Rachel Kinsley is not someone I would choose to work this story with if I had a choice, but that's what my editor is there for – to deny me that choice.
To put it simply, although she's perfectly happy to sleep with me, she disapproves of me in probably every way there is to disapprove of a person, and she wants to change me. It sends sparks of fear shuddering down my spine.
She's a very good journalist and she thinks I cut corners. She thinks I leave bits out and skirt the truth when it suits me. She thinks I protect people. She thinks I'm morally bankrupt. Of course, most of that's true, even if it didn't used to be. Kim Taylor never has and never will make the papers if it has anything to do with me, and she was only the first. I have a fair few less than reputable sources that I would be a fool to shop to the nick for the sake of my unwavering morals. My morals wavered a long time ago, right about when I walked out of the burial mound five years ago. I knew she was going to kill him and I let her do it. I can't claim to be a saint, so there's no point trying to be one. Journalism is about selling papers, and sometimes it's better that the absolute truth doesn't come into it. Rachel doesn't see it like that though. She wouldn't - she doesn't know what I'm hiding and I'm not telling her.
"Will you focus please? We're not getting anywhere!"
I give a limp eyebrow shrug from under my glasses, not sure if she's even watching me. "I am focused. I've got my Dictaphone on and everything."
She smiles despite herself – it comes through, barely squashed in her voice. "Cute, Zach. Really cute. I'm not having you balls-ing this story up. I hope you realise that."
She got a First from wherever the hell she went to university and she knows everything there is to know about correct journalistic procedure. She doesn't know how to fail, but when she's around me that's all she seems to do, and she doesn't exactly like it. She dots all of her I's and crosses all the T's. While that's a great thing to do, I'd prefer it if she did it a long way away from me, at least when we're working anyway.
"Come on Rachel, this isn't your story. You're just helping me out."
She gives me that small, tight laugh she uses when she's secretly rattled but trying to sound in control. "Actually, Harding's giving me credit for the work I put into this. It's a joint piece Zach. You need watching – that's perfectly clear. Turning up to work drunk is not a sensible thing to do."
I set my jaw and casually tug my sunglasses off my face, because I know it makes her awkward when she can't ignore the fact that I can still stare at her though my eyes don't work at all. "Neither is sticking your nose in where it's not wanted."
I hear her pen scratch against her notepad in a frantic bid at self-imposed distraction. She has nothing at all to write down. "Funny, here I was thinking that was my job, and if not my job then at least my right as your -"
"My what?" I scrape my chair back, switching my Dictaphone off, head shaking. "I'm going to the Cat Rescue place. Are you coming along or not?"
I'm hoping she won't come. I don't want her looking over my shoulder on this one. I don't even know what it's about yet. If it is me that rhyme's talking about then I have no idea what I'm supposed to have stolen, and if it's not me, then none of this makes any sense at all.
"I was going to say girlfriend. Of course I'm coming. I'm your eyes on this Zach, whether you like it or not. Just swallow that infamous pride of yours and use me."
My forced smile is so sour it stings my teeth. "Honey, believe me, I don't need lessons on how to use you."
Her notebook snaps shut and I realise what I've said. Her voice is crisp and clipped when it comes out with barely a beat missed, but there is a beat missed and I notice it. "Is that right?"
I sigh perhaps a little too loudly. Here I have a choice between what I know any halfway-decent, polite individual would say, and the truth that I know I'm going to have to admit sooner or later. "Don't be like that, Rach." I slip my glasses back on and try to look meek. "I didn't mean it, ok? You know how I get – I don't like having to rely on you so much."
Sometimes I make myself sick with the ease at which I can slip into the role she thinks I inhabit. To her, I am so far from manipulative I should have a halo. I drink because of the cruel hand fate has dealt me, and she lets me sleep with her because she's a virtuous and good human being, and she wants to help me heal and learn to forgive. I would never do something as base as use her for what she's willing to give. Cynicism is probably rotting the remnants of my soul right out of my body, and I don't think I care all that much.
"It's ok, Zach. I know." But she doesn't. Not at all.
We get to the Rescue centre in a cab. It's all company expenses and the Paper uses this firm a lot, so the driver knows me, but Rachel fusses, as Rachel loves to do. I ignore it, because if I don't I think I'd hit her.
I expect the crime scene to be swarming with cops and journalists, but I wasn't expecting the animal rights protestors to be camped out with such force. They're the type of crowd that jostle and rise to the merest provocation, so for at least once today I'm glad that Rachel is actually here to guide me through these idiots. The cats are already dead and they were probably killed by a psychopath, so really there's nothing to protest. It's not as if anybody thinks this is ok and nobody's going to run out and buy a tennis racket strung with Cats' Eye Killer Cat Gut, even if that does have something of a morbid ring to it.
We get shown through to the back because we have an appointment as well as press-passes. At a gig this big, you need to ring ahead if you want to talk to someone useful.
"Oh, hello. We're here to see Francis Murphy," Rachel bubbles at reception and five minutes later we're sitting in a carpeted room, on plastic chairs, being plied with mugs of weak, overly milky tea. I hate weak tea. There's no reason for it.
Rachel does the questions – half of them not even useful – she's just dotting her Is, crossing her Ts – as Rachel loves to do.
"Who discovered the crime scene?"
I bite my tongue. Does it matter?
"Was there a break-in?" Of course there was. Jesus. We have the police report – she doesn't need to ask theses things.
"Was anything stolen?" What? Like cat food? If it's something worth killing this many cats over then they're not going to admit to having it. She's not asking the right things. She never does.
I clear my throat and cut through. "Do you have anybody called Taylor working here?"
"Taylor? No. No I don't think we do."
I nod. That doesn't mean anything – people change their names. Kim Taylor's certainly done it before. "Does the name Blinkie mean anything to you?"
Francis Murphy hesitates. It's the hesitation that lets me know I'm on to something. It's a glorious pulling together of tension before the drop. "One of our cats was called Blinkie."
I nod. Not about me then. Good. Very good. "One of your dead cats?"
The woman shrugs and it lists her voice up, "Well, yes I suppose she must be. We haven't gone through all of the bodies. It's… too upsetting."
"Anything special about that cat in particular?"
"Well, no. Not really. I'm sorry, I'm not sure I understand – what were you meaning exactly?"
"Did he -?"
"She. Blinkie was a lovely little girl."
"Did she have any peculiar habits? Was she a particularly rare breed? Anything to make her stand out?"
"No. She was – she was just a cat."
I nod, stumped. None of this makes any sense at all.
Francis Murphy sighs deeply. "She only came in to us at the beginning of last week. Been better off if she'd stayed where she was. Horrible business, isn't it just?"
"It is. Yes," Last week could mean something. This could be what's important. "Do you have a record of who brought her in?"
"No. That I don't. She was left in a box just around the corner from here. It was probably Brian, but I couldn't say for sure. He might not have been working that day."
"I see." Not exactly what I was looking for. Rachel nudges my knee. I don't know why – probably to get me to shut up. She smiles on an exhale and goes on with her pre-written list of questions.
"What kind of medical supplies do you have available on site?"
"Oh none of those are missing. I told you that – nothing's been taken. That's why it's all so strange. The cats are dead, there's blood on the wall, but the money's still here and so are the drugs. It's got me absolutely baffled, I can tell you!"
You and me both, Francis. You and me both.