There was one.
And then there was none.
Kent felt a shiver steal up his spine but he pushed it down just as quickly as it came. They’d had gawkers at the windows before and Kent knew this case was just big enough to attract its fair share of interested parties. Even the officers who’d declined to help out on the case still made a point of stopping by on some inane errand or other, hoping to catch a glance at their murder board- allowing themselves the opportunity to bask in the intrigue without any fear of the danger.
He flicked his eyes up again, just to make sure, but there was no one there. That didn’t stop him from feeling as though he was still being watched. He shifted, biting back a wince as a spike of pain shot down his right side. He’d been sat for too long, stayed too late into the night trying to catch up on everything he’d missed while he’d been off. He glanced at the incident report he was reading through, hesitating. A few more minutes couldn’t hurt, right? And then he’d go home and try to shake off this lingering paranoia.
He lifted the telephone, dialling an extension which would put him through to the night clerk in the records department. Trying to chase up those work invoices DI Chandler had asked him to locate. He hoped he’d have better luck on the phone because the thought of going back down there… he shivered again, his mouth turning down.
He couldn’t keep doing this. Couldn’t keep freaking out at the smallest of things. He was okay. He’d only been striped ( by the Kray’s, he knew, even if he hadn’t seen ), it’s wasn’t as if he’d needed anything more than a few days in the hospital ( he was lucky, after all, the wounds were only superficial in the end ) and then a week or two of bed rest before he was fit and able to return to work ( it didn’t matter if he couldn’t sleep. If every time he closed his eyes he felt the slice of the knife through his flesh- that burning tearing- heard the sound of his own screams echoing in his ears as he was slashed and beaten and laughed at- you should watch your mouth!)
Kent closed his eyes a moment. Muttering something, anything, against the mouthpiece and gratefully being put on hold. He tried to think of other things, of better things, of… of that night, the first night he’d spent in the hospital, and Chandler had found him and… and just stayed with him. He felt the phantom touch of his fingers to his neck, his cheek, the press of lips to his temple and he let loose a shuddering sigh and blinked his eyes back open.
He was okay. He could do this. The night clerk came back on, telling Kent what he already knew about the missing paperwork, but also that nothing had been flagged on it.
“That can’t be right-,” he tried, only to be interrupted by a slow knocking against the window.
Kent looked up, and froze.
There were none.
And now there were five.
And they were all staring at him. As soon as he saw them, they moved, opening the door and filing inside the room in absolute silence and Kent couldn’t move. He could hear his heart hammering in his chest, the sound of it so loud he feared they could all hear it. If they did, they didn’t show it. They just stood there, inside the room, lined up and waiting- staring at him. And he sat, waiting, staring back at them and wondering just how fast he could move…
He’d all but forgotten he was on the phone until the voice on the other end spoke.
“Should have kept your mouth shut, boy.” The night clerk said with a laugh before the line went dead. Kent jerked the phone from his ear in horror. It was just the sort of signal the men appeared to be waiting for and they began to move further into the room.
Reacting to the situation, Kent reached out to dial- who? The police ?- when Chandler's number suddenly sprang to mind and he fumbled to dial it before-
“Ah, ah, ah,” A voice tutted, right beside his ear. He instantly stilled, his fingers twitching against the keypad. The receiver fell from his hand with little encouragement when the knife came into his line of sight. His heart picked up a staccato beat and Kent flinched bodily away from it.
A laugh sounded then. Not from the one behind him, but from one of the five spreading out around the room. He felt his cheeks flame but his fear of this situation was enough to overrule the shame of his reaction.
“Now you’re not going to cause us any trouble, are you, DC Kent?” The man behind him spoke and Kent shook his head instantly.
“See, that’s what I told the lads,” he continued and Kent dropped his head as they all turned to look at him again. He recognised the voice behind him, he was sure of it. “I said you’d be a good boy and keep your mouth shut. Didn’t I say that, lads?”
More laughter. Then the sound of glass breaking. Kent jerked his head up in time to see one of the men knock a pile of folders to the floor- the whoosh of paper just as loud and dangerous sounding as the smash of glass.
“Remember lads, work then play.” A hand touched at his shoulder and he flinched against it. “No need for that, boy. I’m a man of my word here. You play nice with us and-,” the knife came closer, the flat of the blade pressing lightly against his cheek, “-we’ll play nice with you. You get me?”
“Yes,” Kent breathed, for fear of nodding his agreement.
“Good boy. Now, I want you to get up and come face this wall. You’re not going to move or speak or do anything else except stare at that wall until we’re done. Yeah?”
“Yes,” he said again. The hand on his shoulder tightened, tugged, and he moved with the unspoken command- pushing carefully to his feet and moving as best he could without the aid of his crutches towards the nearest wall. Something crashed against the floor, and then something else, sounds of the office being trashed- he heard a breathy laugh against his ear and clenched his eyes tightly closed.
“It’ll all be over soon. And if you’re good, you’ll come away from this in one piece.” Kent felt the knife press, tip-first, against his left buttock then and couldn’t keep the whimper from spilling past his lips. He bit his tongue hard, hard enough to taste blood. The knife was dragged downwards, almost- but not quite- following the line of the cut the Kray’s had already bestowed upon him.
“If you’re not good…” the words were harder now, less amusement lacing the tone, “If you’re not good I’m going to rip you open again. I’ll carve you so fuckin’ deep you’ll never be able to walk again.”
Laughter then. Loud and abrasive, interspersed with lewd comments egging the knifeman on. Kent tried to shut them out. Tried not to shiver as the knife was dragged over his arse again… and again… tried to hold back the fear and the terror and tell himself that it’d all be over soon.
