No one was at all surprised when the report got to the station that the man found in the wood chipper was the property owner. Even Nicholas knew that much as soon as he first laid eyes on the scene.
“Come on, it was just a nasty accident!” Tony insisted from his desk. “Remember when Ben Fletcher fell on his pitchfork?”
Nicholas sighed and let his head fall onto his desk. He still hadn’t quite been able to shake that feeling of sick he’d felt since that morning, and it only seemed to get worse as time went on.
“All I’m saying is—”
“Thing’s aren’t always what they seem,” Andrew finished for him. “We know! But sometimes, they are!”
It was the same script all over again. Finally he stood up, and very deliberately straightened his tie. It was clip-on, and about as straight as it was going to get, but he didn’t care. “As your inspector,” he started slowly, in a voice so calm it was almost scary, “I’m or dering you to go back to the scene and take another look. It doesn’t feel right.”
Andrew threw a file folder he’d been holding onto the nearest desk. “Right,” he said with a stiff nod. “Because when I got a feeling, it’s just rookie shit, but when you got one, it’s law, innit?”
“Get out of this station and out of my sight,” Nicholas said finally as he made his way to his office, slamming the door behind him.
He had nearly a dozen folders spread out across his desk in no particular order. Throwing himself into his chair, Nicholas picked up the nearest folder and skimmed over the report, reading Andrew’s account of the most unpleasant demise of Randal Butcher. Reading the words again, Nicholas realised rather painfully that none of it actually made any sort of linear sense. As though a switch somewhere in his mind had been flipped, suddenly everything seemed to fall into place with the sort of painful realisation he still remembered al l too clearly. He should have rung Chief Inspector Partridge in London, or Chief Inspector Clarke in Gloucester, and he knew it. It was the only clear course of action.
The part of his brain that told him he was being paranoid told him to get a second opinion, and that was the part of his brain that he listened to, instead. Gathering up the folders, Nicholas threw his coat on over his uniform and rushed out of the station, making a line straight for Danny’s flat.
Folders tucked under his arm, Nicholas frantically pressed the buzzer, all but mashing it permanently into the side of the house. When Danny finally answered the call, Nicholas thought his heart might stop completely.
“Impatient fucker, what?”
“Danny, let me in,” Nicholas said quickly. “It’s Nicholas. This is important!”
The buzzer sounded and Nicholas pushed the door open, rushing up the steps to Danny’s flat, finding the door already open for him.
“You all ri ght, Nick?” Danny asked as he pulled his shirt over his head. “Look like you seen a ghost.”
Nicholas shut the door and looked round the flat, as though half-expecting someone to be hiding behind the sofa. “Danny, I don’t think we got everyone. We missed… someone. I don’t know who, but we did.”
Danny stood stiffly, looking across the room at Nicholas. “What are you on about?”
“The NWA!” Nicholas shouted. He rushed around accumulating clutter, nearly tripping over a football as he bounded into the kitchen. Clearing off a space on the table, he threw the folders down and spread them out. “Danny, look at this.”
Danny laughed lightly. “You think that’s what going on?” he asked, his hands on his hips.
“Yes!” Nicholas insisted.
Danny sighed and walked over to the door, locking the deadbolt before making his way into the kitchen. “You really think so?” he asked.
Nicholas hadn’t even looked up from his mess of folders. “Yes, Danny. Look at this. It doesn’t make any sense. Butcher, from the other week, and then that… thing this morning!”
Danny leaned against the table, looking over Nicholas’ shoulder. “You tell your chief about this yet?” he asked.
Nicholas shook his head. “Not yet,” he said, finally looking up to meet Danny’s gaze. “I wanted to get your opinion. Partner.”
Danny nodded, a smile creeping across his face. “Well,” he started, putting his hand over Nicholas’ to keep him from fidgeting with the papers. “I think you ought to just put it all out of your head.”
Nicholas shook his head frantically. “No, I don’t think I’m being paranoid about this,” he insisted. “I looked through all of these. Multiple times! Something’s going on in this village, and it’s the same thing that’s always been going on!”
Danny tried to pull Nicholas away from the table. “Come on. You’re just all woun d up over this morning. Go grab a DVD and we’ll just kip up on the sofa for a bit.”
Nicholas threw Danny’s hand off of his arm and reached for the folders again. “No, we need to go over this!” he insisted. “There’s something we missed. Something we overlooked, and it’s right here. In this room!”
Danny bit his lip and inhaled deeply. “You don’t even know the half of it Nicholas. Just forget it.”
Nicholas looked up sharply, suddenly forgetting all about the folders on the table. “What does that mean?” he asked. His eyes began darting across the room as he tried to work out the possible implications of Danny’s words. “Danny?”
“I didn’t want to get you involved in all this, Nicholas,” Danny said honestly. “You was better off just in your own little world, with your head in your notebook, but you had to go get all involved and fuck everything up. You’re very good at that.”
Nicholas made a dash for the doo r, surprised to find it locked. He scrambled with the mechanism, suddenly having forgotten how to work a simple latch, when Danny’s hands took him by the shoulders and dragged him over to the sofa. Nicholas’ hands scrambled for purchase, eventually grabbing hold of Danny’s forearms as he felt himself being pressed into the cushions.
