Death Without Pity
Where Nothing Ever Happens
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Chapter 1 – A Public Health Funeral
Sergeant Cornelia Smith dashed over the uneven paving of the churchyard to reach her colleague, Inspector Graham Rase. He was standing alone; a man apart. Like her, he was dressed in black against the bright morning.
‘You didn’t have to come,’ he told her.
‘I wanted to,’ she told him back.
‘Well, it’s good of you.’
Together the pair left the path behind, to walk the soft turf between the rows of stones.
‘“If only for so many dead lay round,”’ he intoned.
‘You’ve always got a line for the occasion,’ she noted. His observations always brought her pleasure, although, given where they were, she was careful not to smile too much. The new graves were in an open yard; though to reach them they first walked through an older part of the cemetery, thick with trees and tombs and listing crucifixes. Grey always liked this part, it being, for him, what a graveyard should be. Once past the trees though the lawn opened out, lined with the low neat stones of low neat people, reflecting the recent history of a town industrious but never grand.
At the far edge of the yard, along the newest row of plots, was the Reverend, and the coffin, and the hole. Also there was a besuited man from the Council: he was the accountant who had funded the service. Also the undertaker, the undertaker’s assistant, and others from the town who remembered the deceased.
Stood just a little further back from the mourning party were the men who’d wheeled the coffin on its trolley, and who would later do the lowering. They remained to make up the numbers, which were not to grow throughout the service.
Cori’s children had recently entered a painting phase. The kitchen table, that had once had crayons ground into the grain of its varnished oak, had lately become wet with watercolours. And with the tools available, she had dabbled herself. And so it occurred to her now that, had she wanted to paint the scene before her, she would have needed only three colours: black, for the earth and the dark wooden box and the Reverend’s cassock; blue, for the sky full of bright mist; and green, for the grass that that bright sky illuminated.
The Reverend greeted them,
‘Officers. It’s good of you to come.’
‘This is my Sergeant.’ Grey introduced Cornelia to the Reverend, who took her hand and shook it gently, before looking at them both,
‘I’m sure Mr Baxter would be much obliged by your attendance.’ The three joined the others at the graveside, where there were nods and handshakes all around. The Reverend asked, ‘Shall we begin? And none dissented.
‘Man born of woman hath but a short time to live…’
Grey settled into the ceremony. Vicars had a way with words which he appreciated. They took them seriously, gave every syllable its due.
‘…and now we commit his body to the ground. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…’
Grey liked the sound of someone talking properly, not glibly or ironically or sarcastically (although he could be all of those things himself). A man had to have a proper measure of seriousness in him to conduct such a service.
‘…in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life, Amen…’
Grey only hoped he offered those who he dealt with in his capacity as a police officer the same respect the Reverend was now offering Old Baxter; him being the man in the coffin, his luck dodging traffic having finally run out.
As the Reverend had spoken, the three men had come forward to remove the supporting planks and lower the coffin into the ground.
‘Inspector, would you care to say a few words?’
Grey had prepared for such a request,
‘Thank you, Reverend. Ahem, Old Baxter. What to say? A local fixture on our streets. A much-loved man; though he himself might have baulked at such sentiment. The fact was that there were many of us who looked out for him. More than once we scooped him up from one scrape or another. Alas, we were not able to do so this time.
‘I myself can only marvel at the way he lived without the things so many of us take for granted – a roof, an income, a home. Of course, these things were offered, but he always refused. This was his own idea of pride. For him, a man must stand alone, and I respect that, no matter the situation it put him in. And he would always just seem to get along, and perhaps we all assumed he would be here forever.’
A woman in the audience sobbed suddenly, pausing Grey a moment, before he continued,
‘But it was not to be. For the truth was that all of the town was his home; and the streetlights his canopy; and sometimes the very streets themselves he treated as his own space. None of which we minded, but for the fact of his own safety. And so it was a shock when his keen senses of preservation finally let him down.
‘It is a factor of such precarious lives that they might end at any moment. The circumstances of the motor accident, I’m sure we all know. No one else was hurt, which I’m sure Old Baxter would be grateful for, deep down, somewhere within that unreadable frame.
‘Alas, I hadn’t known him in his early life. I didn’t know him as the son, the husband, the father, all of which we are led to believe he was. Again alas, no family could be contacted after so many years passed. And so it fell to Mr Egan of the Council here to arrange this ceremony today.’
All looked to the besuited man and nodded respectfully.
‘We all thank you, Mr Egan. And I thank the people of Southney, whose public funds were lent towards this quiet plot and these modest proceedings. And, on a police note, I assure you that our own enquiries are ongoing, and I hope very much one day to bring a member of his family to this grave.’
The woman sobbed again.
‘There is so much I could say, that we all could say. For what brings the words flowing faster than a life ending, a person we all knew being committed to the ground, as though it was the last chance to speak in their presence?
‘But I will sum up simply with the notion that, should the worst happen, and any of us find ourselves lost or cast down; if we have not a friend or family member within reach or a penny to our name, that the offering of a simple service such as this one is a reassurance. And so, even as we say goodbye to an old friend, we may take pride in the kindness of our town, and hold a small crumb of comfort for ourselves should the tides turn against us.
‘To Old Baxter, I salute you. Thank you.’
The small crowd burst into a smattering of applause, which didn’t feel out of place, and which seemed to seal the ceremony. With that, Mr Egan said a very few words on behalf of the Council; and the crying woman threw a rose into the grave on behalf of herself and her colleagues at the shop where she worked. They had been leaving him close-to-date food for many years, she explained, ‘We would never take it to him, we would just leave it on the back step. He wouldn’t have wanted to be seen taking charity.’
With that, the crowd began to move away, and the three men took up their shovels.
Chapter 2 – On a Lonely Street
In Cori’s car afterwards, the mood was reflective. She offered,
‘That was nice. I don’t like to speak ill, but… it must have been hard to find a thing to say about him.’
‘He didn’t give a lot away,’ conceded Grey.
‘That’s an understatement. The phrase “Keeping his own counsel” could have been written for Old Baxter. Did he say a word to anyone in twenty years?’
‘He spoke to those who tried to help him.’
‘But only to refuse that help.’ Cori changed tack, ‘And have we any lead on the family?’
‘A deed poll from the Eighties.’
‘So, next to nothing then.’ She sighed. Then added kindly, ‘Boss, don’t burn yourself out over it.’
And he smiled, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t.’
At that moment, Cori’s phone pinged. She had had it switched off for the funeral, though now the backed-up messages were filtering though. They may have been allowed an hour’s time-out from being police officers, but the town never ceased in calling them back to their duty.
‘We’ve had a call, boss.’ And she smiled, ‘And you won’t believe where.’
Lord Ashford Avenue wasn’t that far out from the centre of Southney, though it retained a rural feel. The road was too long to see the crime scene from the end they pulled up at, but Grey always liked to get a feel for a place.
‘Millionaires’ Row,’ his partner cooed, as they got out of the car.
‘That’s what they call it now.’ He looked to his side and saw a brand-new mansion. ‘We used to call it The Ashfords. We used to cycle along it, it was all cottages then.’
As they began their walk, he remembered what would be their major problem – there were no pavements. They heard an engine behind them, and went to move off the tarmac, and discovered there was nowhere for them to go. A Jaguar sped past them, its engine whining like a giant corkscrew.
‘Nice,’ said Cori.
‘Par for the course along here,’ said Grey. ‘They’ve probably only been down to the shops in it.’
‘Stop trying to burst my bubble,’ she joked. ‘Do you know how long I’ve wanted to visit this place?’
‘Yes, there is a sense of needing an appointment.’
‘But these rural roads…’ remarked Cori with a shake of the head, trying to keep along the tarmac’s edge and not step on anyone’s lawn.
‘We’re only five minutes out of town,’ he reminded her. ‘Don’t let the illusion fool you. Though this was a private road for many years; and I always wondered whether it was by accident or design that they never added pavements. It rather keeps out anyone without a reason for being here.’
The pair soon arrived at their destination. The call had been waiting for them, and it would be a bad one.
The officer who greeted them in their sombre suits offered the remark,
‘Where have you pair been? In court?’ Though in the police force this wasn’t the insult that it was in other walks of life.
‘No; a funeral,’ answered Grey. However, the Detective Constable was already moving onto his next duty, that of informing the senior officers of the apparent facts,
‘It’s a body, sir.’ He pointed along the portion of road that was cordoned off before them.
‘Anyone we know?’ Grey dreaded the answer, as if they’d feel it any less.
‘No, sir. It’s a young lad. No identification on him. From the look of his clothes, he might have been living homeless – though he’s not a face that any of the coppers here remember moving on. Some of the locals think they’ve seen him on the road in recent weeks.’
‘Sleeping rough? Along here?’ Grey cast his eye across the fine homes around them.
‘Not all of the houses are occupied, sir; and then there are garages and sheds and long gardens. And the properties are so spaced out that it’s hard for the residents to be sure if he was camping out in someone else’s garden.’
‘Travelling everywhere by car can really kill the community spirit,’ mused Cori.
Grey nodded, ‘When you only see your neighbours as a blur in the windscreen.’
‘Well, sir,’ offered the constable, ‘that might have been the problem.’
Chapter 3 – Lost Boy
The constable lifted up the cordon, and let the officers under. ‘The doctor’s that way,’ he instructed. The hastily erected white tent was clearly visible at the side of the road.
‘From the sublime to the ridiculous,’ muttered Grey, as he pulled white overalls over his black suit.
Cori had a harder job with her straight dress. ‘Trust today to be a murder,’ she said.
‘Do we know that yet?’
‘I can feel it in my waters.’
‘No, that’s just your clothes bunching up.’
She gave him a look as they were let under the raised doorway of the tent.
‘I hate this bit,’ he grumped. ‘I feel like an astronaut on a mission to Mars.’
‘I always think of those scientists in ET,’ she reflected.
With the lush lawns and the absence of pavement, in some places trees and bushes had grown right up to the roadside. It was over such a clump of greenery that the canopy had been erected. Now, instead of basking in the sunlight and swaying in the breeze, these plants and the ground around them were being snapped by official photographers. As the pair neared, Cori saw a sports shoe poking out from beneath a laurel bush.
A senior pathologist looked up to greet them,
‘Prepare yourself before you come around this side of the bush.’
Which they did do, though it was not enough. Once all were looking at the same scene, the doctor stood over the victim, summarising,
‘Here he is: our luckless boy. We haven’t moved him yet, although already I can see that barely a joint in his lower body is set right. Given also the flailing motion of his arms and the angle of his head, he bears every early indication of having been in a collision with an automobile at tremendous speed. The siting of the body at the side of the road also fits with that.’
‘When?’ asked Grey.
‘The body temperature suggests several hours. I’ll be able to confirm once we see if the blood has settled in his legs as they are currently resting.
‘What else can I tell you? His face is still remarkably clear, and so I can guess early twenties at a push, probably no older. He seems to have been generally healthy, though his hair and fingernails had not been washed for a while. This is borne out by his clothes, which give the impression of being sturdy but dirty. He may have been living outdoors.’
‘And you estimate that he’s been dead for several hours?’ asked Cori
The Doctor nodded.
‘Though only found an hour ago,’ muttered Grey.
‘Given the location and the camouflage of greenery, then I can understand the handful of residents in the area not spotting a foot or hand poking out from behind one hedge of many.’
He turned to his assistant, ‘I wonder, could you see if there’s any coffee?’ This left the three in the tent, and then the doctor let the detectives see his true face.
‘Somehow it became my job to have to witness such things. I put on a stern visage for my trainees – it wouldn’t do to give them a bad example so early in their professional development. Though, I must confess, I haven’t seen one so… since the girl in the river.’
Grey and Cori both remembered that one too. Grey spoke for both,
‘That was a tragic accident, a life cut short. As, then, surely this must be?’
Though the doctor did not concur. He asked,
‘Have you had a chance to check the road outside? Do so, and you will see what I saw. Or, rather, what I didn’t see.’
Before they left to do this, Cori asked,
‘What kind of vehicle?’
‘The damage to the legs suggests that they took the full force – more consistent injuries throughout the body might have suggested a flatter-fronted vehicle, like a van. There’s also the question of the speed a truck or van could have got up to.’
Grey asked, ‘Have you shared this with the constables?’
He nodded, ‘Yes, the notice has gone out to all the garages and breakers’ yards for a car with frontal damage or blood stains, however carefully scrubbed out.’
Grey added for the record, ‘And it will be a basic precaution that every car registered to anyone on this road is inspected within the hour.’
The Doctor sighed and looked back to the body. They thanked him and they left.
‘The poor boy’s face,’ remembered Cori once back in the daylight. ‘He looked like he was sleeping.’
Grey noted, ‘If nothing else, we can get a clear photo to the press.’
‘Maybe then someone can identify him.’
‘He looked so pale, unreal, like one of the waxworks on the sleeve of Sergeant Pepper.’
And this observation didn’t strike Cori as out of place.
Grey walked out to the centre of the closed-off road, and waited for her to join him. Then said,
‘And I see what the doctor didn’t see.’
She saw the same, ‘There are no skid-marks, in either direction.’
‘No one braked before hitting him.’
‘Or after… Then it was murder,’ said Cori.
‘You knew it,’ said Grey. ‘It was in your waters. Well, get the seaweed out, and start looking for sitting cows. There’s a downpour coming.’
Chapter 4 – Mrs Roper
Outside of the Doctor’s tent, enough of the road had been cordoned to enclose six houses, three on each side.
‘The door-to-door teams will cover the rest of the road,’ said Grey. ‘Let’s spend an hour on these. I’ll take the side he was found at,’ he instructed. ‘You take the opposite.’
And Cori did so. In logical fashion, she began at the first house they had arrived at on her side. Walking to it brought her closer to the cordon, where already a small crowd was forming,
‘Who are they all?’ she asked the constables guarding the line.
‘Other residents, and the usual hawkers and gawkers,’ answered one.
‘There’s a photographer.’
‘For a road accident?’ (That was all that the public knew it was yet.)
The constable whispered, ‘They’re guessing it was a hit-and-run.’
‘We don’t know what to call it yet,’ she bluffed.
The constable smiled, ‘But this is Millionaires’ Row – anything that happens along here is news.’
And Cori knew it; everything from the latest planning application, to a six-figure divorce settlement.
The officer continued, gesturing to the photographer,
‘We’ve given him a couple of clear shots of the street, but nothing more.’
‘Good, though let him know we’ll have a photo of the victim for him soon. We may ask them to carry it on the cover.’
And with that, she turned back toward the houses. As she faced the first of her three, she heard another voice from the barrier,
She turned back to see a woman slightly red-faced,
‘Officer, that’s my house. I had to go to the shops, and haven’t been allowed back yet.’
Cori nodded to the cordon, who raised their ribbon just for the woman. Once through, she placed her bags down, and Cori joined her outside her house.
‘Sergeant Smith,’ she introduced.
‘Sheila Roper. Will they be done before my husband gets home?’ She was looking to the uniformed or white-clad staff currently combing her front garden.
‘I should think so, it’s just a visual inspection. It’s a lovely street you live on.’
‘We’ve been here twenty-five years. We love it, it’s our leafy lane.’
‘The houses aren’t all as large as I first thought,’ noticed Cori.
‘No, a lot of them were smaller once. Over time they’ve been bought up for the land, and been knocked down for mansions.’
‘It must have changed the nature of the area.’
‘It’s certainly changed the house prices! We couldn’t have afforded to move here now. We couldn’t back then really, but I inherited some money. So lucky, the life it gave us.’
‘And do you know the other neighbours well?’
‘Not really. It doesn’t help that you take your life in your own hands every time you walk back from the shops. It didn’t used to be so. The road was quiet and kids could play. But cars are so fast these days, especially the kind they drive around here. Sports cars, huge off-roaders.’
Mrs Roper went back to the original question, ‘So, no. We don’t know many of the neighbours beyond nodding good morning. We know more people in the village.’
‘Half a mile from the end of the road, there’s a shop and a pub. That’s where I’ve just been – the shop, I mean. Not the pub!’
Cori had a thought, and turned to the officer at the cordon, and shouted, ‘Have many cars tried to get through?’
‘Two in an hour,’ came back the call.
‘That’s about right,’ agreed the local resident. ‘A lot of people still think of it as a private road. Even delivery companies phone first to check they’ll be allowed in. You’d think we had your barrier up every day!’
