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The Rotting Spot ( A Bruce and Bennett Mystery)
The Rotting Spot ( A Bruce and Bennett Mystery)
The Rotting Spot ( A Bruce and Bennett Mystery)
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The Rotting Spot ( A Bruce and Bennett Mystery)

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'A darkly intriguing debut' VAL MCDERMID

'A fresh and talented new voice in crime-writing. The Rotting Spot takes the established form of the rural detective novel but brings it bang up to date. And all within the framework of a well-structured plot.' ANN CLEEVES

'Opens with a bang... and interweaves a suspenseful story with graphic extracts from the Skull Hunter's Blog. As Erica crosses paths with DI Will Bennett, he of the blue, blue eyes, and skeletons rattle loudly in closets, Laws brings her locations vibrantly to life.' DANEET STEFFENS, TIME OUT LONDON


Winner of a Northern Writers' Award, an NWN Read Regional Choice, shortlisted for the McKitterick Prize.

Someone's getting away with murder... and they'll do anything to keep it that way. The skull hunter's rotting spot hides a secret, while the families on the sea-lashed headland of Stonehead hide several more. When Lucy Seaton goes missing, her friend Erica Bruce is convinced there's a link to the disappearance of Lucy's cousin years before. Sexy, athletic DI Will Bennett is sceptical of small, fiercely protective Erica with her alternative health practice and love of William Blake's prophecies, so she begins her own investigation, contending with Lucy's steely alpha-female mother and religious aunt - and the doubtful assistance of shamelessly excess-loving Stacey. Has the skull hunter finally obtained the human skull he needs to complete his collection?

PublisherValerie Laws
Release dateMar 5, 2015
The Rotting Spot ( A Bruce and Bennett Mystery)
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    The Rotting Spot ( A Bruce and Bennett Mystery) - Valerie Laws


    Extract from The Skull Hunter’s blog


    ‘It’s not easy cutting off a head: sliding the blade between the cervical vertebrae, sly and slick as a credit card springing a lock. It might be a fresh kill, plump and juicy, the sinews stretchy and strong. Or it might be an old, seasoned corpse, the squatters moved in. Maggots. Those fast black spiders. Beetles, wandering through the delicate arches of bone like tourists through a cathedral. The eyes already gone. Sight and thought, first signs of life to go; eyes and brain, first parts cherry-picked by scavengers. Hell, a crow would take your living eyes, if it was sure you couldn’t move. You know the way crows look at you? Now you know what they’re thinking. But you’re a hunter, you’ve got to have that skull, even with the stench, the flies, and those sinews dried to flat dark ropes still stubbornly holding out. No, it’s not easy, cutting off a head.’

    From http://www.theskullhunter.wordpress.com


    Buried in the skull-hunter’s rotting spot, the skull waited, earth in its empty eyes. By now, it showed no visible sign of how cruelly its owner had been slaughtered. Someone had got away with murder. They would do anything to go on getting away with it. For life.

    Chapter 1

    Friday 6th June

    Wydsand Seafront


    Geordie girls spilling out of tiny dresses and no-neck shaven-headed guys in football shirts progressed from bar to bar. Stacey and Leanne piled into the Pink Banana, fortified by happy hour tequila shots, unaware that Stacey was being watched from a car parked further up the street.

    ‘Leanne, man, Ah’m f ’kn’ sweatin’,’ Stacey screamed, swaying slightly while Leanne started a full frontal assault on the bar.

    Dark patches stained the off-the-shoulder white nylon top that tried to contain Stacey’s body. Shoe-string bra straps cut into her plump shoulders; large breasts rendered larger by pregnancy jostled with her stomach and the lifebelt of fat round her middle. Massive hams bulged, barely inside a tight black miniskirt, and her feet overflowed strappy high heels. She had small eyes, lank brown hair with blonde streaks. Fag-stained teeth showed in a scarlet mouth. Not pretty, but not unpopular either. Especially now.

    ‘If yer shag ’er when she’s pregnant already, she cannot land yer with child support,’ as one of her regular suitors was maintaining.

    ‘Ay, it was canny of Tel here to get her up the stick,’ called another of Stacey’s admirers, ‘hey Tel, you want to be more careful where you leave your DNA!’

    Stacey’s baby had been conceived in the lasses’ toilet. Anaesthetised by alcohol, she had barely noticed, just as well considering Tel’s lack of skill and finesse.

