Holly was finding it difficult to keep an eye on the traffic and an eye on where she was supposed to be going. She had only been to the station once before, for the interview, and trying to find it again in rush hour was proving to be difficult. The nerves didn't help; the first day of a new job was always stressful, and she had felt vaguely nauseous ever since she woke up. The police - what was she thinking? When she saw the advert in the paper, she'd just closed her eyes and dialled the number. It was a salary - a steady, guaranteed salary - and it was a job she was more than qualified to do.
Left at the roundabout - no, straight ahead. What time was it now? Holly guided her car down a road that looked familiar, and before long the building she was looking for came into view. There was a sign to the staff parking garage, and since she had now been issued with a pass, it seemed the obvious place to head for.
What would her father have thought? Holly hoped that he would understand why she was doing this, even though it was something he had never had to resort to. Professor Turner sold his house to buy an electro-magnetic crystal; he sold the family car to buy new photon rods. But Holly had nothing to sell, and a hefty bank loan to pay off. Her father had made her agree, in case anything should happen to him, that she would continue the work until the money ran out. It had been almost four years now, and the well had run dry. She needed to carry on his legacy, but more than that she had to pay the mortgage and she had to eat - so now she had to answer the call of the London Metropolitan Police Force. The title of 'Science Officer' was a vague one and, she decided, probably deliberately so. She had yet to fully understand what the job would be, but she was fairly sure she could handle anything that an office of gumshoe detectives could throw at her.
He came out of nowhere.
She slammed on the brakes - and stopped with three inches to spare.
What was this man doing lurking in the entrance to a police parking garage? Holly felt her heart beating double-time, a sheen of perspiration breaking out on her skin. The look on the man's face was a mixture of both shock and disbelief.
"What are you doing!?" he demanded.
"What are you doing?" she replied, rolling her window down halfway.
"Exercising my right to walk to work and not be mown down by a lunatic driver!" he told her.
"Well, perhaps if you used the pavement rather than wandering aimlessly in the middle of the road..."
He was looking at her now, questioningly. Why was he looking at her like that:? Surely he didn't actually work there. Of course, when she thought about it, it made sense - anyone that arrogant had to be a policeman.
"Now, if you don't mind," she continued, gesturing for him to move.
He stood aside with an exaggerated gesture of good grace.
"The brake is the pedal in the middle!" he called after her, and when she looked in the rear-view mirror he was still standing there, smiling and shaking his head.
Slade swung into the office and dumped his bag on the desk, instinctively looking around for signs of his boss' presence.
"You're late again, Slade," Morris said flatly, without looking up from the files on his desk.
"Tell me, Morris, why do bad things always happen in threes?" Slade said, pouring himself a cup of much-needed coffee.
"First the car won't start; then I nearly get run over by a maniac driver..."
"What's the third thing?"
"You still work here."
Nicky looked up from the weighty textbook that he was poring over.
"Are you okay, Slade? The car didn't hit you?" he asked.
"I'll live. Do you think Grisham will take it into consideration when she reads my report on last night's raid?" Slade replied. The previous evening's case had played out disastrously, and resulted in a micro-technology firm losing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of equipment.
"Grisham's not here yet," Nicky said. "In fact, she left a message for you."
Slade took a swig of coffee and screwed up his face: it was cold. Morris was smirking at him, and Slade glared at him pointedly. He picked up the sealed note that had been taped to this computer screen and unfolded it.
"Is it to do with last night?" Nicky asked, leaning across the desk.
"No," Slade said reflectively, furrowing his brow. "Grisham's not going to be in until lunchtime, and she wants me to welcome the new Science Officer."
"She's already here," Morris said, nodding towards the small office at the end of the bullpen.
"What's she like?" Slade asked, trying to catch a glimpse of the new member of staff through her office window.
"Thanks for the brilliant insight, Morris. With your powers of observation you should be a detective." He spun around to face Morris, a look of mock amazement on his face. "Oh, wait a minute, how did that happen?"
Slade decided that he must be in Grisham's bad books after all. Why else would she assign him to be the welcoming committee? He hardly had a great track record for his people skills, and he usually tried to have as little to do with the resident Science Officer as possible. They had been through four since he was promoted to detective, and although he didn't think their resignations were directly related to that, he'd never found them the easiest people to work with. The last one rarely even left his office, preferring to fax or email reports to colleagues sitting just a few metres from his door.