“I can hurt you!” he warned through his teeth.
“You won’t,” Danny said simply.
Nicholas tightened his grip, but ultimately, realised that Danny was right. He tried to struggle away from the grip, but the thought of hurting Danny – his partner; his friend – kept him from doing anything remotely close to useful, so his struggles just pushed him further into the sofa.
“Get off!” Nicholas growled instead, trying to push against Danny’s bulk.
“Settle down, you fuck,” Danny warned, tightening his grip on Nicholas’ shoulders. “I ain’t gonna hurt you, but you’re fixing to hurt yourself, like this.”
Nicholas tried to push against Danny once more before finally meeting Danny’s eyes, freezing almost immediately.
“Why the fuck you gotta make everything so difficult?” Danny demanded.
“Why the fuck are you doing this?” Nicholas volleyed back. “Danny, this is absurd!”
“Nick, it’s Sandford,” Danny said, as though it were some ultra-logical answer that made everything better. “You keep acting like you can change everything what happens round here, but it’s just how it has to be.”
Nicholas struggled against Danny once more, surprised when Danny shifted and pressed his elbow squarely into Nicholas’ chest.
“It doesn’t have to be any way!” Nicholas protested. “Let me up!”
“No,” Danny said simply. “You’re gonna sit here for a while, and you’re gonna calm down.” He watched Nicholas as the smaller man tried to find a way out of the present situation that wouldn’t end in either o f them getting hurt, and coming up completely empty. “Nick, think about it. It’s just you and who else?”
“You and me!” he cried out. “We’re supposed to be partners! We’re supposed to help one another! But you’re just as brainwashed as the rest of them!”
“Ain’t nobody’s been brainwashed, Nicholas,” Danny said simply. “You think we like doing these things? Okay, well, Mister Skinner was something else completely, but we don’t do it unless we have to. It’s for—”
“How is it for the greater good?” Nicholas demanded. He tried to shove Danny’s weight off of him, instead just pressing his chest into the arm holding him down. Vision blurred in pain and gasping for air, Nicholas sunk back into the sofa. A few moments later, Danny finally rolled off of Nicholas and settled down next to him, his hand gripping Nicholas’ wrist tightly.
“Told ya you was gonna hurt yourself, didn’t I?” he asked as though they were s haring a drink at the pub. “You’re getting yourself all wound up over something that you’re never gonna change, Nicholas. What are they supposed to do? Arrest the whole village?”
“But…” Nicholas panted, rubbing his chest with his free hand. “Innocent people. Why act out if they know…”
“Why does anybody act out?” Danny asked. “Why are you doing what you’re doing now? Because you think no one will notice, and you can get away with it.”
Nicholas looked away from Danny, willing himself to keep his emotions in check. “You knew,” he announced. “The whole fucking time, you knew!”
Danny rolled his eyes. “Nicholas, it were my dad what were in charge. What do you think?”
Nicholas ignored Danny, ignored the tight grip on his wrist, and just continued to stare across the room at nothing in particular amongst the mass of clutter that made up the flat. “Is that what you wanted, then?” Nicholas asked finally, choki ng on his own voice. “You just wanted me to help you get your dad out of the way?”
“Well, I do have to admit, I didn’t expect you to go about the situation the way you did, but it still got the job done.”
It wasn’t what Danny said, or even the implications behind the words that made Nicholas feel like they’d just fallen to an all new low. It was the absolute honesty in Danny’s voice as he said it.
“That’s all I am to you, then?” Nicholas asked, trying to pull away from Danny in a half-hearted attempt. “You were supposed to be my friend!”
“I’d like to be your friend,” Danny said. “I like you Nicholas. You’re just a fucking pain in the arse.”
“I’m your inspector, and I’ve apparently failed you,” Nicholas said flatly. “I should have seen this earlier. I probably did, and just wanted to. I could have stopped all this. I could have saved you.”
Danny laughed, and Nicholas thought that he was goin g to collapse in upon himself. “Save me?” he asked. “From what? The bogeyman?”
“From whatever’s going on that’s making you do this,” Nicholas said quietly. “Danny, you’re better than this.”
“Well, maybe,” Danny agreed. “But this is just how things work. You’ll figure that out soon enough. Then we’ll be mates again, yeah?”
Nicholas started to argue, but stopped himself, settling back into a blank stare across the flat.
“Come on,” Danny said. “We’ll watch something, then I’ll take you home, yeah.”
Nicholas only shrugged, ignoring Danny as he finally let go of his wrist and got up to go fetch a DVD from his collection.
Danny practically dragged Nicholas up the walkway and into the cottage, pulling Nicholas’ keys from his pocket and opening the door into cool darkness.
“It’s your day off tomorrow, innit?” Danny asked as he led Nicholas to the sofa, all but pushing him down in to the cushions.
Nicholas only shrugged.
“I’ll be over in the morning, then,” Danny said. “We’ll do whatever you want. Organise your sock drawer, if you want.”
Nicholas shrugged again. For the first time since he first arrived in Sandford, he wanted nothing more than to be far, far away from Danny. “Whatever,” he managed.
