Authors: Judith Cutler
‘Chief Superintendent Harman! Ms Harman!’
Fran caught the eye of one of the many reporters frantically claiming her attention. The press conference room was packed this Wednesday morning. As you’d expect. Sex crimes always brought reporters out of the woodwork, especially ones they could say had a sniff of the serial rapist about them. Most questions were vacuous, eliciting bland responses, with just a few reporters making acute points she had no intention of responding to. What was this young woman’s line? Her face was familiar, but Fran would swear she’d not seen her at a gathering like this before.
Of course: Dilly Pound was the reporter who had precipitated the headline catching enquiry, going first regional and then national with a piece about the rash of so far very minor assaults on teenage girls throughout the Kent area. Definitely no rapes, nor anything approaching rape, or Fran would have been the first asking questions. And not
in a news conference. ‘You’re from TVInvicta?’ Fran confirmed.
She got a nod and a rush of words. ‘Is it true, Chief Superintendent Harman, that they’ve brought you back out of retirement to investigate these cases?’
‘Golly, did I forget to park my Zimmer frame properly?’ She looked about her in comic distress. ‘No, Ms Pound, I hadn’t retired and have no immediate intention of doing so.’
‘But the case is no longer in the hands of Detective Chief Superintendent Henson?’ Pound pursued.
‘That’s absolutely correct. But since poor Mr Henson is currently in Intensive Care following a triple by-pass, I don’t think he could be expected to give the problem his full attention, do you?’
Another voice chimed in. ‘Is it true that the stress of the rising crime rate brought on the heart attack?’
‘You’d have to ask a medic about that. Next?’
Fran actually had precious little to tell them. Her response to Dilly Pound’s first question had been the literal truth. She prided herself on never lying at these events. But someone had leaked a conversation that she had thought only three other people had been privy to – the Chief Constable of Kent Constabulary; Mark Turner, the Assistant Chief Constable (Crime); and Cosmo Dix, the Head of Human Resources. But this was Headquarters, where there were always rumours sprinting round.
She wouldn’t waste much time or energy finding the mole.
Pound was on her feet again.
‘You have a reputation for being one of the best police officers in the country. Is it true that you were the first officer to take these attacks seriously?’
Best to ignore the compliment, though it brought a surprising glow. ‘Every officer takes every incident seriously, from bad Zimmer-parking to murder. When a pattern seems to emerge, than we take them even more seriously.’
‘And it’s true a pattern is emerging?’
Fran smiled. ‘As I saw on the news the other evening, you and your colleagues at TVInvicta have already suggested there might be a pattern. We’ve already been able to eliminate some of the assaults you’ve recorded from this possible pattern. But others will be the focus of our on-going investigation. And now, ladies and gentlemen, more talk means less work. So if you’ll excuse me…’
Pound didn’t take the hint. ‘Do you agree with the theory that criminals who commit serious sexual offences often begin their careers with petty harassment?’
‘That depends on the nature of the harassment. Whatever these episodes may or may not lead to, Ms Pound, they are upsetting to the victims and as such we intend to find the perpetrators.’ She overrode a frantic observation that she’d used the plural, not the singular. ‘We have a very strong team of detectives, led by DCI Jill Tanner, normally working
in Ashford. But for the time being she will be based here at Police Headquarters in Maidstone, where we have all the latest facilities. As you can see’, she gestured to Tanner, a woman in her later forties, who responded with a suddenly gamine grin, ‘DCI Tanner can hardly be regarded as geriatric either. Ladies and gentlemen, if there’s anything to report to you, there will be another conference at this time tomorrow. Meanwhile, if any of your readers, listeners or viewers have any information – and remember, many of these crimes took place in broad daylight – DCI Tanner and I would be more than grateful if they would contact the incident room or Crime Stoppers or their local police station. You’ll find all the phone numbers on the reverse of your sheets. Thank you.’ She made a great play of struggling to her feet and tottering from the room, earning a smatter of applause.
‘There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?’ she asked Jill, as they got into the corridor.
‘Not when you’re on top of your brief,’ the younger woman agreed. ‘But you seem to be able to fence with them in a way I’ve never managed.’
