Justin Liddle sat at a spare desk in Ashford nick, staring at the paperwork in front of him, hand poised on the phone. This was a stupid way to do things. The nick hierarchy had been casting a suspicious eye at his clear-up rate in any case. Paternoster Farm had come to nothing. A couple of burglaries down the hill at Wye were still unsolved. They seemed dimly resentful that he’d found nothing to throw at Mitch Blamire too. If they recorded every ingoing and outgoing call, as some of the lads suggested, it could be awkward.
He stared at the drab room and realised, with a rising, choking anger, that he hated this place, hated this life. What he wanted was a new existence, with Alison Fenway at its heart. And if her presence was impossible, then he’d go anyway. Alison had opened his eyes. There was, he now understood, a world beyond the one he previously inhabited, a world where the only limits were those of the imagination. In her arms, with the taste of her in his mouth, Justin Liddle was free of duty, free of everything but the pursuit of some sharp, bright ecstasy beyond reason, beyond the everyday life that previously entrapped him. Like Eve, she had cast the scales from his eyes and filled him with a lust for this new world of wonder.
The clock turned seven fifteen. Miles would be gone to work. He dialled the number and heard her warm, American tones.
“We need to meet,” he said, and listened to the wordless hesitation on the line.
“I’m not sure, Justin,” she said after a while. “I don’t think this is good, for either of us.”
“I need to see you.” His voice rose in the empty room and echoed off the peeling paint of the walls.
“That isn’t a good reason,” she replied coldly. “Not for me.”
“I’ve found things out. Things about Burning Man. You need to know.”
The line went quiet again. His heart skipped a beat. Was it possible that she had changed her mind? That she would bury these memories, these suspicions, and fall into line with the Beulah way of thinking?
“I heard you. Why do we need to keep unearthing these corpses, Justin? Maybe it’s better we just forget. About everything, you and me included.”
“You don’t mean that!”
Her voice shouted at him out of the earpiece. “Dammit, Justin! You don’t know what I mean. You don’t know the first thing about me.”
“That’s wrong,” he said in a quiet, measured voice, thinking this through, understanding how to hook her. “I know you better than you know yourself. I know you’re not crazy. I’m staring at the evidence. I know you’re scared too, with good reason. Does Miles understand that, love? Can you tell him?”
There was silence again, but this time hope lived inside it. Justin Liddle looked up from the phone, triumph in his face. Through the glass door Vinny Bennett, the duty sergeant, was biting into a bacon sandwich, giving him a sour look. Personal calls on station phones. Not a good idea. He didn’t give a damn. Alison was coming back to him. Nothing else mattered.