He looked at the new plaque on the door, which read 'Holly Turner, Science Officer.' Let's get this over with, he thought to himself. He knocked on the door and waited for a response.
"Come in," a voice replied.
When he opened the door, she had her back to him, already working on some complex-looking piece of equipment.
"I'm here to give you the official welcome, to show you the fire exits and toilets, to tell you what not to eat from the canteen, and to answer any questions you may have about working in this madhouse," Slade began, doing his best imitation of a customer services rep.
Then she turned around.
"You!" he gaped, before he knew the word had escaped.
"You?" she replied, a look of naked horror on her face.
"So you managed to park without any fatalities?" Slade asked, recovering his composure quickly.
"I would have thought they taught policemen to look both ways before crossing the road," she replied, icily.
"I didn't expect to come across someone rally-driving in our parking garage," he countered.
Slade couldn't keep the grin from his face. There was a pause, and he used this time to perform a quick assessment of Holly Turner. Certainly more pleasant to look at than any of the Science Officers who'd come before her. But everything about her - her defensive posture, her no-nonsense glare - screamed inexperience. This might be fun after all, he decided.
"Don't tell me you work here," she said eventually.
"All right, I won't. But you'll find my desk over there by the coffee machine," he told her. "I'm Jeff Slade," He offered her his hand to shake, and she took it hesitantly, as though it might have been a trick.
"Holly Turner," she replied.
"I know. The door speaks volumes," he smiled. "So, how are you finding things so far?"
"I've only just got here."
"It'll all be downhill from here then," he grinned, leaning against the side-bench. "So, what did you do before this?"
"I'm a scientist. I've been working on the same research project since leaving university."
"Don't tell me. It's the first time you've left the lab in five years, and I'm the first human being you've set eyes on."
"It would explain your driving though; all that time in a darkened laboratory - no wonder your eyes aren't used to natural light..."
"Look," she said, sighing. "Is there something I can actually help you with? I've already got work I should be getting on with, and I'm sure there are criminals out there that you're supposed to be catching ."
"Plenty of time for that," he replied, with a dismissive gesture. He picked up a strange-looking glass tube that was lying on the side-bench and started to turn it over in his hand.
"Do you mind?" she said. "This is expensive equipment."
"What's it for, exactly?"
"Are you naturally this infuriating, or is it something you've been practising for a long time?"
She made a grab for the glass tube and, in trying to hold it away from her, Slade lost his grip. The equipment flew through the air in a perfect arc and shattered into a hundred pieces as it hit the floor. When he dared to look up from the remains, he was greeted by the most icy stare he had ever been dealt. Holly Turner was beyond furious. He wasn't sure what kind of impression he had been trying to make, but something told him he may have gone too far. She clearly had no sense of humour, and his charm and charisma were obviously failing to beguile her.
"You've got a spare, right?" he asked, apprehensively.
"I don't know whose great idea it was for you to welcome me to the world of policing," Holly began, her tone unmistakable. "But consider your mission accomplished."
And with that, Slade found himself being propelled out of the door and into the main office. He didn't even have time to compose a suitable retort. When he recovered his composure, he realised that most of the detectives and uniforms in the office had stopped work and were staring at him. Morris was smirking and Nicky looked faintly alarmed.
"So?" Nicky ventured.
"I give her until the end of the day."
Holly knew she should probably have asked someone for a dustpan and brush for the mess, but she couldn't face having to talk to anyone. It was all his fault. The near-miss in the garage was clearly a warning, an omen that this was all a very bad idea. The idea that she could work for the police was ridiculous, but the idea that she could co-exist in the same work-space as that arrogant, egotistical lunk-head was just laughable. She had been there for - what? - half an hour, and she already never wanted to see him again. How would she possibly cope if all the other men were the same?
She started to look through the files left for her by the previous Science Officer. It was hard to make any sense of them, and that was once she had deciphered the hieroglyphics that passed for handwriting. This wasn't serious science and it wasn't for serious people. When she'd left Cambridge University with a First in Physics, the last place she thought she would end up was a poky office in a London police station. Life was full of little surprises.
