Sophia Clarke was getting bored at the hospital. She was about to be dismissed from the maternity ward and that was not a moment too soon. She had come here on Friday and the weekend had been such a waste of time. She had done nothing here that she could not also have done at home, although she would concede that at home she would not have had anybody to look after her -- but that was not something she liked anyway.
She was getting sick of the constant stream of people coming into her room and she was glad she had asked for a single room on Friday. Sharing it with three others and their numerous family members who never seemed to go home would have driven her completely crazy. She was forty-three. Most other mothers here seemed to be half her age. There would be nothing to talk about, not that she wanted to talk.
Thankfully she had been given a private room after she had signed a form for it. That had reduced the disturbances somewhat, but there were still people coming in to bring her meals or to see how her babies were doing. Sophia thought they were fine. They had been monitored for a few hours on Friday, but they had been strong enough to be with her now. Sometimes one made sounds and then she fed it. Other than that they only seemed to sleep. They were very easy.
She wished James would come to pick her up. She had left a message on his phone. As she waited, she ventured out of the room. There was nobody else who seemed to dare to do so before, but now someone was peering out of the room next to her.
"Are we allowed out?" the woman asked.
"Sure," Sophia replied.
"But our babies..."
"It's probably not wise to leave them alone for too long. But if you have only one, maybe you could carry it. I have two. My movements are limited to walking up and down this corridor with one eye on my door." She smiled wryly. She had tried this already and it was astonishing how protective she had felt.
"Right. I was wondering if it was forbidden health-wise. I feel like running."
"It's not that bad with me, but I do wish I could have some tea somewhere public. The blank walls here just bore me." She would rather see the walls of the police canteen and that was saying something.
"Oh, do you mean you don't even have an ugly painting?" the other woman asked sympathetically. "But yes, it's difficult to wheel two of those cots into the lift. Are we even allowed to do so? Maybe we're on one of those fancy wards where an alarm will go off if the baby leaves the ward."
"I have no idea," Sophia said morosely. Her life was being turned upside down. She would previously have thought it an excellent idea to protect wards in that manner, but now that she might be a victim of such preventive measures, she disagreed strongly. "But I probably shouldn't try anyway. My husband could be here any second to take me home."
"Mine too. Well, with policemen that's more any day than any second. They're not that punctual."
Sophia was interested. "Is your husband a policeman?"
"Yes, what a mistake."
It was Monday morning. Acting Detective Chief Superintendent James Riley hurried into the building after having been out for an hour. He hoped he had not missed anything important. He had not been in charge of CID for long. Only, in fact, since his superior, Detective Chief Superintendent Sophia Clarke had gone on maternity leave the week before. He had not thought it would matter so much, but it did. He wanted to do the job well and he was acutely aware of the fact that much hinged on his doing it well.
She could have left earlier, but it was only last week that she had stopped coming in because it was too taxing, something she had hated, but on Friday she had delivered the twins. This had required James to register the twins this morning, since he was the father.
He was not sure how many people knew that. Just like no one had known anything about Sophia's private life before he had become a part of it, remarkably few people seemed to know anything now. A few of their colleagues did, but nobody had asked anything about her pregnancy except for the women. The men had simply seemed too scared of her.
He was not scared of her himself. It was amazing that others could continue to think her frightening. He changed his mind, though, when he found she had left a voicemail for him. She would have liked to be picked up an hour ago. He knew she had not liked it at the hospital and she would therefore not like his being late.
He ran up to his department to tell someone he would be at home in half an hour and then he ran back down and drove to the hospital.
Very conveniently he lived right behind the police station. They had got that house with a view to the babies. Knowing Sophia they had to make the trip to work as short as possible, because she would be dropping in even when she should not. It would also be easier for him to go home for half an hour to help her now and then. It had certainly been convenient these last few weeks to live next to the office.
Sophia and her neighbour, whose name was Margaret, had installed themselves on chairs right outside their rooms. From there they could observe the corridor and any husbands arriving, but nobody would be able to get to their babies.
"Does your husband work in the local force?" Sophia wondered. She might know him.
"Yes, it seems he recently transferred because I moved here. We're sort of separated," Margaret said to explain her unusual choice of words.
"I'm sorry to hear that. My husband is a policeman as well." Her mind went over the recently transferred men she knew. There was only one.
"Then you'd know they're never home."
"Well, I'm hardly ever home myself."
"Me neither, but never seeing each other was fatal for our marriage," Margaret said with a sad look.
Sophia was not sure she was any good at this sort of conversation. "I'm sorry." She wondered why he had transferred here if they were separated anyway. Being sort of separated must be something different.
Someone came from the direction of the lifts. It was James and she smiled. He had finally come to rescue her. "What took you so long?"
"Work. Why did you need a wheelchair?" He had brought one. Two car seats were stacked in it.
"They won't let me walk to the car park. Nurse's orders."
"I don't know if I could wheel you out and carry two car seats at the same time. If you walked, we could each carry one."
"Charm a nurse into helping you," Sophia suggested. The nurses were adamant about the wheelchair, she had already discovered. "I'm not staying here a minute longer than is needed."
"That's like the goat, the cabbage and the wolf," Margaret spoke up. "You could take her and one baby, and leave the second baby with me. That way no baby will be unattended. I'm not going anywhere soon, because my husband is probably on a case and too busy to pick me up."
"You can trust me. My husband is a policeman."
"Who says I trust them?" he shot back.
"It's fine." Sophia had already loaded one baby into a car seat. It was difficult. They were so small. "I know who it is. He's not going to come here if you're away from work."
"If you say so. You're already packed." He was surprised.
"I've been waiting for an hour."
"You could have rung my mother."
"I don't want your mother to pick me up. I wanted you to pick me up." Sophia installed herself in the wheelchair with the car seat on her knees. "Wheel the other cot into Margaret's room and don't take the wrong child when you go back for her."
"Who is she married to?" James asked when they were in the lift.
"Our new DCI, is my guess."
"He has a wife?" He was amazed.
"Well, why not? Does he have to tell everyone about her?" She did not like everyone knowing about her private life either and she understood perfectly if someone else was equally reticent. It could have been on his application form, but apparently neither of them had read that bit.
"He never said a word about either you or my wife being on the verge of delivering. He doesn't know you're the same person, but he never said a word. And his wife is here! He could have commiserated with me!"
"Just what have you been complaining about while I was gone?" Sophia asked suspiciously. "You didn't tell everyone, did you?"
"I only complained about having to do everything at once -- work, register the births, visit you, buy baby clothes, cook and clean..."
Sophia grabbed his hand. "Oh darling, you cooked and cleaned?"
"I tried. Anyway, DCI Scott never breathed a word of having to do the same."
"Margaret told me they were sort of separated. I doubt they live together, although he did transfer here because she had moved here."
"I thought he transferred because he wanted to work with the Newbury superduo."
A week later, Sophia was getting the hang of things. She had not been to the police station yet because her belly had not yet been in shape, but after a week she had finished the report she had been reading in her practically non-existent spare time. At times she had been too tired to do anything but cry or sleep.
James had officially been off on the Monday, but he had chosen to come home two hours earlier every day instead of staying home for an entire day, which in retrospect she thought a great solution. He had changed and bathed the babies in the evening so she had some time off, although she was not really capable of doing nothing.
Now, on Friday, she found she had grown from someone who had panicked at the very idea of having a child to someone who found it was all so much easier than she had thought. She was eager to get out of the house and she loaded the babies into the pram. Dressing them up still took her ages, but finally she was ready and she walked the short distance to the police station. It was not her intention to show them off, only to pick up some new reading material, but the people she saw all wanted to look into the pram. This amazed her.
In the entrance hall she ran into her hospital friend Margaret, who was waiting for the lift. "How did it go this week?" Sophia asked. Apparently she was fine as well, if she could be walking around after a few days.
"It's a bit tough on my own. That's why I'm going to tell Iain he needs to do more than just the shopping, but apparently he can't leave work because his one boss is on leave and another one has just become a father."
"He is entitled to two days off." Even if his bosses were both out. They could all be ill at once and nobody would be able to help that either. But at the same time she understood the man perfectly. It was difficult to take time off when there was no one to replace you. The work still had to get done. What would the victims of serious crimes say otherwise?
"He hasn't taken them. Not to spend them with me anyway."
"But he's been doing your shopping?"
"Because I emailed him my shopping list and ordered him to take care of it. He did. He dropped it off and left. So now I'm wondering what else he will do if I order him. Sorry for the complaints. I hope you've been doing better."
The lift stopped and the two women got out. "A bit better than that," Sophia answered. "But I'll talk to you later. Go and talk to the man. He should be behind the fourth door to the right."
"How do you know?" Margaret looked puzzled.
"A lucky guess," Sophia smiled and then she opened the door to James' office without knocking.
"I never thought you'd dare to bring your private life to work," he said, getting up.
"People do strange things when they get bored."
He gave her a kiss and then looked into the pram. "They're awake and not even crying. Wow."
"They don't cry much during the day. They must be happy with us. I'm certainly happy to have you if I hear what DCI Scott's wife has to suffer."
"He's only been doing her shopping because she ordered him. He drops it off and leaves. He had a child on Monday. Hasn't he taken any time off? Haven't you sent him home?"
"No. He hasn't told anyone he had a child."
"I told you it was his wife at the hospital. Didn't you talk to him after that?" She would have. She was sure of that.
"No, should I have? To be honest, there was no time for him to take any days off, what with you out and me half out. I told you about the cases. He has worked very hard."
She was amazed at his indifference. "You're turning into a cruel paper-pusher already. I don't think I ever ignored someone's personal situation." She might not have been the most social of bosses, but she had never been unfair or cruel.
"I don't know. I never had a personal situation," James shot back charmingly. "But I didn't ignore his situation -- I never knew about it. Don't you agree that someone has to take his own responsibility in this matter? I don't have the time to call in the entire department every morning to question them about any personal situations they'd rather not tell me about."
Sophia lifted her son out of the pram and got ready to feed him. He was making whimpering noises. "Fill me in on what's happened this week. I could come here every day and feed them while you fill me in. We've got time enough."
"I may not have time when they're hungry." James observed the relaxed scene in front of him.
"Darling, has living with them for five days not taught you that they're always hungry? Whenever you have time, they have time."
He gave her a more comprehensive overview than he had been able to give her at home the preceding days. He had withheld some details from her on purpose too, because if she had heard how busy they were she would have come in to work.
This was actually a good idea, he thought. She was out of the house and feeling involved, and he had an opportunity to confer with someone. Still, he had to mind his words and paint a rosier picture than reality warranted. He knew Sophia.
Sophia was a little sharper than he had expected. "You know, James. You didn't tell me about half of these things when I asked you a few days ago. Why not?"
"You were busy."
She glared at him. "I was not too busy to think. What did you think I'd do?"
"Well, you'd pack up the babies and park them in a corner of your office and have a burnout next week." He was convinced that that was exactly what would happen. She needed to take care of herself and take some rest. He wished he could too, since the babies woke frequently throughout the night.
"I wouldn't have a burnout."
There was a knock on the door just after Sophia had switched babies. It was DCI Scott. "Oh, sorry," he said, colouring.
James snickered at his face.