‘Were you here when it was a private road?’
‘Not quite, though it’s never quite become a council road either.’ She scuffed the surface with the bottom of her shoe, and it rubbed up like gravel.
Cori noted, ‘So it would really show up where someone braked.’
‘So no one did?’
Cori said no more, but didn’t have to.
Mrs Roper looked downcast,
‘Well, it was always going to happen, the way some people drive. Poor blighter. We found him, you known, thrown up behind the hedge.’
‘You personally found him?’
‘No, my neighbour did. Lee Crowther. That’s him.’ The woman pointed out a short, round man talking to a uniformed officer just a few feet away. ‘He went out to get his paper and came back all flustered. I saw him outside, and asked him from my porch, “What’s up, Lee?” He shouted back, “A body!” and I went out after him in my nightie and dressing gown to check he wasn’t having a delusion. But no, there they were, a foot, and then an arm, sticking out from the hedge.’
Cori looked at her watch, it was nearly ten. She asked,
‘So this was an hour or two ago? You were in your nightie?’
‘Oh, I get you. That I still wasn’t dressed by that time of the morning?’ The woman smiled and shook her head, ‘I’m just back off holiday – New Zealand, my sister lives there. Have you been? It’s wonderful. But my body clock’s not righted itself yet. I’ve been sleeping all hours.’
‘How long were you away?’
‘Just these two days.’
‘And this is your fine garden here?’ Cori gestured to the long lawn leading off the blocked-off road.
‘Yes, with the willow tree. In our case, the front lawn makes up for there not being much at the back.’
An officer’s instinct clicked in Cori, as she recalled,
‘The doctor says the boy’s clothes were dirty, and that he might have been sleeping rough. When you got back, were there any signs of anyone occupying your land?’
‘Well, yes. There were cans and papers under one of the trees… Do you think it was him?’
Cori called over to the officers going around the properties,
‘Double-check this garden won’t you, and the others for signs of anyone setting down under trees or bushes.’
They nodded at her instructions, as Mrs Roper admitted,
‘Oh, God! It didn’t click. He’d been living in my garden?’
‘Maybe, and the ones nearby.’
‘Oh, God. Oh, God.’
Cori counselled, ‘Oh, all sorts of thoughts will occur to you these next few days. It’s perfectly natural. The important thing is not to let it worry you. Share it with friends, if you can. I talk to my colleagues. I find it helps.’
And the woman nodded, saying that she would, she definitely would, and lamenting,
‘Poor lad, he must have been standing just feet from here, and a car must have hit him so hard.’
‘Yes,’ agreed Cori. ‘And I suppose you heard nothing last night, since sundown? The revving of an engine, or the screeching of tyres?’
She woman was apologetic, ‘No, I’m sorry. As I say, some hours I’m wide awake, others off like a log. I didn’t know a thing until we found him. He was just lying there, under the hedge…’
Cori had all she needed for now. She thanked the woman, and left a uniformed officer to take the proper statement.
Chapter 5 – Jerry from the Dining Club
A man emerged from his house on the Inspector’s side of the road, and barrelled over to the figure he recognised, still in his white overalls,
‘Grey, good to see that you’re on the case. Or should I call you Inspector in the circumstances?’
‘Hello, Jerry. Grey’s fine until you’re under arrest.’
The men laughed, as the one on duty continued,
‘I remember now that you lived along here. It’s a fine house.’
‘Thank you. Although the pleasure my good lady wife and I have derived from it has been restricted to the time not worrying about what is going on over there.’
At those final words, he pointed a dramatic arm at his neighbour’s house, the one with the white tent outside of it.
Grey barely had time to get these new bearings before came the next, increasingly irate, accusation, now pointed at his own organisation,
‘Nine months ago, I spoke to you about them.’
Grey racked his memory, answering automatically,
‘And I believe I referred you to our Neighbourhood Team?’
‘For all the good that that did me. Night and day they’re out here,’ he continued to point, ‘standing in the street, up to who knows what. Cars and vans coming and going, you’d think it was a truck-stop cafe.’
It was all coming back to Grey now,
‘I read the report after you mentioned them again at the dining club…’
‘I had to mention it, your men did nothing!’
‘…and there were two or three vehicles a day. At odd times, I grant you, though quite consistent with the running of a small business from their land.’
‘“Small business”!’ Jerry snorted.
‘Golf sales,’ Grey amazed himself by remembering, ‘all registered and tax returns filed.’
‘“Golf sales.”’ Jerry shook his head. ‘I don’t know if you’re a player, Grey? Well, I am. There are three courses around Southney, and I’ve not seen those brothers at any of them. Nor heard of anyone who buys from them.’
‘Maybe they’re wholesale?’ reasoned the Inspector, becoming suddenly conscious that he was defending these neighbours he hadn’t met yet. Though Jerry had more pressing matters to address. For just then it all came out. The man’s voice cracked, and he declared,
‘They’re always laughing, Grey.’
And here for a moment the Inspector saw the fear and embarrassment that hid behind his friend’s bluster. For the first time, this wasn’t merely an awkward encounter to have to endure, but one to learn from. The man continued,
‘They’re always out there. I can’t walk the dog without them looking and sneering as I pass. My wife can’t go out in the car – she’s terrified they’ll laugh if she stalls reversing onto the road. Do you know what it’s like living like that, Grey? Do you know what it’s like having to?
‘It’s not about letting them rule your life, Grey. I could wipe the floor with them. But my wife’s not as confident as me; and can you think what it’s like having to breathe in and brace for them every time you pass your own front door? To have to be at your most assertive just to go down the street? And it’s worse if they have their friends or “business associates” there, it only means more laughing voices, a right cackling gallery.
‘And I did all the work for you,’ he continued. ‘Photos, videos. Didn’t you see them?’
Grey was stunned at the outpouring. Though the man finally seemed to be talking again, not shouting. And if Grey hadn’t had so much going through his mind at that moment then he might have relaxed into the conversation. Though already the moment was missed, and the low beach of sharing was subsumed again beneath the next wave of bile,
‘Two brothers. I mean, what kind of family unit’s that? Neither with a woman to talk them down. Or at least no woman who’s ever there the following morning – I’ve seen the taxis at all hours, I’ve reported that too.’
‘We can’t have a window open of an evening, or we wouldn’t get a wink of sleep. I tell you all of this, and your people do nothing. And then, what happens? Now we have the misfortune of a death along our street, right outside their house.’
‘Jerry, neighbourly disputes rarely lead to murder, and this bears none of the signs of…’
‘Inspector, there is nothing “neighbourly” in our dispute. Nor indeed in my “neighbours”. They are crooks, plain and simple. And they have brought death to our door.’
‘I want to say something I’ll regret, Grey. I want to say something I’ll regret. It’s taking every fibre of me to resist.’
Grey looked at his friend: he looked about fit to have a collapse in one of his body’s essential systems. The Police Inspector attempted to take control,
‘Jerry. A terrible thing has happened here; both in this latest incident, and in your own situation. You made a complaint to us; and if it turns out that we have not followed it up, then I will apologise to you. Not from the Force, but from myself, Jerry, who you know and trust.’
He seemed to have carried it so far, and went for the final push,
‘And anything you’re bursting to say, can be said between us at the club. Yes?’
‘Tonight then,’ Jerry finally responded.
‘Give me till tomorrow, I’ll be busy.’
‘Of course, of course.’
‘You have to trust in us, Jerry. You don’t see me at my work, but we know what to do here. Death is our bread and butter.’
The man seemed much calmer, and Grey would leave it at that. He didn’t like to risk breaking the good mood with more questions, and those he needed he could ask at the club tomorrow. He concluded,
‘So, with all that in mind, I must get on to other houses. Good to see you, Jerry. Tomorrow then.’
Though his friend had fallen into a low grumbling,
‘They’re probably in there now, listening, laughing.’
Though Grey would have wait to discover if that was the truth.
Chapter 6 – Ruminations on an Empty Street
The further houses proved to be a washout. On Grey’s side, the Landers – those neighbours meant to be outside at all hours – had picked an inopportune moment to remove themselves from view. And if anyone was home, then they weren’t answering.
The third house along his side of the road belonged to a writer. It took three rings to bring him to the door. When he did so, the man was surprised to see that anything out of the ordinary was occurring in the road outside.
‘My study’s at the back, you see. I like the view from there.’
This was borne out by a cursory inspection of the house. The front room was little more than a book storehouse, too full to be used for living, and too dusty to be visited too often. Meanwhile, the back was glorious: a full-size picture window, framing a garden just at the cusp of chaos.
‘That must take some work,’ enquired Grey.
‘A man comes, hired by the owner.’
Beneath the window was a large desk. A leather sofa and a television at the back wall suggested this was where the writer spent most time.
‘I tend to bring my meals in here,’ he confirmed.
‘And is there a view of the road from upstairs, sir?’
‘Most likely, though I sleep at the back.’
‘Of course you do. And you heard nothing out of the ordinary last night?’
‘I use ear plugs. I swear by them. Have you tried them?’
‘I live on a very quiet road.’
‘“I use ear plugs,”’ reported Grey, ‘as bad luck would have it.’
‘So, no rich pickings there?’ asked Cori when they regrouped.
‘No, he’s totally absorbed in his book. He wouldn’t know there was a world outside. How about yours?’
Cori related her tales: ‘After Mrs Roper, was the house of the man who spotted the body, Lee Crowther. Though he could tell me no more than she could, and in nowhere near the detail.’
‘She sounds like the one to keep with.’
‘He’s lived there as long as the Ropers have. His bungalow doesn’t look very well-loved – though he must have had some spectacular offers for the land. He’s a night watchman, so he works all night and sleeps all day.’
‘And he spotted the body?’
‘He was walking home with his paper.’
‘After everyone else had zoomed past in their cars,’ supposed Grey.
Cori continued, ‘And then the third house are a family, the Snows. They’ve been away, due back a week tomorrow.’
‘That’s very specific.’
‘Mr Crowther is feeding their cat. And anyway, they sound a blameless bunch – he runs an engineering firm out by the old airfield, she helps out in the village, hence knowing Mrs Roper. And there’s a daughter who works in a charity shop.’
‘Probably unpaid then.’
‘Well, if her family can afford that house then I guess that she can give her time for free.’
They stood in the middle of the silent road, undisturbed but for the smattered galleries of gawkers and factotums at the cordons at either end.
She added, ‘But generally we’re hindered by the houses being set back behind these trees. Not every house can see each other or even the road.’
Grey continued, ‘Because the gardens are so rich and deep. Which I guess is how our lad could creep along here after dark and curl up beneath a willow tree. At least before he was picked off.’
‘Not that anyone spotted him living among them.’
‘The unnoticed,’ mused Grey.
‘I suppose we don’t pay much attention unless we have to,’ speculated his colleague.
He asked her,
‘So, Sergeant, what do we think we have here?’
She summarised in the calm fashion he greatly valued. Though even she couldn’t avoid a shiver as she began,
‘The doctor says the victim’s injuries are consistent with being hit by a vehicle at high speed.’
‘Though there are no obvious tyre marks to suggest the vehicle braked before, during, or after the collision.’
‘Which any normal driver would do by knee-jerk instinct, let alone through the human urge to worry for the wellbeing of the person or animal they may have hit. Or even just to check whether there was a pothole or object in the road, and so inspect for damage on their own car.’
‘Even the scumbags who drive off again afterwards would stop first, to check there were no lights on nearby or anything incriminating left behind,’ added Grey for colour.
Unperturbed, Cori continued,
‘There is also the factor of the victim’s positioning. Discovering him obscured behind a hedge may suggest a clumsy attempt by a very cynical or panic-ridden driver to hide the victim, to drag them off the road and out of clear view. However, we’ve found no blood on the road surface or anywhere else nearby.’
‘And on this road, you’d be as likely to land behind a hedge as not,’ reminded Grey.
‘Quite so.’ Cori considered, ‘Perhaps then it’s best to accept for now that the victim was found where he was left by the collision.’
She concluded, referring to her notebook, ‘So, we have perhaps four possibilities?’
‘Good, good,’ said Grey, staring at the road and nodding along.
‘One: that the driver didn’t know they had hit anything. Which might well be the case in a larger vehicle…’
‘…though,’ he concluded, ‘the doctor has told us specifically that the injuries to the victim’s legs suggested a smaller vehicle with a lower front.’
‘Indeed. Two: that the driver did stop, without leaving a tyre-mark…’
‘You mean, somehow managing to slow down from the ridiculous speed they must have been going?’
‘I know, but bear with me… That they did stop, saw no victim, or anything else obvious in the dark and empty road, and so got back in and drove off, perhaps quite innocently.’
Grey gave her a look, commenting,
‘Though not quite so innocent this morning when they came down to their garage and saw their car was smashed up and possibly blood stained. No,’ he shook his head, ‘a collision like this would have taken out a headlight, maybe even cracked the windscreen. There’s no way they didn’t know that something bad had happened.’
‘Fair enough,’ she judged. ‘You know that these are only possibilities. So, option three: as you say, that they felt their car shake, knew full-well that something bad was going down, again managed, somehow, to break calmly without leaving a mark, and got out to either see the body by the hedge or enough damage to their own car. They looked around the empty street, saw the way clear, and bolted.’
‘At last a scenario that half-fits,’ said Grey. ‘And factor in that such a person might be drunk or on drugs, which would impair their response on the brake pedal. Either of which might also be reasons not to want to call the police. It could also have been a stolen car.’
‘Though that isn’t the last option, is it?’ said Cori.
‘No, it isn’t,’ he agreed.
‘There is a possibility that best fits the facts, however outlandish it may be, and so must be considered.’
‘Option four…’ She stopped, and let Grey say it out loud as she knew he needed to.
‘That the driver hit the victim quite deliberately.’
He rubbed his foot upon the crumbling road surface, seeing the mark his shoe left.
‘They were never going to brake.’
‘Though all of this is only speculation. The driver, if they’re found, could deny being aware of having hit anything or anyone, however unlikely. The apparent facts only make it death by dangerous driving.’
‘“Only,”’ scoffed Grey. He was riled more by the situation than by the language, ‘But all this reasonability – it misses something.’
‘What?’ she asked kindly, wanting to understand.
‘The… violence of it. There was violence here.’
Chapter 7 – Where the Homeless Go
Sometimes Grey passed Cori the initiative, partly to aid her development, and partly to avoid the impression of him forever dishing out orders. She noticed that he seemed to be doing that a lot that morning.
‘So, Sergeant, where would we go now?’
‘You know where we go, we go where the homeless go.’
Ten minutes later, they were back in the car and finding the long way around the closed-off Ashfords to reach what several of the residents had called ‘the village’. They took a slow drive along what seemed its main street, though even this had only The Lion & Lamb pub, two shops, a tanning salon – ‘Village life, how times change,’ remarked Grey – and St Luke’s Church, welcoming them with the banner, ‘The House of God is Always Open.’
‘Officers,’ greeted the vicar before they had locked the car.
‘Reverend. You’re the second vicar I’ve spoken to today,’ remarked Grey.
‘Perhaps that’s a sign,’ the man laughed. ‘Although, as with the police I’m sure, it’s not always good news when we call. Won’t you come in?’
Inside, with tea and biscuits provided, the vicar answered sadly but spritely,
‘We don’t have a dedicated homeless mission here. For that St Chad’s in the town would be your best option. But, of course, we help anyone who calls, and we do our bit for the poor, at Christmas and other festivals.’
‘And do you recognise this man?’ – Cori held out her phone, which already had the victim’s photo on the screen.
‘Oh, yes. I have seen him.’
‘He’s come here for food?’
‘On and off, for the past couple of months.’
‘Can you remember when you first saw him?’
‘Not exactly. They come and go, Sergeant. I’m sure you can appreciate.’
‘I don’t suppose you have a name? Any details?’
‘No, I really don’t. We don’t require it. Who is he?’
‘I’m afraid that he’s the victim of what might be a very serious crime.’
‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.’
‘How do you mean, vicar?’ she asked.
‘That we failed him. That the world failed him.’
Grey took over, ‘Sir, it’s important that we identify him. Did he ever mention his home town? Where he came from?’ (The vicar shook his head and continued to shake it.) ‘Did he come alone? Did he have friends here? Did he mention anyone or anything that might give us a lead?’
