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A Two-Way Street

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The night they find the headless torso in the alley, Della elbows her way through the crowd of onlookers milling behind the crime scene tape. At her height, it's always a challenge, but energy, determination -- and the ability to ignore nasty looks from people she's shoved aside -- allow her to push through.

When she reaches the front, however, her progress is barred by a constable with droopy eyes and a mole on his lip.

"No one's allowed past," says the constable, his tone simultaneously bored and officious.

"I'm press," she tells him, and she flashes her ID.

"I said no one," he replies, unimpressed.

He's already ignoring her again, when she tries Plan B.

"But I have authorisation, you see," she lies. "I'm here to speak with him." She gestures randomly towards a group of officers huddled in conversation a few metres away. Will he fall for it? Probably not, but no harm trying.

"With whom?" The constable's eyes narrow: he's no doubt seen this trick before. By the cynical pinch of his lips, he's seen every trick before.

"With, ah--" she starts, losing confidence, but then she spots a familiar face. "With him," she says triumphantly, "DCI Bell. He can vouch for me."

The constable frowns, but he calls out Bell's name anyway. Bell turns, catches Della's pleading eye, and gives a curt nod. The constable lifts the tape up, and she ducks under.

"Cold night to be standing about," says Bell when she reaches his side. He sips on a coffee. The heat steams from the opening of the lid. He doesn't offer her any.

"It's a drug hit, isn't it?" she asks, but she really doesn't have any idea. Still, sometimes the stabbing-in-the-dark tactic actually works. Even a denial can narrow things down.

For a moment, there's a quirk at the corners of his mouth, but then he simply says, "No comment."

She rolls her eyes. "Come on, give me something to work with. I have a deadline tomorrow."

He just smiles and walks away.

***

A few weeks later, however, he's the one fishing for information. She lets him buy her a coffee, and they sit in a grotty cafe down the road from the newspaper office. The table is sticky with spilt sugar and dotted with mug-shaped tea stains.

"Tell me what you've heard about the gun smugglers in Streatham," he says, and he somehow manages to make it sound like he's the one doing her a favour by allowing her to share her research. It's a skill that probably serves him well in the interrogation room, but she knows better than to be taken in.

"I only hear rumours," she says teasingly. "Nothing that will help you."

If he appreciates the teasing, it doesn't show. His face is stony. "You've been talking to someone on the inside. I know that much from reading your articles. Is it Lon Davies?"

"I'm not going to tell you that."

He leans forward, more than a bit menacing. "You should consider your answer carefully. This is a criminal investigation. If you withhold evidence, that's a serious matter."

"Section Ten of the Contempt of Court Act is a serious matter, too," she retorts, sitting up as straight as she can manage. "I'm sure your boss wouldn't be happy if he found out you'd been making threats to get me to disclose a source."

His eyes widen. "I wasn't trying--" The menace is gone, replaced by flustered embarrassment.

She laughs. "Yes, you were." She stands to leave, but decides to drop a tidbit. "I've heard -- confidentially, of course -- that there might be a delivery in the next fortnight. If I were you, I might start looking into it."

He nods. "Right."

"Sharing information goes both ways, you know," she says. "Hard to say if I'll be so helpful again." She smiles. "Thanks for the coffee."

***

One rainy Friday afternoon in the pub, Helen leans over and stage-whispers, "Look, Della, there's your secret admirer!"

Puzzled, Della turns and looks behind her. There's Bell, standing by the bar with his overcoat still on. He signals her with a wave.

"Secret admirer?" says Pete. "More like a stalker. He's been here every day this week."

"He must be smitten," laughs Helen. "He'll be sending you roses next."

"Very funny, you lot." Della stands. "Let's see what he wants."

She crosses the room, and he ushers her to a table. He says nothing for an uncomfortable length of time. Neither of them have drinks, so she can't even ward off the awkwardness by playing with her glass.

"I don't usually do this sort of thing," he says, finally.

"What sort of thing?"

"Give information to reporters."

She sits back in her chair, surprised. She may have needled him about reciprocity and two-way streets, but she'd never expected him to follow through. Too by-the-book, DCI Bell.

"That series you're writing, on the youth gangs," he says.

"Yeah?"

"You're on the wrong track."

"Am I, now? And you would know because...?"

Ignoring her question, he stares at the table. His chest rises and falls in a long sigh. "Look, there's a bloke down at the recreation centre. Name's Simon. You need to talk to him."

"Why?"

"You just do."

"And why are you telling me this? Since you don't usually talk to reporters and all."

For a fleeting moment, his face reddens. "You're not like most reporters," he says.

When he leaves, the door bangs with a gust of cold air. Back at their table, Helen and Pete wear expectant expressions; Della pretends not to notice.

***

When the first email arrives, full of threats and misspellings, Della doesn't take it especially seriously. It's not the first time the lunatic fringe didn't like a story of hers.

When she receives the second, she begins to make nervous jokes around the newsroom. Badge of honour, she says. Shows she's doing her job properly. Cal brags about the time someone tried to stuff a pipe bomb into his letter box, and she's annoyed enough at his one-upmanship that she forgets to be afraid.

By the third email, however -- the one with her address and a photo of her car attached -- not even Cameron can calm her down. Standing in his office, she clutches the printed photo with shaking hands.

"We must call the police," Cameron says. He puffs up with his most authoritative manner, but it's quite unnecessary. She's not in any mood to disagree.

It's Bell, of course, who comes in to take her report. It's Bell who assigns her a round-the-clock guard. And when it turns out the emails came from a police officer, angry at an article she wrote criticising the vice squad, it's Bell who arrests the man himself.

At the trial, Bell passes her in the corridor as she's on her way to testify. He stops, as if he wants to say something. She wants to say something, too, but the words tangle in her throat.

They stand there in silence. It's probably only a few seconds, but it feels like eternity.

He puts his hand on her shoulder for a moment, then moves on.

***

The next time Della finds Bell at the pub -- or rather he finds her, because he's clearly casting his gaze around the room in search of her -- she jumps up from her seat without even bothering to take leave of Helen and Pete.

"I owe you a drink," she tells him. "If you're off duty, that is."

"I am," he says, "but you don't owe me anything."

"Yes," she says, "I think I do."

When she rises on her toes and plants a soft kiss on his cheek, she can feel the astonished stares of her colleagues from all the way across the room. Let them stare. Bell's face has cracked open in the first genuine smile Della's ever seen, and right now, that's the only thing she cares about.

When they leave, the door bangs with a gust of cold air. Della links her arm through Bell's. It's a chilly night, but she's got all the warmth she needs.