When Holly next looked at the clock, she realised she'd been reading through the files for the best part of two hours. Two hours, and no-one else had bothered to come and introduce themselves; two hours with nothing to show for her time than a small stack of manila folders and a desperate craving for coffee. As she was about to go in search of some, the phone rang.
"Is that Holly Turner?" the male voice asked.
"This is Frank. I'm the desk sergeant, we met earlier. I've just had a call from the Chief; she needs you to go down to a crime scene."
"Do you know why?"
"Something to do with fingerprinting, I think. There's another detective heading over there too - he says to meet him downstairs in the lobby."
Holly thanked him and put down the phone, with mixed feelings. She collected the mobile testing kit, scooped up her coat and - after only a couple of wrong turns along the corridors - made her way back downstairs. She half expected to be faced with the sight of Detective Slade again, but was relieved to see another man, who smiled when he noticed her. He was shorter than Slade, with black hair, and dressed in jeans and a leather jacket.
"Holly?" he asked. "I'm Don Tennant. Nice to meet you."
There it was - something that no-one, not even the man sent to welcome her, had managed to say. Already Holly started to feel better disposed to the job she had to do. They started to walk towards the car.
"So, how are you finding things so far?" Tennant asked her, as they got into the car.
"Fine," she replied. Neutrality was surely the best approach; for all she knew, this man could be Detective Slade's best friend and drinking buddy.
"Yeah, it sounds like it," he said, laughing softly. "Look, working in this place can take some getting used to, and some of the officers have egos the size of central London, but we could use a good Science Officer and I'm sure you'll do a great job."
"Thanks. I'm glad someone thinks so," Holly replied, already warming to him.
"Of course I do," he smiled, manoeuvring the car out onto the street. "So what brought you to the police force, if you don't mind me asking? Let me guess - it was the danger, the glamour?"
Holly laughed. "That, and the promise of a proper income."
"Well, it's an income at least," Tennant said. "What's your background?"
She hesitated, but decided that he wasn't going to make fun of her. "Quantum physics. I've been involved in space-time research for the past five or six years."
"Sounds fascinating - and way beyond my comprehension. Not the sort of thing you can just dabble in during your days off either, I suppose."
Holly smiled to herself. "No. Not really."
The scene of the crime was an office complex. Tennant explained to her that there had been a break-in overnight, with hard-drives and Pentium processors stolen to the tune of a couple of hundred thousand pounds. Holly recognised Detective Morris loitering outside the entrance, and he and Tennant exchanged vague pleasantries as they went inside. The main office was crawling with uniforms and, in the swarm of men, Holly spotted the woman who had given her the job.
"There you are, Tennant," Grisham said. "Good to see you, Turner. I'm sorry I couldn't be there this morning, but this...incident got in the way. I trust Slade was hospitable and showed you around..?"
She was about to answer when, at that moment, the back door to the room opened and Slade entered the room. From the look on his face he understood that he'd walked in on something.
"Ah, Slade, nice of you to join us," Grisham said, sardonically. She had obviously forgotten the previous conversation thread. "What have you come up with?"
Holly was amazed that Slade actually looked slightly sheepish as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. "It's not quite as easy as that, Chief. They disconnected the CCTV at the power supply, and the security guard can only say that he saw three men dressed in dark clothes."
"Yes, but can we link it to the NanoTech robbery last night? Or the Advantex break-in two weeks ago?"
"I'm working on it," he replied.
Holly couldn't be sure, but Slade seemed to be eyeing her. Or was he looking at Don Tennant? Whichever way, he was certainly distracted by something.
"What about fingerprints?" Grisham continued, with an exasperated sigh.
"The only prints we've lifted so far belong to the staff here. If it's anything like the other burglaries, they probably wore gloves."
"I want to get this lot, Slade," their boss said, glaring at him to the point where Holly almost felt sorry for him. "They've been one step ahead of us for three months now, and we're no closer to catching them now than we were then. Find me that evidence."
She turned to face Holly and Tennant.
"Tennant, I want you to speak to the employees again. Focus on the clerical staff and security, and find out who they contract their deliveries to," she said. "Slade, show Turner to the stock room and offices and help her with anything she needs."
