The Thin Blue Line
It took her forever to find a working telephone in that part
of the town. When she found one, she rang her machine and
listened, raging, though eight hang-ups. Why could he not
say he would call back later, or some other fucking thing?
Finally, he came on, sounding as exasperated as she felt.
"Went to see a bloke about a car."
She was running, all the way back to the pub. She had the
trunk open in a moment, and found the slip of paper rolled
up inside the jack. It had a London address on it. She slammed
the trunk closed, cursing, and tore out of the parking lot
towards the motorway.
She was driving down the M1, trying to keep her mind on the
road. She had checked her messages again from a phone at a
lay-by, but there had been nothing. He could still be on his
way to the safe house, or perhaps was already taking Malcolm
to Alastair for treatment. Or he might be dead. If the man
was as dangerous as she had been told, he could be dead, or
lying wounded somewhere. She put those thoughts out of her
head as she fumbled with the A to Z.
It had taken her longer than expected to find the safe house.
It was a secluded villa in Hampstead, hidden from the street
by high hedges. It looked like a place where the inhabitants
cared only for their privacy, and would take no notice of
anything that their neighbours did, so long as they did it
quietly. She parked the car in the forecourt and entered the
house, phased. Once inside, she made sure that there were
no alarms, then unphased so that she would have all of her
senses to work with. The smell was there, but more intense
this time. He couldn't have decomposed that much, he was only
a few hours ahead of her. She forced herself to be calm, then
noticed the forced window in a back room. If that was how
he got in, then why was the back door open? She air-walked,
phased, to the upper floor. Two rooms were empty, but one
room had a body in it, two days decomposed and recognizable
as Malcolm. Two pill bottles sat on the bedside table, open
and empty. There was a note underneath them. I don't want
to do this anymore, I'm bored. There was an empty gin
bottle on the floor. The stink of his cigarettes challenged
the dominant stench. There was no other sign of him, nor was
there any sign of a struggle. She was down on her hands and
knees, searching the floor when she saw it. A small plastic
cylinder, black numbers on the side. A casing for a dart from
a dart gun, similar the one she had in her pack. From the
colour and the ID number, she knew it had been manufactured
by The Policeman's Friend, Inc. of Pascagoula MS. That meant
that it was almost certainly loaded with Trak 29.
Someone else had been there and fired the dart, she was sure
of it. Neither of them would ever fire Trak 29 at another
human being, especially if there was any chance of that person
being a mutant. It had been developed by a 19-year old amateur
chemist from Walsall who had been trying for a cheaper form
of Ecstasy, but had botched the synthesis. At a rave in a
disused car factory in Coventry, it made the normals queasy,
but sent the mutants thrashing to the ground in agonizing
pain. The secret investigation of the incident concluded that
the drug canceled out superhuman abilities in 93% of all mutants
and made 75% of them abnormally sensitive to pain. Twelve
of the eighty-four affected at Coventry had died of shock.
The inventor of the drug was now in the pharmacological graduate
program at Oxford, his fees paid for by Langley. They had
both been tested by Moira, and but only he had been sensitive
to it.There was no dart in the corpse, which meant that it
was almost certainly in Pete.
She unphased fully and took the celphone out of her pocket
with trembling hands. She didn't betray anything of what she
felt as she asked Alastair if any part of the espionage or
law enforcement community might have had gone after him. Alastair
said that he hadn't thought so, and promised her that he would
look into it. She ran back to the car, and drove off in the
direction of Whitehall.
She was passing through St. Johns Wood when the idea hit
her. The sergeant had been waiting in the other house, in
Halifax. She located his card, then phoned his office. He
was gone for the weekend, she was told. And when might he
back? She had some most important information on the Hanlon
case for him. She was told again that he was gone for the
weekend, but that she could talk to another detective about
it. She rang off.
She rang Alastair again, and he had put her on hold for some
time before confirming that the sergeant had indeed gone for
the weekend. She asked if he could send someone to check on
the sergeant's whereabouts. He told her that he would have
someone sent around as soon as possible. Something familiar
in his voice told her that he was telling the truth, but not
about how long it would take. She rang off, then got out the
laptop and set to work.
It took her only 10 minutes to find the Sergeant's personnel
file on the police computers. She found his home address,
a flat in Earlsfield. She scanned his records, impassively,
wondering how he could still be at it. Wife, divorced. Daughter
dead in a traffic accident. Nasty conflict over the death
between the two, with the good sergeant failing to have the
wife charged with murder. Records of cases, lists of newspaper
citations, details on some of the crimes that he had investigated.