‘Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry
and above all
make ’em wait
until you’re ready to tell them what you want them to know. Come on, Jill, you’ve given enough press conferences in your time. You’ve even taught some of our media handling training courses.’
‘You make them sound like badly behaved dogs!’
‘And the difference is? Now, have you got everything you need? Because I’m going to bollock Personnel or Human Resources or whatever it calls itself today about that sodding leak.’
‘Mole? Absolutely not me, Fran,’ Cosmo insisted half an hour later. ‘Though I must say the rumours that you’d been plucked from the life of a retired Reilly to rescue the other plods gave a certain dramatic frisson. By the way, we’ve already fielded a call from Auntie Beeb: they want you to get back to them ASAP. Between you and me,’ he whispered, leaning forward confidentially, ‘I think they want you for regular appearances on
At heart not convinced by his denial, Fran nibbled at his bait. ‘Regular? Not just this harassment case?’
‘Nope. That’s a bit trivial as yet, isn’t it? It’s for when you finally hang up your handcuffs. The camera
you, no doubt about that. Well, we recorded the whole press conference – you can see for yourself.’
‘Cameras always add at least half a stone and ten years in wrinkles, so thanks but no thanks.’ She edged to the door.
‘That Dilly – another nice looking woman, if I may say so – she never took her eyes off you.’
‘New on the block, isn’t she?’ Fran had almost escaped but couldn’t resist stopping to ask.
‘Apparently. According to the gossip column in the local freebie, she’s not worked long in the
media. Did something else completely different, had some sort of mid-life crisis (well, she was in her thirties, which nearly counts) and then toddled off and got herself a journalism degree. So Bob’s your aunt.’
With an amiable wave, Fran swung off enjoying not being retired. This part, at least. She had a fair idea she wouldn’t enjoy the rest of it. At her level, it wasn’t a detective’s job to get out on the mean streets; she paced the rather meaner corridors where back-stabbing was of the verbal, career-impeding sort. No worse, no better than any comparable organisation such as a university, she supposed, two of which had invited her to join their staff as a visiting lecturer. And presumably the other bane of her life, meetings, would be just as prevalent elsewhere too. So perhaps, when she’d shredded her resignation letter in response to yesterday’s anguished appeal from the Chief Constable himself, she’d merely declined to jump into the heat of university life, staying in her familiar frying pan.
Fran had been summoned, at eight-thirty the previous morning, to the Chief Constable’s office. Waiting for her were the Chief himself, Cosmo Dix, and Mark Turner.
‘Postpone my retirement? But my resignation’s been in a week!’
She’d looked from the Chief to Mark, present in his capacity not as her live-in lover but as ACC (Crime) and looking as impassive as he could. Was
this his idea? She’d thought he’d been in favour of her taking a career break. They’d chewed it over long enough, goodness knew. Surely he wasn’t doing a
He looked as blank as she did.
If – and it was a big if – she was going to do what the Chief wanted, she wanted Mark’s positive agreement. Acquiescence wasn’t enough. Equally she had no intention of appearing before the Chief as anything except her own woman, so she could hardly ask for an adjournment to talk it over.
‘Well?’ the Chief prompted. ‘Come on, Fran. You’d no particular plans, had you? You’ve been a loyal officer for thirty-odd years: surely you can’t let us down now!’
The bugger. He knew she’d respond like one of Pavlov’s greedy salivating dogs to the words
can’t let us down
and so she bloody did. At least enough to ask, ‘You’re absolutely sure you can’t free up another officer to take on Henson’s role?’
‘Would I be asking you if I could?’ he replied. ‘Come on, Fran, just three weeks, four at most, until we can get the proper advertising and interviewing procedures in place.’
She shot a look at Mark.
‘The advertising and interviewing procedures you drew up,’ he agreed.
So that was the way his vote was going. And there was no doubt who would have to shoulder the extra work if she turned her back on it. The ACC
(Crime). He worked a damned sight harder than most his rank. She wouldn’t have him risk his health by taking on more.
She agreed slowly, ‘Just until you have a proper temporary replacement for Henson. I’m happy to act as his or her mentor, but then I’m off. After all, it’s not entirely policy to encourage partners to work together.’ She nodded in Mark’s direction.
