mansell.
"She's not that kind of witch!" said Kent, elbowing him again. "We'll get right on it, sir. Ollie'll give me her address."
"Oh, Ollie is it?" said Mansell, but that was the last of the conversation Chandler heard as they made their way out of the incident room. He'd never before wished his team had become a little less efficient.
"At least we've got her bank and phone records to work with now," said Riley. "Nothing obviously suspicious in either of them's turned up yet, but it'll give us some more names to run down before long. If she had a spurned lover or a cashflow problem, we'll find it."
Riley was right back to work, but Miles's eyes were on him, and Chandler knew that, much as Miles never hesitated to speak his mind, he also saw even more than he let on. Miles was watching him, and Chandler had given him every reason to.
He realised he'd put everything on the desk in front of him at right angles to one another. Those bloody right angles.
"Everything all right, boss?"
"Just looking for something to do with my hands," said Chandler, and put them in his pockets instead. He wanted a shower, and a cup of tea. He would have to settle for one of the two. "I'll be in my office."
Really, Chandler had only just begun to get things on his desk sorted, resorted, differently sorted, when he spotted Mansell and Kent back in the incident room and and popped out of his office to check on their progress.
"That was fast."
"They were just coming back from the country when we reached Gina on her mobile," said Kent. "They're diverting to come here instead."
"I'll come with you, then, when you talk to them," said Chandler. "Mansell, you can help Riley with her enquiries."
"She's got a lot of ground to cover. She could use an extra set of eyes."
"Yes, sir," he said, and with a quick glance back at Kent he moved around Chandler and into the incident room, dropping into a chair by Riley's desk and no doubt making a nuisance of himself for a few moments before getting to work.
"Well, I guess we should be off, then," said Kent, but they were barely a few steps beyond the incident room when Chandler decided he could bear it no more.
"I'll just be a moment," he said, and ducked through the door marked Gentlemen. He couldn't change but he could roll up his sleeves and wash. And wash it all off.
He didn't hear the door opening, didn't realise anyone else was there until he'd turned off the tap, finally, and Kent handed him a fresh paper towel.
"It is," said Kent. "It's all right. You stopped on your own."
"Would you have—?"
"If I'd had to," he said, "but I didn't. I know how it is, Joe. You don't have to hide it from me of all people."
"I'm not your responsibility."
"I never said you were," said Kent. Without Chandler saying anything, he got him another stretch of clean towel. "Are you all right for the interview now?"
Instead of protesting he'd been all right all along, Chandler just nodded. Kent had his number, and it felt good not to protest for once. Because even if he did have it under control, just by his fingernails, 'all right' had never been the way to describe it.
"They'll likely be here by now," he said, and looked at himself in the mirror and saw a man who had it together. "Let's go."
Gina Mackintosh could have been Oliver's sister, not just his friend. Same coiffed hair. Some slightly-vacant look. It wasn't hard to see how they'd been drawn to one another. It was much harder to see what drew Kent to him. Other than the obvious, of course.
"So Oliver tells me that Madame Spencer allegedly helped you find a boyfriend," said Kent.
Well, that was certainly one way to start.
"Not allegedly, she's the real deal," said Gina, clutching Jas's arm and beaming. "She brought Jas into my life. She's helped so many people. I can't believe someone's gone and killed her."
Jas looked just as shaken as his fiancée. No, more so, or perhaps just differently so.
"Did you have the chance to meet her, Mr Pike?" Chandler asked him.
"I...no. No, sorry," he said.
"Of course you did!" said Gina. "At that party, don't you remember? I introduced you."
"Right, of course," he said. "I'd forgotten."
"And I sent you to her shop for some of her special water."
"It's for plants," said Gina. "It's got a spell so that they grow better. And I did want the roses in Mum's garden to be perfect for the wedding."
"Magic water," scoffed Kent.
"She wasn't there when I went," cut in Jas. "Just her assistant."
"Didn't know she had an assistant," said Gina.
"Neither did we," said Chandler, his attention regained just like that. "Do you have a name?"
"No, sorry," he said.
"A description?" said Chandler. "Anything?"
"He was short, a bit heavyset," said Jas after a moment's hesitation. "With round black specs. Bit like Harry Potter. The specs, I mean, not the rest of him."
"Right," said Chandler, noting it all down. "Eyes? Hair?"
"Brown," said Jas. "I think. Sorry, I didn't pay particular attention to him. That's all I remember."
"Well, it's something to go on, anyway," said Kent. "Funny how we've never heard tell of this assistant before now."