Danny rubbed his hand over Nicholas’ hair quickly before throwing Nicholas’ keys on the sofa next to him and turning toward the door, shutting it quietly behind him.
Sitting in the quiet dark, Nicholas listened to the sound of Danny’s car starting and pulling away. It meant that Danny was going away from him, that he wouldn’t feel a sharp stab of betrayal every time one of them spoke.
How had he not seen it? Everything was obvious; he should have known what was happening a year ago, when they were standing in the dark under the castle, big cartoon knives being thrown around.
Danny was always the first one there. He was there after Nicholas was attacked by Michael in his hotel room. He was there at the castle when the whole lot of those crazy motherfuckers came after him with pitchforks and spades.
He’d put the fucking notebook in Nicholas’ pocket. It may not have specifically been the plan all along, but he’d wanted to get Nicholas out of there; wanted him to make it to London and send back the blue fury of the Metropolitan Police Services in to arrest the entire damn village.
But Nicholas came back on his own. Came back because he was worried for Danny. Came back because of a displaced sense of loyalty that had chosen the most inappropriate of all times to finally develop. Every goddamn person he ever tried to look up to found one way or another to go behind his back and sink their claws in.
Why shouldn’t he do the same? Why was he so willing to sit and wait for Danny to come back round in the morning?
Cautiously getting to his f eet, Nicholas crept over to the window and pushed the curtains away just enough to peer out to the street in front of his cottage. The car was gone, Danny presumably actually gone home for the night.
Nicholas rushed over to the phone and picked up the receiver before realising that he didn’t have any of the direct numbers. They were all in his mobile, which was still at the station. He couldn’t ring Partridge, or Clarke, or anyone outside of Sandford. At least he hadn’t told anyone else. If there was one thing he was habitually doing right, it was keeping his damn mouth shut around the other officers. He’d be able to walk right back into the station, past whichever Turner brother was working the front desk, and grab his mobile. No sense in sticking around long enough to make the call.
He snatched up his keys back from the sofa and quietly left the cottage, locking the door behind him. Just in case. He made a quick trip to the station, running most of the way, before slipping in through the front door.
Kevin, barely looking up from his book, cast him a quick glance, and for a moment, Nicholas was absolutely certain that the sergeant would say something – anything to raise some sort of alarm. Instead, he turned his attention back to his book and let Nicholas stroll right through the station.
He quickly made his way back to his office, opening and closing drawers frantically as he tried to find his mobile.
“Looking for something?”
Nicholas’ attention snapped up at Andy, standing in the doorway with the phone displayed in his hand. “Detective,” Nicholas said cautiously.
“Danny said you’d be back,” Andy said, stepping back out of the office. “Who were you gonna call?”
Andrew stepped up behind Andy, a grin hidden somewhere behind his moustache.
“Cheeky bastard, isn’t And?”
“Detective, that is my personal property,” Nicholas warned. “Give it back, now .”
The detectives smiled at one another. “Or what?” Andrew chided.
“The game’s up,” Nicholas said. “I know what’s going on, and so does home office. I already phoned them this afternoon. If I don’t call them back—”
“Bullshit,” Andrew spat. “You didn’t call anyone, and you know it. You told Danny everything.” He pulled his own mobile out of his pocket and pressed a series of buttons before bringing the device to his ear. “Yeah, he’s here,” he said after a few moments. “Just like you said.” Nicholas stood in horror as Andrew talked with, who he could only assume to be, Danny. “What do you want us to do?”
After a few moments, Andrew hung up the small phone and slid it back into his jacket. “What’s he said?” Andy asked.
“Coming right down,” Andrew responded easily as he stepped closer to Nicholas. “But we ought to help make the point a bit more clear.”
Before Nicholas had a chance to react, Andrew grabbed hold of Nicholas’ shirt collar and pushed the man down toward the floor until he was off balance enough to lose his footing, allowing Andrew to drag him out of the office. Nicholas kicked and dug his nails into Andrew’s hand as he found himself being pulled into a holding cell.
“Get the fuck off!” He shouted, trying to fight the detective off of him.
He was surprised when Andrew threw him to the ground, taking a moment before getting to his feet. He tried to rush Andy, hoping to push through the cell door, but the detective quickly closed it and let it latch heavily behind him.
“Woah, there, cowboy,” Andy said as he shoved Nicholas away from the door. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Nicholas shot his gaze between the two detectives. “You’re not going to get away with this,” he said, trying to keep himself under control. “People are gonna know what’s going on!”
“People already do,” Andy s aid easily, leaning against the heavy cell door.
“This is sick. You’re all sick!” Nicholas slammed Andy into the door as though he were trying to push them both right through the thick steel. For a few moments, he and Andy struggled against one another until Andrew grasped Nicholas by the shoulders and threw him to the ground, slipping his leg behind Nicholas to knock him completely off balance.
“Little fucker just assaulted an officer of the law,” Andrew said, kicking Nicholas in the side. “Teach this little bastard a lesson.”