‘No, I’m sad to say. Though Mrs Snow knew him best. She’s our most frequent volunteer, here most days. Though she’s on holiday just at the moment.’
‘Yes, we know,’ confirmed Grey. ‘We called on her today.’ He nodded toward Cori’s phone screen, ‘Would you believe he died not far from her home?’
At this the vicar seemed to shake, leaving Grey with the strangest sensation – surely there was nothing there? Cori felt something too, and was left not even sure of what to ask next. She managed,
‘We think he might have been sleeping in a garden near the Snow house.’
Here the vicar looked down, explaining,
‘She took a shine to him. Often those we help would be older or wilier or have gotten into drugs. They don’t stay in our area for long – there’s so little here for them. But this boy – you can’t even call him a man – she felt so sorry for him, and I saw them talking often. In fact, you might call him her main cause these recent weeks. I…’
Grey spoke with the voice of authority,
‘Please, sir, nothing you can tell us can get Mrs Snow into trouble.’
‘Well, she was worried for the time she’d be on holiday. She worried who’d look after him. I told her we had other volunteers who could fetch him a meal, but… I think she may have been arranging somewhere for him. I saw them whispering.’
Once outside, the officers spoke quickly as they got back in the car. He started,
‘So, do you think she told him where there was a road full of big houses? Somewhere with long gardens and big trees he could sleep under? In thick shirts, he’d have been fine in this mild weather.’
She added, ‘Perhaps she even hid him food there, the tins and packets Mrs Roper found?’
‘Yes, so that might explain what he was doing there, but not who he was.’
Grey concluded, ‘But you heard the vicar – theirs is an ad hoc outfit, the real business is in town. Come on, Cori, I hear the bells of St Chad’s.’
Chapter 8 – St Chad’s
As they drove, Grey was still spooked from their last meeting. ‘The guy fell to pieces. Aren’t vicars meant to be the ones who are good at this stuff?’
Soon they arrived at St Chad’s. This had been the site of that morning’s burial, and its Reverend was the one who had officiated there. Grey was getting tired of meeting vicars. The familiar figure, still in his black robes, came around from the churchyard at the sound of the car’s engine, and greeted them joyfully as the pair got out. He even risked a joke, though a humourless one,
‘You don’t have another pauper for me?’
‘I hope not, sir. I sincerely hope not.’
Grey and Cori asked the same questions; though the second church had even less to go on than St Luke’s. The Reverend explained,
‘I’m afraid I don’t recognise him from your photograph. You say he called at St Luke’s? And was sleeping rough in that area? Well, it’s quite a walk between the two; and if someone was being fed up there, we wouldn’t normally expect them here also.’
Cori added, ‘We only know his movements for the past couple of months, and then only partially. Perhaps he was in your area before?’
‘The person who would know that would be Cynthia. Come along, I’ll take you.’
Unlike at the smaller village church, St Chad’s had a full-time drop-in centre. The operation was managed from a small canteen in modern buildings by the vicarage and the church’s community hall. Within the room were two old men with soup bowls, and a young woman and her baby. Along one wall was an unattended service counter.
The vicar led the way, ‘Cynthia! Oh, there you are.’ He whispered to her as she came from a door behind the counter, ‘These are police officers. Could you take a look at the photo they have?’
Cori held her phone up, but Cynthia shook her head, explaining,
‘Sorry, he doesn’t ring a bell. Was he one of ours?’
Grey picked up on her wording, ‘You speak in the past tense?’
‘Well,’ she continued to whisper, ‘it’s not going to be good news, is it. You haven’t come here to tell him he’s won the lottery.’
‘He might have been here a couple of months ago, possibly,’ offered Cori.
But Cynthia shook her head, ‘I’ve a good memory for faces – I need it here, where we can hardly keep records. Sometimes we’re lucky to have a first name. That old feller over there,’ Cynthia nodded at one of the pair of men, ‘Joseph, I’ve been dishing up for him for eight years, and I wouldn’t know the first thing about him. I don’t even know if that’s his real name, or whether he remembered something from Bible class when we first asked him.’
Cori held up the photo, ‘Do you think they’d know him? Or any of your other regulars?’
‘Well, you can ask.’ And with that, Cori went to do so.
Grey asked the woman, ‘There’s more I’d like to know, if you have the time.’
‘That’s fine,’ she smiled, ‘but let’s do it outside. Having the police around, some of the customers might get spooked.’
Once outside, Cynthia lit a cigarette,
‘You don’t mind?’
‘It’s not illegal yet,’ smiled Grey.
‘I’m sure it would be if some had their way.’ She offered the pack, but Grey refused. He began,
‘So where do they live in the town?’
‘Wouldn’t you know as well as me?’ she asked without criticism.
He answered, ‘It’s like you say, some people get spooked.’
‘Well, truth be told, there’s not a lot of rough sleeping in the area. Maybe a dozen frequent fliers, and some of them we might not see from one week to the next. And as for any that you do find, Inspector, and hope for answers from,’ she placed a hand on his arm, ‘don’t set your bar too high.’
‘Is that what you meant, about some of your visitors not talking?’
‘Inspector, some of them are past the point of common courtesies. They barely raise their heads.’
‘It’s the way the world can make you, when you’re on the outside of it.’
‘And some of them are carrying their own load to begin with, if you get my meaning.’ (He did.) ‘Like those old guys in there,’ she nodded back in the direction of the canteen they’d just left. ‘You have to be a certain-kind-of-troubled to let your life spiral down like that.’ She pondered, then offered, ‘If your guy’s as young as he looks in the photo…’
‘…then you might be looking at a different set of people.’
‘The younger ones, who aren’t as happy to accept the hard times, well, there are things they might do to make ends meet, you know? There are things the girls might do; and there are things the lads might do.’
‘You don’t need me to tell you.’
‘Do you have any leads?’
‘Well, there’s a lot of unemployed men in the area, since Aubrey’s went down.’
‘Indeed.’ Grey could hardly forget the loss of the town’s main employer.
‘And a lot of empty places for those things to happen in, up around the old aerodrome. We see them on our rounds, and I’m not altogether sure what they get up to there.’
‘Nor am I.’
Grey had a lot to think on. Just then a young man in an unseasonal parka walked past them into the canteen. Grey asked Cynthia,
‘Do you need to serve him?’
‘It’s okay, he’ll read the papers till I’m back. He’s seen me out here.’
‘And what’s his story?’
‘His father went abroad, now he’s got nothing.’
‘He’s homeless? Just like that?’
‘Oh, there’s all kinds of homeless,’ said Cynthia. ‘And not only the sort you might think. We have broken families here, men kicked out, women, children. Home evictions, jobs gone south, gambling addicts, beaten wives.’
‘That girl inside?’
Cynthia nodded; and he wondered,
‘Forgive me saying, but I’m surprised you don’t have more coming here – what with the free food…’
‘Aye,’ she continued, ‘…and we’ve even a couple of beds for the worst cases. But no, we operate a policy of tough love, Inspector. If we sense a person has the capacity, then we help them move on.’
‘On to what?’
‘We have partner firms, who’ll take someone on for food vouchers, minimum wage. Give them a step up.’
‘What kinds of jobs?’
‘Oh, charity stalls, envelope stuffing, all the way to full apprenticeships for a couple of them. And some, if we think they suit it, we ask to stay on as volunteers.’
Grey sensed something in her words, a pride beyond that of their project’s success, something personal to her.
‘That was you?’ he asked. She smiled a knowing smile, a smile only possible from someone reconciled to their past. Grey hoped he had the wherewithal to offer that same smile in return. She patted his arm, saying,
‘Your next best bet’s the train station.’
Chapter 9 – Asking Around Town
Cornelia emerged from the church canteen soon afterwards, as Cynthia went in to serve her latest customer.
‘I wonder what his situation is?’ asked Grey.
‘Who? That lad who’s just gone in? Oh, I showed him our photo. No joy I’m afraid – and he was one of the talkative ones!’
‘Nothing from the old men?’
‘No; but I think they would have let on if they’d recognised him.’
It was early afternoon. As they sat in the car outside St Chad’s, the pair considered their options. Cori made a phone call, while Grey looked on his smart phone. Eventually, he began,
‘Well, his face has been on our website and all across the Southney Sports & Advertiser’s Facebook page for an hour now, and no one has recognised him.’
‘And the Station have just told me it was on the Midlands lunchtime news…’ she confirmed.
‘…though no response there either yet.’ She added, ‘Nor are there reports of anyone fitting his description missing in the region these past two months, though the missing persons people are still working further back.’
‘We need to learn more about this kid,’ announced Grey, ‘and that isn’t just a statement of fact, it’s a necessity.’ He continued, ‘You were right, Cori: this won’t ever be murder. Regardless of the driver not stopping, it’s in danger of being written off as a homeless person wandering into the road at night. Soon we’ll be under pressure to move onto other cases. I expect we have the day, perhaps tomorrow.’
He repeated, ‘We need to learn more about this kid.’
‘But how, and where?’
‘I don’t know. Brainstorm, Cori. When do we first have a trace of him?’
‘When he started coming to St Luke’s for meals…’
‘…and later started living in Mrs Roper’s garden,’ concluded Grey. ‘But he isn’t a local, that’s almost certain from the lack of response to his picture.’
‘Yes, someone would have called in by now.’
‘Cynthia suggested the station,’ remembered Grey, as Cori fired up the car.
It was a short drive to the railway station carpark. First they tried the station itself, with no success. The ticket staff joined the rest of their townsfolk in not recognising the face of a man who had lived in their midst for at least two months. While the female Stationmaster could only offer,
‘We do keep security video, Inspector, for the Transport Police. But without a frame of reference, then we could be scanning thousands of hours of footage for someone who, even then, could be wearing a cap or scarf.
‘You don’t know what train they arrived on?’
Grey didn’t even know that he had caught a train. He answered,
‘I was hoping you could tell us.’
Southney didn’t quite have a bus station to rival the railway, though it did have a terminus with a ticket office and an all-night cafe across the road.
The pair split up, with Grey beginning at the office, speaking through the mouse hole in the Perspex,
‘Hello, I’m wondering if you remember seeing this man.’
The attendant put down the paper he was reading, answering,
‘Do you know how many faces I see through this window?’
Grey continued, ‘He might have been here around the start of April.’
‘Was he a fool then?’
‘Sir, this is a police enquiry. Can you please look at the photo?’
The man looked without looking at the screen of Grey’s outstretched phone. Instead only asking,
‘In or out?’
‘Arriving or departing?’
‘Ah, well there you go then. I only see people leaving – this is where they buy their tickets, you see. We’re not an airline. We don’t have passport control when they arrive.’
Grey looked around himself,
‘We’re right opposite the apron. I can see two buses disgorging as we speak. You would see everybody who arrived in town.’ He continued to hold his phone against the window, though the man made no greater effort to study the photo. Yet Grey went on, enthusiasm undiminished,
‘He’s been living rough since he arrived, he may have looked dishevelled then, not much luggage – we certainly haven’t found many belongings. We don’t think he’s local, so he might even have been asking for directions. He would have stood out a mile among the happy families and business folk.’
‘Sorry, he doesn’t ring a bell.’
‘Would you please look at the photo?’
At the third time of asking, the man did so, and something did catch his interest. He said,
‘He’s dead, isn’t he.’
‘That’s the photo of a dead man, I can tell. Taken while he’s on the slab, but made to look as though he’s ‘live and well; or the best they can make it look.’
‘We don’t have another picture to use.’
The man remembered, ‘They did the same with Trevor, my brother in law. He’d come off a friend’s bike, both killed, and neither had ID. Two days later your lot matched him with the missing persons case we’d filed.
‘Trevor had a photo like that one. It was all they had at first to show my sister. And do you know what she said to them when they asked her what you’re asking me now? “His hair’s all wrong. He combs it forward.” She’d found out her husband was dead, and that was all she could say.’
‘I’m very sorry for her.’
‘No need. It was eighteen years ago. He was a silly kid. They weren’t even insured, she got nothing.’
The man’s mood was now entirely changed,
‘We have a camera, up there.’ He pointed to a white and black plastic bubble overlooking the concourse. ‘Just for bust-ups and stuff; it happens. But we only keep the film a month, so we won’t have anything going back to the start of April. I’m sorry, Inspector.’
‘No problem, thank you.’
And the man behind the glass looked genuinely sad not to have been able to help.
Over at the all-night cafe across the road, Cori was having no better luck, though a happier conversation, talking to the elderly woman owner. She had shown her the boy’s photo, though all she seemed to notice was his youth,
‘Oh, they often come in here first thing after arriving, the young ones. If it’s late or they have nowhere else to go. Especially on a weekend after their big nights out. We bring them in, let them have a bit of a chat, if they want it. Sometimes a bit of a cry, with the girls.’
‘What are their stories?’
‘Oh, they’ve come home and missed the connecting bus, and can’t afford the taxi. Or their parents are waiting for them at home, they’ve come as far as the station, and can’t face going back.’
‘After running away?’
She nodded, ‘Though most of them do go home the next day. Or they’ve lost their boyfriend, or their girlfriend, or their mates.’
‘We think he was homeless.’
‘Like Old Baxter? Oh, we used to give him the odd cup of tea.’
‘You’ve got to give something back, haven’t you?’
‘You don’t lose money, do you?’
‘On a cup of tea? Oh no, what with what we make from commuters the rest of the week.’
‘So, who comes?’
‘There’s a few old men. Though they don’t stay old, do they.’
‘Not as often now. It’s not the same. A lot of them are just between flats or girls or jobs. And with some it would be drink, now it’s drugs; and I might let the old guys get away with a swig of whisky in their tea, but I can hardly do the same with a needle, can I? Some ask for money, but don’t want to stop.’
‘Is it that bad here?’
‘Oh, very rarely. But you can tell, can’t you? The sunken eyes? The juddering?’
‘Yes, you can,’ agreed Cori. Though she smiled afresh, and remembered, ‘Though I didn’t get that sense with this one. She tucked her phone away, lamenting, ‘It’s just a shame he doesn’t ring a bell with anyone.’
‘He’s the boy who died, isn’t he,’ supposed the cafe keeper. ‘I heard it on the radio just now. I might have served him here. But we see so many people, I couldn’t tell you when.’
‘Weeks, months, years?’
‘That fits,’ noted Cori, while inwardly acknowledging that there was no way to proceed with such vague dating.
‘And you don’t remember any more?’
‘Sorry, Love. Try the church.’
‘Thank you, we will.’
Chapter 10 – Striking-Out
‘She sent me back to the church,’ reported Cori, once reunited with Grey. ‘I didn’t have the heart to tell her we’d already struck-out there.’
‘And I’ve been thinking about that,’ he remarked. ‘If I’m honest, I’m not sure that the vicar always helps. I mean, if you’ve spent the night sleeping in someone’s greenhouse and eating their tomatoes, then you don’t really want to sit through a sermon of how we need to ask forgiveness for our trespasses, do you.’
‘So, nothing at the coach station?’ she asked.
He answered vaguely,
‘I was hoping for some footage of him coming in, and then we could have known the train or coach he’d travelled in on. That would have given us a timespan for how long he’s been in town, and also tell us where he’d travelled from.’
‘It is a disappointment,’ she conceded. ‘Even if he’d had a lift into town, then the station was the obvious landmark to drop him off at.’
Regardless, they followed their enquiries along the next few shops, but broke them off before it became a random chance that the boy had ever called at each establishment.
‘Boy,’ said Grey once they were back in the car. ‘I keep thinking of him as a boy, when he was early twenties probably, more than capable of making choices in his life.’
Before they drove off, he said,
‘That Cynthia at the canteen, she mentioned Aubrey’s.’
Cori nodded, ‘Yes. It’s still on a lot of people’s minds.’
‘I just hadn’t heard it talked of for a while. We were there, remember? The riot outside.’
‘Boss, not even you could have stopped that firm from going down.’
‘But we should have done it better, or done more.’ He nodded to her, and she fired up the car and put it into first.
He rumbled on, exploring his other theme,
‘The life of the homeless person is nomadic, forever being moved on. They’re always looking for the next place.’
‘Like hearing of a house with a large garden left empty?’ she noted.
‘Exactly. But that makes a person hard to trace.’
‘The lady at the cafe thought she’d seen him a few months ago.’
‘Which fits with the time we think he’d been around The Ashfords. But we can’t know that he wasn’t in town before.’
‘Perhaps at another vacant property, boss?’
