The speeches are done and the gifts given. Assistant Chief Con Karen Zalinsky came in and did the presentatiion. To her credit, Gill maintained her composure throughout, which is more than Janet did. A slight sheen over her eyes was the only sign she was in any way sentimental about the end of her thirty year career. The official do will take place later on at The Grapes, and the team will head down there soon to get a head start. Some of them have already drifted off.
Gill is still in her own office with the door closed. Janet keeps sending doleful looks at the name plaque. “I can’t believe she’s actually going,” she says, finally.
“Well, she told you months ago, so it shouldn’t come as a shock,” Rachel says, not lifting her eyes from the screen.
“No, I know,” Janet says. “But...I don’t know, in the back of my mind, I always thought she end up wangling some cushy little job at headquarters. She’s too good for them to let her go as easily as this.”
“You know what they’re like,” Rachel says. “Always going on about budgets and cutbacks. Give it a month and they’ll be begging her to come back and do something for them.”
“Probably,” Janet agrees. She lifts her eyes to the clock on the wall; twenty to five. “D’you think we should make a move? Not much point dragging it out.”
Rachel glances over at her friend and smiles. Gill’s retirement is hitting Janet hard. Maybe it’s because Janet is around Gill’s age. It’s hitting Rachel hard too, not that she’d let anybody know of course. Rachel has long since accepted that she has very unprofessional feelings about Gill Murray. At first she’d thought it was a hero-worship thing. Gill is the most accomplished, most intelligent and most driven woman she’s ever met and it’s hard not to be drawn to that. Then she’d thought maybe it was some mother substitute thing that Freud probably had a word for. She wanted Gill’s praise, Gill’s attention, Gill’s favour. Turned out it wasn’t the mother thing. It was when Gill bent down next to her desk to pick up a fallen pen that it clicked. She just fancied her.
“Rachel, can I see you for a moment?” Gill’s voice cuts into her thoughts and she looks up with a frown.
“Yes, you, now. I didn’t think it was a complicated question,” Gill says, before turning her attention to the few remaining members of staff. “You should all get your arses down The Grapes. We’ll meet you down there.” And with that, she sweeps back into her office.
“What the hell’s this?” Rachel mumbles, getting to her feet and glancing at Janet, who shrugs.
“Final ceremonial bollocking?” she offers.
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Rachel says. “I’ll see you down there, yeah?” It’s probably best if Janet goes before Gill does. There would only be more tears if she were to walk Gill out of the building for the last time, and none of them need that.
It’s weird to walk into Gill’s office and see it so bare. Not that Gill was ever one for personal embellishments, but she always had a picture of Sammy on her desk and some framed certificates on the walls. Now there’s nothing. Gill’s perched on the edge of the desk with a wrapped gift sitting next to her. She nods to it.
“That’s for you.”
Rachel’s eyes widen. “Me?”
“Are you gonna make me repeat myself?” Gill asks, with a hint of a smile. “Go on, open it.”
Suddenly awkward under Gill’s scrutiny, Rachel reaches for the carefully wrapped box. She rips the paper, glancing at Gill to make sure she’s not one of those who prefers you to carefully remove the sellotape so the paper can be reused for another present. When she sees no censure in her expression, she tears harder, removing most of the wrapping in one go. Staring back at her is a toy Godzilla action figure. She bites her lip to keep from laughing.
“I didn’t think you'd remember that. I…” she begins.
Gill comes to stand in front of her, tapping the box with her index finger and waiting for Rachel to meet her eyes before speaking. “I want you to put this on your desk, and whenever you feel like slacking off, or whenever the new boss does something that annoys you, I want you to look at this and pretend it’s me watching you and telling you to get on with it, right?” Gill pauses and swallows. “Because you, Rachel Bailey, are going places. If you manage to keep your head out of your arse long enough.”
The tears are unexpected, spilling down Rachel’s cheeks in warm, salty torrents. She brings a hand to her mouth in a vain attempt to stifle the accompanying sobs.
