''He was my dad. Of course I'm upset!''
James wished the barmaid would leave him alone. She'd been sitting with him while he waited for the police and just kept saying it'd be all right and not to worry and please don't get upset. She was only a year or two older than him, maybe twenty or thereabouts, but she was acting like his mother. She took her hand off his shoulder and stood up, then went back to the bar, and started clearing away empty bottles and glasses, careful not to look in his direction.
He felt a pang of guilt. She'd been friendly earlier, eyeing him up when his dad had introduced him to her at the bar, while getting the first round of drinks in.
''This is my boy, Jamie.'' his dad had said, so proudly. ''He's only been and gone and got three A grades at A Level, so he's off to Oxford, if you please! Imagine that. Me, fathering a genius.''
The barmaid had been admiring his eye makeup – expertly applied, for a beginner. His dad had disappeared into the dressing room then, to apply his own ''slap'' and she'd asked James, with a giggle, if he was doing fashion and beauty at ''college''. When he'd told her it was Art History he'd be studying she'd been embarrassed, but that had soon turned to boredom and their conversation had pretty much dried up by the time his dad had rejoined them as Pandora. James had been relieved when his dad steered him away from the bar and started introducing him to some of the regular clientele.
He looked down at his ruined new shirt. Dad had only bought him that yesterday. He closed his eyes, but the image he wanted to forget came back, and he shook his head.
When he opened his eyes again, a tall heavyset man was standing in front of him.
''Mr Threadgold? Detective Chief Inspector Mallard.'' He extended his hand. James did not take it.
The detective sat down, next to James, studying his face.
''Are you a regular client here, son?'' he asked.
James frowned, and shook his head. Yes, he would think that, wouldn't he. This policeman already had him in the box marked ''queer'', no doubt. And don't call me son. I'm nobody's son now.
''No. I've never been here in my life before tonight.'' Though I've been invited plenty of times. I came tonight because he wanted to show me off.
''Can you tell me what brought you to the dressing room, to discover the... deceased?''
Deceased. Yes,he was that all right. Well and truly deceased. Gentlemen, we can't rebuild him. All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Pandora together again. He shook his head again.
''Sir?'' The detective was waiting, watching him even more intently.
''I just went in there to tell him I was leaving. Wanted to know if he was coming with me.''
''Ah, so you knew him? Were you in a... relationship?'' The detective's expression had changed slightly – a look of controlled excitement.
James clenched his fists. He wanted to hit the big man.
''I'm his son. Well, I was.'' he said, glaring.
The detective's eyebrows lifted a few millimetres. James could see that he hadn't considered the possibility of a drag queen having offspring. He appeared to be struggling for an appropriate response to this news.
''Oh.'' He put his hand out, as if to touch James on the shoulder, then thought better of it. ''I'm very sorry for your loss, sir.''
What was the correct reply to this? Thank you? When his mother had died, eight years ago, he'd been too young to be offered formal condolences. He wasn't quite up on the protocol.
James supposed it wasn't surprising that the policeman hadn't immediately connected him with the victim. His parents had never married, and Threadgold was his mother's name.
''In the circumstances, it might be better if we interview you elsewhere. It must be upsetting for you to be here,'' said Mallard. ''We'll get a driver to run you home, and I'll ask my sergeant to sit with you till I join you. I just have to finish here. Shouldn't be too long.''
Before James had a chance to agree or otherwise, Mallard stood, and walked over to a smartly dressed woman in her thirties, with straight, immaculately bobbed, red hair. He spoke quietly to her, while they both looked at James. She nodded, then approached him.
She extended her hand, and smiled. It was a kind smile, and James wanted to return it, but his lips and eyes wouldn't quite co-operate. He took her hand.
''Ruth Gentry. I'm sorry to hear about your loss.'' She looked at his shirt. ''Oh dear. I expect you'll be glad to change out of that.'' She had a hint of a soft, Scottish lilt, which James would have found attractive in other circumstances. ''I'll just grab a driver and we'll be away.''
She returned in minutes, with a tall, uniformed officer, and the three of them went out into the rainy night to a waiting unmarked car. The sergeant held the rear door open for him, and when he got in, she was surprised that she went around to the other side and got in beside him. He had expected that she would sit in front, with the driver. Then he got it. She probably wanted to observe him on the journey.
As the car made its way towards the flat he had shared with his father for the past eight years, one thought dominated.
I'm a suspect.