‘Perhaps. But, but that could be a red herring.’ He was thinking on the move. ‘It doesn’t really matter when he came to town – what matters is that we know he wasn’t known at St Chad’s. And they would remember, that Cynthia knows her business: she’d have recognised him from years before.’
He continued, ‘We guess he wasn’t local. So, whichever way he came into town, how did he get straight over to St Luke’s in the village, without utilising any of the homeless services right in the town centre? St Chad’s is the main church, right by the station, the one with special provision for rough sleepers. Is it really conceivable that he arrives in a town where he doesn’t seem to be known, and so which, I will suppose, he didn’t personally know, and on his first day walk all the way out to St Luke’s and find a vacant house?’
‘He could have been to other places in between.’
‘Though not anywhere where the people like to help the police, eh?
‘Because none of them have called us to identify him?’
‘Cynthia. She spoke of how the young homeless can get drawn into crime, all sorts. Apparently she’s seen it on the old factory estates.’
‘So have we.’
Grey looked around the buildings they were at that moment passing: the church, the shops, the station,
‘Maybe he didn’t go this way at all, didn’t do any of the things we’re thinking? Maybe Cynthia was right? That a young man down on his uppers might not follow the path to the Lord’s door, but might instead go looking for other salvation? Maybe he was that desperate?’
Cori offered, as sensitively as possible,
‘Maybe desperate – or maybe not that innocent?’
He nodded to her and she swerved the car around.
‘I think we need to find out.’
Chapter 11 – The Old Airfield
‘When were you last down here?’ asked Cori, as she led the car along the road to the old aerodrome and its associated industrial estates. Often, when he wanted to think, he passed the driving to her. Right now, though, he wished that he were the one driving. He imagined himself holding grimly to the wheel, with the steering of the car standing in for his lack of control of their enquiries – an afternoon of questions and no leads.
He pondered on her question, and surprised himself to answer,
‘Not for months, a year even.’
She then surprised him even more,
‘I was here just the other week – it was meant to be a fun day out in the country, but Brough had us stop off for work.’ Brough being her husband.
‘Work?’ asked Grey. ‘Out here? His office is miles away.’
‘His firm used to have two warehouses here, for holding stock.’
‘I didn’t know.’
‘No, nor did I. Though I don’t suppose there was any reason for me to know. I’ve only ever been to their town offices.’
Grey was intrigued now, glad of the distraction, asking,
‘But his firm has a certain image. I wouldn’t have thought that this was their kind of neighbourhood, even for storage.’
‘Well, that was exactly it, boss,’ she explained. ‘Since Aubrey’s went down – the biggest firm in the area – then the neighbourhood has slowly gone to seed. Brough was supervising transfer of his company’s stock to a unit on the new retail park. Leaving me in the car, of course, with two bored children thinking they were on their way to the safari park.’
She sensed that the Inspector had drifted off again, so asked,
‘Where are we going exactly?’
‘To talk to someone who might help.’
The sun was turning golden brown as they pulled up before the small concrete unit – ‘Five o’clock,’ noted Cori. Had their day passed so quickly?
Whatever signage the unit might once have borne had faded so badly that it was now no more decipherable than the logos it had been painted over. However, Cori suspected that anyone doing business there was quite aware of what they wanted; and that on such a deserted road then no trade was merely passing and drawn in by a sign.
Grey suddenly came to life, instructing,
‘Quick, before they have a chance to settle.’ He jumped out of the car, and she followed him as he crossed the pockmarked surface to reach the building. Though he paused at the front door.
‘It’s clearly never used,’ she said as she joined him. Though already he was on his way around to the side of the structure.
Just like on the unplanned family visit, she found the whole area depressing. ‘I wish they’d just build over it all,’ she muttered to comfort herself. ‘We’ve hardly seen a person all the way here. It’s like being on the moon.’
That changed though at the carpark at the back of the building. There they found a hive of activity, focussed around two large loading doors that had been thrown wide open. These doors were raised above a platform designed to mate with articulated trailers. Here though they were unloading from a bare white transit van, and so the boxes coming out of it were having to be lifted up four feet to other men on the platform.
All work ceased as the officers approached. The men stopped like guilty children caught out. Grey had his badge ready,
‘Police. Please put down those boxes.’
Cori whispered to him, ‘Whatever I expected driving up here, I didn’t think it was a raid.’
He whispered back, ‘Nor did I.’
Chapter 12 – Tenniel
Cori didn’t like the stand-off, and so asked,
‘What’s in the boxes?’
‘Furniture,’ answered one of the men.
‘It doesn’t look like furniture,’ she said, pulling at the small box nearest to her. It had been left resting on the lip of the rough brick of the loading platform.
She really didn’t like it. Here were half a dozen men, up to who-knew-what, and looking mightily suspicious. None knew what to do with themselves, and so were staying still, as if awaiting their next instruction, or perhaps their chance to flee. As Cori came nearer she speculated that in America and some other countries both she and Grey would have had guns out on these men, and she would have felt a whole lot safer.
She reached the box, and had to take her eyes off the men to look inside – specifically the man stood above her on the raised platform, his boots level with her face. ‘Please step back, sir,’ she asked, which he did. She looked into the box. That would have been the moment… but nothing happened, the men were still all in position when she looked back up.
‘Well?’ asked Grey, who now shoved a man out of the way to gain access to the back of the van.
‘Doorknobs,’ she answered. ‘Fancy ones.’
‘Bloody heavy too,’ said the man on the ledge who now stepped forward again to reclaim his bounty.
‘Yours?’ she asked Grey.
‘Stair rails,’ he answered. He rustled through the boxes and packaging. ‘Door knockers, marble work-surfaces, heavy fabric, might be curtains.’
‘Yes, they are,’ declared the man now carrying off his doorknobs. ‘So see, nothing to worry about, officers.’
Grey snorted, ‘I’ve seen men trying car doors in carparks who were less suspicious than you lot. And get Tenniel out here.’
The name was new to Cori, but clearly not to Grey, nor to the men. The scene, that had been calming down, became tense again. Until a thin figure, making up for it with too many layers of clothing, appeared at the loading doors, and slid over the ledge to come over and join the pair.
As he did so, he ushered them to move with him out of earshot, and offered in a very soft voice,
‘What you doing this for, boss? You trying to single me out?’
‘A lovely bunch you’ve fallen in with,’ said Grey as they walked.
‘No, no,’ Tenniel shook his head. ‘I’m working, see?’ He unzipped his hooded top all the way down to show the logo of a firm.
‘“Golf Sale”,’ read Grey. ‘So, you’re moving household goods and selling clubs? Busy times.’
‘A man’s got to eat,’ he joked nervously.
They walked toward the corner of the building.
‘Not too far,’ he said. ‘I don’t want them thinking I’m a grass.’ They stopped at the corner: still visible but not too conspiratorial.
Grey looked to Cori, letting her take over,
‘Look, we got off on the wrong foot there. The Inspector thought you could help us. We only want to know if you’ve seen a young man, he might have been working around here.’ As she had done several times already that afternoon, she produced her mobile phone and held up the morbid photograph.
Tenniel’s answer wasn’t yes or no, but rather, ‘What do you want him for?’
She answered, ‘We don’t want him for anything. I’m afraid he’s dead.’
Something seemed to collapse in Tenniel. He answered quickly,
‘Yeah, I’ve seen him. Working out of one of the old plants.’
‘Like this one?’ asked Grey. ‘The same kind of work? Moving and shifting, no questions asked?’
‘Maybe, I don’t know. We never worked together, I just remember him. I’ve seen him around.’
‘How long for?’
‘Since this year, maybe.’
‘And when was the last time?’
Here the man appeared to be genuinely racking his brains,
‘Not for a long while. Weeks, maybe months.’
‘Did you ever hear his name?’
The man shook his head. Grey looked again at Tenniel’s shirt,
‘And your real job, is that in one of these units?’
‘No, no. That’s in town,’ he said quickly, then went nervous as if giving something away.
‘Good. It’s not healthy around here.’
‘You’re not wrong.’ Tenniel tried to laugh, but couldn’t manage it. Grey looked at the building beside them,
‘And are there many of these units still open? With work going on?’
‘Not many, they say they’re going to redevelop it.’
‘It can’t come soon enough, if you ask me,’ added Cori.
Grey concluded with, ‘Golf Sale – stick with it, ditch these bozos.’
‘I’ll try, boss,’ he offered breezily. Though the look of sadness on Tenniel’s face as he backed away from them cast the same anguish into both detectives’ hearts. Grey offered to Cori as they left,
‘He hasn’t got a proper job, just another kind of bad.’
Half an hour later they were sat together in the car outside the Police Station, before each drove home. It was already six o’clock, and anything that needed writing up would be done the next morning. Cori reminded Grey,
‘You remember, you were meant to meet with Jauncey today.’ Jauncey being their boss.
‘Oh, God. Yes I was, right after the funeral.’
‘Well, he’ll have gone home by now.’
Grey exhaled, ‘So I’ve got that to look forward to.’
‘What else does tomorrow bring?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know,’ he wondered. ‘I don’t even know if we have a case.’
‘We might have if we interview Tenniel.’
‘Yes, but I like him, and until I know what to ask him then I don’t want to bring him in – that really would burn his bridges.’
‘Only that I have none. Sometimes it’s healthy to leave things open-ended. We don’t have to form conclusions at the end of the first day.’
But he couldn’t help himself from asking,
‘So, how many Golf Sales do you think we have in town?’
‘It’s one of those signs you see everywhere,’ she answered. ‘Like “Relocation Sale” or “Everything Must Go”.’
‘Well, we’ve seen two today, and neither legit.’
Chapter 13 – The Brooding Grey
A week later, and the case that had seemed so open now lay across the Inspector’s desk in tatters. In the intervening days, they had combed The Ashfords and its neighbouring roads, but found no local cars with damage. Nor had anything suspicious been brought into the town’s garages for repair. It seemed the victim had been knocked down on the quiet road by someone passing through; but passing through to where in the dead of night?
They had also searched right to the back of the local gardens, finding only scant evidence of the lad having been sleeping under a few large trees. Under one they found a trench coat, and an army surplus knapsack holding only a few unlabelled cans of food and a cigarette-rolling device.
Meanwhile, the autopsy had confirmed the Doctor’s impressions at the scene – huge internal damage consistent with a road traffic accident. Specific damage to the legs suggested a car rather than a flat-fronted vehicle. Toxicology took longer, and the report was due in the coming days. Also, there had been no hits on the missing persons database, and so they were still no closer to giving their victim a name.
Grey had been beginning to feel the pressure, and could really have done with a break. Only the previous evening, he had had to explain to his superior that it wasn’t just an unfortunate accident, that the kid had been hit so hard that the driver must have seen what they had done, and had then driven off. Therefore, the case deserved the time it was being given. However, eventually, that time would have to give.
Between all this, there were a series of muggings centred around a shopping centre in the town, and a domestic violence case that still needed writing up. So Grey had barely had time to look at his latest memo: of an operation taking place that afternoon with armed support, and to which every officer in town had been co-opted. He also had a management meeting to fit in before then, such being the lot of the modern Police Inspector.
His Sergeant came in, seeing the scattered open file, and asking,
‘You’re still staring at that?’
‘What else would you have me do with it?’
‘Let’s tidy it up a bit, at least.’ She began to take the papers and shuffle them neat. He offered no protest. He only asked the room,
‘But it was such a promising set up. The poor lad lying in the street, so many living nearby. How could such an act have happened there with no one seeing?’
‘But we don’t know what that act was, do we,’ counselled Cori.
‘Not you as well.’
She gave him a look.
‘No,’ he conceded.
She continued, ‘Nor a trace of who the “lad” was.’
‘Nor of anything obviously criminal at the scene. No hard drugs, no other crimes reported that evening, no criminals in the area.’
‘The Landers don’t have a speck on them,’ she answered. And he knew it was the case. Grey stayed silent as Cori finally stacked the files. She asked,
‘You don’t like leaving one, do you?’
And there was no need to answer.
‘And anyway,’ she remembered, ‘you’ve got your meeting with Jauncey. He’s off on holiday after today, and you know you’ve been putting it off.’
Chapter 14 – Jauncey
‘He sees me every day,’ grumbled Grey as they left their office. ‘What can he need to book a meeting with me for?’
Cori answered, ‘Yes, why on earth would the two most senior people in the Police Station need a private discussion? Whatever could they have to talk about that couldn’t be chatted about over cod and chips in the works canteen?’
He was perturbed, ‘You’re not usually this sarcastic.’
‘Well, you’re driving me slightly batty with this one, boss. What’s biting you about him? Was it just that you liked the old Super?’
Grey knew that it was.
‘And it’s long overdue,’ she added brightly, in that way women have when tackling a household chore that a man would put off till Doomsday. Though he was determined to stay in his grump, moaning,
‘Management meetings… well, heaven forbid our policing gets in the way.’ He still had a few seconds before arriving at the suite of offices. However, as if by a sixth sense, Jauncey, the new Superintendent, was already bounding down the corridor to meet them. ‘It’s been a month now, and still the same bound,’ noted Grey. He asked Cori, ‘Why is our every meeting like his first?’
‘It’s because he’s still excited by you,’ she answered, and ditched into the officers’ Mess Room before having to make her apologies.
‘Inspector!’ beamed Jauncey. ‘I’ve been meaning to catch up with you, to have a proper talk.’
As they walked past his assistant and into his office, Jauncey talked incessantly and enthusiastically, as if greeting a friend and having stuff stored-up to talk about,
‘I looked your name up: Rase. It means to raze a field of corn, burn it to the ground after harvest.’
‘Yes, I read that once.’
‘And it should be pronounced the same way as “Raze”, as if with the “z”.’
‘Yes,’ the man who bore that name pondered. ‘Though my parents always used it to rhyme with “Race”, as if with the “c”, possibly wrongly. And I had no one else to hear it from – it was hardly common.’
‘Indeed, most unique.’
‘About the name, sir?’
‘You wanted to speak to me about my name?’
Jauncey laughed, ‘No, no. That was just in passing. Come on through.’ He called after them to his assistant, ‘Sophie, can you bring us a tray of tea?’
‘I always liked this office,’ remembered Grey. He hadn’t been in since…
‘I know you got on well with my predecessor,’ recalled Jauncey.
‘I did. He liked this room for the view of his staff coming and going, busy at their work.’
‘As do I. It’s great to see you loading up the squad cars. As indeed they seem to be doing now.’ Jauncey had moved to the window, and was leaning to see the current hive of activity.
‘Ah, yes,’ recalled Grey. ‘This would be Glass’s operation. Could be a big one.’
‘Let’s hope so.’ Jauncey moved them both to the soft chairs at the opposite end of the room. He began in earnest,
‘This was just a little chat really. A chance for me to see what I’ve got my hands on. So, I’ve already had a chance to speak to Inspector Glass – he gave me a run down of the Uniform side of things. So it’s just yourself and your Sergeant Smith remaining of the senior staff.’
‘Well, I can’t speak for Sergeant Smith.’
‘Obviously. Though I thought it best to start with yourself.’
‘And what would you like to know, sir?’
‘Oh, just a little of who you are, how you ended up here, how the job is going for you, where you see yourself in five years’ time. You know, the usual things a General likes to know of his Lieutenants.’
Grey knew that something like this had been coming, but he wished he’d give himself more time to prepare. He bluffed,
‘Well, what to say, sir?’
‘I’m asking you about yourself, it should be anyone’s specialist subject!’
He laughed, ‘Yes, indeed. Well…’
‘Think of it as an exercise in getting to know yourself.’
He began, ‘Well. Inspector Graham Rase. Eternal forty-five, as I tell myself.’ (Here Jauncey laughed.) ‘The perfect age for a professional, I always think.
‘I’ve been in the force longer than I can quite recall. I started off in uniform, breaking up strikes and warehouse raves, and other unpopular activities.’
Jauncey laughed again, ‘We were never here to be loved!’
‘Somewhere along the line, I don’t know, I must have been noted as having a propensity for wanting to get behind things, to see how they worked. I was moved out of uniform, and the rest has been promotion and luck.’
Jauncey laughed yet again – Grey thought he’d found his perfect audience, and wondered why he’d worried so much about the meeting.