As Nicholas coughed and gasped for breath on the cold cement floor, Andrew kicked him again, not holding any of himself back. Nicholas tried to get back to his feet, dizzy and disoriented, not seeing Andrew pulling his arm back. Before he had a chance to duck away, Andrew’s fist connected against his face, right over the fracture Simon Skinner had left in his skull.
“Should have sent someone else after you the first time,” Andrew said, hefting Nicholas to his feet. “Michael never knew what the fuck was going on.” Another blow to Nicholas stomach, and he dropped the inspector to the ground as the cell door swung open.
Nicholas coughed at the figure in the doorway, who he slowly realised to be Kevin Turner. For a fleeting moment, he thought he’d been saved; maybe Kevin wasn’t aware of what was going on, after all.
“Oi,” Kevin called out. “I dunno what you lot are up to back here, but keep it down, would you. I can’t read with all this racket!”
“Sorry, Kev,” Andy muttered, throwing a disgusted look at Andrew and Nicholas.
Kevin snorted out a sort of choked laugh as he walked back toward the front desk, letting the cell door swing shut again. Nicholas watched him go; watched as the final shred of proof that not a single sane resident of the village ever exists walked away through the dark station. Choking on the air he was trying to bre athe, Nicholas let his head fall back against the floor, ready to let Andrew finish his power trip and just please go away.
Andrew took off his jacket and pulled a collapsible baton from his belt, extending it with a horrific metal ratchet.
“Andy, no,” the constable warned. “For fuck’s sake, look at him! He’s had enough.” The detectives stood silent for a few moments, staring one another down. “You’re gonna fucking kill him, you go any farther!”
Andrew shrugged as tossed his jacket on the bed. “So what if I do? He’s just in the way all the time! He wasn’t supposed to know anyway, because he won’t keep his fucking mouth shut.” He kicked Nicholas once more as the man lie crumpled on the floor.
“And he wouldn’t know if you hadn’t been such a careless fucking prick!” Andy spat.
“Well, we ain’t gonna teach this old dog any new tricks,” Andrew pointed out. “You really think he ain’t gonna keep trying to fu ck everything up?”
The door opened again, the three men in the cell expecting another tongue lashing from Sergeant Turner. Instead, Danny stepped into the doorway, his arms crossed tightly over his chest.
“I think it would be best if you lad left us alone,” he said darkly. “Andy, leave that here.”
Andrew looked down at the baton in his hand for a few moments before tossing it down onto the bed, exchanging it for his jacket before shuffling out of the cell after Andy. Danny propped the door open before stepping over to Nicholas, who still lie on the ground, his gaze not focused on anything in particular.
“Come here,” Danny said as he sat on the ground. He took Nicholas by the arm and dragged the man over so that the two were sitting awkwardly next to one another. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, don’t nobody listen to me?”
He reached up onto the bed, holding Nicholas tightly to keep him from pushing away, and with his free hand wrestle d the pillow case from the foam pillow. With one final tug to bring Nicholas as close to him as possible, he used the pillow case to gently wipe the inspector’s face clean.
“You might need stitches on that,” he said quietly, trying not to aggravate the cut Andrew had left on his cheek. “I should call the doctor in here.”
Nicholas shook his head as he tried to pull himself away. Not ready to let Nicholas go, Danny wrapped his arm around his shoulders, pulling him even closer. “If people would just listen, these sorts of things wouldn’t have to happen,” he rationalised. “I don’t like telling people to do these sorts of things, but when you go around behind my back like this, I have to find some way to show you that what you’re doing is wrong.”
Nicholas’ entire body shook as he struggled unsuccessfully against Danny’s grip, his body too sore and tired to put up any sort of a proper fight.
“The rolled up news paper ain’t wo rking, but I don’t want to see you hurt.” He found a clean patch on the case and gently rubbed it over Nicholas’ face. “At least put some ice on that, or something.”
“No,” Nicholas managed, still pulling away. “Danny, this is wrong.”
Danny sighed deeply. “The only wrong going on here is you not wanting to settle down and cooperate,” he said. “I don’t see what’s so hard about that, Nicholas.”
He gently put his hand on Nicholas head, pressing the man lightly against his chest. “I like having you around. I really do,” he continued, ignoring Nicholas as he tried to pull away. “You weren’t meant to know this stuff so soon. I were gonna try to ease you into it. Figured you might understand it better that way.”
“There’s nothing to understand,” Nicholas protested quietly.
Danny smiled as he looked down at Nicholas. “You’re absolutely right,” he said. “See, you’re getting it. I knew you would.”
Nicholas wanted to be sick right there on the floor. He was surprised when Danny finally let up on his grip, slowly getting to his feet.
“I want to be able to trust you,” Danny said suddenly. “If I take you back home, can I trust you?”
Nicholas sat still on the floor, feeling better just not being touched by anybody. That feeling was soon demolished as Danny bent and picked him back up, dragging him to his feet. He tried to resist as Danny dragged him out of the cell and to the main door, passing Kevin at the front desk.
“Three needs cleaning up when you get a chance,” he said to the sergeant as they passed.
Kevin nodded lightly. “Right, Danny,” he said, not looking up from his book.
