Author's Note: Thanks to lim for handholding and cheerleading and Britpicking (oh my.)
Alice makes him throw his lucky jacket into the Thames. His suit jacket goes into a rubbish bin on Bankside, and then Alice pulls on his red tie--tugging him through the revolving door of the Hotel Novo and past the long marble desk at reception (he smiles at them apologetically)--before the knot loosens and it slips off with a whisk of fabric. She drops it into a decorative wicker basket near the lift. Inside, she begins working on his bloodstained shirt, and she's got it unbuttoned and is tugging his tails out of his trousers when the lift pings and discharges them in front of the penthouse. He never asks, never questions: it's Alice, after all.
He lets her back him up to the wall beside the inlaid double doors and slouches against it, shirttails hanging down. She deftly pulls a keycard from her sleeve, and pushes it into the slot. It flashes green, and she turns to him, head tilting like a cat, and reaches up to slide his shirt off his shoulders and down his arms. It crumples to the floor outside the suite.
"I'm not an easy man to shop for, you know," he says, reprovingly.
She smiles as she twists the door handle. "You underestimate me."
The suite is gigantic. The door opens onto a bar, with deep sofas laid out in a square and a dining table beyond, and further, in the distance, a bed: the most enormous bed he's ever seen. It's American sized and smothered in glossy black bed linen; it's set in front of a wall of glass and the light is streaming through.He wanders towards it, shirtless. A leather satchel has been carelessly tossed onto the seat of the armchair; he already knows it's his, and contains within it all the passports and identity papers that Alice has prepared for him, and probably some lethal things as well. He passes a wardrobe and and sees a suit, trousers, a couple of shirts hanging from the rail: his size, he has no doubt. Alice.
She shrugs out of her flight jacket and flings it onto the sofa, and just as she turns he kisses her: just takes her face in his hands and kisses her. She is surprised: he tastes it on her wide, sweet mouth, feels it in her hitch of breath, her stillness as she calculates--feels--calculates. It inflames him, this delicious feeling of surprising Alice, and he gently cups her precious head and kisses her, coaxing her mouth open, wanting to inhale her, before abruptly hoisting her up, hands sliding under her thighs and tugging them around his waist. He takes her to the bed, spreads her across it sideways, crawls on top of her, over her. He bends down to kiss her again, and he's desperately hard with wanting her; he could come right now, he thinks, just from touching her.
When her hands grip his shoulders, he breaks off the kiss; he speaks the language of Alice's hands. She looks up at him, her brows furrowed into a perfect arch. "It's different," she murmurs. "I don't understand." She raises a hand to touch his face, and he's blinded by tenderness. He squeezes his eyes shut, and her hand drifts across his cheek, his beard, caressing his jaw.
There are 43 muscles in the face, and Alice knows this.
"Oh," she breathes finally, gleeful and scandalised, both. "You love me. Oh, poor you." He opens his eyes and looks at her, and slowly her face changes: first thoughtful, then petulant. "Oh," she says again, finally. "Is that what this feeling is?" and he jerks his head grimly, and with absolute sympathy, because it is a hard and terrible thing, love: he wouldn't wish it on anyone. "Well." Her mouth twists wryly. "Does it make the sex better, at least?"
He considers this. "It can do," he tells her. "Not always."
"Well," she says, and runs her hands up his back. "Try," and he groans and begins kissing her and fondling her through her clothes.
Her breasts are small, perfect, and when he feels her nipples harden he begins to mouth them helplessly through her green jumper, touching them through the wet wool. Alice tilts her hips, her breath quickening. He runs his palms down her slim torso, then slides a hand between her legs. She inhales sharply as he drags his thumb along the seam of her leggings, finding her clitoris with the skill of the long-married. He hesitates, thumb circling, watching her eyelashes flutter, and abruptly decides to bring her off; this is Alice: she'll have seconds. He bends to put his mouth on her, sucking and tonguing through layers of fabric, hands clutching her thighs. He feels her come through her clothes: muscles convulsing against his face. He closes his eyes and enjoys it, then sits back and roughly grabs her by first one ankle and then the other, tugging her boots off (thump, thump) before peeling leggings and underwear down her slim legs. She sits up, colour high on her cheeks, and tugs the green wool turtleneck up and over her head, then unhooks the scrap of white lace and flings across the room.