‘“Promotion and luck”,’ echoed Jauncey. ‘Well, Inspector, that is certainly one way of putting it.’ He patted a faded blue file beside his chair, that Grey realised with a start must have been his personnel file dating all the way back when. ‘Another way of saying it is that you are the man who finds missing girls, who faces down murderers, who has solved almost every major case this town has suffered in years…’
‘Well, I’m sure my colleagues would have done just as good a job.’
‘…who people nod to in the street…’
‘Well, some of them.’
‘…and who anyone in this town feels they can turn to in their hour of need.’
Grey wondered whether he was being lined up for some sort of award.
Jauncey continued, ‘In short, you are the spirit of the law and the letter of it. And I wonder if my predecessor was content to keep you that way? Have you heard the expression, “A big fish in a small pond”?’
‘Sir, I love this town, and I don’t consider it and the districts we serve a small pond.’
‘But still, you don’t seek rank? London?’
‘It’s where the national agencies are, Grey: terrorism, organised crime, Government statistics even – it’s a good number for a bright-minded officer who feels they’ve earned a few years behind a desk.’
‘I can’t say I do, sir.’
Jauncey considered, then asked,
‘You have no family, I’m told?’
‘And – forgive me, I think we can be honest here – do you see that as a personal tragedy, or, well, that perhaps it was never wholly unintentional?’
‘It’s just the way things are, sir.’
‘Which isn’t quite an answer, is it. But you seem fine enough with it. Moving on… I wonder, do you think about leadership?’
‘Not specifically, sir. I mean, I appreciate that I am a senior officer, that people call me “sir”, but I don’t labour over it.’
‘I didn’t mean that as such, I meant more the theory: what makes a leader? Why are the leaders and the led such defined types? And, if we’re all supposed to want to be “the captain of our fate”, then, just from simple human observation, why do so many of us seem to want nothing more than to know who’s in charge and for them to be worthy of it?’
The questions were making Grey’s head hurt, as they were forcing him to focus entirely on himself; in fact, within himself, on questions that he rarely asked. The answers also carried the ring of egoism. Yet he had not got where he had without hard work, and felt entitled to declare,
‘I know what you mean, sir. People do look for the one who’s in charge. And in terms of what I myself contribute, well, perhaps I offer a quiet determination: the certainty that no one’s left behind, that nothing’s left undone.’
He began to warm to his theme, adding, ‘And thinking on it further, then what the department has in me is a “focus”: an umbrella under which our team can pool their efforts in pursuit of a case. Otherwise, without such a “manager” then a Criminal Investigation Department could soon become “a bit of this” and “a bit of that”, a dozen files lay open on the desk like so many unfinished novels.’
Chapter 15 – The Inner Life of Graham Rase
That final image had shocked Grey even as he said it: ‘…like so many unfinished novels.’
It was a memory that came back to him from his school days, where his English teacher had told the class, while holding up a volume of Dickens or Trollope, ‘There is no use in an unfinished book, for the act of finishing something is a skill in itself.’ And the young Graham Rase had not forgotten it.
In the room, Superintendent Jauncey was talking of ‘regional strategies’ and ‘organic developments’. But perhaps another skill Inspector Rase brought to his work was the ability to switch off and focus when needed. And at that moment he took a moment out to ponder – and it was Jauncey who had started this train of thought anyway, so who was he to complain if his Inspector now needed to pursue it to its end? The question was, in short: how did Grey see himself? What was his stock understanding of his life and times, the self-image he had always held? In his mind, he cast it thus:
Inspector Graham Rase was a man in some ways ‘obvious’: in height, in dress, in education and intellect. As a detective, he belonged to no style of policing or school of deductional thought. As a man, he belonged to no political movement or social class, beyond his own vague categorisation of ‘upper-working-class made good’.
His home was a suburban semi-detached of little structural significance or architectural import, not old enough to be historical nor new enough to be avant garde. His car too was in the style of smart but bland estate that plain-clothed policemen often drove, which held their flashing lights behind the radiator grille, and kept their remarkably uprated suspension and engines as hidden as a lady’s décolletage beneath a fluttering fan.
And so he began… before moving onto those things which were not so ‘obvious’. There were those qualities of decisiveness and focus just discussed, and these alone made him a lynchpin of the organisation he served. Those skills really did make him essential there, for his ‘focus’ was one thing that only he in his role, at the present time of asking, could provide.
And as he thought of it, so his whole life became a sequence of defining characteristics. There was his commitment to each case he was assigned, and the doggedness to see it through. These had him punch toe-to-toe with anyone in town, and had him fill every room with questions to be asked.
And the place where he exercised this decisiveness was Southney Station, perhaps in some regards an unremarkable institution in an unremarkable town. Yet it was his town, he had chosen it, as much as it had chosen him. Southney, the home of a factory that had closed, of an airfield whose glory days were over, and the birthplace of at least three household names who never came back.
Oh, and Graham Rase also had a headful of every unnecessary fact imaginable, or so it sometimes felt to him. And these scattered thoughts, ever cross-checking and coalescing, were his own unfinished novels – unstarted ones in his case. For his novels were his cases, and he wouldn’t leave one unfinished. As wouldn’t the creators of the books and films and paintings he enjoyed outside of work.
Grey breathed. He seemed to have had a small epiphany, there in Jauncey’s office: he was remarkable, as were we all, each an individual whose skills could only benefit the world.
And was that the true purpose of Jauncey’s interview, and the talent that an enlightened manager could bring to their role: to have every person examine themselves and have them realise just what they contribute? To have them understand that we are each unique and that, though our actions may be covered by others, they can never be precisely replicated?
He had to bring his focus back into the room. Jauncey at that moment jumped forward in his chair, full of enthusiasm for the skills that Grey had been discussing earlier, declaring,
‘…all of which are absolutely vital, and all of which we can build on, even from here.’
‘So, not London, sir?’
‘Oh, I was only floating a boat there. I know your roots are here, Inspector. And I don’t yet know exactly what form my – our – plans could take. But be sure that I have them, and that they will be something that we can all move forward on.’
Grey looked at his watch,
‘Well, Glass’s operation calls.’
‘Yes, you must be getting on.’ The two men stood, ‘I’ll see you down to reception.’
As they took the stairs down, the Superintendent said,
‘And your Sergeant, an equally impressive woman.’
‘Indeed,’ remarked Grey, ever keen to sing her praises. ‘Graduate and mother by twenty-five, Police Sergeant by thirty.’
Yet here he seemed to lose his boss, who gave a noncommittal noise before suggesting,
‘You know, Grey, in London “Sergeant by thirty” isn’t great for a graduate.’
Grey suggested, ‘It’s my guess that her family situation restrains her from moving with the job.’
‘Which makes you the luckiest Inspector in the land.’
‘I don’t need to be told that, sir.’
‘I’m sure. But just so you know: when I spoke about future opportunities, I’ll be offering the same to her.’
They soon arrived at the ground floor. Jauncey pressed the button to release Grey to the public reception, following him through.
‘Thank you, sir.’
‘Think about what I said.’
‘I will,’ said Grey. They parted by the front desk, and he went to fetch himself a drink. And as Grey was manhandling the coffee machine, a few steps away Jauncey said to the Desk Sergeant,
‘You know, I still haven’t figured him out.’
Chapter 16 – Glass Action
‘How did it go, sir?’ asked Cori once they were sat in the car.
‘He’s enthusiastic, but I don’t know what for,’ answered Grey.
‘Well, you’ve got him next.’
‘Meanwhile, there’s other matters.’ She asked him, ‘You’ve been roped into this armed robbery thing?’
‘I think we all have.’
‘Well, it’s “going off” in an hour. Isn’t Glass waiting for you?’
And Grey had absolutely no idea. Inspector Glass was head of Southney Station’s uniformed division. He was Grey’s equal though not opposite, as little in their jobs was the same. While Glass’s men mopped up the crime scene, Grey’s people found out who had made the mess. Glass’s team then came and rounded them up. But on such a big operation as the one Glass was currently pursuing, then all hands were on deck.
‘Does Glass need both our cars?’ asked Grey.
‘No, only bodies.’
‘Then, tell him we’ll meet the others at the site. You’re with me.’
In Grey’s unmarked car they drove toward the factory complex where the raid was planned for. On the backseat were the knife-proof vests that he and Cori would later be wearing. But for now they looked like any couple driving through town. His talk with Jauncey still on his mind, he offered,
‘When I think of leadership, I think of football managers, as I imagine most men do.’
‘What’s that got to do with anything?’ she asked.
‘It’s what our conversation was about. The young Clough is the model, though what was it that made him special? We could all fill a side of paper and we wouldn’t agree.’
‘Please don’t tell me I have to read up on Brian Clough before my meeting?’
‘It might be mandatory.’
At a certain point, he flipped the indicator and turned off the main road. Cori didn’t need to ask where they were going on their diversion. Instead she remarked,
‘You’re taking another look along The Ashfords?’
‘Maybe,’ he answered. ‘Or maybe saying goodbye.’
It was good to see the road not closed off. After the passing of a week then Grey hoped that life would have gone back to normal. He might then get a better sense of the place.
Arriving at the junction, he turned and drove slowly along the road. There they were again: the idealised farmhouse cottages, the gleaming neo-mansions, the sprawling mini-estates with their granny flats and rooms above garages. Only someone who had been there a week ago would recognise the point at which the detectives’ interest rose – no bright tape still fluttered across the road or around the houses of those involved.
They were approaching from the opposite direction this time, and so the first of their key houses that the pair came upon were those of the family Snow, still holidaying in France; and on the other side, the writer, at that moment no doubt beavering away at his tome and enjoying the view of his back garden.
On the drive of the Snow house was a small blue van with the logo Superclean Champions. Beside it, someone very quietly loaded a bright red vacuum cleaner bearing a smiling face.
‘The vacuum looks happier than the cleaner,’ said Grey. Inside the front window of the house was a woman wiping the glass with a soft cloth.
‘Having the house cleaned while they’re away,’ observed Cori admiringly. ‘Very convenient.’
‘I can’t imagine there’s a speck of dirt in the place to begin with,’ said Grey, who thought the house looked like a show home.
‘They’d probably have a heart attack if they saw mine,’ joked Cori.
‘Don’t you have that Polish girl?’ he asked.
‘I could have an army of them and it wouldn’t matter with my kids.’
Next door to the Snows was Lee Crowther. The car of the night-watchman was outside and his curtains were drawn. Nor was there life outside the Roper house next along, which was just visible through the trees – Grey guessed they’d both be out at work.
But such was the nature of the road, with the distance between houses and its overhanging branches, that Grey didn’t straight away notice the activity on the opposite side of the road, outside the Landers’ house. However, his senses were quick to pick it up,
‘Well, look at that,’ he uttered, pulling up to the side of the grass two houses along. The bough of a huge tree hung across the road, with its branches almost meeting the tarmac’s edge, and he hoped that that would obscure them.
‘Our happy family back on worst behaviour,’ noted Cori.
‘I knew they couldn’t keep that act up for long.’
In the street outside the house were both brothers – Grey remembered what he’d since read of them in the Neighbourhood Team’s files,
‘The older one is Jared.’ And there he was, thin, alert, dressed in muted denims and combat jacket. He was watching at the roadside with a can of lager at his feet. ‘The younger is Matthew, Matty to his friends.’ And there was the younger, fuller figure of Matty, clad in bright sportswear and talking to two others at the opened trailer of a box van parked outside.
‘We’ve got ten minutes, haven’t we?’ asked Grey, and Cori didn’t dispute the timing. ‘Bless these trees,’ he said, as they offered enough cover, blowing in the breeze, to half-hide the car.
Both were stunned. Grey spoke first,
‘I may have feigned indifference back at the office, but I was quite aware of the memo Glass had sent us all. A task assigned by Interpol, wasn’t it?’ he recapped for both of their benefit. ‘Quite an interesting one really. Had I been less distracted then I’d have given it even more attention. “To raid the suspected warehouse of a stolen-goods ring.”’
She continued, ‘And very specific stolen goods, only the very finest household items.’
‘Yes, the kind that the householders might have invisibly tagged. And so they’re always driven outside of the range of each domestic police force’s stolen items database.’
‘So you really did read the file,’ she said, giving him a look.
‘Of course. I may be grumpy sometimes, but I’m not unprofessional.’
She smiled in her growing anticipation at the scene outside the car, asking,
‘And so what else did the memo tell you?’
He answered, clearly having read it word for word,
‘That the gang drive the goods across borders in the manner of a family relocating within Europe. The vans are driven by a couple, and with one of everything in the back, so the “family” wouldn’t look as suspicious as they might, say, having fifteen televisions.’
He paused, then continued,
‘And they use a very specific type of van, ones hired from a French self-haulage firm called Bebe Bobi. Named after the company founder’s son, and bearing his distinctive photo on the sides.’
As the pair watched through the windscreen, Lander the Younger manhandled a final sack-clad object at the lip of the lorry, as the shutter of the haulage van was pulled down two thirds of the way. At it did so, the joyous face of Bebe Bobi himself descended, smiling at the detectives hiding along the street.
‘It looks like Bobi’s offering the Landers first dibs,’ said Grey. ‘Phone it in.’
Cori was already doing so. As she did, so Grey reached to the back seat and brought forward their protective vests.
The radio crackled in response, ‘Trying to find Inspector Glass for you. Hold position.’
The pair fitting themselves up as they waited. Cori warned,
‘This is an armed gang, boss. There’s a reason we were told to wear these.’ She chased the radio up, ‘Please find Glass. Instruction required.’
The message came through, ‘Do not apprehend. Trail at long distance. Major target still more valuable. Copy.’
‘Copy,’ answered Cori.
‘They want the warehouse and the loading staff too,’ said Grey. ‘Nab the van now and we lose them.’
As she talked into the radio, he sat in frustration.
‘Glass was very insistent on the timing,’ she remarked.
‘Wasn’t he just,’ speculated Grey. ‘Though I think he overestimated. The goods aren’t there yet, they’re here.’
Chapter 17 – Pursuit
Grey and Cori watched. A woman got back in the high cab, while a man lingered by what, in a Continental vehicle, would be the passenger door. Another man was already in the back. He had pulled the shutter down on himself, and stayed back there presumably to guard what remained of their stock.
Cori’s phone cracked, ‘Report in if target deviates off course.’
It was as if the van’s driver also heard the message, as at that moment the passenger jumped up into the cab and the vehicle took off at a ridiculous speed. Packages fell from the back as the shutter was finally closed. The man with that unhappy job nearly fell out himself, before pulling the hatch the whole way down, with the face of Bebe Bobi fully revealed.
Grey leaned over to the phone in Cori’s hand and barked into it as he put the car into first gear,
‘They’ve spotted us!’
‘Then get in pursuit,’ came back the instruction. Cori put the phone onto speaker. ‘Don’t leave them,’ shouted Glass, taking over the microphone and his voice now filling their car. ‘Don’t let them get away.’
‘Let me talk to him,’ called Cori, giving Grey a despairing look. ‘You can’t drive and talk.’
Though it was Glass doing the talking,
‘They’re the only lead we have, and they’ll never want to make our meeting now. They travel all through Europe, they’ll skip on to the next town.’
‘I think they would,’ said Grey.
The gaily painted truck weaved between parked cars and was soon approaching fifty on the main road. Grey’s car could easily match it, though he would soon be at the point of not wanting to continue the pursuit in the interests of public safety. The large vehicle swung around a corner – it was lunchtime and children were on the pavement outside a school.
‘Jesus Christ!’ uttered Grey – though thankfully the truck maintained control. Their own car slewed sideways to a near halt to skirt the packed pavement.
‘That’s how they’ll beat us,’ said Cori. ‘We’d never risk a thing like that. Now they’re fifty yards ahead.’
Also fifty yards ahead was an articulated lorry turning. The French van nearly went into it, before swerving onto the opposite pavement to get past. Thankfully this pavement was clear, and by the time Grey had gunned the car to the same point they were back in the game.
‘Police!’ he bellowed through the window at the articulated truck driver.
‘Thank you!’ trilled Cori as the truck stayed halted and they scooted past.
During the manoeuvre, their car had banged up and over the pavement, and it made just as much noise coming back down onto the tarmac.
‘Thank God the Force pay for our repairs,’ said Grey.
‘You concentrate on the road,’ said Cori.
‘What’s happening?’ asked Glass, hearing the screeching tires and crowd calls down the phone line. ‘This is important to me. I’ve been planning it for weeks.’
‘Still in pursuit, sir,’ said Cori.
