‘You fucking idiot,’ said Alice. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ ‘Why didn’t you tell me about Sara’s baby?’ asked Pete, parrying the blow. ‘How did you find out about Sara’s baby?’ asked Alice.
‘By accident, apparently,’ said Pete. ‘At least I’m telling you about this myself.’
Alice shivered. She looked around the pub, which was otherwise populated at 11.37am by hardy regulars, men who wore tweed jackets and ties and trousers that were last washed in the dog days of the Brown administration. A Yorkshire terrier bustled about under one of the tables, yapping periodically, and was fed with the occasional cheese and onion crisp. ‘Honestly, Pete, when I asked you how you lost your job, this is not what I expected.’
‘I had to let it out. I’ve been keeping it in for so long, and I had to tell somebody,’ said Pete. ‘The fewer people who knew, the safer it was.’
‘So you told me?’
‘Yeah,’ said Pete. ‘Who else would I tell?’
Alice took a sip of her pint. ‘That’s this week’s yoga fucked,’ she said. ‘Have you really thought this through? I mean, if you’re wrong, you piss off Karl Chapman. If you’re right, you really piss off Karl Chapman. And if you’re right… well, this is a man who hires assassins to kill people who really piss him off.’
‘So, Sara’s baby…?’
‘No, Pete, we’re doing this now. What were you thinking?!’
Pete took a drink. ‘It was the right thing to do,’ he said, after a while.
‘Bit late for you to suddenly decide to start doing the right thing, Peter,’ said Alice. She regretted it immediately, the words in her throat like an acid reflux.
The Yorkshire terrier started to yap, competing with the noise of the quiz machine near the bar. ‘That’s not fair,’ said Pete, quietly.
‘No, I’m sorry, it’s not,’ said Alice. They both took a drink. ‘It is a bit, though.’
Pete’s silence was correctly taken as confirmation.
‘It’s just… I’m 35 next birthday, Al. Halfway through my three score and ten. Mum didn’t even make it to the three score. Dad went at 65. I’ve spent the last 20 years so terrified of doing the wrong thing that I’ve ended up doing nothing. And look at me. No job, nobody to love me, and Sara – my lovely Sara – having a baby. I had a chance, Alice. I had a chance to do something extraordinary. And, yeah, I fucked it up, but I don’t regret it, because I had a go, and I got really close.’
He looked down at his pint. ‘And now I’ve got to find a new job.’
Alice put her hand on Pete’s. ‘You have got somebody to love you. I love you, Daisy loves you, Simon… well…’
Pete pulled his hand away. ‘It’s not the same. You know it’s not the same. You’re like one of those people who goes up to somebody in a wheelchair and says, ‘Oh, lucky you, I’m run off my feet. Wish I could have a sit down and be pushed around.”‘
‘That’s not fair,’ said Alice.
‘No, I’m sorry, it’s not,’ said Pete. They both took a drink. ‘It is a bit, though.’
‘Har har,’ said Alice. ‘So, go on, tell me what happened when you took the disc in…’
Pete drained the cardboard tea cup and dropped it into the bin opposite Kilburn Police Station. He had bought the drink as a delaying tactic. The end of his adventure was close at hand and he did not want it to finish. After he had given Detective Inspector Holloway the disc his quest would be over and he would be just another unemployed whatever-he-was. That morning he had given his CV a little thought, and he had had no idea how to describe his old job at Beta Bee Solutions. Even if he managed to come up with a form of words he would inevitably come to grief at the interview stage.
– ‘Oh, yes, and why did you leave your previous position.’
– ‘Well, I told my bosses to shove their job up their ridiculous arses because I was heavily involved in a murder investigation.’
That would go down fairly badly, Pete surmised. Orlando had been in touch, of course. Blamed himself, anything he could do to help, blah, blah. Oh, God, he was going to have to keep in touch, wasn’t he? He crossed the road and entered the red-brick Kilburn Police Station. It was an experience very different from being taken there involuntarily. There were leaflets and posters, and somebody senior had clearly been on a course on how to be more ‘customer-focused’. He took a deep breath, clutched his laptop bag to his side, and walked up to the desk sergeant.
