Jeff Slade was feeling pretty good about the world. Bach was on the stereo, a glass of wine was in his hand, and he was sharing his sofa with Holly Turner. It was a great end to a pretty fantastic evening. She had chosen the film again, and she'd made him go back to the Renoir arts cinema, but this time he had actually enjoyed it. The 39 Steps - okay, it was black and white, but it was Hitchcock and at least it didn't require subtitles.
Afterwards, they had come back to his flat and eaten dinner; wild mushroom and roasted pepper risotto. He never got tired of hearing Holly tell him how good his cooking was, and offered silent thanks to his mum, who'd always assured him that his culinary skills would one day sweep a woman off her feet. "Sweeping" wasn't really Slade's style, or at least it hadn't been when it came to Holly; he knew what he wanted, but just didn't know how to get there without causing irreversible damage to their friendship. But they were spending more and more time together, and the evenings were becoming more and more like 'dates'. How could trips to the cinema and romantic meals be classed as purely platonic? Sooner or later Holly would expect something more from him - wouldn't she? Maybe if he'd put Marvin Gaye on the stereo and oysters in the meal he would know better what to do.
"What are you thinking about?" Holly asked, nudging him with her elbow. She was sitting beside him on the sofa, her head leaning against his shoulder.
"More wondering than thinking," he replied. "Wondering what you were like as a teenager."
"If those thoughts involve a Catholic school uniform, I'm getting my coat," she retorted.
"You didn't have a uniform?"
"I'm not Catholic," she said, and though he couldn't see it, Slade knew she was smiling.
"Who did you have a crush on?" he said, trying his luck.
"That's none of your business!"
"Come on, Holly, I'm making conversation," he protested. "Wait, don't tell me; let me guess - Dr Who? Your physics teacher?"
"Very funny." She took a sip of wine.
"So...?" he needled.
Holly sighed theatrically, and rolled her eyes. "My friends and I used to watch Miami Vice - mainly for Don Johnson."
Slade smiled to himself; whenever he made an assumption about Holly, she always managed to debunk it.
"So, that's why you joined the police! If you'd told me I would have dug out my pastel suit and slip-on shoes."
Holly set her glass back on the table, and turned to face him, fixing him with a warning look. "Okay, your turn. Which poor, unassuming woman did your grubby teenage mind fixate on?"
"That's easy. Wonder Woman," Slade said, matter-of-factly.
"I thought blondes were more your type," Holly said, sceptically.
"I can be persuaded, he replied, looking straight into her eyes.
The tension was palpable. Sitting side by side, their legs were touching, and Slade felt as though someone had just turned up the heat. His arm was resting on the back of the sofa, just centimetres away from Holly's shoulder. Time seemed to stand still. Slade shifted slightly so as to move closer and he saw Holly blush nervously. His mouth felt dry, and his brain became flooded with adrenaline. Was it his imagination or was she getting closer to him too?
Then, the telephone rang.
Holly sprang away from Slade, and he realised that he had been holding his breath for what seemed like an eternity. If she was blushing before, she looked positively embarrassed now. Slade smiled apologetically, and picked up the phone. It was Grisham.
Slade looked at Holly, who was still trying to recompose herself.
"Slade, we've been paging you for fifteen minutes. Why didn't you answer?" his boss demanded. Slade glanced across to the coffee table where his pager lay, its power button switched to off.
"I couldn't get to a phone," he told her. "Only just got home."
"Well, you needn't have bothered because I need you here. There's been an accident; suspected drink-driving, one fatality, one injured," she continued.
Slade frowned, anxious that Holly looked very uncomfortable. "Sounds pretty routine - can't the uniforms deal with it?"
"You didn't let me tell you who the driver was."
Slade's mind was blank.
"Jonathan Fox?"" Grisham repeated. "Really, Slade, when was the last time you watched the news? He's the Chief Executive of the biggest petrochemical company in the country."
"Course he is," Slade replied, still mystified.
"Anyway, just get here as soon as you can."
He motioned for Holly to pass him a pen and paper, and he scribbled down the location Grisham have him before assuring her he'd be there soon.
"Sound serious," Holly said, clearly relieved at having a distraction.
"Did you get all that?" he asked. "Car accident, some big cheese-"
"Jonathan Fox, I know. PetroStar has just expanded into new oil fields in sub-Saharan Africa."
Slade nodded, thoughtfully. "Well, I'd better get going. I'll drop you off on the way."
"I could come with you?" she offered.
"You finished work hours ago, Holly. It's fine."
"Well someone needs to be on hand to point the man out to you," she smiled. "Come on."