Tennant offered her an encouraging smile as he held the door open for Grisham. Soon, she was standing there with just Slade for company again, and there was a distinct awkwardness in the air.
"So, got your box of tricks?" he asked, eventually.
"Yes, and you can keep your hands off this time," she sighed.
"Unlike Don Tennant."
"Nothing. Let's go."
Slade tried to keep himself to the periphery of the room. Whenever he moved, he seemed to be in Holly Turner's way as she dusted surfaces, took PCP specimens and collected fibre samples. Just watching her work was - he had to admit - sort of captivating. She had a methodology and a meticulousness that he knew his own work and approach sorely lacked.
"So," he ventured, carefully. "Did you get a lift here with Don Tennant?"
"Yes," she replied, not looking up from her microscope. "Why should that concern you?"
"It doesn't," he said, perching on the table beside her.
"Don't sit there!" Holly exclaimed. "I haven't finished dusting it yet, and you're compromising a crime scene."
Slade backed away quickly. Did this woman ever lighten up?
"Well, you're already starting to sound like a copper," he told her, "all you need now is your own attack-dog."
"If you don't mind, some of us have got serious jobs to attend to."
Slade watched as she peered into the microscope, comparing samples taken by the investigators earlier in the day. She sandwiched a piece of sellotape between two Perspex slides and inserted it beneath the lens.
"What's that?" Slade asked. "Is that a new print?"
She didn't reply. He moved around the table and tried to peer over her shoulder. He was unexpectedly distracted by how great she smelt, but shrugged it off.
"Do you mind?" Holly said, sternly.
"Have you found a fresh print?" he asked again.
"Possibly," she replied. "There's no match with any of the fingerprints taken from the staff or from the previous crime scenes. It's only a partial oblique print, so I'll need to examine it more closely."
"Where did you find it?"
"On the socket cover," she told him. "Maybe the thief couldn't unplug the equipment with his gloves on."
A smile spread across Slade's face. Perhaps he had underestimated this particular scientist - and perhaps they had found a way to get him back in Grisham's good books.
Ninety minutes later, he was in Holly Turner's office with Grisham, Morris and Nicky. Holly had copied the rogue fingerprint onto a projector slide, and had showed her evidence to the gathered team. Since the initial discovery, Holly had uncovered matching prints on a broom handle and a bottle of disinfectant. It hadn't taken much of a leap; Slade had got onto the cleaning contractors and discovered that they had taken on three new staff in the past few months. By a happy circumstance - if you could call it that - one man's prints were already on the national database, and from there the deduction was easy.
Nicky was fervently scribbling in his ridiculous notebook, and Grisham was clearly impressed by how things had gone. Slade's mood was buoyant and upbeat, and he responded to Morris' looks of loathing with a wink.
"I have to hand it to you two," Grisham said. "This is good work. I don't think any of your predecessors would have picked up on that print, Turner."
Slade opened his mouth to defend his own corner, but decided to be magnanimous and let Holly take the commendation.
"Slade," she continued. "Pay a visit to the cleaning firm and see if you can't speak to these three gentlemen. Morris, I want you to sort out the arrest warrants for these three characters."
"Oh Chief, I was going to go and bring them in," Morris whined.
"Turner," Grisham said, ignoring him. "I'll need a full report on your examination of the crime scene. Nicky will help you catalogue the evidence and send it over to the central lab."
As the others left the room, Slade hung back. He wanted to speak to Holly Turner alone; he wasn't sure what he was going to say to her, but he knew something had to be said. Nicky was hanging back too, waiting to get on with his assignment.
"Nicky, could you give us a minute?" Slade asked.
The young man suddenly looked self-conscious, as he glanced between Slade and Holly.
"I'll...er...I'll just be.out in the office," he stammered, before ducking out of the room.
Holly was now looking at Slade suspiciously, as she packed away the projector.
"Shouldn't you be on your way?" she asked.
"I just wanted to say thank you." he began, nervously twisting his hands in his pockets. She didn't make it easy for a man to express himself. "I mean, if you hadn't found the print then we'd probably just be waiting for the next robbery to happen."
"Are you saying that you appreciated my help?"
"Yes. And I think maybe we got off on the wrong foot this morning," he said. "Perhaps we were too quick to judge each other. And we do have to work together..."