Danny led Nicholas out to the waiting car, easily wrestling him into the passenger seat and shutting the door. “Stay there,” he warned as he made his way around to the driver’s door. Getting in the car, he cast a glance over to Nicholas, an d satisfied that the man wasn’t going to try to just out of the car as they drove down the road, he started the engine and pulled out onto the street.
“I still meant what I said earlier,” Danny said easily. “I’ll be back round in the morning, and we’ll figure out what we’re gonna do from there, all right?”
Nicholas said nothing, doing his best to ignore Danny’s words.
“Oh, come on. S’not like it’s that bad, or nothing,” Danny insisted. “Things’ll settle again, and it’ll be just like before. Nice and quiet again. You like that, right?”
Nicholas turned his attention out the side window, watching as the dark village past by at twenty miles an hour.
“I’d like some sort of dialogue between us,” Danny said bitterly. “I’m going out of my way for you, ya know. I don’t have to do these things for you. I could have left you in there with the Andys. Then where’d you be?”
Still, Nicholas ignored him. M aybe he should have. At least then, he’d be done with this whole insane mess. And after all that, he still didn’t get his mobile. Danny would have known that Nicholas kept all of his numbers in there, so it was no wonder he was so willing to let Nicholas just go back home.
A year of hell and rebuilding and court trials, and they’d still managed to win somehow. He should have gone back to London when they asked him. Let someone else deal with these people.
He didn’t even try to struggle as Danny pulled him out of the car and led him back up the walkway to the cottage. Without even trying the door, he again reached into Nicholas’ pocket and pulled out his keys so he could let them in. Leaving Nicholas by the sofa, Danny made his way over to the telephone and reached around for the cord, yanking it from the wall.
“I would like to be able to trust you,” he said simply, “but you’ve not been making it easy. We’ll get that fixed when you start acting civil.”
Nicholas watched as Danny tossed Nicholas keys down by the telephone and opened the front door. “I’ll be back round tomorrow morning. I promise.”
He shut the door behind him, again leaving Nicholas alone in the dark cottage. Listening to Danny drive away again, he thought for a moment to just leave. Leave and… what? Steal a car? He wouldn’t know how to get it started unless he happened to find one with the keys already in. He couldn’t even hitchhike to Buford Abbey, since anyone going that direction would be from Sandford.
It was clear that he was stuck there, imprisoned in his own home. It wasn’t exactly a comforting thought no matter how he tried to spin it.
He could at least be prepared, though. Cautiously making his way through the house, as though some of Danny’s spies were tucked in behind his peace lily, he opened the door leading out to the back garden. Careful not to wake the neighbours, he crept back to the s mall shed tucked in the back corner of the garden and pulled open the door.
He sat on the stairs, the house completely dark, heavy wool blankets and patchwork quilts tacked up over every window keeping even the faintest of light coming in from outside. His eyes adjusted to the extreme dark, he knew he’d have a few minutes of advantage if and when Danny changed his mind about keeping Nicholas safe and sound. Then again, if cuts to the face and riot batons were someone’s idea of “safe and sound,” they clearly needed to be in an institution.
He jumped slightly at footsteps outside his door, cautious but hurried as they stopped suddenly. Gripping his scavenged cricket bat tightly, Nicholas slowly got up from the steps and made his way to the door, ready for whoever was about to force their way in.
And the, against anything he ever would have predicted, there was a light knock on the door.
“Nick, you crazy fuck, let me in!” Andy hissed from outside, barely loud enough for Nicholas to hear.
“No!” Nicholas spat back. “Get off my property!”
“I’m alone, you stupid prick!” Andy insisted. “Quick! Let me in!”
“Why?” Nicholas demanded.
“Because someone will see me if you don’t!”
Nicholas took a few moments to consider this before switching the bat over to his other hand and slowly unlocking the door. “Try anything, and you’re in a coma,” he threatened as he opened the door slowly, holding the cricket bat above his head.
Andy looked up at the bat and took a slow step backwards away from Nicholas, letting the inspector close the door and lock it behind him.
“I can’t see a fucking thing!”
Nicholas stood in front of the light switch, just in case Andy somehow knew where it was. “What do you want, constable?” Nicholas demanded.
“To give you this,” Andy said, pulling Nicholas’ mobile out of his pocket. He held it up, hoping Nicholas had some sort of super Batman night vision or something. “Andy’s completely off his nut.”
“Oh, really?” Nicholas asked. “I hadn’t noticed!”
Andy tried to step closer to Nicholas, but stopped when Nicholas jabbed him in the chest with the bat.
“Put the mobile on the table,” he said. “Two feet to your left.”
Andy cautiously reached out, his hands fumbling blindly in the dark as looked for the table. Eventually, he found it, and gently put the phone down before backing away a few steps.
“What do you want?” Nicholas demanded, not moving from his original position.
“Told you,” Andy said. “Andy ain’t right. Something’s changed in him, and he’s gone real mean. I think Danny’s making him do things that I ain’t being told about.”
“What things?” Nicholas asked.
“I don’t fucking know!” the detective nearly shouted. “I ain’t being told, remember?”
“Right .” Finally, Nicholas stepped over to the table and picked up the mobile. He pushed a button on its face, relieved when the screen lit up. “What do you expect me to do then?” he asked, finally turning on the light.