When they arrived at the scene of the accident, the police had already established a road block, and uniformed officers were waving drivers towards a diversion. It was raining heavily, and the light from the flashing yellow beacons bled into the puddles. The drive across town had been a little awkward; Holly sensed Slade looking at her, but when she looked up he turned away. He would open his mouth, as though to say something, but then seemingly changed his mind. Truth be told, she wasn't sure she wanted to hear it - what if he wanted to apologise for what nearly happened, or to ask if they could forget it ever took place? She had never made the first move on a man in her life - and never thought with Slade that she'd have to - but now she wished she'd had the courage.
Slade parked the car, and they were greeted by Nicky, dashing through the rain, his waxed jacket over his head.
"That's a good look for you, Nicky," he joked, not even bothering to shield himself from the wet. Holly pulled on her hat and went to join him.
"Did Grisham ask you to come, Holly?" Nicky asked, puzzled.
She opened her mouth to answer, but Slade got there first.
"Never know when you'll need a scientific opinion!" he replied, brightly.
Grisham strode through the rain to join them, trailed by Morris a few steps behind. He was wearing a fishing hat, and wrestling with a wayward umbrella.
"Nice of you to join us, Slade," Grisham said, leading them under the police tape and through the barricade of squad cars. "Though, why you had to spoil Turner's evening, I don't know. Always happy to have you on board, of course, Holly."
When the scene cleared, it was all too obvious what had taken place. A dark blue BMW saloon straddled the pavement. It had ploughed into a street lamp, causing the lamp to buckle like a drooping sunflower. The car's front end had crumpled into an ugly grimace, the glass from both headlights causing the ground to twinkle. When Holly peered inside, she could see that the driver's seat had been thrown forward. Glass from the windshield covered the black leather upholstery.
"I'm guessing that unless the victim was a city trader or a top barrister, then Mr Fox was the one driving," Slade posited, perusing the expensive car.
"That's right," Grisham said. "The victim was a Joanna Murray, out walking her dog by all accounts."
"Can the dog tell us what happened?"
"No more than she can, I'm afraid."
"And Mr Fox?" Holly asked.
"In the back of that ambulance," Grisham replied, nodding behind her. "A few cuts and bruises, possible broken ribs, but he's basically fine. It's a miracle, really, considering the speed he was driving."
"He was speeding?" Slade asked. "Were there witnesses?"
"Nicky," Grisham said, motioning to the young man.
"There were no witnesses, but we managed to examine the road before the rain started," he said, delving into his pocket to produce some Polaroid shots. "Just look at the skid marks on the tarmac."
Holly took the photos from Nicky's hand. She had been called in to look at this sort of thing before; it had been part of the standard training for Science Officers.
"Seventy, eighty miles an hour?" she asked.
"Exactly what the investigator here earlier said, Grisham said.
"It's a thirty limit," Slade observed. "What was he thinking?"
"Morris," Grisham said.
Morris produced a small reporter's notebook, which looked as though it had been dropped in a puddle before being stamped on several times.
"Can't read my notes, Chief," he complained.
"Well, try harder!"
Morris peered at the writing, determinedly. "Mr Fox left the Old Forge Inn on Dewsbury Road at approximately nine o'clock. He had a business meeting there and was on his way to the airport when this...happened."
"He was at a bar?" Slade asked, his tone of voice changing.
"Strictly speaking, the Old Forge Inn is a brasserie and wine bar," Nicky put in.
"This case needs to be handled sensitively, Slade," Grisham warned him. "The Commissioner has asked us personally to use discretion, and to keep this out of the papers until a thorough investigation has been carried out."
"What about the victim's family?" Slade asked. "They're going to want answers."
Something in Slade's voice was worrying Holly, though she couldn't put her finger on it. He could be bull-headed, he could be difficult, but this was something different.
"We'll give them answers," Grisham told him, firmly. "But I'm telling you now, Slade, tread carefully with this."
Holly made her way back over to the car to take a closer look. As she went around to the front, her shoe scuffed against something. Thinking at first that it was just old leaves, she crouched down and picked up a brown leather wallet. She brushed the leaves and mud from it with her gloves and undid the clasp. Inside were several bank and store cards, and an identity card. The photograph showed a fair-haired woman in her thirties, wearing a nurse's uniform. It belonged to Joanna Murray.
"Slade!" she called.
"Where did you get this?" he asked, taking the wallet and removing the identity card. He turned it over in his hand.
"Under the front of the car," she told him. "It must have been overlooked."
She watched as Slade examined the photograph, every couple of seconds wiping the relentless rain from the plastic cover. His expression was unreadable, even to Holly. His jaw was fixed, his eyes squinting but resolute. She was about to ask him what was wrong, when he suddenly turned and marched towards the ambulance. Sensing trouble, she followed him.
