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Endeavour: Reaper (3/?)

Title: Reaper (3/?)
Series: Endeavour/Bleach (Endeavour-centric)
Rating: PG
Pairing: None

Summary: It was Morse. Detective Constable Morse, here at the crime scene at nine o’clock at night wearing a goddamn sword. Morse, who even in the bright splash of sunlight, had no shadow.


After Thursday’s departure Jakes had another quick rummage around the house, this time searching for a diary or address book. He found the latter in the drawer of an ornate table on which the phone rested. Between the book and the original friend who had prompted the discovery of the body, he had enough to be going on with.

Leaving Morse with the car, he caught a ride back to the station with the photographer, chatting about the latest lads’ mags. They arrived at the nick just as a black cloud was forming overhead Cowley, the humidity stifling and the atmosphere electric.

From his desk he began the complicated business of listing off potential interviewees and then ringing them up to arrange a timetable for visits. Fortunately many of Mrs Bouchard’s friends – like the deceased herself – turned out to be retired and with time to spare for him. Breaking the bad news so many times in such a short period exhausted him though and, three cigarettes later, he headed downstairs to secure a cuppa.

He found Thursday in the canteen, also fetching himself tea and a biscuit. Cynically, Jakes considered that it was only in his bagman’s absence that a DI was forced to secure his own elevenses. Spotting Jakes, Thursday took a seat at the end of a table and motioned him over. Jakes finished adding a dash of aging milk to his tea and joined him.

“I’ve set up a full roster of visits to friends,” reported Jakes, setting down his cup and saucer on the scarred table. It was a product of bland institutionalism, long and heavy and originally painted with a thick dark veneer but now much scuffed and scratched. The chairs were an eclectic mix of older wooden articles and newer plastic and metal ones, the crooked legs scraping on the ancient linoleum below. “No relatives to speak of – no kids or siblings.”

“Any on the husband’s side?”

“Not that her friends knew about.”

“Dedicated to each other,” speculated Thursday morosely.

“It agrees with what the pathologist said, sir. But I’ll find out more from the interviews.”

Thursday took a long drink from his cup; Jakes did the same. There were questions he wanted to ask: about Morse, about his potential for taking over the position as bagman. But this wasn’t the time – not in the staff canteen. He made a note to bring it up with the DI before he left for the night.

“Settling in alright, are you Sergeant?” Thursday’s mind was clearly elsewhere, his capacity for small talk diminished. His eyes were focused in the distance instead of on Jakes.

“I think so, sir,” replied Jakes. Except for Morse, ran his inner monologue. He quashed it and took another sip of tea.

***

“He for God only, she for God in him,” said one of his interviews in the interminable afternoon of middle-aged, weepy women. “Or rather, He for Academia, she for it in him. Ronald had no love other than learning; Ann supported him in every way. Children would have disrupted his perfectly ordered world, so there were none. Ann was bright – very bright. But a proper job was out of the question – that would mean no dinner on the table when he wanted it, or clean shirts when he needed them. She settled for part-time school mistress. She said she was happy – a happiness derived from Ronald’s success. And certainly he was successful; he was a Fellow not long after they married, and rose from there. He just missed being appointed Master twice over.”

By this time the storm had broken, thunder booming furiously overhead and rain lashing at the windows. Occasional forks of lightning shot through the air, painting the world in simple tones of black and white for an instant.

Not much of the interviewee’s statement made any impact on Jakes except for him to mentally stamp Bouchard with the label of posh-o, which he applied to Dons across the board. He made a polite reply and went on with his questions, none of which got him much further forward.

Ann Bouchard had been universally liked by her close acquaintances, some of whom had considered her lacking in ambition and others of whom had seen her as living a fulfilled life. Except for the unexpected death of her husband three months ago there was no blot on her existence, no sign of a dark underbelly. No suggestion of drink or drugs, of a ne’er do well acquaintance or a scam artist casing the house.

No explanation for her untimely death.

It could be random bad luck, of course. Some housebreaker who had come across her in a panic and killed her – but what of the marks on her arms and legs? And killed her how? The scenario produced more questions than answers. The autopsy might answer some, but in Jakes’ experience pathologists tended to prevaricate more often than speak plainly.

If, on the other hand, he returned to the house later on and managed to communicate with Mrs Bouchard, that might get the whole job done and dusted.

Jakes finished up his interviews and returned to the nick, the streets sodden but the air no longer so stuffy.

***

Morse was absent from the nick when Jakes returned, and in a malicious moment he hoped the DC had been caught out in the storm. By this time it was late in the day, some of the CID officers already gone home. Thursday was in his office, the door ajar.