"I need a word with you when I'm done here," Sophia informed Scott. She was in an assertive mood. "I'll find you in your office."
"Dismissed," James muttered when the startled Scott had left again.
"You'd stop finding me sexy if I stopped working," she told him.
He laughed. "Don't be rude to others to turn me on. I'd rather have you be nice to me. It works much better, whether you worked or not. You have other interests, don't you?"
"I'm not sure," she said doubtfully, but she did not care. "I came here to pick up a new report to read in my spare time. This may not be a good sign."
He laughed again. "How about a novel? Or a book on raising children?"
"How interesting," she said flatly.
"You're on leave. You don't have to speak to him."
"I'll cut my leave short if you oppose me," she threatened. She was still his boss and he should not be getting any ideas.
Sophia left the twins with James as she went to DCI Scott's office. Margaret was there looking gloomy -- in fact, both were looking pretty gloomy. "Ma'am," the DCI said respectfully.
"You're his boss?" Margaret inquired incredulously.
"I am. I order you to take two days off," Sophia said, giving DCI Scott the standard imperative look that she hoped childbirth had not affected.
"But it's Friday," he protested. There were two free days coming up.
"So take Monday and Tuesday. You're being a right *@&^* by ignoring your responsibilities towards your family." She did not usually use such terms, but she was tired and, being in the same position as his wife, also angry. He needed to help his wife.
He gaped at her, but Margaret beamed.
"Let him do all the nappy changes," Sophia advised Margaret. "It's what I do when mine comes home from work. He's quite good at it by now." It was different for Margaret, of course, because they did not have two. James had to do his share because there were always two babies to take care of, but he had not complained about that, only about their being so small.
"Could I have a word?" Margaret asked.
Sophia followed her out of the room. "He doesn't live with you, does he? He's going to have to spend more time with you if he wants to see his daughter, though."
Margaret shrugged. "I don't think he'd mind. He simply hasn't got the nerve to say so, because I was the one who moved out. But tell me -- you're his boss?"
"Yes, I am."
"And your husband --"
Sophia looked around herself furtively. "Hush. People here don't know I have a husband." She had got married in secret. That had happened even before she had begun to show. She had been a married woman for months now and nobody was aware of it.
Margaret giggled knowingly. "People at my job don't know that either, but they also don't know I was pregnant. Where do your colleagues think you got your babies from?"
"I have no idea. They haven't asked. Or maybe they know and they don't have to ask?" Sophia shrugged. She glanced towards James' office and saw too many people in there. They were all looking at the twins, she suspected. "They're probably finding out right now."
"You don't have to be ashamed of him, do you?" Margaret asked. "I saw him at the hospital. I only wanted to know if you were Iain's boss, because it might be to my advantage. But go and find out what they know. I'll be annoying Iain for a bit, with your permission. I know he wants to do some work."
Sophia walked back to James' office and found herself the reluctant recipient of everybody's congratulations. It was horrible and she realised why exactly she had not told anybody she was married. After a while she began to feel used to it, though, and she allowed herself to enjoy the praise of her son and daughter. They were lovely babies, pretty and sweet.
James snickered when they were all gone. "You looked so uncomfortable."
"I'm glad we got that over with. Do they know they're yours?"
"They'd have to be very stupid not to know. They may not know any particulars, but they do know that."
"Oh." She turned red because of what people might be thinking.
"We work together, you know. Things come out. Do you mind?"
"I minded telling them. I don't think I mind them knowing." She hoped so at least. She did not have to be ashamed of him. He was attractive, witty, intelligent and sweet -- when he was not patronising. She should not forget that he had kept things from her.
"So, what did you do with Scott?"
"I told him to take two days off. He'll be back on Wednesday."
"Sophia!" James was appalled. "Wednesday? You can't be serious."
"I am." She looked stubborn. She did not care that there was too much to do at work. There was a lot to do at home for him too and he had a right to those two days off. "Don't give me that 'you're on leave' stuff again."
She was a little annoyed with him and wheeled her babies into the corridor with the intention to go home. Or maybe with a little detour past the Chief Constable to see if he had any work for her. It was clear that James was not very keen on giving her any.
Margaret was just coming into the corridor as well. "Men!" she fumed.
"Screw handsome and intelligent men."
"Yes. They're -- now what?"
"I need to clear my head. I'm going to walk and vent to Shona. I made the mistake of telling Iain that my shows will be recorded again soon."
"What does that mean?"
"I present a show. On TV. Iain needs to be home a little more. I have a thirteen-year old too who needs supervision."
"I don't watch TV." She had no idea if she was supposed to know Margaret.
"I guessed," Margaret smiled. "Neither does Iain. It was part of why --" She sighed. "Iain is too busy to work eight hours a day, he says. What did your husband do?"
"Oh, he merely patronisingly decided to keep half the cases from me for fear I'd come to work and take over." Her eyes shot fire when she recalled it. "I'm still his boss and I only had twins. I didn't suddenly become incapable."
"He may not think that."
"All men think that, whatever they promise beforehand," Sophia said glumly. "Patronising..." She studied for a good noun, but these descriptions did not come naturally to her. She had trouble calling James anything, too.
"At least mine was pretty clear beforehand that he'd like me to stop working, but I think that was mostly because it costs me a lot of time and exposure -- or so I hope. He doesn't like exposure. He loves his little shell. Crawled right back into it at the first sign of trouble. And I can't get him out." Margaret bit her lip.
They set out to walk. After discussing the difficulties of the first few days, Sophia noticed they had reached the Treminster Club. "That is a suspicious place," she said with a nod. "I'm still determined to find out what's going on there."
"When are you going back to work?"
"Not yet, but I can't do it during work time. What if it's nothing, you see?" She paused at a bench right opposite the entrance to the car park. She looked at it appreciatively. "This is a nice spot for a stake-out. With prams. Very innocent."
"I think you might be a little mad," Margaret commented, but she sat down when Sophia did. "You appear to be serious."
"Er, yes?" Of course she was serious.
"I wonder what Iain would think of my sitting here."
"Iain. He hasn't got any right to speak at the moment, does he?"
"What would your husband think of this investigation?"
"I made him come along once. I got pregnant as a result." Sophia gently rolled the pram back and forth while she studied the front of the building. There were a few cars parked outside, which had to be from staff members. There was nothing major going on at this hour, but tonight there would be. It was Friday. Perhaps they should come on one of the quieter days. Nobody would conduct their illicit business in a building full of people -- or would they?
"What? There?" Margaret gestured across the street.
"No, at home, but after we'd been here."
"I solved a murder case once," Margaret revealed. "But Iain doesn't think I should. He married me because of it, but now I should shut up and stay home. Or at least out of cases. Bah."
"I told you all men think like that. I can tell him a hundred times that the place is fishy, but he won't believe it. I need to solve this myself."
James walked over to DCI Scott's office when he remembered something. He had better do something about this, or Sophia would kill him. She had made it clear that he should have brought it up and perhaps she was right. "You had a baby?"
"Sort of? You mean your wife did. Why didn't you take two days off?" He had never wondered about Scott's personal life. The man was a bit stiff, but he was all right when he loosened up. He certainly did not deserve the trouble the ladies were determined to put him through.
"There wasn't any time." Scott looked over the pile of files and reports.
"We could have arranged something if only you had told me."
"Well, I didn't know if she wanted it anyway," Scott muttered. "Now it seems she did, but how could I know? All she did was email her shopping list. Then, after four days, she comes to say she needs help and Ms Clarke joins in by calling me names. I thought she was supposed to be on maternity leave."
"Yes, but that's Clarke for you. I don't know what's got into her. Obviously I know what's got out of her, but she's suddenly quite militant about sympathising with other women. She had nothing in common with them before." He was a little bemused by it.
"Do I have to obey her orders if she's on leave?" Scott wondered. "I mean, what do you expect me to do?"
"Well, you'd have to weigh my reaction against those of two hormonal women. I think you'd best obey. You'd get in trouble with the wife if you didn't." He might get in trouble with his own wife if he did not make Scott obey.
"I'm already in trouble with the wife," Scott said wryly. "And I have no idea why."
"Humour her this weekend. Did you really leave her alone with the baby?" He had been curious about his own children and he could not really imagine that someone was not. Even if there were problems with the wife, the curiosity should overrule them.
"I had no idea -- I'm better at working."
James wondered if this was a sort of male version of what Sophia had been before he had done any work on her. The man was better at working, but that did not mean he could not learn the other things. "Where are you staying?"
"A hotel, but I was going back to my house tonight. I guess Clarke will come to check if I'm with Margaret this weekend. I'd better move to her place if she doesn't mind."
"Clarke is busy tonight." He had an invitation from his parents to have dinner there and Sophia would have to come along. If she did not, she would be too tired to go out to check up on people anyway. "But I think she would be in favour of your staying at someone's house for budgetary reasons as well. Have you got serious objections to moving in with your wife?"
Scott hesitated. "None," he then said.
"Then do it. Now come to the pub with me. I'll buy you a drink to congratulate you on the birth of your...what?"
"I got one of those as well. And your wife looks familiar, by the way. Did we go to the same kindergarten or something?" If he had met her before, it was only once or long ago, but there was something familiar about her.
DCI Scott grimaced. "I'll tell you about that in the pub."
"So," DCI Scott said when they had their drinks. "You wanted to know why Margaret looked familiar to you. Do you watch television?"
"Have you ever heard of Margaret Maxwell?"
James had. "Good grief, Iain. You don't mean that she's your wife?" From what he recalled she was supposed to be rather tough and he did not see how she could have met Iain anyhow.
"I do," Iain said wryly.
"How..." he began. "Did you go on that show and she didn't treat you like a moron or does that actually turn you on?"
"I don't even know the show and she wouldn't treat me like a moron because I'm not. I met her during a murder case. She kept being in my way and conducting her own investigation and not telling me what she had found." He did not sound as if he minded too much.
"And she's off with Sophia now? That's dangerous. Oh no. They have babies now. They'll be talking about mother stuff." James looked relieved.
"Won't we see more if we get closer?" Margaret suggested. She had been sitting on the bench for a while, but she was not seeing anything. Two people had come out of the Treminster Club to smoke, but they had gone back in. They had smoked regular cigarettes, by the looks of it, and they had not been dressed as thugs.
"I suppose, but I was tired." Sophia hated to admit it, but the long walk had worn her out, which she had not noticed until she had sat down. Now she was reluctant to get up. She had wanted to do everything again instantly, but her body protested. Walking further and circling the club would have been a little too much.
"You said it was a club. What do people do there anyway?"
"They're not a real club. They rent out their main room to organisations and people. I was a member of the wine lovers society. They meet there every other Wednesday. On other days they have other things, like wedding parties. I don't know what they do in their other rooms. They say they don't have any other public ones, but you can see the place is pretty big, so maybe they meant they only have one large one."
"Oh. But tell me how you got pregnant after going here, because I don't see it. What's the connection?"
"The connection? Oh...being off duty?"
"Are you nicer off duty? I'd get that. My audience thinks I'm mean," said Margaret. "They probably think me much nicer in person, but that would be to my disadvantage. Contestants wouldn't take me seriously if they knew it was an act."
Sophia understood. "I act only a little, but they called me Ice Cube at work. They might still do so. I've never bothered to be extra nice as a reaction." They would stop taking her seriously as well.
