Vanilla Pod

 

Vanilla Trumpington grew orchids.

And also liked to feed the hedgehogs, bake Victoria sponges for the local respite centre, and wear purple. She should have been seventy-five, but was actually thirty-four.

The tall, elegant woman revelled in her new identity, at last freed from that intolerable burden the vagaries of biology had inflicted on her since childhood. Vanilla’s greatest achievement was being accepted by the macho environment she had somehow blundered into when selecting a profession. What on earth had induced her to join the police force at a time when the sensitivities of minorities were just a nuisance? Not that there was anything minor about Vanilla Pod - as she was generally known, and Vanilla Plod to certain members of the public who had unwisely crossed her path. The detective sergeant ticked all the boxes when it came to toughness and visibility; a six-foot plus vision in magenta and heels - and that was before treatment to reassign her gender. What a strange, preoccupying time that was: it was a wonder she solved any crimes at all when the suspects being interviewed were more transfixed by her immaculate hair and makeup than the fact they were facing years behind bars. Appearances in court attracted the most attention; the gallery being filled by colleagues relishing the delicious way she put down defending barristers of villains who had no idea how tough a transsexual needed to be. Vanilla had cultivated a deep, husky voice for such occasions and sometimes wondered if the others in the force accepted her just for entertainment value, not realising how fascinating it was to watch one hell of an athletic man transform himself into an even more amazing woman. It shouldn’t have worked, but the result was so remarkable even senior officers held the door open for Vanilla Pod.

 

That phone call from the Chief Superintendent was inevitable. She just wished it hadn’t come as she was exfoliating her legs. He had been one of the first to hold a door open for her. For some reason Vanilla couldn’t stand the man, but put it down to sensitivities generated by female hormones. And why was he personally calling a detective sergeant when there were plenty of officers lower down the pecking order to do that? Seems this was yet another case he had decided to take control of. Her old C.Supt Reynolds never interfered like this man.

‘Now look, Trumpington,’ the plummy voice of authority told her, ‘I know this goes against the grain, but we need you to become a man. Wear something pink.’

What could she say? However reluctant she felt to flatten those expensively sculpted breasts, baiting this particular killer in high heels and a tight skirt would not work. So, very reluctantly, Vanilla went to that secret wardrobe containing the clothes worn during her previous incarnation. If she had her way they would have all ended up in a charity shop, or dustbin, but had to accept that they would be needed at some time in her line of work.

The low heels she could cope with - being over six feet tall she occasionally had to - but laces were a chore and inelegant trainers out of the question. As for the satin tie... she had totally forgotten how to put one of those on, so it was tossed back into the drawer in preference for an apricot scarf.

Vanilla had also forgotten how draughty a man’s jacket could be without a faux fur collar: a fleecy snood would have also been welcome as she loitered, pretending to be intoxicated, on a corner where the most recent attacks on gay men had taken place.

A genuine drunk made an unwise pass and lunged at her a little too violently, only to find himself sprawled in the gutter for the paramedics to get round to when they had dealt with all the intoxicated teenagers on a binge night out.

This was taking too long and the chill in the air threatened a frost. If the gay killer was going to strike, he would have done so by now. Vanilla’s soul sank at the thought she had somehow managed to look like a regular guy, though it was more likely being over six-foot with an athletic build had made the attacker think twice.

And she was right. While the DS loitered conspicuously on her corner, tiny PC Tim Osmond was fighting off a knife-wielding maniac. That arrest was one hell of a baptism into the plain clothes branch. At least it put the small twenty-year-old in line for a commendation and allayed any doubts about his physical ability to do the job. It also put him in hospital. The only time Vanilla had ever been involved in such a fight was when she laid into a thug for calling her something rather unpleasant. She had managed to control the rage since then with the help of her old detective inspector, Paddy Gregson, a bruiser with remarkable powers of deduction when sober who could have been overweight champion of the world if he had decided to go into the ring. It was his influence that persuaded others to accept her sex change. In return she wheedled him away from the bottle, though his wife left him all the same.

