The sun had not long been up over Holby as Charlie sat in his car staring at the local police station and drumming his fingers nervously against the steering wheel. To say that extricating himself from Duffy's warm embrace had been difficult was the understatement of the year. It was possibly the hardest thing he'd ever had to do; coming in slightly behind leaving Louis with Baz in Canada, and slightly in front of admitting to Jan that his heart was already taken.
He was sorely tempted to turn around and slide back into bed with Duffy. Keep up the pretence that everything would turn out fine in the end, but what she'd said was true, they couldn't carry on as normal with this hanging over them. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves and wished he'd taken the opportunity to ingest some Dutch courage before leaving the house. Of course, knowing his luck, he would probably have been stopped and breathalysed on his way to the station.
Painstakingly slowly, Charlie inched his way to the station doors, muttering under his breath a prayer that the next hours wouldn't go as badly as he feared.
Duffy knew before she had even opened her eyes that she was alone in the bed. What she didn't know was why. Memories of the last day or so surged through her mind, making her dizzy with panic, and although she knew realistically that she was safe; with Charlie unaccountably gone from her side, she was petrified.
Stiffly, she sat up, hugging the duvet around her for warmth and protection, and noticed an envelope propped up by the bedside lamp on Charlie's side of the bed. She snatched at it, tearing the thin paper viciously and almost ripping the contents as she wrenched it out.
Her subconscious had already decided that it couldn't be good news, and she had trouble reading the familiar handwriting as her own hands trembled constantly as she held it.
As you lie sleeping, I've thought a lot about our disagreement last night. I still hold to everything I said, that for you to go to the police and hand yourself over as though you were a murderer would do no one any good. You don't deserve to be punished for what happened, it was an accident of the worst kind. It wasn't your fault.
However, I have come to realise that what you said about not being able to carry on as normal now that we know of Philip's death is also true. The police will indeed continue to search for the culprit, and you shouldn't have to live in fear of what will happen to you and to your children.
So the police will get their culprit. As you read this, I will no doubt be talking to an officer at the station. As far as they, and the rest of the world, are concerned you are the innocent party in all this, and I regrettably attacked Philip on your behalf. If the police come to question you that is what you MUST say. I came round to visit you, saw that bastard forcing himself on you and lashed out.
I know what I'm doing Duffy, I have it all worked out, and you have to trust me on this one. I intend to tell the police the truth about how Philip walked away afterwards and that neither of us has seen anything of him since. I do not intend to go to prison, so don't worry about me on that account.
I'm not sure when the next time I see you will be but remember that I love you and we'll be together soon.
All my love, Charlie xxx
PS I think you should destroy this letter just in case.
As she reached the end of the letter, she could feel her heart implode with anguish. Her feelings were torn between loving him all the more for the sacrifice he was willing to make, and hating him for doing something so bloody stupid.
Still clutching the letter, she jumped from the bed, pulling on Charlie's robe as she did so, and hurtled down the stairs screaming his name. When it swiftly became clear that he'd already left, she opened the front door and peered down the street, but, except for a startled postman, she saw no one. It was already too late.
"How can I help you?" The desk officer, a wiry young constable with straw coloured hair and green eyes, greeted Charlie with the bored tone of someone forced to listed to one too many old women talking about their lost cat.
"I'm, er…" He took a deep breath and counted to three in his head to calm him self. He tried to convince himself of everything that he'd written in his note to Duffy; that he had every intention of leaving the station a free man and clearing both their names. However, he'd read enough newspaper articles about people falsely accused of all sorts to hold much store in his own words.
"Yes sir?" the Constable prompted.
"I would like to speak to the officer in charge of the Philip Brockly case please." The Constable raised an eyebrow, his attention now engaged.
"That would be DI Watkins. May I ask why you wish to see him?"
"I have some information," Charlie replied carefully, his guard well and truly up.
"May I take your name then sir?"
"Fairhead, Charlie Fairhead."
"Right, Mr Fairhead, if you'd like to take a seat the Detective Inspector will be with you shortly."
Charlie moved away from the desk, though remaining under the watchful gaze of the Constable, and slumped into one of the moulded plastic chairs.