She was watching him thoughtfully, her hands on her hips. Slade did his level best to keep his eyes on her face.
"So, I was wondering whether - as a peace offering - I could buy you a coffee after work? There's a good café down the road that opens late."
Slade watched Holly's expression turn from one of puzzlement to one of almost speechless exasperation. He had to fight the urge to duck and run for cover.
"Oh, I get it now," she said, rounding on him. "This is some sort of macho bet you're having with the other men here - which one of you can get me to go out with you? Tell me, do you do this to all the women who work here, or have I been singled out for special treatment? Let me tell you, Detective Slade, that I would rather wash my hair every night of the year than go anywhere with you!"
Slade felt as though someone had smacked him in the head, and he couldn't get his words out fast enough.
"Wait a second, I'm talking about coffee!"
"Oh, I know exactly what you're talking about."
"I don't think you do, Holly."
"Don't call me Holly!"
"What do you want me to call you?"
"I don't want you to call me, I don't want you to talk to me, and I certainly don't want you to buy me coffee!"
Slade couldn't quite comprehend how the conversation had veered down this bizarre road. How had she so badly misconstrued what he'd said? He was beginning to wonder why he even bothered trying to make up for their first meeting; he wasn't sure she was worth another chance.
"Don't worry," he told her, gruffly. "I won't be asking again."
Holly felt like her blood had reached boiling point and was threatening to cause spontaneous human combustion. Slade had stomped out of her office, and now she was left with nothing but her own anger. It wasn't an overreaction. She knew the police was still largely a male domain (the fact that her boss was a woman was scarcely consolation), but she hadn't expected to be the victim of a sexist wager on her very first day. She had just begun to think that Slade might be tolerable, but this only confirmed for her that some men really did have one-track minds.
There was a tap at the door, and Nicky poked his head into the room.
"Is everything all right?" he asked, hesitantly.
"Sorry, Nicky, come in," she said, forcing herself to smile.
"I've got the rest of the files," he told her, placing a stack of folders on the desk.
"How long have you been here, Nicky?" Holly asked, opening the top file.
"Um, nearly three months," he replied.
"Please tell me it gets better," she said, sighing.
Nicky frowned, and looked genuinely concerned.
"Oh. You're not having a good day?"
"You could say that. There's a certain detective who seems determined to make my working here difficult."
Nicky continued to look puzzled. "Not Slade?" he asked, disbelievingly.
"You noticed, then."
"Well, I did overhear...but I don't understand. I mean, it doesn't make sense. Slade isn't like that."
Holly "He seems exactly like that. Exactly the kind of man who'd make bets on women."
"On women?" Nicky repeated, clearly mystified. "It doesn't sound like him. I mean, I haven't known him long, but he's always been a good colleague." He lowered his voice, as though there was a risk of being overheard. "When I first got here, some of the chaps were a bit - you know; they liked to play tricks on me. But Slade didn't join in with all that. In fact, he was the one who used to warn me when there was salt in my tea, and he helped me put my desk back together when they took all of the screws out. It was all good-natured, of course but, well, it was nice to have an ally."
Holly didn't reply. She still didn't buy it - and anyway, it didn't excuse how he'd behaved with her. She handed Nicky a wad of re-sealable bags and they started work.
Just then, there was another knock at the door, and Detective Tennant came in. He nodded vaguely at Nicky and then smiled disarmingly at Holly; much to her surprise, she was actually pleased to see him.
"Hi," she said, getting up. "What can I do for you?"
"I was on my way over to the crime scene again, and I had a thought," he began, speaking to her in a low voice. "There's a bar close by that some of us go to after work from time to time. I was wondering if you'd like to come along later; it would give you a chance to get to know a few more people."
Holly opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated. Her instinct was to say no, for all sorts of reasons, not least the fact that she could never really invite anyone to her flat. There was no-one since her father's accident that she trusted enough to leave alone in her home, let alone go anywhere near the living room. And that included Stephen - not that she'd heard a word from him in the four years since he'd answered the call of the private sector.
But she couldn't be a hermit for the rest of her life, surely?
"I'd like that," she said, finally. "How do I find this bar?"
"Don't worry about that. I'll meet you back here at, say, six? We can walk along there together. Look, I'd better go, but I'll catch you later, yeah?"