"No sign of him at the scene," agreed Chandler. "Definitely worth looking into. Thank you Ms Mackintosh, Mr Pike. You've been very helpful."
"I'm glad we could do something," said Gina. "She was so good to us. I want to help, any way I can."
"We'll certainly call on you again if there's anything you can do," said Chandler, "and if either of you think of anything else, please give us a call at this number. Anything at all."
"Of course," said Gina, taking the card. "Can we go, then?"
"Of course," said Chandler. "You're free to go any time. Thank you again for your help."
The constable on duty showed them out, but Chandler didn't follow on their heels, lingering in the interview room for longer than was necessary.
"Sir?" said Kent. "Anything I should know?"
"Did you know her?" he asked him. "Gina Mackintosh. Did you know her before this?"
"No, we'd never met," said Kent. "I don't know most of Ollie's friends."
"So you wouldn't know if she was acting suspiciously."
"No," said Kent. "But he's the one I had my eye on, not her."
"Yes, me too," said Chandler. "He wasn't keen to be here." It wasn't, in and of itself, a crime to be uncomfortable in police stations. But if one didn't know the source of it, it was always something to note. "Well, at least we come away from it with a solid lead."
"Do you want me and Mansell to follow this one up?"
"Do," said Chandler. "I've got some things to take care of upstairs."
"Then I guess I'll see you later?" said Kent, but Chandler did not reply as he headed a full pace down the hallway and away. There were things left undone in his office, and he felt the irrepressible urge to complete them now.
Nothing came from beneath the rocks they turned up so far, but Chandler started to get a very clear picture of the enterprise. Madame Spencer—Helen, Chandler wasn't going to call her Madame anything any longer than he had to—conjured up all manner of charms and tokens said to bring upon their wearer whatever they required. Then somehow, in small ways, she made it happen, and every time she did, her reputation grew. Every time her reputation grew, she could charge more, and more often. I people didn't see immediate results, they still took it on faith that they would come because they had before. Her financials were a testament to that.
"An accomplice, surely," he said to himself, but while that would be easy work in some of the cases—who couldn't plant a ten pound note in someone's path?—some of them, the relationship requests, the career requests, weren't so easily done. "There is no such thing as magic."
It felt ridiculous to even say it out loud. But he was no closer to sorting out her methods than he had been when he started, and while he'd been sifting through all available information, shift had ended and gradually people had made their way home until there were only two of them left.
Kent was at his desk, poring over something on his computer screen. Chandler watched for a few moments before clearing his throat.
"I can't authorise any overtime on this one," he said. "You should go home."
"That's all right, boss," said Kent. "You know Ollie's an old friend. I don't mind."
"Must've been a good one once."
"You know how it is," said Kent. "People grow apart after uni. And, uh, we weren't just—"
"Of course," said Chandler, without letting him finish. He knew. Everyone knew.
"I'm only going to be a few minutes," he said. "You needn't wait."
"I have some things to take care of myself."
"I'm meeting Erica and some friends, after."
It might've been an invitation. Chandler just nodded his head. "Have a nice evening, then," he said, and disappeared back into his office.
Another, previous, invitation to drinks flashed through his mind. And what came after.
Not this time. Not again. His constitution couldn't bear it.
Once Kent was gone so long that his chair had long since cooled, Chandler finally found his own way home, to an empty, tidy flat, which was a comfort, and uneasy dreams, which were not.
A second day of the same did nothing to improve the dark mood he woke up in. It was hard to say whether his general attitude fed the lack of progress or the lack of progress contributed to his attitude or if there was a continual feedback loop of bad upon bad. Whichever it was, he noticed an increasing reluctance for any of his team to approach his office and decided it had to stop right there.
This wasn't one of his little episodes, he was just feeling foul and irritable. How he handled that was a choice.
"Miles," he said in the mid-afternoon lull, leaning out his office door and motioning to him. "A moment."
When even Miles looked legitimately wary, he knew he was in a bad way.
"Sorry if I've been a bit of a bear today," he said. "I didn't sleep well. But that's no excuse, it was unprofessional of me all the same."
"We all have our days, boss," said Miles. "Don't beat yourself up about it. Was that all?"
"No," said Chandler, "I just need a bit of a sounding board for a few moments if you're up for it."
"Of course, whatever you need."
"We're spinning our wheels," said Chandler. "We've found no romantic motivation, no violently dissatisfied customers, which makes this the friendliest scam I've ever seen, no clear monetary motive...who hated this woman enough to bash her head in?"
