Sucking a lollipop, she was little more than a child. Bodie caught the sickened look on Doyle's face; maybe Latimer preferred younger girls but this one looked barely into her teens. They hadn't worked together for long, but the past couple of months had been informative and Bodie realised immediately how his new partner would feel about this girl.
"That's me. Whadd'ya want?"
"Andrew Latimer. Shall we talk inside?" Bodie exerted firm pressure on the door, and the girl drew back with a shrug. The partners followed her in, Doyle tense.
They'd had a whisper about some drugs movement and Andrew Latimer was part of the chain they were interested in. Doyle's street contacts had found them some of the girls Latimer ran; Krista had willingly talked to them. If any of Latimer's girls knew anything it would be his favourite. Helpfully giving them the address Krista informed the partners that she had been ousted as favourite by Alexa, who was younger.
That should've warned them, Bodie thought. Krista had been all of seventeen.
The doorway to the basement flat had been shadowy; inside Bodie could see that Alexa was a bit older than he'd initially thought - fourteen, or maybe fifteen. Everything about her was calculated to appear younger though - her silky blonde hair drawn into a ponytail, juvenile clothes and ankle socks. Beyond her the bedroom door stood open, and he could see it was a typical teenagers' room; with pop posters on the walls and soft toys on the bed.
Now that she'd made them as trouble rather than customers, the lollipop was tossed aside and she reached for a packet of cigarettes, extracting one and flicking the lighter on with ease. "Want one?"
Doyle's instinctive reaction was the urge to tell the girl she was too young to be smoking. She was too young for a lot of things. He smothered the impulse as Bodie answered for both of them. "We don't."
"So what d'you want with Drew?"
Past experience should give him the edge when it came to dealing with this situation, but as Doyle hung back Bodie stepped in, hovering ominously over her. "We've heard your pimp is making a special delivery this evening. We want to know where."
"He's not my pimp." Sucking leisurely on the cigarette, Alexa calmly refuted Bodie's statement. "Drew's my boyfriend. He loves me."
Doyle was unable to prevent a derisory grunt at her words. How often had he heard that? "Of course he does. You and every other girl he's running."
She glared briefly at him before returning to Bodie's question. "What sort of delivery?"
"Drew doesn't use drugs."
"Doesn't stop him carrying them." Doyle was frustrated and baffled by this girl. Didn't she realise what Latimer was like? "And I bet he keeps you supplied."
Alexa stretched out her bare arms ostentatiously in front of Bodie. "I'm not using. Drugs screw you up."
Exchanging a glance with Doyle, Bodie shrugged. Lack of visible track marks only indicated she wasn't mainlining heroin, not that she didn't use it or another drug. "Where is Drew?"
"Out where?" Bodie was losing patience with her.
"I don't know where. He doesn't tell me everything."
"Krista seemed to think he did. She said you were his favourite and if anyone knew what he was up to it would be you."
"She's a cow. And she's lying."
Bodie caught her wrist as Alexa got up. "Thought you said he loved you. Don't lovers tell each other everything?"
"I don't know what he's doing right at this moment! He'll be back soon -"
"Will that be before or after he's sent along some sick individuals for you to entertain?" Doyle knew the score; Alexa was too young to work the streets so Latimer would find the tricks for her.
There was a slight flinch at his words. But - "He'll be back soon," she repeated. She tried to wrench her wrist from Bodie's grasp. "I don't know anything."
"What about his friends? Does he visit any clubs? He must take you with him sometimes." Bodie shot questions at Alexa, hoping to jerk a response from her.
"Course he takes me. But I don't remember the names, I don't know London. Anyway, why should I help you?!" Sounding scared now, she tried for the second time to free herself from Bodie. "You're hurting me..."
Tightening his grip, Bodie pulled her closer, reducing his voice to a menacing growl. "Am I? Well, let me tell you something. I could hurt you a lot more than this, d'you understand that? So why don't you be a good girl and tell us what we want to know?"
For several seconds his threat hung in the air. Doyle took a half-step forward intending to get between them; he hadn't worked with Bodie for long enough to know whether he'd carry through to any action.
Alexa laughed. Leaning away from Bodie, she brought up her other hand and took another drag on her cigarette, blowing the smoke out into his face. "I said I don't remember."
Abruptly, Bodie released her and turned towards the door. "Let's go."
Doyle heard the door slam behind them as he reached the top of the basement steps. Across the road Bodie was already getting into the car, and he hurried to catch up.
"What did you think you were doing?"
Bodie shrugged. "She knows where Latimer'll be tonight. I could see it."
"And you thought you could thump it out of her?"
"I wasn't going to hit her," Bodie declared. "I just thought she might crack under a bit of pressure and tell us."
"Obviously not. You've got a lot to learn about these girls."
"And you're the one to teach me?" Bodie's glance was dangerous. "They're just hookers. They're the same the world over, Doyle. I've seen enough of 'em."