What else could Vanilla do after her fruitless stakeout, but put on her reinforced heels and slinkiest frock to visit the hospital and congratulate the hero barely out of the police cadets for being stabbed by the knife she could have easily fended off.

Envy and admiration were odd bedfellows.

As soon as Vanilla saw that angelic expression tinged with the vulnerability that had attracted the attack, those conflicted emotions dissolved into something far more disconcerting. God forbid PC Osmond felt the same way - that would have been too embarrassing. Hopefully he would just graciously accept the carnations and crème mints and call her DS Trumpington.

Shortly afterwards Vanilla Trumpington was promoted to detective inspector. It should have been the ultimate achievement for someone with her tendency to insubordination, but was tempered by the doe-eyed PC Osmond being confirmed as a detective constable and the despised Chief Superintendent making him Vanilla’s oppo. He may have done it for amusement, though it was more likely, despite the protestations from colleagues that they accepted her life choices, no one else wanted to work with her.

And just as she thought the razor blade of life had finished with her, there was that phone call from Paddy. He was ten years older than Vanilla, and far more emotionally conflicted about his sexuality. Being attracted to a biologically indeterminate colleague, however hard he tried to conceal his feelings, had been too much for a hardened copper with 20 years experience to cope with. As soon as the others in the station realised, he put in for an immediate transfer and his wife asked for that divorce she had been contemplating for years. God only knew how she found out: he had never laid hands on Vanilla’s athletic muscles, let alone anything else. But the environment they worked in was a hothouse of rumour, innuendo and finely-honed investigative reflexes.

Of course, Vanilla didn’t give a damn - because she never realised, only wondered why the unbounded confidence and admiration Paddy Gregson had earned from subordinates and superiors alike had evaporated overnight. In achieving her hormonal transformation so well, she had unknowingly destroyed his marriage, peace of mind and reputation.

It was only on the day he left that he admitted his feelings, giving Vanilla no time to respond or even think about hers. He then charged off like the human bulldozer she had become to admire, obviously with no intention of ever seeing her again. Only when Paddy was well away did she become aware of the rumour that someone had circulated amongst her colleagues. Despite being so bound up in changing her sexual orientation, biologically as well as mentally, she nevertheless wondered how it had escaped her attention. There probably hadn’t been any point in giving the worst rumourmonger a bloody nose, but it made her feel better.

Vanilla had believed Paddy disapproved of what she was doing. ‘A strapping young man like you, needing to wear a skirt and bra! You’re going to be a giraffe in heels!’

Now, out of the blue, there was the sound of Paddy’s voice on the phone. It ousted all thoughts of the sweet DC Tim Osmond. This older man could have been the love of her life had she been paying attention. Instead the bombastic buffoon had been allowed to slip away to some obscure posting where the only murder committed was recorded in the parish register four centuries ago. Perhaps it had been fear of losing the only thing she had desired since infancy, her true identity.

The conversation did not start well. At least it sounded like the same old Paddy.

‘Take up with that baby-faced trainee, Tim Trumpington, and I’ll send him all the gruesome details of the operations you went through to turn into Marlene Dietrich.’

Paddy dealt with emotional conflict by attacking it head on.

Vanilla had worked with him long enough to be used to it. ‘Don’t blame me because you wouldn’t say anything when it mattered. And I’m no longer Tim, you great puffed up bladder of lard!’

‘Why should I have told you? I’m not gay!’

‘After what I went through to look like this, you shouldn’t need to be.’

‘Pod - you’re Lucifer in heels!’

‘I do my best.’ Vanilla gave up trying to study the case file in front of her. ‘As much as I like to hear from you Paddy, why did you phone?’

‘I’m being transferred back.’

Vanilla was speechless for a moment. He swore he never wanted to be within 300 miles of her again. ‘What the hell brought that about?’

‘It’s alright, I don’t think I care any more.’