"I don't really act mean, but I mock stupid people. What did your husband find out about you off duty? That you weren't an ice cube?"
"That I wasn't so bad, I suppose, and I found he was more serious than I'd thought. He'd been provoking me by being immature."
"But how does that get you pregnant? Or am I too much of a prude to see the obvious?"
"I don't know, really," Sophia mused. Having the wine had been the first sign. She had known she was supposed to drive or she should have known it, but this had not stopped her from drinking. Or had it started when she asked James to come with her?
"It would never happen to me."
"I never thought it would happen to me either," Sophia replied. "But sometimes it's time to let go." She remembered all too well that she had not been thinking anything remotely close to that right after the incident. Now, however, she could sound wise and mature and accepting.
"Was it him? Iain is as spontaneous as a recording. He'd never."
"No, it wasn't him alone. He'd never. He might talk about it, but not do it. So I suppose I was partly responsible."
"And what did you hope to see here?" Margaret asked after a while.
She could be a lot more eloquent about that subject. It was so much easier and more straightforward. "Stolen art -- or something. I took photos of some things once. Why would they have an office full of art here? The next time we looked it was gone. And they have security, who are very quick to stop you from taking the wrong turn in the building."
"Hmm. I wouldn't know art from rubbish."
"I may not know either, but I do know that there's no need to protect rubbish." And clearly something here had to be protected.
"True. You'd have to get inside to see more."
"But I no longer drink wine and I don't have any friends who get married here." She would have to wait for another fair, or for children of acquaintances to get married. People her own age would not have to do that anymore. She was old.
"Would you like to go inside now?" Margaret asked with a calculating look.
"I need some privacy to nurse my baby, because I've been getting dirty looks from passers-by."
Sophia stared. That might be the most excellent idea she had ever heard, never mind that nobody had come by at all.
"Do yours need nursing?" Margaret asked.
"They never say no, but they had some less than an hour ago." She was not sure, but she could always try. There would not be anyone checking if she was successful. She hoped that Margaret's baby wanted to cooperate as well.
"Then let's go."
Sophia watched as Margaret arranged it. She impressed the security guard in a manner that Sophia could not and she got her way. They were shown the same couch that Sophia had sat on with James. The view was different now. Nothing was happening at the entrance, but the corridor to the right was busy.
"That was good," Sophia said softly. She was impressed. "Are you really famous then?"
"I have no idea, but he seemed to know me. So what's all that down there? I thought I'd better not push my luck and ask for a room. This seems private enough for a start."
"I'm looking." Sophia took out her son, hoping he was up for some milk. "How many people would it take to handle bookings? And the catering stuff? Three? They told me that all those rooms were offices, not that they needed to tell a stranger exactly what they were, but there are too many doors."
Two of the babies were hooked up to a breast now and the ladies settled for an unobtrusive observation of the corridor, where people were walking back and forth with cardboard boxes. They counted at least five people. Another security man came up to them, after having spoken to the one by the entrance. He asked for Margaret's autograph.
She was all kindness. "Security? That must be an easy job around here. Nothing to do, except to make sure we don't steal anything."
He laughed sheepishly. "We've had some burglaries, it seems." He looked over his shoulder. "Our boss is pretty strict, so I have to go back. Thanks for the scribble."
Sophia waited until he was out of earshot. "You came here to have some privacy and yet they approach you for autographs?" Margaret had used the opportunity well, but from the man's point of view it was a little strange.
"But no dirty looks, which was what led me in here. I don't mind being approached. Did you?"
"No." The man had not looked at her at all, but she did not think he would have seen much if he had, not if the baby was already latched on. "But that aside, I looked into the Treminster Club a few months ago and didn't find anything about burglaries. Even this guard doesn't seem to have noticed them personally, which confirms my suspicions that there never were any."
"So why the security indeed? What's with the boxes? That's a lot of office supplies."
There had been an entire pallet full of plain cardboard boxes in the corridor, most of which had been carried into an office by now. Sophia could not guess what was inside. "I'm not all too familiar with supplies, but whenever I need new things, I get them out of a box that says what exactly is in it. There is nothing on these boxes."
"At least 64 boxes, maybe more. That's a lot of...pens? Envelopes?"
"I wish we could have a look. Someone will have to go back tonight and look into that window. I wonder if it's the same room that I saw the other things in. James and I disagreed on which door it was. I'll have to persuade him to go tonight. He'd never let me go alone in the dark and we couldn't possibly take two babies along. Apart from which I need all the sleep I can get."
That was a drawback to having babies. She simply was not up to outings very late at night anymore, at least not for the time being. Her twins woke several times during the night and hardly ever at the same time, although she had taken to feeding the sleeping one as well when the other woke. Last night this had worked very well.
"What if he doesn't want to go? You said he doesn't take this seriously."
"That's another problem. They might not keep those things there for long, so someone should go tonight." And she did not know if James was going to be convinced of that necessity.
They had nursed their babies and then left the Treminster Club so as not to raise any suspicions. Margaret took care to thank the security man and then they walked back. Sophia pointed out her house and they exchanged phone numbers. Then she went inside. The twins needed to be changed and she had something to eat. Just when she had finished with the second baby, James came home.
"We're invited to my parents' house tonight," he said.
"Tonight?" Sophia said plaintively. She had never gone to bed late, but she wanted to go even earlier now. And if they were eating out, he would not be free to run errands for her.
"Right away. We won't stay long."
His parents had visited in the hospital the weekend before, but they had not come this week. James' mother had urged her to phone if she needed help, but Sophia never felt she needed help. Not from James' mother anyway. If she needed any at all, she would ask James.
His parents would be eager to see the babies and she understood. It would have been nicer, though, if they had stopped by for half an hour tomorrow. She hesitated.
"We won't have to cook or do the dishes," James coaxed. "We'll go as soon as you feel tired."
"Cooking and doing the dishes is your job. Not having to do it isn't an argument for me. I wanted you to do something else tonight."
Sophia defiantly raised her chin. "Go to the Treminster Club and look into that window again."
James blinked. "Where -- how did that come up again?"
"Oh," she said airily. "Margaret and I went for a walk. I'd go myself, but you'd never let me."
"You're right about that. Tonight is definitely not an option." James put off saying anything about other nights. He was not sure. If he did not do anything when she asked, she would do it herself without telling him.
"Blast. I'll have to phone Margaret."
He came up with a wild suggestion, even if he knew it was in vein. "Are you throwing a baby shower in the club together?"
"Something like that."
James tried to listen to her conversation, but she locked herself in the bathroom.
Iain drove to Margaret's house. He did not know how she would receive him, but he had no choice. It was his stepdaughter Ailsa who opened the door and she was at least glad to see him. She gave him a smile.
"Is Margaret in?"
"Of course. Oh, you've brought your things. Are you staying?" she asked with a hopeful look.
"If you have no objections."
"As if my wishes count," she murmured. "She's upstairs."
He was glad to find that at least one person would be happy if he stayed. "How...has she been doing?"
"You should have been here, but I know why you were not. I love to help, but it's not my job and I have to go to school."
A girl of thirteen should not look at him so wisely. Trouble should have been kept from her. Iain swallowed. "I'm sorry."
"Just go upstairs. I need to start cooking."
She rolled her eyes. "If I had to wait for Mum to do it..."
As he went upstairs, Iain began to fear he had been very wrong in not coming sooner. It looked as if Ailsa had been doing some of the things he should have been doing. Margaret might not have complained any sooner because things were being done, but they were being done by a girl who should not be taking care of them.
Margaret was busy bathing the baby. "Hi," she said cautiously.
He wondered if he should kiss her, but he settled for being equally cautious. "How is she?"
"She likes her bath. She doesn't like getting out."
He looked at the little girl, relaxing in the hot water. She was at ease and had no idea of the strained feelings between her parents. He had been at the birth, which had been all right as far as he knew, but after that he had fled again, unsure of what Margaret would want. He had not asked and she had been too busy with Shona to say much to him at all -- which he had of course interpreted in the worst possible way.
But when he looked at the small face and the tiny hands of his daughter he wondered how he could have left her. "May I do it?" he asked and he was rewarded with the kind of smile that he had not had from Margaret in a long time.
She showed him how and then left him alone. After a few minutes she reappeared again and stood watching.
"When is she done?" he wondered. He had liked it better when Margaret had not watched.
"I'll take her out now."
He watched how she did it. Shona screamed until she was dressed up again, but that took a long time. Iain was glad he had not had to dress her. Her distress would have lasted even longer.
Sophia had agreed to eat at the Rileys' house. It had taken some time to get the twins ready, but when she was at the house of his parents she was glad she had gone. She could lean back and have food brought to her.
"I don't have to go to the Treminster Club anymore tonight then?" James said after he had moved closer on the couch. He put his arm around her. "What did you arrange?"
Sophia was still busy getting used to the sight of a playpen in his parents' house. They were taking it all very seriously, although it now meant that the babies did not have to lie on the floor. They were in the playpen being admired by their grandparents.
His parents were still a little afraid of her, she thought, so they only looked and did not pick them up. Just why they were afraid she did not know. Quite possibly they thought she would thank James for the children and then dump him, or they did not know how she was going to combine working with having children. She did not know that yet either, but they were only a week old and it was only logical that she was still very tired and unwilling to consider if the future was as feasible as she had imagined before the birth.
"Margaret will try," she replied. "If she doesn't manage, I'm going to try you again."
He placed a kiss on her cheek. "I hope she succeeds. I hope whoever she sends will not find anything there. Can't you two find safer hobbies? Iain says he met her during a murder investigation where she was in the way. If I go by how she behaves on her show, I can imagine that perfectly."
"I don't know what that show is supposed to be like. She says it's an act. But it's very useful, I found. She got us into the Treminster Club by dazzling the security guard and giving him an autograph. But I won't tell you about that, since you think it's nonsense anyway." She felt transparent. She might as well ask him to tell her what they had seen.
"I don't think it's nonsense; I think you don't have much to go on."
It was a little vexing that he did not bite. "Of course seeing lots of plain boxes being taken off a pallet isn't much."
James nodded his agreement. "Means nothing to me."
She gave him a frustrated nudge. "What could be in them?"
"I could make a few wild guesses, but I'd be wrong." He looked up and saw his mother was busy setting the table. That was good. He had promised Sophia they would not have long to wait and he did not want to have lured her under false pretences.
Margaret carried Shona downstairs and laid her in the playpen. Ailsa was busy in the kitchen. Iain's things were in the hall and she could tell him to take them upstairs, but she could also say something else first. "I'd like you to do something for me."
Iain suspected that saying no was out of the question. He waited.
Margaret put on her most persuasive face. "It's very easy. I'd like you to go somewhere and look into a window."
That was something he had not expected. "Why?"
"What are you involved in now?" he asked warily. It had better not be a murder. At the same time he wondered where she had found the time to get involved in anything at all.
"It's nothing big. It might be nothing at all. Sophia would have got her husband to look, but they are going out to dinner, so he can't."
"Who is Sophia?"
"Your boss. Why don't you know her name?"
"Because she's my boss and I don't care about her first name." He supposed she might have introduced herself with it, but he could not remember. "And why exactly does she need someone to look into that window?"
"She suspects something."