    ‘Haway Stace, have another Breezer man, you’re drinking for two now!’ quipped Leanne. Stacey expertly juggled fag and booze, held upright by the crush of bodies. Beneath the artificial fibres of her outfit, ripples of movement crossed her belly as her tiny daughter enjoyed her own private mosh pit, as dark, wet, hot, and crammed as the club.

    As they left in the early hours, leaning on each other and screeching farewells to their mates, the watcher in the car became alert.

    ‘There she is ... that poor baby...’

    Pregnancy had made a vital difference to Stacey’s capacity for alcohol. The fresh salty air made her reel up the back lane and vomit into an overflowing dustbin. Her friends piled into a taxi, Leanne calling to her to join them.

    ‘Ah’m not havin that in my cab.’ The driver feared for his upholstery. This time of night, ‘taxi rank’ was a term rich with meaning. Leanne was yanked into the cab by her mates, and they drove off, leaving Stacey alone. Well, not quite.

    Stacey found herself lying on her back among the cold chips and bodily fluids already deposited there. A shape loomed, blotting out what little light penetrated. Stacey had a flash in her mind’s eye of a tiny face, and a quick stab of loss, before consciousness left her, and she lay, her enormous belly offering itself to the night.

    Nearby, Erica Bruce pushed back her sweat-damp hair. Vodka pounded in her veins. Her mate Hannah was snogging some loser, with teeth more ruined than the Roman Wall. She’d yelled into Hannah’s ear, the one without a tongue in it, that she was going home. One of those sudden shifts in perception had taken place, when the seductive decadence of night life abruptly switched to squalor before her eyes, and she wanted out.

    Unsteady in her high heels, just another girl with a very short dress and lots of bare flesh on show, with straightened hair and alcohol-heavy eyes, Erica set off to secure a cab. The trance music she loved had stopped, and over the muffled pounding of the sea below the promenade, she heard a groan. Peering down the alley, she saw, two figures was it? A glimmer of white clothing showed the vague outline of someone on the ground, another darker shape busy about the inert form. Another groan.

    A rape? A drunken shag? A mugging? Erica walked carefully into the alley, the stench of vomit making her grit her teeth as her best shoes squished through discarded take-aways.

    ‘What’s going on?’ she demanded nervously, keying in ‘91’ on her mobile, ready to hit 1 in a nanosecond. The figure looked up, the face a pale blur.

    ‘This poor girl’s taken ill, and she’s expecting a baby.’

    It was a woman, a reedy little voice, Erica realised with relief. She reached the dark duet in the dirt. ‘Looks like she’s drunk not wisely but too well.’

    Stacey lay like a melted candle in the muck, while the woman who had spoken crouched at her head. Beside her was a capacious bag, with a glint of steel protruding from it; looked like knitting needles. Like some old-school back- street abortionist at work, albeit rather late, judging by the size of the groaning girl.

    ‘She’s in trouble,’ the woman’s voice was soft but intense.

    ‘She’s in mortal danger!’

    ‘I don’t think so,’ said Erica soothingly. ‘Mortal drunk, that’s all. She’ll be ok.’

    ‘There are other kinds of danger,’ said the woman. Why did this child of Sodom have to appear? Just when she had the girl to herself.

    ‘Yeah, I suppose she’s a bit vulnerable lying here.’

    ‘You could be in danger yourself, pet. Perhaps you should get along home.’ And leave us alone.

    Erica curbed her irritation. There was something familiar about the voice ... something almost threatening in the biblical pronouncements, which was absurd. ‘I come here all the time. So does she, I know her by sight.’ A brief memory of Stacey dancing, skirt hoisted high to show her thong’s hopeless inadequacy as she tried to win the ‘get them out for the lads’ competition on a previous evening.

    ‘I’d think it would be more frightening for you.’

    ‘God is always with me, dear.’ Erica caught the flash of a smile in the dark.

    ‘Er, good.’ She hesitated, reluctant to leave the lass with her odd Samaritan. ‘I’ll hang around until we get her sorted out. Maybe it would be better to try to bring her round.’ Erica stooped over the body, and patted one cheek gently.

    ‘Are you alright, sweetheart?’ she called.

    ‘F’koff’ came the faint answer.

    ‘My little car’s up the street there, if you could help me get her into it.’ Then I can take care of her, I can do what is needed. The squat angel of mercy let go of Stacey’s shoulders, and peeled off her own baggy cardigan, laying it over as much of the girl’s chest as she could. There was still a lot of Stacey exposed.

    ‘Not a good idea, for her or your car.’ Erica touched Stacey’s wrist; it was cold, as the wind off the sea chilled her. Tel and friends, attracted by the moans, clustered in the alley, looking like a jar of mint humbugs in their Newcastle shirts.