"Yes," she replied. "Great!"
"Looking forward to it already," he smiled.
Once Tennant had left the room, Holly turned back to her work, but not before she noticed Nicky looking at her. As soon as she caught his eye, he cleared his throat and adopted the expression of someone focused on his work.
"Nicky, is there something wrong?" she asked.
"No, I was just.what I mean is...it's nothing," he stammered. "It's none of my business."
Holly paused, her curiosity too much for her. "You don't like Don?"
"No - I mean yes, I do, I like him," he replied, brightly; and then, with more caution - "He just.no, it's nothing to do with me. Forget I said anything."
"He's just trying to make me feel more welcome around here, and I appreciate him making the effort."
"Who's been making an effort?" a voice said.
Holly looked up, and Slade was standing there. Just seeing his arrogant swagger made her angry. Their eyes met, and Holly sensed Nicky visibly shrink from danger.
"Don't worry, I haven't come by to sexually harass you," he said, holding up his hands. "I've come to get Nicky. We need an extra pair of hands; one of the suspects took a pop at Morris outside the interview room."
"Is he all right?" Nicky asked, concerned.
"Well, let's just say he's going to be singing soprano for the rest of the day."
"Right. I'll head down there, then." Nicky's sombre tone did little to disguise the fact that he was clearly more excited to be involved in a major case than he was concerned for their crippled colleague.
Holly couldn't help but notice that, although Nicky had left, Slade was still standing there.
"I couldn't help overhearing," he began. "And before you throw something heavy at me, just give me a chance to say what I have to say. I think I should warn you about Don Tennant - he has a history, a reputation for.ingratiating himself with female officers. "
"Making them like him, trust him."
"What, you mean like you?"
"I'm serious. It might be none of my business, but I don't want you to be duped by him. I just wanted you to know what he's like."
Holly couldn't believe what she was hearing. Naked male insecurity never ceased to amaze her.
"Is this because I wouldn't let you buy me a coffee?" she said.
"This is because you're new and I'm being a thoughtful colleague," he replied, irritation in his voice. "But if you think you know what you're doing, go ahead, be my guest."
"I don't think I need your blessing, thank you very much."
"Well, in that case," Slade said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Enjoy your evening. I've got more serious things I should be doing."
Grisham had been happy with the way he'd handled this latest case, so Slade believed it safe to assume that his job was no longer on the line. He should have been feeling good about himself and be satisfied with a job well done, but he couldn't stop that niggling feeling. Back in his flat that evening, he tried watching TV but couldn't relax; he tried reading, but couldn't keep his mind on the page. What was wrong with him? He was the wounded party here! He had forgiven her a traumatic near-accident, he had offered her a peace-making cup of coffee, and - even though he knew it was tantamount to walking into a lion's den - he had even warned her against Don Tennant's 'friendship'. His conscience was clear..so why couldn't he settle to anything? He didn't owe this woman - he barely even knew her, and what he did know he wasn't sure he liked.
Slade looked at the clock. Only forty-five minutes had passed since he got home - at this rate, the night was going to be endless.
Cursing himself, he grabbed his coat and keys.
The Rubric Bar was surprisingly busy, and Slade noticed several of his colleagues standing beside the bar and around high tables. One or two of them nodded hellos to him, which he managed to acknowledge at the same time as scouring the rest of the room. He was beginning to think he'd got the wrong place when his eyes locked onto a darkened booth in the corner. Tennant was sitting there with a bottle of beer, about two feet from Holly, his arm across the back of the leatherette seat. He moved closer, keeping close to a pillar to avoid being spotted. He couldn't see Holly's face, only Tennant's; he was leaning in towards Holly - no doubt using the noise in the bar as an excuse - and nodding seriously at whatever it was she was saying.
What was he going to do? He couldn't stand there watching them all evening. Even he knew that it didn't look very good. A drink in his hand would at least legitimise the whole ridiculous idea. Keeping his eye firmly on the table in the corner, he ordered a drink from the bar. As he was paying, he saw Holly get up. Was she leaving? No, just going to the ladies'. He turned away - he didn't want her to see him watching her.
But then he had a revelation: perhaps seeing him - and hearing him - was exactly what she needed.
