4:35 am. Robert’s phone was ringing. He rolled over, pressing his duvet to his ears, trying to muffle to sound. No use. At last the ringing subsided and was replaced with Robert’s own voice, playing on the proverbial script for voice mail: “…please leave your message with name and contact number, and I’ll get back to you.” A livid voice on the other end of the phone replied. “ROBERT, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU PLAYING AT?! Everyone knows sleep is not an option when the press are hot on our heels out there with a case like this. ANSWER THE PHONE DETECTIVE, for God knows I’m trying to help you…” Robert reluctantly flopped over and picked up the handset, pressed to his ear.
“Good morning, ma’am,” he said in his coarse, sleepy voice.
“At last you saw sense, sergeant. Good. I’ve arranged a meeting for you with a credible source: a Miss Helga Weatherspoon, for 8 o’clock sharp. I trust you will make a good show of it. She claims to have an insight to the people we are hunting-“
“But how can that be true? She can’t know who we’re hunting, the press don’t know yet, even we don’t know who we’re hunting-“
“-which is exactly why she is deemed credible. A woman who is one step ahead of the police is no doubt a suitable interview subject. Whether she is of sound mind or not… well that’s your job. I warn you the last time she was interviewed in her own home, the poor Detective Darpe had to call for back up after being locked in her chicken coop.”
The name rang a bell with Robert. “How many times exactly has Miss Weatherspoon been used for interview?”
“On forty-six separate cases over the past twelve years. You do the maths, sergeant. She must be trustworthy for us to keep going back for more.”
“Yes but have we actually gone to her for anything specific before?”
“Well no. She’s always phoned us. Keen, you see.”
“Ma’am, I really don’t thi-“
“Nonsense sergeant, you will go and you will report.”
“Well I’m not entirely sure this warranted a call in the early hours, ma’am-“
“Ah yes, well, you see, she lives in Maide’s Grove.”
“Maide’s Grove? That’s just twenty minutes awa-“
“Maide’s Grove in Derbyshire.”
“Right,” said Robert. And he hung up.
Flopping heavily back down on his pillow, not caring to put the phone back on the hook. He asked himself yet again why he had gotten himself into this job. He could have been a normal person, had a wife, kids, a house in the country, his own studio for his art. It was useless asking himself this question yet again, for he knew the answer was always there, deep in his heart, he knew why he hadn’t sought a normal life. He allowed himself to drift into a dreamy slumber, where his haunting memories came alive.
It had been a cold and grizzly day. Robert, fresh out of university, was sat on Northchurch street, watching the world go by as he so often did, wasting away his life inbetween bar work and failing to make a living from the poor representations he called ‘art’. His future was like his current sketch of the town: grey and dismal.
But then he saw her. Ruby red coat defying the dullness, soft brunette waves falling below her shoulders and deep set eyes in forget-me-not blue. On instinct, Robert’s page was splashed with crimson and he set to work with the pastels, structuring her cheekbones. She passed, and the world returned to grey.
The rest of his time that afternoon was uneventful, he finished the shading of the buildings, depicted the detail of the ornate clock tower and tried to finish his beautiful subject, striding across the clearing, but it was no good without the original to copy. He set about tidying up corners, smudging in the last few shadows and dulling the sky another tone before the light faded too much to see the point of his pencil, when he was aware he had company next to him on the bench. A dash of red hit his peripheral, but he froze his gaze to his work, determined not to seem rude. He kicked himself as he realised he had missed the initial window to look up when a stranger enters your space. He concentrated hard on chalking in the white window frames of the jewellers. He strained his eyes to try to ascertain if this really was a stranger or indeed the very figure he had failed to capture on the page. He set about studying her shoes. Black, knee high boots, yes same as his picture. But there must be hundreds of women who adorn the same outfit in a bid to keep out the winter chill.
All too soon a smooth, feminine voice came from the figure beside Robert: “Love how you’ve made me six inches taller, but is that really how bad my hair looks today!?”
Robert found himself staring into the face of the most stunning looking women he had ever laid eyes on. He forced a laugh. She laughed with him, a light, contented laugh which made Robert see butterflies.
After an uncomfortable silence that lasted an age, Robert finally took a deep breath and managed a high squeak: “Artistic licence.” He quickly realised this was the stupidest thing he could have said in the history of pick-up lines, but it was his instinctive reaction to criticism.
The woman faltered a little. “Of course. I can see you’re very talented, but I don’t recognise your name from the local exhibitions…” she said, indicating the rough signature in the right hand corner: R. Granger.
“I don’t exhibit,” Robert replied hastily. “I prefer to keep art as a relaxation mechanism, rather than striving to meet others’ expectations and preferences. Oh, the ‘R’ is for Robert,” he added. He knew that he sounded arrogant but he couldn’t help it; conversations with attractive women always went like this. He smiled in a bid to cover his embarrassment.
“I’m Freya,” she replied. “So you’re not an artist by trade?”
“No, I’m with the police.” He didn’t want to tell her his life story, partly because this wasn’t an engaging conversation topic between two strangers and partly because his detective head had taken over. Knowledge is a bargaining tool; never volunteer more than your subject. He didn’t dare mention he used different identities in both artistry and police work. A Detective can never be too careful. Names travel fast in the crime world.
“Oh, I see,” her tone became artificially pleasant. Robert knew he was losing her. It was a lost cause to begin with. “I work at the hospital. I’m an occupational therapist.”
Another awkward exchange of pasted on smiles. The spontaneity of the conversation was gone. Both participants struggled for a topic or neutral comment. Finally, Freya ended the silence: “Lovely weather, is it not?”
Robert looked up at the dull, cloud coverage in confusion, but when he looked back at her, she was gone. He glanced around, and spotted her fiery coat wandering off in the direction of the train station. Much to his surprise, she took the trouble of glancing back and, noticing his gaze, smiled weakly, before disappearing for good round the corner.