Jonathan Fox was sitting on the tail of the ambulance, still being attended to by a paramedic. A look of confusion crossed his face at first, followed by fear as Slade continued to come towards him. Holly could do nothing as Slade grabbed Fox by the lapels and aggressively hauled him to his feet.
"Slade!" she protested.
"Jonathan Fox?" Slade demanded, ignoring her. "Do you know this woman?"
He thrust the identity card in the well-dressed, middle-aged man's face, angrily.
"No?" he continued. "Well, this is the woman you killed tonight, you selfish idiot! What did you think would happen when you go drinking and then drive your car at twice the speed limit?"
"Who are you?" the man protested.
Holly tried to grab Slade's arm, but he wouldn't be thwarted.
"What did she ever do to you?" he continued, relentlessly. "She was just out for a walk, minding her own business, never expecting that the last thing she would see would be the fender of your oversized, gas-guzzling death-trap on wheels!"
The commotion had, by this time, attracted the attention of every police officer at the scene. Holly was almost knocked sideways as Morris and one of the uniforms got in between Slade and Fox, and manhandled Slade away from the suspect. It wasn't long before Grisham muscled her way through the gathering crowd, and she stood before Slade, her face like thunder.
"Ms Grisham, is this one of your officers?" Jonathan Fox asked, straightening his suit.
"Yes, and I will see that he is severely dealt with for his behaviour."
"If this is your idea of police sensitivity, I'd say the Met is in a lot of trouble," Fox added.
Holly stood beside Slade, noting the glare of contempt still on his face. This didn't make sense. It was true that Slade always took the side of the underdog, and it was true that he was prone to overreact, but she'd never seen him like this. He was furious, venomous, and the situation had been on the brink of turning violent. Tentatively, she touched his arm, drawing him aside.
"Slade, what's going on?" she asked.
"Nothing," he told her, darkly.
"That was nothing? Slade, I thought you were going to flatten him."
"People like him make me sick," he replied, still refusing to look her in the eye. Holly couldn't believe that just over half an hour ago they had been in his living room, about to take their relationship into as yet uncharted territory. That seemed a million miles away now, but still, she was worried about him more than anything else.
"Slade, it was an accident," she reasoned. "Things like this shouldn't happen, but they do."
"What was she thinking about when he hit her? Who was she going home to? All that was on his mind was the next million he was going to make - that's if his brain wasn't completely addled by drink!"
This time, the voice was Grisham's.
"Not now, Chief," he sighed, starting to walk away.
"You've done it this time, Slade," she said, a stony look on her face. "I mean, really, what's got into you? You've manhandled suspects before, but this time you went too far. We don't know enough about this case yet to pass judgement - and even when we do know, it's not your job to administer justice."
"Fine!" he said, throwing up his hands. "Fine, I'll be nice."
"What you'll do is apologise to Mr Fox, and then you're going home. We'll talk about this tomorrow, don't you worry."
"I won't apologise," Slade told her, shaking his head resolutely. "I meant every word of what I said."
Grisham sighed, her hands on her hips. "Then just go home, Slade. And pray you'll still have a job in the morning."
Holly knew that she would have to deal with the fall-out from this. Slade looked to the sky, and put his hands to his face in frustration and anguish. There was more to this than just the case, and she knew it.
"Come on," she said, softly. "I'll drive you home."
He stopped, as though an idea had physically hit him.
"How about I drive you home instead?"
"I want to see how this happened," he told her.
Holly knew exactly what the implication was, and her heart sank.
"If the machine gets damaged, I'll pick up the bill," he said.
Holly sighed. Sometimes she just wanted to shake him until he understood. "It's not the machine, it's you. This case. I don't know...it's affected you in some way, and though you won't tell me what it is, it hardly seems like a good idea for you to try and relive it."
"You don't have to come with me," he told her. "I'll do it by myself."
Infuriating wasn't the word for him. She shook her head.
"I thought we were a team?" she said, taking his hand in her gloved one. Why did she always do this? Was it the little-boy-lost look on his face, or - even worse - the way the unrelenting rain was making his shirt cling to his chest? Whatever the reason, Holly knew she would come to regret giving in to him yet again.
When Slade got to the living room, quickly towel-drying his hair, Holly was already programming the machine. She was tense, and it hadn't escaped his notice; he knew she was worried about him, but asking for her help and understanding could open up a can of worms he wasn't sure he was ready for.
"Okay, it's ready," she said, looking up.
"Let's go," he told her, not meeting her eyes.
"Slade, won't you at least tell me why this means so much to you?"
The look on her face was killing him. He would admit to letting the odd white lie slip by, but it was becoming more and more difficult to keep things from Holly. She wasn't supposed to get under his skin, but then that had never really been under his control.