‘You mean you’ve got over me?’ The disappointment in her voice was obvious.

‘Just the opposite. So I’m coming back to make all those mucky-minded office boys’ lives hell as a DCI.’

She was amazed that the Chief Superintendent wanted him to return, and with full rank.

‘You do know everything here has changed, don’t you? Most of those mucky-minded office boys were promoted and moved up in the world.’

‘Done the homework, got you all sussed - so don’t give me any shit!’

‘Is this your way of saying you still love me?’

‘No, this is my way of saying we’ve got the mother of all assignments to work on.’

‘In that case, there’s only one thing I have to ask.’

‘What?’

‘What colour heels do I wear?’

 

Just as Vanilla thought life couldn’t get any stranger, she stopped off at her regular cafe for early morning coffee and found Paddy’s ex wife, Rita, waiting for her.

After their fraught history involving Paddy, Vanilla hadn’t expected the woman to invite her to join her table. ‘You’re looking good... extraordinary... but good.’ Rita had apparently overcome the reticence that had allowed her to put up with her overbearing husband for so long, and the dowdiness had been replaced by understated style. Somebody had been giving her good advice. 

The instincts of the investigating detective took over. ‘Thanks. It cost enough.’

‘What’s the name now? Can’t still be Tim?’

‘Can’t use that name any more anyway. It belongs to my DC, though I call him Ozzy. I’m now Vanilla. Pod to my friends.’

‘Suppose they would call you something like that knowing the ones you work with. Though there’ve probably been changes since Paddy left and you punched one of these “friends” so hard you broke a nail.’

‘Three - and his nose - actually. Difficult to make a fist wearing that acrylic rubbish.’ The woman’s manner was genuinely affable, so the detective decided to reciprocate. ‘How are you doing since...?’

‘Quite well actually - remarried. Paddy’s still a mess, though.’

‘He phoned you as well then?’

‘Just to let me know he was coming back.’

The deductive antenna sensed that the woman was trying to tell her something, though reluctant to come out with it directly.

There was no choice but to drop the small talk. ‘I don’t know who told you we were having an affair, but they were wrong.’

‘I know that now, but we would still have broken up. The man was impossible to live with.’

‘I’ll bear that in mind if he proposes, but I would like to know the name of the rat who started that rumour. I only laid into the one who spread it.’

‘I really don’t think you would.’

So that was what the woman was trying to tell her. But why should it matter now? Water under the bridge doesn’t flow backwards.

It probably had more to do with who wanted Paddy out of the way. Vanilla just wished she had been paying more attention at the time instead of focussing on her hormone levels, baking cakes for the respite centre and pampering her phalaenopsis.

She returned to her office obsessing over everything that must have escaped her attention during that time.

While she was deep in thought, pondering over the real reason for Paddy’s return and why her new violet scarf clashed so horribly with her magenta two-piece, there was a small voice from a respectful distance.

‘I think I’ve found something that may interest to you, Marm. It could be personal, so I’m not sure it’s my place to say.’

Vanilla crashed back to the real world. What on earth was her mousey little colleague on about?

‘Tell me what it is then, Ozzy, and I’ll let you know. And never, ever call me Marm again.’

‘Sorry DI Trumpington.’

‘Or that. Boss if it’s not good news, and Pod when it is.’

DC Osmond stood with his mouth open, wondering whether to stay in the middle of the road and risk being mown down by the juggernaut of unintended faux pas. He had been so preoccupied with political correctness, taking other human foibles into account hadn’t seemed so important.

‘Get on with it,’ she told him.

‘I was checking through the old chief superintendent’s records...’

‘Who gave you permission to go through those?’

The small man’s eyes widened like reprimanded owl’s. ‘Oh it’s all right. The archivist wanted to track down files in some historic case that had gone missing. C.Supt Reynolds was the only one likely to have held onto them as he was particularly interested in the search of a missing child. I was helping her during my lunch break when I found these notes tucked away in a plain envelope. I doubt he meant to leave them here. They mention you and DI Gregson.’