Jakes wrote up some notes for the file and looked through the initial forensics reports – so far just logs of the work that had been done. He also looked through a couple of smaller files that had landed on his desk for review while he had been out that afternoon.

That done he stood, straightening his tie and smoothing his hair down. Then he stepped over and knocked on Thursday’s door.

The DI glanced up, pen stilling against the piece of paper he was taking notes on. “Sergeant?”

Jakes stepped in, closing the door behind him. Thursday put down the pen, straightening.

“It’s about my duties, sir,” he said, standing before the large desk. “It was my understanding that as senior officer reporting to you, I would be acting as your bagman. I wanted to ask what I can expect as far as that’s concerned.”

Thursday nodded. “It’s a fair question, and one I ought to’ve talked to you about before. Morse was brought over to the OCP from Carshall on assignment as part of a high-profile missing persons case that turned out to be murder.”

“The Mary Tremlett case,” interrupted Jakes. “I’ve read about it in the papers.”

“Morse solved it when the rest of us were still miles behind. He has a different way of looking at things. A perspective like that is valuable – as is the personal relationship between DI and bagman, and Morse suits me. I offered him the job and he accepted it. I know it’s not the norm, but it’s perfectly within the regulations.”

It was nothing Jakes wasn’t anticipating, but it was a blow all the same. “It’s not what I was led to believe, sir,” he said, stonily.

Thursday raised his eyebrows, unphased. “No one made an offer of bagman, sergeant. I can see why you would have assumed it, and I ought to have made the situation clearer to the recruiter. However, the arrangement stands. You’re still superior officer – Morse reports directly to me, but I expect him to follow any orders you may have for him and to run his work through you as appropriate. Any discrepancies will come to me to sort out.” Thursday was watching Jakes hard, and he easily read between the lines: Don’t take advantage of the offer.

“Yes, sir.” He said, flatly. He telegraphed his dissatisfaction clearly, and saw Thursday take it in. But he clearly wasn’t budging, and Jakes wasn’t in a situation to negotiate.

“Glad we had this chat, Sergeant. As always, my door’s open if you need me.”

“Thank you, sir.”

His hopes gone up in flames, Jakes turned and left. He packed up his things and went home.

***

For a few hours, he forgot all about Mrs Bouchard’s murder. Sitting at home, seething, he focused solely on cronyism and its insidiousness. The idea that Morse – a grass-green DC – deserved his place was ludicrous. As Sunder had said, Thursday had clearly taken a shine to the red-head, and was ignoring protocol to favour him. It could benefit a DI hugely to have a bagman who would go to the wall for him – perhaps Morse had somehow proved his loyalty.

The longer he sat, though, the more he reflected that if closing a high-profile case was what had earned Morse the bagman’s slot, then he could reply in kind. A violent death in a rich neighbourhood of Oxford, and the victim a prominent man’s wife, could bring the kind of spotlight he had hoped for from the OCP.

By eight o’clock he was convinced of the need to return to the scene of crime to take another look around. He pulled on his suit jacket again, tie abandoned on the back of his chair, and went downstairs to catch the bus back to the station.

At Cowley station he fetched one of the sets of house keys and signed out a Jag, neither action raising any eyebrows among the dregs of the night watch. Outside it was a pleasant July evening, birds singing in the trees and the sky clearing overhead. He drove slowly through town, heading north and over Folly bridge into Oxford, up past the majority of the colleges with their ancient spires and gates, and into north Oxford.

Mrs Bouchard’s street was long and narrow; the row houses were set back from the road and protected by tall brick walls. It was quiet, few cars parked beside the pavement, the puddles reflecting the blue sky above. Jakes parked the Jag and got out, pocketing the car keys and pulling out Mrs Bouchard’s house keys. There was a string and tag on them identifying them, making it easier to fish them out of his pocket.

The house stood dark against the sky. It was one half of a yellow brick terraced house, three stories tall with a fenced in garden. Jakes ran up the front steps and opened the door, slipping into the dark house and turning the lights on.

The interior was as he had left it that afternoon, although marginally dirtier with grey powder dusted over most surfaces left behind by forensics. He closed the door behind him and began to slowly wander through the house.

Mrs Bouchard’s body had, of course, been removed to the mortuary; there was no longer any trace of death in the otherwise spotless study. Jakes lingered there for several minutes, then continued drifting: kitchen, front room, den, and then upstairs.