"I can't," he told her, pleadingly. "Please, Holly.I just need to do this. I need to see that she gets justice."
Twenty minutes later they were outside the Old Forge Inn. The machine had given them two hours, so it was now just after half past eight. Right around the time, Slade noted, that he had been trying to figure out how to progress things from the living room to the bedroom. The journey to the inn had been conducted in silence, though the vibes he was getting from Holly spoke loud and clear.
"Now what?" she asked, as they got out of her car. "We can't stop the accident happening."
"I know," he replied. "Look, there's the Beamer."
Jonathan Fox's car was parked in the bays reserved for members only.
"How long have we got?" he asked.
"Well, according to Morris, Fox left this place at nine o'clock. Which gives us.just over twenty minutes."
Slade nodded, thinking through their options.
"Okay, this is what we'll do. You go inside and keep an eye on Fox; we need to know exactly what he was doing in the lead-up to this accident. If you can stall him, then do it."
"Stall him? How?"
"I don't know, steal his car keys or something."
Holly rolled her eyes. "Fine. And what about you?"
"I haven't got time to stop Joanna Murray going out for her walk, but I might be able to catch up with her en route."
"And do what?"
"I don't know," Slade shrugged. "But I have to try to do something. Can you find your way back to the crash scene?"
Holly grabbed his arm. "No, wait. We can't go back to the crash scene - we're going to be there, remember?"
Slade heaved a sigh. "Okay, then I'll meet you back here. Round the back, in the car park."
Holly gave him a look of concern, and handed over her keys. Once he had seen her enter the bar, Slade got into the car and started to make his way to the crime scene. The clock in the car said that he had just under ten minutes. He had to work backwards from the scene; he knew where Joanna Murray lived - had lived - and from that could roughly deduce the direction she was walking from. He drove as slowly as he could around the housing estate that bordered the main road, keeping his eye out for a woman walking a dog. He was nearly back at the crash scene when he spotted her; tall, blond and walking a King Charles spaniel. He threw the car door open and dashed over to her.
The woman looked startled to see a man suddenly rush out at her from a parked car.
"Joanna?" Slade gasped. "Joanna Murray?"
"Who are you?" she demanded, pulling at the dog's leash. "What do you want?"
"I need to talk to you," he told her, trying to catch his breath. "It's important - a matter of life of death. Look, I know you won't believe me, but something is going to happen to you!"
"Get away from me!" she cried.
The last thing that Slade saw was a small red canister. Then he was lying on his side on the ground, his hands covering his face and incredible pain searing his eyeballs. He heard Joanna Murray call to her dog, and then heard the sound of her retreating footsteps heading in the direction of the main road. His throat felt tight, and his gag reflex was kicking in too. He scrambled to his feet, still clutching his eyes and feeling for the nearest hedge or fence for support. Opening his eyes was agony, and anyway, all he could see was a blur of street lamps in the darkness. Staggering towards the road, he could just about make out Joanna Murray, still running, now looking up and down the road, panicked. He had to get to her, he had to explain himself.
Then, she turned around and saw him apparently coming after her. She started to shout, to yell, but the road was quiet. Just then, Slade heard the unmistakable sound of an expensive German engine, and it was coming at some speed. Through the burning haze, he could see Joanna Murray waving her arms and he heard her yell to the driver.
He was relieved that he couldn't see what happened next.
Holly looked at her watch. It was nine fifteen, and she was standing in the car park at the back of the Old Forge Inn. She should never had let Slade do this, and she certainly shouldn't have let him borrow her car. He had a self-destructive streak a mile wide, and when he was in that frame of mind he shouldn't be left alone. Where was he? He should have been back there by now. She hoped to God that he hadn't stuck around at the crash scene; the 'other' him would be arriving with the 'other' her before too long.
At that moment, she heard the noise of a car swerving precariously, and her Peugeot swung into view. Slade's driving had a style of its own, but this was even more reckless than usual. The car came to a screeching halt about thirty centimetres from a low wall and, five seconds later, Slade tumbled out of the driver's seat.
Holly dashed over to him, just as he was managing to sit up.
"Slade, what happened to you?"
His eyes, and the skin around them, were red and swollen. She took his face in her hands for a closer look. Had someone hit him? No, she recognised the symptoms.
"Was it a pepper spray?" she asked.
He nodded, overcome by a need to cough.
"Who did this?"
"Joanna Murray," he said, wheezing. "She thought I was a kerb-crawler."
Holly sighed; she didn't know whether to help him or shake him. "That's great, Slade, just marvellous. I can't believe you drove here in this state, too - you could have been in an accident yourself."