Ugly, ugly crimes. She glanced at them every time she had
to wait at a light or a zebra crossing. Dead prostitutes,
the stinking aftermaths of crimes of passion, cleaning up
the beggars who had been caught by the eye of a passing psychotic.
There was a long list of disciplinary actions, two suspensions
from duty for striking other officers and four reprimands
for drinking on duty. She went back and looked at the citation
list again. The sergeant was effective, she credited him that.
When she arrived at the flat, it was dark. She had wanted
to find it lit, with the sergeant and Pete sharing a bottle
of whisky and telling old war stories. Instead, the flat had
been empty of the living, but not of the dead. They were there
in abundance. Their pictures lined the walls of the alcove
around the sergeant's bed, in the same black metal frames
that she bought at Woolworths to frame her own lost friends.
She had taken one down to look at it, and found a second picture
taped to the cardboard on the back. Every picture was like
that. On one side, a picture of an older couple, a smiling
child, a dour & obviously single man. On the other, two
corpses stuffed into a freezer, a small body fatally violated
with a broomstick, a long streak of crushed tissue in a roadway,
all shot in the painfully impassive style of a police photographer.
On his bedside table, next to an alarm clock, was an artist's
sketchbook. Inside, there were pictures of horses, rendered
in an amateur hand. Not the style or the subject for a middle-aged
man. She flipped back to the cover, and saw the name Zoe written
in one corner, each letter written in a different colour felt
pen. She turned back to the interior, and flipped through
more pictures until she came to the first text. This happened
to me, it said. Then there was a list. Uncle Bill. Once in
the mouth. Uncle Frank. Once in the mouth, once in the bottom.
Charlie. Once in the bottom, once in the fanny. There were
dates. It went on for five pages. Every so often there was
a sketch, ususually of a dead animal, sometimes of children
looking frightened or crying. Zoe's style had not been polished,
but the images were raw enough to make her flip through to
the end. There, the girl had tried to write a description
of what had happened to her. It was almost incoherent. At
the bottom, the last sentence was blacked out by a felt pen.
Underneath the ink, she could make out the words 'Its all
my', but she couldn't open the next page. It had been glued
to several of the pages that followed. She bent the edge of
the mass of paper. It didn't crackle, so the glue was fresh.
On the next free page, there was more writing, but in a different
hand. She recognized it as a Victorian style of handwriting,
similar to that seen in the front of Moira's old family bible.
A special pen was required for this, perhaps the one that
had noticed on the desk behind her.
"I could almost forgive them, those who took me.
It was my station in life to be subjected to these nameless
horrors, to be forgotten. I live above them, staring down
at them with contempt. They will never conquer me, not in
spirit. I will not be forgotten."
The writing went on in the same vein for several pages. She
was glad she hadn't eaten, as she was starting to feel quite
ill. If anything, this worse than both of the corpses that
she had seen. It reminded her, if anything, of one of Pete's
rants when it was really bad, when he would go on about everything
was rubbish and how we might all be better off dead. She put
the notebook into her pack. It was evidence.
The sketchbook was only the beginning. She found a box filled
with diaries and personal papers, all annotated in the same
archaic Victorian scrawl. Another box, filled with clothing.
Another box, filled with children's toys. Evidence, one way
or another. Things he shouldn't have had. There was no television,
but there were books. Sapper, Buchan, Dornford Yates. Dozens
of adventure stories, from between the wars. A large stack
of Boy's Own Annuals. Tales of derring-do from another age.
She logged into the net again, and went over the sergeant's
files. No sign of a country place, no notes on where he spent
his off time. He might just be in a separate pub from Pete,
drinking it all away. Or not. Or he might have Pete somewhere.
He might have more Trak 29. She went through the file again,
desperation rising. Then something. Citations in newspapers.
All in the same newspaper, by the same journalist. She found
his address and set off for Richmond.
The journalist lived in a building even more depressing than
the one she had just visited. There was no response to her
knock, but she heard someone inside, moving about. She checked
over her shoulder, then phased through the door. It was dark
inside, and she could barely make out the slumped figure sitting
on the floor in front of the sofa. He was very large, at least
150 kilos. The air was permeated with scents of gin and of
human urine. He nodded, gazing at her without focus.
"How the fuck didjou geddin here?"
"You are a reporter for the Hammersmith Record."
"You could say that."
"You know Eric Cook."
The fat man laughed. He tried to sit up, but failed and almost
"The fuckin Cookie Monster."
"If you like."
"Bad news. Bad news, girl. You don't want to tangle
with him. I did, look at me."
