His & Hers Page 3

It’s the only sentence my ears manage to translate. I stare at Cat Jones, the woman who presented the programme before I did, standing there with her beautiful little girls and trademark red hair. I feel sick.

‘… and our thanks to Anna of course, for taking the helm while you were away.’

Eyes are turned and glasses are raised in my direction. My hands start to tremble, and I hope my face is doing a better job of hiding my feelings.

‘It was on the rota, I’m so sorry, we all thought you knew.’

The producer standing next to me whispers the words but I’m unable to form a reply.

Afterwards, the Thin Controller also apologises. He sits in his office, while I stand, and stares at his hands while he speaks, as though the words he is struggling to find might be written on his sweaty fingers. He thanks me, and tells me that I’ve done a great job filling in for the last…

‘Two years,’ I say, when he doesn’t appear to know or understand how long it has been.

He shrugs as though it were nothing.

‘It is her job, I’m afraid. She has a contract. We can’t sack people for having a baby, not even when they have two!’

He laughs.

I don’t.

‘When does she come back?’ I ask.

A frown folds itself onto the vast space that is his forehead.

‘She comes back tomorrow. It’s all on the…’ I watch as he tries and fails to find a substitute for the word rota, like anything beginning with the letter R. ‘… it’s all on the wota, has been for some time. You’re back on the correspondent desk, but don’t worry, you can still fill in for her, and present the programme during school holidays, Christmas and Easter, that sort of thing. We all think you did a terrific job. Here’s your new contract.’

I stare down at the crisp white sheets of A4 paper, covered in carefully constructed words from a faceless HR employee. My eyes only seem able to focus on one line:

News Correspondent: Anna Andrews.

As I step out of his office, I see her again: my replacement. Although I suppose the truth is that I was only ever hers. It’s a terrible thing to admit, even to myself, but as I look at Cat Jones with her perfect hair and perfect children, standing there chatting and laughing with my team, I wish she was dead.


Detective Chief Inspector Jack Harper

Tuesday 05:15

The sound of my phone buzzing wakes me from the kind of dream I don’t wish to be woken from. One in which I am not a fortysomething-year-old man, living in a house with a mortgage I can’t afford, a toddler I can’t keep up with, and a woman who is not my wife but nags me anyway. A better man would have got his shit together by now, instead of sleepwalking through a loaned-out life.

I squint at my phone in the darkness and see that it is Tuesday. It is also stupidly early, so I’m relieved the text doesn’t appear to have woken anyone else. Sleep deprivation tends to have terrible consequences in this house, though not for me – I’ve always been a bit of a night owl. I shouldn’t feel excitement about what I read on the screen, but I do. The truth is, since I left London, my job has been as dull as a nun’s underwear drawer.

I’m head of the Major Crime Team here, which sounds exciting, but I’m based in deepest, darkest Surrey now, which isn’t. Blackdown is a quintessential English village less than two hours from the capital, and petty crime and the occasional burglary tends to be as ‘major’ as it gets. The village is hidden from the outside world by a sentinel of trees. The ancient forest seems to have trapped Blackdown – and its inhabitants – in the past, as well as permanent shadow. But its chocolate-box beauty could never be denied. The old lanes and narrow streets are filled with an abundance of thatched cottages, white picket fences and an above-average number of elderly residents, who all appreciate a below-average crime rate. It’s the kind of place people come to die, and somewhere I never thought I’d find myself living.

I stare at the message on my phone, practically drooling over the words as I drink them down:

Jane Doe discovered in Blackdown Woods overnight. MCT requested. Please call in.


Just the idea of a body being found here feels like it must be a mistake, but I already know it isn’t. Ten minutes later, I’m sufficiently dressed, caffeinated, and in the car.

My latest second-hand 4x4 looks like it could do with a wash, and I realise – a little too late – that I do too. I sniff my armpits and consider going back inside the house, but I don’t want to waste time or wake anyone. I hate the way they both look at me sometimes. They have the same eyes, filled with tears and disappointment a tad too often.

I’m slightly overenthusiastic perhaps to get to the crime scene before everyone else, but I can’t help it. Nothing this bad has happened here for years, and it makes me feel good, optimistic and energised. The thing about working for the police for as long as I have, is that you start to think like a criminal without being seen as one.

I turn on the engine, praying it will start, ignoring the glimpse of my own reflection in the rear-view mirror. My hair – which is now more grey than black – is sticking out in all directions. There are dark circles beneath my eyes, and I look older than I remember being. I try to console my ego; it’s the middle of the bloody night after all. Besides, I don’t care what I look like, and other people’s opinions matter even less to me than my own. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

I drive with one hand on the steering wheel, while the other feels the stubble on my chin. Maybe I should have at least shaved. I glance down at my crumpled shirt. I’m sure we must own an ironing board, but I’ve no idea where it is or when I last used it. For the first time in a long time, I wonder what other people see when they see me. I used to be quite the catch. I used to be a lot of things.

It’s still dark when I pull into the National Trust car park, and I can see that – despite coming straight here – everyone else appears to have beaten me to it. There are two police cars and two vans, as well as unmarked vehicles. Forensics are already on the scene, as is Detective Sergeant Priya Patel. Her career choice hasn’t managed to grind her down yet; she’s still shiny and new. Too young to let the job make her feel old, too inexperienced to know what it will do to her eventually. What it does to us all. Her daily enthusiasm is exhausting, as is her perpetually cheerful disposition. My head hurts just from looking at her, so I tend to avoid doing so as often as it is possible when you work with someone every day.

Priya’s ponytail swings from side to side as she hurries towards my car. Her tortoiseshell glasses slip down her nose, and her big brown eyes are a bit too full of excitement. She doesn’t look as if she’s been dragged from her bed in the middle of the night. Her slim-fit suit can’t possibly be keeping her petite body warm, and her freshly polished brogues slide a little on the mud. I find it strangely satisfying to see them get dirty.

I sometimes wonder whether my colleague sleeps fully dressed, just in case she needs to leave the house in a hurry. She put in a special request to transfer here to work under me a couple of months ago, though God knows why. If there was ever a time in my life when I was as keen as Priya Patel, I can’t remember it.

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