|Primary Characters:||Havers, Lynley, Peter|
|Spoilers:||Some (A Suitable Vengeance)|
|Warning:||m/m sex referred to, violence, some strong language|
|Description:||Peter, Lynley’s brother, is doing drugs again, and ends up in a very bad way. Barbara finds him and takes him home. Lynley is not pleased. And that’s before he realizes how his brother and his partner feel about each other.|
He wanted to go and get some stuff right away. Anything to dull the pain of the cravings. Of course, he knew better. If Trevor found out he’d gone to someone else – Despite everything, he feared being battered to death. If he was going to die – and that option was beginning to seem more and more attractive, as the months went by, while he was sliding further and further downhill, further than he’d ever thought he’d go – he’d rather go through an overdose.
He hesitated. Perhaps the day had come. But no. Not now that he was planning on making his escape. Back to mother, back home. Even if she’d be able to see the state he was in – and who was he fooling? His mother would know. Still, whether she knew or not, she would never be able to guess just how far he’d fallen. Now was not the time. He wanted to see her one more time, and perhaps even now –
Forcing his mind back to his immediate situation, he went on making his plans, though he was in no shape to make any decision. Think. All he could do at this point was return home, with the night’s takings, and let Trevor have it all. Nearly everything. If he just could make Trevor believe it had been a slow night –
It was getting late. Not that the hour mattered. What did matter was that he couldn’t go on any longer. His hands were shaking, his tongue felt dry. Though the streetlight shone as brightly as on every other night, his eyes didn’t seem to be working properly. Maybe there had been some impurity in the last batch – No. This was the way it felt. He couldn’t go on much longer. Trevor would understand.
And staggering back in the direction of Trevor’s flat, he gave up for the night. Didn’t the ten minute walk seem to take much longer than usual? Surely he couldn’t get lost in the area that had been his home – for want of a better word – for – was it really nine months? He kept intending to go. This was only a temporary phase. Things would get better. He’d get back on his feet, maybe get a job and a place of his own.
Self delusion worked best on an empty stomach, after 18 hours or more without sleep. Though what was on his mind was neither his hunger pangs, which he couldn’t feel anymore, or the fatigue. All that was left of his consciousness was focused on one thing and one thing alone.
The moment he set foot inside Trevor’s run down, shabby one-room flat, he knew he was in trouble. Trevor was standing in the middle of the room. As he heard the door open and close, he whirled around. In his hand, he was holding a rusty tin. The hole behind the radiator that once must have heated the flat, but was now just another fixture in the room had seemed like a safe hiding place.
With a sinking feeling, he realized that Trevor had found his stash.
“You think I wouldn’t notice? Bloody slag. How long has this been going on? Cheating me out of my money, after I gave you a roof over your head, not to mention providing you with high quality stuff. How dare you?”
“Trevor – I -“
His mind was a blank. At times like these, there most likely wasn’t any right way of acting anyway. So he hung his head, waiting for the inevitable explosion. He felt his head shoot back, so hard he almost thought his neck would break. It was a split second later, when he registered the burning sting to his cheek. He didn’t have to act, when he sagged to his knees, his consciousness coming and going, like the transmission in a broken tv set.
“Please. I’m sorry. It’s all there. Take it. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. Honestly.”
“Honestly? What would you know about honesty?”
He was too scared to point out that Trevor didn’t know anything either. Nor about decency or pity or kindness. Or even mercy.
“If you just give me a little -“
“You think I’m going to give you anything, when you’ve been cheating me for – how many weeks has it been anyway?”
If he had been a bit more lucid, he might have been able to figure that one out, but as it was, it took all he had, to remain at least partly conscious. Something warm was trickling down his chin, and now he realized that there was a salty taste on his cracked lips, stinging them, but he knew that was nothing compared to what would come later.
“Trevor – please.”
He knew that grovelling like this was undignified and a tiny shred of his old self cringed at the image he’d make. But dignity was a luxury he couldn’t afford anymore. He knew that he’d do whatever it took to cajole Trevor into giving him the heroin. Nothing was more important than his next hit. Nothing. If the price he had to pay had been taking someone’s life, he knew he wouldn’t be able to say no. He’d do it. Just as he’d done anything else Trevor had ordered him to do in the past seven months or so.
Blinking to clear his sight, he inched closer to Trevor, fearing another blow at any time, but knowing he had no choice. With hands that were shaking even more now, he fumbled at Trevor’s zipper, hoping he’d be able to pull it off, this time too. He didn’t think he had enough saliva to do the job, but he’d worry about that, if Trevor let himself be distracted.
“Charming. You disgust me, you dirty little slag. If your posh copper brother could see you now, eh? I don’t know why you’re here. Why don’t you just ring big brother and ask him how much it would be worth keeping your little secret from the tabloids? A member of the nobility on the game. It won’t do. Ttt.”
Trevor’s imitation of an upperclass accent still hurt, after all this time. His older brother might have been born to all those privileges. He hadn’t. But the threat of calling his brother was new. What if – No, he just couldn’t let that happen. He’d die if his family found out. Not that he wasn’t dying anyway, one way or another, but that just mustn’t happen. He couldn’t bear it if Trevor somehow made good his threat.
“Please. I’ll do anything. You know I will.”
He let his hands drop to his own jeans, and began fumbling at the hem. If that’s what Trevor wanted, he’d get it. As long as he didn’t made that call. Another stinging blow landed on his face, this time toppling him over.
“It’s too late for that, you bloody cunt. I’ve had it with you. You’re not attractive anymore. Just look at you. What a mess. And the novelty’s fading. If you’ve had one upper class guy you’ve had them all. No fun anymore. And you betrayed me.”
With a sinking feeling, he realized that nothing he could do would avert what was coming. He didn’t have enough strength to try and get away. Another blow shook his head, then he felt a foot make contact with his midriff, knocking the wind out of him. A whimper escaped his lips before he blacked out, this time for good. He never heard the angry banging on the wall, or the police siren. By the time the door was kicked in, he had sunk so deep, he couldn’t even feel the pain of the broken ribs. As far as he was concerned, it was over.
“Your turn, Havers. Winston Nkata is waiting for you over at the hospital. Domestic violence.”
Barbara made a face. She hated this kind of thing. And anyway, she investigated murders, not wife-beatings. Again, she dwelled sadly on her demotion and the friction it had caused between her and her gov, Lynley. Or rather, now it seemed he might soon be her ex-gov.
Sighing, she picked up her handbag, and began wriggling into her jacket.
“Right. Is she still alive?”
“She? Oh. You haven’t heard the rest of it.”
“What? Are you saying it’s the man who’s in the hospital?”
Was Dan making a joke at her expense, somehow?
“Which one do you mean? I don’t know which one of them’s ‘the man’. You’ll have to ask him.”
She shook her head. This was just typical. Until she’d begun working with Lynley, this type of thing had been the norm. The boys having their little fun. She didn’t need this reminder of what she’d lost.
“What’s going on? Is there or isn’t there a case for me?”
“Oh, yeah. Just get going. Like I said, Nkata is over there now, waiting for you.”
She decided not to give Dan Watkins a chance to elaborate on whatever the joke was about. Nkata would give her a clear and concise description of the case. Fortunately, that was the up side of her banishment. A good partner. Not Lynley, but Winston would do. He was a good guy.
At least now she got to drive sometimes. Lynley usually claimed that privilege for himself.
She managed to park the car – in a place for ‘staff only’ – and hurried up the stairs. Apparently, Winston had been kept waiting. Not that it was her fault that the last case has dragged on. And she did have a right to have lunch, didn’t she?
After asking directions from the West Indian nurse at reception, she got in the lift. Third floor. Again, she asked directions, from a passing nurse, male this time, and eventually found her way to the end of the drab, featureless corridor. At least she was healthy. If she ended up in a place like this, she’d just –
Wrigley was standing outside the door. He must have been the first one on the scene. He wasn’t a close acquaintance, but Barbara knew him by sight, and had a vague idea that he was a loser. The only way he could have got into the force would be because he had some relative higher up. That was hard to imagine, judging by the way he looked, but anything was possible. If there was anything she’d learned from her years on the force, it was that everyone had connections. Everyone except her, that was.
Though she was little more than a constable herself these days, she noted that at least Wrigley greeted her politely.
“Ma’am. You heard what sort of case this is?”
The expression on his face betrayed disgust, and a sort of jeering grin that got on Barbara’s nerves.
“No. I didn’t, but I’m sure -“
“It’s one of those. You know. A pansy. A rent boy.”
“Thank you, P C Wrigley. I can take it from here. You can give me your report later.”