"I'll be fine," he told her, getting to his feet. He swayed momentarily, before Holly caught his arm and steadied him.
"Oleoresin Capsicum can cause temporary loss of balance," Holly told him. "Look, we've got half an hour to get back to the machine. We'll talk about this on the way."
Holly took the wheel and headed back to her flat, careful to take a different route from the one she knew she had taken in the other timeline. Slade told her what had happened to him, between making assaults on his eyes.
"Try to blink a lot," she told him. "There's no real way to neutalise the effects of a pepper spray, but if you can produce some tears it might help to flush the irritant from your eyes."
"Real men don't cry, Holly," he replied, trying to smile at her.
"Grisham will give you good reason if we don't sort this mess out."
"How long will this last?" he asked, indicating to his discomfort.
"Hard to say; half an hour, forty-five minutes, maybe."
"Great," he said, doing as he was told and blinking vigorously. "So, what happened in the bar?"
"It was exactly as we thought. Jonathan Fox had a business meeting with two men; they had eaten a meal and had moved on to some papers."
"Was he drinking a lot?"
Holly thought about this, and frowned. "Actually, I don't think I saw him drink anything. There was a bottle of wine on the table, and one of the other men had a whiskey, but I'm not sure about Fox."
"He had to be, the speed he was travelling when he.hit her."
"Unless he was just irresponsible - and there was nothing we could have done to alter that. We didn't have a chance to see the report, so we don't know how much alcohol was in his system. There may be other factors, too, that we haven't considered."
"Are you trying to say we rushed into this?"
"No. I'm saying you did."
"I thought we were a team?" Slade said, reminding her of her words to him earlier.
She glanced across at him. "A team can't function properly if one person isn't being completely honest with the other ..."
Slade opened his mouth as though to speak. Just then, a beeping noise emanated from the watch on Holly's wrist, conveniently breaking the tension for Slade. The relief was visible on his face.
"Three minutes," he said, opening the car door. "Better get inside."
The lights from the machine receded, and Slade suddenly felt a change come over him. He was soaking wet; his hair, his skin, his clothes. Of course - he had returned to the state he was in before they time-travelled. And his eyes now felt fine. Being soaked to the skin he could deal with.
"Let's go," he told Holly, but the look on her face told him she wasn't going to come willingly. "What's the matter?"
"I think we should talk, Slade."
There were only two things that Holly could want to talk about at this time, and they were interconnected more than she could imagine. He was starting to hate himself for being so reticent with her - if it was the other way round he knew he wouldn't like it.
"We can talk later. Right now, I want to see the look on Mr Moneybags' face when we charge him with driving under the influence, reckless endangerment, and death by dangerous driving."
"Actually," Holly said, as though she'd just undergone a revelation. "I want to have a second look at that BMW. I've just realised something."
"When I was looking at it before, something didn't fit, and now I know what it was - the driver's airbag didn't inflate. A car like that costs - what? - fifty-thousand pounds? You pay for safety, Slade, and at the very least that means reliable airbags."
"So what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that maybe we've been looking for answers in the wrong place. Maybe Joanna Murray wasn't the only victim here."
He watched, feet rooted to the hall floor, as Holly went past him to the hall table.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Calling in a favour."
They had been driving for ten minutes before Slade realised that they weren't heading for the station.
"The impound depot usually shuts up shop by this time," Holly started, almost as though she could read his mind. "But they owe me for some work I did on a case last month."
They pulled into a yard, in which was a vast, hangar-like structure. This was where the police brought any vehicles involved in crimes for examination. Slade knew of it but had never been. When they got out, they were greeted by a middle-aged man in white, police-issue overalls, smeared with oil.
"Is it here yet, George?" Holly asked him.
"Fifteen minutes ago," the man replied."Beautiful car. Absolute write-off, though. Another DUI was it?"
"We're not completely sure yet..." Holly said. Slade looked at her, questioningly, but her expression told him that she needed him to be patient. "That's where you come in, George. Have you had a chance to take a look?"
"I checked the airbags like you said, and you're right - they've been tampered with from the inside. Someone knew what they were doing; it was a professional job. I've only just started to look under the bonnet, but I have a feeling I'm going to find other things too. Hang tight, and I'll let you know."
The man returned to the car, and Slade looked at Holly.
"Somebody didn't want him to get out of that car alive," she said, before he could speak.
"It's starting to look that way," he sighed. "At least Grisham will be happy. It might not lead to an international scandal after all."
"I doubt she'll be happy, Slade," Holly said, leading him across to a bench in the workshop. "A woman still died, after all. It just might be more complicated than we originally thought."