    ‘Whyyebugga,’ Tel slurred, ‘there’s two lezzies shaggin our Stace!’

    Erica wished she had more than a tiny scrap of Lycra to keep her warm. Stacey, had they said? Stacey was heading for hypothermia, and she wasn’t far behind herself. The effects of the vodka shots were wearing off, leaving her cold if not sober.

    She looked the lads over. No-one there she’d shagged, as far as she could remember. She doubted she’d ever been that wasted. ‘Take your shirts off.’

    There was a delighted roar.

    ‘Why, she’s ganna take aal o’we on!’

    ‘As if,’ Erica sighed impatiently. ‘I just want your shirts to keep her as warm as possible. Jesus wept!’

    ‘There’s no need to blaspheme, dear,’ the other woman said reprovingly.

    ‘Nee way! She’s aal ower sick!’ ‘Me neether!’ ‘Cost iz a fortune, this shirt!’ the lads responded.

    ‘Haaway, yee’s lot, what’s gannin on?’ bellowed a deep, testosterone-fuelled voice. The bouncer, attracted by what appeared to be a fracas. And he was wearing a dinner jacket over his muscles. The lads parted as he barrelled forward.

    Erica faced him.‘Look, this girl’s hypothermic, and you and your club could be sued if she dies. So please give me that jacket to cover her with, and get rid of this zoo.’

    He hesitated, then laid his jacket over Stacey.

    ‘Oh, it’s that slapper,’ he said. ‘Fuckin’ typical. Right yous lot,’ he turned to the spectators. ‘Fuck off home or I’ll deck ye.’

    The lads began to melt away.

    Erica was digging into her bag. ‘I want to give Stacey a remedy. It might bring her round.’

    The cold sea breeze had picked up. The lads had been acting as windbreaks. Probably spent most of their time breaking wind, one way or another. She shivered, the sweat dried tight on her skin. She felt like the two halves of her life had suddenly got mixed up. Her drinking, dancing persona had abruptly had to morph into her alternative homeopath self. She pulled a little bottle out of her bag, and shook out two tiny white tablets into the lid. She bent over Stacey, who was groaning and swearing indistinctly.

    ‘No!’ cried the woman suddenly. ‘Giving that poor girl drugs! In her condition!’

    At the magic word ‘drugs’, the lads turned back.

    ‘E’s!’ went up the cry.

    ‘Divven’t waste them on hor, man,’ protested a lad.

    ‘Hand them roond!’

    ‘It’s a homeopathic remedy,’ Erica said, showing the little bottle labeled Carbo Veg. It was snatched from her hand by Tel, who was too quick for the bouncer.

    ‘Giz them! Management have an anti-drugs policy!’ he yelled, the magic words having been drummed into him by his employers in order to avoid police raids which would find most of the patrons underage.

    Erica tipped both tablets into Stacey’s open gob. The lads went whooping into the dark with the rest, convinced they were about to experience a free illegal high to round off the night. They were doomed to disappointment. The tiny sugar pills contained only the memory of vastly diluted animal, vegetable or mineral substances, in this case simple charcoal, which would stimulate the body’s own immune response.

    ‘They’re harmless,’ Erica told the woman and the bouncer. ‘Sainsbury’s sell them.’

    She had just straightened up, when a gush of hot liquid engulfed her already soiled shoes. Stacey’s waters had broken. They could have broken the Aswan Dam.

    ‘Oh, God, deliver her,’ moaned the woman, tugging desperately at Stacey’s titanic shoulders, forming an inflated pieta.

    ‘I hope not, not yet anyway. Best leave her horizontal and get help. You’ll injure yourself if you try to pick her up.’ Erica looked down at the puddle of amniotic liquid soaking up the other effluvia already there.

    Erica supported mothers in their desire to manage without medical intervention. But in this case, the girl was unknown to her. Was some reaction to a dodgy E causing an aborted pregnancy? Was the girl’s brain swelling in its case of bone even now?

    Erica called for an ambulance.

    ‘There’s a girl here giving birth,’ she shouted into her mobile. ‘She’s unconscious, may have taken drugs, or have head injuries, she needs immediate attention!’

    Better lay it on a bit. Saturday night, ambulance was the transport of choice for many a clubber. A&E would just be filling up with bloody-minded and bloody-headed drunks.

