None of this is especially unusual, but the day gets out of hand. The credit card scam leads to a brothel and then to a federal MP in the first hung parliament anyone can remember, and suddenly everything is looking complicated.
Bec is told to stop investigating, but she pushes ahead anyway. The one thing - the only thing - that anyone trusts about her is her incorruptibility. If she loses that, she loses some desperate part of herself, her soul. And she’s also only tolerated because she does the right thing in the wrong way. If she backs down, she loses her integrity, and once her integrity is gone, all the thumps she’s given suspects and all her drinking on the job will catch up with her is a very sudden and unpleasant way.
With no choice, and fairly certain this isn’t going to end well, Bec keeps her investigation going. She chases the dodgy credit card up the line, past uncooperative brothel managers and surly accountants and suspiciously flirtatious sex workers, all the way to the prime minister’s office itself.
Dirty Harriet is a messy crime novel of forensic accounting, blackout drinking, and vast political conspiracies, set in Sydney, Australia.
Bec woke to thumping on her front door, the blaring of a poorly-chosen ringtone, and a monstrous, vicious hangover.
She was in a foul mood. She was always in a foul mood this early in the morning, but the combined noise of the phone and knocking made everything worse.
It was a lot of noise. Whoever was at the door had been there long enough they’d hurt their knuckles from knocking, had stopped banging with their hand, switched to slapping and kicking the door, hard. Hard enough she could hear it rattling in its frame from each blow.
Hitting it over and over. Rhythmically, slowly, while holding down the doorbell so it chimed over constantly. At the same time, as phoning her over and over.
She felt awful, but the amount of noise being made meant the person at the door was committed. Whoever it was had given up on a getting her attention quickly and settled in to wait. And make noise. That was knocking that someone was prepared to keep up for hours, if need be.
She couldn’t stand to hear it for hours, and that meant she had to actually get up.
She lay where she was for a moment and tried to work out what she needed to remember.
She’d got in late last night. That wasn’t unusual.
She was still mostly dressed, she had on jeans and a singlet and socks. She smelled of smoke and stale beer, and was so tired her head hurt just from tired, without counting in the hangover too. Her mouth tasted foul and she felt queasy, her stomach achingly empty from drinking and then not eating.
She’d been out drinking. That wasn’t unusual either. It was most nights.
There was someone in the bed with her. Someone on his back, probably hungover too. Someone who was blindly reaching over to grab Bec’s arm, to shake her, and say, irritably, “Hey, wake up. The door.”
“Yeah,” Bec said. Her mouth was to dry to say much.
“The door,” the guy said again. He sounded whiney. Sober Bec sometimes wondered at the taste in men Drunk Bec had the night before.
“I know,” she said.
Maybe he was beautiful. Hopefully he was, and that would excuse his moaning.
Bec needed to throw up. She felt it suddenly, unexpectedly urgent.
She got up out of bed, a mattress on the floor, and pulled herself up holding onto the wall. She staggered once, on the way to the bathroom across the hall, and grabbed the door for balance.
She was annoyed at herself. She must not have thrown up last night. Usually she got that out the way the night before, when she wouldn’t remember. A good heave when she got home took most of the hangover away the next morning. Usually she remembered, even though she only knew she did from circumstantial evidence like unflushed toilets.
It surprised her sometimes how functional she could be, even while so drunk she couldn’t remember the next day.
Usually she did, but not today.
Usually doing so kept her mostly functional the next day.
But not last night, apparently. So today was going to be an awful day.
She flopped down in front the toilet, knelt, held the bowel, and heaved so hard her eyes watered. It was awful enough she didn’t have time to hold her hair, but she kept it short enough it didn’t usually fall right into the bowl. The vomit was runny and tasted of vodka and having it come back up for seconds was pretty disgusting, but it was over fairly quickly. She was used to it. She’d been doing this most of her life.
Kneeling there, making sure she was done, she wondered why she hadn’t last night. Perhaps she’d been distracted. Perhaps the guy in her bed was actually beautiful, and she’d done better than she normally did. Perhaps he was so unspeakably perfect her brain had just melted, and she’d forgotten to vomit.
Or fuck him, apparently, since she was still dressed.
She rinsed her mouth, and spat the last of the vodka taste out, and flushed the toilet. She tipped water onto her face, and leaned on the sink for a moment until she felt a little better.
Whoever was at the door was still banging. It was probably work, and probably important, but she wasn’t
She looked at herself.