"Someone," said Miles. "We still haven't tracked down her assistant. CCTV in the area hasn't turned up anything; I've had Mansell on it all morning."
"That seems like a dead end. If he ever even existed, she paid him in cash and he never shows up on the paperwork."
"So that's two curious things," said Miles. "That he's disappeared so thoroughly—without taking any of her money, mind—and that she wanted to keep his existence a secret in the first place."
"If he existed at all."
"Then what's that say about Jason Pike's story?"
"That it bears a more thorough looking into," said Chandler. "It's not much, but it's all we've got."
"If he exists, he'll show up elsewhere in the area. It's not like she kept him chained up in the basement."
"Yes, well, we would have already found him if she had."
"Don't sound like that would be the preferable option," said Miles gruffly, then gave Chandler a wry smile when he finally looked at him. "Look, we've done a lot more with a lot less. You just haven't settled into your groove again yet, that's all."
"I think I've got something," said Kent, loud enough to be heard in the office, and enthusiastically enough to draw their immediate attention.
"What is it?"
"I was talking to Ollie last night—"
"Yeah, he was at drinks with us. I told you you should come." No, he hadn't, but Chandler didn't argue the point.
"And just what did he say?"
"He said that he thought he remembered hearing that Mad— that Helen Spencer used to have a shop up in Leeds."
"Well that's a long way from home, isn't it?"
"Her records don't show her ever having lived outside of London," said Chandler.
"I know," said Kent, "but I thought it was worth following up anyway. Turns out she made the papers up there when one of her customers won the lotto."
"Well, that's got to be a coincidence. She can't have fixed that."
"No," agreed Kent, "but why did she leave soon after, and why is there no other record of her there?"
"Trial run?" suggested Riley. "Or maybe she scrubbed it clean, after, to start over. She might've been a low-level scam artist till someone's big win gave her higher notions."
"Either way, it gives us a whole new customer pool to start sifting through, once we make the connections," said Mansell, who sounded very much like he had mixed feelings about the endeavour.
"Good work," said Chandler. "I'll leave you to it. It doesn't look like there'll be time for drinks again tonight, does it."
He didn't so much retreat to his office after that as he was steered there by his sergeant. A fact he didn't entirely notice until they were nearly through the door.
"With all due respect, boss," he said, "you had your shot at that one. It's poor sport to get in his way now."
"Had my... What on earth are you talking about, Miles?"
"Kent, of course," said Miles. "And don't tell me work got in the way of you trying. Work is always going to get in the way."
"Kent?" said Chandler. "We're friends. Nothing more."
"If you don't know Kent was looking at you another way, well, you're not much of a detective. Then again, anything to do with sex always did cross your wires a bit."
"Can we not...?" hissed Chandler, but clamped down on it. "We have a lead to follow up on."
"Nice try," said Miles. "Think on it, would you? If you're not going to take him up on it, let him go. He could be happy with someone, if he lets himself, but he's not going to let himself until he's over you."
Chandler didn't insult him by pretending he didn't know what he was talking about. Of course he knew. He wasn't an idiot. But overt jealousy was Kent's modus operandi, not his. Or at least, it had been.
"We tried," said Chandler finally, right when Miles was making to leave. An awkward meal where no one could find anything to talk about other than work. Meeting Kent's flatmates who left yogurt on the coffee table and socks in the kitchen. And with Chandler in one of his difficult periods, the timing couldn't have been worse. "We did try. We're just very different people."
"Everyone's different people," said Miles. "That's your excuse?"
"It's not an excuse, it's a explanation," said Chandler, "and it's already more than I owed anyone."
"All right, all right," said Miles, "but if you think you've finished things cleanly, you go and have another think about that, because there's nothing tidy about you and Kent right now."
"Thank you, Sergeant, that will be all."
Miles closed the door behind him, and Chandler buried himself in the dregs of the case, in every missed contact, in every lead, viable or otherwise, until he'd worked out the end of the day again and half the lights were off.
"Come for a drink, Joe," said Kent, hanging off the doorframe of his office and looking terribly tempting.
"I've got a lot of—"
"Come," said Kent. "It doesn't have to be anything. It can just be a drink. It's been a long day."
"You don't already have plans?"
"Look, if you're trying to find out if I'm seeing Ollie, you're not being very subtle, sir."
"If you have to ask if I'm asking, I'm being subtle enough," said Chandler. It almost made him smile.
"You know I'm not," he said. "Not again, anyway. I could've, if I'd wanted to, though."
