by Trevor Hopkins

Luncardy and I did get that off-duty whiskey, although in the end it turned out to be her idea rather than mine. We had spent the afternoon, and much of the evening, dealing with the interminable paperwork that the police seemed to think necessary especially when a case is actually going to make it to court.

"You can buy me a drink," she said, throwing down the last bundle of folders in the already-overflowing "Out" tray on the corner of her desk.

"Sure," I replied, trying to mask my surprise, "Where d'ya want to go?"

"You choose. Somewhere I've never been."

I collected my hat and coat and took her to a down-town bar, where the lights were low and the booze prices were reasonable. It was well away from the excesses of the Starfield Club and from any police house that I knew of. Police bars have the worst kind of atmosphere. I ordered a double round at the bar, picked up the tray of glasses and the little bowl of spicy salty toadstool snacks that the barkeeper foist on me, and carried it to the quiet booth we had managed to snag.

Luncardy took off her mannish jacket and tossed it casually over the back of the booth. I slid in around the other side, placed my hat casually on top of her jacket. She really needed that drink, it seemed, or perhaps she had something else on her mind. As she leaned forward over the table to touch her glass to mine, I could tell that, mysteriously, one or two of her blouse buttons seemed to have come undone. It seemed that I had been wrong all this time. She was not quite as straight up-and-down as her bearing and clothing had led me to believe; there were some distinctly alluring curves hidden under that suit.

We toasted each other silently, Luncardy's eyes bright in the reflected candlelight, then both of us put down the first shot in one lump. She barely winced at the burn in her throat from the neat spirits, while I did my best not to show any reaction to the whiskey.

We talked, for a while, carefully avoiding anything of the closed case. She told me about her family and upbringing: she an only child, parents dead, killed in a robbery which went wrong. Hesitantly at first, but with growing conviction, she spoke of her early determination to get into police work, then a drive to succeed in her chosen direction. What might have started as revenge for her parents' senseless death somehow morphed itself into determined career advancement for its own sake. She had never been married, never in a serious relationship, always lived alone. She was somebody without much in the way of small talk, sure enough, but when she opened up, she really opened up.

In return, I told her something about me, my past lives: my parents - also dead, of natural causes - my expensive education, my abortive marriage to my childhood sweetheart - who turned out to be a slutty gold-digger. With a little prompting, I told her how I got into private investigations after the experience of tracking down my drunken and dissolute brother Nether Gask, and getting him back to my mother's deathbed before she died. And then there was the experience of proving to my sister Trinity that her husband-to-be was a two-timing bastard, and later stopping her from taking the creature's ears off with the kitchen knives.

The shot glasses slowly accumulated on the table. Luncardy matched me drink for drink and I started pacing myself. I didn't want to be carrying a drunken police officer back home or, even worse, being taken home incapacitated myself.

"I like you, Gask," she said suddenly, her voice not at all slurred by the four or five strong ones she had consumed, "We should get married."

I was sure it was just the scotch talking, despite her apparent sobriety. After all, it's not as if I get propositions of marriage every day. As an offer, it did have its own attractions.

"It wouldn't work," I said, shaking my head sadly.

"Why not?"

"We'd end up hating each other, or maybe I'd just hate myself," I replied sadly, "I don't like policemen's wives, or policemen's husbands for that matter."

"It needn't be like that," she said, "We could be friends."

"Oh, we will be friends," I reassured her, "Distant friends. The kind of friends who see each other just occasionally. Not because they need something - not necessarily, anyway - but the kind that are there for you when you need somebody who will understand, who will listen, who will - in the end - make sure that you do the right thing."

She took my hand across the table.

"Maybe I need a friend like that," she said softly.

Part 106 Part 108