The tone of her voice seemed to escape him, and he smiled stolidly, stepping aside to let her in.
They were in an open ward. Six beds, all occupied, lined the walls. The one over by the window had a screen around it, and at the foot of the bed, Winston Nkata was standing.
She smiled briefly and nodded.
“Sorry I’m late.”
“That’s alright. I only just got here myself.”
-Will you give me the facts as far as you know?
“Right. Domestic violence. Victim, white male, late 20’s. A drug addict. The perpetrator is also a white male, mid 30’s. We have him in custody.”
“Good. That’s all?”
“Pretty much. Except -“
Nkata hesitated. He wanted a promotion and he knew that expressing himself in a politically correct way helped. So how did he put the rest of it into polite words?
“We believe he is a prostitute and that the perpetrator might be his pimp.”
“Really? I thought most rent boys worked alone.”
“Not anymore, apparently.”
“And he seems a bit old, but what do I know?”
Nkata made no comment. He didn’t think much of a case like this and even less of a white bloke who let himself get into such a state. But then again, what did you expect from a poof?
He was, however, quite pleased with his partner. Though recently demoted, Havers was an excellent police officer and he knew he could learn a lot more from her than from his old partner, Nolan.
There was nothing more to say, so he pulled aside the curtain and let Havers get on with her work. He could easily have made the interview himself, but he preferred to let Havers take this one. It wasn’t that he felt threatened by the poof, especially not such a pathetic specimen, but still – A woman’s touch and all that.
Barbara felt a surge of pity for the victim. Someone that most likely no one would miss, if he didn’t pull through. Even the police despised him. No one was going to pull a muscle working this case. So she was going to get the bastard who did this. She was going to get the poor sod justice – As her eyes slid over the badly bruised face, at first nothing struck her as unusual. One eye swollen shut, nose badly squashed but not, apparently, broken. Suddenly, she drew in breath.
No. That wasn’t possible. She must be mistaken. A passing likeness – but as she stood there staring, her knees shaking a little, she realized that there was no mistake. The young man lying on the bed had to be – And what’s more, as the one good eyelid fluttered open, there was recognition in his face. He seemed to shrink back into the pillow, not wanting to face her. Oh, it was Peter alright. Lynley’s estranged younger brother.
“What did you say his name was?”
Nkata looked down into his notebook. Not that he needed the reminder. His memory was fine. He just didn’t want to look that wretch in the eye.
“Yes. Anything wrong?”
The reply came out too quickly. Interesting. The man must obviously be familiar to Havers. Odd. Someone she’d come into contact with earlier in her career? Surely not a relative?
“Thanks, Winston. If you don’t mind, I’ll take it from here. Would you take Wrigley’s report?”
“I already have.”
“Good. Then get rid of him. We can manage without him.”
His dark eyes seemed to bore straight into her, and Barbara wondered what was going through his mind. But that wasn’t her concern right now. This situation had landed her on a minefield. Every step could bring disaster.
The young man on the bed was licking his lips, apparently trying to find his voice. She didn’t like the sound of those coughs, but she’d been told he was going to make it. That the injuries looked more serious than they were. How could anything be worse than this though? Barbara had only seen worse at the morgue.
Filled with pity, she looked around for a glass of water, and finding one of the bedside table, she hurriedly offered this to Peter. One sip was all he could swallow, but that appeared to be enough.
“Barbara. P-p-p -“
“Easy. There’s no rush. Take your time.”
But he was working himself into a fit of hysteria or so it seemed.
She grabbed a chair and sat down, hastily pulling the curtain to.
“Please. Don’t. Tell. Tommy.”
How could she promise something like that? She didn’t know enough about the situation to promise anything. But torn by the pleading look in Peter’s eyes, she couldn’t disappoint him.
“Alright. I promise. Now try to calm down. My colleague told me we have the – person who did this to you in custody. He’s not going anywhere.”
Her reassurances appeared to fall on deaf ears. Peter was still painfully agitated.
“Peter, please. Try to calm down. Can you tell me what happened?”
It was a while before Peter could collect himself enough to reply, and even then, he appeared uneasy and unwilling to say more than a few words.
“What’s there to say? He hit me. Kicked me. I passed out. End of story.”
“Right. Was this the first time it happened?”
“What can you tell me about the suspect?”
“Trevor – Burns.”
“Thank you. Anything else?”
A long silence. Peter seemed to be calculating what to say to her. But this was a crime investigation. He couldn’t be allowed to hold anything back.
There was a crushed, beaten look in Peter’s eyes that hadn’t been there the last time she saw him. Barbara shivered as she thought of what he might have been through in that time. By sticking to routine, she managed to keep her mind on business.
“Go on. You were saying?”
She felt sick, sitting here, trying to badger some answers out of this wreck of a human being. Peter needed care, not interrogation. But she had to do this by the book. Otherwise she’d be of no help to him.
“He’s my dealer.”
“I see. Does he usually treat his customers like this?”
“I had – tried to cheat him of some money.”
He seemed to interpret that word as some kind of judgment and he shrunk back further.
“I – I know how that sounds, but – when I need a hit, I’ll do just about anything -“
“Yes, I do see that. Was this the first time? I mean, that he’s beaten you.”
“No. But what does it matter? Barbara, I’m very sorry, but I can’t help you. You must see that I could never face him in court if this ever got that far.”
“We’ll see about that. Right now, I just want you to give me the facts.”
She was wondering how to approach the delicate subject of the possible relationship between the two men. The last time she’d met Peter, he’d been involved with a girl. And she certainly hadn’t had the impression that he was gay. Prostitution? Yes, she could believe that. In his own words – he’d do anything to get his heroin.
“Were you living at his flat?”
Another long drawn out pause. He didn’t want to answer her questions, that was obvious. Barbara was getting a headache trying to force the replies out of him. All she wanted to do was leave him in peace, and go off somewhere to try and figure out what to do.
“According to my colleague, you and the suspect – Trevor – were living at the same address.”
“Yes. But it was only temporary.”
He didn’t even seem to be trying to convince her.
“Right. Peter – I’m sorry to have to ask this but – according to my colleague -“
A look of desperation flew across Peter’s thin face. She could almost read his mind, as the conflict went on inside him. In the end, he appeared to give a mental shrug and gave in. When he replied, his voice held ta note of defeat.
“Yes. It’s true. I was on the game. I am on the game. Now do you see why I don’t want Tommy to know?”
The pain in his voice was so tangible, that Barbara almost felt tears come to her eyes.
To hell with these questions. They had enough information. She wasn’t going to torment him anymore.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say. I’ll let you get some sleep.”
Suddenly, something occurred to her and she cast about in her mind for the right words.
“Are you alright – I mean – do you need some -“
“Yes, I’m alright. They gave me a painkiller that is helping. Just as good as heroin. Probably morphine. Barbara – Thanks.”
For what, she wondered bitterly. So far she’d only added to his pain, by asking these stupid pointless questions. But if there was any way she could, she’d make that bastard Trevor pay for what he’d done to Peter.
Hesitatingly, she reached out a hand, and looking for some part of Peter’s anatomy that wouldn’t be too badly injured, she eventually settled for an ineffectual pat on the hand that wasn’t connected to the intravenous needle, no doubt feeding him morphine.
“Try to get some sleep now. I’ll be back later.”
“You might as well let Trevor go. I can’t testify -“
“I understand. Try not to worry about it. No one’s going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“Thanks, Barbara. I -“
She nodded in a way that she hoped was reassuring and left, pulling the curtain to after her. Now what? Lynley would have her hide if she kept something like this a secret from him. But she had promised Peter. Those eyes. That face. She knew that whatever she decided, they would haunt her for weeks.
It occurred to her that she might easily get some of the PCs like Wrigley to rough up Trevor and let him go. At least that would pay him back in some small way for what he’d done to Peter. But no, she was a police officer and the law was all she had to go on. Her work was everything. She couldn’t break the rules that she lived by. They were all she had.
She realized far better than Peter that even if he had been willing and able to testify in court, this type of case never made it that far. The victim was simply too insignificant. No one cared enough. There were a dozen ways or more of reducing what had happened to something between consenting adults that might have escalated beyond control.
No criminal case at all, just something sordid, rightly taking place in neighbourhoods where people of that kind are kept, to save decent people from being confronted with something that might offend their sensibilities. Disturbing the peace? That wouldn’t even get as far as a hearing. Petty crime. Some poor guy was in hospital and that was what it was called. Petty crime.
Outside, Winston was waiting.
“Back to the station?”
“What? Oh, yes.”