Vanilla’s first instinct to wonder at her subordinate’s diligence in not going to the pub instead was overtaken by curiosity. The detective took the envelope from her subordinate and pulled out several sheets of notepaper. Much of the content appeared to be in code. It smattered of Freemasons. It was well known that the old chief was one of them, though his integrity had never been questioned because of it.

She tucked the envelope into her shoulder bag. ‘Great work, bunny rabbit. Let’s keep this to ourselves shall we.’

‘But what do I tell the archivist?’

‘You found some personal correspondence which DI Trumpington will be returning to its owner.’ She closed her laptop and tossed her coat over her shoulders. ‘And you will be coming with me.’

Fear of the ferret crept into the small man’s eyes. ‘Coming with you?’

‘That’s what you do Ozzy, match my every step, like a shadow.’

DC Osmond was far too short to do that, but a quick learner.

 

His health being ruined by chain smoking, C.Supt Reynolds had retired several years previously. When DI Trumpington and DC Osmond called it was on one of the rare occasions he was able to get out into the garden and do some light weeding.

They were invited to sit on the patio with him and offered coffee by his attentive wife who cast them a warning glance not to worry him.

But there was only one thing on the retired officer’s mind. ‘Well, how are you getting on with my replacement then?’

Vanilla tried not to let her dislike of the man show. ‘Likes to be kept informed. We’re just curious to know why he decided DCI Gregson should return.’

Ex C.Supt Reynolds rested back in his wicker chair and gave a sigh of resignation. ‘Ah, you found those notes I mislaid, then?’

She placed the envelope on the table. ‘Why did you start that rumour about me and Paddy?’

The prematurely ageing man took off his spectacles and wiped them. ‘To save his life.’

DI and DC gave him questioning looks.

‘It would have been difficult for certain individuals to reach him in another region without exposing themselves, and that far away he was unlikely to carry on being a threat to them. Giving up the investigation he was secretly working on was probably more traumatic than finding out that Rita would not be going with him.  And, of course, there was no way I could tell him what was really happening without putting both our lives in danger. You know what his reaction to a threat is.’

Vanilla Pod knew all too well. Somebody usually ended up hospitalised.

Despite that, Paddy Gregson had arrested plenty of villains in his time and it was unlikely any of them would have killed him for it. It was all part of criminal life’s rich pattern. Vanilla assumed it was to do with a case they were handling when she had been an inexperienced DC called Tim and DI Gregson was at the height of his powers. Back then the man was an avenging tornado when it came to investigating crimes that exploited children, and in this instance there were dozens of them, girls and boys. It was before crimes against the under-aged were taken seriously, especially when the perpetrators belonged to a privileged elite.

Despite being warned off, Paddy persisted until he cornered one of the ringleaders. He wasn’t the most important of the group, but linchpin which held together the network trafficking children to paedophiles. Unfortunately, when the detective apprehended his suspect, the man decided to resist arrest. In the ensuing tussle the suspect fell and cracked his head open on a step with fatal consequences. DI Gregson escaped suspension, ostensively because it was an accident, though more likely to avoid an enquiry. And, much to his chagrin, he was ordered to drop the investigation, leaving the network free to carry on molesting children.

He didn’t of course.

Fellow Freemasons or not, C.Supt Reynolds also wanted to pursue them, but he was a relatively small cog in a huge corrupt wheel and had little room for manoeuvre. Some years later the organisers of the group found out that Paddy had surreptitiously been collecting incriminating information about them. All his superior could do was ensure the detective was moved to a distant posting for his own safety: the only vacancy the DI was offered was in a small seaside town 400 miles away where even herring gulls obeyed the law. Paddy must have been bored out of his mind and wondered whether the disgrace of falling for a transsexual - albeit a remarkable one - was worth it. That, and his prolonged exile having crushed any lingering embarrassment, explained his enthusiasm to come back. It hadn’t crossed his usually suspicious mind that guilty rabbits were inviting the weasel into the warren so they could ambush him.