"Of course you could have. Why couldn't you have?"
"I'm just saying," said Kent. "I could have. There was nothing stopping me."
"No, there wasn't."
He sighed and looked away and Chandler wondered what he'd said, wondered if it was how he said it. Wondered if Kent had caught the state of his office, perfect down to the last detail, and been made uncomfortable by it, somehow a reminder of their earlier failure.
"Come for a drink anyway," said Kent, and Chandler reached for his coat, pressed and perfect. "You look like you could use one."
"I'm fine," he said. Snapped, almost. And Kent turned back.
"I know you're fine," he said, and while his voice was firm and steady, his eyes were soft. "I know what you look like when you're not fine."
"Of course you do," said Chandler, looking away, turning off the light and letting his hand hover over the switch. "I haven't forgotten."
"I think," said Kent, waiting there, "I think we got off on the wrong foot."
"Kent, we've been working together for years now—"
"You know what I mean," he said. "You know I don't mean that."
"I'm not sure what I know and what I don't," said Chandler.
"Well, then maybe I can explain it to you over a drink," said Kent, "and we can hold off on making any decisions until then."
Chandler hadn't known there were still decisions to be made, but Miles wasn't wrong and Kent wasn't wrong and everyone else who understood his personal life better than he himself did wasn't wrong. He wanted this chance to come back around again. He wanted to do it better this time. He just wasn't sure how.
"Don't think about it so hard," said Kent, and he was right there in Chandler's personal space, wrapping his fingers around his hand and pulling it away from the switch, pulling him through the door. "It's just a drink."
"Nothing's ever just a drink," said Chandler, but he did smile this time. However it turned out.
He slept much better that night, and it turned out that they had a lot to talk about over dinner this time, when they weren't consumed with fire, flood and damnation. It turned out that there wasn't such a gap between them as Chandler had built up in his head. He didn't go back to Kent's flat after, but then Kent didn't ask this time, and they parted on a street corner with a wave and, Chandler thought, and unspoken promise of second chances.
"Let's review where we're at, shall we?" he said before his coat and scarf had even left his person. "Fresh eyes on everything. This woman is a con artist, not a saint, and something in her background will out."
He thought Miles would comment the moment he saw him, because it wasn't like Miles to keep his thoughts about Chandler's personal life to himself. But he just looked him up and down and didn't say a word, didn't even bat an eye.
Chandler thought it was obvious, he thought everything was obvious about him this morning, everything was different. But maybe Miles wasn't showing discretion. Maybe he genuinely didn't know there was anything to comment on, and any changes were in in Chandler's own head.
Unlike Mansell, who seemed to be taking every opportunity to needle Kent this morning, though over what Chandler couldn't be sure. It felt like everything was about him this morning, though. That the whole world had shifted around him, when he was the one who finally bent.
"Look at this," said Riley suddenly, her voice carrying over the chatter of everyone else. "Look at this."
"What is it?" said Chandler, weaving through desk ahead of everyone but Kent. "What have you found?"
"Doesn't he look familiar?"
"That's Jason Pike," said Chandler. "With Helen Mackenzie. In Leeds. When was this picture taken?"
"Two years ago," said Riley.
"Looks like Mr Pike does know more than he's letting on," said Miles.
"It's him," said Chandler, with the flash of insight he'd desperately been waiting for, when all of the pieces came together. "There is no pudgy, bespectacled assistant, because it's him."
"So why's he suddenly engaged to one of Madame Spencer's clients, and no one's the wiser?"
"Because that was his job," said Chandler. "Do you see? He plants the money. He fakes the job interviews. He fixes what's broken. And he goes on a couple of dates with a lonely young lady looking for love."
"Long way from a couple of dates to getting married, don't you think?"
"Yes, it is," said Chandler. "So what does happen when you fall in love with the mark?"
He left that question hanging in the air between all of them, till Miles picked it up and ran with it.
"I think that's a question we need to be asking Mr Pike."
It was with a renewed sense of urgency that they approached the home of Gina and Jas, a small and unassuming row house that had hidden the truth for too long already. It was all Chandler could do to wait for the second car to arrive before approaching the door and banging on it.
"Ms Mackintosh, we need to see Jason Pike. It's urgent."
"Is here here?"
"Yes, he's upstairs, but—"
"Excuse us," said Miles, pushing past her and leaving Chandler to make the—brief—apologies for their intrusion. The rest of the team would be in position outside, now they just needed to flush him out.
"What's going on?" he said, emerging from the bedroom as though he hadn't the faintest idea when all his muscles were clearly tensed for fight or flight.
