Today's Reading

"I would have made a terrific heroin smuggler, I think." This was Ibrahim, who earlier raised the point about Centrica. "It's just logistics, isn't it? There's all the weighing too, which I would enjoy, very precise. And they have machines to count money. All the mod cons. Have you ever captured a heroin dealer, PC De Freitas?"

"No," admits Donna. "It's on my list, though."

"But I'm right that they have machines to count money?" asks Ibrahim.

"They do, yes," says Donna.

"Wonderful," says Ibrahim, and downs his glass of wine.

"We bore easily," adds Elizabeth, also polishing off a glass. "God save us from window locks, WPC De Freitas."

"It's just PC now," says Donna.

"I see," says Elizabeth, lips pursing. "And what happens if I still choose to say WPC? Will there be a warrant for my arrest?"

"No, but I'll think a bit less of you," says Donna. "Because it's a really simple thing to do, and it's more respectful to me."

"Damn, checkmate, okay," says Elizabeth, unpursing her lips.

"Thank you," says Donna.

"Guess how old I am," challenges Ibrahim.

Donna hesitates. Ibrahim has a nice suit, and he has great skin. He smells wonderful. A handkerchief is artfully folded in his breast pocket. Hair thinning but still there. No paunch, and just the one chin. And yet underneath it all? Hmmm. Donna looks at Ibrahim's hands.

Always the giveaway. "Eighty?" she ventures.

She sees the wind depart Ibrahim's sails. "Yes, spot-on, but I look younger. I look about seventy-four. Everyone agrees. The secret is Pilates."

"And what's your story, Joyce?" Donna asks the fourth member of the group, a small white-haired woman in a lavender blouse and mauve cardigan. She is sitting very happily, taking it all in. Mouth closed but eyes bright. Like a quiet bird, constantly on the lookout for something sparkling in the sunshine.

"Me?" says Joyce. "No story at all. I was a nurse, and then a mum, and then a nurse again. Nothing to see here, I'm afraid."

Elizabeth gives a short snort. "Don't be taken in by Joyce, PC De Freitas. She is the type who 'gets things done.'"

"I'm just organized," says Joyce. "It's out of fashion. If I say I'm going to Zumba, I go to Zumba. That's just me. My daughter is the interesting one in the family. She runs a hedge fund, if you know what one is?"

"Not really," admits Donna.

"No," agrees Joyce.

"Zumba is before Pilates," says Ibrahim. "I don't like to do both. It's counterintuitive to your major muscle groups."

A question has been nagging at Donna throughout lunch. "So, if you don't mind me asking, I know you all live at Coopers Chase, but how did the four of you become friends?"

"Friends?" Elizabeth seems amused. "Oh, we're not friends, dear."

Ron is chuckling. "Christ, love, no, we're not friends. Do you need a top-up, Liz?"

Elizabeth nods and Ron pours. They are on a second bottle. It is twelve fifteen.

Ibrahim agrees. "I don't think friends is the word. We wouldn't choose to socialize; we have very different interests. I like Ron, I suppose, but he can be very difficult."

Ron nods. "I'm very difficult."

"And Elizabeth's manner is off-putting."

Elizabeth nods as well. "There it is, I'm afraid. I've always been an acquired taste. Since school."

"I like Joyce, I suppose. I think we all like Joyce," says Ibrahim. Ron and Elizabeth nod their agreement again.

"Thank you, I'm sure," says Joyce, chasing peas around her plate. "Don't you think someone should invent flat peas?"

Donna tries to clear up her confusion. "So if you aren't friends, then what are you?"

She sees Joyce look up and shake her head at the others, this unlikely gang.

"Well," says Joyce. "Firstly, we are friends, of course; this lot are just a little slow catching on. And secondly, if it didn't say on your invitation, PC De Freitas, then it was my oversight. We're the Thursday Murder Club."

Elizabeth is going glassy-eyed with red wine, Ron is scratching at a West Ham tattoo on his neck, and Ibrahim is polishing an already- polished cufflink. The restaurant is filling up around them, and Donna is not the first visitor to Coopers Chase to think this wouldn't be the worst place to live. She would kill for a glass of wine and an afternoon off.

"Also I swim every day," concludes Ibrahim. "It keeps the skin tight."

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