As she sat at her computer in the office upstairs, it occurred to her that some people might have felt nervous at being alone in an empty building with a murder suspect. She snorted to herself. Hey, this was Phil – she’d known him for years. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. But then her mind turned up the odd fact of his having a shouting match with Tamara at school. That behaviour didn’t match what she thought she knew about him. She frowned. It was horrible, the way suspicion ate away at your belief in people. How did police officers cope with everyday interactions when their working life was such a grim picture of mistrust and betrayal? Perhaps that’s why Jack had been so equivocal when she’d asked him a personal question – maybe it became second nature not to trust anyone with those private details, particularly when they didn’t know the person well. It must make relationships a bit of a minefield.
There was a quiet footfall on the creaky stairs outside her office. She froze, listening intently.
‘Jessica? Are you there?’
Phil popped his head through her doorway and hesitated. ‘Sorry to interrupt your work, but I’m going to need a new paintbrush. The only ones left in the paint room are solid as rocks. Shall I go and buy one, and is there any petty cash to cover it?’
‘Oh! Sure, that’s no problem,’ said Jessica, trying to not show that she’d been momentarily startled. She rummaged in a drawer for the cash tin. ‘Here’s a tenner, will that be enough?’
He advanced into the narrow office to take it from her.
‘Are you OK, Jessica? You look a bit worried – oh.’
Understanding hit him like a sack of rocks and his whole body slumped. ‘Please, don’t say that you’re scared of me. Jesus, Jessica, how long have we known each other? You can’t possibly think that I could murder someone, could you?’
‘No, of course not! You idiot! No, I was engrossed in what I was doing and you startled me, that’s all. Honestly, I’d have looked just as much like a stunned mullet if Gert had walked in here exactly the way you did.’
He looked relieved. ‘Thank God for that. I thought you were one of the sanest people round this place, and if you started suspecting me then I must be guilty.’ He managed a laugh. ‘I’ll go and get that paintbrush then, OK?’
‘Righto then, off you trot. I’ll get the paint ready for you while you’re gone.’
She listened to the stairs creaking under his departing footsteps and smacked herself on the forehead, muttering. ‘Well that made him feel better, didn’t it? Sure Pippa, I’ll look after him. He’ll forget all his worries, helping me out with theatre jobs. Way to go, Jessica, make him think he’s the scariest thing in town since Simone hit menopause.’ She strode off to sort out some paint.
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