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One dog, once

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The rain was tipping down. Dempsey felt as if someone had poured a bucket of water right over his head, at the exact moment when he stepped out of his car, as if he were the recipient of some cosmic practical joke. "God damn, lousy British weather" he mumbled reflexively. He shivered and glanced around himself into the dark. He caught a slight hint of movement in his peripheral vision, pulled out his gun and aimed it into the night. He waited, his body still as a statue. There was a long drawn out moment of silence.

The bushes shook, the movement suggesting an animal or a child, something small, and most likely scared of a large man with a gun. Dempsey holstered his weapon, and crouched down on the gravel, attempting to appear less intimidating. "Hey" he callled softly into the night, "Whatya doing there?" The leaves shook, and a small grey shape bolted out of the bushes. Dempsey grabbed at the air in front of him, and found himself wrestling with the shaking body of a damp, skinny dog. He held onto the dog firmly, whispering comfortingly to it. After a few moments of uncoordinated struggling, the animal appeared to give up, and lay against him, shivering. They shivered together, as the rain dripped off them.

He maneuvered the dog into his home and studied her in the harsh light of the hallway. He'd had a soft spot for dogs since childhood, although he'd never owned one as an adult. Looking at this dog melted his heart, she was shivering and her coat was covered in tiny sticky pieces of plant seeds or something. Dempsey didn't know exactly what they were, but it was going to be quite a job to remove them. And that wasn't the worst of it, someone had cut off the dog's ears. The cuts were jagged, the edges open and crusted with dried blood.

"Don't worry about your ears, it don't matter" he scratched the dog's back gently. "Tá tú go h'álainn fós". "In fact, that would be a good name for you, Alainn - beautiful". Alainn nuzzled her long snout against his leg.
"What am I gonna feed you?" he asked. He remembered a neighbour from his childhood, an old guy with a small dog. This guy used to treat his dog to two fried eggs every Sunday morning. "You like fried eggs?" Dempsey asked Alainn. Turns out she did, although Dempsey suspected she would have eaten almost anything at that point.

The next morning was bright and sunny. "The sun shines on the righteous" he thought. The words just popped into his head, was it a bible quote? Probably. He wasn't particularly religious, but he'd grown up in that environment. He liked to think of himself as a righteous man, someone who would do the right thing, and act to protect women and babies. Of course, now he knew a woman who was perfectly capable of protecting herself. He still wanted to look out for her though, his partner. She dismissed his attitude as chauvinistic, did everything she could to prove she could manage without him. The question was; could he manage without her?

"What am I gonna do, a h'Alainn?" he asked, his fingers playing idly in the dog's short, soft fur. Alainn licked his face, and he laughed. "If I lick her face, I think she'll slap me!"

Eggs weren't a long term solution to Alainn's diet, so he made a quick trip to a nearby gas station for some dog food.

Makepeace was running late, she should have been in the office by now. She grabbed her handbag and reached into it for the front door key. As she stepped out into the chilled morning air, she almost stood on a small bunch of pink roses, lying on her doorstep. Mildly irritated by the further delay the flowers would cause her, she picked them up and read the attached card "Roses for my English rose". She smiled softly, and her heart pounded. It was the use of the word English that caught her attention, English as opposed to American. Could they really be a gift from Dempsey? It didn't seem like his style. He had given her roses before, red ones; once when he hardly knew her (trying too hard to impress she thought) and once when she was in hospital (that time perhaps he meant it) but these roses were pink. She doubted very much that Dempsey had the vaguest concept of the idea that flowers could convey subtle shades of meaning. Subtlety and Dempsey did not belong in the same sentence. Pink roses meant gratitude and gentleness. Oh, who was she kidding? Maybe they'd been in the bargain bin of a nearby petrol station.

Still, they were pretty. She took the time to place them in a vase, and then left for work, late but smiling. When she arrived at the office, Dempsey was already at his desk.

"Did you leave something on my doorstep?" she asked, glancing at him briefly, before studying the sheaf of papers in front of her, intently.

He raised his eyebrows as if taken by surprise. "Did you find something on your doorstep?" he asked playfully. She glance up again, and caught his eye. "Yes" she replied softly. The air stilled between them. "I may have" he looked away quickly.

"Thank you, it was surprisingly sweet of you" she admitted, affording him a brief glimpse of her feelings.

"What can I say? I'm a surprising guy"

She flashed him a wide, genuine grin. It seemed to change the entire shape of her face. He would have done almost anything to make her smile like that. The minor embarassment he felt at leaving her an impulsive gift, was swept away, and he basked in the sunshine of her smile.

"Morning Harry!" Chas said cheerfully as he passed her desk. "Morning" she mumbled distractedly.

