The beautiful bride, who had not once smiled in the entire service, was suddenly beaming.
“I do,” said Robin in a ringing voice, looking straight into the eyes, not of her stony-faced new husband, but of the battered and bloodied man who had just sent her flowers crashing to the floor.
Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith
Strike had not known just how tense he was until the wave of relief at seeing Robin’s beaming face hit him. The knot in his stomach untwisted itself and his rigid shoulders relaxed as he realised that she wasn’t going to kick him out, that she even seemed happy to see him. The half-formed visions of shouting and tears, recriminations and accusations that had preyed on his mind seemed silly now; Robin was not the type of woman to make a scene, even if he had been the last person on earth she wanted to show up at her wedding.
He watched as the couple exchanged rings, then went into the vestry to sign the register. It was clear, even from his position at the very back of the church, that Matthew was furious and attempting, though failing, to hide it. His clenched jaw, the angry red flush creeping up the back of his neck, the firmness of his grip on Robin’s elbow; the accountant was not, it seemed, happy to see Strike. To hell with him, Strike thought. He couldn’t give two shits about Matthew’s comfort or pleasure, as long as he didn’t take it out on Robin, who luckily seemed to be oblivious to her groom’s icy displeasure; or perhaps she was choosing deliberately not to notice it.
As the recessional filed down the aisle and the happy couple passed the back of the church where Strike was still standing, Robin caught his eyes once more and flashed him a brilliant smile. Strike had only a moment to grin back before she was past him, Matthew’s grip still firm on her arm, pulling her into the churchyard.
As soon as Strike himself stepped out into the fresh air he lit another cigarette, ignoring the half-curious, half-angry glances that he was attracting from the guests that he moved past. Robin was firmly in the middle of a crowd of well-wishers, the photographer beginning to direct the wedding party to form up for the portraits. There was clearly no way that Strike would be able to work his way through the crowd to catch her attention, so he drifted back towards where Shanker was waiting with the car. He was just stepping into the square when he heard Robin’s voice behind him, shouting his name. He stopped and turned; she was jogging towards him, lifting the hem of her gown off the ground with one hand and waving off the disgruntled looking photographer with the other. Strike dropped his cigarette and ground it out as Robin reached him, cheeks pink and chest heaving slightly. He could see her expression change to a sort of fascinated horror as she came close enough to see his injuries clearly.
“What on earth happened to your face?”
Strike grinned down at her.
“Had a bit of a run in with the Shacklewell Ripper,” he said, casually, unable to resist a bit of macho swagger. He was gratified by Robin’s horrified gasp, and continued,
“It’s alright, he’s in the nick. Got him last night.”
This was clearly news to Robin, who he supposed would have had more important things to do this morning than to look at the papers or watch the news. Her burning curiosity about the case far outweighing her desire to exchange apologies, she eagerly began to question him; Strike, however, wasn’t about to let himself be sidetracked. He knew they had only moments before she was pulled back into the wedding fray, and he wanted to say his piece.
He held up his hand to silence her, and said, “Listen, I know I said that if you didn’t call back I’d leave you alone, but I just wanted to tell you in person how-“
It was Robin’s turn to interrupt him. “When did you say that?”
Strike blinked, thrown off the flow of the apology he had rehearsed in his head over and over on the ride up. “What?”
“That – about calling you back.”
“Well, on the voicemail I left you,” Strike said, confused, then hesitated. He had thought that she had remained silent deliberately, that she was too angry to accept his apologies, but he could tell by her expression that she had never heard the voicemail he left. He caught sight of Matthew in the distance, standing rigid with folded arms, glaring, and in an instant knew what must have happened. That little shit. Pushing down the surge of anger he felt, for her sake, he continued his apology. “It’s not important. Listen, it was dead wrong of me to fire you, and to – say what I said. If I could take it back I would.”
Strike paused, but Robin said nothing. She looked worried, her features set and her eyes downcast, like she was bracing herself for bad news.
After several moments of silence, Strike realized that she wasn’t about to speak, that he would have to state it plainly. “So… will you come back to work?”
Robin met his eyes again, clearly surprised. “You haven’t replaced me?” she said, the smile beginning to return to her face. It was Strike’s turn to be flabbergasted.
“Replaced you? Of course not. Why would I?”
She looked at him as though he had lost his mind. “I saw the article. The one in the Sun. About you… looking for a new Girl Friday.”
Strike groaned inwardly. He hadn’t expected her to see that bit of nonsense, since he had never once seen her willingly pick up the Sun.
“That wasn’t meant as a real advertisement, I promised Culpepper a hell of a favour to get him to put it in. It was for the killer, to get him off your scent and keep him on me,” he explained.
The dawning comprehension and relief on Robin’s face caused a stab of guilt to Strike; he could imagine how hurt she would have been at the dismissive tone of the article, at his list of ideal qualifications for his fictional new assistant.
She still had not answered him. “So…?” he prompted.
Robin’s face was once more radiant with joy as she said, “Of course. Of course I’ll come back.”
They stood in the square grinning at each other, until the sound of Robin’s wedding party shouting for her broke the moment. She glanced around and called out, “One minute!” before turning back to Strike. “Are you coming to the reception?” she asked.
Strike shook his head. “Better not. Don’t want to ruin that too. I might knock over the cake next.”