"Hookers or not, they're still girls."
"With you on a one-man crusade to save them all. It's not gonna happen, mate. Anyway, Alexa seemed happy enough to me."
"Happy?! How can she be happy? She's just a kid, she should be at school, not turning tricks to make money for a louse like Latimer. Who knows what she's suffered - "
"Not all of them are forced into it. You heard her: she says she loves Latimer. Not much of a career outlook, but if that's what she wants from life it's her decision."
Doyle glanced over his shoulder to the flat. "She's underage. We could always bring her in anyway, sweat her a bit more -"
"And still get a big fat zero. Leave it." Bodie started the car. "Where are we trying next?"
As he pulled away, Doyle resigned himself to the fact that Bodie was right. Whatever Alexa's circumstances, there were girls worse off than her, and too many for him to do anything about...
Doyle shouldered his way out of the club and kicked at the wall in frustration. Lake and Williams hauled Latimer past him; they would take him in for questioning, but the initial search hadn't produced any drugs.
The smug look on Latimer's face riled Doyle even more. "He knew we were coming," he seethed.
Bodie was angry but more philosophical. "He just got lucky this time. But we'll get him."
"Was it luck? Or did someone tip him off? Who was it who rang with the details about Latimer?"
"I dunno, do I? She rang asking for you. I said you'd gone, but when I said I was your partner she gave me the info."
That didn't sound completely on the level to Doyle. Most of his contacts would only talk to him, although maybe it had been someone they'd both seen during the day. He pushed away that uneasy feeling as they reached the car, but he was still conscious of the other concern that had been nagging at him since that afternoon.
"Anyway, we're off-duty now so we can let the Cow worry about it. Coming for a quick one?"
Doyle shook his head in response to Bodie's question. "Nah. I'm going to see Alexa again."
"Oh, come on. You know she won't talk to you. What are you going to do: arrest her, drag her off to Social Services? Not worth the effort, mate."
Doyle scowled. "I know. But I can see she's not been at it long; she's still got too much spirit. Maybe I can make her see sense and go to a hostel, or something."
"You're just wasting your time."
"Maybe. But it's my time. You don't have to come. But I have to try."
Doyle had taken only three steps away from the car before Bodie called him. "Come on, get in the car..."
Doyle peered through the window, trying to see into the room past the frayed nets.
"She could be with someone." Bodie was tired and just wanted to go home. "We should come round tomorrow - "
Doyle suddenly snapped upright, and turned to launch himself at the door. "Get an ambulance!"
"Now, Bodie!" Doyle's second bodyslam to the door burst it from its hinges and he crashed into the flat. Without waiting to find out what was wrong, Bodie ran up the steps to the car and radioed in, before hurrying back to join his partner. "On their way. Is she bad?"
Doyle was kneeling beside the semi-conscious girl checking for a pulse. Cuts and bruises were testimony of a beating and her left wrist was obviously broken. He didn't respond to his partner's question. Although the visible injuries didn't look too serious there was no telling what else might be wrong.
All Doyle could think of was how Bodie had been earlier; his threats to her if she didn't talk. And suddenly Bodie had the information they'd wanted...
"I didn't do it!"
They were still at the hospital. Cowley had joined them almost immediately but Doyle hadn't waited to fling the accusation at his partner and their boss had arrived to find them in a middle of a row.
"You got that information from somewhere." Doyle wanted to believe him. But he'd seen Bodie use pressure before, and he'd heard Bodie's views on Alexa, and girls like her.
"I got the phone call." Helplessly, Bodie tried an appeal. "Come on, Ray. You can't believe I'd hit her."
"You threatened to. I was there, remember?"
"I was just trying to scare her into talking. You know that."
"This phone call, Bodie." Cowley intervened. "Did you recognise the voice?"
"No. I'm pretty sure it wasn't Alexa; she sounded older. But I didn't know her."
"And what exactly did they say?"
"That Latimer would be making the drop at ten at the Starlight Club. All we had to do was walk in and grab him."
"And what a fiasco that was," Doyle added bitterly.
"That's enough, Doyle." Cowley glanced between them. "How is the girl?"
"She wasn't making any sense on the way here; in shock and pain. But she'll be OK. They just won't let me talk to her yet."
"I'll get someone out here. Doyle, you join Lake; he's on Latimer's tail. It was no good questioning him; I'm hoping he'll think he's scot-free and make a mistake. Bodie, a word." Cowley stalked away down the corridor, not bothering to check whether either agent was obeying him.
Bodie followed suit, coming to an abrupt halt behind his boss at the reception desk. "Well?"
"You know how Doyle gets about these girls, sir. He'd rescue every single one, personally, if he could. Yes, I leant on her. I was sure she knew where Latimer would be, she certainly talked like she did, so I tried to push her into telling us. She wasn't scared - she laughed at me."
"And you didn't like that? You went back to stop her laughing?"