Since Winston had come by car, they drove back separately, and that gave Barbara time to think.
She felt torn in two directions. If she kept her promise to Peter, she’d betray her gov – her friend. This was his brother. Barbara knew that if Peter had been her brother, she’d want to know. But on the other hand – if she’d been Peter, she wouldn’t have wanted Lynley to know. Whatever option she chose, she’d be damned.
By now, her head was aching so badly, she was afraid she’d need to stop the car for a while. She didn’t usually suffer from migraines, but occasionally, stress could produce this kind of attack.
But by forcing herself to focus on her driving, Barbara was able to reach the station safely. To put off her meeting with Winston, she went into the women’s locker room and took an aspirin. On second thought, she took two, then drank a cup of very black coffee. Before returning to her desk, to discuss the case with Winston, or if she was lucky, type out her report, she sneaked into the ladies’ room. Some cold water on her face usually made her feel better.
When she couldn’t think of anything else to do, she walked slowly back to her desk. Winston was nowhere to be seen, so apparently, he had decided to work on his report instead. That was what she ought to be doing as well.
Her dilemma was this: if she used the name Peter had given and then later Lynley found out the truth that would land her in serious trouble. But why should he? In a day or two, this case would be forgotten. The system would find the case unworthy of their attention, and it would be buried among other paperwork from similar cases.
Before she should change her mind, Barbara typed out the meager report, dumping it in the appropriate tray. She told herself that Winston would have other cases to follow up and anyway, it was late in the afternoon. Tomorrow –
“Barbara? I see you’re done with your report. Could we discuss the case now?”
“Yes. But there doesn’t seem to be much of a case, does there?”
“Perhaps not. I was wondering -“
“Did you get anything out of the suspect?”
Winston shrugged. The language Trevor Burns had used didn’t belong in a police report. It was hard to say if any of that could be construed as a confession. Havers was right in that this probably wasn’t much of a case. But she was in an awful hurry to move on. Something was bothering her, but Winston didn’t think they were close enough for him to ask her.
“The flat doesn’t belong to him. But the other – tenants, claim he’s been living there for over a year. And they say this Peter Robinson has been there for nearly as long. They didn’t elaborate on their relationship. In fact, I doubt if they care either way, but they all seemed to know he is an addict and that Burns is a dealer.”
“So he told me.”
“The victim told you that?”
Barbara found Winston’s interest more than a little bit annoying. Why should he pick this time to get curious?
“He couldn’t tell me much else. He was in pain. And I don’t think he wanted to tell us anything.”
“No, I should think not.”
The look on his face told Barbara that while Winston might not use the same terms as Wrigley, he felt more or less the same way. She was filled with a sudden anger. Peter deserved better. They had no right – But she controlled herself. An emotional outburst now could draw unwanted attention to the case, and that was the last thing she wanted.
“Right. Is that all?”
No use antagonising Havers. If she was holding something back, no doubt it was personal. Nothing to do with him.
“Yes. Well, I guess I should be getting home.”
She nodded absently.
Barbara found that it was difficult, nearly impossible to forget the scene at the hospital. After reading Wrigley’s and Nkata’s reports, she felt even worse. At least it really did look as if Peter was going to be alright. Even the blood tests came up negative, though the doctors had been all agreed that he needed to do something about his habit soon, or his liver wouldn’t be able to stand the strain for much longer.
They had been instructed by their superiors to try and obtain a confession from Burns, but no one appeared to hold much hope they’d get it. Winston focused on that aspect of the case. Barbara found herself irresistibly drawn back to the hospital, hoping that now that Peter condition was stabilizing, he’d be able to tell her more. But what he wouldn’t be able to tell her was just how to deal with the Lynley situation. Tell and break her promise and maybe stay in Lynley’s confidence. Keep silent and violate their friendship.
She didn’t know Peter that well, and even Lynley was a mystery to her most of the time, but they had worked together for years. Her gov was the first person she’d been able to work with over any extended period of time. And he’d done her favors, treated her reasonably well over most of that time. Was she really going to betray the – trust between them? On the other hand, Peter had begged her not to tell. She found it hard to say no to him. Or rather, she’d already promised, so really there was no choice but to continue along this course of action, hoping Lynley wouldn’t find out.
This time, she found Peter a little better. He had less difficulty talking and the bruises were beginning to fade. Judging by his behaviour, he still seemed to be getting the morphine.
Was that actually a smile? It was hard to tell, because the movement was gone so soon, she couldn’t be sure.
“Hello. How are you doing?”
“Are the ribs healing alright?”
“I think so. So the doctors tell me anyway. They still hurt a bit, but not too badly. And the – morphine helps.”
He appeared to find the topic of his drug dependency troubling, and Barbara didn’t want to add to his worries, so she changed the subject.
“Have you thought about making a statement?”
“About Trevor? No. I mean, yes, I have thought about it, but I can’t. You must understand that I just can’t.”
“I see. But don’t you think it’s a bit unfair that he should get away with treating you this way?”
“Unfair? I can only blame myself for ending up in this hole. You have no idea how many times I’ve been in rehab. I’ve used up more than my share of chances.”
“The last time we met -“
“Yes – ?”
To her surprise, he didn’t appear to find this topic nearly as distressing as the last one. But he didn’t know where she was going with the conversation.
“You were going to start a treatment, weren’t you? Methadone?”
“I know. What can I say? It didn’t work this time either. And Tommy – well, he stayed and offered me his brotherly support for all of half an hour. No, that’s unfair. He stayed for a couple of days, and after that he called me almost every day for a week or two. And mother – poor mother – she doesn’t know what to do with me. Besides, she’d just lost -“
“I know. We shouldn’t have left dr Trenarrow alone. I’m really sorry about that.”
“Not your fault. I think you were awfully decent to us. Treated us far better than we deserve.”
Barbara didn’t know what to say in reply to that, so she kept quiet for a while.
But Peter went on anyway. In a way, it seemed as if he wanted to talk. She wondered how many times he’d had someone to talk to, someone who really listened to what he had to say.
“And with Sasha gone – I may not have loved her, but I was completely lost without her. We were friends more than – anyway, I couldn’t stand being alone and I couldn’t stand being with my family. My sister doesn’t understand me anymore than mother does and Tommy – I think he’d rather I didn’t exist at all.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
“You don’t know him all that well if you think that highly of him.”
Again, there didn’t seem to be any obvious reply, and Peter didn’t seem to be expecting one either.
“So I returned to London and – the inevitable happened. I met Trevor at a party and he let me buy stuff from him. Eventually, I ran out of money and he said I could stay with him. But I still needed the stuff. More than ever. I should have known he wasn’t the kind who does favors for people. First it was just him. And by that time, I would have done anything. I thought. God, I thought it was just so cheap, you know. Not that high a price to pay. Then it wasn’t just him anymore, but friends of his. And after that, I had to -“
“Yes, I see. But – why didn’t you contact your mother? She wouldn’t have let you down, surely?”
“It wasn’t fair to her. Saddling her with my problems. She’d had to put up with so much. Later, I was just too ashamed. But I was going to try again. That’s why had been taking some of the money. You know, from the – punters. Hiding it away, so I could buy a bus ticket. That night – he’d found the money. I guess he suspected, because I never brought in that much. It – wasn’t easy to learn to -“
“Yes, I do understand that. So that was why he attacked you?”
“Yes. He has a volatile temper and he was tiring of me. He didn’t do this sort of thing normally. Pimping, I mean. I suspect it was because of who I am. Who I was. He’d tell his friends he had something special for them. An aristocrat. Not that I am, actually. Tommy inherited the title. That just makes me the – here’s a laugh – the Honourable Peter Lynley – Honourable? Me? I don’t think that was intended for someone like me.”
Barbara was fast learning to hate this Trevor Burns. The cruelty of it all made her blood run cold. She wanted to find something they could use on him. Something that didn’t involve Peter at all. Perhaps they could find something to put him away. She suspected that Trevor wouldn’t find conditions in prison very appealing at all.
On her return to the station, she ran into Winston.
“Hello, Barbara. I’ve been working on getting that confession. It’s a waste of time. Burns isn’t going to crack. He seems to find the whole thing amusing. But we’ll try to get him for the sale and distribution of drugs.”
“That’s good. I don’t think we can get our witness to testify anyway. He’s in no shape to face a trial.”
“No, I should think not.”
He didn’t appear to be especially upset about that.
Again, Barbara felt how utterly alone and helpless Peter was. No one was going to speak for him. He was right in a way, society felt exactly the same way about him, as he felt about himself.
At least Burns was going to be put away for the drug dealing. That was good enough.