"Mr Pike, I think you know why we're here," said Chandler. Jason didn't even have to answer them, they could see it all over his face.
"Jas? Jas, what's going on?"
"It's nothing," he said. "Just a few more questions. Go back in the kitchen."
"Why are the police here?"
"It's nothing!" He backed a step towards the staircase, warily.
"We've got men stationed outside," said Miles. "No sense trying to run, lad."
"You don't understand."
"Then make us understand," said Chandler. "Why did you lie about Helen's assistant? Why didn't you tell us you knew her?"
"You knew her?" said Gina. "Jas?"
"You've ruined everything!" said Jason, both hands fisting in his hair and unable to figure out where to go from here. "Gina was never supposed to know."
"Never supposed to know what?"
"About what I did," said Jason. "About all the things I did for Helen. She'd never have believed that I love her, but I do. I gave it all up for her."
"So tell us what happened," said Miles.
"Helen was going to tell her," said Jas. "She wanted me back to work and she was going to tell Gina, and what would I do then? I'd've lost her for sure."
"What, and you haven't lost her now?" said Miles. "Idiot."
Jason took another step backwards towards the stairs, like there was still a way out. "Just come with us," said Chandler. "Nice and easy. Nobody else needs to get hurt."
"Everything would've been fine. She was drunk. She fell."
"No, she didn't, lad," said Miles.
Jason took another step back, but there were no more steps to take. His ankle rolled over the first step, throwing him off balance, and after that there was no stopping his descent.
"No!" said Chandler, lunging for him, but gravity won the day. Jason hit the bottom of the stairs before Chandler even started down them, and with his neck at that kind of angle there was little hope for a good result.
"Call an ambulance," shouted Miles. Gina was too frozen with horror to do anything but Kent, who'd been stationed outside the front door, already had his phone out and Chandler was kneeling down to check Jason's pulse.
This was a simple case. This was a straightforward case. There was nothing deviant or particularly cruel or mysterious about it. It shouldn't have happened this way, not this one.
He rose to his feet and tried to get the blood off his hand and no amount of rubbing it against his coat was doing it. He didn't stop until someone was taking his wrist, until Kent was taking his wrist, his hand going right round it and pulling Chandler away from the body.
"He didn't mean to," said Kent. "He was just trying to get away. He slipped. You didn't—"
"My curse," said Chandler.
"You're not cursed," said Kent. "You do a difficult job well. Do you think anyone else would do better in your place? We'd probably still have all those monsters running around Whitechapel."
"And instead, I'm the monster."
"You could never be that," said Kent. "He fell, Joe. Everyone saw that. This isn't on you."
"They're all on me, though, aren't they?"
"Think like that and you're liable to drive yourself a little mad," said Kent, with a tiny smile that was clearly meant to coax something out of Chandler. "We found him, and what happened to him next was the result of his own actions and his own guilty conscious, nothing more."
"You shouldn't have to be consoling me about this."
"I'm not," said Kent. "This is just a constable getting his inspector back on the job."
"Is it?" said Chandler. "Is that what this is?"
"No," admitted Kent, hardly an admission at all, "but I'm working on not bringing my personal life to work. You make that hard, sir."
"Are you sure you still want one, after this? You know what I'm like."
Miles had taken charge of the body, and the paramedics were already on scene, wasting no time despite the fact that there was nothing to be done. Chandler felt distant from it all, self defense to give him a moment to find a way to cope.
"I've always known what you're like," said Kent. "And you know what I'm like. I know it didn't work out last time, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try again."
"Are there third and fourth and twelfth chances as well?"
"As many as it takes," said Kent. "Some things don't come out right the first few times, but that doesn't mean it's not worth keeping at it till they do. And if you think I'm talking about Ollie, you haven't been paying attention."
"I'm always paying attention," said Chandler. "All right. All right. I'm fine. We have work to do."
Another body to process, another form to fill out, another black tick in his column that grew ever longer, more blood on the hands of the Whitechapel merchant of death. But that wasn't all his life had to be made up of. If people were willing to make room for his idiosyncrasies, he could try to make room for them too.
Not just people. Emerson Kent.
"And after that, sir?"
"And after that," said Chandler, "will come after. But I would imagine I'm eventually going to want something to eat."
Kent didn't answer, and he didn't smile the sort of smile that would be hideously inappropriate at the scene of an accidental death, but he had the same look in his eyes that Chandler did. Intense focus, keen observation, and hope.
They could work with that.