"I'm looking at you, but it's not telling me anything
"What makes you think I'll tell you anything?"
"Because a life might be at stake."
"I know there's a life at stake. My fucking life."
"He's threatened you?"
"No. He needs me and I need him. Fuggin symbi-, semi-,
whatever it is. He started feeding me stories, when I was
starting out. Got me in good at the paper, kept me going.
Fucking ruined me. The things he showed me, I mean, I can't
understand, I don't see, how anyone, how any person-"
"They're fuckin terrible. You can't keep them out of
your head. Wears you down. Killed my marriage. Killed his
marriage. We invite each other to the family home for dinner,
you know. He invites me over to see the wife and kid, I do
"His daughter is dead."
"I know. He tried to get me to help get his wife committed
for it. I mean, all the poor bitch did was turn her back for
a moment and the girl runs outside and gets hit by a car.
Had it in his mind that it was a murder, set up to hurt him.
Didn't manage it, though. That's me over there, on the mantelpiece.
Go on, have a look."
"I don't have time."
"Have a look."
A rugby player, tall and thin, handsome. A wedding picture.
Pictures of two small children.
"That was me. This is me now. He even beat this poison.
I never will. What do you want to know?"
"Does he fix cases?"
"He always gets the killers."
"Does he kill them?"
"Doesn't matter, really, does it? I mean, the sort of
scum he usually deals with-"
"Does he frame people or go after them if he can't get
to the person really responsible?"
"Can't really tell half the time. The ones he goes after,
they're all stone killers. Wasn't one of them who didn't deserve
"Where would he take them?"
"That bloody great police station down on-"
"Would he be there if they said he wasn't?"
"What? No, probably not."
"Then where would he go, if he had a suspect?"
"A jail? Another police station? What're you getting
"If he wanted to do something off the books, where would
he take a suspect?"
"He'd probably just shoot them dead on the spot."
"He didn't. Where would he take him?"
"Dunno. Unless, no."
The fat man didn't respond, and looked away. She knelt down
in front of him.
"Please. You have to tell me. He's got my Dad."
She cursed herself for her inability to think up anything
"Yeah. He's got him. He think's he's done something."
"No kid should have to grow up without her father. How
old are you anyways? Fifteen? You look a right tart you do.
Are you sure you aren't better off without him?"
"I mean, when they're got up like you, it's usually
their fathers what went after them in the first place."
The tears were real now. Fear and frustration. She wanted
to slam his fat stubborn head into a wall until the answer
came out. She would get the answer she wanted, one
way or another.
"This could get me in trouble. A great deal of trouble."
"Please. My father never did anything like that to me.
It's true. He loved me and cared for me, and I think he's
going to get killed."
The fat man didn't reply right away. He didn't reply forever.
"My brother had a place where he stored things, under
a viaduct off the Western Avenue in Acton. When he died, he
left it to me. All off the books. Cookie's got the key. Never
told me what he does there. Might be full of bodies, for all
It was only two miles away. She was on the road again three
At the top of the lane, she called Alastair and left a message,
detailing the location and the need for an ambulance and a
strong-arm squad. She let the brake out and rolled the car
down the gentle slope, expertly braking it to a stop with
its front bumper only an inch from the door. Since it opened
outwards, this would cut off at least one escape route. She
noted the white Ford Escort parked beside her. The license
plates told her that it was the sergeant's car. She picked
up her pack and phased through the door.
"Who the hell?"
A blond man with a brushcut looked up at her from where he
was crouching on the ground. Then, he was charging at her.
"No!" yelled the sergeant, from somewhere on the
She phased, then unphased after the man careened through
her. She effortlessly directed his momentum into a steel pillar.
It rang impressively when he connected, and he slumped to
the floor. She turned, phased, to see the Sergeant standing
at the back of the chamber, pointing a gun at her. She ignored
him and went over to where the man had been kneeling. Pete
was still breathing. He was roped into what remained of a
chair that had been smashed to pieces. There was an iron bar
and a cricket bat leaning against the wall beside him. They
had old, dried blood on them. Pete was breathing, but only
in short, pained breaths.. He was rigid. His eyes were wide
open, not seeing. She touched him and he made a sound that
she knew well from Moira's lab. She stood up and turned to
"You've just beaten an officer of the law unconcious.
Do you care?"
"You Traked him, didn't you?"
"He was helping us with our enquiries."
The sergeant smiled at her, smugly.
"You did him with Trak 29, right?"
"We found him at a murder scene. I wasn't going to take
any chances. I know all about you two, Miss Pryde."
She had added the antidote to the drug kit at the last moment.