Gill seems as surprised as Rachel. “Shit...that wasn’t supposed to make you cry.” Rachel shakes her head and closes her eyes. She hears Gill sigh. “Come here.” And then she’s being pulled into a hug. It’s a bit awkward at first, because Rachel’s arm is trapped in between them, but once they’ve sorted that out, it’s quite nice.
“I’m gonna miss you, Boss,” Rachel mumbles into Gill’s neck.
“No you’re not,” Gill says, pulling back so they’re face to face again. “Because you’ll be so busy getting your head down and solving cases that you won’t even notice I’m not here.” She raises her eyebrows. “I want to see your name in the promotions section of that God-awful newsletter they send to retired coppers, okay? And one day in the not too distant future, I expect to receive a phone call from Chief Constable Rachel Bailey saying ‘Here, Gill, I’ve got a lovely consultant position with a bloody big salary and very little responsibility with your name on it’.”
Rachel laughs and sniffs, wiping her nose on her sleeve. “I would.”
“You will,” Gill corrects.
“I will,” Rachel says, blushing under the uncharacteristic praise.
“Good,” Gill says with a nod, stepping away from Rachel and straightening out her blouse. “Now go to the loo and fix your mascara and we’ll head off to this do, shall we? I don’t know about you, but I plan to get bladdered.”
A cheer goes up when they walk into the pub. Gill makes a show of rolling her eyes, but Rachel can see how pleased she is at the reception. The whole syndicate is there, of course, along with several other coppers and police staff, some current, some retired.
“About time you sad cow! Only Gill Murray would work until five on her last bloody day!”
Rachel steps aside as Superintendent Julie Dodson moves in and gives Gill a one-armed hug, attempting not to spill the drink she’s holding. Gill pats her arm with an affectionate sigh.
“It’s called diligence, slap, look it up some time.”
“I’ll get one of my minions to look it up and do me a summary,” Julie tells her. “Alright Rachel?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Rachel says, catching herself a minute too late and feeling like a right idiot.
Gill and Julie grin at each other. “You’ve taught this one well, I see,” Julie comments, before shifting her attention to Rachel. “I think you can drop the ‘ma’am’ for the night. Let’s go with Mrs Dodson.”
“I...uh,” Rachel stammers, relieved when Gill elbows Julie in the ribs.
“Leave her be, you,” she scolds. “She answers to most things, Rachel.”
“Right,” Rachel says, deciding not to call Julie anything all evening.
“I have been in this pub for at least three minutes and I do not have a drink in my hand,” Gill says, using the voice she reserves for when the office is noisy and she needs to be listened to. “What’s wrong with this picture, you lot?”
There’s a mild skirmish as several people go to the bar to be the one to buy Gill her first drink as a civilian. Rachel spots Janet at a nearby table and lifts a hand in greeting. She turns to tell Gill she’s going to join her.
“Boss, I’m goi-.” She stops short, her eyes locked on Gill’s as it sinks in for both of them. Gill isn’t the boss anymore.
“Gill,” the older woman finally prompts her. “Just Gill.”
“Right. I, uh, I’m gonna sit with Janet,” she tells her, nodding towards the various men ordering drinks. “Looks like you’ve got some socialising to do.”
“Fine, I’ll join you in a bit,” Gill says, already on her way to greet a group of wellwishers. Rachel watches her for a moment, then heads over to join Janet, Lee and Mitch at the table they’re at. Janet nudges a glass of something towards her.
“Got you a voddy,” she says. “What did Her Maj want you for?”
Rachel takes a gulp of the drink and closes her eyes at the unexpected strength of the alcohol. Must be a double. She places the glass back on the table and shrugs.
“Nothing much. She, uh...just gave me, like, a little pep talk thingie,” she says.
“Oooooooooh,” Mitch and Janet chorus.
“Get you,” Janet says.
“You must be her favourite,” Mitch decides. “Nobody else got a pep talk, far as I know.”
She decides against telling them about the gift. They’ll only take the piss and she doesn’t want that. It means something to her and she wants it to stay that way.
“Yeah, well, lucky me,” Rachel says, taking another long drink, almost draining the glass just as Pete turns up with a trayful of refills. She takes the one he offers her and holds it up. “Next one’s on me. Cheers.”
It’s a while and a few rounds later when Gill finally makes it to their table.
