Rachel’s flat, leased whilst she was in Manchester, was a split level apartment on the top floor of a block behind the railway station. As he could appreciate the beauty in old industrial buildings and canals, Joe liked the view. He was under orders to stare out of the window whilst Rachel changed into something less formal.
“Why would someone burn down your studio?”
“Don’t know. The guy from City Life said some bad things about a show I had stuff in. And he’s probably got a lot of spare time nowadays.” Joe had a good idea what it might have been about, but none about who could have done it.
“Could it have anything to do with your dead friend?” Rachel read his mind.
“He wasn’t my friend.”
“Sorry. Your dead acquaintance.”
“Sorry. Just a bit touchy about it.”
Rachel had thrown a dark hoodie on over jeans an a T shirt. It said UMIST across the front, her brother and Joe’s alma mater. “I want to blend in.” she said.
“UMIST doesn’t exist any more.”
“Oh, well in that case I want to stand out.” They stood together at the open window. “You smell of smoke.” Rachel observed.
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“Let’s go get you beer. The pubs should be open by now. I’ll even buy you lunch.”
They skirted Piccadilly and went to Bar Fringe on Swan Street for food and Belgian beer. “Are you trying to get me drunk?” Rachel asked two hours later when she noted the ABV on her third bottle of Kwak.
“No more drunk than I’m trying to get myself.”
“That rat’s looking at me funny.” Rachel indicated a cartoon rodent embedded in the wall.
“I think that’s our cue to leave.”
They drank up and headed out into drizzle that became a downpour before they had crossed the road. “Could have done with this earlier.” Joe dead panned as they huddled in a doorway. The rain refused to let up, so they scooted from doorway to doorway and under awnings along Oldham Street. Joe named each establishment as they passed them, giving history lessons if they stayed outside them long enough.
The gaps they crossed became larger and they spent more time in the rain between each stop, until they ran out of cover and sprinted the last few hundred yards to the apartment block. Joe was first to the door. He turned under the glass awning just in time to see Rachel closing on him. She slowed, but not quite enough. He caught her and helped her come to a halt.
They leaned against the door, breathless and laughing, and made no move to part. “You’re soaking.” Rachel announced eventually, red faced, “Let’s get you upstairs and out of those wet clothes.”
“Does that line ever work?”
Under instruction, Joe stripped off in the bathroom. He even discarded his boxers, and they were merely damp. There was a bathrobe behind the door. He tried it on and it came to just below his knees. It would do.
Rachel was wearing climbing trousers and a short loose T shirt. She took Joe’s clothes and started going through the pockets. Wallet, keys, phone and various bits of paper found their way onto the settee. “I’ll dry these.” She pulled the belt from his trousers and draped it over the back of the seat.
Joe sat and watched the rain wash down the windows. A big bastard and a guy with tattoos? They had to be involved with Hill somehow. His killers or his associates? Or both? It wasn’t beyond Hill to have come up with some mad scheme to swindle the people he was working with. And now, for whatever reason, they had a vendetta against Joe. What had Hill got him into this time?
All worries were set aside as a warm body pressed against his back and a glass of white wine appeared before him. “Are you trying to get me drunk?”
“No more drunk than I’m trying to get myself.” Rachel tried to climb over the back of the settee. She slipped as she settled down and spilt wine over her climbing trousers.
“I’ll have to get you out of those wet clothes.”
“We seem to be going in circles.” Rachel put her wine down, stood and stepped out of the trousers. She was now naked from the waist down. “I think that’s enough flirting.” She took Joe’s glass and put it beside hers on the table. He could only nod agreement and grin. Strangely enough he was concentrating on her face. She straddled him and they kissed.
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