But the next morning, she arrived to meet Winston, scowling.
“It’s no good. The Burns case. Some legal technicality. They’re letting him go. Wrigley didn’t read him his rights properly and some other legal nonsense.”
“What? You can’t be serious.”
“That’s what I said. But it’s true. And that smug bastard’s going to have a good laugh at our expense. We confiscated the drugs, but we can’t use that against him. So he’ll just start all over again. A bloody waste of time. And that – boy of his, he’ll just go right back to him. I mean women always do, so why shouldn’t he?”
“But he’s not gay.”
“How do you know? Did you ask him?”
“No. But – Never mind.”
“Anyway, that’s it. I’m going back to that Polish traficking case. At least there, I think we’ll nail the smuggler and some of the others.”
Interesting. Either Barbara knew a lot more about this rent boy than she was letting on – or she found his type attractive. He never would have guessed.
His opinion of Barbara Havers had been shaped by the impression she had given him since he first started working with her. Single, lonely, devoted to her work. Not one to bother with her looks. She wasn’t his type, so he didn’t think that any more attention to her looks would have helped anyway. Not as far as he was concerned. But he had actually thought she was one of those coppers with no social life at all, let alone a sex life.
Oh, well. That only meant you never could tell.
Winston’s information deeply disturbed Barbara. She knew he was right. Most women in abusive relationships did go back to their partners. The few cases of gay domestic violence she’d seen had been similar. But she’d always believed those men thrived on the abuse. I mean, if you were as big and strong as your partner, why accept the treatment, unless you enjoyed it?
Of course, in this case, the victim was in such bad physical shape, a woman might have injured him without his being able to put up much of a fight.
What was weighing most heavily on her mind was the fact that she’d more or less promised Peter that he’d be alright. That Trevor wouldn’t get to him again. But now that Trevor got off scot free, it was very likely that Peter would return to him, or if not to him, he’d find some other equally destructive situation.
She knew that the hospital was due to release Peter early the next morning, and until now she’d vaguely assumed that he’d go to some shelter for drug addicts and homeless. This changed things considerably. She had to talk to him again and find out if there was any chance he’d go back to his mother. That might increase the risk of Lynley one day learning about her deceit, but at least Peter would be safe with his mother.
Suddenly, she was unpleasantly reminded of how easy she had found it to believe Peter guilty of the two murders she and Lynley had been investigating the first and last time she’d seen the two brothers together. Now that she knew more about Peter, she realized how mistaken she had been.
The following morning, she went straight to the hospital, so she wouldn’t find Peter gone, without being able to discuss his future with him. Not that it was her responsibility – But who was responsible? Who would help Peter if she didn’t?
“I can see that you’re doing much better.”
He shrugged. Of course, his underlying problem hadn’t gone away. Just because his injuries were healing, it didn’t mean he was going to be alright.
“What do you plan on doing now?”
He laughed, a forced, humourless laugh and shook his head.
“I suppose I’ll give my personal exercise coach a ring. And I mustn’t forget to see my tailor. What about a haircut?”
“I mean, where are you going to go?”
Again, he shrugged. He looked tired. Tired and defeated.
“To one of those shelters, I suppose. It doesn’t really matter.”
The dead, hopeless tone of his voice hurt Barbara. He didn’t seem to care anymore. The way he was talking, it didn’t seem as if he expected to have much of a life from now on.
“I’ll give you a lift.”
“Thanks, that’s very decent of you.”
Once inside the car, he turned and faced her.
“I want you to know how grateful I am. Anyone else would have run off and called Tommy. I like you. You’re not impressed with titles and inherited land.”
“I guess not. Peter – would you like to come over to my place and – wash your clothes or have something to eat before you go?”
He stared at her, as if he was having trouble interpreting her words.
From the moment she’d walked in and caught sight of him, recognizing him, he’d been entranced by her. When they’d first met, he’d only had a vague impression of someone decent. A nice person, quite pretty, but not really interesting. Af ter Tommy had left him again, he’d begun to think about her once in a while.
She really had been awfully decent. More than that. She’d looked at him with respect, but not awe. His ancestry clearly meant nothing to her, but she’d seen him as a human being. That didn’t happen to him very often. And she’d shown up at the hospital, when he’d woken up from a sleep he’d never expected to wake from. She’d spoken the first kind words he’d heard in far too long.
Was she really saying what he thought she was saying? It was as if somehow, she’d read his mind. There was nothing he wanted more than to go with her, and let her protect him from the street, from people like Trevor and – from himself. But was it fair? She didn’t need a complication like him in her life.
The African copper had referred to her by a title that she hadn’t had the last and only time they’d met before. She’d been demoted. That was more trouble than she deserved. And now him on top of everything else. No. He’d say thanks, but no thanks and let her get on with her life. But a part of him wanted to go with her. Only for a few hours. Eat something. Sit down in a proper house for once. What was the harm?
“That’s very kind of you. Are you sure it’s no trouble?”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Then I’d love to. It’s just that – well, these clothes are the only ones I have.”
“All the more reason to get them washed, if you like.”
She was wondering if maybe he’d accept a few bob, just to buy some new clothes or a razor or whatever he’d need. On the other hand, giving money to a drug addict wasn’t a good idea. Still, she might ask him. If he was going to accept her help, she could go with him to the shops and pay for his purchases, instead of giving him the cash.
But first things first. He could have a cup of coffee – no, tea would be more to his liking, she was guessing – and then – a sandwich or something. He looked as if he could really use a good meal or two. Of course she knew what drug abuse did to people. Especially when she was still in uniform, she’d seen far too many addicts not to recognize that emaciated form.
The cup of tea was followed by dinner – greasy, filling and exactly the way Barbara, and – to her surprise – Peter – liked it. He also absolutely refused to accept any money from Barbara.
“I’ll give mother a ring. She’ll send me something. Even now -“
Barbara was aware of his habit, and though the morphine from the hospital might still give him some satisfaction, he would soon need more heroin.
They discussed his problem and to her surprise, he told her the hospital had given him the number of a free clinic dispensing methadone. He seemed to be considering starting a treatment.
“Why not? Of course I’ve done this before, too many times.”
She didn’t say anything, though she suspected he didn’t feel too much hope that this time, the treatment would finally work.
“Sounds like a good idea.”
“Well, it’s getting late. I should be off to the shelter.”
“Have you been in touch with them yet?”
“No. But I’m sure they’ll take me in.”
Barbara didn’t feel too sure of that, and the expression on her face seemed to tell him as much. He smiled faintly at her reaction.
“Don’t worry about it. There are other shelters if this one is full. If all else fails I have some friends I might go to.”
But he didn’t seem too enthusiastic about it, and Barbara thought she could guess why.
“You’re not considering returning to – Trevor, are you?”
“If I did, he’ll kill me. I’m sure he would, even though I didn’t testify against him. Besides, I’d much rather not end up in that place again, even if he would take me back.”
“Listen, why don’t you stay here? It’s late and I’m sure the shelters will be less crowded in the morning.”
“Really, I wouldn’t want to put you out. I’ve caused you enough trouble as it is.”
“No, honestly, it’s no trouble at all. I was thinking – well, since you don’t want to accept any money from me, perhaps I could ask Azhar to lend you some clothes.”
“My – uh – neighbour.”
“A very good friend.”
“It’s not necessary. The stuff I have now will do. It will be dry soon and when mother sends me a cheque I’ll be – Alright, I know what you’re thinking. If you want to help me, perhaps I could have mother send the cheque to you, and you could buy me whatever gear I might need.”
“Alright. If you’re sure that’s what you want, I’d be happy to help you out.”
“Thanks. Alright, if you are sure it’s not trouble, I could crash here. No need to make up the guest room.”
“That’s good, because I don’t have one. Compact. That’s what your brother said when he saw this place for the first time.”
“Typical. I’m sure he felt he was being tactful. Wondering why on earth you didn’t get an entire floor at a more posh address.”
Barbara smothered a laugh. That was exactly the impression she had formed for herself.
By the time she’d brought the linen and dug up a spare toothbrush, and Peter had settled down for the night, she sat down on her own bed, trying to clear her head. She didn’t know exactly how she had ended up in this situation, but she knew that if ever her gov found out, she’d be in big trouble. On the other hand, she knew now that she couldn’t bear to tell him.
If Peter – no, when Peter was free of his habit, and in better physical shape, he’d return to his mother, and hopefully, her own involvement in the incident would never be known. She was sure Peter wouldn’t give her away, and his mother would only be too pleased to have him back, safe and sound, to worry about any details.
