It was past ten on a work night when there was a knock on the front door of my very poky basement flat. I was sitting on my couch in a t-shirt and track bottoms, half-watching the late news and trying not to let myself brood about the news I’d got that morning, something I’d managed to do successfully through work, coming home to shower and change, and dinner with friends after that. Now I was failing miserably to not wonder why our promising investigation had been cut off at the knees just when we were getting somewhere. It was above my pay grade, I was a DS and I didn’t get to decide which big cases we worked on, but it just didn’t feel – no, I was trying not to brood, that was the point.
I think I missed the first knock, because the one I heard was fairly insistent. I suppose the flickering light of the TV through the curtain gave away that I was home. My first thought was that it must be a wrong address. I wasn’t expecting anybody. My second was a lot more paranoid – that happens when you’ve worked with Organised Crime long enough, although showing up to a police officer’s house would require someone to be very angry or very stupid, or both. And that knock hadn’t sounded angry, at least. I padded up to the door as silently as I could, phone in my hand, and looked through the peephole.
It was only when I was pulling the door open that I remembered that opening it to Thomas Nightingale might be an idea worth being paranoid about.
“Good evening,” he said. He was wearing a blazer but his shirt collar was open – no tie. Ties are very good for getting strangled with, if they’re not tucked under a second layer. “I hope this isn’t an inconvenient time.”
“You know,” I said, “this isn’t my personal opinion, but I believe several of my colleagues would characterize this as stalking.” At least, when someone you’d been investigating showed up to your flat, it was a call-your-fellow-cops-immediately red flag. And there’d been the whole thing at that party when he and Beverley Thames had made me, the full details of which were still unbeknownst to my superiors, and the parcel of geeky t-shirts someone not very anonymous had sent me for my birthday, one of which I was wearing, and – it was complicated, is what I’m trying to say.
I put my phone in my pocket.
“I take it this is an inconvenient time, then,” he said, without turning a hair. “My apologies.”
“What do you want?” I peered around him. “And where’s Beverley?”
“She’s out of town at the moment, or she would have been here.”
“Been here because…”
“We had some information we thought you should know.”
This was one of the other things Stephanopoulos had sat me down – technically me and Sahra, but we all knew it was mostly me – and explained. “They tell you things, sometimes,” she’d said. “When you’ve been investigating them for a while. Sometimes it’s bargaining, sometimes it’s because they feel like you’re their mate now because they’ve seen you around often enough, sometimes they’re just making shit up to throw you off. Sometimes – if you’re lucky – that’s how you end up turning people, and it turns into evidence. But it’s bloody hard to tell the difference between all of that, so if you do get anything else, now they’ve made you following them, you need to bring it to me right away.”
“You think I wouldn’t?” I’d said, and hoped it came out the right level of confused and mildly offended, because of course there was something I hadn’t told her, actually a few things, and I didn’t think she knew that, but – but.
“I think you might not think it matters. Look -” she’d sighed. “Normally we would have moved you on, you don’t have the experience to handle informants like this, but this has been too hard to crack for too long.”
“Right, boss,” I’d said. “It all matters. I got it.” That had been weeks ago and the whole Thames case was on the back burner for lack of any useful evidence, but the wheels of the Met grind slowly. This might be an opportunity, if I could be a lot smarter than last time. At least I wasn’t outnumbered.
In the present, all I came up with as a response was “Oh, really?”, which wasn’t the worst conversational comeback of my life but definitely bottom ten. “Information about what?”
“You’ve got a new case,” he said, and that wasn’t what I’d been expecting him to say at all, and it must have shown in my face. “That isn’t what you thought I was going to say.”
“It implies that you’re following my career a little too closely for comfort, is all.” There was a distant shout, down the road; someone coming home a bit drunker than you normally got before midnight, but it was a weeknight, after all. “Well – come in.”
That wasn’t what he’d been expecting me to say, judging by the way he hesitated, but he stepped over the threshold all the same. I stood aside, but it was an old narrow doorframe and a cool night, and he was close enough that I could feel the heat of his body through my t-shirt. It was way too much like that other night. I squeezed the edge of the door before I shut it, trying to focus.
The other thing they’d said, him and Beverley, was that there was someone passing information the wrong way in my unit. They’d seen their own files. My money was on that leak being from the top, not the bottom, but…if I could find out more about that, I needed to.
The flat had a tiny entranceway with a cupboard, the bathroom, and the living room all leading off it. I’d shut the door to the living room behind me to keep the warmth in, so it wasn’t obvious which way to go. Nightingale looked from one to the other and back to me.
“It was getting cold with the door open,” I said, thinking now about how the living room had the couch and then the bedroom off it. With my bed. Those items of furniture suddenly loomed large and dangerous. It was one thing semi-accidentally getting semi-seduced by suspects at a public event; inviting one into my house and then – whatever might happen – seemed a lot more deliberate and a lot more stupid.