Their legs were touching as they sat beside each other, and Slade felt a jolt of electricity as Holly put her hand on his knee. He let his arm drop from the back of the bench onto her shoulder, and he squeezed it gently in thanks. He took her for granted, he drove her up the wall, and she still came back for more. Slade didn't know on whom that reflected most badly, but he wanted things to change.
It was only a few minutes before the mechanic summoned them over again, excitedly. Slade followed Holly over to the open bonnet, where George was gesturing proudly.
"What are we looking at?" he asked, frowning.
"A couple of things," George said, wiping his hands on an oily rag. "But broken brake cables should probably be top of your list; they've been cut, and the way they've done it is sneaky - you really have to know where to look. The fella driving this wouldn't have stood a chance. He tried to stop - you can see that from the way the handbrake is practically ripped from its cradle - but the only way this car was going to stop was by impact."
Slade flinched, but didn't say anything.
"Thank you, George," Holly told him. "We really appreciate the help, especially this time of night."
"Not a problem. I'll fax the complete examination over to Grisham tomorrow, shall I?"
Holly agreed, and they started to walk back to her car. Slade still felt dazed; when cases took sharp, unexpected turns he usually recovered quickly and dove headlong into his job, but this one.He leaned on the hood of the Peugeot, feeling the cold against his still-damp skin. Holly was watching him carefully.
"Tomorrow morning we'll go to Grisham," Holly said. "When we speak to Nicky and Morris I'm sure we'll discover that Jonathan Fox's breathalyser test came back clean. All you need to do then is find the person with the murderous grudge."
Slade laughed shortly. "A millionaire businessman dealing in one of the most precious - and polluting - commodities on the planet? Should be quite a list."
"It's a place to start," Holly said, smiling. "But right now, you should get out of those wet clothes."
In spite of himself, Slade felt a wolfish grin spread across his face. But he didn't get a chance to compose a comeback because Holly was already giving him a look of mild disgust.
"Don't even bother, Slade."
By the time they reached Slade's flat it was after midnight. Holly was exhausted, and tried - and failed - to suppress a yawn as she parked the car.
"Look, why don't you stop here tonight?" Slade said, as he got out. "It's late, you probably shouldn't be driving, and I even changed the sheets this morning."
"Wow, how could a girl possibly resist?" she replied, locking the car and following him to the front door. She was pleased to see him smile at that; in fact, she was just pleased to see him smile again. The Slade she knew was starting to push through the surface of whatever it was that was holding him down.
As usual whenever she stayed over, Slade gave up his bed to her. It was one of his concessions towards chivalry, and she was happy to accept it. Everything in the room smelt of Slade - the duvet, the old shirt she was wearing, everything around her; that heady mix of soap, aftershave, coffee and him. The room was sparsely furnished, in tune with the rest of the apartment, but everything he left lying around was another clue as to who he was. But still, she couldn't sleep. Maybe a mug of hot milk would help, though there was no guarantee that Slade would even have milk.
When Holly padded onto the gangway above the living room, she noticed that one of the small table lamps was on. Taking a couple of steps further, she could see Slade. He was sitting on the sofa, a blanket twisted around his waist, staring at something. If he had noticed her, he showed no outward sign. She was acutely aware of the fact that she was only wearing a shirt over her underwear, but she had to make sure he was all right.
He didn't do or say anything as she sat down beside him on the sofa, pulling the shirt down over her knees. On the coffee table in front of him, the focus of his attention, was a newspaper article.
"Slade?" she whispered.
He didn't reply, just kept staring at the cutting.
Tentatively, watching his face all the time for reassurance, Holly reached out and picked up the article. The first thing she noticed was the black and white photograph, and she recognised it immediately. It was the same picture as the one that Slade kept on his dresser; the girl he never really told her about. She read through the article, aware that Slade was watching her all the time. The date on the top of the page stated that it was almost seven years old.
The police today opened an investigation into the death of Jessica Slade, 27, the victim of a brutal hit-and-run accident, which happened yesterday afternoon in the Hackney area of London. A statement released by the police revealed that the driver, as yet unnamed, was five times over the legal limit for alcohol consumption and is likely to face charges of manslaughter...
Holly stopped. The victim, the woman in the picture, was named Jessica Slade. She swallowed, and turned to face him.
"Your sister?" she asked, carefully.
His eyes met hers briefly, before he lowered them to the floor again.
"My wife," he told her.
Holly felt as though something had winded her. Had she heard him correctly? A hundred different thoughts were circling her brain, competing for her attention. But although the shock rendered her speechless, Holly realised that somewhere in the depths of her subconscious, she actually already knew.
"Do you hate me?" he asked, eventually, the silence obviously becoming too much for him.
"Of course I don't," she replied, gently.
"I wanted to tell you. I did. You deserved to know."