Naked, she is breathtakingly beautiful, and when her green eyes flash, he knows not to fight her. She shoves him down and swings a knee over him, knocking his hands away when he tries to unbutton his trousers. He looks up at her, a pale-skinned fury, and lets his arms flop, closing his eyes and inhaling sharply as she takes hold of him and slides down on him. Taken like this, entirely, he gives in to the adoration he's been holding at bay: everything she has ever said to him is true, even the awful things (especially the awful things). That brutal clarity of vision makes her something more than mortal: has made her inevitable. She braces her palms on his chest and rides him right to the edge of orgasm before stranding him, twisting her body against his and coming with a moan. He's hard and desperate inside her as she flutters and clenches, her head flung back, lip between her teeth. Finally she looks down at him, skin lightly sheened with sweat, and waggles her eyebrows.
Right. He's not one to back away from a challenge, and she laughs as he effortlessly topples her onto the duvet, then rises onto his knees and pulls her back against him: into his lap, onto his cock. One hand gently grasps her throat, the other slides down over her belly and into the tuft of ginger hair covering her clit. She laughs and snorts and gasps and shivers as he fucks her, and he manages to bring her off one final time before finally letting go and spilling into her. She falls boneless and sated into arms, and he catches her and kisses her until she purrs like a kitten.
"Well?" He looks down at her; she's hanging in space, draped over his arm, half-asleep.
Alice opens one eye. "Promising," she concedes, and he lets her drop onto the mattress. "There's whisky on the bar," she says, stretching her arms up. "Rocks, two fingers, if you please."
He heaves himself up to get it. The bar is well stocked, the glasses cut-crystal. When he comes back, he stops to take in the view through the floor to ceiling windows: rooftops, grey buildings in the distance, and--a street away--the Crown Prosecution Service. He gives Alice her glass and stands gazing out, drinking his. A room with a view of justice, or the many failures thereof.
"I thought it possible you might need additional motivation," Alice admits; she's rolled over and propped her head on her elbows, whisky glass in front of her, her legs flipped up behind.
He's touched by this. Alice, offering him a mission, as if she herself wouldn't be enough. And then she smiles at him and he revises the thought: Alice, so much cleverer than anyone else.
"Did you have a particular case in mind?" Luther asks. "Something relevant to my interests?"
"Well." She crosses her legs at the ankles, which would look prim if she weren't entirely naked. "I did give the matter some thought. Manchester, seven gay men murdered in the last ten weeks."
"Who's the suspect?" He puts down his drink and drifts across the room, following her eyes; to the satchel, of course. A quick zip, and he's got the file in his hands: how Alice got hold of this, god only knows. Photographs of young men--white, black, Asian--all of them good-looking and well groomed and looking like they were on their way out, off clubbing. Leather trousers, animal print jackets, silk shirts, lots of hair gel. They're artfully laid out across white sheets, a canvas for hate speech. Someone's spraypainted across them: "FAG," "QUEER," "WHORE," "BITCH" and strangled them with coloured scarves.
"Who's the suspect?" Luther asks again, flipping through the pages, and when Alice doesn't answer, he looks up. "They must have a suspect."
"That would be telling," Alice says reprovingly. "Do your own investigation; reach your own conclusions."
He squints at her. "You think they've got the wrong end of the stick." She purses her lips ("I didn't say that...") but he's already seeing it spool out in front of him. He closes his eyes to see it better. Seven dead men. Club gear. Fag, queer, whore. One of them had a pink, feathery scarf biting deep into his neck. Swollen face. Tongue, faintly blueish, poking out of his mouth.
"They think it's a hate crime," he mutters slowly. "Their suspect is Muslim or black, well known within the community: political." He opens his eyes and looks at Alice; her face is carefully blank. "Which is why they haven't made an arrest, howling notwithstanding." He flicks his nail against the folder's manila cover: thwack. "Not sure of their evidence, and with this bloke, they've got to be. There'll be headlines: Muslim Homophobia, Islamorage! But it's not him."
He yanks opens the folder again and looks down at the photos: artfully composed, scarves giving just the right splash of colour. Fucking gorgeous except for they're stone-cold dead. "This isn't a hate crime," he says, and it hurts him to say it. "It's love--he fucking loves them. Look at this," he exclaims, and shoves the photographs at her as if she hasn't seen them. "He loves them to death."