"She's on maternity leave."
"Crime doesn't stop because she is," Margaret pointed out.
He was not going to argue that point with her. Even if he could, luckily Margaret could not fight crime professionally and it would be pointless. His boss was the real culprit. He was, however, forced to do something about Margaret's order. "And when had you planned this?"
"After dinner? When I look over Ailsa's homework."
"I don't know," Iain said with a shake of his head. "This is insane. You've just given birth and you're already caught up in things."
"If my just having given birth disqualifies me from taking part in things, you should have been here to help me," Margaret shot back. "Since you weren't, you'd better let me go ahead."
He was not going to argue about that either. She knew how to sting. "Fine. And then I'll come back."
"I'll look forward to it."
Her smile was smug rather than encouraging and Iain wondered if he should change his mind about going. He had no idea what awaited him when he came back. Instead of inviting more strange comments, he went into the kitchen where Ailsa sat at the kitchen table doing her homework.
"I'm not sure my father is comfortable with your nursing them here," James whispered to Sophia when his father suddenly went to do the dishes with his mother. That was not usually his hobby.
The thought had never crossed Sophia's mind. They had been hungry. Or rather, she had calculated that they would be hungry in half an hour, when she might be at the dinner table, and she had taken action. That was what a mother did. That there were other people who might have thoughts had not occurred to her at all, even if Margaret had spoken of hypothetical dirty looks earlier that day. "Er...but...I've just watched him eat myself. Why can't he watch them eat? Do you mind?"
"No. He'll get used to it." He snickered when he thought it might have something to do with his helping to get a baby on each breast to save time, something they had only tried to do once before. It might be a little strange to look at, although there had been nothing to see.
"He'll have to get used to me first. I still don't think they really are. Why not?" She had never asked him that before, but she kept sensing it.
James shrugged. "You've arranged your life well and you never need help."
"Arranged my life well?" Sophia let out an incredulous laugh. It might look like that to an outsider, but she certainly would not have thought so in the beginning of their relationship. To get pregnant before being in a steady relationship, to live apart, not knowing what she was going to do after the birth -- none of that struck her as a well-arranged life.
"But you hide your doubts. You make me cook and all that. That's what they look at. And you need no advice with the babies." His mother had repeatedly offered her assistance to him, both before and after the birth, and he could tell it puzzled her that Sophia had not asked anything.
"I read!" Sophia protested. "Your parents never had twins anyway."
"Oh, that's my phone," she said when a cell phone rang. "Could you answer it? I haven't got any hands left."
James answered it. It was someone named Margaret -- Iain's wife, he assumed. "Well, hello," he said, although he had never met her and he belatedly remembered that she was Margaret Maxwell. "I hope you succeeded, because Sophia is not going out tonight and neither am I."
"I just wanted to say, while she was still up, that I've sent Iain."
"Does he think that makes sense? So working is all right if it's a job for her and not for me?" He knew Sophia had sent him home, but it still rankled a little that the man had obeyed instantly, as if his other boss did not matter.
"It's for me and he knows he'd better not refuse," she said cheerfully. "I'll let her know tomorrow if he saw anything. I won't be staying up late and I expect she isn't either."
Iain cursed Margaret several times as he drove to a place of which he had never heard. He had never even been in that part of town, although it was apparently not too far to be reached on foot from the police station by two women who had just given birth. Margaret would probably insist she could walk anywhere and she might be right, but it would hardly count for other women.
He found the Treminster Club after consulting the street plan and parked his car some distance away. Luckily the place had its name in large letters on its front and on signs pointing the way to the car park. It was crowded and he assumed there was something going on. Margaret was not interested in that. She had drawn a little map to point his way to the back of the building. Unfortunately drawing was not her forte and the proportions were all off. She had been here only once, he assumed, and presumably she had based herself on what Clarke had told her.
Clarke. There was another strange woman. When he had first applied for a transfer and he had interviewed, she had appeared to be rather normal -- serious and business-like -- for a woman in her position. The obvious pregnancy had been a little odd, although even that could have been a typical last-chance baby for a career woman. He had at any rate not thought very much about it, but appreciated her for the fact that she had been so professional as not to ask him any questions about his personal life at all. He was of the opinion that it did not influence how he did his job and he had been glad she thought the same way.
Her vehement accusation of that afternoon had therefore shocked him. She might just have had babies herself, but his personal life should not be her business. Her instant solidarity with Margaret without knowing what Margaret had done was unfair, even if she might have a little point.
It was also unfair that ultimately he was doing this for Clarke. He did not understand her. She was on leave. She should be involved in baby stuff, as James had said, but apparently she was not. And why she was involving Margaret, of all people, was even more incomprehensible.
He did not like that both had him do their bidding now, but he had felt he had no choice. It was emotional blackmail of sorts, but he did not want to lose Margaret. It was a little comforting that she did not want to lose him either, or so it seemed. She had wanted him to come over. That meant she appreciated either his company or his assistance.
At the end of the car park he followed the footpath around the corner. What sort of excuse he could have to step into the little park surrounding the club, he did not know. It was very light outside still and he might get noticed, but he was not afraid of that. He located the window that Margaret had told him to look into and unbuttoned his jeans. Men had that advantage, he thought smugly. He could not see Margaret do the same.
He looked into an office. There were piles of cardboard boxes in a corner and odd-looking figurines on a table. The rest of the room looked like an ordinary office, with a desk, computer and cupboards. This had better satisfy Margaret -- or Clarke -- because he was not going here again.
In spite of that firm conviction, he grew a little curious about the boxes and the figurines. They looked out of place in an office, an office at some club especially. But that was a direction he did not want his thoughts to take. There would be a good explanation for this.
He buttoned his trousers back up and turned around, only to find a security guard staring at him. He had never seen or heard the man approach, but he was not surprised. He gave the man a questioning look.
"What are you doing there?" the man inquired rather aggressively.
"What did it look like?" Iain responded. He was glad he had not started too soon, but not until after he had got a good look inside and then moved aside so he was facing a blank wall.
"Why not? Do you always approach people who are urinating? That's a little iffy."
"This is not allowed. Why here?"
"Well..." Iain pointed at the flowerbed. "I tried to pick a spot where I wouldn't kill the flowers."
"Don't be cheeky with me."
"This is not a public space and you're not a police officer," Iain said with a shrug. His opinion of security guards was rather low. Some of them would have liked to be police officers, but had not measured up. This one certainly would not. "What were you going to do about it?"
"I'm requesting you to leave the premises. Instantly."
"Don't worry. I'm spent." He walked back the way he came and wondered. It was a little odd the way the man had come up behind him so quietly, instead of shouting from a distance, but he would probably have addressed anyone peeing on his premises as well. It was up to Margaret or Ms Clarke to attach significance to it, not to him. This was not his business. He hoped, however, that they would not think anything at all.
But being women, they probably would. He sighed. Women.
He wondered what Margaret would say and do when he came back. She was not the sort to set him unfair tasks, he hoped, and this one time had only been because Clarke was out to dinner. Margaret had said she would have sent her husband out otherwise. What sort of man was that? He must be a man in his forties with a similarly high job -- she would not settle for less -- but why such a man would play an errand boy was unsure. Only the young and uncertain ones would.
Women. He sighed again.
Sophia had liked it, of course, that Iain had gone to the Treminster Club. She had looked smug, as if she had always expected people to carry out her orders. James could not stand it. He had once gone along with her wild plans too, but that had been because she looked so absolutely attractive with that excited look on her face. Iain and his wife could not find her attractive. He hoped not, at any rate.
Sophia sensed he was a little displeased with how things were going her way, but it could not be helped. She was curious what DCI Scott had seen and if he had indeed gone. He could easily lie. She did not know him well enough to know. But she would have to wait until tomorrow to find out what he had seen.
They had not stayed with his parents for very long after dinner and at home the babies had demanded so much attention with their baths and feeds that she forgot all about the Treminster Club. By the time she was ready to fall into her bed, she slept almost instantly.
Lying beside her, James realised he had not discussed with her when he should pick up her mother. Any time would be right for Mrs Clarke, but Sophia might have ideas on when he could best do it. Maybe he was allowed to think for himself in this case. Depending on how the night went, he would do the shopping first. Then he could go and pick up her mother.
Sophia was bound to sleep in. He did not blame her. There had been nights when she had got up every half hour. He might wake, although she said he often did not, but he never went out. There was nothing he could do. Once you were out, you were awake. If he was the first to wake, he could maybe get the babies for her, but the problem was that he was never the first to wake. Secretly, of course, he was glad. He had had to work all week.
Before he could fall asleep, the first of the twins stirred. Sophia did not. Her long walk must have worn her out. He groaned and left the bed.
James watched TV with his daughter for half an hour until she fell asleep. She seemed very content just lying against his chest and he ended up having more interest in her than in the programme on the telly.
He wondered if, now that he was a father, he could still go to the pub to see some friends, as he regularly did on Saturdays. It was amazing how only nine months ago he had not had inkling of what was about to turn his life upside down -- a girlfriend, wife, children. Back then he would still have thought differently about Sophia as well. Clarke a mother? Never. Clarke the mother of his children? Unthinkable.
But since then he had grown up quite a bit, he felt, or at least come to have a more level-headed opinion on the matter. There was really nothing wrong with Sophia as a mother, or even as a partner. His parents did not quite see it yet. She was right about that.
Maybe his mother had been thinking in terms of his bringing home a girl. There was no question of that if the girl was forty-two, apparently. It had never occurred to him to think that this might be very different in his mother's eyes. His father would not care, but his mother would have had ideas about a daughter-in-law, given Sophia's opinion that she viewed him as a little boy. The entirely self-supporting Sophia would have thrown her for a loop.
When he returned to his bedroom his son just let out a contented burp. This amazed him. "Didn't you feed him just before we went to bed?" It had been forty-five minutes ago at the most.
"Yes, but he found out you had left me alone, so he woke." She had been sitting on the edge of the bed and got up to bring the baby back to its own bed. When she returned she found James still staring in wonder. "What is it?"
"How does all that milk fit into them?"
"I'm not sure he's drinking all the time. He just likes me."
He put his arms around her. While it was undoubtedly flattering and all that, she was tired. "You need your sleep."
"Yes." She could almost sleep standing up, as long as he held her. "But they don't understand that yet."
He led her to the bed and she was again gone within minutes. Forget about the pub. He would enjoy it more to see Sophia act as an indulgent mother. He snuggled closer and hoped they would be given three hours of uninterrupted sleep at least.
When Iain returned, he found Margaret and Ailsa still revising homework. "It's Friday," he reminded them, in case they had forgotten. There was no school tomorrow.
"I have a tournament all weekend," Ailsa replied. "She won't let me go if I don't finish at least half of my homework tonight."
"What did you see?" Margaret nearly jumped up.
"What was in them?"
"I was outside," he said gravely. He was all for not telling her instantly. That was the only power he had. "The window was closed. Would you have wanted me to break in? I already broke the law by peeing against the wall."
Margaret looked impatient. "I didn't ask you to do that, so don't blame me if you got arrested."
"I didn't arrest myself, obviously, and the security guard who came to ask what I was up to didn't have the authority to do so."
She was reflective. "We'll have to go there again and get inside to see what was in the boxes, if they are still there today."