Vanilla Trumpington was not happy that the inexperienced DC Osmond was privy to what ex C.Supt Reynolds had told them. Now he could be in danger as well.

‘Whatever you do, don’t tell Paddy Gregson about this,’ the older man warned, ‘Just watch his back while I try to enlist a few contacts I’ve made over the years. It may be a different world where molested children grow up and demand to know why it was allowed to happen to them, but the perpetrators are better organised and more ruthless.’

 

As they drove back to the station the seed of an idea started to grow at the back of Vanilla’s mind. It was ridiculous and dangerous, but so irresistible it couldn’t be ignored.

She cast a sly glance at DC Osmond.

He flinched.

 

Although Vanilla hadn’t seen Paddy Gregson for years he seemed unchanged; muscularly overweight, balding and as bolshie as ever.

Introducing him to her oppo brought the inevitable response.

The large man took one look at the diminutive officer and told the woman who had destroyed his peace of mind, ‘Well don’t eat him all at once.’

And Vanilla reciprocated by explaining to DC Osmond, ‘This is the meanest, obstinate, villain-chasing machine you’ll ever meet. His name’s Governor. I’m the Boss.’

‘You the boss - in your dreams, Pod,’ snarled DCI Gregson.

‘Doesn’t matter. Now you’re here, Ozzy and me can take a couple of weeks off.’

That really wrong-footed Paddy. ‘You wouldn’t dare!’ He had been honing the aggravation he was going to give the love of his life for years. In that remote seaside posting deserted even by day trippers he had little else to do - and now she was going to let him stew for another two weeks. 

‘Been granted. If the leave’s not taken now I lose mine altogether, and there’s no way I’m abandoning Ozzy to your tender mercies.’

DC Osmond daren’t say anything, just gazed in wonder at the vitriolic exchange between the six-foot woman in killer heels and portly, human bulldozer with receding hair. It had to be love.

 

As Vanilla had anticipated, DCI Gregson was not allocated a colleague liable to witness what the men he was hunting had lined up for him. True to form, while the rest of the station carried on with their caseloads, he ploughed through the reports from the original inquiry into the network of paedophiles in the hope more information had been added. Instead, as expected, all the crucial material was missing, which prevented him finding a lead to their current activities. With his formidable memory, Paddy Gregson was able to recall enough to try and project what they might be up to now.

He was able to confirm that some of the original child abusers had either died, moved abroad, or been locked up for other offences. Their places had undoubtedly been filled by a plethora of equally obnoxious paedophiles who had gravitated from the Internet, tempted by the prospect of direct abuse. The thought made Paddy all the more determined to see every one of them locked away, regardless of any privileged contacts they may have had. Though it happened years ago, the anger remained fierce, and he still relished the satisfaction of hearing a child molester’s head crack open on that concrete step.

And he now understood why Rita had found him difficult to live with. Despite the enforced dip in his career, Paddy remained the investigating steamroller, slightly leaner - but not by much - and, for a man in his mid-forties, still in his prime. He missed having someone to order about, especially when it came to database searches and technology in general. At least he still had the incriminating evidence gathered after the case was closed, securely hidden away in an airport locker. But none of it was much use to him without access to the dark web. That was too much of a stumbling block for a technophobe who would probably alert paedophiles on every continent if he tried to access it, and he reluctantly admitted he couldn’t do without Vanilla Pod and her small prodigy.

The detective had no choice but to contact cybercrime. These geeks seemed to exist in a dimension free from the malign influences Paddy dealt with in the real world and they soon found the lead he needed. And it was a pretty extraordinary one at that.

A new madam who specialised in underage girls was advertising her services on the dark web, employing the parody of a fashion parade to display the children on offer. There was no way of tracing the identity of this creature, who called herself Melissa, or of her associate known as Mr Feather.