Also, my sheets were overdue for a change this weekend and I wouldn’t want to give the impression I couldn’t deal with my own housekeeping. My mum would disapprove. I’d never tell her, but she’d disapprove all the same, in my head, which was worse.
“Anyway,” I said, before any of this somehow conveyed itself to him without me saying it, “go on, then.”
“Right,” he said, “yes, the new case.” He seemed a bit distracted. “The subject of your new investigation – you should be very careful.”
“Yeah,” I said, “because we in the Organised Crime department of the Metropolitan Police are known for our carefree attitude towards suspects. You want to elaborate on that?”
He frowned; I got the impression he thought I wasn’t taking it seriously. Good. “You’re looking for, I presume, evidence of financial fraud. It’s probably rather worse than that -”
“We know that,” I said, even though that was out of line because it was passing information the other way. I’d seen site pictures of the bodies that morning, though, before word had come that this wasn’t a priority anymore, and it just spilled out.
“Hmmm,” he said. Oh, great, I’d definitely sent information in the wrong direction. I was handling this so well. “Then I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you he’s got a source within your organisation.”
“He probably goes drinking with senior officers who’ve caught a terrible case of opera along with their promotions,” I said. “That’s not the same thing as having a source.”
“You should be very careful.” His grey eyes were very intense, and he was still the warmest thing in the room because there weren’t any radiators in the entranceway, and the spike of adrenaline his second piece of information had given me was doing confusing things, since it had nowhere useful to go.
I half-expected to hear Beverley Brook behind me, but I somehow doubted she was hiding in my hall closet. It didn’t seem like her style.
“Noted,” I said. “While we’re on the topic – any chance this source is the same person who let you two see your own files? Because it seems a bit coincidental, otherwise.”
“No, certainly not,” he sat at once. “If I knew for a fact who it was, I’d tell you and save you the trouble. You have better things to do than listen to vague pronouncements of danger, I’m sure.”
That was possibly one of the nicest things anybody had said to me in the last week, but I wasn’t about to tell him that.“You’re telling me Martin Chorley isn’t a friend of yours? I’m shocked.”
“He is not,” said Nightingale, as chillingly as anything I’d ever heard him say. For a second I remembered Seawoll’s assessment of him. “And I really wouldn’t ask that question of Beverley the next time you see her; she wouldn’t take it well.”
I wondered if he had any idea about the photos I’d seen that morning. It’d certainly explain the tone of voice, if he had any decency. I was willing to entertain the idea he did.
“I’m surprised you didn’t wait until she was available to pass this on,” I said. “You both seemed to enjoy having the advantage in numbers.”
“It’s a useful tactic, but I thought this shouldn’t wait, and she agreed.”
“Well, you can tell her I’m touched she was worried.”
“She’ll appreciate it, I’m sure.” You couldn’t say he smirked, but the corner of his mouth twitched upwards, maybe. Not that I was looking at his mouth in particular.
“Should I be worried that you knew where I lived?”
“Well, not any more than you should have been already.” He sounded vaguely apologetic. “It’s on record with your employer, obviously, and after our last conversation I believe you were aware that’s not entirely secure.”
“Having access to case files,” I said, “isn’t the same thing as having access to HR records, which I know you know, but since you could have followed me home without much trouble I’m not going to lose sleep over it.”
“I would hope there’s at least a reasonable chance you would have spotted me following you home.”
“Reasonable, definitely,” even though I absolutely wouldn’t have – spotting a tail when you have no reason to expect one is a matter of chance at best. “You know, this is a lot less entertaining than the last time you cornered me to tell me things.”
His eyebrows went up, and I had just a second to go oh shit. Because here was the thing: technically speaking, if you were the kind of man who interpreted things that way, and there were a really strange number of my gender who did, it could be argued that I’d had a sexual encounter with his partner-probably-not-girlfriend-but-really-who-knew the last time I’d seen him, and he’d just…been there. Touching me. But not in a gay way.
The trouble was, there was also a very strong correlation between the kind of bloke who’d split those particular hairs and the kind who’d take umbrage at the idea I was hitting on him. It’s one of those things that encourages men who want to sleep with other men to confine their attentions to times and places where they know everybody around them is of the same mind, or, if they’re a particular type of wanker, to people who have a lot less power than they do.
Anyway, I only had a second to hare off down that particular path of paranoia, because his gaze dipped and rose in a way you couldn’t really mistake. He hesitated for a second looking at my chest, which I would have liked to attribute to my Metropolitan Police fitness standard-toned physique, but was much more likely to be about what I was wearing. Which was one of the t-shirts, the arrival of which had caused Sahra to use the “s” word.