But in the morning, when they’d driven round to four different shelters, it turned out none of them were accepting any new guests, and though the methadone treatment appeared to come off to a better start, Peter still had nowhere to go, except back to his drug addict friends.
“Peter, I’ve been thinking. It really wouldn’t be any trouble for me to have you stay at my place. Honestly. I’m hardly ever there anyway. Most ofhe time I’m just working. As long as you – As long as the treatment works out, I’d be happy to have you stay. Really.”
“But I can’t accept that. It’s far too kind of you.”
“Of course not. Don’t be silly. You can’t go back to all that. How long do you think you’d stick to the program if you do that?”
He appeared to be thinking her offer over.
“You’re right about that, obviously. But still – why should you put yourself out like that, for someone like me? It’s too much to ask.”
“Of course it isn’t. It’s no trouble at all.”
For some reason, Peter appeared to be inclined to accept her offer.
“Alright, if you’re sure -“
“Then that’s settled. We should be thinking about getting you a bed and -“
“No. No. This will do nicely. I don’t know how to thank you, Barbara. I think you’re wonderful.”
His smile might have melted an iceberg, and Barbara had very nearly become one over the years, but despite everything, she felt touched by his obvious gratitude, and his trust in her. After all, in Peter’s mind, she must be closely associated with his brother.
While they were talking, the door had slid open behind them, and Haddiyah had walked in.
“Hello. Who are you? Are you Barbara’s brother?”
“No. I’m Peter. A friend.”
“I’m Haddiyah. I’m Barbara’s friend too.”
“Pleased to meet you, Haddiyah. Very pretty name.”
The girl’s cheeks dimpled charmingly, and she threw herself down onto the sofa.
“Where are you from, Peter?”
“Well, originally I’m from Cornwall, but I’ve been living in London for years.”
“Cornwall? Where is that?”
“In the southwest.”
“I’ve lived in London all my life. What happened to your face, Peter? Have you been in an accident? I was, this summer. I fell into the sea and nearly drowned. Barbara and her boss saved me.”
“Did she? How very brave of her. Yes. I’ve had an accident. I didn’t look where I was going and I bumped right into a door. Very clumsy of me.”
Haddiyah giggled elatedly at the image of the grown man hitting his face on a door.
The interview made Barbara squirm nervously. If Azhar were to find out that Peter was staying with her, what would he make of that? Their relationship, if there was such a thing, was still extremely precarious, and nothing had really been said out loud.
As if the very thought had been enough to conjure the man up, a voice was calling Haddiyahs name.
“Oh, that’s daddy. I suppose I should be getting back. I only wanted to say hello.”
“I’ll tell you what, Haddiyah, why don’t I take you back to your dad, and I’ll have a quick word with him? Alright?”
“Alright. Peter, would you like to come and meet my daddy?”
“Maybe later. It was very nice meeting you, Haddiyah.”
“It was very nice meeting you too, Peter. Next time, would you tell me about Cornwall?”
“Alright. It’s quite a fascinating place, actually. I’m sure you’d like it.”
Haddiyah took Barbara’s hand and from Peter’s point of view it looked a lot more as if the little girl was taking Barbara to see her dad, not the other way around. What had he walked into? He was hoping he wouldn’t mess up Barbara’s relationship by blundering into her life.
Azhar’s dark face lit up at the sight of his neighbour.
“Oh, hello, Barbara. I wasn’t sure you’d be in. Haddiyah said she thought she saw you come in just now and -“
“Hello. There’s something I’d like to discuss with you, if you don’t mind.”
“Are you in trouble?”
“No, of course not.”
Sensing Barbara’s need for privacy, Azhar told his daughter to go inside and wait for him there.
“This is a bit sensitive. Please don’t tell anyone about it -“
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
To Barbara’s delight and discomfiture, Azhar took her hand in his, as if to reassure her.
“You see, my gov’s younger brother – well, he’s been in a bit of trouble. Drugs.”
Azhar’s face clouded over. Apparently, he was a strong opponent of the use of drugs.
“He’s been – badly beaten up, and ended up in hospital. He asked me not to tell his brother, and I had to promise him, though I’m not sure what’s the best thing to do. Then it turned out the – attacker – will not be prosecuted. Some legal technicality. Also, no shelter can take him, so I was thinking about letting him stay for a while. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t throw him out.”
Frowning, Azhar consider his neighbour’s narrative. On the one hand, he could well understand her wanting to help a member of her boss’ family. On the other hand – to have a drug addict staying at her flat – and so close to Haddiyah –
“Are you sure it’s safe? This young man – drug addicts might be dangerous.”
“I know, but I’m sure I’ll be alright. He’s taking methadone treatment, and -“
“I see. Well, I’m sure you know what you’re doing.”
“Then if my gov should show up – you won’t mention his brother?”
“I give you my word. You are very kind.”
Barbara made a small noise which seemed to indicate embarrassment.
Azhar sensed her discomfort and smoothly changed the subject.
“I’m glad you came round. Actually, I was going to ask you to dinner. Haddiyah’s been talking about it for weeks.”
“Oh. That would be lovely. Thanks. Well, I should be getting back to my guest.”
And with burning cheeks Barbara fled back into her own flat. Dinner with Azhar. She had never thought the day would come. And what did he really mean by it? She firmly told herself not to get her hopes up. She had been disappointed by men before.
“Ah, Nkata. Do you know what’s wrong with Havers? I was told she had taken leave of absence.”
“Sir. I thought you’d know.”
“You’re the one who’s been working with her the most.”
“Yes. But she didn’t tell me anything. It’s just that -“
“What? If you have any idea, I’d appreciate if you told me.”
“Well, sir, there was this case a couple of weeks ago. Nothing unusual. A drug addict who had been badly beaten. And – I’m not sure why, but I got the impression that Havers knew the man. Or at least knew something about him. Judging by her reaction -“
“This was weeks ago?”
“Yes, but – I don’t know. When I tried to sound her out, she evaded my question. Do you know if she has a friend or relative who is a drug addict? Or some case she’s worked since you two started working together?”
“Hm. I’m not sure. Aren’t you making rather a lot of all this?”
“Yes. That’s possible. In any case, that’s all I know.”
“Very well. Thank you, Nkata.”
Lynley was frowning thoughtfully. Granted, he and Barbara hadn’t been working together for a while, after the incident last summer, but still, he would have thought they were good enough friends to keep in touch, even privately.
And what was this about a drug addict? The only one that sprang to mind was his own brother Peter, and the last time he’d heard from home, Peter was doing well. Perhaps he ought to give mother a ring, and check things out? It had been rather a long time since he’d last visited the old place, and he really ought to have taken more of an interest in Peter. But this whole marriage thing, and Helen’s pregnancy – Well, he had been rather busy.
Azhar put down the receiver, an expression of intense concentration on his face. The news wasn’t exactly bad, but despite that, his mind was in turmoil. This, if he accepted, would change all their lives – his, Haddiyah’s – and Barbara’s.
In the evening, after hours of pondering the new situation, Azhar decided to go over to Barbara and discuss the matter with her. He knew Haddiyah would be pleased to be allowed to visit her friend, and her new friend, the drug addict, though of course she had no idea that was what he was.
“Haddiyah, would you like to go over and visit Barbara tonight?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve missed her so much. Are you absolutely sure she needs to be alone withPeter all the time? I’m sure she’d much rather talk to me once in a while.”
Azhar couldn’t help smiling at his daughter. Barbara had come to mean a great deal in her life. In both their lives.
“I’m sure. You see, Peter has been ill, and he needs peace and quiet.”
“I know. But he doesn’t look very ill. He’s been in an accident. And he’s awfully thin, but he must be much better now.”
“Yes, let us hope so. Come on.”
“Are you coming too? Oh, terrific.”
On their way over, Haddiyah was bouncing up and down, as always, enthusiastic and filled with expectation.
They found Barbara hunched over some paperwork in her bedroom, while Peter was listlessly watching tv. Both appeared pleased to have company. Azhar was once again seized with concern over Barbara. What had she taken on? Was she really qualified to help a recovering drug addict over his habit? Hadn’t she in fact enough to worry about with her own life? But part of what he admired in Barbara was her complete loyalty to her friends.
Haddiyah looked over at Barbara, then back at her new friend, and decided her curiosity about the newcomer would have to be satisfied first of all.
“What are you watching, Peter?”
He took the remote and switched the talk show off.
“Barbara, I was wondering if I could have a word?”
Azhar looked worried, and Barbara wondered what could be wrong now.
“Of course. Would you like a cup of coffee or something?”