The next “parade” was near enough to be in Paddy’s jurisdiction and due to take place in a closed bingo hall owned by one of the local councillors he had lined up for arrest in the original investigation. The detective would have certainly brought him in for questioning if his idiot organiser had not slipped out of his hands and smashed his head open.

Paddy hadn’t a hope of tackling the gathering alone, but with the evidence of a body camera he would have justification to call out reinforcements, and perhaps armed response. Hopefully DC Osmond hadn’t returned from leave to join them. He had finished his firearms training shortly before and, given his lack of inches, was more likely to aim for the kneecaps. From the gossip in the canteen - anyone’s kneecaps.

 

Making sure no one else knew what he was up to, the detective parked well away from the venue and made the rest of the way on foot. That run down part of town was eerily quiet; even the alley cats were keeping well away from the disused bingo hall.

There was light visible through the boarded up windows and thugs carrying concealed weapons guarded all the doors. Paddy broke in through a window on the fire escape and hid in the balcony which overlooked the cleaned up interior. The plush seating had been brushed down and lined either side of a disturbingly undersized catwalk.

The audience that had filtered in was mostly male and of various ages. They stood or sat around as though at an auction. Paddy was sure he recognised some of the older ones. The video feed to his office would confirm his suspicions as soon as it had recorded enough evidence.

The lights went down and the new madam in town made her entrance. Melissa wore a rhinestone encrusted mask to match her body-clinging evening gown. An extraordinary headdress of ostrich feathers, train of organza, and graceful swan-like movements gave the impression she was floating. At any other male-orientated function she would have been the sole object of attention. But here, the men were more interested in smaller portions. Mr Feathers, her trim little assistant, was immaculately dressed, with slicked down hair, dark glasses and satin-collared single-breasted grey suit. He was turning the pages of a catalogue. Paddy could just make out that they contained photographs of children.

The remarkable madam addressed her audience in a slow, American drawl which would have made other men drool. With a sweep of her elegantly gloved hand the first subject for the gratification of their lust was beckoned onto the catwalk.

Before Paddy could work out what it was about the extraordinary woman that bothered him so much, the sight of the frightened child made him involuntarily gasp. She could have been no more than ten. Unfortunately he was heard in the silence of anticipation. Melissa and her clients looked up in time to see the detective dashing back to the window. By the time he reached the bottom of the fire escape half a dozen armed thugs were waiting for him.

In the ensuing fracas Paddy Gregson probably broke a few bones, and certainly drew blood. It took all the men to overpower him and drag him back into the bingo hall before any down and out dossing at the end of the alley woke up.

Paddy should have known that the signal from his body camera had been transmitting into thin air. If he had been gunned down on the street or in his flat, there would have been witnesses and CCTV. This way only the people who wanted the detective dead to ensure that the incriminating evidence he had collected never came to light would know anything about it. They also wanted revenge for the death of their organiser so many years ago.

With four powerful men holding him back, Paddy could only curse himself for walking into such an obvious trap. It had probably been facilitated by that bloody woman towering above the lecherous gathering drooling over the terrified ten-year-old made up like a street walker. His belief in the apparent incorruptibility of the geeks who had supplied the location of the auction had obviously been misplaced.

‘That’s great Melissa,’ the voice of an older man rasped.

Paddy Gregson’s hackles rose as he recognised the corrupt councillor he almost arrested years ago.

‘You and the girl did a great job. We owe you for that. You can show us the goods when we’ve arranged another venue. In the meantime we have business to deal with. You really don’t want to see this.’

The tall, graceful woman fanned herself affectedly with a small rhinestone purse that matched her glittering mask. ‘You do really intend to make him disappear, don’t you?’

‘Bones and all, darling. You had better believe it. The best part is, nobody will miss this buffoon.’

Despite his legs buckling, all Paddy wanted to do was get his hands round the throat of that wretched woman.

‘I know I really shouldn’t ask this,’ she went, ‘but he is a very large man. How can you make a great thing that size disappear?’