"You didn't ask me if maybe the things on the table looked as if they had come out of the boxes."
"Things on the table?" she cried.
"Yes, there were things on the table. They looked like little statues of sorts. I don't know if they came out of the boxes."
"Did you take a picture?" Margaret remembered that Sophia had spoken of pictures. She had taken some and then gone home with her future husband to get pregnant. The last bit had overshadowed the first bit when she had first heard, but it came back to her now. Sophia had taken photos of something she had seen.
Ailsa had a laughing fit. "He was peeing!"
"You preschooler," Margaret said sternly, but she conceded that Ailsa had a point. "A security guard saw you, you said? You should have told him you were married to me." Supposing such a tactic might work, Iain would be the last person to use it. He did not exactly seem proud of the fact that he was married to Margaret Maxwell and he would loathe the fact that it opened doors.
He was baffled by the apparent non-sequitur. "What the -- never mind. Holding a camera while spraying the flowerbed and my shoes would have looked odd." He said that for the benefit of Ailsa, who would appreciate it.
She did. Margaret did not. She pulled a face. "I just gave birth. The image of you with your trousers open is not -- never mind."
"I know you have problems, but that's taking them very far."
"I'm not the only one with the problems."
He was not going to let himself be drawn into a discussion now about whose problems were worse. He would think it was hers and she would think the opposite. They had gone there before -- although a moment later he realised they had not in fact gone there at all, except in his mind.
"The image is disgusting? Alluring? What?" he asked.
"Not fit for Ailsa's ears."
"I'll go to bed," Ailsa offered.
"To behind the door, you mean," Margaret retorted. "No. I'm going to bed myself."
Iain wondered where he was supposed to sleep, but she beckoned him to follow her. He shrugged. "You'll let her stay up alone?" She might be cooking and taking care of other things as well, but she was still a child.
"She has a tournament tomorrow. She knows she needs her sleep." She knew Ailsa well enough to know she would go to bed in time, probably five minutes after them, but never at the same time. That was stupid.
Ailsa left her seat to cuddle Shona. "Tell this baby I need my sleep!"
Iain hovered in the background as Margaret got Shona ready for her bed. He did not know where to go. "Where would you like me to sleep?" he asked eventually.
"We're married." She held out Shona to him for a kiss. "It's safe now."
"Got what you wanted." She would not need him anymore now, he suddenly thought bitterly. She had got her baby and he had only been needed for that. "You stayed with me until you got pregnant and then you left me."
"Wrong. I found I was pregnant later. But considering your reluctance, you must have been relieved." Margaret wanted to cry. She laid Shona in her bed and bent over her to hide her tears. "Please. Not tonight."
He did not like talking, so he was relieved. It might be better to regain some familiarity before they talked. He touched her shoulder. "Fine."
Margaret wondered how they were ever going to get out of this. She did not like touching and he hated talking. It was difficult to meet in the middle, but maybe if she asked him not to talk, she ought to touch. Or at least not mind it. And she did not. It was a simple gesture, free of implications. Not like when she had wanted to get pregnant. Every touch had been so loaded then, much like every word was now.
It was difficult to find some common ground. Iain was not even a natural toucher either, which would have made it easier. She suspected it was only marginally easier for him to express himself by touching than by talking. Suddenly the prevailing emotion seemed to be compassion.
At three in the morning, when Shona woke them, Margaret thought it might be a good moment to ask Iain a question. He had come to bed with her, after all, and while he had not kissed her good night, he had said it. It gave her enough confidence. "Is your mother angry with me?"
"Don't know. Why?"
"She hasn't asked me about the pregnancy."
He was sleepy. "Er...my mother?"
"Did you tell her Shona has arrived? I wasn't sure I should call her, since she hasn't displayed any interest." It had been bothering her on and off. Someone really should notify the grandparents, but since she had not even dared to notify her own parents, she could in all fairness not inform his.
"I never told her you were pregnant," Iain was forced to say.
"What?" she nearly screamed. Shona let go of the breast in shock.
"I never told her," he repeated sheepishly. "You didn't either?"
This explained why Mrs Scott had not shown any interest; she had not even known. It was too ridiculous for words, but it was so Iain. "Why didn't you? It's clear why I didn't tell mine, but you get along with yours."
He had only an inadequate explanation. "Because she would do things."
"But she would like to know? I thought she was upset with me because I had moved a little closer to work." It would change matters considerably if Mrs Scott simply did not know. Margaret had always got along with her. She had even spoken to her after moving away, which was why the complete silence about her pregnancy had puzzled and hurt her.
"I suppose." His mother had never given up trying to get him to patch things up with Margaret. She would think a baby was excellent for that.
"It's three in the morning."
"Well, maybe not now, but as soon as you wake up. For real, that is. You're bound to be woken around five again."
"So I'll get progressively grumpier. It might be better to do it now to get it over with." He reached for his mobile.
Sophia did not get up early. James had made her promise that she would sleep as long as she could and not get up early to check her phone for messages about the Treminster Club. She had grudgingly agreed and when she finally did leave her bed for the day, she found that he had taken her phone with him. There was a note; he had done the shopping and he was now picking up her mother, which would take him an hour at least.
Sophia frowned as she checked the clock. Margaret would surely be up by now. With only one child she would have got much more sleep. She might even have phoned already. James' taking the phone with him was highly annoying. She picked up the land line and dialled his mobile number.
"I know why you're calling. I seem to have taken your phone by accident," he said very innocently.
"By accident?" she cried down the line. Why did he think that giving birth turned her into a helpless invalid who needed to be protected and shielded?
"I hope you got some more sleep. You looked very cute."
Sophia had to take a deep breath. "Did anyone ring me?"
"Yes, she phoned. I asked her to phone you again in an hour. I'll be home by then."
"What did she say?"
"She didn't want to tell me anything. You'll be happy that she only wanted to talk to you. I did ask her if you were fit to hear it. You know, if it didn't concern murder or anything else unfit for mothers to investigate, but --"
"James!" The steam was nearly coming out of her ears.
"Sorry. I was teasing you. I know you'd divorce me if I ever did such a thing, so I didn't, because your mother is against divorce. I only asked her if it wasn't anything too dangerous for my children to get caught up in. She said she had no idea, but since she had two children who have only a mother in practice, she would never get involved in anything dangerous herself."
"Divorce?" asked Mrs Clarke, who had only heard James' side of the conversation. "You are wrong there, young man. If you treated my daughter badly, I'd encourage her to get rid of you."
James laughed. He was not worried about his mother-in-law. She seemed to like him and he had done nothing wrong to her daughter. "I'm treating her very well. I'm even trying to keep her out of trouble. She's taking my children on hobby investigations. My children!"
He felt as if he was pretending to be someone else. The fact that he had a wife had not even sunk in yet, as getting married had not really made a difference from having a girlfriend, but now he had children. He was getting old and responsible and settled.
It was not as if he had been surprised by his twins -- he had known they were on their way -- but having them there still made a difference. They were so very real and so very helpless. He needed to protect and help them where he could.
"She should be in bed. Do you know how long we spent in bed in the days when she was born?"
"I can't see Sophia stay in bed unless by trial and error she found out herself that it's the best thing for her," James said dryly. The more people said she should rest, the less likely she was going to. She would not be stupid, but she would not choose the easy way out at first -- not that it was the easy way out for her.
"Unfortunately. How has she been handling it? Have you been home all week to help her?"
"I've worked less, so I was home on time every night. She's been doing really well. In the beginning of the week she had some trouble, I think, but she got over that." Sophia had not complained much. Either she had not felt any need, or she had thought it useless to bother him with something at work. She did not want to be helpless and weak.
"And what about your parents? Are they proud?"
"Yes, they're very proud. But Sophia thinks they don't know what to do with her. She may be right."
Iain had phoned his mother at eight. He had tried at three, but nobody had answered and he had not blamed his parents. He had tried again now and informed his mother immediately that Margaret had given birth on Monday morning. Given the news she had forgiven him for waking her twice -- apparently she had heard the phone earlier -- but it had taken some time before she could give him a coherent reaction.
"I really didn't know what to do with her," said Mrs Scott.
"Me neither," he mumbled. If he had known, this would have been solved long ago. He was not one of those people who needed drama and trouble in their lives. Things should be clear, quiet and steady. That was what his personal life had always been like before Margaret. It had not instantly become more dramatic after Margaret, but it had certainly become more complicated.
"But did you know she was pregnant?"
"Yes." His mother would say he could have known she did not like to be told only now. He had known. He had no excuse.
"When did you find out?" His mother's voice was now dangerously calm.
He suspected she was calculating back to when Margaret had moved out. Maybe she remembered exactly when that was. He did not, only that she had told him a short while later. "She told me when she found out." Or rather, Margaret had emailed him.
She had emailed a lot and that had always gone surprisingly well, much better than face-to-face contact. He wished he could have informed his parents the same way, but they were old-fashioned and they would think it impersonal. Maybe it was, but he was rather glad Margaret had emailed him so he could deal with his reaction on his own.
"And why didn't you tell us?"
"Er..." It was too difficult to summarise that.
His mother sighed. "Never mind. I know you too well. I can't make sense of her. Not really. What happens now? Why didn't you tell us on Monday?"
Iain did not want to hear he had done wrong. He was aware of it and he did not need anyone to rub it in. It was best to focus on something else. "I don't know what happens now. She asked me to tell you. She thought you knew, but she didn't know why you never referred to it, so she never did either."
It had not been Margaret's fault. Although he wished she had, he understood why she had not said anything to his mother. They had always got along, but when she heard nothing she would have assumed that his mother was upset with her about the break-up. He did not know if his mother was. To him she had mostly said she regretted it, but he had no idea how she would behave towards Margaret and to which extent loyalty would cloud her insight.
"Idiots! What a pair of bloody idiots you are!" cried his mother.
"Yes. Well, maybe you'd like to see Shona?" he offered, wondering if this could undo any former negligence. He would show them his daughter and they would forget. On the other hand, they would see him and how inadequately he was handling everything. But maybe the baby would occupy them so much that they would not see anything at all.
Sophia impatiently tapped the kitchen table while she waited for James to arrive with her phone -- and her mother, of course. She should display the appropriate interest in either thing, she told herself. She would be proud to show off her son and daughter. They were really very pretty and -- so far -- well-behaved. They seemed at ease and satisfied, the best reward she could have. She wanted to be a success at this.
But instead of James, Susannah and John drove up to the house first. Her sister had visited her in the hospital last week and her brother-in-law had come over again at lunchtime on Wednesday, since he worked across the street, but she had not known they would be coming again today.
"How are you feeling?" Susannah asked. "John said you looked a little tired on Wednesday."
Sophia was indignant. John being her Chief Constable, she had tried to look her most active and energetic. The last thing she wanted was for her boss to think her incapacitated. It might have consequences for her career. "I only had babies."
"Is that sarcasm?" Susannah was not sure. "Of course you have every right to be tired."
"I should like to have every right not to be tired," Sophia protested. She had been tired on Wednesday, but she had tried to hide it. It was annoying that he had noticed it nevertheless, but perhaps he had come with a prejudiced opinion of women. They were all lying flat for a month and had no interest in anything but nappies. She had done her best to be interested in work and cases Wednesday, but very obviously she had failed. It was not nice to hear.