    Erica’s companion was still muttering in a sing-song chant. She had her eyes closed, her arms round the girl’s shoulders like she was trying to bring her back to life by magic. My girl, my poor little girl.

    Erica’s eyes were more accustomed to the dark. The woman was middle-aged, with a pudding-bowl haircut like Ann Widdecombe’s before she developed delusions of blondeur. Not the kind of person you’d expect to find outside a club at chucking out time. Erica looked around for a dog. The only reason such a person would be here. No dog, unless it was under Stacey’s fallen bulk.

    ‘My name’s Erica,’ she said to the woman. ‘I’ll wait with you. The ambulance might take a while.’

    Stacey groaned. The woman smiled down at her. ‘I’m here to help you, pet. Whatever you’ve done, you’re still very dear to Jesus.’

    Stacey gawped in befuddled astonishment. All her life, she’d used aggression to assert herself. Now here was someone saying she mattered. She responded as naturally as a flower suddenly brought into the sunlight.

    ‘Why yer pervy paedo cow! F’kn gerroff iz, yer maniac!’ Stacey’s bleared gaze lighted on Erica. ‘Ye, get her off iz, or I’ll deck the cow! It’s that Westfield woman from down wor street! Bleeding loony’s stalking iz! She wants to gerra f ’kn life!’

    Erica, though in every way except choice of nightlife the antithesis of Stacey, felt an urge to cheer this healthy manifesto of free will. The Westfield woman flinched, and went back to her muttered prayers. Erica heard ‘lust, gluttony, sloth, and wrath,’ – bloody hell, she was checking off the seven deadly sins Stacey had managed to chalk up. This was getting way too weird. She tried to start up something like normal conversation.

    ‘It was lucky you happened to be here when Stacey collapsed.’

    ‘I know her mam, Julie Reed ... I keep an eye on Stacey, she needs me. Putting her innocent baby at risk, exposing herself to those drunken men!’

    ‘I haven’t seen anybody I’d classify as a man,’ said Erica shortly. She disliked religious zealots of any kind, but the poor dear was probably a psalm short of a bible.

    She spoke to the supine lardass. ‘Look, Stacey, your waters have broken. So you’ll have to give the decking a rest. Decking, God, I sound like Alan Titchmarsh.’

    ‘Oh, now, I like him,’ the woman’s teeth gleamed in a brief smile.‘I thowt I’d wet meself,’ Stacey mumbled. ‘I’m fkn freezin’ mind. What’s this on iz?’

    ‘It’s my bleeding coat,’ boomed the bouncer, reappearing,

    ‘so watch what you’re doing with it, yer silly cow.’

    Stacey goggled up at him as if he was a cross between Justin Timberlake and Sir Walter Raleigh. ‘Hey, thanks, Craigie. Eeh, that’s dead nice of yer.’

    ‘Yer, well,’ muttered the bouncer. ‘Divven’t make a big thing of it.’

    ‘Me back’s buggered, lyin here.’ Stacey struggled. ‘Help iz up, Craigie?’

    ‘Nah,’ Craigie snapped back. ‘I divvn’t want my back buggered an’all. Jeeze, where’s that fkn ambulance?’

    ‘Ye worried aboot iz?’

    ‘Ah’m worried aboot me jacket man!’ said Craigie.

    The ambulance loomed ghostlike on the seafront road. The two paramedics repelled boarders as revellers from the taxi queue leapt in, claiming injuries real and imagined. As Stacey was lifted in, she clung to Craigie’s coat, suddenly scared, taken out of her natural habitat, into clinical cleanliness, no smoking and no mobile phones. Her own phone had racked up a stack of missed calls as her mates tried to contact her, but it had been sandwiched between the ground and her buttock, and no ring tone, however shrill, could penetrate that. Her baby though, beginning to feel the burden of gravity now her cushioning waters had flushed away, heard the piping of the Eastenders theme tune and wondered.

    Stacey spared a final thought for Erica, who’d been there for her in time of need.

    ‘Ye, ye want to get yersel a boyfriend, stead of poking yer neb into other folk’s business!’

    Erica laughed, rubbing her arms to flatten the goosebumps.

    The Westfield woman grabbed the arm of one of the paramedics. ‘My sister is a gynaecologist,’ she told him. ‘Let them know, at the hospital. She’s a consultant, very high up!’

    Westfield? Gynaecologist? Erica’s booze-soaked synapses began to connect. Surely not ...

    ‘Alright pet.’ The paramedic was intent on getting out of there. Sometimes ambulance crews got stoned at this time of night, and not in a good way.