Sensing that Barbara needed some time alone with her boyfriend, because Peter was fairly sure that’s what the handsome, but sad-eyed Asian man really was, decided to start a conversation with Haddiyah. He could see that the little girl was bursting with eagerness to get to know him anyway. As the youngest child in his family, he didn’t have much experience with children, but due to his drug use, he had in many ways stayed young at heart, so he didn’t find the job too taxing.
“If you’re still interested, I could tell you a little about Cornwall.”
Over the little girl’s head, Peter couldn’t help casting a glance over towards the kitchen area, where he could see Barbara making coffee, and Azhar standing watching his hostess, while his slender hands moved nervously across his clothes and hair. Nervous about something.
Peter wondered what was wrong and hoped it didn’t have anything to do with his presence in Barbara’s flat. Strangely enough, he felt a stab of jealousy towards the man. In the weeks he had spent with Barbara, he had become very fond of her and perhaps a little more than that.
“I looked it up in the dictionary after we first met.”
“Cornwall. It must be exciting living there.”
“Yes, I suppose it can be.”
And he turned his attention towards the child, and forced himself to ignore what went on in the kitchen, sternly telling himself that whatever it was, it was none of his business.
“Is anything wrong?”
Barbara couldn’t help noticing the obvious tension in the air.
“Not really. It’s – You remember my relatives from last summer?”
“Yes, of course. Have you had any news about them?”
She knew of course what had happened to Muneer and his wife Yumna, but nothing at all about the rest of the family.
“Yes. I’m afraid some rumours about Shala has reached the rest of the community. Akram is distraught, and so is his wife. And after all the scandal involving Muneer and his wife, no one will even consider marrying Shala.”
“As a way of restoring her reputation.”
It all sounded more than a little bit mediaeval to Barbara, but decided that this was part of Azhar’s culture and she must rely on his explanations. Who would know better than he did about the sacrifices his culture demanded from those who broke cultural taboos?
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. How is the father doing? Akram Malik?”
“He is fine, physically.”
“And his wife and the children?”
“As far as I know, they’re also fine.”
“That’s good. So what will happen to Shala?”
“That’s what I wanted to discuss with you.”
“Me? Oh. Right. Go on. Tell me all about it then. Did they want to send her to London for a while? Until the rumours die down?”
“No. That wouldn’t do any good. If they did, they would be sending her into permanent exile. In some cases – not in this family of course – a daughter could be killed for shaming the family.”
“But it was Muneer who did that. Shala couldn’t have done anything to prevent what happened. Surely no would think so ?”
“I’m afraid the community will not see things that way. To them, it will be Shala’s fault.”
“But that’s terrible. How can they blame her?”
“Even if they didn’t blame her, and I’m sure the family doesn’t, the underlying problem would still be the fact that she is no longer fit to marry off. From what Akram told me, they don’t even suspect what really happened. As far as her parents know, the only thing wrong is the wild accusations Yumna made. My guess is that Shala told her father there was absolutely nothing in them.”
“Right. Then what’s the problem?”
“Even if the community doesn’t know anything, her name has been tarnished.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that. Anything I can do?”
“No. Barbara, Akram made me an offer.”
“Yes. If I agreed to marry Shala, I would be forgiven for – what I did to my first wife and her family. Since then, my former wife has remarried, and that seems to make my wrong-doing a little less serious.”
“Right. Do you want to marry Shala?”
“No. Of course not. She’s my cousin. I’m fond of her but I hardly know her.”
Instinctively, Barbara knew that it was no coincidence Azhar had brought up this topic. It was a family matter, but he wanted her permission to marry. He wanted this chance of being forgiven, and welcomed back into his own family again.
“But you’re still tempted, aren’t you?”
“It would be a wonderful opportunity, not only for me, but for Haddiyah as well.”
He was looking straight into Barbara’s eyes in a slightly unnerving way, or so it seemed to her. It was as if he was willing her to say something.
Azhar kept staring at Barbara, trying to gauge her interest in him. If she felt the same way – Why had she never given any sign that she was in love with him? He had guessed it for a long time, even before she saved Haddiyah’s life, but she had never said a word. Wasn’t that the way the English did things? The woman was just as likely to speak out about matters of the heart as the man.
And in the time he’d known Barbara, he had known her to be a strong, self-confident woman. Though so very unlike his second wife, at least in that, they were similar. Had she never really loved him? Was he really nothing more than a friend? He was unfamiliar with friendships with women. In his culture, you were friends with men, and if you were lucky, you were in love with your wife.
“How would you feel about all this?”
Barbara swallowed hard and tried to put off giving the reply until she’d poured him some coffee. Why was he asking her this? If he was in love with her, as she secretly hoped, why didn’t he just say no to Akram? Surely there must be some young man in Pakistan who would agree to marry a woman with a questionable reputation, in return for a chance of making his fortune in Britain? If he had to ask, then surely he couldn’t feel anything for her?
“It seems like a wonderful opportunity for you. And for Haddiyah, as you say. If you would be willing to do this for Shala – and her family, then -“
“You think I should do it?”
Azhar felt stab of disappointment. Weren’t her feelings for him stronger, after all?
“You must decide that for yourself.”
Surely he would never even consider the offer, if he was in love with her. Barbara felt tears stinging her eyes, and she looked fixedly out through the window, hoping he wouldn’t notice her reaction. Of course. How could she have been stupid enough to believe a man like Azhar could really feel something for her? What a fool she had been. Wishful thinking never got you anywhere.
Neither of them said anything, as the minutes ticked by. The silence in the small kitchen was beginning to feel oppressive, but no one felt inclined to break it, until Haddiyah’s voice broke into their brooding.
“Daddy, Barbara. Peter used to have a pony when he was a child. A black pony with a white star on its forehead. Doesn’t it sound absolutely beautiful?”
Azhar blinked and coughed to clear his throat.
“Yes. It does. Very nice.”
“Peter says that the next time we visit, he might have a photo of the pony here to show me.”
“Oh. Well, say goodbye, Haddiyah, we have to get going. It’s late. You have to go to bed.”
“Oh, do we really have to go already? I haven’t had the chance to speak to Barbara yet and -“
“Yes, now, Haddiyah. Let’s go.”
“Oh, alright. But I’ll be back really soon. Do you think you’ll have the photo by then?”
“I’ll ask my mother to send it.”
“Thank you. What happened to the pony? Is he dead?”
“No. I shouldn’t think so, but he must be quite old. He was given to the vicar’s daughter. Bye, Haddiyah.”
“Bye, Peter. Bye, Barbara.”
Haddiyah bounced over to her oldest friend and hugged her, before skipping outside, ahead of her father, oblivious to the sombre mood.
Barbara returned to the kitchen, without a word, to put away the coffee cup and while she was there, she decided to do the dishes. Remembering her guest, she called over her shoulder.
“Would you like a cup as well? Or some tea?”
“No, thanks. I’m fine.”
Peter, unlike Haddiyah, could quite clearly sense a change of mood. What had Azhar come to tell Barbara about? He bit his lower lip pensively.
Though it wasn’t very late, for a grownup, Barbara felt tired so she retreated to her bedroom, after only a word or two to her guest.
It was over. Not that there had ever been anything between them. Even though she had never really allowed herself to get her hopes up, there was now an aching emptiness inside her. And with Azhar gone, she would also lose her friend Haddiyah. But she mustn’t be selfish. For Haddiyah to be allowed to regain her family would be an exceptional opportunity.
No matter what she told herself, Barbara could feel the tears brimming over and forgetting her guest and everyone and everything else, she gave in to her despair.
Alarmed, Peter heard what could only be sobbing coming from inside Barbara’s room. His worst fears were being realized. Azhar must have come to break off the relationship. And what other reason could there be, unless it was his own presence here that had caused the friction? Again, someone he cared about had been caused pain all because of him. Would he ever stop hurting those who were kind to him?
He ought to go, this very night, never to return again. Tommy had to hate him, no matter what he’d tried to tell him, after Sasha’s death, after dr Trenarrow’s death. And now, Barbara had lost her boyfriend because of him. Though his own feelings for Barbara might be more than what Azhar could tolerate, there had never been any reason to believe that Barbara had any feelings for him, other than those of a kind, generous friend.
Before he left, he had to talk to her. Make her try again with Azhar. If her troublesome guest left, there could be no reason for the man to treat her this way.
He knocked on Barbara’s door, and waited. The sobbing quieted down, but he couldn’t hear anything else. Perhaps he should just go. Barbara might not thank him for interfering in her personal affairs. On the other hand, who knew if she’d go and see Azhar again? Pride could make people stubborn. He had to talk to her.