“Budge up, you,” she says, tapping Mitch on the shoulder. He stands and lets her take his place by Janet as he drags a stool over for himself, Lee and Pete scoot theirs round to accommodate him. Gill collapses onto the seat. “Feet are bloody killing me. Never had so many people dying to buy me drinks and talk my ear off.” She points to the array of glasses on the table. “Any of these for me?”
“That’s a gin, there,” Mitch says, clearing away some empty glasses and putting them on the next table.
“Oh, Gill,” Janet says, tearing up. “I can’t believe it’s really happening.”
“Oi, you,” Gill warns her. “None of that tonight. Tonight is for getting pissed and talking about how the job’s not what it used to be.” She wraps an arm around Janet’s shoulders and pulls her into a brief hug while downing most of her drink.
“I’d ease up if I were you,” Janet suggests. “Unless we’re getting a repeat performance of The Sound of Music.”
Rachel frowns, a vague memory stirring. Pete, Lee and Mitch look equally confused. Gill narrows her eyes at Janet. “You promised.”
“And my lips have remained sealed,” Janet confirms, zipping her lips. That's a lie. Rachel remembers this story now. And it involves Gill taking her top off. “But-” Janet draws the word out. “It’s not as if they’ll be able to use it against you. Not now.”
Gill sighs and rolls her eyes. “Fine. If it means that much to you,” she relents, sitting back and draping her arm along the back of the seat she’s sharing with Janet.
“What’s this?” Mitch asks. “A musical history we’re not aware of?”
“Oh, yeah,” Janet says, enjoying herself now. “Gill’s quite the performer, aren’t you?”
“Get on with it,” Gill says, and Rachel can’t tell if it’s the alcohol or embarrassment that’s staining her cheeks pink.
“Well, at Gill’s fortieth,” Janet begins.
“Last year,” Gill puts in, clearly lying.
“Not last year,” Janet continues. “Her ladyship decided to get right, royally pissed and thought it would be a good idea to perform ‘I am sixteen going on seventeen’ for the pleasure of her guests. In the garden. Topless.”
“I’d have paid to see that,” Pete says, his jaw slack.
“I’m sure the nudity was an artistic decision,” Mitch says, biting back a laugh.
Unlike the previous time she heard this story, Rachel is struck dumb by the images it conjures up. It's no longer a forbidden bit of gossip about a boss she claimed to hate. Now it's fodder for some of the lurid fantasies that run through her mind late at night, when she can't sleep. Luckily there’s enough ribbing from the others for her silence to go unnoticed. She needs a minute to compose herself and she stands suddenly, drawing all eyes to her.
“My round,” she announces. “Same again?”
“Go on then,” Janet says. “Gill only retires once, eh?”
“Yeah, thanks, kid,” Gill says, giving Rachel a wink.
It’s well after midnight when Rachel finally manages to get off the dancefloor and back to the table. Drinking gave way to dancing somewhere after ten and Rachel’s surprised no-one’s had a heart attack yet. Shirt tails are starting to come untucked, and ties are a thing of the past. The air is thick with the smell of fresh sweat and stale alcohol. Gill’s still in the middle of it, dancing with Julie Dodson, who gets quite sentimental after a few drinks, it seems.
The thought of more booze isn’t really appealing right at this moment, and she fumbles through her coat pockets until she locates her fags and a lighter and she slips outside, thankful for the cool air. Lighting up, she inhales deeply and lets the smoke fill her lungs, holding it in for a few seconds before exhaling.
“Can I have one of those?”
She coughs, surprised at the question, and turns to see Gill grinning at her, lopsidedly.
“‘Course,” she says, opening the packet and offering it, letting Gill pluck one out. She puts it between her lips and Rachel flicks the lighter, lifting it to the end of the cigarette. Gill cups her hands around Rachel’s to shield the flame from the wind. Once it’s lit, she lets go and Rachel shoves the lighter back in her pocket. They stand in silence, smoking. Rachel takes the time to look at Gill. Her hair is sticking to her forehead, eye make up smudged and lipstick long gone. She looks tired. And happy. Rachel smiles.