"Yes," Alice says kindly. "Yes, I know. Shall we go up there and get him?"
When they leave the hotel, he's wearing a black leather jacket that costs more than a month's salary and trainers that cost more than his first car. The driving license in his pocket says John Calvin; packed away in his bag are passports for John Calvin, John Wycliffe, John Walden, John Knox, and John Smyth. He drops his front door key into the drain at the kerb; he doesn't need it any more. He doesn't know where he'll sleep tonight, though he's sure it'll be nicer than his flat.
He follows Alice around the corner to an emerald green Jaguar and is not surprised when she smiles and produces a key. "Do you want to drive?" she asks.
"Nah," he says, and folds himself into the passenger seat; this car's a sight more comfortable than his Volvo, and Alice drives it hard, her foot to the mat, speeding them up the M1. He looks again through the file: all the victims should still be in the GMP morgue, if they can get in. He glances across at Alice and grins; they'll get in. Meanwhile he cross-checks reports, looking for commonalities they've missed. They frequent many of same clubs, but that's not unusual considering their age and location; three of them grew up in Chorlton (the richest ones); two of them lived within half a mile of each other round Hulme (the poorest ones). They all had tattoos.
When they reach the GMP, Alice reaches into her inner jacket pocket and unfolds a pair of glasses. When she puts them on and gets out of the car, Luther simply follows. "Hello," she says, reaching for the pen on the desk and signing in before the officer on duty says a word. "Doctor Alice Morgan, Royal College of Pathologists; this is my colleague John Calvin." She shoves the log book towards him and Luther dutifully signs. "Serious Crime's called us in to consult--take another look at the bodies, all that. Who should we talk to downstairs?"
"Hm," the officer says, consulting the roster. "Dr. Martin Chen--two flights down, to your right."
"Ta. Perhaps you might ring him, tell him we're coming down. Alice Morgan. John Calvin," and just like that they're in. Luther thinks about this as he follows Alice to the lift. Part of it is that they really are who they say they are: Alice really is Dr. Morgan, and there's no way to miss the stink of copper on him, even under his new leather jacket. Part of it is the way she keeps repeating their names: a magician saying nothing up my sleeve, nothing up my sleeve. Part of it is that Alice is a white woman, and part of it is Alice could make a drowning man drink iced water. It's like having a fantastic high-tech weapon, being with Alice, and already he feels lighter and freer, like he's living in a bigger world.
Downstairs, Dr. Chen seems obviously taken with Alice and chats happily with her for a while before directing his assistants to bring out the bodies. Alice looks on with obvious fascination while Luther checks their fingernails and teeth, earlobes and elbows. They're all of an age--young, athletic, handsome--but he doesn't see any commonalities beyond that. They have different scars from different sports, different tattoos from different artists, different piercings and different callouses. Their fingers have entirely different wear patterns. It's impossible to--
"Coffee," Alice chirps, and then she puts her arm through his and steers him back to the outside world. It isn't until he's taken a few bitter gulps from the paper cup that he realises that his head is throbbing: he's been down there for hours. He lifts his head and winces at Alice, sitting on the other side of the tiny cafe table and watching him curiously. "All right," she says softly. "Talk."
"Nothing," he says, bottom-lining it for her. "Waste of a day."
She shakes her head. "I don't believe that."
He groans and stretches his legs out; if he wanted to, he could take up the tiny pavement cafe all by himself. "I'm telling you," he says, angry at her, angry at himself, "I didn't see anything."
She shrugs, not the slightest bit perturbed. "So tell me what you expected to see and didn't."
He sighs and rubs his eyes, but she's right; it's a useful exercise. "The things they have in common," he begins, trying to put his inchoate disappointment into words, "can't be what killed them. Haircuts," he throws out, just as an example. "Several of them had expensive haircuts, but I can't imagine this as a crime of the salon, can you?" Her face goes thoughtful as she apprehends the problem. "Same thing with clubs, bars --the guy who did this, even if he's not an extremist, he's not comfortable in a gay bar. Or flip that around: if he were comfortable in a gay bar, he wouldn't have needed to do this."
"So it's random," Alice suggests. "He loiters outside the club, picks the one he wants--"
Luther's already shaking his head. "They were killed in their homes. They let him in. And please don't say they let him in for sex--"
She rolls her eyes. "Please."