"You OK?" he asked.

"Yes, sorry Chas, how are you?"

"Oh, married life's treating me very well, thank you" he replied.

"I'm glad to hear it" Makepeace was genuinely happy for her colleague.

"So you can recommend marriage, huh?" Dempsey cut into the conversation, smirking at Makepeace. "Dempsey!" there was an undercurrent of menace in her tone.

"What? It's an innocent question" he replied.

"Nothing you do is innocent" Makepeace retorted.

"Hey!" Dempsey held up his hands in a gesture of submission.

"You grew up with dogs, right?" Dempsey said suddenly, out of the blue.

"What?" Makepeace looked at him quizzically.

"Your father had dogs at Wingfield Hall"

"Oh, yes, you made it sound like l grew up with a wolf pack" Makepeace answered him.

"Dogs to catch the birds" Dempsey continued his train of thought.

"To retrieve the pheasants" she corrected him.

"Whatever" he gestured dismissively.

"Why would someone cut a dog's ears off? What do you know about greyhound racing?" Dempsey asked both questions in quick succession. Makepeace furrowed her brow. "Not a lot" she said, answering the second and slightly more reasonable question. "Not somewhere I'd choose to visit" she stressed the word choose. He smiled, yeh, she'd stand out like a sore thumb at at dog track. Horse racing was probably more her style.

"Sometimes they tattoo the dog's ears for identification" Chas contributed. Dempsey's eyes sparked with a sudden realisation, "and they'd cut them off to avoid identification" Dempsey finished the sentence. Both Chas and Makepeace nodded in agreement. "So there's no way to know..." Dempsey was thinking aloud.

"I gotta go" Dempsey said. "lunch date with a beautiful female" he winked at Makepeace, grabbing his jacket and was on his feet and about to leave the office.

"Don't start with me" Makepeace hissed.

"Start what?" Dempsey was confused.

"Something you can't finish" she said, each word clearly and precisely delineated. That sounded like a challenge to him, and he was not one to back down from a challenge.

Makepeace clenched her jaw and seethed silently. How was it possible that, that man, could make her feel so many conflicting emotions? Who was he having lunch with? And why did she care? She needed to calm down, so she headed to the women's bathroom for a little peace and quiet. As she opened the door, Joyce was about to exit. They greeted each other warmly, comrades in arms, within the predominantly male police environment. Joyce could see that Harry needed to talk, and it didn't take much to draw her out.

" He's having lunch with someone he describes as beautiful". Makepeace said the word "lunch" as if it were loaded with additional meaning, code for something far less innocent.

"In his defence," Joyce said "And I can't believe I'm actually saying this, you're not dating Dempsey, so he isn't cheating on you."

"Then why does it feel like it?" Makepeace asked.

"We both know the answer to that" Joyce smiled.

Later that day, when Dempsey returned to work, they were assigned to a stakeout. Sometimes it felt like nine tenths of the job was just sitting and waiting, and invariably it was somewhere uncomfortable; hot, cramped, dirty, freezing, - take your pick. Her hands were cold, and her knees ached. She rubbed her right knee absentmindedly, and the slight rustle of her fingers on the fabric of her trousers sounded inplausibly loud in the silence. Dempsey turned his head towards the sound, and watched her hand, mentally speculating about what else that hand might do, but he was smart enough to say nothing (at least on this occasion). They'd been sitting in this room for what felt like days, and both of them had lost track of time. There was a single, small window high up on the wall to one side of them, through which the thin midday sun was barely visible. They were waiting for a signal, but they'd waited too long. Makepeace was cold and stiff, Dempsey twitchy and irritable. "What the hell are they playing at?" he muttered to himself, through gritted teeth. How much longer could they sit here, she wondered. Which of them would snap first, and if it were her, would she kill him, kiss him, or just run screaming from the building?

"Is there something you wanna say?" Dempsey asked, increasingly irritated by both the stakeout and his partner.

"Who is she?" Makepeace blurted out, instantly regretting having revealed her jealousy, and looking away from Dempsey to conceal her annoyance. He laughed softly. She felt like slapping him and turned towards him with a fiery glint in her eyes.

"A dog" he said.

"What?" Harry was almost at a loss for words.

"She is a dog. A female greyhound" Dempsey asserted.

"You had lunch with a greyhound?" Makepeace was incredulous.

"I gotta keep an eye on her. I knew we'd be stuck here this afternoon, and that this thing could go on for hours" he shrugged.

"When did you get a dog?" Makepeace asked. So Dempsey explained.

"We should go to the dog track" Harry said, fully committed now to helping Dempsey locate whoever had cut his dog's ears off.