She looked worn. She’d started noticing that in mirrors lately. She’d used to look young, and now she just looked worn.
She checked her face, and arms, and hands, and decided she was okay. There were no new bruises or cuts she didn’t remember. There was a scab on her lip, but that had been there for a week and was work.
Oddly, her ass-cheeks felt a bit sore, like she’d been whacked across them. She didn’t remember that.
She decided she felt undreadful enough to face the world.
She went back to the bathroom door and looked at the guy lying on the bed. He was actually cute. Not enough to excuse her brain’s lapses, but kind of dark and sexy. And naked.
Bec double-checked, confirmed he was, but she wasn’t. She still had everything on except her shoes. She thought for a moment and tried to remember, then realized that was a waste of time and gave up. She never remembered anything after the first drink. She forgot whole bar-friendships, and forgot whole relationships. Sometimes she blacked out the last department meetings at the end of the working day.
Her in clothes implied she’d picked him up and then crashed once she’d got home. That happened a lot more often than she wanted to admit to herself. Being in clothes also implied he hadn’t just fucked her anyway, after she passed out, which made him a decent person she might want to keep around. She needed people in her life who were decent to drunks, and tried to give them second chances.
Although a sore ass implied something kinky on the way to finding out he was decent.
She decided not to think about that right then.
He was lying in her bed, watching her.
One of them had kicked the blanket off in the night, and Bec didn’t have sheets because she just tore them or threw up on them, so he just lay there naked, looking at her.
He was lying on his back with his arm over his face and scowling, but even hungover and pissed off at being woken up, he looked really hot. Bec looked carefully and made sure she’d never seen him before in her life.
She hadn’t, but that wasn’t new.
He was a lot better than some Drunk Bec ended up with, so that was a start.
“That was charming,” the guy said, after a while, and looked towards the bathroom. She’d left both doors open, so he’d heard even if he didn’t see.
“Yeah,” Bec said. “Fuck you.”
Perhaps he was an asshole after all. He didn’t move, didn’t bother looking at her. An asshole was more likely, since he was he with her. Bec looked at him, and tried to decide if she liked what she saw enough to put up with his crap. There was putting up with involved, because with her it was always delayed gratification. She usually had to try three or four times to actually get laid and remember it.
The phone was still ringing, and the chime chiming, and there was still thumping on the door.
“Are you going to get that?” the guy said.
The guy grunted and closed his eyes.
“So,” Bec said. “You were a bit rough last night, weren’t you?”
They guy opened his eyes and looked at her.
“Did you spank me or something?” Bec said.
He suddenly looked guilty. She knew guilty. All her life, all her working day, she knew guilty. She didn’t even need to be looking at someone any more to know when there was guilt on their face. She heard it now in the way he opened his mouth, then hesitated and didn’t speak. She could probably have smelled it on him, through some change in his sweat.
“So yes?” she said, but it wasn’t really a question.
“Um,” he said, cautiously. “Yeah.”
“Was I still awake?”
“You seemed to be.”
“Did I tell you to?”
“Shit, of course,” he said, then hesitated again. “I’m not sure if it was a joke, though.”
“Yeah,” Bec said, thinking. Her ass hurt a bit more than just one whack, and one thing she knew she could do well drunk was fight people off. So apparently she hadn’t minded that much.
Which meant apparently asking in the first place wasn’t actually a joke.
“Why?” she said.
“I don’t know. I think we’d been talking about it, and you wanted to try.”
“Oh,” Bec said, almost surprised. That was more to think about later.
Something was worrying her, looking at him. She’d found once she’d turned thirty that she couldn’t pick the age of men under twenty-five any more. Even so, he looked really young.
“How old are you?” she said.
He didn’t answer. He was looking at her like he didn’t understand. He was young, so probably stupid. She stood there for a minute, looking at him, then suddenly lost interest.
Beautiful was beautiful, but she never remembered it anyway, so why bother. He was probably enthralling when they were both drunk, and dull as shit once everyone had sobered up. She’d been here so often before that she didn’t even care any more.
She should just kick him out of bed and get on with her day, but he was pretty determinedly stuck there, and whiney too, and she still felt awful and couldn’t really be bothered with an argument.
She needed a drink to wake up, and she probably ought to go and see who was thumping on the door.
There was one last thing, though. One thing that might make him worth remembering.
“You didn’t fuck me,” she said. “Why not?”