“You’re right,” Andy said finally. “This shit ain’t right.”
Nicholas scowled at the younger man as he circled widely around him and went into the kitchen. “And what do you propose we do?” he asked bitterly. “Just arrest the whole village? I’m a bit pressed to come up with an alternative solution.” He carefully picked up a small knife from the counter and hid it best he could in his hand.
Andy sighed and rolled his eyes. “You always gotta be the one in charge, don’t you?” he asked. “Does it ever occur to you that someone else might have a plan?”
Nicholas spun round and looked over Andy. “Oh, really?” he asked. “What’s your big master plan, then?”
“You. Me. Buford Abbey. Right now.”
Nicholas stared at Andy from across the room. “What are we gonna do? Walk there?”
Andy snorted. “You just can’t let it go, can you?” he asked. “How fucking dumb do you think I am? I got a car a few blocks away. I didn’t park out front, because someone would see, you daft old man.”
Nicholas inhaled deeply as he clenched his jaw tight, before finally giving in and stepping closer to Andy. “I hope you’ve thought this through.”
“Yeah, just bring your little toys, and let’s get out of here.”
Nicholas felt a surge of disappointment at knowing Andy had seen him pick up the knife, but didn’t acknowledge it as he watched the detective make his way toward the door. Andy flipped off the light and opened the door, cautiously peering out to the street. The coast apparently clear, he quickly made his way down the stone path, Nicholas close behind. “Just up the way a bit, here,” he said, pointing.
Nicholas followed after hi m, clutching his bat nervously with both hands. If Andy thought that he’d taken back his threat about putting him in a coma, he was thicker than he looked.
As they began to round a corner to the parked car, Andy stopped suddenly, Nicholas barely having enough time to stop without running into the detective’s back.
“Fuck,” Andy hissed, dropping his head as the sound of footsteps approached. “They followed me.”
“Oh, did they?” Nicholas spat, an accusing sting in his voice.
“It’s not like I invited them!” Andy defended as he looked round frantically.
“Well, go on then,” Andrew called from a distance. “Go get in the car. That’s where you were going anyway, wasn’t it?”
Andy and Nicholas exchanged a nervous glance before carefully walking toward the car. “I’ll put in a good word for you,” Nicholas growled as they approached Andrew.
The detective held his hands out, stopping Nicholas in his tracks. � �Woah, there,” he said as he grabbed Nicholas’ wrist and pulled the knife from his hand, tossing it to the ground. Knowing what would come if he tried to struggle, he let Andrew take his cricket bat as well.
“Is it too fucking much to get some respe’k out of you?” Danny demanded as he shoved Andy into the back of the Fiesta parked at the curb. “And you!” he rounded on Nicholas, grabbing him by the shirt collar and dragging him over to the car. “I’m running out of trust with you, Nicholas,” he scolded. “I told you what was gonna happen if you went against me again.”
He shoved Nicholas into the car next to Andy and slammed the door shut, getting into the driver’s side. “Where are your keys, Andy?” he demanded.
Andrew climbed into the passenger seat, sitting silently.
“Andy, I know you don’t run this thing on pixie dust. Where the fuck are your keys?” Danny flipped down the sun visor and checked the little cubby hole i n the door as Andrew bent down and tore a panel from the dash clean off.
“Oi, you cunt!” Andy shouted from the back as Andrew fiddled with a few wires, eventually managing to bring the car to a start.
“He asked you twice,” Andrew said. “Which team are you playing, Andy?”
“I’m trying to figure out what fucking game you lot are playing!” Andy spat back.
“Shut it!” Danny shouted, silencing the small group in the car. “I’ve had it with the lot of you.”
Looking over his shoulder, he pulled out onto the road, quickly driving them out of town and down an unlit lane.
“Where the hell we going?” Andrew asked as the lane became not so much paved any more, and just tightly-packed gravel.
“You shut it, too,” Danny warned. “You’re the cunt what spooked him. He wouldn’t have left again if you didn’t try to break his fucking skull.”
“Danny, you don’t really want—”
“Shut up, Nicholas ,” Danny said stiffly. “You are not talking right now.”
Hoping that going along with Danny would be the best solution, Nicholas did as he was told and cast a nervous glance at Andy, who acted as if he were able to jump right out of his skin, he would have.
“I’m really disappointed in you, too, Andy,” Danny said once everyone had calmed down. “In a few days, everything would have been back to normal, but you went behind my back. Just a little respe’k is all I’m looking for.”
“Is that what this is about?” Nicholas asked, unable to stop himself. “Danny, you don’t—”
Danny slammed on the breaks, sending an unsuspecting Nicholas crashing into the back of his seat.
“I told you that you’re being quiet right now, didn’t I?” he said as he got out of the car. “Now, let’s go.”
He threw open the back door and pulled Nicholas out, dragging him across wet grass to a dark, looming structure, Andrew and Andy do ing a similar dance just behind them. Pulling open a large sliding door, Danny threw Nicholas onto the ground, motion for Andrew to do the same with Andy.