Though still the lamentation continued,
‘Interpol have wanted them for months. I can’t give up on this.’
‘And neither will we,’ barked Grey. ‘It’s our case too now.’
‘No, no, no,’ growled Glass is despair, as he realised events were taking their own course and sending weeks of work down the plughole.
As the truck sped, the passenger door fell open, and from the cab were thrown all manner of objects, some of them also kicked out of the footwell. Some were papers, some maybe even money; while some were simply unidentifiable, though presumably contraband. This became unintentionally comical when the van turned left unexpectedly, and the thrower of the objects nearly went out himself. However, some unseen hand must have pulled him back in at the critical moment.
As each flung object disappeared into a hedgerow or flew past her passenger window, Cori wanted to lunge out of the car and grab it. Though that was impossible at the speed they were moving. ‘All that lost evidence,’ she lamented – it was as though their case was disappearing before her very eyes. ‘Where are they going?’ she called out in frustration.
‘As far away from the meeting point as possible, it looks like,’ shouted Grey. As at that moment, the truck took a T-junction straight on without looking and hit the opposite kerb face on. Both wheels must have struck almost simultaneously, as the front of the truck reared up and then fell down with a crash of burst tyres and loosened dust.
The pursuing car almost hit the suddenly-slowing truck in the rear, though the larger vehicle’s back axle was just over the kerb, before the car tyres hit the oblong slabs in turn. Grey had braked, which would prove his undoing – his leg was braced against the pedal flat to the floor.
The car, with its smaller wheels and lower ground clearance, didn’t even make it over the high kerb. Instead, its front bumper and steering rack absorbed the blow, leaving the vehicle beached, as the car came to rest on the bodywork beneath the rear doors.
The blow had even shattered the windscreen, and though its spider-webbed cracks Cori watched the truck limp away across the carpark beyond, before turning behind office buildings. She jumped out, but their foes were still able to move at ten or twenty miles an hour, and with a head start even a fit human wouldn’t have been able to keep up. As she rounded the building, shaking and gasping, Bebe Bobi was gone.
She came back to see that the body of the car was generally intact, and to see Grey still inside. His door was already open, but beneath the steering wheel and its ridiculous deflating balloon, she saw that he was unable to move his legs.
Chapter 18 – Damage
‘It’s common enough,’ a doctor was saying as Cori came out of the treatment room. ‘In an impact, the legs can be thrown against the central console and the underside of the dashboard. Even with airbags and retracting steering columns, there’s only so much a manufacturer can do to legislate against every possible injury.’
The man was talking mainly to Superintendent Jauncey; who then turned around to ask her,
‘Cornelia. How are you?’
‘Fine, thank you, sir.’ She didn’t tell him that she’d just been told she might feel faint at any time for the following few days. Though her boss was clearly conversant with such injuries, as he declared,
‘Well, it’s home for you till Monday.’
‘But, the Inspector…’
‘No buts. He needs to rest, as do you. Though have a chat to Glass before you go.’
‘He’s here?’ she asked, surprised. ‘What about his raid?’ She had been at the hospital for over an hour and had lost track of the mission.
Jauncey shook his head, ‘The target had already fled. Glass’s men are turning over the warehouse, though it seems that what we wanted was what the lorry was bringing.’
In the shock of it all, she allowed herself a moment of self-doubt,
‘Did we blow it, sir?’
‘No one thinks that,’ was his answer, though it didn’t make her feel any better. ‘Your partner’s fine, we’ll be with him. Now you off get. A constable will drive you.’
And that they did.
‘What’s the damage?’ asked Inspector Glass later as the bedside of Inspector Rase.
‘Nothing permanent. Though weeks, not days.’
It was now evening, and the ward was empty of visitors or other patients. Grey lay there with his leg in the air. He had been knocked out by the doctors for a while, but was now coming around a bit and felt no groggier than if waking the next morning after a big night out.
‘It’s a shame you’re not a few years older. You’d be on your pension.’
‘I might still be – Jauncey was over.’
‘Oh.’ Glass’s tone darkened.
Grey guessed, ‘So, you’ve had “the talk” too?’
‘Leadership?’ he asked.
Glass smiled, ‘Oh no, you didn’t bore him with your theory about Brian Clough?’
‘Well, I can’t be the only one who thinks him the best leader of men this country’s known since Montgomery.’ Grey had tried to smile too, but now pondered,
‘Though that had been this morning. Just now I couldn’t read him at all. And he sent Cori away. You’re the only other I’ve seen.’
‘I guessed he wanted to talk to you himself.’
‘No, I think he blames me,’ said Grey.
Glass got them back on simpler terms, ‘The old Super was sixty-eight when he retired.’
‘He’d have let me go on forever.’
‘But this is a bright new age, my friend.’
‘Already looking in the Argos catalogue for my gold clock?’ asked Grey. Though neither man laughed.
‘It’s a job for the young,’ the visitor continued. ‘Especially men. They worry for our hearts.’
‘If only that were in an emotional sense,’ lamented Grey. It no longer mattered if the words he spoke we’re daft, Glass had known him too long to care. And, paradoxically, lying there with his leg in traction and a blood test butterfly still in his arm, he felt a freedom he had missed for many years. Grey speculated,
‘However, in my case, I suspect Jauncey’s fears are entirely with me falling over dead in front of his bright young intake of PCs.’
‘As if they’ll never get old,’ said Glass.
‘Beware the wrong side of forty-five,’ said Grey. And this time both men did smile.
‘I’m sorry for blowing your operation.’
But Glass shook his head,
‘I won’t have that from a man who put himself in here trying to save it.’ He continued, ‘Fate blew it. Pure bad luck. You were chasing a different case?’
‘We’d never had a speck of intelligence that the van would be in that street.’
‘It hasn’t turned up since?’
Glass shook his head, ‘No. Though we should recover some of the goods. And you might have given us a new lead.’
‘I hope so.’
‘And does it mean anything with the case you were chasing?’
‘Well, someone will be interviewing the Landers.’
‘So maybe we’ll both luck out.’
Grey moved and suddenly winced.
‘Does it hurt?’ asked Glass.
‘Only when I laugh.’
‘Well, that won’t be any time soon, will it. Not with our bloody luck.’
And this time Grey laughed properly, and it really did hurt.
Chapter 19 – The Blank Page
Cornelia did return to work the next Monday. And when she did so, already waiting for her on her desk was a phone note taken by one of the constables:
– Pop over after work. From the Guv.
Although it was Wednesday before she managed the feat,
‘Sorry, boss. The Super’s had me running ragged.’
‘How are you?’
‘Fine, fine,’ she answered. ‘Though I ached the next morning. But more to the point, how are you?’
‘As you can see, fully mobile.’ He was standing upright, and gestured to his legs. ‘The swelling went down overnight. They sent me home with a walking stick, though I can hobble to the shops without it.’
As he spoke, the kettle was boiling, and he went to attend to it.
His visitor was sitting at the kitchen table. On it were some sheets of drawing paper,
As he brought the cups over, he explained,
‘The nurses told me I might be with them a while. What’s more, they didn’t think I’d have much movement at first, let alone be allowed a walk around the hospital grounds. So they suggested I find something to keep my mind active, “Maybe puzzle books, or a hobby?” And so they left me a pen and paper beside the bed, and I began sketching, for the first time since school.’
‘They’re good,’ she said. Which he couldn’t quite bring himself to dispute,
‘I surprised myself,’ was all he answered.
She looked at the pictures, which were all different angles of a figure, a young man with trees around him, beside a wild hedge.
‘Well, no need to ask what was on your mind.’
‘Indeed. Has there been any progress?’
Here she turned sheepish,
‘There have been developments, boss. Though maybe not the kind you were expecting.’
‘I’ve been made Acting Inspector.’ She gave a little smile as she said it, and it broke his heart. He blurted,
‘Oh, that’s wonderful. You must be so proud. I’m proud of you. I always knew you were worthy of it.’
She hesitated, ‘But… you know what it means. What do you really think?’
And he could see that she needed to know, needed his validation. He hadn’t been able to hide his surprise, and just blurted,
‘Look, Cori. I’ve always been a block on your career. We know it even if we don’t say it. So enjoy this chance, gain the experience, don’t worry about the future. That’s an order.’
‘Received, loud and clear.’
‘Good. So anyway, what about the case?’
Here her mood went a little flat, ‘It’s not been great, boss.’
‘Sorry?’ she asked.
‘I’m not your boss anymore.’
‘No, I suppose you’re not. Not that it changes…’
‘Just call me Grey, as Glass would.’
‘Ok. But it’s still bad news to give you, however I address it.’ She breathed. ‘As soon as the chase was over, Glass’s men went through the Landers’ home. They found nothing… Grey. They went over everything with ultraviolet lights.’
‘And no security markings?’
‘They’d had the time from seeing the chase, to when Glass’s men came back with their warrant, to remove anything obvious.’
‘And that’s assuming the owners had marked their property to begin with, which the Landers would have checked; or that the country the items came from had a UV marking scheme in the first place, which would be even better for them.’
‘It’s a theory.’ She remarked, ‘Apparently the house is quite large and packed with stuff.’
Grey closed his eyes, as he presumed,
‘We don’t know what was there before or what came from the van, unless they had two of the same thing in the same room. They hide it in plain sight. In plain sight!’ he shouted, getting up to pace around on his good and bad leg. ‘Genius. How d’you hide stolen furniture? Put it in a house.’ He went on, ‘All those vans picking up and dropping off, that Jerry told us about.’
‘Too right, sir… sorry, Grey.’
He shook his head, though not at her,
‘Cast your mind back to the airfield last week. What we saw coming out of that van at the loading bay – doorknobs, fittings. It must have been the same operation.’
‘They’ll be long gone if we go back to look for them.’
‘It was all boxes and parcels, small enough for a man to carry. Small cupboards, broken up chairs. If the Landers had the same at their house, they could have got it well out of sight.’
‘Well, anyway, at least we know the Landers are involved in the Bebe Bobi ring now, and Glass is reviewing all his files to see how that new knowledge helps him.’
Grey asked, ‘And how do the Landers explain the van being outside their house?’
‘They claim they’d never met the gang before, and had never seen a Bebe Bobi van till one turned up that day, offering goods at trade-price.’
‘And how did the gang know who they were, and where to find them?’
‘“Someone told them down the pub.”’
‘It’s also undisprovable,’ she lamented.
Grey gathered the strands, ‘So we need Glass looking at local house burglaries. If furniture is what Bebe Bobi are bringing into Britain, then are they taking anything away?’
‘I’m sure he’s on it.’
‘Though I’m more interested in what it tells us about the boy.’
Here Cori seemed to go quiet again, explaining,
‘The thing is, I’ve not been able to spend much time on our case. There’s been those muggings in the town; and I’ve had a whole load of stuff to go through with my promotion. There’s an administration course for senior officers. I’ll be there two days a week for the next month.’
‘Which days?’ was his instinctive reply. And her instincts were just as strong,
‘Grey, of course I’ll try and visit when I’m here. But I’ll be working all the hours God sends.’
‘Of course. It sounds like Jauncey’s setting you up for the long haul.’
‘He’s very thorough.’
Grey wondered, ‘Well, I’ll only be off for another week or two. Does he know something I don’t?’ Though Grey didn’t labour the issue. Instead he looked again at his drawings, pondered a moment, then declared,
‘I envy artists. They can ply their trade at any time. Yet those of us in organisations are beholden to our bosses, and our behaviour, and our health. I have survived the first of these, moderated the second; but am powerless over the third.’
‘It’s only been three days,’ she counselled.
‘Three days where I’ve got nothing done.’
‘Don’t be down, boss,’ she said supportively, and already slipping back into old verbal habits. Though he answered,
‘I’m not down, love.’
‘No, you’re not, are you.’ She smiled. ‘I think I know you pretty well by now. Sometimes you just like to have things said, don’t you. And I’m here to listen.’ She placed a hand on his knee, then stood up,
‘Though I have to leave you for today. My children won’t feed themselves.’
And with that she left Grey to further ponder, and feeling like the invalid enquiring when the nurse would next call.
Chapter 20 – Cornelia Talks with Jauncey
Cornelia didn’t like formality. ‘Cori’ it was to all, above or below her. Never ma’am or even Sergeant, if she could avoid it, just one of the team. Rank counted to her pay band, and to the responsibilities she carried, and to the respect with which her opinions were always received. But she didn’t like it, and she wasn’t one of those bosses insecure enough to need their importance being constantly referred to.
This had all been just about possible as second-in-command of the plain clothed division. But now, as primary focus and Acting Inspector, it became impossible. Girls in the office who did her make-up on works nights out were now half-standing as she entered the room. The lads in Traffic, always a laugh at lunchtimes, would go silent as she brought her tray to the table.
It made her realise how hard Grey worked at having everyone be relaxed around him. He was no stickler for titles himself, though she recognised now how he accepted ‘Inspector’ and ‘Boss’ and even ‘Guv’ when they were offered. And she remembered something he had said before, about how, ‘People like a title, like rank. It makes them feel secure. If a member of the public want to call me by my title, then I won’t tell them that it isn’t important.’
Now she looked along the silent lunch table. Perhaps in time they would all get used to it? Though, for the present, her words seemed terribly formal as she parted with, ‘I have to be in a meeting with HR,’ causing a look from a Constable sat nearby.
Though it wasn’t really with HR, instead it was her version of what Grey had already experienced with Jauncey. This time it was her career that came up for review.
‘Come in, come in,’ ushered the Superintendent.
‘Thank you, sir,’ she offered as she sat down and smoothed her skirt over her knees.
‘How are things?’
‘Well, very well,’ she cheered.
‘Good, good. I expect I’ve been keeping you busy with your new responsibilities. Don’t curse me for it though,’ he chuckled. ‘Head Office have their procedures for the training of new senior officers that I have to follow, and we all have our lords and masters who must be obeyed.’
Cori wasn’t sure if he was joking, so kept a generally bright smile on her face throughout. He went on,
‘And your excellent work has been all the more impressive given the change in your team’s circumstances. So, I really don’t think that there’s much we have to talk about in that area. Nor was it the main reason for me inviting you here. Instead, I’d like to ask you a question. Acting Inspector Smith. Cornelia. What do you think when I say the words “Crime Statistics”?’
Chapter 21 – Men Don’t Rest Easy
Cori was a woman of her word, though it was the next Monday before she was able to call in on Grey again; and another week until the time after that. He would phone the office for her, and she would not be in. And then those junior officers taking the messages began to sound apologetic, as though humouring the kind of caller a Police Station did get, those who’d ring every time they spotted a number-plate they didn’t recognise parked along their street.
Grey was in danger of appearing desperate, or at best a good-natured pot-stirrer. He grew resentful of their sympathetic responses, and at a certain point, he simply stopped trying.
His had been an odd injury: about as bad as a ‘knock’ could get before becoming something else. This left him in the situation of not having a dramatic conclusion to the story of the chase, which pulled the rug from under his attempts to tell it. It also left him without justification for his increasingly protracted lay-off. What had the doctor actually said when he woke up in the hospital? ‘The joint has been jolted, the muscles could be strained.’ His leg had been braced in expectation of more serious damage; but none had been found.
His leg was definitely getting better. For the first few of weeks of his lay-up, he had been keenly taking ever-longer walks. These had hurt at first, and his leg would ache after, but they also brought him a wonderful sense of wellbeing. However, after a while he began to lose interest in these jaunts. The problem with walking from home was that there were only so many routes to leave or return by, and only so many circuits in-between those points, even as his walking distance increased. It may have been good for his leg and for his health, but after a couple of weeks of walking almost daily then there was little left to learn or observe about his neighbourhood.
Also, he noticed a strange thing – as his leg was improving, so he heard less and less about it – neither the Station nor the doctor had been in touch… He was getting cabin fever, he knew his moods were darkening.
He began to obsess over the injury. Grey remembered being a boy and coming off his go-cart, and his mother saying, ‘You’ve bruised the bone.’ And the young Graham took this as a detailed medical diagnosis – to that day he held a vivid image of an ivory-white fibula blackened as if held over a candle. Now he held that image again, translated to his kneecap.
And this mood dovetailed with a growing sense that his return wasn’t exactly being anticipated with bated breath back at the Station… he spoke to Cori only rarely; and when they did meet, then there was less and less she’d tell him. And this in turn echoed an increasingly strong appreciation of the lack of any progress in their case. And soon it became too easy not to bother asking.
