by Trevor Hopkins

I'm sure it must have been a complete coincidence. Just at that moment, a uniformed junior knocked on the open office door. Luncardy looked up.

"Message from Captain Wester, Ma'am," the youngster said, saluting, "He'd like to see you, in his office, in five minutes."

"Okay," she acknowledged, standing up. The uniformed copper disappeared.

"You'd better come too," she said to me, standing up and brushing non-existent lint off her skirt.

I trailed after her through the precinct house and into the open-plan area where junior police officers wrote their reports.

"You wait here," Luncardy advised me, "I doubt Wester will want to talk to you, but best be to hand just in case. He doesn't like to be kept waiting."

I shrugged and leaned myself against the wall by the door, fumbling for my cigarettes and matches. Privately, I doubted that Captain Fowlis Wester knew I was in the building at all, although I shortly learned that I was quite wrong. Just as Luncardy reached the inner door, a grinning Tarsapple emerged from Wester's office followed by a bemused-looking Glenshee. I sighed heavily. Wester was sure to have received the most negative possible report of my involvement from this pair.

Luncardy frowned at the surface agents as they passed, then went inside shutting the door behind her. The buzz of conversation in the outer office made it impossible for me to hear anything of the conversation within, especially across the full length of the floor. But I did not have long to wait. It could not have been more than five minutes before the office door was yanked opened again and a very red-faced Luncardy stormed out.

"You haven't heard the last of this, Wester," she growled, slamming the door behind her and stalking across the open office trailed by the glances of every cop in the place.

She reached the outer door where I still leaned on the wall, blowing smoke.

"My office, if you please, Mister Gask," she said with a note of barely contained fury in her voice.

I stubbed out my cigarette and followed her with alacrity. Once inside her office, she threw herself into her chair behind the preternaturally tidy desk and waved me to one of the other chairs. I sat and fumbled with my hat while she fumed.

"What's up?" I asked, genuinely confused.

"I have just been given a direct order," she said, "By Captain Fowlis Wester. I am instructed that under no circumstances am I to interview Old Man Madderfy, or his son. Nor am I to talk to Alva Vale."

So Wester was still in the elder Madderfy's pocket, it seemed. Or at least had a place in his pocket-book.

"And," she went on, "I am to thank you politely for your assistance" - she grimaced to indicate something of the true form of words used by Wester - "and send you on your way. No doubt you will get a formal note of appreciation in due course."

"I see," I responded carefully, "So what are you going to do?"

She looked conflicted, uncertain what to do. After a long minute, she frowned and looked suddenly determined. She had made up her mind.

"Dammit, Gask," she said, a steely chilliness entering her voice, "I'm going to ignore a direct order from a superior officer."

Part 88 Part 90