He waited a few seconds, and then walked casually over to where the other detective was sitting. Tennant looked up.
"Jeff, good to see you, mate!" he exclaimed. "What you doing here?"
"Oh, you know," Slade replied. "Just relaxing after a day's work. What about you? You're not sitting here in a booth all by yourself?"
Tennant grinned, and took a swig of his beer. "No, I've got company. She's just 'powdering her nose'."
"Who?" Slade asked, slipping into the role of conspiratorial best friend.
"The new Science Officer, Holly Taylor -no, Turner. I actually didn't think it would be this easy."
"Well, she seemed a bit, you know.serious, uptight, but I decided I'm up for the challenge. I mean, it's been a bit of a dry season. if you know what I mean."
Slade almost had to bite his tongue, but managed to maintain his calm demeanour just the same. He kept his eye on the plastic stand on the table that held the menu.
"You don't waste any time," he replied.
"You know me," Tennant grinned. "Why wait until tomorrow if you can have what you want today?"
It was at that moment that Slade returned his gaze to the menu and saw the reflection of Holly Turner coming closer. It was clear that Tennant had yet to notice. Time to step things up a gear, he decided.
"So, do you think she knows what you're up to?" Slade continued, pointedly. Glancing at the menu again, he saw Holly had stopped in her tracks.
"Not a clue, mate," Tennant replied, cheerfully. "The old 'thoughtful colleague' routine never fails. Once they think you're sensitive and trustworthy, the rest is easy."
"I don't know, Don" Slade said, shaking his head. "She seems too sharp to fall for that kind of thing."
He could see Holly clearly; the expression on her face was unreadable.
"You want to put your money where your mouth is? I'll bet you ten quid I'll be able to give you a full report on her bedroom décor by tomorrow."
"And I'll bet you ten 'quid', Don, that we will never ever share the same breathing space again."
The voice belonged to Holly, who had obviously heard more than enough. Slade twisted around in his seat, and saw their new Science Officer looking like she was hungry for blood. He was amazed - and impressed - that she had kept her composure.
"Excuse me," she said, leaning across Slade to collect her coat, not meeting his eyes.
"Looks like you'll need that ten quid for the taxi home," Slade said to Tennant, before sliding out of the booth and following Holly.
When Holly emerged onto the street again, she was temporarily caught. Did she get a cab home? Did she go back into the bar and tell Don Tennant what she really thought of him? She felt foolish and she felt humiliated. And she wanted to be able to tell Slade that she could have handled the situation by herself. But before she had a chance to decide what to do, Slade bounced down the steps from the bar and was suddenly standing beside her. For such an apparently arrogant man, the look on his face was surprisingly unassuming, as he rubbed his hands in the cold.
"You set that up," she said, quietly.
"I didn't know how else to convince you," Slade replied. "But then I thought - scientists like evidence, right?"
"You probably think this is hilarious, don't you?"
"Of course I don't."
She turned to look at him, and didn't see the smug smile she was expecting.
"You don't want to say 'I told you so'?"
"Of course I do," he grinned. "But I hardly think that would be good for my health."
Against her will, Holly found herself smiling too. And looking at Slade - really looking at him. There was something about him, something she'd known all along was there but had been pointedly ignoring. Now she was prepared to consider it, to maybe even accept it. How could she have been so wrong about the two men? She knew she could be a poor judge of character, especially when it came to members of the opposite sex. Her best form of defence was usually a good offence, and sometimes it did more harm than good. She wouldn't have blamed Slade if he'd stayed good to his word and kept out of her way.
"We did get off on the wrong foot today," she said, echoing his words from earlier on. "And I behaved very, very badly towards you. I don't know why I jumped to the conclusions I jumped to, and you didn't deserve it...well, not entirely."
"Apology accepted," he told her.
"I said some things that were unforgivable," she continued, her eyes on the pavement below.
"And I didn't exactly make things easy for you," he replied. "Can we call a truce?"
"Sounds good to me," Holly smiled, meeting his gaze.
"Now, are you going to make me stand here until we contract pneumonia, or can we go and get a coffee?"
"I thought you said you'd never offer to buy me a coffee again...?"
"Who said I was buying?" he grinned, as they set off down the road together.