He considered: It was always a problem of living alone – not having that other voice to notice things, even in passing: ‘You’re not up yet?’ ‘You’ve had takeaway again?’ ‘You’ve not tidied up that room?’ And of course, that voice was feminine.
Then, one particular morning, the day was bright outside. He’d showered the night before, and had found a shirt he’d bought before the crash and not got around to wearing. For the first time in days he felt half-presentable; and it felt a shame not to use this, to put himself about a bit, to not be out among the world and, even maybe, have someone notice.
And he thought of a building quite within his walking range, one which he hadn’t ventured to for a while. Necessarily so, as it instructed on the side of his bottle of tablets: NO ALCOHOL. That day he went to the pub.
Grey had too much time alone and too much to think about. He didn’t like to drink too much anyway. Forty had hit him like a truck in this regard, a truck whose exhaust fumes were still in his throat the morning after even one or two pints. Yet, as a man in Britain, then where else was it socially acceptable to go?
‘Hello, stranger,’ greeted Billy Bones of The Young Prince Hal. ‘We thought you’d died. We were going to put a plaque on the wall, “He Loved This Place.”’
Grey gave a disparaging look, answering,
‘That was Arthur Fowler’s bench in EastEnders; and I’m sorry to confirm that rumours of my demise were greatly exaggerated.’
‘And the leg?’
‘Hanging on by a tendon.’
‘You got here okay then? Any news on your return?’
‘Actually, none at all.’
Billy seemed to have the need to say something, and begun,
‘You know I’d have been over more often, but…’
‘I know, this place keeps you busy,’ offered Grey. As an explanation, this satisfied both men. Though the real reason was that men were not good at tea and sympathy; and neither had a woman to ease the social gears.
Suddenly, they didn’t have a thing to say. Soon would be a flurry of backed-up sports results and social observations: ‘United won.’ ‘Did you see that such-and-such have closed down?’ ‘So-and-so’s out on probation.’ Though for now Billy fell back on a social standby,
‘You must be missing the Station.’
‘More than you’d credit.’
‘I suppose you haven’t been away this long before?’
‘No, I haven’t, when you think about it.’
‘But they must be keeping you informed?’
And Grey looked up, and quite purposefully began,
‘Did you see that City lost? What do you make of their new striker?’
Chapter 22 – Grey Darkening
The next day, Cori did visit, at getting on for seven o’clock at night,
‘I’m sorry, Grey. I just don’t have a minute to myself – Jauncey’s got me working on these Crime Statistics.’
‘Oh yes, he mentioned them to me,’ remembered Grey. ‘He said they were a good line to get into for a job in London.’
‘Yes, I got that too.’
He thought a moment, adding, ‘Though that was before the crash.’
‘He hasn’t spoken to you since?’
‘Tea or coffee?’ he asked, and moved into the kitchen.
She followed him in. ‘How’s the leg?’ she enquired needlessly.
‘Still there. Go on, hit it with a stick as hard as you like.’
For a while, they sipped their drinks and talked nonsense; though eventually came the question she was dreading, the question that she dreaded every time she visited,
‘So,’ he asked, ‘any movement on the case?’
She knew ‘the case’ meant only one case.
He continued eagerly,
‘I know you’ve been busy, but someone must have been looking at it? A lot would have happened since I’ve been away. Look, I’ve made a list.’
She looked to the piece of paper on the kitchen table. On it were written:
– Mrs Snow back from holiday?
– Local burglaries?
– Landers behaviour? Surveillance?
A tumbleweed blew through the room. Grey broke the silence with boyish hope,
‘If I could only see the pathologist’s report.’
‘Don’t ask me that, Grey.’ She looked away. ‘I’ve asked you not to ask me.’
‘But you haven’t given me one good reason why you won’t even talk about it.’
‘I’ve given you plenty of reasons,’ she pleaded.
‘But none I trust,’ he said coldly.
She didn’t recoil, instead only offered,
‘I think that if you had a family you’d understand.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Because I have had one, all my career. And my husband might as well have been married to a milk maid for all I’ve told him of police work.’ She continued, ‘That’s the nature of the job for those of us with families, those of us who live among others who aren’t a part of it.’
‘And I’m “not a part of it” because I’m signed off?’
‘Forgive me, Grey. But who are your best friends? Myself, already on the job, and Billy Bones, who’s long learnt to turn a deaf ear to your thoughts on British Policing. You work… and then you come back here and think about your work… and then you might write something… about your work. There is no part of your life that you have to keep non-Police. Look at all your diaries.’ She gestured to the shelf. ‘It’s like Doctor Watson’s Casebook in here.’
‘I think you’ve said enough.’
‘You didn’t need to say it that harshly.’
She was taken aback, ‘But… you were badgering me about the autopsy report, asking me why I couldn’t give it to you.’
Again she was floored, ‘Then what?’
‘“If you had a family”, “those of us with families.”’
‘But… you’ve never said a word. I thought that was just how you wanted to live.’
‘Then what do you know about me at all?’
The fall-out had been sudden and unexpected.
‘I’ll be back soon,’ she said as she left, hoping and praying he wouldn’t snap at that. Which he didn’t, as he didn’t have the heart for it, no matter how she had hurt him. Hurt him in a way he didn’t even understand himself.
Chapter 23 – Criminology in The Young Prince Hal
Grey sought solace in the pub.
‘I just don’t know what happened, Billy. It was like I got in a hole and couldn’t get out.’
‘It happens,’ answered his friend. ‘We’ve all said things we regret, even known it at the time and still said them.’
‘But it was what neither of us wanted.’
‘Maybe what you needed was a clearing of the air?’
Grey was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, so the skin stung as Billy slapped a hand over his elbow,
‘She’s moving up, Grey. Just like you always knew she would. Be glad for her.’
But behind the friendly advice was tension. After initially celebrating his return, Billy Bones was becoming increasingly unwelcoming of his friend. A week later and he could hardly keep him away,
‘So, three days in a row, Grey?’
‘Turning away trade, Bill?’
‘How’s your liver?’
‘Send me away, and I’ll only drink somewhere where the staff have less interest in my wellbeing.’
‘You’re an idiot.’
Billy went away to wipe down the tables. However, Grey was generally there in the daytime when the pub was at its quietest and cleanest, and eventually the Landlord would have to return to the bar area to serve a customer or answer the phone. And there his friend would be.
‘That’s it,’ Billy half-joked the next time his guest came calling. ‘I’m calling your work and asking them to take you back.’
‘They don’t want me back,’ protested Grey.
‘You’re talking rubbish,’ snapped Billy.
‘No, I’m not. I haven’t heard from them, or the doctor. And Cori hasn’t come back as she promised – a week ago.’
‘Well, it wasn’t a life or death promise, was it. It wasn’t, “I solemnly swear to attend.” It was just a turn of phrase. She’ll be over when she can.’ Billy suddenly went sheepish, ‘And don’t worry, you can’t have upset her that much. She left this for you.’
Grey eagerly accepted the folded piece of paper that Billy brought out from behind the bar. Even without reading it, it made him happy, the fact of its existence. Though he had to ask,
‘When did she leave this?’
‘Last night. She dropped it off at eight pm – eight pm! Hasn’t she got a family to get back for? And she made time just for you.’
Grey read the hand-written note in her looping script:
– There have been three recent unsolved robberies in the region that could fit the Bebe Bobi pattern. Nice houses, the best goods, one of everything taken. The Landers could have been involved in any one of them. I’ve sent away for details.
Grey didn’t notice Billy going to the door and changing the sign, but he heard the lock jam as he shut it from the inside. Billy came back to the table, saying,
‘That’s it. You’re the only one in here. You’ve got until the next regular knocks – I can’t afford to lose them, they’re my lifeblood. What’s biting you?’
For the first time in weeks, someone was interested in his thoughts on the crime. Grey couldn’t hide his joy,
‘But it’s this case, Bill. It won’t leave me alone.’
Here Billy bolstered his reserve, knowing full-well what he was getting into.
‘So tell me, all of it.’
Grey went serious,
‘Well, this letter is the key, you see.’ He waved Cori’s note like Neville Chamberlain’s ‘piece of paper.’
‘So that answers it?’
‘No, not yet. She hasn’t had a chance to look into the burglaries. But if the Landers are Bebe Bobi’s contact in the town for bringing stolen goods in, then they could also be involved in getting goods out.’
Billy asked, ‘But wouldn’t someone have looked into that when the burglaries occurred?’
Grey shook his head, ‘The Landers weren’t known to us then. We can only look for what we know to look for.’ Grey continued, enthused, ‘Glass found nothing when he searched their house after seeing the van bringing goods in. But if they can be linked to the break-ins, moving on their own spoils, then that’s our first link to something criminal happening on that street.’
Billy said more quietly,
‘Grey, you’re talking about burglaries… it’s not the lad lying in the road. He’s nothing to do with it.’
‘But of course he is…’
Billy rolled his eyes. Grey went on,
‘…what was he doing there? What were the Landers doing there? What was the car doing going so fast so late…? And not a local car, we checked.’
‘You see, Billy, whatever happened, there was drama. Only drama gets someone killed.’
Billy took it all in, then answered carefully,
‘Grey, I read the paper. It was reported as a hit-and-run.’
‘People don’t get run down for nothing.’
But they do, thought Billy, they do all the time.
Chapter 24 – The Lock-In
Grey babbled on in the pub,
‘I mean, think of it. If they’ve got trucks coming and going all night then they’re going to need look-outs in the street… and the same if they were breaking into houses…’
Billy happened to ask,
‘The Landers? I know them.’
‘They’ve been in?’ asked Grey
‘They’re not regulars, they prefer the flash bars on the High Street. The older brother’s cocky, the young one does as he’s told.’
‘That’s them. Any scent?’
Billy thought, then shook his head. ‘No. Though the young one wears that Golf Sale polo shirt, and I’ve never seen either of them within a mile of a golf club.’
Billy Bones sat across from the Inspector in the bar of the locked pub. He tried to draw the strands of all they’d talked about together, beginning,
‘I could ask you, Grey, “What evidence do you have for any of it?” or, “Are you even sure that the boy was killed?” But what I’m going to ask you is, “Is this what you do all day?”’
Grey’s eyes lit up, ‘Don’t you love it though? Doesn’t it bring your mind alive?’
‘Tell me more about these scouts,’ asked Billy, who, despite himself, was becoming genuinely interested. Grey speculated,
‘Well, look at our kid. What was he doing? Sleeping in the gardens of big houses while the owners were away on holiday. And at the same time, there’s a gang in the area involved…’
‘…might have been involved.’
‘…who might have been involved in raiding just such houses. He’d have been the perfect scout, hanging around at night, hiding in the gardens, seeing which houses looked empty, which has lights come on or cars come home; looking around the back for alarm boxes and French windows.
‘And we know that he didn’t fall into the regular homeless networks in town; which, we were told, can happen if a young man instead becomes involved with the kinds of firms who operate out of the old industrial areas.’
‘But,’ began Billy, ‘he clearly wasn’t scouting in the street where he died. The Landers, in your version of the world, wouldn’t rob a house on their own doorstep. And now, I’m not saying that I know much about homelessness, but camping out in leafy gardens sounds a better bet than a cardboard box in a town centre. Especially in summer. Maybe he was just slumming it?’
‘No, I don’t buy it.’
‘Okay then, have it your way. If so then, Grey, are you prepared for this kid of yours being no saint?’
Grey sat back, relaxed, showing that he was prepared. And concluded,
‘Though, what it really comes down to, Billy, is: who would hit a lad on a quiet road, hard enough to kill him?’
‘Jesus, Grey,’ spluttered Billy. ‘How would I know that?’
‘You must see some faces over this bar?’
‘Yeah, there’s this one guy hobbles in every day, talking about murders.’
Grey was unmoved, asking himself, ‘But who, then wouldn’t care enough to leave him, crumpled by those trees?’
Billy rolled his eyes, saying,
‘Well, we didn’t figure it out yesterday, and I doubt we will today.’ He paused, before adding, ‘But – and it’s a big “but” – if your lad was killed for something to do with the Landers, then it couldn’t have been them. Left right outside their own house?’
Grey conceded the point, however much it visibly aggravated him. He asked the heavens, ‘Then what the hell was he involved in?’
‘You could speak to your fellow again, Tenniel?’
‘No, he hardly talked to me as a copper – he’ll know I’ve lost my badge.’
Billy groaned, ‘You haven’t lost anything.’
As if on cue, there was a thump at the door, and the ascending cry heard across the ages, ‘Landlord! Landlord!’
Here Billy’s support receded. He looked both ways along the empty bar that stretched behind him, and slapped the table, saying,
‘Customers to serve. There you go, time’s up. I charge by the hour. But Grey, you need to find a new way to do this. I can’t always be your crime consultant.’
Grey smiled, ‘You know, Cori told me off for sharing cases with you.’
‘And she’s right!’
Billy got up and left the table. After opening the door and serving the old man who had been waiting, he placed a pint of cola in front Grey,
‘On the house, keep the table. And then go out and get some fresh air.’ Yet Billy lingered a moment, adding, ‘Though, if the Landers were taking in deliveries night and day, then how did they not find the body first? You might want to think on that.’
Which Grey did do, sitting, pondering.
And what he realised was that nothing was working.
Chapter 25 – The Good Ninety-five Percent
It had given Grey great heart to have Billy to talk to. Going through the case had clarified it for him, as it used to do to talk to Cornelia, and as it used to do to plot it out in his notes, in his files, at the office and at home. He had left the pub still with questions, but better ones than those he had arrived with.
Yet, by the evening, Grey felt his mood slipping. As his friend had said, he couldn’t always be there for him. Billy couldn’t be a stand-in Cornelia, could not be drawn from his barkeep duties and co-opted into the fight against crime.
He put these other thoughts aside and tried to concentrate on his case. Though, right away, he came up against the same old problem – he had no access to the evidence. He and Billy could cook up theories all afternoon long, but eventually he’d have to move it into the real world.
And, as he thought it through back at his home that evening, Grey recalled something he himself had said in the pub: that it had been weeks since he had heard from his doctor or the office.
The next day, Grey went walking, and called in at his doctor’s surgery. He was amazed to find himself ushered right in,
‘Inspector,’ greeted the woman.
‘I only have five minutes, but I’m very glad to see you. We’d begun to think you weren’t ever going to come for your report.’
‘Were you enjoying the lay-off too much?’ she joked.
‘Forgive me, what?’
‘Well, your Fit For Duty Assessment. It’s been sat here for a week. Was no one from the Station coming to collect it?’
‘I’m not at the Station – I’m not allowed in.’
‘We spoke to your colleague, Miss Chancellor?’
‘Oh, that’s the Superintendent’s secretary.’ Grey recalled the sharp young woman he’d seen typing up his memoranda.
‘We offered to send it,’ explained the doctor, ‘but Miss Chancellor said, no, that they would send someone over.’
‘Can I read it?’
‘Yes, though it’s quite technical.’
‘Then what’s the headline?’
‘That your knee’s at ninety-five percent mobility.’
‘Yes, and that’s after your last check-up a fortnight ago – from how you bounded in here today, I’d judge you’re now even higher.’
Grey was thrilled, though confused. He asked,
‘So, what does that mean?’
‘What does it mean? It means you’re fit as a flea.’
‘And what about work?’
‘Work? They haven’t given you a return date?’
‘Well, we gave Miss Chancellor a summary when we spoke to her, just as we gave to you. The paperwork should be a formality. I’m sure it’s a mistake, we’ll get it sent over.’
Grey left the paperwork with the clinic; though he could have taken it with him, as he would find himself face to face with Superintendent Jauncey the next day.
It had started with a phone call later that afternoon from the aforementioned Miss Chancellor.
‘Ah, hello,’ answered Grey. ‘Thanks for calling. I was keen to get things rolling. I take it the clinic have…’
‘The Superintendent asks if you are free tomorrow morning, say at ten?’
‘Well, yes, yes, I can…’
‘Then he’ll visit you at home. Please treat this as a firm appointment, he’s a very busy man.’
Grey was flustered, he tried again, ‘So this is about my return…?’
Again, she cut him off abruptly, ‘We’re not at liberty to discuss such things over the telephone, hence we require a private meeting.’