"--because if there's one angle they'd've done to death, that's it. Everyone's first thought: gay men, assignation made over the internet, guy turns up and kills them. But they'd have access to computer records, phone bills, credit cards -- if GMP couldn't make that stick, it didn't happen. So they knew the guy -- they must all have known him -- and they let him into their houses."
"Right. Except you think that kind of person they'd know well enough to let into their houses is unlikely to have killed them. Fine. I understand the problem. You're looking for someone in their world but not of it. Familiar enough to be recognisable but opaque enough to disguise a killer's heart. You do realise, don't you, that you're talking about set exclusion, socially and mathematically. Combinatorial mathematics," Alice adds, apparently in explanation, when he raises an eyebrow. "Right, never mind," she adds abruptly, "I forget you believe that everything's about people and personalities. Paradigm shift to the social sciences: think of homosocial environments. Military unit, boarding school, church choir. Overlapping sets, do you see?" and just like that, he does.
"Sports injuries," he says, scrambling for the manila folder. "Alice, you're a genius."
Her mouth twists irritably. "Yes," she says, "but they don't play any of the same sports. They don't go to the same gyms--"
"They don't, but the trainers do," Luther says, balancing the folder on one knee and uncapping a pen with his teeth. "They often work at more than one place," he adds, beginning to scrawl a list of the victims' health clubs: PureGym, two different locations of Bannatynes, the Y, LA Fitness... "Most are available for private hire. A few sessions of personal training, easiest thing in the world--"
"Undone by athleticism," Alice murmurs happily, sitting back with her coffee. "Delicious."
Frank MacNamara teaches his last spin class of the day and is headed up to the staff locker rooms when the copper walks in and stops at the desk. He keeps walking: nothing to do with him, now is it. Probably some licensing thing, or another rumour of steroids. A fraud complaint: always someone having a row at the front desk, wanting their fees back, or to cancel their membership. But then the policeman leans over the desk and says something to Tara, and Tara points at him--and the clever thing to do would be to walk over, shake the man's hand, ask how he could help, but Frank somehow can't fucking manage the clever thing. Instead he ducks his head and, pretending not to see the man coming toward him, walks swiftly to the staircase, breaking into a run after the first flight.
He bypasses the staff locker rooms -- he'd be trapped there, a rat in a trap -- and goes all the way up to the top floor: a gigantic open-plan room full of treadmills and elliptical machines, positioned so as to take advantage of the view. There's nowhere to hide here, so he moves past the clang and bang of falling weights to a door marked NO ENTRY and takes the metal stairs to the roof. Some of the staff sneak up here on their breaks, to cool off between classes, and so Frank knows that their building backs right up against one that's been converted into loft-style apartments. They've made their roof into a little garden of wrought-iron benches and potted plants. Neither Frank nor any of the other trainers has ever seen anybody sitting there, but it's just an easy jump across if you're agile, and he is.
He pushes the door open and steps out onto the tar paper roof. Another trainer is already out here, sitting on the low brick parapet. He doesn't recognise her, and he debates just walking past and hopping across into the garden. Then she looks up, the wind blowing her hair back, and says, "Hello, Frank." His stomach churns: she doesn't look like a copper, but they must have some that don't.
Still, she's a tiny thing, and if the big fella downstairs is her partner, he's not yet here. He debates rushing her and tossing her over the side, between the buildings: it'd be a while before anyone finds her, he thinks. He can't risk having her call in reinforcements: she could have the building surrounded by the time he made it to the street. Mind made up, he begins to walk toward her, but she doesn't seem the slightest bit bothered. He wonders if she's carrying a weapon. He wonders if he's maybe made a mistake, and she's a trainer after all, or someone's friend: someone he's met and forgot.
She brings him up short by saying, gravely, "I do understand, you know. It's hard to theorise a force that you can't see: gravity, magnetism. Love. For instance." She holds up one hand in a fist, and begins to spin the other around it. "The planets turn because of the conservation of angular momentum, complicated by gravity, of course." What the fuck is she talking about? "But it's all moving parts: messy mathematics. If we could just stop everything for a moment," and all at once, she stops her hands, "the algebra would be simple. Frozen in place, we see it: L=M x W x R2."