"It's none of my business," Holly said, still holding the newspaper cutting.
"It is," he continued, earnestly. "It is your business, and I was going to tell you. When you picked up the photograph, the first time you were in the flat, I nearly told you. But the time never seemed right. It wasn't supposed to come out like this."
"So. Do you want to tell me about Jessica?" she asked.
"Well, you know how it ends."
"That's not what I mean, Slade. Tell me about her, what she was like, how you met."
"You really want to know?"
Holly wasn't sure about anything that was happening that night, but it didn't feel like she had any choice. She knew Slade was private, that he kept things to himself, but if she was persistent she would get there.
"Well, if you be a bit more generous with that blanket, then yes," she smiled.
He returned the smile, tugging the blanket from around him and spreading it across their bare knees.
"Better?" he asked.
"Much," she said. "So.when did you meet?"
"Seven years ago. I was out for a friend's stag night, and I met Jessica in a pub. Actually, we met when she spilled a beer on me - accidentally, I hasten to add, not like some people I know."
Holly smiled. He would never let her forget the Sonja Duvall incident.
"She was a photographer," Slade continued. "Weddings, family portraits, that kind of thing. I guess you could say things moved pretty quickly, and we'd only been together two months before we got married. That photo, the one on the dresser, was taken in the south of France - that was our honeymoon."
Holly nodded, trying to take it all in.
"We'd only been back from holiday two weeks when it happened. I was at work when I got the phone-call. She was on her way to a photography job at a school and the car came out of nowhere. The driver was a solicitor who'd been enjoying a few drinks over a business lunch - he'd thought nothing of driving back to the office under the influence. Jessica probably never knew what happened to her; she never regained consciousness."
Holly could feel tears stinging her eyes, but she didn't know who she was crying for. "So that's why this case...that's why you reacted-"
"Yeah. It's been on my mind a lot lately."
"Is it the anniversary of the accident?"
"No, it's nothing like that. It's just that with things recently.with us spending so much time together - I've been trying to work out why I feel the way I do."
Holly felt her heart sink a little. "You, you still love her. I understand."
Slade sighed and shook his head. "That's just it. It was a long time ago, and who knows what would have happened with Jessica and me, or even whether it would have lasted, but I loved her then, I did. But now.I don't - not any more. It's taken me a long while to realise that, and even then I didn't want to accept it; it felt like a betrayal, I felt like I would be turning my back on her. But I can't do it any more, Holly; I can't continue to feel like this. It's time for me to move on, and believe me I've wanted to do it for a long time now."
He was looking at her, his eyes asking for her acceptance. She felt a shiver course through her body.
"It explains a lot about me, doesn't it?" he said, jokingly.
"Yes. It does," she replied, seriously, before adding. "Of course, it doesn't explain why you're always late for work, why you drive like a maniac or why you think you can get around me whenever you want to use the machine."
They smiled at each other, and Holly felt Slade's bare foot brush against hers.
"But you wouldn't change me, would you?" he grinned.
The next couple of days saw Slade completely caught up with the case, interviewing Jonathan Fox's employees, partners and clients, and following up leads. He realised and acknowledged, reluctantly, that he was actually doing the job he was paid for - without the help of the machine. Thanks to Holly and her deductions about the car, Grisham seemed to have forgiven him; sabotage was recorded as the official cause of the accident, and it would only be a matter of time before the culprit was caught. He was hard at work on the computer when he felt someone lurking behind him; usually it would be Morris, but the person in question smelt a lot better than Morris did.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were working," Holly said, leaning over his shoulder.
"Wonders never cease, eh?" he said, swinging round on his chair to face her.
"Do you have plans tonight?" she asked.
Slade grinned at her attempt to act casually - Holly's efforts at nonchalance were the least convincing he'd ever come across. "Why?"
"I thought you might like to come over for dinner tonight, that's all. Call it a reward for managing to go more than two days without using the machine."
"Are you cooking?" he asked. "Because I'm not sure 'reward' is the right word."
"Fine. Feel free to eat alone in your vast, under-furnished flat then," she told him, with a teasing smile.
"Seven o'clock okay?"
"Make it six-thirty. I mean, you'll have to decide which Pot Noodle you want, after all," Holly said, keeping a poker face.
Slade watched her go back to her office and smiled to himself.
Holly returned to the kitchen with two bottles of beer. Slade was reclining on her sofa, and he shifted along to let her sit down.
"I could get used to this," he grinned, taking a beer from her.
"Well, don't," she replied, settling herself next to him.
"I cook, you provide the reward - everybody wins."