    The Westfield woman persisted. ‘My sister. Her name’s

    Elizabeth Seaton.’

    Erica froze. Shit. There couldn’t be two of them. It must be her. The Bitch Doctor. Mother of Lucy Seaton, her best friend. Ex best friend. She hadn’t seen Lucy, had tried not to think of her, for five years. Much later, she thought back to that moment. A can of worms was bursting open, and it stank. If Erica had known then just how putrid its contents were, she would have taken Stacey’s parting advice. She’d have gone home, put the encounter out of her mind, and kept away from Stony Point.

    But it would already have been too late. The skull buried in the rotting spot did not move, except for the faint vibration of the sea pounding the cliffs below Stony Point, but the night’s events had already put in motion its return to the light.

    Now Erica looked again at what must be Liz’s sister. Westfield: the name hadn’t meant anything at first, and in the poor light, out of context, Erica hadn’t recognized her. Now she remembered Lucy’s terminally uncool Auntie Peggy, sitting knitting in the kitchen. In teenage self-absorption, she’d barely glanced at the older woman except for a muttered hello as the two girls dashed upstairs to Lucy’s room. Lucy was fond of her aunt but... that’s right, she’d said she was embarrassing because she’d ask Lucy’s friends if they’d found Jesus yet. Her daughter Molly had run away years before, which had made her go a ‘bit funny’.

    It looked as if Peggy Westfield hadn’t recognized Erica either. Lucy’d always called her Ricci, and her hair had grown in the years since they’d met. Also, Peggy’s attention had been all on Stacey, rather disturbingly so come to think of it. Erica’s toes were numb by now, her shoes probably a write-off. Better not get involved. Sod it.

    ‘I can give you a lift.’ Peggy gestured up the street, her smooth cap of hair catching the light as she turned.

    ‘No, no thanks, I’ll get a taxi,’ Erica was already heading for the rank, almost deserted now. ‘Quite a night, wasn’t it? Just as well you were keeping an eye on Stacey.’

    The woman smiled sadly. ‘She should have been my granddaughter, and that baby should have been my great- grandchild.’ Peg scurried away.

    One mystery was solved anyway. It wasn’t so odd that she was trawling the streets for lost souls, nor praying over them in filthy alleys. Having lost her daughter, Peg must feel the need to be a sort of guardian angel to other youngsters.

    Erica was drowsily warm in the taxi. She asked the obligatory question. ‘Busy night?’

    ‘Oh aye, time of the month ye know.’

    This cryptic utterance was nothing to do with the menstrual cycle, but the monthly round of salary cheque, frantic spending, financial drought, staying in watching telly, salary cheque ...

    He rambled on about United’s chances, while Erica’s tired, cold body insinuated pictures into her brain; hot toast dripping with melted cheese, chunks of milk chocolate, mugs of hot chocolate, hot toast dripping with melted chocolate, drip by chocolatey drip, the latenight munchies hadbegun.

    ‘A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips,’ she muttered.

    The prayer of her own particular religion.

    ‘Did ye say chips? No food or drink in here pet,’ the driver said sternly. ‘It tends to, like, reappear, if ye know what I mean. Aye, it’s amazing how stuff comes back when ye least expect it, knaa what I mean?’

    Erica did.

    Chapter 2

    Saturday 7th June

    Wydsand Bay


    Erica woke after a few hours restless sleep, prodded by habitual guilt to swim early. Could she never stop pushing herself, punishing herself?

    Swimming a mile would put her in credit for the night’s indulgence to come. See patients, lunch with Rina, enjoy the sunshine, if any, and the fresh exuberance of June.

    Should she visit Stacey? No reason to, she was probably fine except for a hangover, a condition she probably hardly noticed any more. Erica’s involvement was over, with Stacey and with Peg Westfield. Better steer clear of Liz and her world. Though she couldn’t help wondering about Lucy, what she was doing now ... better not go there.

    Powering up and down the pool in her usual fast crawl, Erica felt the water lift the burden of gravity from her bones. She remembered summer on Stony Point. Lucy, slim and tanned in her short white dress, walking arm in arm with her across the headland, the wind mingling her rich brown hair, smelling of rosemary, with Erica’s blonde locks.

    Talking about her cousin Molly.


    ‘Molly ran away from home. She was about my age. Never been seen since. I love Auntie Peggy, but she’s got religion like really badly. I suppose it got too much for Molly having God dragged into everything she did, when she just wanted to be a normal teenager. I never knew her, she went the year before I was born, but Aunt Peg’s given me some of her things. Molly used to work here, same as us. Probably stood right here.’