The Chief huffed a bit. ‘That mostly applies if they’re lower down the ranks and in a…transient…relationship.’
‘And younger than Mark and me?’ Her tongue was well-concealed in her cheek.
‘These days I think most officers are younger than us three.’ The Chief sounded like Eeyore, minus his tail, and cast a waspish glance at the absurdly young-looking Dix, hitherto – sensibly – completely mum.
‘Come, sir, no clichés about youthful constables! They’re for the public to spout,’ Dix said, perhaps unwisely.
There was a silence Fran found herself filling. ‘OK, if it gets you and Mark out of a hole, I’ll stay. So long as I can delegate. And so long as the people I delegate to get appropriate recognition, in terms of rank and pay.’
Mark spoke for the first time. ‘So you’ll sit back with your feet on the desk while others run themselves ragged? That’ll be a first, Fran!’
The Chief was not amused. ‘OK, Dix, that’s it for now. Get Fran’s resignation into the shredder
immediately, will you? Now,’ he continued, while Cosmo was still picking up his file, ‘the first thing will be to set up a team to deal with all these assaults. I want them stopped, now.’
Fran waited till the door was firmly closed. ‘With respect, sir, they fall into two quite different types: there’s the kids’ stuff, happy-slapping, which I’d have thought best dealt with by local forces and community support officers, and the man on woman assaults, which really are alarming.’
‘You’re telling me that if your son or daughter comes home with a black eye delivered simply to amuse other children filming it on their mobile phones, there’s no point in calling us because it’s trivial!’ he thundered. Of course, he was a parent, wasn’t he?
‘Of course it should be taken seriously, and of course we should be involved. I’m just saying I think it should be dealt with by people with local knowledge of schools, youth clubs, and places where kids hang out – and not shunted up the
. We have expertise the locals don’t have, but not in that area.’
‘I can’t agree. The public expects something high profile.’
Fran bit back a series of scathing ripostes. He was, after all, the Chief, who must be obeyed. If she argued, it would fall to Mark to back one or other of them, an invidious decision he shouldn’t have to make.
‘Very well,’ she nodded. ‘In that case, if it’s going
to be one big investigation, and with women the victims, I think we should have a woman running it.’
Mark nodded. ‘What about that DCI in Ashford?’
‘Jill Tanner?’ the Chief queried. ‘She’s very… homely.’
Fran chose to ignore the implicit sexism. ‘I know. Her office at Ashford nick looks like her sitting room at home: you can’t see the dust for family photos.’
‘You know her that well? Visiting her at home?’
‘We’ve been mates ever since she joined the force.’ All the same, she wasn’t a hundred per cent happy with Mark’s suggestion. ‘Jill’s good, all right. But even though she’s a friend, I have to ask, do you really think she’s good enough?’
Mark might have been about to step down, but the Chief was in there with both feet. ‘He wouldn’t have suggested her otherwise.’
Mark blinked. ‘She was only one name amongst several, sir.’
The phone rang. The Chief took the call, snapped at the caller, and replaced the handset, all in the space of a minute. He looked at his watch. Clearly he didn’t have long to resolve the issue.
‘Tell me about Tanner.’
Mark wrongfooted her. ‘You know she played at Wimbledon as a junior?’
‘He’s not, sir,’ Fran said. ‘We’ve played
badminton a couple of times, but I only beat her because I’m so much taller and my reach is longer.’
‘But you were county champion.’ He was stowing items in his briefcase.
‘In my youth. Anyway, she zips about the court like a flea on speed. You should see her chasing a suspect. They think they’ve got some nice mumsy old dear after them and before they know it she’s got them in an arm lock that brings tears to their eyes. No villain ever tries to escape her twice. And she’s brainy as well as brawny. She’s got an OU Master’s on top of her original degree. God knows how she does it, with a family to care for too.’ Juggling family demands was something Fran had been expert in, even if her family had been at the opposite end of the age-scale. ‘Which is why I’m concerned we don’t put extra—’
Briefcase now in hand, the Chief said, ‘So we’ll have a press conference first thing tomorrow, which will give her today to whip together a team and set up her incident room here.’