Again, he knocked, but still there was no reply. Had she gone to sleep? No, that wasn’t possible. The sobbing had ceased only a minute ago, or less.
Ignoring his upbringing, Peter opened the door, hoping that Barbara would be wearing something – decent, or else she might never forgive him.
“Barbara. I’m sorry to burst in like this.”
She was sitting on the bed, still in her jeans and jumper, her eyes red and swollen, furiously rubbing her cheeks to remove any trace of the tears that had left wet stains on her jumper.
“What’s wrong? Do you need to go to the clinic?”
“No, no. I’m fine. It’s you I’m worried about. Did Azhar break up with you tonight? Again, forgive me for butting in like this. It’s unforgivable of me, I know, but I just -“
“No. I mean, yes. Well, in a way. He wasn’t my boyfriend. Not exactly. I was just hoping -“
“I see. But he did dump you, one way or another?”
There was a pause in which Peter was wondering if, despite her decent attire, she would still never be able to forgive him for this intolerable intrusion into her personal affairs. Then she sighed and shrugged.
“Is it because of me? I mean, because I’m staying with you? I don’t know much about Pakistani culture, but if -“
“No. Of course not. It’s something else. Something completely different.”
“Is it? Honestly?”
And though normally she would have hesitated to share this personal information with someone she’d known for such a short time, and especially Lynley’s brother, Barbara found herself telling Peter everything.
His reaction told her she wasn’t the only one to have been appalled by Muneer’s actions.
“And that Muneer person actually raped his sister? My god, what a monster. And if Azhar marries her, she’ll be let off the hook? I mean, her family will let her stay and all that?”
“That’s what he told me. I don’t know that much about it either. But that’s what he told me. I was just hoping – that he would have said no. Because of me.”
“He just came here to tell you that he was getting married? After the two of you -“
“Apparently, there was never any us. It was all just in my imagination.
The bitterness of her tone made Peter take a closer look. To him, Barbara had never been anything but wonderful, at least since she stepped into that hospital ward, whisking him to her home, saving him from the street, Trevor and the drugs. Now, he realized that Barbara was also a woman with surprisingly low self-esteem, at least outside of her job.
“He’s an idiot. Do you know that? If he had a chance to get you he’s a fool to let you go.”
“You don’t have to say that.”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t have to flatter me. In fact, I’d prefer it if you didn’t.”
“I’m serious. That chap doesn’t know how lucky he is. If I’d been him -“
For the moment, Peter’s words were lost on Barbara, lost as she was in a world of her own, re-living every word she’d said to Azhar. That love-sick puppy look all over her face. It hurt to realize that though she had believed herself well and truly beyond all that teenage nonsense, she hadn’t changed that much.
“I’m such an idiot. He’s an academic. I’m just a -“
“Barbara, you really have no idea how attractive you are, do you?”
“Don’t. Don’t make fun of me. I might have expected it from your brother, but not from you. “
“I’m not making fun of you. Why would you say something like that? I adore you.”
Slowly, Peter’s tone of voice, as well as the silly, love struck expression on his face began to filter through to Barbara. If she hadn’t been so weary after the emotional ordeal left by Azhar’s visit, she might have felt like an indulgent older sister. But right now, his words and his demeanour warmed her.
“You are serious, aren’t you? Fancy that.”
And for the first time since Azhar had left, taking Barbara’s hard won self-esteem with him, a brief smile lit up her features.
“I mean, I know you couldn’t possibly feel the same way about me, but at least try to get a more realistic view of yourself. If Azhar lets you go, it’s his loss.”
“I wish I could see things that way. You see, he was the first man for a very long time, that I allowed myself to – fall for. And now it just ended the same way it always did.”
Without thinking, Peter sank down next to her on the bed, putting an arm around her shoulders.
To his astonishment, as well as Barbara’s, she let him hold her like that for a long time. Despite everything, they both felt comforted by the closeness.
For some reason, the methadone treatment was working, in fact so well that Peter and Barbara were beginning to hope that this time, he really would be kicking the habit, for good. But even though the treatment took its course, nothing about it was easy, for either one of them.
Peter spent nights awake, struggling with the need to go out, to find some heroin at any cost. Most of the time, he did that alone, telling himself that Barbara had to be able to do her job. After Barbara took a leave of absence, still his pride kept him from calling out to her, except those few times he simply couldn’t bear it anymore.
It wasn’t always the need for the drug that caused his desperation. At times, he relived his childhood, occasionally he remembered his months with Trevor. There were moments, when the broken ribs still made themselves known. But most of all, it was the old self-loathing that had never really gone away.
After all, if his adored older brother could go away and leave him, right after their father had died, then surely he must be a particularly horrible person. And if his own brother hated him back then, how much more would he hate him now, after what he’d become? His mother had never really given up on him.
Just give her time, his subconscious whispered to him. Just let her find out what you’ve turned into, then she’ll hate you too. His sister, all his family’s friends, his fellow students at uni – they would all feel the same way, once they found out just how low he’d sunk.
Even in sleep, his feelings of inferiority, and self-disgust haunted him, and on one occasion, after reliving every moment of that final night with Trevor, it caused him to wake up screaming.
He didn’t even know he had woken up, until he became aware of Barbara standing over the sofa, wearing her pyjama, looking anxiously down on him.
“Peter. Wake up. It’s just a dream.”
In his panic, he was hyperventilating, and it was a long time until her comforting words reached him.
“Calm down. It’s alright, nothing can harm you here. That’s right. Just keep breathing slowly.”
She sat down on the edge of the sofa, trying not to look too closely on the needle marks on his arms, or the scars. Focusing only on his terrified eyes, she continued talking soothingly as she had tried to, when her mother was in a particularly bad way, towards the end.
When he was breathing more normally, she dared to let her hands smooth out the tangled mess of his hair.
“That’s it. You were just having a bad dream.”
“Yes. Don’t worry about anything. I’m here.”
He tried to get up, and eventually he was successful. Now there was more room to sit, and she moved over to give him space. But the haunted look in his eyes told her not to leave him too soon.
Awkwardly, she put her arms around him, and he settled down, with his head on her shoulder. Slowly, she kept stroking his hair. It was soaked through with sweat. That must have been some nightmare. He was still shaking slightly, but her words were beginning to have an effect on him.
By the time the trembling had stopped, he was instead shivering with cold. Barbara looked around for something to wrap him in. The sheets would be just as soaked as his t-shirt and shorts.
“Just a sec. I’ll get you something to put on.”
After digging around a bit, she found an old robe that used to belong to her father. She would have got rid of it years ago, if it hadn’t been made of a thick, warming material, and her old place had been cold during the winters.
Fumbling a bit, she was able to wrap the robe around him.
“There. Feeling better?”
Keenly aware of the loss of dignity, he tried to think of something to say, to assure her he was alright, though it was a bit late for that. What a spectacle he must have made of himself. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel half as bad as he had expected it to. Barbara wouldn’t judge him.
“Yes. I’m alright. Thanks. It – it was just a dream.”
She knew she ought to get up and find some new linens to make up the sofa again, but for the moment, she felt it would be much more comfortable to just sit like this together. It had been a very long time since she’d last held someone, or been held. She realized that the last person was Peter. And it didn’t feel at all awkward anymore. Peter was very different from his brother, but there were times when Barbara felt that even Lynley had been a source of comfort to her.
Peter was beginning to feel more and more at ease with Barbara, and though he knew he hadn’t made a very good impression tonight, or for that matter most of the time they knew each other, he couldn’t help feeling drawn to her. Not just as a friend. She was the only one who had shown him any kindness in a very long time.
Dr Trenarrow was the last person who had taken an interest in him, and deep down, he knew that was mostly because of the doctor’s feelings for his mother. Besides, there was no comparison really. Barbara was so attractive and such a fantastic person and –
Before he knew it, Peter had pulled himself up from his position close to Barbara’s shoulder. He was irresistibly drawn towards her face. There was something about her eyes and – Suddenly, he was kissing her, and for a breathless second, she returned the kiss. Then she tensed up and seemed to withdraw from him, without actually pushing him away.
Silently cursing himself for a fool, Peter wanted to scream to himself what an idiot he was. How dared he take something like that for granted? How could she be anything but disgusted by him, knowing far too well what he’d been doing in the past nine or ten months?