It took a good few minutes for DI Watkins to appear in the reception area, but it felt like far too short a time. The burly officer, in a smart suit that gave him the air of a night club bouncer, towered menacingly over Charlie, although the intimidation factor was vastly exaggerated by Charlie's own feelings on the matter.
"Mr Fairhead? I'm Detective Inspector Daniel Watkins, Constable Barclay informs me that you have some information regarding the death of Mr Brockly?" Charlie stood up and nodded silently. "Right then, if you'd follow me we'll go somewhere a bit more private."
As he'd been instructed, Charlie followed the DI through a heavy wooden door and down a short corridor to an empty interview room. The walls were of a bluish hue, yellowed by years of tobacco smoke, and covered with all the latest posters on crime prevention and racial tolerance. In the centre of the room were four chairs set around a simple table, and the whole place was illuminated by grey light from a window that ran high along the wall so people from the street couldn't look in.
Charlie sat on one side of the table and Watkins sat on the other, his large fingers clasped together in front of him.
"So, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?"
"Um, well, I, er…" He could feel beads of sweat forming on his forehead, and cursed himself for getting so worked up: looking guilty would hardly help matters.
Watkins leant forward "Are you a friend, or a relative, of the deceased?"
"No. I don't know him. Well, I mean, I met him, once. Before he died. Obviously." Charlie managed a nervous laugh and immediately wished he hadn't. Watkins was staring at him, one eyebrow raised in a perfect arc.
"A-ha. But you have information about his death?"
"Yes. I hit him." He hadn't expected the words to flow quite so easily from his lips, lying had never exactly been his forte, but he wanted the torture over, and soon.
"I see," Watkins commented, his eyes glistening with undeserved triumph, "and when was this?"
"The night before last, I'm not sure of the time exactly…"
"And what vehicle were you driving?"
"Huh?" Charlie grunted, confused, "I have a blue Nissan, why?"
"Light blue, dark blue, royal…?"
"Dark. Look, what's my car got to do with anything?"
The two men's eyes locked across the bare table. Each realised that somewhere along the way they had started talking at cross-purposes but neither having the slightest idea why. Watkins leant back in his chair, causing the plastic to creak under the strain.
"In a 'hit and run' investigation, the vehicle is of the utmost significance, Mr Fairhead."
Charlie leaned further in across the desk. "What?"
"Mr Brockly died as the result of injuries sustained by a high speed impact with a car, or other motor vehicle."
Exhaling a long deep breath he hadn't consciously been holding, Charlie felt a nervous smile begin to twitch at the corner of his mouth. Could it really be that after all that had happened, after Duffy had hit him, after Charlie had cleaned away the evidence, after all of their combined fretting, Brockly had managed to get himself run over in an unrelated incident? Shock and relief caused Charlie to lose his bearings in the conversation, and he sat quietly shaking his head in a stupor.
"Mr Fairhead? You were saying that you were in the vehicle that hit Mr Brockly…?"
Snapping out of his daze Charlie replied as forcefully as he could without shouting. "No. No I wasn't."
"We have forensic experts examining flecks of paint taken from Mr Brockly's clothing as we speak, when we have the results we can set about trying to match them to a vehicle. It will be easy enough for us to confirm whether it was your car."
"I didn't hit him. You misunderstood…"
Watkins sighed. So much for an easy admission of guilt. "Mr Fairhead, when I asked you earlier, you admitted to hitting him. Are you know saying that that isn't the case?"
"No! Yes! I mean, I didn't hit him with my car, I hit him." He balled his hands into fists and simulated a rather pathetic boxing match.
"You were in a brawl with Mr Brockly? Is that it?" Watkins said slowly, in an attempt to clarify the situation.
For want of any better explanation, Charlie nodded in agreement.
"When, and where, was this?"
"About, I don't know, nine-ish? It was at a friend of mine's on Clarence Road."
Charlie felt he could see the information being churned around in Watkins' mind, as the detective's lips pressed into a fine line.
"And what kind of state was Mr Brockly in when you last saw him?"
"Alive!" he blurted out before regaining his composure. "He, er, had a head wound and a few other bruises."
"A head wound? What sort?"
Charlie's mind raced for a suitable explanation "He fell and banged it on something. I'm not sure what."