"Where's your boyfriend?" John asked.
She was still cross. "I don't have one. I have every right to be married as well."
"When did you get married?" he exclaimed.
"A few months ago. Why? Is it any of your business? I got sick of people stressing the boy in boyfriend." That had not been the reason, naturally, and he was furthermore the only one who always teased her with having a younger partner. There were not many people who even know, or who dared to tease her.
She had got married to James to tie him to her, although he had never been unwilling. He thought living with her and raising children together was commitment enough, as she would have done had he not been younger, but he had not opposed marriage. In fact, she would say he had rather liked it.
"You got married?" Susannah added her amazement. "And you didn't tell anyone? Not even your closest family?"
"I knew people would have strange reactions. I preferred not to hear them."
"God forbid they should wish you well!"
"I'm not comfortable with those things," Sophia said with a blush. "And I could never think how to bring it up." She was not one to announce these things in company and she had sometimes felt she ought to bring it up, but the moment had never been right. James had only laughed at that and he had never pressed her. He had thought her discomfort cute.
"People skills," John said cheerfully. "I think I mentioned them once? But at least you brought them up with the boyfriend. Congratulations, Sophia. I take it your name won't change professionally?"
She rolled her eyes and feigned indifference. "Don't tell me that in the interest of job sharing it would be more efficient to use the same name plates for us both."
"Now that you mention it..." He looked reflective. "And currently for Detective Chief Superintendent Riley, with the Chief in parentheses."
Susannah had been looking at the babies. "How do you tell them apart?"
"One is a boy." She had different colours for him. Unfortunately the babies had not revealed their sex before the birth and she had been forced to buy neutral colours for both, but even with those she could differentiate.
She was glad there was one of each. Two of the same kind would have been much more difficult to tell apart and she had worried about it beforehand. However, she had had long enough to devise a system for any situation and systems she devised quite obviously always worked.
James arrived with her phone and her mother and she had to restrain herself. She greeted her mother, who was of course more important. It was not long until Margaret phoned. Because everyone was busy comparing babies, Sophia sat at the kitchen table, ready to discuss everything. She was disappointed.
"I have no time. Iain forgot to inform his parents that I was pregnant, so he shocked them this morning and they'll be coming over shortly," Margaret said hurriedly. "We have things to do."
"He forgot?" Sophia was sceptic. It was not so different from not telling people she was married, she supposed, so she should not say anything. But really, one was not visibly married, whereas one was visibly pregnant and one's baby was also pretty visible after it was born. It was stupid to think one could get away with not telling.
"I'll email a drawing he made. He refuses to be available for questioning and the drawing is all he saw, he says, and all he wants to share on the subject. He's not being very cooperative this morning," Margaret explained apologetically. "His parents, you know. I can't say anything. Mine don't know yet. What's your email address?"
Sophia gave it and she received the promise that the drawing would be sent to her right away. She started up her laptop, seeing that the discussion among her guests was still on whom the babies resembled most. Then she remembered the photos she had taken nearly a year ago. It cost her some time to find where they were located on her computer, no easy task after James had cleaned up her files one time.
"I know you don't like people in your house," he suddenly whispered in her ear. "But they're your relatives, not mine."
She looked a little guilty. "The photos of the Treminster Club, where did you hide them? I hope you didn't delete them. I'll talk to my visitors if you'll find them for me."
She was back in the kitchen a minute later. "I need the sugar bowl. Found them yet?"
"Of course. Do you remember what happened after these? I'd never throw them away." He gave her a look and she ended up in his lap.
"Did you like it?" Sophia inquired. The problem was that once she was seated comfortably, she found it difficult to get up. She rested her head against his shoulder.
"All fifteen seconds of it," he nodded solemnly, teasing her with the scathing verdict she had initially given him. By now he knew that even she knew it had taken longer and that she had not minded any of it. "We should probably not take much more this time, because one of your guests wants some sugar. Or was that an excuse?"
"I'd like to compare those photos to a drawing that Margaret will be sending me in a second. Has it come in yet?"
"I don't check your email as a rule. Take the sugar to whoever wanted it, or they'll think we're working on number three."
"In the kitchen?" Sophia asked in a shocked whisper.
"I thought you'd say something about number three, not about the kitchen," he said after a moment, but he pushed her off his lap nevertheless. "I'll have a look at your email and notify you in case of amazing similarities."
He did not expect to find any, but when he compared the drawing to the photos, he could not help but see some. He rested his head on his hands and sighed. So Iain had seen more or less the same things, but that did not mean it meant something. Sophia would jump on this nevertheless. There was no need to ask her where they were going to walk to tonight.
The rest of the email contained little information. It only said that Iain had seen this and that a security guard had caught him, and that unfortunately this was all Iain wanted to share. James sensed some reluctance there. Clearly he was not the only man who had his reservations about his wife's hobbies. He sent back a reply.
If Iain needs to commiserate about being drawn into this mysterious business of nothingness, he is welcome to go to the pub with me again tonight.
James (not Sophia, who is not allowed to go to pubs)
He left the computer and joined the guests. Sophia gave him an inquisitive glance, of course, but she was strong enough not to run. He sat beside her. "Looks similar."
There was that instant look of excitement in her eyes. "We'll have a look tonight."
"You're so predictable. I may, however, already have an appointment to do something else." Seeing her excitement, he began to regret that a little. An animated and excited Sophia was rather alluring. But she would be back from her excursion, he told himself, and when it came to warning her off going he was utterly powerless.
"I didn't mean you had to come along," she said surprisingly. "Can you take the babies along to your appointment? What is it?"
Sophia checked her email for a reply from Margaret or Iain or whoever used the computer at that end. That James had emailed from her account did not bother her, but she was curious about the reply. He had said he had invited Iain to the pub, but she would rather they had their beer here at home so they could watch the babies while Margaret and she went out. It would be too much to ask of the men to go investigating, not that she even wanted to give up her fun to them.
He could have his drink with James here tonight, if he brought his wife and daughter. She trusted Margaret would get the idea and it could not possibly matter to Iain in which surroundings he had his drink, as long as Margaret was not there. James would be nice company for him.
There was no reply yet, but she sent off her idea.
James was nice company indeed. She had better join him and her mother. Susannah and John had left already, but her mother was going to stay a little while longer. She had two other sisters. One lived abroad and one had visited last Sunday. She had never been very close to the latter. The large age difference had played a role, as had their completely different lives.
Sylvia had started having children when Sophia was just beginning secondary school. It was not the sort of life she had ever considered interesting. Susannah had much more in common with her, even if she too was much older. Sophia did not think Sylvia's children, who had babies of their own, were likely to visit any time soon. The only person who might still come over this weekend was James' sister. She was glad for the peace and quiet.
She returned to the other room to find her babies were hungry. They had been fed earlier and John and Susannah had been a little shocked to hear how often they nursed, but not having any children of their own they could not have an opinion worth minding. Her father-in-law had fled to the kitchen and her sister thought it was too often. This was not very encouraging, but at least James continued to be supportive and fascinated.
"Is it really too often?" she nevertheless asked her mother.
"I don't remember," said Mrs Clarke, but she did not appear to care about her failing memory at all.
Sophia did not know whether it was her mother's age or an affectation. "Susannah..."
"Susannah would probably want you to feed them during your lunch break and then not until after work."
At the moment that would be impossible, although it was more or less what Sophia had imagined herself beforehand. Now that she had had a taste of reality, she began to wonder if it was feasible to stick to any sort of schedule a few weeks from now -- but it was very surprising that she found she did not care. Her morning rituals had always been strictly scheduled. James had messed them up a bit, which had taken some getting used to, but abandoning them completely had been impossible. That she was willing to see what would happen instead of planning it in advance was amazing to her.
"Sophia's husband wants to take you to the pub," Margaret told Iain. She hoped Iain had not developed an extensive social life. It would be uncanny, even if it would be good for him.
"Do you mean Clarke's husband?" Iain frowned. He did not know the man. That their wives got along did not mean he had to get to know the man. "I'm not sure."
"It's lovely. You need to do more social things. Anyway, he's invited you to the pub, but Sophia would rather you two drank something at her house, so you could watch the babies for us." She smiled persuasively.
"When?" His parents were coming and he did not know how long they were planning to stay. He hoped they were going to stay so long that he would not have to visit this stranger, because at the moment he did not like being social to people he did not know.
"Oh, tonight. Your drawing matched Sophia's photos. She wants to have a look tonight. Neither too long nor too late. I don't think she has any time to pump milk." Sophia would need to be back in time. Margaret had managed to freeze half a bottle of milk herself this week, something of which she was very proud. She hoped she would be able to build a better supply before she went back to work, but so far it would get Iain through the evening.
"Pump milk?" Iain had no idea what that might be.
"You'll see. Is that your parents?" She heard something at the door and she gestured. Perhaps she was as courageous as he was.
He did not move. "It's your house."
"It's your parents."
He sighed and placed his arm around her waist. "Together?"
Margaret was too baffled to protest. She allowed herself to be pulled to the front door, which she then had to open. She had been right; Mr and Mrs Scott were at the door. They could not help looking curious, of course, and she felt embarrassed. Although she had not been as wrong as Iain, she could have dropped hints or even asked direct questions, but she had not done so. She had not actively tried to find out whether Mrs Scott knew or not.
Iain had removed his arm before she opened the door, of course, but she had derived some comfort from it while it was still there. They both had to deal with this. Perhaps she should let his parents take the lead, because his mother certainly behaved as if she had always known -- as if Shona was born that morning and if she had been notified right away. Margaret could not detect any traces of resentment.
She allowed herself to smile a little. "She's in the living room." It was easier to get them to move than it had been to get Iain here. His parents needed no prompting.
"And where is Ailsa?"
"She has a tournament. She left very early."
"I dropped her off at the field," Iain said unexpectedly.
She was surprised and pleased. "Oh, did you?" This had all taken place before she was up. It made sense that they had been awake and that they had talked, but she had not asked him about it. Now she was curious what they had talked about. Ailsa always knew too much.
"Well, here she is," she said, gesturing at the baby as if she was not the only baby in the room.
Iain wished she would pick up the child. She knew how to do it. He would struggle and his parents would say something. Or he would wake her and they would say something. She was so peacefully asleep now.
Margaret left her lying, however. "You can pick her up if you want. I don't mind. I don't know if she does. I'll get you something to drink."
It was her house and his parents, but Iain still did not like how easily she got away. He was left with them now and they would expect him to say something.
"You should make her sit, Iain," his mother whispered in concern. "You should get the drinks."
It was starting already. He screwed up his face. This would be followed by much more that he should or should not do. "She knows what she can do. I don't."
"You could be a gentleman."
"I could." He did not have to say any more, because Margaret was back already and she walked as energetically as ever. She was not very fat anymore either. Someone who had not known her before would not see she had given birth recently. He observed this appreciatively.
He did still appreciate Margaret, he supposed, and now that she had her baby she might not bother him for a child for some time. It had been terribly difficult to be home at the same time on the right day, for something of which she would only like the result. He had developed quite an aversion to trying.
Shona stirred, as if she knew there were visitors, and Margaret handed her to her mother-in-law. Iain's brothers had only sons and this was the first real granddaughter, not counting Ailsa. It was clear that the grandparents were thrilled. This relieved her and she even felt generous enough to support Iain, as he had once done for her, but there was nothing to do yet.