“So, are we gonna do this now?” Gill asks, startling Rachel out of her reverie.
“Do what?” she asks with a frown.
“Are you gonna ask me out now?” Gill asks, blowing out a stream of smoke. “I think you should. Otherwise you’ll do it by text message one night when you’ve been drinking. And it’ll be full of stupid abbreviations and little faces I don’t understand and have to decipher. Best to get it over with now.”
Rachel’s mouth is hanging open, the cigarette forgotten in her hand. “Wh...ho-how did…”
Gill raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t get to my present rank because of my pretty face and sparkling personality, Rachel.”
“No, I know...I…” She stumbles over her words, not knowing how to respond.
“You thought you were being subtle. Yes, I know,” Gill says with a nod.
“Wasn’t I?” Shit.
“Not very, no.”
“Shit.” Rachel furiously thinks back over the past four years, trying to come up with instances where she’s been obvious about her feelings about Gill. Gill doesn’t afford her the luxury of thinking time.
“So, are you going to do it now?” she presses.
“Depends,” Rachel says, attempting to project a confident exterior. “Am I on a hiding to nothing? You’ve never...I mean, to my knowledge you’re…”
“Straight?” Gill prompts.
“Well…” Rachel briefly wonders if there’s another way to put it and comes up dry. “Yeah.”
“Not entirely. I’ve had the odd thing with women here and there over the years. Nothing serious.” Gill points her cigarette at Rachel. “Never been opposed to it, mind. Just haven’t had the opportunity presented to me. Until now.”
“So...if I ask you out, you’ll say yes?” The thought thrills her and terrifies her.
“You’ll have to ask and find out, won’t you?” There’s definitely a hint of teasing in Gill’s smile. It doesn’t ease Rachel’s nerves in the slightest.
“Are you...are you just doing this because you’re…”
“Because I’m…” Gill raises her eyebrows. “Try and finish your sentences.”
“Because you’re pissed.” As much as Rachel fancies Gill, she’s damned if she’s going to become an drunken anecdote to be lumped in with the ‘Sixteen going on seventeen’ story. ‘Here, Gill, remember that time you got so pissed you snogged Rachel Bailey?’
Gill’s expression darkens a little. “Rachel, I may have had a few drinks, but I am not ‘pissed’. The reason I am bringing this up now, as opposed to last week, last month, or last year, is that this is the first time I haven’t been your superior officer.” She drops her fag and stamps it out. “You may not care about propriety, but I do. And I didn’t want the tossers in HQ thinking I was giving you preferential treatment because I was shagging you.”
A bark of laughter escapes Rachel’s throat. “Preferential treatment? Hardly!”
Gill’s eyebrows shoot up and Rachel knows she’s spoken out of place. “I beg your pardon?” Rachel takes a step back as Gill moves towards her, jabbing her in the chest with her finger. “Do you honestly think anybody else who behaved the way you behave would still be in my syndicate?”
That gives Rachel pause. Even discounting that time she was under investigation for murder, some of her other behaviour falls far short of professional. Gill, meanwhile, is the consummate professional. The only time Rachel’s known her to be anything other than by the book is when she’s been covering up for something Rachel’s done. Rachel frowns.
“So...you kept me around because you fancied me?”
Gill groans. “No, Rachel, I kept you around because you’re one of the best detectives I’ve ever worked with.” Rachel’s face flares with a pleased blush. “I’ve had to overlook a lot of the shit that comes with that, of course.” She shakes her head. “And if we had been in any kind of personal relationship, it would have given the higher ups reason to call my judgement into question. And I would not allow that to happen.”
Rachel’s head is spinning with vodka and Gill’s words. That’s what she’ll blame her next question on. “So...if I’m the best, then why’d you choose Janet as sergeant?” Apparently that’s still an issue. Damn.
Gill’s eyes flick up to meet her own, like a shark. “Is this you fishing for compliments again, lady?”
Frowning, Rachel shakes her head. “No. I’m just trying to understand what you’re saying. First you tell me that you want me to ask you out. Then you tell me that I’m brilliant but also shit. And I just…” She looks down at her feet.