Watkins added the information to his store. The medics he'd spoken to at St Thomas's had mentioned a head wound, but dismissed it as irrelevant compared to the massive blunt trauma to the abdomen sustained during the contact with the car.
"This fight, there wouldn't happen to be a woman involved, would there? This friend you've mentioned perhaps?"
"Sorry?" Charlie questioned, still unwilling to bring Duffy into the proceedings.
"Mr Brockly had something of a reputation as a womaniser. Rumour has it that he could have any woman he set his sights on. So I'm wondering if this fight was as a result of him trying it on with your wife, girlfriend, significant other…?"
Watkins hardly needed Charlie to answer to confirm his suspicion. It was clear that the man sat opposite him in that interview room was no brutal attacker. He would have needed a damn good reason to fight, and in the detective's experience, women were high up on the list of men's reasons to do stupid things.
"She's not…" Charlie started, before remembering just what had happened only a few hours ago, "Well, she is sort of my girlfriend. But he wasn't just trying it on, he was hurting her…"
"I see. I think maybe your girlfriend, miss…?"
"...Miss Duffin should come in and make a statement, help to round things off and create a fuller picture of what happened that night. I don't think there's any rush though, whenever she has some spare time. And I would also like to get a formal statement from you too, if you don't mind."
"No, I don't," Charlie responded warily, still conscious of their need to get their stories straight. Maybe he hadn't needed to lie, but he had done so anyway. "But I should really be at work now, could I come back later?"
"I don't see why not, Mr Fairhead. Well, if you don't have any information about the actual accident…"
"No. That's all I know, I just wanted to put things straight. But, if you don't mind me asking, what exactly happened to Mr Brockly?"
"We're still pulling together the evidence, but best guess, some drunk driver mowed into him. He was found lying unconscious in Baxter Street by a resident. That's about two streets away from your girlfriend's house I believe; towards the main road." Charlie nodded dumbly, unsure exactly what it meant, but knowing that it put Duffy and himself in the clear. "I'll take you back through to the entrance…"
Watkins pushed through the door, holding it open for Charlie to follow him. As the nurse entered the reception area, he saw a very familiar figure sitting solemnly on one of the seats opposite the desk.
"Duffy!?" He was surprised to see her there, wearing her old black dress covered with one of his shirts and a long overcoat.
She looked up on hearing his voice and launched herself toward him, narrowly avoiding knocking Watkins to the floor in the process. He scooped her into his arms, hugging her tightly. Even when the accepted period of hugging had expired he continued to hold her, whispering softly into her ear "Everything's fine Duffy love, I'll explain outside."
Pulling away a tiny amount so that she could look him in the eyes, and from there divine if he was telling the truth, she whispered in an equally soft voice "They didn't arrest you?"
"No." He kissed her cheek, and although she didn't understand, she trusted him enough to say no more. They reluctantly pulled apart from each other as Watkins stepped forward to address Duffy.
"Miss Lisa Duffin, I presume?"
Duffy glanced cautiously at Charlie, who nodded with the sort of nonchalant confidence that had been so lacking in him of late.
"Mr Fairhead has explained to us what happened the night before last with regard to Mr Brockly, and I've suggested that you and he come by the station in the next couple of days to make a statement. If that's all right?"
Again, she glanced at Charlie as she replied a tentative "OK."
"Good day then, Mr Fairhead, Miss Duffin." Watkins nodded politely. The desk officer, who had been discussing something over the phone, suddenly turned his attention to the detective, indicating that the call was for him. "If you'll excuse me, I have to take this…"
Charlie and Duffy responded with a slightly forced smile and a nod, before Duffy practically dragged Charlie outside.
Meanwhile, Watkins's eyebrow arched again at the new information he was receiving. "Maroon, you say. Can you trace the paint sample to a specific make? … Shame, well, keep trying, something might turn up … We can but hope, but in the meantime I'll spread the word that we're looking for a maroon vehicle in the Brockly case."
As soon as the were out of view of the main entrance Duffy turned to Charlie and in one swift movement manoeuvred herself in front of him and started to pummel on his chest with her fists.
"What the hell did you think you were doing in there, Charlie?!"