His parents never asked any questions about their relationship, however, or where Iain would be staying. They concentrated only on the baby. Margaret wondered how they were able to ignore the other subjects completely. Iain, she saw, expected his father to set down his cup any second to ask him what was going on, but none of that happened. They left again without having caused any embarrassing moments.
"I was ready to come to your aid," Margaret informed Iain. She did not know if the danger had passed. "But I think they gave you up as being incorrigible."
"Would there have been any point in asking you anything?" She did not think he would be able to give a succinct and clear answer.
"No," he admitted. "Not today. But they liked her. I was hoping they would like her too much to talk to me."
"Do you like her?" she asked, suddenly peering up at him.
"Of course," he answered with an uncomfortable look. "But I may not always know what to do with someone I like."
"I know. And you don't think doing as they say is an option either. Complicated."
"Doing as they say is not always an option," he agreed.
Margaret thought he might have become affectionate if his phone had not rung. It was frustrating. His job was always more important. She turned away. He answered it, of course, and she listened.
"Margaret is going out, I heard," he said. "I'll ask if you can come here."
"Not if it's a woman," she muttered. Again the idea of Iain with a social life she knew nothing about was unsettling.
He had heard her. "Men are all right?"
"Yes, if you think of the girls." She did not think he would have very bad friends.
"I can't go anywhere anyway if you take the car," he told her and then spoke some more to the person on the other side of the line.
"Does your guest drink beer?" she wondered when he had hung up. She was curious who it was.
"No idea. You don't have any in the house, so we can't." He was quite pleased with himself for having arranged something else. He did not want to be sent to the house of someone he did not know.
"I'll keep an eye on them, Mum," Ailsa had assured Margaret when she had come home and heard that her mother was going out and some man was coming over. Margaret had said she was very glad and she had driven off, to find Sophia was just taking one baby off the breast.
"There, we can go," Sophia said briskly. She had filled them up with as much as she had been able to give them. "We have two hours."
"What are you going to do precisely?" her husband wondered.
"You weren't interested."
"Keep yourself safe," he said with a laugh.
Margaret was a little jealous at the obvious concern. Iain had not been indifferent, but too nervous about having the sole care of Shona to think of his wife. He had certainly not kissed her. It made her a little sad.
"I hope you still want to go," Sophia said when she took her place in the car.
"Yes...I was just -- well, Iain didn't tell me goodbye or anything." She had not thought about it until she had seen how it was different for other couples.
"Did you tell him goodbye?"
"Yes, but he only asked me about nappies."
"Priorities. That is more important. Suppose you came back and found he had forgotten to ask you, so he knew nothing? They would be -- she would be dirty." Sophia had to remember the fact that other people only had one baby. She tended to speak and think in the plural now.
"Yes, but --" Margaret wanted to be fair, but sometimes it was difficult. "Oh, I still don't understand how people could accidentally get pregnant. With twins! It cost me so much to have just one and I really can't see the next one happening with such an uncooperative man. How do other people simply go about these things?"
Sophia was a little taken aback by that outburst. "I'm sorry. Why was he uncooperative? I'm sorry. I don't want to know." She was not qualified to give either sympathy or advice in these matters and she had best not ask for too much information.
"And I don't want to tell. You might sell it to a tabloid." She sighed. The club was coming into view and she wondered where to park. "Now, what are we going to do tonight? Where do we park? It looks busy again."
"First we park. Then we walk around the building."
"Someone saw Iain there. We cannot pee as easily as Iain. I assume you're also still bleeding?" Margaret shuddered.
"We can look for special flowers. Seems like a girly thing to do. I know nothing about flowers, but some man won't either."
"I like these," Sophia said as she bent over some wild flowers in the high grass behind the building. The lawn needed to be mowed, but it served her purpose that they had neglected to do so. Perhaps they liked the wild flowers and they had been negligent on purpose. "What are they called?"
"I have no idea."
"I'll take these. It gives me something to hold. Do you see anything?"
"Are we allowed to be here?" Margaret felt a little nervous.
"Margaret!" Sophia said in dismay. She had somehow got the impression that Margaret was bold and fearless, given how she had bluffed her way into the club. Nerves were out of character, unless she had been wrong and Margaret would be no help at all. "You're not going to back out, are you?"
"I was just wondering who'd feed my poor little baby if I got arrested."
"We won't get arrested. I have my warrant card. What are you seeing?" Sophia kept her eyes on the flowers. She could not look around. Not yet. But who was going to arrest her? A colleague? They would not.
Margaret hoped Sophia's warrant card could keep them out of trouble. It made no sense in combination with the flowers, because even policewomen who were not at work should not be trespassing, but perhaps Sophia would come up with a good explanation if they were asked what they were doing here.
She had once been investigating all over a house in which she was staying as a guest, which in her opinion made it very different from trespassing. It did not feel the same at all, she now found out. And the officer in charge had been Iain, who would not have dreamt of arresting her then. Being here, where Sophia suspected the owners or caretakers of not being bona fide, was a different matter. Policemen could be trusted; criminals could not.
She had been looking around and she tried to have some trust in Sophia. "We've just passed one window that had its blinds down. The second one looks the same. There are people on the terrace ahead and children playing in the grass."
Sophia raised her eyes briefly. She had never seen people on the terrace, let alone children. This was new to her, but it was very useful. "Good. Then we'll look less out of place. We won't be able to peer into any windows too noticeably, though, let alone break into one."
"Were you going to?" Margaret would be a little apprehensive about that. It was not the same as going into the room of someone she knew. Iain would be pleasantly surprised if he ever found out. He probably thought she did everything with the same ease and disregard for authority.
"I don't know." Sophia had gathered a nice little bouquet of wild flowers and now moved to the flowerbed under the windows. "Here, why don't you pick one of those while I look bored -- I mean, into this room."
Margaret obeyed. Suddenly she hesitated. "Iain peed here. What if he did so on this flower?" She would not touch it if it had not rained in the meantime, but she could not remember if it had. She was silly.
Sophia had no compassion. "You're married to him. Why should he have chosen that precise spot anyway? Why should you and he pick the same flower? If you did, I wonder why you're separated. Ah, they have not cleared the room yet. There are whitish figurines on the table."
"Ivory?" Margaret suggested, inspecting another flower. They all looked to be thriving. It was probably safe to touch them. She pondered if it had any meaning to pick the same thing, however unconsciously. "Ivory trade is illegal."
"I'd have to look that up." Sophia turned away from the window. "Is it? How do you know?"
"I present a quiz. I mock people who don't know things. But only if they sign up for the quiz, so don't worry."
"And you like that?"
"It pays. Who am I to say no while it lasts? They'll get rid of me before I turn forty. Maybe even when I can't get the baby weight off." Margaret was very realistic, but she would not mind if they did get rid of her in a few years. She wanted to have more children by then -- if Iain cooperated. She always became gloomy when she thought of that.
"Yes, forty is old," Sophia said sarcastically. "You know that I'm over forty, don't you? And I have baby weight."
Margaret chuckled. "I've seen worse. And I hadn't wondered how old you were."
"For a while James seriously entertained the notion that I was fifty-two, because it was on the website. When I confronted him with that, he saved himself by saying I looked thirty-eight." She rolled her eyes. "I don't really believe people who say similar things."
Margaret laughed now. "I thought thirty-seven. All right?"
"Let's walk on. If you are right, what is the ivory doing here?"
"I have no idea."
"We can't know for sure it's ivory unless we examine one. Let's go inside."
James wondered why Iain was giving him funny looks when he arrived with two babies. The whole point of getting together was that their wives were out and someone needed to look after those babies. He did not get it, unless three babies were somehow two too many. "Don't worry. They're good."
Iain stared at him for a few moments. "Two babies. Then she actually wanted me to have a drink with you at your house?"
"Did she?" James asked as he followed him into the house. He had no idea who she was. Sophia? Or Iain's wife?
"Yes, but I thought I wouldn't know her husband, so I thought I'd make my own arrangements. Someone could have told me it was you. Maggie might feel smug now."
"Oh, what do you care?" James knew he had not been clear, but Sophia liked it when he was not too clear about their private life. Since he was indifferent about being clear himself, he generally stuck to what she liked. It amused him to some extent. "You get some company and we can wonder what they're up to. Did she actually send you out last night?"
He set the car seats down and put the babies in the playpen with their little friend. There was not much room, but none of them seemed to be very mobile yet. He had no idea when that began, but probably not this week.
"Yes," Iain said with a sour face. "Emotional blackmail, I think they call it. It wasn't that bad to do, but don't tell her that. It may really be a fishy case. I'll keep an eye on it. Margaret cannot do anything officially. That's good. I don't want her to be too involved."
"I wonder how many babies Sophia should have to keep her in the house," James mused. "Two obviously aren't enough."
"Would you like her to stay home?"
"Obviously I only slept with her so I could have her job, haha. No," he said when he perceived a girl watching them from the kitchen. She came to shake hands with him and introduced herself as Ailsa, but she looked a little wary of him. Probably because of what he had said. "Did you believe me?" he asked.
"I don't know you," she said evasively.
"I'm your father's boss," he said, although he did not know if one used such simple explanations on teenage girls. Maybe he could give his rank and she would know.
She did not seem to mind. "I'd better not embarrass him then, although it's really always my parents who embarrass me."
The three babies looked to be happy where they were. For a while the men sat talking and when one of the babies stirred, Iain had a piece of paper with directions. This amused James, who felt quite superior for not needing any. Sophia had made him do his share every night and he was by now pretty good at handling them, or so he thought. She trusted him well enough not to leave him directions.
He was proud of himself, but he felt enough sympathy for the struggling Iain to help him by reading the note. It had to do with a bottle in the freezer, but he did not know anything about that either. At any rate he was very glad that his twins did not seem to be hungry for a change, because he would not have anything to drink for them until Sophia returned.
He wondered what she was doing. How long could looking into a window take? The women had gone by car, not on foot, so this ought to bring them back a few minutes after they had done their detecting. It could not be long until the babies started fussing, because so far every night they had been rather thirsty. Then he would lose his smugness, because for all Iain's nerves he had managed to satisfy the baby eventually and James was not going to be able to do the same.
Margaret stared at Sophia. "Inside? How? You said you weren't going to break in."
"No, I don't think we should," Sophia agreed. "But there's a front door and a door to the terrace. How else did those people come out? Let's walk that way and see if they all know each other. It could be a wedding party or something."
"We don't really look the part," Margaret said as she eyed her comfortable clothes. "But neither do those people. Would everyone know each other at a wedding party? At mine they did, because there was no one, but I went to one last year and I knew about five people out of a hundred."
"Can't you flash your autographs around again?"
"I'd rather you flashed your warrant card," Margaret shot back."It makes no sense for me to go in there saying 'oh, just looking if anyone wanted my autograph', does it?"
"I thought that was exactly what drove those people, a sort of expectation that everyone was dying to see them."
Margaret was amused rather than offended. She did not recognise herself in that description, but she recognised something else. "You sound like Iain. He's been so fortunate as to never actually have met anyone who wanted something from me, but he's always afraid that his luck will change. He'd run."