Upstairs was the master bedroom and two guests, as well as a modern bathroom done in blues and greys which reminded him of the sea as seen in the pictures – calm and inviting. The bedrooms were large and roomy, provided with fresh linen and cheerful knickknacks. Jakes moved slowly through them, feeling as though he was wearing another person’s clothes. Going through the homes of the dead, trying to peel away the universalities to find the raw bones beneath which were unique to them and spoke of their personalities, always felt like a trespass.

Especially when the houses of the dead were still home to them.

Jakes finished in the bedrooms and climbed higher still to the third storey. Here the rooms were small with slanted ceilings, and comprised a tiny storage room, a sewing room, and a miniature library. Jakes was just flicking on the light to read some of the book covers when he heard something move downstairs.

He froze, forefinger on the spine of Paradise Lost. Then he ghosted out of the room and down the stairs, heart pounding in his chest and hands fisted. On the second story he heard a creak in the master bedroom. He stood behind the doorway, steeling himself, and then strode forcefully into the room.

Morse was there, looking through the books on the bedside table. At Jakes’ entrance he startled, tripping backwards and half-falling onto the bed. He was dressed in the same clothes he had been wearing earlier in the day, his ginger hair a mess and his shirt collar limp and creased.

“What the hell d’you think you’re doing?” demanded Jakes hotly, staring down the DC.

Morse pushed himself up onto his feet, colour rising. “I thought I’d take another look through the house. Clearly we had the same idea.”

“Don’t get clever,” snapped Jakes; Morse coloured further, neck and ears a blotchy fuchsia.

The difficulty, of course, was that he couldn’t very well accuse Morse of ghost-hunting. And there was, technically, nothing wrong with an overzealous officer pulling extra hours so long as he followed procedure.

“Hoping to put in extra hours and solve the case all on your lonesome?” continued Jakes, sneering. “Bring your solution like a nice little present to DI Thursday?” Perhaps that was why Thursday preferred him – he had found an underling willing to do the spadework in his own time.

“It’s my own time,” replied Morse, glaring.

“Well you can come back tomorrow if you’re so keen,” continued Jakes. “Unless you’ve found something, we should both be going.”

No point staying longer – even if Mrs Bouchard was here he couldn’t very well get anything out of her with Morse hovering around. And he wasn’t about to leave the DC here to bag her should she show up.

“I’ve just arrived,” protested Morse.

“That’s too bad for you.” Jakes gestured at the door and led the way.

Outside in the hallway he saw something move out of the corner of his eye and turned. Standing at the far end of the hall from the stairs was a hulking shape.

Enormous. White. Masked. Jakes took in those thoughts before his brain painted in a fuller picture: a lumbering beast bigger than a bear, with white skin and a hole in its chest as though a large-bore drill had passed straight through its flesh. Its hands were immense and ended in claws; its teeth inside the white mask it wore were large and square. It saw Jakes and looked up slowly.

What,” he began. Morse arrived behind him and looked out past his shoulder.

The next instant, everything happened at once.

Run!” snapped Morse, pushing him in the back, hard.

“FRESH MEAT,” rumbled the creature thunderously, leaping forward.

And Jakes, reacting to both Morse and the thing, stumbled forward and headed for the stairs. “Faster,” urged Morse, behind him; he could hear the thumping of the creature pounding down the hallway in chase.

Jakes hit the stairs running and half-ran, half-fell down them. At the bottom he caught himself against a halfmoon table, wrists twisting hard beneath his flying weight. The thing snarled and Morse cried out and came tumbling down after him, landing in a heap on the floor with blood dripping from three scratches on his left shoulder that had rent the fabric of his jacket and shirt.

He was up in a flash, shoving Jakes at the door; Jakes yanked it open and ran out into the front garden, fumbling frantically for the car keys in his pocket and cursing to himself. He found them even as he reached the pavement and shoved them into the keyhole, unlocking the passenger door and sliding in. He was gasping for breath, hands shaking with adrenaline. Morse slid in beside him and slammed the door shut: “Drive.”

Jakes turned over the engine and hit the throttle with a heavy foot, and a moment later they were moving. He looked in the mirror and, just for an instant, saw a flash of white skin in the house’s doorway before the creature stepped back into the shadows.

“What in Christ’s name was that?” demanded Jakes. His hands were fisted tight on the wheel to keep from trembling, skin nearly as white as that of the monstrous thing.

“You could see it?” asked Morse, wincing as he pressed his palm to his shoulder.

“Of course I could bloody well see it,” replied Jakes, in the heat of the moment. He regretted the admission a moment later, by which time it was too late.

“That,” said Morse, looking at him in interest. “was a Hollow.”

“And what did it want?”

“Most likely? To devour you.”

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