Three weeks later I returned from a meeting with my agent approving my latest research challenge to find a dinner invite from DI Plum waiting for me. I was puzzled by the paper invitation, and his request not to be contacted.
The following day, I nipped out to do a bit of last minute shopping. Shuffling out of the Victoria shopping centre clutching my bags, I spotted him striding back towards Central Station.
“So, why assume I’m available tonight?” I challenged, cutting across to catch up with his long paces.
“Availability for what?” He stared at me with such bewilderment that the flow of conversation tripped over itself.
His look of genuine astonishment sent my heart into over drive. If he didn’t know about the invite, then who…?! Thankfully I had slipped the invite into my handbag, so with a racing pulse, I fished it out to show him.
“Let’s take this to the station for analysis.” DI Plum suggested his voice grave as he handled the corners delicately. Guiding me by the elbow, he took the lead as shock set in. At the station, I was left with a cup of coffee with Detective Constable Stubbs.
“Are you aware what date it is?” DI Plum asked on his return.
Taking a moment to think, I nearly dropped my cup of coffee as I realised it was the 7th of April.
“Do you think…could it…?”
“We have to send the invite off to the central lab in London, so we can’t confirm anything until we receive the results, but judging from the current profile I think it will be highly unlikely that we find anything helpful.” The DI eyed me seriously. “It might be best if you attend as assumed.”
“You want me to expose myself to…”
“We’ve got officers already examining the meeting site, and there will be plain clothes detective constables on the ground with you, and several others at clear vantage points and natural shooting spots. We will not send you in unaccompanied, neither will you be unprotected, we will provide a bullet proof vest…”
“But he shoots for the head.” I shriek my heart racing.
“Naturally if you don’t want to do this, we will proceed without you, your host will still be working on his plan.
With a sigh, I scrunched my eyes clothes, taking deep breaths to steady my panic. If I did go, I would be exposed to the same danger faced by the previous three victims. To know the risk was terrifying. But if I chose not to face it, the police could miss the murderer. I open my eyes, face to face with the concerned DI. Silence stretched through the room as he waited for my response. The thought occurred to me that by avoiding the risk, I would expose more victims to the cross bow. Slowly, I felt myself nodding.
We spent half an hour discussing the plan, before I went home and fetched myself a strong drink.
Several strong drinks and a hot bath later, I was ready to face the evening. Answering the door bell wrapped in the comforting warmth of my dressing gown, I welcomed DS Alison Fisher and DI Plum into the home I shared with my brother. Even as the scent of the calming homemade lavender bath salts lingered on my skin, DS Fisher helped me to prepare for my date as DI Plum waited in the living room. A stab proof vest proved tricky to combine with my intended outfit, so I dispensed with the little black dress reverting to jeans, white blouse and beige suede jacket. In a show of confidence I slipped a large red rose into a button hole, draping my string of beads down my chest.
DI Plum nodded his approval as I returned to the living room, his encouraging smile quickly slipping as I tottered against the door. Strangely, embarrassment and discomfort emptied in a mild dose of hysteria. When I calmed down, I found the DI offering me a welcome glass of water. DI Alex Plum joined me in the back of the unmarked police car, his solid presence comforting.
Unfortunately, the police were unable to identify a likely shooting position, so I was going in totally exposed. The only thing to give me hope was that no shooting had as yet been carried out at night. Even in the street lights, his visibility would be reduced, especially if I could approach from the shadows.
We arrived at the central police station, where the DI walked me the short distance to the tram stop, waiting in silence with a couple of the plain clothes support until the crisp bell of the tram announced its arrival. Concentrated on calm breathing, I ignored the strange looks I received from the older couple sitting opposite me, guarding their luggage carefully as they headed for the station.