They had reached the large flower pots that separated the garden from the terrace. A few children ran back and forth between them and some people sat drinking. Sophia stepped onto the terrace. She could not see at a glance if these people all knew each other, but the fact that nobody looked at them was promising. "Let's get a drink," she said to Margaret.
The bar was inside, where it was considerably more crowded. Margaret wondered whose party they were crashing, but nobody approached them. They picked two glasses off a table and slowly wandered through the room. She had never been here before, so she followed Sophia. They had picked up glasses without really looking at them, but now she noticed something. "This is wine. I can't drink wine."
"I can't either, but that's good. We can hold it for a really long time. Let's go through that door." She nodded at an open door.
"The hall. The exit." Sophia led her towards the secluded corner where they had sat to nurse their babies. This time the corridor was empty and quiet. "I sat in James' lap here. I was surprised how gentlemanly he was. He didn't feel me up or anything."
"He saved it up for when you got home."
"That was another night."
"Well, maybe you're right and he did save it up. But I was surprised anyhow, because I suggested he put me against the suspicious door and pick the lock while he kissed me, and he refused. I thought it was something he did all the time, but I was wrong."
"But..." Margaret tried to imagine it. It might work. For other people. "If it wasn't something you did all the time, how could you suggest it? Or was it?"
"Oh, no. I've never had to do anything like it on duty." Sophia kept her eye on the front door. There was a security guard there, but he did not look very attentive. He was not keeping an eye on their corner at all.
"And off duty?"
"I've never had to pick locks."
"But can you do it? Suppose we walk up to that door and it's locked."
"That's why we have husbands." She saw the security guard step out with someone. Presumably there was something in the car park that required his attention. "I'll have a look. Pretend I went to the loo and you're waiting for me. I'll be back instantly if the door is locked. If it isn't, you give me a sign if it's clear for me to return. But I doubt the guard will come this way if you're just sitting here."
Sophia got up and quickly walked into the corridor. The door she wanted was locked, but to her surprise the one next to it was not. She slipped into that room in case there was something to be seen there. It was one of the rooms with closed blinds, but it was not too dark to see.
She would have looked into the filing cabinets if there had not been a door in the wall to her right. If she was not mistaken that door would lead right into the room with the figurines, but she expected it to be locked. To her great amazement it was not and she stepped inside.
She wanted only one thing and she had no time to look for papers or documents. There were two groups of boxes. One part had clearly been filled already, whereas others were still empty. If she took a figurine from the table, the people here would have one box too many.
She took one of the figurines in her hand as she weighed the options. They would not into a closed box again, she assumed. She would take one from there and fill the box with something of roughly the same weight. How she was going to explain coming by this figurine she did not yet know, but something would occur to her, she was sure.
Or maybe it did not have to. It seemed to be plastic.
Sophia decided she was not going through the trouble of borrowing a figurine that was clearly plastic, so she put it back. It was a disappointment, because she was still absolutely convinced that something fishy was going on. She slipped back into the other room and then quietly opened the door to the corridor. First she listened for footsteps and then she peered out.
"Oh good grief, Margaret!" she muttered under her breath when she saw that her friend had company. Some man was sitting across from her, leaning forward interestedly. Margaret herself looked less interested, but she did not appear to have the power to get rid of him very quickly. Sophia disliked all too social people.
Sophia withdrew and contemplated her options. Unless everybody had gone inside, there was no climbing out of the window either. Unless they would not care if anyone looked out, she could not check if they were still there. They might assume she belonged to the staff, but not even staff would climb out of a window.
In any case if she climbed out, she would have to leave the window open behind her, a burglary might be reported and her fingerprints might be found.
She sighed and wiped everything she had touched with a corner of her skirt. There was nothing else she could do. Then she looked out of the door again, hoping she would not have to risk climbing out of the window. But Margaret was alone now.
"Sorry," said Margaret when she had gestured it was safe to come back. "I was sitting here and that man came up to me, thinking I was alone. I should have told him I was with a man when he asked whose glass that was, but I said it was a woman and he just sat down."
"Why?" Sophia gave Margaret her iciest stare, although it was not directed at Margaret herself, but at the man.
"To chat me up?"
"Thank goodness I'm not attractive."
"Temporarily, you think, or what?" Margaret did not understand. "Don't count your blessings. You'd be chatted up, but you wouldn't allow it to last very long. Usually I don't either, but I didn't want to cause a scene." She could not look as icy as Sophia did, but she would be more discouraging verbally.
"Oh, I thought you were looking for attention elsewhere because of your husband." Sophia sat down and glanced at the security guard. He had not seen her return. For all he knew she could have come out of the loo. Nobody would ever find out about her trip.
"Bah. You're the wild one, not me." Margaret could not imagine herself doing something like that. Iain could not be perfect and in spite of everything he was still the one she wanted.
"Wild? That's wildly amusing." Although she had feared it after the incident with James, it had not taken long for her to come to her senses. She was not wild. Not at all.
"You sat in a man's lap here and then you took him home and slept with him."
"You're singularly obsessed with that detail," Sophia observed. "And those were different occasions, thank you very much."
"Because I cannot wrap my mind around it. It's something that's impossible for me to do. I'd have to talk and think about it so much that there wouldn't be time to actually do it," Margaret said self-deprecatingly. Iain's mother had told her she always thought too much, but it was something she could not change.
"What do you mean, why?"
"You're married to the man. Why do you have to think and talk about it?" Sophia did too, but not to the extent that there was no time left. She imagined there was much more to think and talk about if one was not in a relationship, but Margaret was.
"Because I don't like it. Yet it's somewhat required if you want babies," she mocked.
"And you told him you don't like it, but you wanted to go ahead anyway?" Sophia frowned. She could imagine how that had come across.
"Yes. And Iain refused."
Sophia felt she had better not say that this was rather predictable. He seemed to be a sensible man, whereas Margaret sounded a trifle unstable emotionally. "Clearly he gave in once, because you have a baby. Let's go home," she decided. She could give people solutions, but that was never what other women liked. "My chest is beginning to hurt. I need to nurse."
"All right. What did you see in there?"
"I'll tell you in the car."
The drive was just long enough for Sophia to fill Margaret in on what she had seen and how little sense this made. Margaret could only agree with her on that point, although the Treminster Club hosting criminal activities had never really made sense to her anyway. She did not know what to do now either and she supposed Sophia would have to resort to some other type of investigating if she wanted to know more.
Arriving home, Ailsa opened the door to them. "Thank god! Intelligent conversation."
"Do you mean they left you alone with the babies?" Margaret wondered. She could not imagine it.
"No! But men are equally bad."
The scene in the living room looked perfectly normal, however. The three babies were in the playpen with a musical mobile above their heads. The men were having a drink.
"What did you find out?" asked James, who saw no sparkle of excitement in Sophia.
It was depressing that she had to tell him it had been nothing. She picked up the nearest baby and she sat down beside him. First she would take care of this and then she would tell him. "I'm not sure I should tell police people what I did. DCI Scott strikes me as someone who always plays by the rules."
Iain did not know whether that was a good or a bad thing in her book. He said nothing.
Sophia realised she had picked up the baby who was not fussing, but since she was already busy unbuttoning her shirt, she did not want to get up again to exchange it for the other. It bothered her, though. She wanted to be perfect. It was even worse when the baby she was holding refused to drink.
"What is this?" she exclaimed in annoyance. It looked as if she was failing at this now, not to mention that she was half exposed. "I'm bursting and he's not hungry?"
James thought it was funny.
She did not. "I'm in pain. Men -- of any size -- are useless. Get me the other one."
He obeyed, but he was still snickering. "Things aren't going your way this evening, darling? You didn't catch any criminals in the act?"
"Both at once," she ordered. "Please."
"What did you mean by pain?"
"It's not exactly comfortable to be bursting with milk," she hissed. "And I didn't even stay away for long! I'm going to have to take them to work with me. I'd die if I had to make them wait longer." She hoped it would get better in a few weeks, but if it was going to be as painful as this evening, she would not know what to do.
"But what did you see?" James asked Margaret while Sophia was coaxing her son. Ailsa watched everything in fascination, but Iain had left the room when the first button had come loose.
Sophia answered. She could do two things at once. "White figurines, which turned out to be plastic when I went inside to examine them."
"You broke in?" he asked incredulously. She had spoken of picking locks one time, but he would never have thought she could do it. He had never seen her practise.
"I only went through open doors. It was very disappointing to find it was plastic. We'd thought it might be ivory. But plastic..." It was depressing. Thankfully her babies were cooperating, or her evening would be ruined completely.
"That still doesn't explain why the things were there," said Margaret. "But it's a lot more likely to be innocent. Where did Iain go? Did Shona take the bottle?"
"No, we fed her with a spoon," answered James, as if this had gone perfectly well.
"That was funny," Ailsa commented. "But you need to watch out, Mummy. Everyone who feeds her is her friend."
"How did you do today?"
"Oh, I'm in first place so far."
While they were discussing Ailsa's results on the track, James turned to Sophia. "Part of me feels sorry for you."
"And part of you doesn't."
He kissed her. "That's right. I'm very glad you won't have anywhere to go tomorrow. Or do you?"
"It feels as if I'm grounded," Sophia said with a morose look. She would not be able to go anywhere even if she wanted to. "I hadn't been apart from them yet and the first time I am, I'm punished with terrible breast pains."
"I'm sorry. I know you were looking forward to having something to do during your leave." He really did feel sorry for her, whatever she thought.
"I cannot fill my days playing cow, because..." It was obvious. She had brains, she had a job and she could do so much more.
"But they appreciate it so much."
That was true and she softened.
"I don't know. Is it allowed? Does it violate professional standards?"
"That's only if you get involved with suspects."
She wondered if they were still involved. "Some fellow chatted me up."
His face was expressionless. "Did you like it?"
She could not read him. She wondered what he would say if she had liked it, but she found it impossible to lie. "No. Sophia thought I did. I do not want attention from other men."
He said nothing.
"Why doesn't lingerie work on you?" Margaret said plaintively. She had tried it once, but it had not worked.
There was a hint of humour in his eyes. "It doesn't look good on me."
"But on me?" Perhaps it had been too normal and conservative. There was so much worse stuff out there that she had not dared to buy.
"It looks good on you," he admitted, but with the appropriate amount of reluctance.
"Oh, now you tell me. You're supposed to say or do something the moment I wear it."
"You look good in jeans too." Even now.
Any hopes Margaret had begun to entertain in the last few seconds were dashed. "Iain, are you really a man? Are you attracted to women at all?"
"Yes. But..." He considered his words. "Well, you know the but. What you wear doesn't matter. I don't think you'd like such a man anyway."
She did not, she supposed, but it had been her only option to try it out. "But do you think I could be attractive again in a few weeks?" At the moment she felt fat, tired and dirty.
He had no opinion. Or maybe he did, because he kissed her.
"Your timing is lousy!" Margaret protested when he gave her a moment to catch her breath. He had never kissed her like that, but of course he had never had to wait more than half a year. "I still have a bleeding wound and everything."
"It always has to be all or nothing with you, doesn't it?" he sighed. "Why can't it just be a little? I had to marry you right away. Then I had to get you pregnant right away. Can't you just take things slowly for once?"
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