Her hands flutter away like birds, and she exhales happily, like she's just seen something beautiful.
"The problem is similar on the atomic level: you can't stop an atom to measure it. But if we could, we could write our theorems. Everything would be neater, cleaner. But everything would also be dead."
A chill ripples through him, like she's rummaging around in his insides. He's going to throw this crazy lady off the building just to shut her up. "I thought physics was frustrating," she says as he comes at her, "but people are much, much worse, and love is--" and he feels the pain before he really understands what's going on, before he can look down and see the silver-handled knife sticking out of his thigh, before she purses her lips and twists, cutting into his femoral artery. She tsks in disapproval, not even blinking at the gush and spurt of blood. "You weren't listening," she sighs and cuts downward, hard, then yanks the knife out and kicks him with the sole of her high-heeled boot.
His leg buckles. White spots appear before his eyes, and she grabs him by the arm and twists, hard, as he falls. He feels a tearing and a grinding--a terrible wrongness--and screams. He loses his balance and falls onto the parapet, and then she's got him by the ankle and she's heaving him upward, shifting his centre of gravity. The red brick digs into his thigh as he topples, sliding headfirst into the narrow chasm between the buildings. It's an agony: his arm isn't working properly, and he flails wildly with the other, scraping it across the rough brick, looking for something, anything, to hold onto.
He hears a bang as the door to the roof is flung open. "Alice!" a man yells, and Frank has never, ever in his entire life been so happy to hear the voice of a copper. "Alice, what are you--?"
Crazy Alice still has him by the ankle. Between that and the hand he's managed to close around a drainpipe, he's slowed his downward slide. "He came at me," she explains petulantly, and suddenly the policeman's face is visible over the side of the building, stark against the blue sky.
"Now, Frank, did you have a go at her?" the copper asks, sounding almost sympathetic.
"That crazy fucking cunt stabbed me in the cocking leg!" he shrieks. "For Christ's sake! Help me-- "
"Need you to answer a question first. Did you kill those boys?" and fuck, fuck, they know.
"Of course he did," Crazy Alice snorts.
"They trusted you, Frank," the big guy says. "Let you into their houses. Like Tommy Milford, second year engineering, only twenty-three. Patrick Fillmore, assistant chemist: twenty-five. You took their futures from them, Frank-- "
His life is over if they do him for this. But it's a long way to conviction and a very short way down. "Yes!" he shouts. "Yes, I fucking killed them! I strangled them! Tommy and Patrick and Joe and Shaun and Ramel and-- "
The cop's face disappears, and the hand on his ankle lets go. "I've had enough of this wanker," the policeman says. "Manchester's a big place, I bet there's good restaurants," and then, raising his voice to a shout: "See you down there, Frank!" and that's the last thing that Frank ever hears.
"Oh, taste some of this lamb, it's gorgeous," Alice says.
She's right, it is. They're doing the seven course tasting menu at the Abode. Might as well push the boat out, go the whole hog. Still, he's not worried about paying: having Alice is like having a winning lottery ticket in his pocket. He eats some of the pea foam, which is weird but delicious.
"So tell me," Alice says, leaning back with a glass of red wine, "how was that for you?" She's looking at him like he's an hypothesis she's trying to prove, and of course he is. She's set up the conditions, and now she's considering the results: debating changes, refinements.
He thinks it over seriously while he eats. It's not justice as he was taught to do it, but he doesn't feel bad about it. The police were on the wrong track. The guy was killing people; now he's not. Finally he takes a sip of his thoroughly excellent wine and says, "It's good, Alice. I'm really good." She nods and relaxes almost imperceptibly, and he's touched--really touched--by how much she cares. Luther reaches across the table and takes her hand, and she looks pleased and surprised by what is clearly to her a totally alien gesture. "Tell you this, though," he says. "I can't keep up this pace. All this throwing people off buildings is proper fucking exhausting. Let's go somewhere and do something fun."
Alice smiles and squeezes his hand; her smile is radiant and her hands are strong. "Andalusia," she says firmly. "Let's go to Spain, see the bullfighting," and it's nothing he's ever thought to do, but all at once he wants to do it more than anything. He wants to sit in the stands with Alice on a sunny, lazy day and drink cold beer, and wear a straw hat, and watch rough, unfair justice happen before his eyes.