brood about it.'
'Sure I know, but...'
'Makes you feel less of a man, does it?'
'Something like that,' he muttered.
'Well don't let it, for it's nonsense. That's a fine piece of ordnance you've got there, officer; it's not your fault that it shoots blanks. It's not a sin not to have babies, you know. Looked at from a certain angle it's an advantage; we can plan our future in the knowledge that it's only the two of us on the payrol and always wil be. Plus, we can concentrate on making life miserable for the bad people. Who knows? Maybe that's what we were put here for.'
The arrival of their starters forestalled his answer. He sat in silence as the waiter set a warm goat's cheese salad before Maggie, and served his pasta and bean soup from a tureen.
'... Put here for?' he exclaimed, as the young man headed back to the kitchens. 'This is Planet Earth cal ing Superintendent Rose. This is Houston cal ing Maggie. In case you've forgotten, I became a copper because if I didn't there was a fair chance that I'd have ended up on the other side of the fence, or at the very least in regular skirmishes with the VAT man, like the rest of my family.'
'Come on,' she retorted, 'your family's very respectable, specially your mother. If you weren't a police officer you'd probably be in her business.' The light smile left her face, and her eyes flickered down for a moment. 'The fact is I've always envied you your family.'
He caught something in her expression, and in her tone.' Sure, because they're alive . . . but why do you say it like that? Mags, you've been ifiy for a couple of days. Have you got a problem?'
She opened her mouth to reply, then stopped, staring at the table as if she was considering something very important. Final y she looked up and into his eyes. 'I've had a letter from my sister,' she told him. 'She's had a birthday card from my father.'
'Your father?' he exclaimed, astonished. 'You told me your father was dead.'
'Oh how I wish . . .' The words came out in a long, malevolent hiss. 'I thought he was,' she continued. 'No, I hoped he was, I prayed he was, and eventual y I let myself believe he was. Now it turns out. ..'
'But why?' he asked her. 'What was so bad about him?'
'You don't want to know.'
'I bloody do, and you're going to tell me.'
She glanced around and over her shoulder, checking for anyone who might be within earshot. 'If you insist,' she said, quietly, her eyes narrowing with her frown.
'You know why I really became a copper, Mario?' She hesitated for a second or two then leaned toward him, her voice dropping even lower, until he had to lean himself to catch it. 'I did it to get even with guys like my old man.
'You ask me what was so bad about him? "Bad" doesn't cover it, not by a long way. That bastard abused my sister and me . . . damn it, no, he raped us. And as if that wasn't enough, he beat my mother bloody when she found out about it.
'I'll tell you something I've never told you or anyone else before, Mario. I felt guilty for years after that; not just because of what happened 28
between my old man and me, but because it was me who got her that tanking. When I told her what he was doing to us, do you know what happened? The first thing she did was to beat the daylights out of me!'
She glanced again at the nearest occupied table, but the couple there were too far away to overhear.
'That's right. When I told her she knocked me right off my feet. So I got up and showed her the bruises he always left on me. She hit me even harder, she actual y knocked me out. So I showed her the same marks on my wee sister. When my father came in from the pub, or the bookie's, or wherever he had been, she confronted him, and it was her turn for a thumping. I hate to think what would have happened to Eilidh and me if we'd stayed in that house, but I hauled her out of there and screamed bloody murder at the door of the woman downstairs.
'She took us in, and her husband, a great big man who'd been a boxer
Amelie Hunt, Maeve Morrick