Holly shot him a look of mock exasperation. Okay, so the innuendo had been irresistible to him, but he wasn't going to push his luck. It was only two nights since he had unleashed on her the revelation about his past, and her reaction had been better than he deserved. In fact, Holly - who had been known to fly off the handle at him for much less - had responded with patience, understanding and acceptance. That night, they had both fallen asleep on his sofa; in that hazy place between sleep and wakefulness, he had been aware of her body lying against his, but by the morning she had gone back to the bedroom.
"Slade," Holly began, and he sensed a heavy question. "I wanted to ask you, are you okay?"
"The case. Everything that happened...your wife..."
She was picking at the label on her beer nervously. He hadn't realised it before, but a heaviness in his heart had been weighing him down; now it was gone, his heart was liable to pick up speed whenever he and Holly were in the same room.
"I'm fine, Holly. In fact, I'm better than fine. Really," he assured her. "And I've got you to thank for that."
"No you don't."
"No, you're right, you don't. It was all Morris' doing - he stopped me from pursuing the wrong man, he saved me from impending unemployment, and he helped me to stop living in the past. No wonder it's him I want to spend my evenings with."
Holly laughed, and Slade knew the ice was broken; she understood his gratitude now.
"Yes, I wonder what Morris would look like in one of your shirts, though" she said, giving him a sideways glance.
"You certainly know how to ruin a perfectly good evening," Slade told her, with an exaggerated shiver. The clock on the wall caught his eye, and he added, "Speaking of which, it's getting late. I should get going before Danny battens down the hatches for the night."
"You could just stay...?" Holly said, as he was getting up. "The bed's all yours, if you want it."
Slade smiled appreciatively, and started to take his jacket off again.
"I hope you don't mind," she continued, getting up from the sofa. "But I don't much feel like sleeping on the sofa either"
Slade's jaw fell open, and he watched her walk towards the bedroom. It took his brain a few moments to regain normal cognitive functions - but it was no longer his brain that was making the decisions. Had he understood properly? There seemed to be no mistaking it.
Holly reappeared in the doorway, her eyebrows raised in an innocent manner.
"Don't tell me I've rendered you speechless?" she asked.
"Not yet," Slade grinned, leaping over the end of the sofa triumphantly, and following her out of the room.
A chink in the blinds was letting the autumn sunlight into the room, casting a strip of light onto the bedspread and into Holly's eyes. Blinking, she was about to reach for the cord to pull the blind shut when she realised that she was almost completely pinned to the bed. A warm, muscular arm with a smattering of dark hair was snaked around her middle, and the owner of the arm was breathing softly into the back of her neck. She smiled to herself; it wasn't as though she could easily forget or, in fact, wanted to. Still, this would take some getting used to - that is, if Slade wanted to get used to it. Holly couldn't quite figure out where her confidence had come from, what made her actually proposition him. The wine over dinner had helped and - quite frankly - she was tired of the awkward moments, tired of waiting for him to get around to initiating what she knew they both wanted.
Holly felt Slade begin to stir from his sleep, and his hand began to travel up her body, as though he was trying to remind himself of where he was. It was a convenient excuse, anyway.
"Good morning," he said, sounding wide awake.
"Good morning," Holly replied, suddenly feeling strangely shy.
There was a pause.
"If you're thinking about travelling back, remember that you can't change the past," he joked.
"I don't think this is quite what Einstein and Stephen Hawking had in mind when they formulated their theories."
"Well, they obviously weren't having this much fun," Slade grinned.
Holly twisted around in his arms so they were facing each other. She tugged at the duvet so it came up past her chest. The smile on Slade's face couldn't have been any broader or more pleased with himself.
"Erm, I hate to break it to you, Holly," he began, propping himself up on his elbow - "but I got a pretty good view last night."
Holly felt herself blushing, largely because there was no arguing with that.
"Actually," she told him. "I'm just cold, that's all."
"I can think of a way to warm up."
"Oh yes?" she said, raising her eyebrows.
"Yeah. A couple of slices of toast will warm you right up," he replied. "Oh, that's right - you can't make toast." Holly pushed him lightly in the shoulder, and Slade caught her hand, playfully shoving her onto her back again.
"We'll have to think of something else," he smiled, leaning down to kiss her. Holly returned the kiss with equal enthusiasm; sometimes it was fun to let Slade win, though she would never give him the satisfaction of telling him. Suddenly, he pulled away slightly and started to lean across her to the bedside table, where the telephone sat.
"What are you doing?" she asked. She couldn't begin to imagine who he might be calling - the question of why was even more alarming.
"Putting a call in to Grisham," he replied, innocently. "I think a day off might be in order - a mysterious bout of food-poisoning should do the trick."
Holly looked up at him, sceptically. "Both of us? She'll never buy it."
"That's easy," he assured her. "I'll just tell her that you cooked."