“Well,” he said. “As entertaining as last time was, I wouldn’t want you to get distracted from the seriousness of the message.” He completely undermined himself on that one by moving closer, and I helped him by not going anywhere.
“You mean neither of you wanted me to learn anything serious last time.”
“You were,” he said, now definitely smirking, “surprisingly determined to stay on-topic.”
“If you were paying nearly as much attention as you both implied you were, that shouldn’t be surprising at all,” I said, because I liked to think I was actually pretty good at my job.
“You never really know what people are going to do in that sort of situation until it’s happening.” He sounded thoughtful.
“That’s definitely a hypothesis, but something happening once is usually an accident, not a trend.”
“True enough,” he said, and I want to say I was surprised when he slid with agility to his knees, but only because I hadn’t been sure what he was going to do – just that one of us was going to do something.
At that point, I was still dumb enough to think it mattered that it wasn’t me.
I was half-hard already, enough that it took a little bit of fumbling to get me out of my trousers, which was a weird sort of comfort, because it meant that this was going to be the normal amount of – and then I lost that train of thought entirely at the twin sensations of cold air and then a warm tongue. We’d moved far enough across the entryway that I banged my head on the door of the hall cupboard when I slouched back. Nightingale steadied me with a hand on my hip, hot like a brand.
He managed to get the condom on with his mouth, a neat trick I’d never had the opportunity to acquire. I made what were probably some embarrassing noises and tried not to grab at his hair; he seemed to know what he was doing, so I didn’t want to get in the way. I closed my eyes and put my other hand flat on the cupboard door and managed to ride the glorious wave until I accidentally opened my eyes again, at which point I couldn’t have held on if my life had depended on it.
After what had happened last time, I wondered if he was going to try and slip off again, but I didn’t get any objections when I got him up off the floor and guided him back against the cupboard door. The carpet, I discovered when I knelt down, was even less pleasant on the knees than it was on bare feet. I should really get a rug or something. Not that I was planning to make a habit of this.
He had a belt on and a proper fly, as well as being hard enough that he groaned when I touched him through his trousers, so it took a second or two to organize things. I liked the evidence he’d been enjoying himself. I liked that this felt like – something a little more than the game it had been last time.
I wondered what Beverley was going to say, and then why that was my problem, except I was fairly certain it was.
I took a chance and groped in his back pocket, and came up lucky with a second condom.
“So this was in the plan this time,” I said.
“Beverley suggested I come prepared,” he said, though it got a bit choked off as I licked around him once before getting it on. That answered that question, then.
I’m not an expert at sucking dick but I know my way around one, and I had him non-verbal gratifyingly quickly; well, he’d been waiting longer than me. I don’t like my hair being grabbed and he either figured that out or wasn’t interested in trying, but he dug his fingers into my shoulder. I didn’t mind that. When he came, he sagged dangerously against the door behind him, and as I pulled away he let himself slide down to the floor as well. It was the most uncontrolled thing I’d ever seen him do – or heard of him doing.
For a moment, we sat there getting our breath back and I was aware again of sounds: our breathing, the TV still on in the other room, the faint sound of traffic in the distance.
I wished I knew what I was doing.
After he’d gone, I went to bed and didn’t sleep. As far as I knew, there wasn’t any connection between the Thames family, Thomas Nightingale, and our new investigation – so was I supposed to believe this was a warning out of the goodness of Nightingale and Beverley’s hearts? Or maybe they were just enjoying screwing with me – it would help if I tried to avoid enjoying it as well.
But whatever their motivations, so far they hadn’t demanded, or got, anything more than my attention. This warning wasn’t going to get them that: if anything it was going to take it away. Unless it was meant to stop me looking for whoever their source in the Met was…except I had a pretty good idea that their access to their own files had come either via Beverley’s sister’s friend the Assistant Commissioner, which wasn’t something I could fix, or via actual physical theft. They’d never demonstrated any knowledge of anything it would have required a person to tell them – just stuff on the record.
I fell asleep still turning things over, and slept restlessly enough that Lesley had me up about it the next morning. We'd worked together as constables, and then ended up in different units after probation. She'd only just been reassigned to Organised Crime, having made DS long before I had, of course. It was good to have her back.
"Sahra just texted me, she's doing a coffee run," she said. "You look like you need it."
"I do," I said. "Tell her -"
"I know what you drink, Peter," she said, but fondly. For Lesley, anyway. "Tell me you just weren't up watching bad historical documentaries, tell me it was something fun."
"Having fun on a work night?" said Stephanopoulos, coming up to our desks. "That's not very professional."
"Of course not, boss," I said, and it was only then I realised it hadn't occurred to me to tell her what had happened, any of it, not even that I'd laid eyes on Nightingale. I just...hadn't considered it at all.