    Erica had shuddered, a pleasant gothic thrill. ‘Maybe she was murdered!’

    ‘When I was younger, I used to think the fairies had taken her. I suppose she just ran off and didn’t come back. Probably became a crack whore or something, couldn’t face being forgiven. She’d be forty-one now, imagine that! But we all still think of her as about sixteen. I used to be scared something would happen to me when I got to her age. Like our family had a curse on it.’

    The memories dissolved like Alka-Seltzer as Erica finished her customary sixty-four lengths.

    Erica cycled to Ivy Lodge, relishing the milky June sky. Sun warmed the Georgian façade, where Erica ran her homeopathy practice. It was a centre for alternative medicine, about four miles from her home, but in the opposite direction to Stony Point and a mile inland. Her friend Rina was an aromatherapist there.

    Erica opened the heavy, wooden door with its brass knocker and knob, and went into the neutral Ikea-chic of the interior. Her own room was in the same style, except for one wall painted sunshine yellow and a big grinning horse’s skull on her desk, fruit and flowers adding more splashes of colour. She put on the kettle just as Rina’s heavy step sounded outside.

    ‘With you in a min!’ Rina’s square-jawed, pale face, heavy dark bob swinging, appeared round the door. ‘A woman has needs, and mine is strong, black, hot, and takes a lot of swallowing,’ and vanished again.

    ‘Rina and coffee,’ said Erica to the skull. ‘Who says love don’t last?’

    She made one of the two cups of real tea she allowed herself daily, a fragrant Earl Grey in a paper-thin Chinese cup picked up from an antique shop, the sun filling the golden liquid with warm light. Civilised pleasures, she thought, pushing to the back of her mind the image of her nocturnal self swigging Smirnoff Ice from a bottle. She was sipping when Rina came in with a mug of coffee big enough to drown a hippo in. Rina was a classic Nat Mur type, the salt of the earth. It hadn’t taken Erica long to identify her constitutional remedy. Rina walked on her heels, she was strong, with a large bosom to counterbalance her brawny arms.

    ‘Well, get lucky last night?’ she greeted Erica.

    ‘Yep.’ Erica sniffed the aroma of coffee, so much better than the taste. ‘Didn’t cop off with anyone.’

    ‘Something different about you,’ mused Rina. ‘Tension in your shoulders...’

    Erica sighed. It was both comforting and annoying that Rina could read bodies so well. Comforting and annoying too that Rina seemed to care about her. It was dangerous to rely on anyone.

    She explained about Stacey. ‘Completely feckless.’

    ‘Not in the Irish sense of the word, obviously,’ remarked Rina dryly.

    Erica laughed. ‘Still tense,’ said Rina. ‘Don’t worry, I know you don’t cry on shoulders.’ She put on a horribly ‘therapist’ voice. ‘But if you need to talk –’ she dropped the voice. ‘Ring a helpline, unless it’s something filthy. In which case, come round tonight. Unless you’re too tired. As if. I bet you swam the channel this morning before coming in.’

    ‘I’ve got damp hair and goggle marks, not exactly Sherlock, are you?’ Erica drained her cup, feeling stimulation threading through her.

    ‘You could give the pool a miss, just for once.’

    ‘No, I can’t. I’d be the size of a house in no time.’ I’d rather die than be Fat Girl again.

    ‘I’ve never known anyone so driven, no wonder you haven’t got a car,’ said Rina.

    ‘Can’t afford one, in this job.’ She forced her shoulders down.

    ‘Good,’ commented Rina. ‘They were round your ears.’ She swilled down the last of her coffee. ‘Ah, there is a god, and she’s Brazilian. So, you checking up on this feckful lass this afternoon?’

    ‘She’ll be fine,’ said Erica, sorting out her first patient’s notes. ‘She doesn’t need me. Thank god.’

    ‘Whatever,’ said Rina, leaving in a hurry. ‘My place, seven, ok? Dave’s out with the lads. SNAP.’

    ‘Snap?’ Erica looked up from the screen.

    ‘Situation normal, all pissed.’

    ‘You should pay me to be your straight man, Rina.’

    ‘Straight man, gay woman, I’m not fussy. That’s how I ended up with Dave.’ And she was gone.

    Erica had a guy coming in with restless leg syndrome. Sounded like a dose of arsenic would be just the thing. Arsenicum. Homeopathic remedies worked by prodding the body into fighting the symptoms which, in a bigger dose, they caused. Like vaccination.

    A teething

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