She had almost had second thoughts about putting it in her
pack. Almost. She looked his torturer in the eye.
"I'm going to give him the antidote. If you want to
shoot an unarmed girl in the back of the head while I'm doing
it, you've got your chance."
She turned her back on him and removed the medikit from her
bag. She took out an injector and unphased. She heard the
barrel on the pistol slide back, chambering a round. She jabbed
the injector in, almost sure that she would not draw her next
breath. Pete made an incredibly high pitched sound that she
had never heard from a human mouth. When it was all in, she
phased again and turned to face the sergeant.
"Do you know what that's like, for us?"
"I've seen it used before."
"What gives you the right?"
"Justice. There must be justice for the dead."
"He had nothing to do with that girl's death."
"So you say."
"Then you know we were trying to stop Malcolm Winslow
from being used to kill again."
"He did say something to that effect."
"And so you went ahead and did this anyways."
"You're all responsible, all of you. You make those
weapons, then you just leave them around to hurt us. We never
did nothing that warranted making the likes of Winslow."
"So I'm responsible for her death too."
"All of you."
"Why do you care?"
He put the gun down on the table, then looked up with a small
pained smile on his face.
"I loved her."
"You loved her."
"I did. With a purer, more perfect love than you or
any of your kind could ever know."
"Oh really? Did you know her?"
"I knew her."
"From her diary?"
"How did- Yes. From her diary. And from what I found
out about her, Poor sweet little thing."
"You stupid shit."
"You didn't know her, you don't know us. I read what
you wrote in there. I talked to her friends. For fuck's sake,
she was a con-artist who slept with anyone and everyone to
get drugs. Yeah, she was a victim, but she wasn't any better
or worse or different from any of those kids you beat up at
"That's not true."
"Did you read that diary? Did you read the lists? The
only place where she used the word love was next to girl's
names. You're old enough to be her father, for fuck's sake.
She would never have been able to look at you with love."
"That's not true. I could have saved her. Love could
have saved her."
"Yes, it could have. Love might save other people, too,
but here you are beating someone to death instead of trying
to save anyone. Some example of love and valour you are."
"You don't understand a thing."
"Oh yes, I do. Hand me his flask."
He did. She rooted around in her pack and retrieved the bottle
of cough mixture. She tossed it to him.
"I believe in love, too. We're going to make a toast
to it. To love."
"My car's outside. Your photos are in it. The ones off
the wall, and the one of your daughter."
"I'm not. We don't want the higher-ups to hear about
this, either. You drink that down, and keep it down, and you
get it all back, and we go away forever. Otherwise, I burn
it all. I promise."
He looked frightened. He unscrewed the bottle cap.
"I've beaten this before."
"I know. To love."
She raised the flask, and drank. The whiskey flowed down
her throat, raw fire. She hoped it would damp down the shaking.
The sergeant looked at her uncertainly, then drained the bottle,
gagging only at first.
"Now, keep it down and we'll call it even."
He was weeping.
"It wasn't just for her. Remember these names. Walter
Robert Stevens. Anok Patel. Louise Sarah Patel. Vijay George
Patel. Angela Roberts. In Peckham. John Patrick Shanford.
Eileen Shanford. In Londonderry. Oscar Leventhal. Welwyn Garden
City. I know about what you do. You leave a great many unexplained
deaths in your wake."
"What do you mean?"
"I could threaten you, you mean little bitch. I could
tell you that I'm going to get you for this, but I already
have. Burns are terrible things to die from."
He was smiling, now, through the tears, the most evil smile
she had ever seen on a human face. It faded as his head started
to nod. He slumped over in the chair. She turned back to where
the blond man was starting to stir. She didn't know who he
was, and didn't care. She stabbed him with a second injector
and he collapsed again. She turned back to Pete, who was staring
back at her from the floor.
"Out. Gemme outta here."
"Are you sure?"
He was starting to sit up. He winced and started to fall
back. She helped him to his feet. He could barely remain upright.
"Outside. Please. Out of here."
She took him through the door, towards the car. She steered
him towards the passenger seat.
"Not there. Mess up the seat."
She threw him into it. He sat there, drained, unmoving. She
fished out a cigarette and lit it, then put it between his
"Breathe. Or would you rather have a fucking mint?"
He turned away. She wanted to scream. She almost did. He
"I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you."
"I don't deserve you," he whispered, barely audible.
She took his face and turned it towards hers. He opened his
eyes. She almost turned away when she saw the pain and shame
"Let me be the judge of that," she whispered, as
the ambulance siren drew closer.
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