"Alright, I'll pick you up at 8pm, and dress down, this ain't a Royal Garden Party".

"Stop telling me what to do" she replied through gritted teeth.

They drove to the neighbourhood of the dog track nearest to Dempsey's place. He hadn't been to that particular track before, but he was familiar with the setup. Makepeace had never been to a dog track and didn't have a clue, but figured she could bluff her way through. She understood horseracing after all, how different could it be?

They had to park the car some distance from the stadium. This was an old, working class neighbourhood where most people didn't have their own transport. A steady stream of figures were heading down a dark pathway towards the dog track. They joined the crowd. Makepeace glanced around her, alert to any danger. Looking down, she noticed that there was something written on the ground, in chalk. Every few yards, it was written again : "Ask them about the freezer".

"What does that mean?" she asked aloud.

"What?" Dempsey was not looking at the ground.

"Ask them about the freezer" Makepeace said.

" What are you talking about?" again Dempsey was confused.

"There look," she gestured "on the pavement".

"On the what?" he asked.

Makepeace closed her eyes and tried very hard not to hit something. "The sidewalk I think you call it" she said sweetly.

"Oh yeah, " he smiled "I think maybe we should find out about this freezer".

They entered the stadium, and Dempsey cast his eye over the little booklet detailing the dogs and races for the evening. Having done so, he passed the booklet to Makepeace and ordered himself a pie and fries from the refreshment stand. The takeaway meal was covered in thick gravy and it smelt disgusting. Makepeace wrinkled her nose up as he waved the food towards her in invitation. "Not even if I were starving" she said. So, he tucked into it himself.

While he ate, Makepeace studied the booklet. For each race, the dogs and owners were listed, followed by several columns of statistics; the dog's weight, its previous performances, etc. The sorts of information that gamblers imagined would give them the inside track to big winnings. Makepeace was sceptical.

"Wanna place a bet?" Dempsey asked her.

"Wouldn't that be gambling on duty?" Makepeace cautioned.

He shrugged. "You gonna arrest me?" he held out his wrists.

"Not today" she replied.

They stood in the dark, on the cold, concrete terraced steps and watched huddles of men drinking and shouting together, young couples cuddled up, and kids running loose through the crowd. The dogs were brought out for the first race, each led by a trainer.

"You see that?" Dempsey said, pointing to one of the dogs. Makepeace shrugged.

"That dog shitting" he said.

"Oh, Dempsey!" Makepeace exclaimed.

"That's a good sign," he continued "losing excess weight, it'll be lighter, go faster, you watch, it'll win."

"I don't believe you" Makepeace said. Of course, it won.

"You're insufferable" she said, but she smiled too.

"Alright, lets take a look around" Dempsey was determined to get down to business. They walked back past the refreshment area and ducked into a corridor leading to a door marked - Strictly No Entry. Dempsey kicked the door and it swung open. There were officials and trainers milling around, some trainers apparently with their families. The area was busy but purposeful. Dempsey and Makepeace strode decisively forwards, crossed an open space and headed to where they might likely find the elusive freezer. Just as Dempsey opened the door of what appeared to be a walk-in freezer, there was a shout "Oy, what do you think you're doing?" Dempsey and Makepeace turned, as a thick-set, barrel chested man approached them, grabbing Dempsey's arm and pulling him away from the freezer. As the two men struggled, Makepeace opened the freezer door and gasped "Oh my God!". There were dozens of dead greyhounds piled up on the floor, bodies jumbled together. It reminded Makepeace of photos of mass graves after a war. For a moment she froze, then she remembered the camera in her bag, took it out and photographed the scene, feeling sick to her stomach as she did so.

"We've got to get out of here" she turned back to Dempsey. He was still grappling with the other man. There were crates on the floor, and Makepeace kicked the nearest crate towards the two men. It hit Dempsey's assailant in the back of his legs, and the man stumbled, caught off balance, allowing Dempsey the upper hand in the struggle which was soon over. "You're gonna tell me everything" Dempsey said, cuffing him.

"This isn't an SI 10 matter" Spikings said when they outlined the case to him, back at their HQ. They had to pass it on, but Makepeace was confident that justice would be served.

"So, do I get to meet her?" she asked Dempsey.

"Meet who?" he queried.

"Your beautiful female friend" she teased.

"Sure, come over" he offered. He was a little worried, as Alainn was still rather skitish. He opened his front door cautiously and Alainn came towards them. She seemed unusually relaxed, and went right up to Harry without hesitation. Makepeace bent down to the dog's level and made a fuss of her, gently. Alainn knew that her new master trusted this woman, and she accepted her as a member of her new pack.