As Nicholas got himself situated again, he looked up at Danny, finding himself staring down the barrel of his own Beretta. “Danny, that isn’t—”
“Shut it!” Danny shouted. “When it were my dad, you all would jump to be the first to do what he told you. Even you, Nicholas!”
“Is that what this is about?” Nicholas asked, backing away slowly. “This is all about your dad?”
“No!” Danny insisted. “I don’t want to talk about him! You’re always trying to compare things to how they was when it were my dad. I tell you pricks to do something, and you go swanning off to do something else!” He shifted slightly, the pistol suddenly aimed at Andy. “Nicholas, I can understand,” he said angrily. “He’s new. He ain’t gotten used to things yet. But you, Andy.”
Nicholas slowly got to his feet, his hands held up in front of him. “Danny, listen to me,” he said calmly. “You don’t really want to do this. We both know that.” He and Danny locked eyes, Nicholas seeing for the first time something that he’d previously mistaken for fear. “There are better ways to go about this. Andy’s your friend. You don’t want to hurt your friend. I don’t want you to hurt him, either. Let’s just think about this for a bit.”
Danny shook his head. “What, you gonna try your supercop routine on me, Nicholas?”
Nicholas inhaled deeply, keeping his hands in front of himself where they were clearly visible. “Danny, your dad’s not around anymore. You don’t have to keep trying to impress him. You’re out doing him just by not doing the kinds of things he did. I know you don’t really want to do these violent things. Nobody does.”
Danny snorted lightly. “Yeah,” he said. “You’re right.” He shoved the Beretta i nto Andrew’s hand and shoved him into place. “He’s your partner, Andrew. Your responsibility.”
Andrew spun to look at Danny. “What?” he demanded. “For fuck’s sake, he’s just a kid!”
“He’s twenty-six,” Danny pointed out. “Old enough to know where his loyalties should lie.”
“Talk about loyalties,” Andrew said, not quite sure where to aim the pistol. “Frank would have never made us do this shit!”
“We ain’t talking about my dad!” Danny shouted. “I told you! He’s gone now! You listen to me!”
Nicholas took a small step closer to the pair in front of him. “Danny, let’s be rational, now. We won’t talk about your dad any more. I promise.”
Danny lunged at Andrew, pulling the Beretta from his hand and swinging it in Nicholas’ direction. “I told you that you ain’t talking right now!” he screamed, his face red as he advanced on Nicholas.
Nicholas took a step backwards, raising his hands slightly higher. “Okay,” he agreed. “But I just want to say first that I know you don’t really want to hurt me. And you know it.”
The pistol being shoved in his face was a clear contradiction of this statement, but Nicholas hoped it would at least buy him a few minutes to figure out some other plan of action.
“Danny, really,” Andrew said from behind him. “Maybe we really ought to slow down. We got open cells. We can figure out what to do with them in the morning, yeah?”
Danny spun on Andrew, Nicholas able to finally breathe. “You’re all fucking useless!” Danny shouted. “Every damn one of you!”
“You just ain’t thinking about the grea—”
“No! This is my village!” the sergeant insisted. “I’ll decide what the greater good is! Not some old twats running hotels!”
“Get that gun out of my face, Danny,” Andrew said flatly.
“I’m giving the orders! Not you!”
Sighing, Andrew reac hed into the back of his trousers and pulled out a revolver held it up at chest level.
“Where the fuck’d you get that?” Danny demanded. “I didn’t give you that gun!”
Andrew rolled his eyes. “Same place you did. We all got the code for the riot room, you twat,” he pointed out.
“I ain’t plaing this game with you, Andy!” The sergeant repositioned the pistol, making sure that Andrew knew that he was the one standing down the sight line. “I’m in charge here, and you’re damn well gonna listen to what I say.”
“Well, as senior officer, I’m saying we ought to figure out a better way to go about this,” Andrew snarled. “I don’t think you’re ready for all this excitement and responsibility just yet.”
Andy and Nicholas watched as the other two officers collapsed in on one another. Convinced that their attention was firmly focused on one another, Nicholas tapped Andy on the back of his hand, motioning to the door wi th his eyes. Andy quickly glanced toward the murky night outside before nodding lightly, giving Nicholas a quick nudge as though to hurry it along already.
“Where the fuck are you two going!?” Danny shouted. He swung his arm out at Nicholas and Andy, the Beretta firing unexpectedly.
For a moment, everyone stopped breathing as the air surrounding the entire area seemed to freeze instantly. Suddenly, Nicholas felt a heavy weight against his shoulder as Andy gasped roughly.
“Andy?” Nicholas barked, startled. He grabbed Andy by the shoulders and gently led him down to the ground, making sure the detective didn’t hurt himself any more than he already was. “Andy, where is it?”
Nicholas whipped his attention back to where Danny and Andrew had been standing, not entirely surprised to see both of them gone. A few moments later, he heard the Fiesta coughing to life outside in the grass.
“Andy, hold on, okay?”
Andy’s hand reached out, grabbing Nicholas’ arm tightly as the inspector pulled his mobile out of his pocket and shoved it into his mouth, using the screen display to cast some light onto the scene. Even with the faint blue glow, Nicholas could see the mass of damage the bullet had caused to Andy’s shoulder, his blood black on his shirt.