“You were out once we got here.”
“Yeah,” Bec said, and wondered if that meant he’d been spanking her somewhere else. Like somewhere in public. That wasn’t good. “I know,” Bec said. “So why didn’t you?”
He looked at her, and seemed surprised. Almost shocked. Because that really was an awful question, and one people probably shouldn’t have to ask. Bec asked, because she did, but not everyone knew that.
“Shit,” he said. “I…”
He looked upset she was checking. And perhaps just a little irritated because he’d just remembered he hadn’t got any last night.
“Or did you?” she said, just to see what he’d do.
“Fuck,” he said. “Seriously, of course not.”
She kept looking at him for a moment, giving him the cop eye, just to see if he’d crack and confess something. Feeling her up through her clothes or going through her undies drawer or something.
“I swear,” he said. “I didn’t. I just went to sleep.”
“Good,” she said. “You have no idea how fucking lucky you are.”
She left the room in his startled silence.
“What’s that meant to mean?” he shouted after her, but she just kept walking.
Bec went down the hall carefully. It was a mess. She tended to drop clothes as she came in and leave them where they landed, then pick them up once a fortnight to wash. She also tended to come home drunk, with takeout, and take the food to bed with her when she was alone. A fair bit got spilled getting down the hall. One of these days she was going to get mice. She already had roaches, but they didn’t usually come out when the lights were on and she could see them, so they didn’t worry her as much as they should.
She should clean up, but she didn’t. She didn’t really live here. She just passed out and slept here.
She lived in a downstairs flat in an old converted terrace house. It wasn’t quite the basement, but it was half underground, against a slope. She had a front door to the street and two bedrooms. She didn’t have much light, but she didn’t need it, and she had floors and walls that were tough enough she bounced off them when she tripped, rather than making holes that needed fixing.
For what she wanted, it was enough.
She was regretting the front door, though. There was still banging. She should have found an apartment complex with a gate out the front.
She ignored the door and went into the kitchen, looking for something to drink. There was a bottle of cheap vodka with a mug-full left in the bottom. She got a dirty coffee cup from the kitchen sink, filled it, and drank the vodka back. She swished it in her mouth, gargled a little to get the vomit taste out of her mouth.
She started to feel a little better right away. Her hands stopped shaking, and the dull tightness in the front of her head faded, and she could think again. Her mouth didn’t taste so awful either.
It scared her sometimes, how quickly a drink made her feel better. That, more than nightly blackouts, made her think she should do something about trying to stop. She never actually did, she never felt any commitment to the idea that would last until evening, but she thought it sometimes. Then drank again and felt a little scared each morning. Being scared was a start, she supposed.
The thumping on the door hadn’t stopped, and whoever was doing it had found almost exactly the right tempo to match Bec’s pulse, to make it feel like a room-size headache starting up again in her head, and make it sound like it too.
She picked up her phone because that was nearer and said, “I’m here. What?”
“We’re at the door,” Jack said. Her partner and god’s gift to women who weren’t her.
“I know you’re at the fucking door,” she said. “I can fucking hear you. What the fuck do you want.”
“We’ve got an interview,” Jack said.
Bec stood there for a minute. The knocking had stopped.
“An urgent interview,” Jack said. “With an urgent suspect. That important folk wish us to speak to.”
Bec said, “Fuck,” and went and opened the door.
There was a uniformed constable standing there. Not Jack. Bec blinked. The constable looked startled too.
“Who the fuck are you?” Bec said.
“Ah,” he said. “Um. Hi, senior…”
“Hold on,” Jack said in her ear, in the phone she was still holding. Bec looked around and saw Jack getting out a car across the street. He’d been sitting in the car, making the constable do the doorbell.
Bec hung up her phone and waited. Leaning against the door, sagging a bit. Squinting in the sunlight.
Sunlight hurt. There was a reason she never opened her curtains.
“Senior,” the constable said. “It’s an honour…”
“Quiet,” Bec said. “Don’t talk.”
The constable nodded. Most of them knew about Bec. Most of the junior staff thought it was something to admire.
It was Australia, after all.
Jack crossed the road and came down her steps. “We need to go,” he said.
Bec looked down, and remembered she wasn’t wearing shoes. She needed shoes, and she needed coffee, and she needed to clear her house of strangers too. “Hold on,” she said, and went back inside.