‘Yes, sir, and how can I help you today?’ drawled the desk sergeant. She had the dead eyes of somebody who had seen too much, or slept too little, and the manner of somebody who knew from long experience that the very worst thing about dealing with the public was the public.
‘I need to speak to Detective Inspector Holloway. I’ve got some information in connection with a murder.’
The desk sergeant remained impassive, save for a flicker of light in her eyes. Pete thought that he might find a game of poker with her fairly lucrative. She took his name and he took a seat, a hard orange plastic stacking chair under a public information poster featuring Jessica Ennis-Hill in a tracksuit. His heart was thumping, and he could not decide whether he was frightened or excited. He checked for the twelfth time that the disc was in his laptop bag. Then Detective Sergeant Patterson appeared, and he ushered Pete into an interview room.
‘Where’s your DI?’ Pete asked.
‘Out,’ replied Patterson. ‘You say you’ve got information about the Gruszka murder?’
‘Yeah,’ said Pete. ‘I think that Karl Chapman is involved.’
‘You think?’ said Patterson.
His face was hard to read, thought Pete. He did not look surprised. Presumably Jerzy’s link to Chapman via Marketa would have come up. If Roseman the duty solicitor were to be believed, CID already had a pretty good idea who carried out the hit.
‘And how have you come up with this theory, sunshine?’ asked Patterson.
‘I’ve been digging around and…’
‘Digging around? Like you’re some freelance detective? Listen, mate, you didn’t even recognise the man who lived downstairs from you, so you’ll excuse me if I think…’
‘… And I’ve, erm, come into some information which suggests a motive.’
‘That right? I thought you didn’t know Gruszka.’
‘I didn’t,’ said Pete, and he told him the story about Marketa and the reference, and how Jerzy had used a Trojan horse to access Chapman’s files.
‘He didn’t have his laptop, did he?’ said Pete.
‘I’m not at liberty to tell you anything about that,’ replied DS Patterson.
‘Right. I’ll take it as read. Whoever killed Jerzy took his laptop. And nothing else. Because they assumed the files were on there or they’d find out how he did it, or something… You don’t look convinced.’
‘Even if this is true,’ said DS Patterson, ‘and the laptop was missing, that’s not evidence.’
‘Yeah,’ said Pete, leaning back in his chair. He was actually enjoying sitting in a police interview room for the first time in his life. ‘But what if the files weren’t on the computer? What if they were hidden somewhere else? What if I’ve got them?’
Now DS Patterson looked interested. ‘And have you?’
Pete placed his laptop bag on the table, and pulled the computer out. He attached the Blu-ray drive. ‘Is there anywhere I can plug this in? It’s just… Y’know, it’s heavy on the juice.’
The plug did not reach the socket, so Pete piled all the hardware on his seat, and pushed it over to the wall. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘I should have charged it up.’ He was testing Patterson’s patience. He queued up the episode of Realm Of The Sword and paused it just before the first subliminal spreadsheet.
‘Now watch,’ said Pete. He moved forward frame by frame, until the spreadsheet appeared. ‘I’ve got no idea what these names and abbreviations and amounts mean, but I bet the brains of the Metropolitan Police would. No offence. Now I’ve been through and counted 87 others. It’s possible I’ve missed some, but as far as I can tell these are all from Chapman’s companies.’
Patterson was pale. Pete really did love this. ‘How did you get your hands on this?’ said Patterson.
‘Long story,’ said Pete, ‘but basically Jerzy told a few of his goth mates that if anything ever happened to him they should take his Realm Of The Sword discs so his mum didn’t see them. I know…’
‘And I got it from one of these goths.’
‘I see,’ said DS Patterson. ‘And what’s this person’s name?’
‘Aw, mate, do we have to?’ said Pete. ‘He’s not involved at all. He has no idea what’s on the disc. You’d never know it was there unless you were looking for it.’
‘Yes, we do have to,’ said Patterson, ‘or I’ll interview you under caution. This man has tampered with a crime scene.’