“You didn’t ruin it!” Robin said, clearly struggling to hold back laughter.
“Anyway,” Strike continued, “Shanker drove me up here. He’ll be wanting to start back.”
Robin looked around and noticed Shanker for the first time where he had been sitting in the car, watching them. She waved cheerfully, and Shanker pulled his upper body out of the car window to wave back.
“All right then,” Robin said, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to convince him to stay. “I’ll see you in two weeks?”
Strike nodded. “Yeah.” Feeling that this was not quite enough, he added, “Congratulations, by the way. You look nice. Pretty.”
Without warning, Robin threw her arms around Strike’s neck, hugging him fiercely. Startled, it took Strike a moment of hesitation before he returned the hug. Turning her head, Robin whispered a tearful “Thank you,” in Strike’s ear. She released him, turned, and fled back to her new husband. Strike stood and watched her go, the bright sun glinting off her hair flying behind her. He caught Matthew’s furious eye, gave him a jaunty wave and a grin, then walked back to the car.
He had barely pulled himself into the passenger seat before Shanker hit the gas. As they pulled out of the square, Shanker glanced sideways at Strike’s thoughtful expression. “Hope that was worth the trip, Bunsen.”
Strike lit another cigarette, refusing to let himself dwell on how beautiful Robin had looked with roses in the gentle waves of her hair, on the way her dress had clung to her curves, on how soft those curves had felt pressed briefly against him, or on the faint scent of her perfume that now clung to his grubby Italian suit. “It was,” he said, then flicked on the radio.
It was the ninth day of Robin’s honeymoon, and she was bored out of her skull. Alternating between lying on the beach and floating in the pool had been novel for the first two days, and the all-inclusive bar had gotten her through the next two, but she had now finished all three of the books she had packed and the forced inactivity was driving her mad.
It didn’t help that Matthew was clearly enjoying himself immensely. He had, after all, been the one who had picked the Cuban resort, and, Robin thought angrily, had clearly picked it with reference to his own taste before hers.
Also not helpful was the massive row they had had on their wedding night, once Robin had had the chance to look at her phone and piece together exactly what had happened to the message Strike left her. They had called an uneasy truce once they arrived at the resort, but things had remained tense, and Robin had welcomed Matt’s announcement last night that he was going to spend the next day on a deep-sea fishing excursion.
Now she sat on the edge of their enormous hotel bed, hair still damp from a dip in the pool, contemplating the phone and debating with herself. Matthew would be furious if she called Strike, she knew. But then again, he needn’t know. And it was no business of his who she called. If she wanted to catch up with what had happened while they were away, that was her own lookout. Mind made up, she snatched the headset and dialed before she could change it again.
The line rang only twice before Strike’s gruff voice answered.
“Hey,” she said, then, “It’s Robin.”
There was a long pause before Strike answered, but when he did she could hear laughter in his voice. She relaxed.
“I thought you were supposed to be on your honeymoon.”
“I am!” She protested. “I just – I couldn’t wait any longer, I’ve got to know what happened with Laing!” Robin had snuck away from Matthew to the resort’s internet café to scour the web for news about the Shacklewell Ripper’s arrest, but the stories had been frustratingly vague.
Sitting in a deli thousands of kilometers away, Strike grinned. He was frankly surprised that she had been able to hold out for this long without hearing the full story.
Robin was a good audience; she listened attentively as he laid out the logic he had used to arrive at the conclusion that Laing was the killer, and gasped at all the right moments as he told her about their confrontation. After he finished, they were both silent as she digested the horrific details.
It was Strike who broke the silence. “Are you satisfied now?” he teased. “Going to go do your honeymoon properly now that you’ve got all the gory details?”
Robin hesitated. There was something else, something that had been weighing on her mind. She screwed up her courage; better to say it now and get it over with. “I – I also wanted to say something. About coming back to work.”
Strike felt a stab of dread in his gut. Had she changed her mind? “What is it?” he asked, tone guarded.
Robin took a deep breath. “If I come back you have to promise not to – to push me aside if it’s dangerous. You have to see that I can protect myself, that it’s my choice to run the same risks that you do.”
Strike sighed with relief. “Yeah, all right,” he said, easily.
“You have to mean it, not just say it,” Robin said, frustrated. He had agreed to quickly; it was clear that he hadn’t actually thought about what she had said.
“I do. I do mean it,” he reassured her. “You’re my partner. I won’t try to sideline you again.” Because you won’t listen if I do, he added to himself. A small flicker of righteous indignation made him counter her request with one of his own; “And you have to promise not to go behind my back again. If you’re going to do something stupid and reckless at least let me know so I don’t find out from someone like Carver.”
Robin supposed this was a fair point. “Ok. Yes. I promise.”.
They both paused; not seeing a way that she could reasonably prolong the conversation, Robin murmured, “I’ll see you on Monday, then?”
“See you Monday,” was Strike’s cheerful response.
She hung up the phone, and wandered out to their room’s balcony overlooking the gardens. She could hear the shouts of the rowdy group of Canadian students in the main pool, and the faint sound of waves hitting the shore from behind the tree line. As she leaned on the railing, hot sun beating down on the back of her neck, Robin felt suddenly utterly, profoundly alone.