“I’m sorry. Barbara, please -“
“No, that’s alright. I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you just use my bed, and I’ll toss these into the washing machine? It’s getting light outside so it must be about time to get started anyway. I’ll get you some breakfast later and -“
She realized that she was babbling, so she shut up. For a moment, she’d felt something, she hadn’t thought possible. Not since Azhar, not since – what was that creep’s name anyway? She couldn’t even remember. What she did remember was the way he had laughed at her, when she’d found out he was involved with someone else. That cruel laughter had kept ringing in her ears for years afterwards. But Azhar was gone, and Peter – how could she take advantage of a young man who was so emotionally fragile as he had to be, after his experiences?
And he was young. Much younger than most men she had been attracted to. But worst of all, he was Lynley’s younger brother. Her gov would never forgive her for keeping Peter’s secret to herself, but if he found out that they’d been – Barbara paused to consider what the aristocracy would do to a woman like her, for being presumptuous (was that the word?) enough to set her eyes on one of their own. How was it Peter had referred to himself? The Honourable Peter Lynley – and she was Barbara Havers from nowhere. One of the common people. As common as they come, several of her lovers had told her, when she was young enough to listen to them.
By throwing herself into the household chores, Barbara managed to put off the awkward meeting with Peter for a while longer, but she knew far too well that in the small space of the flat, they couldn’t avoid each other for long. And the confrontation came sooner than she had thought.
Peter had gone into the shower, and now he came out, still dripping wet, but now smelling freshly of the aftershave she’d bought for him. Probably not the sort of high class scent he was used to, but that was the best she had been able to manage.
“Barbara. I’ve been thinking. I should get going. You must think me the worst kind of -“
“No. You don’t have to go. Come on. I don’t want you to go. You haven’t finished the treatment and -“
“But I don’t want to impose on your kindness any further.”
“Why on earth not? Don’t be silly. You had one nightmare. It’s happened to me lots of times. Especially when I was new on the job. PC’s get to see all kinds of things that can keep you awake at night.”
“Yes, I realize that. But – There’s no easy way of saying this, so I’ll just say it. Barbara, I’m in love with you.”
Whatever she had expected him to say, this came as a total surprise. Of course, it was easy enough to imagine him feeling lonely. After all this time without female company, a young guy like that was bound to feel the need for sex, but – to tell her he was in love with her, wasn’t that going a bit far?
She wouldn’t have been surprised if he had come to the conclusion that as she was lonely too, and as far as he could guess, had been going for a long time without sex – in fact, fortunately he had no idea how long it really been – but this? And the look on his face didn’t exactly imply some sort of ruse to get her into bed. He looked as serious as she had ever seen Lynley – She forced herself to break off that thought. And after all her desperate thinking, she could only manage a feeble question.
Despite himself, Peter couldn’t help smiling. It was the truth. Now that she had found out, he knew he would have to leave, but still, after all this time, it felt good to know that he could still fall in love. There had been times when he thought he had lost the ability to feel anything. But with the decreasing drug dependency, his emotions had returned, one by one.
“But you can’t be.”
“Why not? Barbara, I realize that you must feel disgusted and shocked but – it’s true. I can’t lie to you. You mustn’t think that I was just trying to – I mean, it has been a long time, but I wouldn’t dream of just taking advantage of you. I really do love you.”
He sounded so sweet and young and completely irresistible. Young or not- Lynley’s brother or not – of course she couldn’t allow herself to – She couldn’t help smiling though. There was a warm feeling inside her, that the poor timing and the circumstances couldn’t dispel.
“Peter, I’m sure it’s just because we’ve been together like this. Me helping you and all that. I’m older than you and I’m not – I mean, you know that we come from different worlds and -”
“If you give me any more of that, I don’t know what I’ll do. You think you’re not good enough for me?”
“Well, you have to admit that if your mother heard you -“
“My mother would be jolly well pleased to have you as a daughter-in-law any day. And if she didn’t, she can go to – I’m the one who’s not good enough for you. For obvious reasons. You know that perfectly well. After all I’ve -“
“Yes. That. I can’t ignore that, so how could you?”
“You’re not infected with anything so -“
“Is that all you’re worried about? I mean, don’t you feel – disgusted by the things I’ve done?”
“Not the way you think. Peter. Did you really think I would? It wasn’t your fault.”
“Oh, but it was. If I hadn’t started taking the drugs in the first place -“
“Yes, of course, if you look at it that way, but I mean, you’re not – I mean, you aren’t -“
Peter caught himself grinning. If Barbara cared enough about him to wonder if he was straight, then surely he did have a chance?
“You’re right. I’m not. That’s what you wanted to know, wasn’t it?”
Barbara blushed. Now he was turning the tables on her and she didn’t like it. She couldn’t allow herself to trust another man. Look at what had happened the last time she did. And she had been so sure Azhar was a good man, and so right for her and –
“Why would you care, unless – unless you return my feelings in some small way?”
She opened her mouth and closed it again, feeling trapped. Struggling for words, she eventually gave up and said the first that came into her mind.
“Even if I did – wait – don’t get too excited – even if I did, have you forgotten everything else that stands between us? Your brother. My gov.”
“Tommy? What on earth has he got to do with anything?”
“He’s my gov. Conflict of interest.”
“You mean in your work? Oh, come on. Is that the best you can do? I’m sure there’s no rule against it. Or how else could he be married to Helen? She’s a profiler, isn’t she?”
“Yes, but -“
“Barbara, forget about Tommy for a while. I won’t let him ruin this for me. He’s done enough. Or rather, not nearly enough. Please tell me honestly if you feel anything at all for me. You know what I mean.”
Here was her chance. She could tell him that of course she didn’t feel anything for him. Other than that he had become a good friend, just like his brother. But that wouldn’t be true, she realized that now. And though she felt that getting involved with him would be a big mistake, she didn’t want to lie to him. Somehow she owed him better than that.
“I – Yes. But I can’t -“
“Why not? Because of Tommy? Or Azhar?”
In desperation, she blurted out the exact truth, never mind how much she opened herself up to him.
“Because of all the men I’ve been involved with in the past.”
“What? It’s not because of the men I’ve been involved with, it’s because of the men you’ve been involved with? I don’t get it.”
“Because of the way they treated me. Because of the way I let them treat me.”
Stunned he looked at Barbara. He’d forgotten that she too, had to have a past. How immature of him to expect her to be invulnerable to the risk of pain and heartbreak. She’d been treated badly. She’d had her heart broken. It was because she feared he would let her down that he couldn’t trust him.
And she was right to worry. What was he anyway? A recovering drug addict. A former prostitute. A child of a screwed up home. How could he make any promises that he knew for a fact that he could keep? He hadn’t been able to keep Sasha safe. All his other girlfriends had vanished, mostly because of the drugs.
“Oh. I don’t want to hurt you. I never want to hurt you. But you might be right not to trust me. The way I feel right now, I’d like to be able to say that I’ll never let you down, but how can I be sure? When I was stoned, I did things I don’t want to remember.”
“Did you treat Sasha badly?”
“I let her die. Can you treat anyone worse than that?”
“You didn’t know the heroin was contaminated. That wasn’t your fault. Did you hurt her? Physically or otherwise?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean that -“
“Any of your other girlfriends?”
“I don’t think so. Not as far as I remember. Anyway, it would be different with you. They were all into drugs. To begin with even more than I was.”
“Yes, I realize that. But that wasn’t what I meant. What guarantees do I have that once you’ve beat the habit and returned home to your family, you won’t regret this impulse and want to start dating someone your mother would approve of?”
“She would approve of you, Barbara. Won’t you come with me to Cornwall and see my family?”
She shrank back. His family would see her as some kind of ruthless golddigger.
Misinterpreting her meaning, some of Peter’s enthusiasm left him. Tommy must have told her about their family’s history. Why should she want to get involved in all that?
“Never mind. It can be a real hellhole at times. You’re absolutely right. I was being stupid. But we don’t have to go there. We could just stay here. If you’ll have me?”
He was looking at her with those solemn, eager eyes, making it difficult for her letting him down.
“I suppose we could – I mean, take one day at a time.”
“Good. That’s a very good idea. But I swear to you, I don’t want any other girls. You’re so different from the girls I was seeing before and -“
Her tone told him the way she interpreted his words and he hurriedly reassured her.
“I mean they were drug addicts and some of them were real bitches. Only interested in dating an aristocrat and – What I meant was that you’re so much nicer and sweeter and -“
She didn’t know how to deal with the lavish praise, but somehow her cop’s instinct told her that he was being honest. It wasn’t just some spoiled rich boy’s way of getting a stupid working class girl into bed. Again, she couldn’t help smiling.
“You will stay, won’t you? No more talk about leaving.”
“Alright. If you’ll stop talking about that stupid social class nonsense.”
“It’s not – Alright. Let’s not talk about that.”