The constable followed too. Presumably because no-one told him not to. He was looking around, being nosy, but Bec didn’t say anything since it was good police work to walk into other people’s house and see what was there if they didn’t stop you.
“Sidearm,” she said to Jack, and held out her hand.
Jack looked at her. “Are you…”
“Fucking sidearm,” she said, and kept her hand out.
Jack had her gun. Australian cops didn’t take their weapons home, they checked them in and out each day at the station. Jack could bring it to her, but he shouldn’t actually let her have it if he knew she’d been drinking.
He gave it to her anyway, after she’d glared for a moment, like he always did.
“See if you can find my warrant card,” she said. A folding wallet, with her police identification inside.
“Where is it?”
She shrugged, and didn’t bother telling him not to ask stupid questions. She went into the bedroom to find her shoes, putting the gun on her belt.
Jack followed her, because it was what he did. Her was an assistant, an organizer, so he followed her everywhere she went, writing down what she needed him to do.
He followed her right into bedroom, saw the guy in her bed, and stopped.
The guy, whoever he was, was still sprawled all naked and languid and beautiful.
Beth had forgotten about him.
“Hey,” she said. “Wake the fuck up. Time to go.”
“Shit,” Jack said. “Who’s that.”
“No idea,” Bec said, still looking for her shoes. There weren’t many places to look, except under dropped clothes. She kicked at some, hoping.
“You’ve got a man in your bed,” Jack said again. He actually sounded surprised.
Bec stopped kicking and looked at him. “Mate, seriously?”
Half the force thought she was gay because she was single-ish and drank with the boys and swore a lot and wore plain singlets and jeans and workboots all the time, but Jack was supposed to know better. It was like he got so much shit about the lesbian partner he actually started to believe it himself.
And because it excused him not trying it on himself.
They both knew why. Bec scared him, and they both knew she scared him. Jack liked girly-girls. He didn’t even like other cops even if they wore makeup and actually did their hair.
Bec was terrifying to him. And what really bothered Jack, Bec suspected, was she probably would if he asked, because he was almost as beautiful as the man in her bed.
“You’re a dickhead,” she said, and stood there grinning.
The guy in the bed just looked confused.
The constable wandered down the hall and looked in the bedroom door.
Looked in, then said, “There’s a man in your bed.”
He sounded surprised too.
“For fuck’s sake,” Bec said.
It was probably the clothes she thought. And that she spent so much time wearing a sidearm and vest she’d stopped remembering to sit in a ladylike manner, but still. The clothes were because they were comfortable, and because she got a fair bit of dirt on herself climbing around, and because she liked her arms more than the rest of herself, so she showed them off. And because she didn’t have to explain herself to anyone.
Just because people assumed, didn’t mean they should get quite this excited by a man in her bed.
“You, fuck off,” she said to the constable. “Outside.”
He shrugged and wandered back down the hall. Jack was busy looking up at the ceiling.
Because there was a penis in the room, Bec realized.
“Seriously?” she said. “You’re that scared of another cock?”
The guy seemed to be as well. He pulled the sheet over himself, and sat up, and looked at them both. He was looking a little worried now, like this might be a bad situation for him. An angry husband turning up. A jealous ex. He didn’t seem to have noticed all the guns in the room yet, which would probably give him the shits when he did.
Jack was still looking at the ceiling.
“Any cock?” Bec said, actually curious now. “Or just one that’s been inside me?”
Jack flushed, and didn’t answer.
“I should go,” the guy said suddenly.
Making a break while Jack was distracted, Bec thought.
He got out the bed, and bent over to get his clothes.
Bec stopped looking for her shoes, and looked at the guy’s ass instead. It was a nice ass. An ass worth waking up with a hangover for.
An ass that made her regret whatever had happened last night that meant she still had all her clothes on.
He got dressed, and got past Jack to the bedroom door, and suddenly seemed to have second thoughts, and turned around, as if he was going to say bye and could he have her number.
He suddenly seemed to look around properly not distracted, and see Bec’s gun.
He looked at Jack, at the constable loitering down the hall, by the front door, at Bec again.
“Hey,” he said. “You’re that cop.”
“I’m a cop,” Bec said, like she always did. “I’m probably not that one.”
“Yeah you are,” he said. He actually looked quite excited.
“You didn’t know when you picked me up?” Bec said, actually a little bit surprised.
That wasn’t how it normally went.
Jack just looked embarrassed, Bec noticed, but the guy shook his head, and kept staring at her, almost like he was smitten.