“Janet was the best person for that role at that time,” Gill says, after a moment of silence. “You, madam, have skills that none of the rest of them in that whole syndicate have.” Rachel looks up. “You have skills you can’t learn...can’t teach.” Gill takes the fag out of her hand and taps the trail of ash off before taking a drag. “That’s what makes it frustrating when they turn up in someone who’s an emotional fuckwit.”
“So I’m a brilliant, shit, emotional fuckwit?” Rachel asks, thinking maybe she should just have asked Gill out instead of getting into this. Or gone back inside and had more vodka.
“Yep,” Gill confirms. Then she winks. “Just my type.”
“So...you do fancy me, then?” Rachel asks, trying to keep the hope out of her voice.
“Didn’t we establish this already?”
“Not...really,” Rachel says, squinting as she attempts to recall the beginning of the conversation.
“Fine, let’s review,” Gill says, finishing off Rachel’s fag and stubbing it out in the ashtray screwed to the wall by the pub door. “I made it clear that I was aware of your attraction to me, I heavily insinuated that I would be amenable to you asking me out-” She’s counting off the points on her fingers. “- we clarified the question over my state of mind. And yet, somehow you remain confused.” The older woman lets out a little laugh. “Maybe you’re not as smart as we thought, Sherlock.”
Gill turns to go back inside, but Rachel’s hand on her elbow stops her. Without thinking too much about it, she blurts out the first thing that comes to mind.
“D’you wanna? Go out with me?” God, she sounds about fourteen. Taisie would’ve made a better job of it.
The smile on Gill’s face makes her chest feel tight, like someone’s squeezing all of the air out of her.
“Yeah,” is what Gill says. “Yeah, I think I would like that.”
“What? Seriously?” Rachel asks, the corners of her lips lifting into a smile. “Just like that?”
“Easy when you know how, eh?” Gill says with a wink.
“So, we’re just gonna go out,” Rachel pushes, still incredulous. “You and me. On a date?”
“That’s the general idea, Rachel,” Gill confirms, amused.
Rachel laughs; a loud, bubbling sound. “Well, that’s…”
She doesn’t get a chance to come up with a word for what it is because Julie Dodson’s slurred voice cuts into their little bubble, shouting from inside the pub.
“Gill Murray get your fat arse back in here and dance with me. I’ve got tequila.”
“I’m coming in, you daft cow. But I’m not touching that stuff. Knocks me barmy,” Gill yells back.
“Will we notice any difference?” Julie retorts. The noise of the pub quietens down as Julie closes the door. Gill sighs.
“Come on then,” she says, linking her arm through Rachel’s and leaning heavily into her side. “Once more into the fray.”
“You’re sure about the thing?” Rachel asks as they make their way back in, the damp heat of the room hitting them. “The date thing?”
“Yes, Rachel,” Gill says, shaking her head with a smile. “Though you might change your mind once you’ve seen me after a couple of tequilas.”
“Depends,” Rachel says, feeling a little daring. “Are you gonna take your top off again?”
“Not tonight, with any luck,” Gill says, grimacing as she spots Julie heading their way brandishing a tray of shot glasses. “But play your cards right, kid, and who knows what the future holds?”
Rachel barely manages to keep herself upright. The grin that spreads over her face earns her a questioning look from Janet as a crowd gathers round Julie, jostling for drinks. Janet hands one to Rachel who bends and kisses her cheek.
“What’s got into you?” Janet asks.
Rachel just smiles and when Gill lifts her glass into the air, Rachel’s ‘cheers’ is the loudest of all.
Six months later
She pushes open the door to her flat. The hall light is on and there’s music playing in the kitchen. She smiles. She used to dread coming home. Not so much when she lived alone; she quite liked coming back to her sanctuary and knowing she could do whatever the fuck she wanted. But when she was married to Sean, every step closer to that front door made her stomach heavier. He wasn’t a bad bloke. He was lovely, really. He just wasn’t what she wanted.
Kicking off her shoes, she heads into the kitchen to find Gill peering into the fridge.
“Hiya,” Rachel says, hopping up onto the counter.