“Andy, stay with me,” Nicholas said frantically around his mobile as he pressed his hand against the detective’s shoulder. “Don’t let go of me, okay? You’re gonna be fine!”
Andy nodded as he coughed lightly. “Fucking prick,” he managed to spit out.
“Don’t talk,” Nicholas said as he pulled his mobile out of his mouth. “Just hold on to me, okay?”
He frantically dialled 999, taking a few moments to remember to press the “send” key afterwards.
“State your emergency, please,” an older woman answered.
“I, uh,” Nicholas started, panting slightly. “My friend’s been shot. I need an ambul ance!”
“Okay, sir, stay calm,” the woman said. Nicholas nodded as he readjusted himself to be able to better put pressure on Andy’s shoulder. “Where are you located?”
Nicholas looked around. ‘Barn,’ his brain supplied. “Andy, where are we?” he asked.
“Brannigan Farm,” Andy managed. “Norris Lane.”
Nicholas relayed this information to the dispatcher.
“Sir, I’m not familiar with where that is. Where are you calling from?”
“I just told you,” Nicholas said. “It’s on Norris Lane.”
“Is that in Somerford, sir?”
Suddenly, it clicked with Nicholas. His call should have been relayed to the station, but he most certainly was not talking with Kyle Turner. “No! Sandford!” He corrected. “Fucking tower’s down out here somewhere.”
“Sir, just keep calm, okay?” the dispatcher said, but Nicholas wasn’t listening. Andy’s hand slipped off of his wrist, so he positioned his mobil e on his shoulder and took the detective’s hand in his own.
“Andy, hold on for me!” he choked. “You’re gonna be fine. Everything’s gonna be fine.”
“Sir, are you calling from a mobile phone?” the dispatcher asked.
“What? Yeah,” Nicholas said, squeezing Andy’s hand tightly. “Andy, don’t let go of me, okay.”
“I’m sending someone out to your location, sir,” the dispatcher said. “I need you to stay on the line with me until they arrive, all right?”
Nicholas nodded, his teeth clenched tightly. “Yeah,” he managed. “Hurry. Please.”
Nicholas sat quietly as the doctor cleaned and stitched up his face, keeping impatient city cops waiting outside with cold cups of coffee in their hands.
“You’ve got some bad bruising on your chest, too,” the doctor said as he finished up his stitch work. “I want to get some X-rays on your chest, just to be safe.
“Yeah,” Nicholas muttered a greeably.
The door was pushed open and an officer with a London badge on his hat stepped into the room, flashing his badge at the doctor. “He in any mortal danger right now?”
The doctor shook his head. “No,” he said. “But I’d really like to—”
“I’ll give him back in a few minutes.” The sergeant motioned for the doctor to leave the room, shutting the door behind the man in the white coat. “Gave us another scare, Nicholas,” he said.
Nicholas only shrugged. “I just want to go home, Travis,” he answered.
“They’re not letting anyone in or out of the –”
“No,” Nicholas said stiffly. “Home. At least the insanity in London is a logical sort.”
Travis sighed and leaned against the door. “Have you got any place to go?” he asked.
“I’ll stay with my mum until I get it figured out.” Nicholas kept his eyes on the tile floor.
“They found that friend of yours. I just got news over th e radio.”
Nicholas nodded. “Right,” he said.
“The other guy’s still out there, somewhere, but they got the roads blocked. All six of them.” Travis tried to pull Nicholas into laughing with him, but it was clear the only thing the inspector wanted was just to be left alone. “Right, then.” He pulled the door open, flashing a quick smile at the doctor as he passed.
He changed quietly in the crowded locker room, ignoring the jokes the constables told one another. Focusing on the buttons on his shirt, Nicholas made sure everything was straightened and tidy before shutting the locker door and making his way out to the front doors. Ducking past the sea of bodies that filled the building, he managed to slip outside without anyone stopping him for something, and crossed the street to the bus stop.
The building wasn’t how he’d imagined it would be, but it somehow made everything seem a little better; like it was safer, somehow.
He flashed his badge at the guard by the gate, smiling lightly.
“Back again, sir?” the guard asked as he opened the gate for Nicholas. “You haven’t gotten bored yet?”
Nicholas pocketed his badge and shook his head. “Gives me something to do before my weekend,” he said lightly.
The guard laughed lightly as Nicholas passed through the gate, knowing his way through the various paths and corridors. He stopped several times to sign various forms and hand off a large envelope to someone else get a special little badge to wear from yet another someone else, before he was led to a small room where Danny was already waiting, picking at the desk with his fingernails.
“I’m fine,” Nicholas said, nodding to the man by the door. “I’ll knock if I need anything.”
The man nodded, and left the two men alone.
“How’s your dad?” Nicholas asked as he sat in the only empty chair in the room.
Danny shrugged. “They had to move him,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” Nicholas replied honestly. “I did get those comics you asked for, though,” he said, smiling cautiously. “They were a bit hard to find, but I managed to track all seven of them down.”
Danny finally smiled. “Yeah?” he asked. “Shame, they’ll just black out all the dirty words and ruin the value.”
“Don’t worry,” Nicholas said. “I got you two copies.”