Half Moon Chambers
A cop and a recovering addict – no chance for romance there.
Yet Vince, a street-hardened narcotics officer, is having to reassess his life. Six months ago, he hit rock-bottom. A bullet brought him down, and his beloved partner Jack betrayed him. Badly disabled and in constant pain, Vince is flying a desk these days, and it doesn't suit him at all. His world is looking grim when he meets Rowan Clyde, sole surviving witness to a vicious drugs-related killing.
Rowan doesn't want to talk. He's vulnerable, trying to hold his own life together in the wake of a crippling addiction. Vince should have no time for him, and Rowan certainly shouldn't trust a cop with an agenda to get him onto the witness stand at any cost.
Yet despite their differences, there's an instant pull of attraction between these two damaged men. Their new bond is put to the ultimate test on the tough streets of Newcastle during a dark northern winter, as each turns out to hold the keys to the other's survival – and to his destruction.
I didn't announce myself. You could sometimes learn more from a witness in the ten unguarded seconds before they knew you were there than in hours spent with them afterwards. Out of habit, I began to make my observations. The first thing I saw was that the surveillance picture hadn't been that good after all. Maybe Rowan Clyde was nothing special in the street, but here, intent upon his work, he sent a strange pang through me. I'd only experienced anything like it when scaling Scafell Pike in the Lakes, reached the top, and turned to look back the way I'd come. I'd understood then that I would never see the world this way again, never again quite like this, rich with sunlight and stitched together by the shadow of ravens' wings. I couldn't work out the connection. He was just a man in his mid-twenties, a nicely cut profile against bright light, lips pursed in concentration.
He was also just a job. I pushed my reaction aside. I glanced at the long bench beside him, from which he was now rapidly selecting delicate brushes and tools. At his other elbow was a huge ceramic palette, daubed in every colour imaginable. I couldn't make out the subject on the canvas in front of him, but as I watched, he drew one tiny brush-head half an inch across it, and a wound I hadn't realised was there healed itself, a broken line reconnected.
I tried not to be impressed. That had to be finicky work. Better than safe-cracking or picking pockets, but not much use in the grand scheme of things. Men like him annoyed me on principle. Fully grown, but locked away in ivory towers doing jobs better suited to graduate students. Hiding away from the world. No matter how talented he was, I doubted the work paid much, and I filled in his background with some neat brushwork of my own—wealthy, indulgent parents, paying for his training and probably still supporting him now. Few worries, and still fewer principles, if he wasn't prepared to come forward as witness to one of the city's most savage killings in decades. An effete dilettante, too dreamy to notice a bloody great policeman walking up behind him...
No. After that one stroke of the brush, he had gone still. His expression didn't change. All I could see of him was that beautiful profile, limned in light, but he was watching me. All right. Game over. I stopped a few yards short of him.
He exploded into movement. The easel and his palette went flying. In five years of chasing villains round the city streets I'd never seen anyone shift so fast—he was on the far side of the room before I could draw breath, shouldering open a fire exit. The door slammed behind him and he was gone.
I raised my eyes to the ceiling. “Oh, for fuck's sake,” I whispered. This must be a nice peaceful place to work. I could hear pigeons and doves prooking about in the roofspace. There were rain-smeared skylights, seagulls wheeling above them. I could let this go—pull out the stool from under the bench and sit down. My back was killing me already, and I didn't stand a chance—Clyde would know every corridor and broom closet.
But I was here on a last-chance assignment from my boss. Bill hadn't put it to me that way, but I knew. If I screwed up a simple witness interview, how long could I expect to keep my fragile foothold at Mansion Street? As for alternatives—my arse. I was a one-trick pony, a round peg hammered so tight into my nice round hole that I'd never fit properly anywhere else again. And last time I'd looked, I'd still been a copper.
So I ran. I tossed aside my physio’s warnings about caution and starting from cold, and I just took off the way I had used to, full throttle. I shoved the fire door open and pelted down the corridor beyond it. No doors, no turnings. My quarry had to be here somewhere, and he hadn't got that much of a head start. I dashed down twenty yards or so of lino-covered floor, and for all but one of them I managed to outrun my damage and pain. On the twentieth, I had to slow to make a corner, and there it all caught up with me. I crashed to a halt, clutching at the wall, fingers scrabbling. Christ, it was like being stabbed—no, worse; I'd taken a knife during a pub fight and not been as royally fucked up as this. I doubled over, bracing one hand on my knee. It had been for nothing, too. I'd run into a storage unit, a bloody dead end. Clyde must have peeled off through a door I hadn't seen. I'd lost him.
Well, at least I was alone. That was a blessing—alone, I could unleash the pain and frustration in a brief explosive roar. “Ah, fuck it! Fuck!”
“Who the hell are you?”
I jolted upright. My balance was screwed and I fell back against the wall in my effort to spin round. My hand flailed for a weapon I hadn't carried in six months.
“Police officer,” I managed. “You—Rowan Clyde—stay right where you are.” That wouldn't work, though—I couldn't see the bastard. “On second thoughts, step out and show yourself. Slowly.”
A set of tall cabinets had cast a deep shadow. After a moment, a random patchwork of light and shade stirred and became a human shape. Clyde emerged, as slowly as I could have wished. He was sheet white, and one side of his face—the profile I hadn't seen—was a mass of bruising. Not quite the pussy I'd taken him for—plainly he was terrified, but his spine was straight, the set of his shoulders defiant. “You're from the police?”
“Yeah. Who did you think?”
“Another of Goran Maric's men. You look the part. I want to see your ID.”
Swallowing hard, trying to get hold of my breath, I pulled out my badge. I held it at arm's length for him. Maybe I needed to clean up my act a bit. A plain-clothes brief didn't extend to resembling a crack baron's thugs. Maybe I needed a more reassuring, employable face to show to the public. “All right,” I said. “I'm sorry I scared you. Are you okay?”
Clyde took a good look at my badge, then a better one at me. After a moment he nodded. “Yes. I'm all right.”
“Well, I am too. So can we go back to your workroom and start over?”
I let him lead the way. That gave me the whole length of the corridor to grimace and limp and wipe the cold sweat off my brow. By the time we reached the gallery I had everything more or less under control again. I could even envy Clyde the easy grace with which he hitched himself onto the draughtsman's stool. He was too thin, but nicely built, more on the lines of a dancer than an academic. He gestured at another stool nearby, but that was a chance I couldn't take. Instead I assumed what I hoped was an official-looking posture, propping myself discreetly against the wall. “So,” I began. “One of Maric's lads did that to you?”
“Two of.” A faint smile flickered, poignant against the bruising. “Give me a little credit.”
“Have you had it seen to?”
“No. They told me the fewer people I talked to, the less likely I was to end up in the Tyne with a concrete block tied round my neck.”