‘You ever been to Scotland, darling? The lochs up there are very deep.’

‘Oh goodness... More pollution,’ Melissa drawled, gathering up the floaty hem of her train and beckoning the child to follow her.

Then she turned back. ‘There is just one thing...’ She pulled up the hem of her rhinestone dress to reveal something strapped to the inside of her thigh. It had been tucked unobtrusively in a sequinned garter to avoid ruining the line of the slinky gown.

The ringleader with the raspy voice was suspicious, ‘What the hell is that?’

She pulled the small weapon from its holster. Her drawl changed to that husky tone Paddy knew so well. ‘As I was not very pleased to see you, this really is a gun.’

‘What the hell is going on...?’

Melissa pulled off the rhinestone mask. ‘I’m the fuzz, darling, and you are under arrest.’

A squad of armed police officers burst through the rear emergency door which had been discreetly opened by Mr Feathers.

‘Don’t even think about it bitch!’ bellowed the old man.

Several automatic weapons pointed at Paddy’s head.

The DCI decided to go down fighting. Not waiting to find out if armed response had a plan of action he lashed out, hurling two men aside, only to give another the opportunity to shoot him in the shoulder.

The next bullet would have killed him if it hadn’t been for a bright, unassuming voice cutting through the hubbub, ‘I would much prefer it if you didn’t do that gentlemen.’

The thugs stopped in amazement at the unexpectedly reasonable tone.

Mr Feather explained, ‘I’ve only just managed to scrape through my firearms training so this automatic gun I’m holding might accidentally go off and, as much I would like to shoot all of you, it would mean I’d never get my Brownie badge for control of an offensive weapon.’

The quiet, controlled tone of DC Osmond was persuasive and the criminals hesitated, giving Paddy the chance to break free to avoid the ensuing crossfire. DC Osmond overturned a table for cover as bullets flew.

The exchange of fire was quickly over. The paedophiles’ security knew they were outgunned and quickly lay down their weapons.

While they and the child molesters were rounded up and taken into custody, DC Osmond endeavoured to staunch the blood from Paddy’s wound.

The older man was having none of it. Too incensed and irrational to feel the pain, he lurched towards the elegant vision in diaphanous white standing on the catwalk above the melee with a smile of satisfaction playing on her glossy pink lips. The child had been pushed behind her for fear of stray bullets and looked more amused than alarmed.

‘You are such a piece of work, Pod! How the fuck did you manage to set this up?’

‘Language, Paddy. There is a minor present.’

‘Oh that’s alright, we are taught far worse at Emily Kurt’s School of Acting,’ the girl said brightly as though she was auditioning for the lead in Annie.

‘How could you bring a kid that age into a situation like this?’

Vanilla flicked her small purse in his furious expression. ‘She needed the money.’

‘And I’m really seventeen with a drink problem,’ the child added.

‘That’s not the point...’ Paddy tried to rage, but quickly ran out of steam.

Vanilla stepped down from the catwalk and stopped his ranting with a passionate kiss. Even the armed officers busy containing the situation turned to briefly gaze and wonder.

DC Osmond just stood there with his bloodstained white scarf wondering where to look.

‘What the hell is wrong with you then?’ Paddy demanded as soon as the clinch ended.

‘I’ll just go and see if the paramedics have arrived,’ the small officer decided and scurried out into the foyer.

‘All right, Pod. What did I miss?’

‘Chief Superintendent Reynolds was also a Freemason and had friends in high places, but not the same ones as our current lord and master, who at this moment is also being arrested.’ Vanilla brushed some of his blood from her silk bodice. ‘This really needs to be soaked in cold water immediately. What about you? Cold water, hot bath, or trip to the nearest friendly accident and emergency.’

Then the pain struck. ‘Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!’ And Paddy fainted in Vanilla’s arms.

‘Well,’ she muttered to herself, ‘There’s no way Rita’s getting this one back now.’