“Now, Kent,” the voice said again, right beside his ear. “I want you to count to a hundred for me, yeah? And when you get to a hundred, you can turn around and go back to whatever it is you were doing before we got here, yeah? And in the morning, when you’re asked what happened here, you’re going to tell everyone that you didn’t see a thing. You get me?”
And he said, “yes.” Because what else was there to say? Even if he told Chandler what happened, it wouldn’t do him any good. These men were the police. If the Kray’s could get to men inside the department, they could get to men anywhere. Nowhere would be safe. And… and he was scared. He didn’t want to be cut up again. What was a lie of ignorance when asked about the incident compared to the threat of being striped again?
“Sure you don’t want to give him a friendly reminder before we leave?” One of the men suggested, laughing again as they began to make their way out of the room.
“Please,” Kent begged then. Biting at his lip. “I promise.”
“Such a good boy.” The man at his ear whispered. “No lads,” he said, voice louder now, “we won’t be having any trouble with this one. He’s going to start counting- out loud- and then he’s going to keep his mouth shut just like he promised. Isn’t that right, Kent?”
“Then get counting.” The knife moved away from his arse and Kent shuddered, relief washing over him in a wave so hard it left him momentarily dizzy.
“One, two, three-,” the words were barely there, his tongue thick and heavy as he tried to speak them.
“I can’t hear you!”
Kent flinched to the sound of more laughter. He swallowed against the dryness of his throat before picking up the count again. “-four, five, six, seven-,”
When he reached one hundred he stopped. Body tense and unmoving. Too afraid to turn around, just in case. What if they were still there? What if they were just waiting for him to-? No. No .
He forced himself to suck in a deep breath. Willed himself to calm down, to turn around, pack up his things and then get as far away from here as it was possible for him to get. But… he couldn’t move. His hands curled into tight fists at his sides, his fingernails biting into the palms of his hands. He just had to turn around. He just had to… he couldn’t.
He closed his eyes against the prickling of tears; tears of anger and frustration and fear .
And then he started counting again. And when he reached one hundred for the second time, he took a deep breath and started all over again. And again. Until the sounds of the department coming to life for the first morning shift finally drew him away from the wall. Safe in the knowledge that they had to be gone by now. That they couldn’t still be waiting for him when just anyone could stumble by the room to discover them.
He turned, slowly, stiffly, his eyes taking in the wreckage surrounding him and he fell back against the wall in despair. The room was utterly and completely trashed. Even if he wanted to say something, ( even if he were brave enough to tell the truth ), how could he admit to just standing by and letting this happen?
He was still leaning against the wall when the others began to arrive. Each look of disbelief and outrage at the state of the room felt like a blow to the gut. Like he was responsible.
And when they started asking him if he knew what happened, he told them he didn’t know.
And when they asked him if anything had happened to him last night, he told them no, nothing.
And when they looked at him, their eyes curious and assessing, he dropped his own gaze and pretended he couldn’t feel their stares at all. Their judgement. As if he hadn’t already had a message delivered to him- one far more potent a warning than a wreath on his doorstep.
It’s Chandler’s own stare that almost breaks him. He’s wrecked enough over last night to want to just break down and confess, to tell Chandler that he was here, that he knows who did this, that he was threatened just the same as the rest of them. But he can’t. He can still feel the touch of the blade to his backside and that terrifies him far more than Chandler’s suspicions.
Even when the room is put back into some semblance of order, when he’s sitting at his desk trying to push everything to the back of his mind and get on with his work, he can’t stop thinking about the voice at his ear and the knife pressing so threateningly against him. He knows . He knows who it was, who they all were. But what use is that to him now? What could possibly come from admitting the truth?
He just wanted to throw himself into his work. To stop thinking about what happened to him. If he could just…
“Put the phone down.” DI Chandler is suddenly standing right in front of him.
“I’ve got a good lead on the Congo.” He said, instantly. He doesn’t, but he has a bad feeling about where the conversation was about to go and if postponing it even for a moment could give him the time he needs to prepare a suitable response-
“Put the phone down and pack your things.” The words were hard, the look on Chandler’s face even harder.
“Sir?” Kent couldn’t help but ask.
“You’re suspended pending an investigation.” Chandler answered. “Go home.”
“You think I’m the mole.” Kent said then. It wasn’t a question. And Chandler didn’t treat it like one. He turned back to look at him, his disappointment etched like misery across his face and Kent trembled to see it there. The words were on the tip of his tongue, the truth burning like bile as it crept up his throat.
Chandler shook his head, but not in denial, in regret. “Out of everyone, I really wish it hadn’t been you.”
Chandler turned away, stepping back into his office and Kent was left to feel the accusing stares of his colleagues. His face burned under the power of their scrutiny as he jerked up his crutches and hobbled as quickly as he was able out of the room, down the stairs- turning his head instinctively away when he saw one of them watching him, smiling at him- and out of the building. It took everything he had to make it round the corner of the parking lot, every last ounce of strength to hold his tears at bay long enough that no one would see him crying.
He tried to force them back. To tell himself he didn’t deserve to cry, that he’d brought this on himself, but it was no use. All the fear and shame he’d felt before had only multiplied, added to this his own betrayal and Chandler’s disappointment, and he felt so terribly alone. Watched. Victimised. Violated. With no one to turn to.
He closed his eyes against the hot sting of his tears and remembered that first night in the hospital. The touch to his neck, his cheek, the press of a kiss to his temple. How safe he’d felt then. How protected. And now… nothing. Just the sickness of fear in his belly.