Rowley sat in The Crimson trying to convince himself he wasn't sulking. He had chosen a corner table, half hidden in the shadows of an arch overhead. Someone was playing later but for now the musicians were having a warm-up jam. Buddy Round (real name of Newton Kidham) was on the piano, his fingers skipping off the keys while Oscar 'Mad Jack' Jackathawny cut over him on the saxophone. They had a new drummer, who he didn't recognise, and Nigel 'Quick Hands' Beard just getting his double bass out. He and Nigel had had a few run ins over the years, especially when he was a street officer. Back then Nigel had been known as 'Quick Hands' for his talent at lifting wallets and purses out of pockets. The music had got him clean, and Rowley made sure he stayed that way.
"I thought I'd find you moping here."
He looked up to see Liz standing over him, leaning against the wall. She was dressed for the evening in a long flowing dress and a plain white blouse, her good leather vest over that.
"I'm not moping."
"Sure you aren't. That's why you've ordered a straight gin instead of a whiskey on the rocks and you're in the corner in the dark instead of front and centre watching Buddy play and wishing you were him."
"And here I thought I was the detective." He took a swig and she rolled her eyes.
"Doesn't take a detective Vicky." She sat down opposite from him. "I did some digging into your damsel of distress."
"I thought we'd agreed no business in the bar?"
"Not much under the name Cynthia Long, as you'd imagine, but I asked a couple of friends to look up the name that Elmstone used." Liz pulled out a notebook and set it on the table, flipping it open and reading out of it. "Turns out if you ask the police force in Alshold about a Cynthia Langstaff then they'll tell you all about a world class thief who made off with several thousand somas worth of jewelry, diamonds and assorted precious materials. They'll also ask you if you know anything about Georgia Langstaff."
"It looks like she changes her first name, then her surname, and so on and so on, probably passing it off as getting documents for a relative, marriage, birth, death, that sort of thing. Anyway, Georgia Langstaff is wanted up in Kifehollow. Similar sort of rap sheet. High class burglary, forgery, fraud, and the seduction of idiots who ought to listen to their friends more often."
She closed the notebook and looked up at Victor, who was staring down at his glass.
"You have to admit you were a bit of a prat this time Vicky."
He lifted the drink and took a long sip. "Admitted."
"But if it helps you do seem to have been taken in by a professional of this sort of thing. The reason the police have such a hard time tracking her down is because she's a master of changing herself in almost every way. Different hair lengths and colours reported by all her victims. Some call her an innocent waif, some think she's an enchanting exotic temptress. I checked Sterling's diary and she comes across as an entirely different person. You met a bright but slightly too shy young woman, maybe a little too innocent for the big city. Exactly the sort of person you love protecting."
"I'd argue the point, if it weren't for the rather excellent gin."
"Well for Sterling he described her as a 'seductress.' She wore short skirts, unbuttoned the top buttons of her blouse, wore high heels every day. Again, exactly the sort of woman that he had a proven weakness for."
"I'd presume to do her job she has to be very good at reading people, finding out exactly what it is they like in the space of a single conversation."
"And she knew that once she had you on side she wouldn't need to get me on side as well, because she knew you'd defend her."
"I'm sorry Liz."
She picked up the book and smacked him once, lightly, on the forehead. "There, that's for being an idiot. And you can buy me a drink."
He caught the bartender's attention. "One for the lady, a Southern Twister."
"And a whiskey for him."
"I'm not in the mood for whiskey," he grumbled.
"I know you're not, which is why I'm going to force it down your throat if necessary."
He shook his head. "It's not just that she got to me. I let my guard down so badly I ended up jeopardising the investigation. And that's just-"
She waved at him. "Hush." The bartender brought their drinks over and set them at the table. "No more talk about that. I have a plan I'd like you to hear."
"Tonight we are going to get righteously, mythologically drunk. We're going to listen to the music, because Amelia Samson is singing tonight. We're going to stagger back to one of our places with you sobbing on my shoulder about how much you love Amelia or how much you messed up with Cynthia. We're going to wake up tomorrow with headaches that would stagger elephants and we're going to moan and complain and swear that we'll never have a night like this again."
"That certainly sounds like a plan."
"Exactly, it's brilliant."
"I didn't say it was a good plan, I just said it is a plan."
"Well you'll love the next bit even more. Because once we've shaken off the hangovers and got back on our feet we're going to get back to work, and we're going to track down Cynthia Long. And she's going to point us straight to Professor Elmstone."
"Now that." He picked up the whiskey and held it out to her. "Sounds like a good plan."
She picked up her cocktail and touched the glasses together. "Etheridge and Rowley, back on the case."
"Rowley and Etheridge."
She grinned. "That's more like it. Now come on, let's drink."