"No! I didn't..."
"Are you telling me the truth?" Cowley pre-empted Bodie's response. "Because if I find out you're lying, you'll be out, d'you understand that?"
"I'm not lying, sir." Bodie swallowed. "I didn't touch her."
Cowley studied him. "I like to think I'm a good judge of character, Bodie. Hopefully the girl will be able to confirm your story." He turned. "Go home, Bodie."
"Are you suspending me, sir?"
"If I were, you wouldn't need to ask."
"Then I want to stay here. I can make sure Alexa's OK, talk to her when she wakes..." Bodie held his breath. He wasn't suspended, so if Cowley really believed him, he'd let Bodie stay.
It was little more than an hour later when Alexa stirred, and Bodie tossed the magazine aside to move quietly to the side of the bed. Her muttered 'Sod it' as she focused on her surroundings was followed by a swift movement to try and get up, and a louder curse as various bruises made themselves felt.
Bodie gently pushed her back onto the bed. "Don't be daft. Lie down."
She scowled faintly as she recognised Bodie, resisting the pressure on her shoulder. "Don't want to stay here. I 'ate hospitals."
"We've got something in common then. So do I. But you're not going anywhere for a bit, so you may as well make yourself comfy."
Realising that Bodie meant what he said and was prepared to enforce his words, Alexa resignedly slumped back against the pillows with a sigh. "Don't s'pose you've got any fags on you?"
"No. Even if I had, you can't smoke in here."
"Don't you ever get tired of tellin' people what they can't do?" Although said resentfully the question seemed to be rhetorical, and propping himself on the bed Bodie grinned, getting a hint of a smile in return. "I'll stop lecturing you. If you tell me what happened."
"Wish you'd stayed away from me. This is your fault." Alexa lifted her plaster-clad arm and stared balefully at it. "Drew came round; he was in a foul temper. Someone had told him about two men talking to Krista, and she told him that she'd sent them to the flat. So he comes wading in with his fists flying demanding to know what I'd said..."
She grinned. "I got him a good one with the ashtray. But the bastard wouldn't listen to me; I told him I didn't know anything to tell anyone and he still kept hitting me."
"I thought he was in love with you." She heard the implied sarcasm in Bodie's words, and shrugged.
"Nah. Your mate was right: Drew's just using me." The statement held disappointment rather than the heartbroken despair Bodie might have expected from the teenager. "Guess I knew that, really. I mean, you just have to look at Krista. She's been hanging around Drew for years now and I bet he'd promised her all the things he's been promising me..."
"How long were you with him?" Bodie gave her hand a comforting squeeze.
"Six weeks too long. Dunno where I'll go to now." She batted her eyelashes at him. "D'you want a lodger?"
Bodie sidestepped the question. "What about home? Where is home, anyway?"
"Margate. Mum's new boyfriend threw me out. I don't want to go back there. If I can't stay with you I'll have to find someone else to look after me."
"Listen, we came back to the flat because my partner was worried about you."
"Could I stay with him then?"
Grinning broadly, Bodie was about to suggest that there could be more appropriate half-way houses for her when the door opened.
Doyle was bewildered. Before he'd even caught up with Lake, Latimer had been re-arrested with drugs in his car and brought in, and Cowley had stood him down. He'd announced his intention of returning to the hospital and the Old Man hadn't said anything about Bodie still being there...
And his partner was sitting laughing with the girl. One look at her, undisturbed and not in the slightest fear of him, brought home the extent of his misjudgement to Doyle.
He should have had more faith in Bodie.
"Oh, Ray. Alexa was just wondering if she could stay with you until she got sorted out." Bodie winked at Alexa, and she giggled. "Only 'cos your mate 'ere doesn't want me."
Faced with their laughter, Doyle was trying to come up with a suitable reply as the nurse came in. "Mr Bodie, please! Other patients are asleep. It's probably time you went."
"OK." Bodie got up and patted Alexa's cheek before moving to the door. "See you tomorrow, toots."
She pouted as the nurse straightened the sheets. "You'd better. And bring me some fags..."
They were outside before Bodie paused, knowing Doyle was hovering just at his shoulder. "Well?"
The apology wasn't easy but had to be done. "I'm sorry, Bodie. I should've known better."
Bodie shrugged. "Maybe. Given the right suspect I wouldn't hesitate to use strong arm tactics, although it's hardly likely to be someone like Alexa. You'd do the same, and we both know Cowley would."
Doyle would have liked to refute Bodie's statement. He had principles, after all. But deep down he knew what Bodie was saying was right. Pitch the welfare of one suspect against the lives of many others, for instance, and his principles would be out of the window. "Probably."
Nodding shrewdly, Bodie acknowledged Doyle's agreement. "But there's something else you have to remember, sunshine. I might do it, but if I did, I wouldn't lie to you."
He stretched, regarding the cold night. "Got an unopened bottle at my place. Let's go and crack it open..."