“Oh, hello,” Gill responds, turning to flash a brief smile, before her frown returns. “I was gonna do a spag bol for dinner but you’ve no mince and I’m a bit concerned about whatever that is.” She prods a lump of something. Rachel thinks it might be pork. Or chicken. Either way it’s well past its best.
“Yeah, I’d avoid that if I were you,” Rachel advises. “There’s some ready meals in the freezer. Just chuck them in the microwave.”
Gill sighs. “Remind me to not complain about us always being at mine again. I had a look at your spices earlier. The most recent one went out of date in 2009.”
Rachel rolls her eyes. “They came with the rack. Got it in a housewarming present.” She reaches out a leg and pokes Gill’s thigh with her toe. “Anyway, it’s not like you’ve got Michelin stars coming out of your arse either.” Gill raises an eyebrow and Rachel quickly concedes. “Though, admittedly you’re better than me.”
“Damn me with faint praise, why don’t you?” Gill mutters, rummaging through Rachel’s deep freeze, she holds up a packet with an inch of frost on it, trying to read the label. “Jesus, Rachel, that supermarket went out of business years ago.”
“Pete was asking after you today,” Rachel says, ignoring the jibe, her eyes drawn to Gill’s denim clad backside. “‘How’s the missus?’ he said.”
“Did he now? Cheeky beggar.”
“Mmhmm.” Rachel hops down from her perch, moving in behind Gill and placing her hands on her hips. “I told him you were even more bonkers than before now that you’ve nobody to boss around.”
“Well that’s wrong for starters,” Gill protests. “I’ve got you.”
“There’s a difference between being bossy with people who have to do what you tell them, and being bossy with someone who can tell you to sod off if they feel like it,” Rachel muses. Not that she does tell Gill to sod off very often. Hardly ever, in fact. Gill gives up her polar expedition and slams the freezer shut. She stands and turns in Rachel’s arms, her own lifting to wind around Rachel’s neck.
“Bugger this. Let’s open a bottle of wine and phone for a takeaway.”
“Sounds good to me,” Rachel says, leaning in to press a quick kiss against Gill’s lips. That still hasn’t got old; that first press of skin to skin. It’s what she thinks about when she’s sitting in boring health and safety briefings or driving back from an interview that’s gone pear shaped; how Gill’s lips will taste when she gets in and how the smell of her perfume will signal the end of the stressful part of the day.
“Come on then, Sherlock,” Gill nods to the living room. “Come and tell me about your day of crime fighting on the mean streets of Manchester.”
Rachel lets Gill drag her to the couch and she collapses onto it, her head resting on Gill’s thighs.
“Shit, forgot the wine,” Gill mumbles.
“Leave it. We’ll get it in a bit.” Rachel hums as Gill’s fingers thread through her hair. “Did you hear any more about that thing they were phoning you about?”
“The thing that you refer to as my ‘New Tricks’ job?” Gill asks, pointedly. “It looks like it’ll go ahead. Just have to bash out the details, salary and such.”
Rachel grins up at her. “I knew they’d be beating a path to your door.”
“Place is going to rack and ruin without me, apparently,” Gill shakes her head.
“You’ll miss your lady of leisure lifestyle of course,” Rachel says, closing her eyes.
“I’ve been going mental, and you know it,” Gill says, poking Rachel in the shoulder. “It’ll be good to get back to it. And cold cases isn’t all that removed from the crime faculty. Getting to look at other people’s work, seeing what they’ve missed.”
Rachel opens her eyes and smiles. “I’m glad it’s something that’ll make you happy.”
Gill tilts her head and returns the smile. “I’m already happy, kid,” Gill says.
“Me too,” Rachel tells her.
Gill rolls her eyes. “Listen to us. Couple of daft twats.”
Laughing, Rachel sits up, her fingers guiding Gill’s chin around so she can bring their lips together. She smiles against Gill’s mouth as they part.
“Yeah,” she agrees. “We are.”
“Least we’re aware of it,” Gill says, her eyes drifting to Rachel’s lips and then back up to her eyes. “If we order the takeaway now, we’ve probably got time for a shag before it comes.”
Rachel stretches over and picks up Gill’s mobile, dropping it in her lap with a wink.