Charlie did his best to defend himself without fighting back, and nearly tripped over his own feet as tried to get away from her. "Hey, Duffy, leave it out!"
"Leave it out!" she repeated indignantly, though ceased her advance on him "Do you have any idea of what's been going through my mind this morning? Do you?"
"Some," he replied wearily, the strain of the last two days very much apparent in his expression. Duffy softened toward him, hoping he realised her outburst came from her own stress.
"Don't ever leave me asleep and wander off like that again."
"I won't," he said, unable to resist a smile at the thought he'd occasion to leave her in bed again. He risked a step closer to her and she threaded her arm around his.
"So what happened in there then? I thought they'd question you for hours, if not arrest you…"
"It wasn't you who killed him, Duffy. So there wasn't much I could say. It seems that after he left your place he only made it two streets away before getting hit by a car. The police reckon it was some drunk driver who didn't want to be caught over the limit, but whoever it was it has nothing to do with us."
"I still hit him."
"You did what you had to do. And there's no saying how bad that injury was. The point is it's all over now."
She stared him directly in the eyes and replied meaningfully, "Maybe it's not all over."
For a split second he questioned what she meant, but as she pulled herself nearer to him, he realised what she was referring too. Their lips met, and their minds began to block out the misery they'd gone through as the enjoyed the moment, locked in their own world. It was only as they opened their eyes and pulled away from each other that they let themselves think about real life again.
"So what happens now?" Duffy asked, still recovering her breath.
"I have no idea. I should really go to work…" A frown passed across his face at the thought of letting the department down. "And you should go and rescue your boys from your mum. They must be missing you."
"I know I'm missing them. But that's not really what I meant, I meant about the enquiry…?"
"We'll have to give statements, I'll tell you what I said, so we don't contradict each other. It should be straight forward enough."
"And this mystery driver?"
"I'm not sure how much the police have to go on really. Sounded like all they know is the colour of the paint work. They'll probably never catch them."
"Still," Duffy said with a thoughtful sigh, "I wonder who it was…"
Across the other side of Holby in a run down garage, a grubby mechanic wiped his hands down his overalls and made his way across to his brother-in-law, temporarily his customer.
"Is it ready?"
"Yep, just finished. One ex-maroon taxi cab, complete with new front bumper. So John, you gonna tell me what you've been up to?" John felt his skin crawl when he thought about it. He could still hear the sickening crunch as the cab collided with the man's body. He could still see his victim's broken, bloodied frame lying on the tarmac; he hadn't even recognised him at first.
"You don't wanna know, mate."
"You hit someone. I'm not stupid, I know blood when I see it. What I don't know is why my sister's law abiding husband would come to me for a re-spray rather than going to the filth."
John wrung his hands together nervously. "I'd lose my licence, my livelihood, my house. I can't risk that."
"Look, I'm not judging you. I woulda done the same thing."
John grunted in response. He wasn't so sure that was true, as his brother-in-law wouldn't have been in that situation. The only reason John had got into that situation was because of a sudden pang of guilt. His brother-in-law didn't often feel guilt. His brother-in-law wouldn't have realised, as he drove back to the main road, that by driving away quietly, fifty pound note safely in his pocket, he was condemning that poor woman to God knows what.
He'd seen it with his own eyes, the menace with which that Brockly man had held that woman. He'd seen the fear that her eyes had shown, too. However, he'd long ago promised himself that whatever went on between passengers in his cab was none of his business. He'd seen too many of his mates end up on the wrong side of a right hook, just because they'd interfered.
This was different though. There was something so calculatedly evil about the way Brockly had bribed him to leave, and the sound of that woman screaming 'Bastard!' at him as he drove off would haunt him forever.
So he'd done what he thought was the best thing to do, he'd turned back. He decided he'd knock at her door and make sure she was all right before he left. Except he never got that far; in his rush to help he'd collided with Brockly, and then he'd panicked.
"There's the keys then mate. You can settle up with me later."
"Great. Thanks," John replied, subdued.
"Hey, d'you know what happened to guy you hit?"
John nodded, feeling the bile rise in his throat. "Yeah, I know," he answered softly, but he realised that he'd never know what had happened to that woman…