‘Oh, God, all right, his name’s Dominic Lambert. Can’t remember his address. He lives with his mum in Willesden. But, honestly, he hasn’t done anything wrong. He went to Jerzy’s flat after you’d finished with it.’
Pete ejected the disc and handed it to Patterson, who placed it in a clear plastic evidence bag. ‘So,’ said Pete, ‘what happens now?’
‘Thank you for your information. If we have any more questions, we will let you know.’
Pete packed away his computer. ‘Hang on, is that it? What are you going to do now? I’ve given you a link to Chapman. Are you going to do some digging?’
‘I’m not at liberty to disclose any operational information to a member of the public,’ said Patterson.
‘Look, mate,’ said Pete, his face reddening. ‘I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get this disc. It’s a clear link to Karl Chapman, and we all know who Karl Chapman is. I want to know that you’re doing your job properly. I want to know that I’m going to be safe.’
‘A clear link?!’ Patterson laughed. ‘This is nothing, Mr Brophy. I’m not seeing anything on there that suggests Karl Chapman was involved in the murder of Jerzy Gruszka. Now, I’m going to pass it on to my superior, because that’s my job, but right at this moment you’ve given me Sweet Fanny Shite, so you don’t get to talk to me like that. I recommend you fuck off before I arrest you for wasting police time.’
‘That wasn’t very nice,’ said Alice. ‘Is he the one who forgot to let you know you could go home?’
‘Yeah, him! He’s a total prick,’ said Pete, summing up DS Patterson both succinctly and accurately. ‘That’s it, isn’t it? He virtually threw me out of the building. It’s so frustrating.’
‘He’s worse than a total prick. Do you know what he is? He’s a clot,’ said Alice. They took another drink.
‘I’ll have to get back to…’ Alice began.
Pete interrupted. ‘So, Sara…?’
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Because you’ve never got over her, mate. Are you still drinking tea from that bloody mug?’
‘I have got over her! I’ve totally got over her,’ Pete said.
‘So why are we having this conversation?’ said Alice.
The Yorkshire terrier broke free and yapped around Pete’s shoes. The pub was starting to fill up with the lunchtime crowd. ‘I feel betrayed,’ said Pete.
‘By you! I didn’t know you were still seeing her.’
‘I’m not “seeing her”,’ said Alice, ‘She’s been round a couple of times with Kwesi for dinner.’
‘You do know friends aren’t like CDs, Pete? You don’t get to divide them amongst yourselves when you split up.’
The dog’s owner staggered across and grabbed it by the collar, without an apology.
‘It’s just hard, Al, y’know. She’s having a baby. That should be our baby. My baby…’
‘Yeah, well, look on the bright side. You’re unemployed, so how would you be able to afford a baby?’
Pete began to laugh.
‘Look,’ said Alice, ‘It’s not necessarily the end of the road. Give it a couple of days and then get onto that sergeant’s superior. At least you’ll know if he’s passed it on. Shame you couldn’t keep a copy without getting into trouble. You didn’t keep a copy, did you?’
‘No!’ said Pete. ‘Of course I bloody didn’t. How stupid do you think I am?’
‘OK,’ said Alice, draining her pint. ‘It’s all right for you. I’ve got to go back to work. Give it a couple of days, and in the meantime start looking for work. I’ll put out a few feelers. You’re a smart guy, and you’re still young.’
‘That’s the drink talking.’
‘Maybe, but it’s agreeing with me. And despite the fact you totally lied to me about virtually everything over the past couple of months, do you know what? I’m actually proud of you.’ Alice bent over and kissed him on the cheek. ‘You’re going to be OK. See you soon.’
Alice left Pete in the pub with mixed emotions. He felt a little satisfaction in Alice’s pride, and a little shame in the fact that, after all that, he was still lying to her.
No, it was not a lie, he told himself. It was transubstantiation again. This time it was the truth in the form of a lie. He did not keep a copy of the disc, although he had made one. He had given the copy to DS Patterson. And he had retained the original disc. Just in case.