Grey spluttered, ‘“We’re not at liberty”? “Hence we require a private meeting”? My dear, I’m a senior officer of Southney Station. If there is any “we” here it is Superintendent Jauncey and myself, not he and his…’
‘The Superintendent will call on you at home at ten o’clock tomorrow. Good day.’
‘More like “Goodnight, Vienna,”’ muttered Grey to himself as he placed the cordless phone back in its cradle on the low table in front of the sofa. ‘Who is she to talk to me like that?’
Though it was a foretaste of things to come.
Chapter 26 – Conversations with Jauncey
Grey found himself feeling increasingly nervous in the run-up to ten o’clock. He thought of his last meeting with Jauncey – of his own flippant tone, his joking with Cornelia afterwards, and the sense of the whole affair having been only some time-thief management nonsense to be grinned and bared through. This though felt indelibly different.
By nine forty-five he wasn’t only washed, dressed and shaved, but had the house tidied and tea and two brands of biscuits at hand. He watched from the front window for his superior’s arrival. Twenty-five minutes after ten, the black Audi pulled up silently.
‘They’re so quiet, these modern cars,’ said Grey to himself as he rushed, not quite to the front door – he didn’t want to seem too fawning – but at least to the hall to be able to dash in as soon as the bell rung.
‘Good morning, Inspector,’ the visitor offered briskly, as he was ushered in.
‘Good morning, Superintendent,’ declared Grey too deferentially. What the hell was happening to him? It would prove to be entirely the wrong tactic. ‘Come in. Tea?’
‘No, thank you. I don’t have long.’
‘This way. Please sit down.’
Though Jauncey hadn’t needed any further invite, and was already on his way through the hall. Grey closed the front door behind and followed him in. The lounge under morning sun was at its brightest – it seemed to Grey suddenly to be a different room to how he, a working man, at least until recently, had normally experienced it, of evening, under shadow and lit by lamps in every corner. It was amazing how it felt to see the world is if through another pair of eyes.
Grey had offered a chair, though Jauncey didn’t sit down. Instead he stood: tall, leaning slightly forward and immaculately dressed. He had the sun-filled front window behind him, which cast him into silhouette, and lit an etheric glow around the edges of his dark blue suit.
Grey was mesmerised by the fabric and by the light-effect. He himself had felt that a suit for a meeting at home would be overdoing it a little; though now he felt entirely underdressed and as though there were only one professional in the room.
With both men standing, their conversation took place,
‘I’ll keep this short,’ began Jauncey. ‘You’ve been enquiring about your Fitness For Duty Assessment?’
‘I’ve not just enquired, I’ve seen it. I am fit for work.’
‘Well, it’s not as simple as that. You’ll appreciate that there are channels to go through.’
‘The report was sitting at the doctor’s uncollected, my enquiry was no more than reporting that fact.’
‘Well, we have it now. We’ll send it to Head Office and see what they say. But, before we get onto anything else, there are…’
‘Who at Head Office?’ Grey felt that after this and the previous day’s conversations, that it was someone else’s turn to be interrupted. And furthermore, after the fracas at the doctor’s, this latest transfer of his paperwork would be something he would need to check.
Jauncey clearly hated being thrown off track, but also knew that he was duty bound to provide the information,
‘Williamson, of Personnel.’
‘Thank you.’ Grey moved to the phone notebook on the table under the window and jotted that down. His boss continued,
‘But, as I was saying… there are other matters to discuss before there’s any talk of you resuming your role.’
‘Like “off-the-books” investigations. Have you, or have you not, had Inspector Smith ferrying information to you out of the Station?’
‘“Acting” Inspector Smith.’
Grey instantly regretted his words. They sounded peevish even to his own ears, he who had been more thrilled than any at his friend’s promotion. But Jauncey left the question hanging, and Grey had to say something that didn’t get her into trouble,
‘I asked her how things were going, and you’d be proud of how little she told me.’
‘I repeat the question.’
‘She left a note, yes, though it was really very general stuff…’
‘And has this same officer not also been seen talking to friends of yours outside our office?’
Here Grey was on less certain ground. It could only have been Billy – had he been so worried about Grey to go and talk to Cornelia about him?
‘I have no knowledge of this, sir.’
‘Well, I assure you, they were seen. And, more to the point, what had these friends of yours been instructed to enquire of her, hmmm? Well?’
Grey fell into full diplomatic mode, as if answering at the kind of official enquiry common in Police life,
‘Sir, if friends of mine were spotted at the Station, then they were only there to speak to Inspector Smith – another friend of mine – regarding my recuperation. They are allowed to care about me, sir.’
Grey threw that last line in because he knew that Jauncey couldn’t say a thing against it. And because – far too late – he was getting out of his relaxed home mindset and appreciating this conversation for what it really was: a professional dressing down.
Jauncey though seemed to have shot his bolt – he clearly had no further knowledge of what Cori or Billy or anyone else had been doing or saying, and so he left that topic to one side. Instead he continued,
‘Well, rest assured that there is no question of impropriety on her part. On yours, however, is a very different matter. All of which leads me to your obsession with this case.’
‘“Obsession”?’ Grey hated that word when used in association with a professional pursuing their trade: it could lead to an impression of them being unhinged, maniacal even: going too far and breaking every rule. When, in actual fact, what every television scriptwriter knew was that what their viewers wanted was their doctor/lawyer/police officer going the extra mile.
Jauncey pushed the point,
‘Yes, Inspector. Obsession. Several weeks into your leave, and you won’t let go of a… a traffic accident.’
‘It was a killing, sir.’
‘A traffic accident,’ he reiterated, ‘that, if it had a cause at all, was likely the drug-addled state of the victim wandering into a darkened road in the dead of night.’
Here was new information. Grey processed quickly,
‘There were no drugs. There was no drug paraphernalia at the scene, or among his things.’ Grey repeated, ‘His death had no relation to drugs.’ It wasn’t even an argument but a bald statement of facts as he knew them. Though he was about to be shown up royally, with Jauncey declaring,
‘The pathologist’s full report makes it quite plain, Grey: there were traces of recreational substances in his bloodstream.’
Grey scanned his memory for clues,
‘Wait, he had a cigarette making machine. Was it Marijuana?’
Jauncey’s lack of answer suggested that it was.
‘Then, how much was in his system?’
‘Enough for an inquest to be satisfied; and enough for the Crown Prosecution Service, especially in the light of there being no other evidence.’
‘What about the lack of tyre marks?’
‘We can’t claim a lack of something as evidence, Grey. Otherwise anyone who’s ever thrown away a knife or a gun is in the clear.’ (Grey was baffled by the comparison, though Jauncey soon moved onto safer ground.) ‘Rain, dew, the condition of the tarmac – there are all manner of explanations for the lack of marks.’
‘Or because there never were any, because the driver never braked, never intended to break.’
Jauncey paused, and started again, ‘Grey, what are we really talking about here? A crime where you think someone wanted this to happen; or a tragic accident that you can’t let go?’
‘But still they did it…’
‘And if we ever find them then we will throw the book at them.’
‘…and they still drove off.’
‘But, without a visual record… then we don’t even know that the driver knew they’d hit someone. And the road surface was terrible.’
Grey was impressed with Jauncey taking time to make his arguments, even as he disagreed with them.
‘The rest is supposition, Grey. And you know better than to maintain an idea once no evidence for it has been found.’
‘Well, drugs. The moment you put that word in your evidence then it morally invalidates everything else.’
‘Well, there’s a lot of people who might think that if he didn’t want to be written-off as a user then he shouldn’t have taken them.’
‘Hell, boss. There’s drugs everywhere these days – there’s cocaine on every tenth bank note in England. And this lad was bound to be living around users.’
‘Then all the more chance that he was one.’
‘But we don’t know that he was, do we.’ Grey was scrambling for a foothold. ‘He might not have used in six weeks – isn’t that how long it takes for the traces to leave the system? And it’s all in the way that people will present it. You summarising the case in terms of these “traces” would have the world thinking that it’s just another “druggie” death we can forget about and get on with looking at other things.’
‘Is that how you think I see our job?’
‘Grey, Grey, Grey.’
The pair of them were in danger of parting on good terms, before Jauncey must have clocked this and offered as a final volley,
‘And all of this is classified in itself; though I’ve given myself special dispensation today in light of your unique circumstances. But it doesn’t leave this room!’
‘Of course. It goes without saying.’
‘Good. Get back on your leave, Inspector. Do your duty to the town, which is to rest.’
Chapter 27 – After Jauncey
‘He watched me close the door when I came in,’ said Grey to Billy over the bar twenty minutes later. ‘The first thing to do, if you’re planning a dramatic exit, is to check that you know how to operate the lock.’
Billy smiled, ‘Like marching off Stage Left and getting your feet caught in your cloak? So what did it all mean?’
‘Precisely nothing, except that my boss hates me.’
‘Then join two-thirds of the human race.’
‘But the old one didn’t.’
‘Then you were a lucky bugger.’
‘Anyway,’ asked Grey. ‘I don’t suppose you’ve paid a visit to see your “Delectable Cornelia” any time recently?’
‘Well, you were in a state that last time. What else could I do?’
‘And what did she say?’
‘Jauncey didn’t tell you?’
‘He didn’t have a clue, he must have seen you from his window.’
‘She said that she didn’t think you’d want to hear anything she had to say at the moment.’
Grey went sheepish, ‘No, we haven’t really got back in touch.’
‘Jesus. Well, at least I’m unoffendable.’
‘Was that all?’
‘And that she was worried.’
Grey knew she would be, and would have liked to talk about it; but the meeting with the Superintendent was still broiling within him. He resumed,
‘And to bring up the pathologist’s report, when he knew I had no access to it – indeed, that was my entire problem! And to have already claimed that I was getting access to what I shouldn’t have, when here was a key piece of evidence which he banked on my ignorance of to make his grandstanding point about the drugs.’
Billy could take no more,
‘Switch off, Grey! This is exactly what he’s saying. You’re off duty, but your mind’s going eighteen-to-the-dozen, and worse so without work to give you structure and boundaries.’
‘Where the hell did you pick that up from?’
‘Do you think bar managers don’t have HR training?’
‘How to handle staff, or how to handle customers?’
‘A bit of both,’ smiled Billy. Who then asked, ‘So, what do you do now?’
‘I can’t go on like this, can I.’
Billy checked there were no other customers waiting, and offered gently,
‘You’re a ship without a rudder. You need to find a new focus, mate. You’ve got no wife, no family. You don’t even have a Job Centre helping you to find a new role.’
Grey offered without sarcasm, ‘Is this all from your training too?’
He answered, ‘Pubs get a lot of lost men through the doors. The breweries know this, they hire psychologists. There’s a whole chapter on guys like you.’
‘There’s a book?’
‘On what to say? What not to say? How many pints before they crack?’
Billy nodded along in a way that, to Grey, could have been either honest or humorous; maybe both. Before the barman added,
‘You’ve reached a point today though, haven’t you? You’re calm, accepting. I’m proud of you.’
‘So where does it leave me?’
‘It leaves you with the biggest think of your life. Now, I don’t need the handbook to tell me that I’ve served you enough already these recent weeks. Get out, get some air, and have that think.’
Chapter 28 – Foreign Talk
It was his first visit back to the Station for a month, and Grey arrived with the distinct impression that he wasn’t welcome. Despite her dropping off her note at the pub, he hadn’t spoken to Cori for weeks. And then there would be Superintendent Jauncey, who he wished he hadn’t spoken to. It came to something when the granite-hewn visage of Inspector Glass was the most welcoming in prospect.
‘Grey!’ called the Desk Sergeant, who had known him for years. ‘Good to see you. I have half-a-mind to jump to attention and salute.’
‘What a reception,’ offered the Inspector in happy shock. ‘I wasn’t sure I’d see a smiling face. I was beginning to think the whole Station had turned against me.’
‘And you were always a soppy sod. And don’t think she’s against you,’ he whispered, ‘she’s as miserable as hell.’ The security doors opened and the Superintendent himself appeared, to usher him into the innards of the Station.
‘Inspector, glad you could come,’ he offered blankly.
‘I wouldn’t miss it,’ answered Grey, in a way that he really didn’t intend to sound sarcastic. They didn’t speak further as Grey followed him up. He arrived at Jauncey’s office to the sound of continental chatter,
‘All these French voices,’ he noted, ‘it’s like a Sebastian Faulks novel.’
‘Grey,’ greeted Glass, who seemed to be conducting things, ‘meet Officers Bernhard and Delacroix, our brothers across the water.’ He turned to them, ‘This is our Inspector Rase.’
‘Inspector,’ began Bernhard, the elder and apparently more senior. ‘I am so glad you could make it. It’s always sad to hear of a fellow officer injured in the line of duty.’
‘Thank you,’ offered Grey. ‘It’s always nice to have our efforts so warmly regarded.’
‘Yet, judging by your entrance to the room, I am glad to see that your injury will not hinder your duties for much longer. No?’
Jauncey writhed behind his desk, as the other attendees settled into easy chairs arranged in a horseshoe. Sitting beside Grey, and yet to speak, was Acting Inspector Smith.
Grey focussed as Jauncey spoke,
‘The Inspectors are here to update on the present state of the Bebe Bobi case.’
All turned to the French pair, who both sat up a little straighter. The older officer, even before he spoke, seemed to Cori like a man who’d seen the world and was at ease with it. He began,
‘Yes, I am so glad to see you. I especially requested that you all be here.’
Grey smiled to himself, as this explained his invitation.
‘Firstly, on behalf of the Gendarmerie and the people of France, we would like to thank you for your efforts in this matter. Inspector Glass, in particular. Without you, we wouldn’t all be sitting here today.’
‘It was a local tip off,’ said Glass with pride, for anyone in the room who hadn’t caught up with the facts. ‘Of a foreign truck coming into town.’
‘But you then checked with Interpol, who connected you with us. We knew of the gang, but not of all their operations. It was a huge help.’
Delacroix, the younger man, bowed his head as he shook it, and lamented,
‘However, I’m afraid we bring both good and bad news.’ Like his superior, he spoke in clear English and with only a slight accent, bearing none of the hammed-up Franglais so familiar from sitcoms and amateur dramatic productions. ‘The good news is that the case is closed. Only last Tuesday a man we had suspected as being a lynchpin in the gang was found murdered.’ (There was a gasp in the room at this unexpected act of violence.)
‘Blumont was his name. A figure well known to us, but hard to pin down. I’m sure you know the type?’ He smiled, before returning to the serious business. ‘Investigating this atrocity, we found the entire Bebe Bobi “accounts” in his apartment – Every journey, every load, every… how do you say… lorry?’
‘Yes, every lorry. And every contact in England?’ asked Grey expectantly, knowing it could never be that easy. And so it proved,
‘No,’ said Delacroix, with another shake of that sombre head.
‘Destroyed?’ asked Glass, ever the practical man.
‘He had no need. Blumont was not a street criminal, more like a businessman. He felt safe enough in his respectable apartment block to keep everything available for us to find, once we’d gained access after his death.’
His senior interrupted, ‘Though “finding” was only half the battle.’
‘Blumont used a system of codes: for each burglary, each van on each journey, and each delivery point. Or so we believe, we have only deciphered the most recent books so far.’
‘And did you find our journey?’ interrupted Cori.
‘Yes. In fact your town was our Rosetta Stone. You gave us a definite sighting of a van in a certain town on a certain day. We looked at symbols for that day and traced them back.
‘They had made a lot of visits to your town,’ added Bernhard.
‘I don’t doubt it, said Grey. ‘And anything for exactly one week before?’
‘Ah, la mort sur la route?’ He shook his head, ‘No.’
‘Our death on the road,’ translated Cori
‘No,’ resumed Delacroix, ‘no symbols in the ledger.’
‘And I suppose they always drove the same large vans?’ she asked.
‘Yes. Large and flat-fronted. Not what matches your accident report.’
Jauncey gave her a look just then, as if to ask what she was wasting the French officers’ time for with these unrelated questions.
Though she only looked downcast, sharing Grey’s frustration.
‘Yes, there was quite a detailed ledger for the visit you interrupted.’ Delacroix paused and gave a wistful smile before continuing, ‘Though I could guess your next question – “Do you have the names of who they were delivering to?” – and I’m sorry to say that we only have Blumont’s symbol.’
Grey shared the Frenchman’s wistful look. He glanced up at Cori, and found that she shared it too. And something of their old friendship remained, as she asked the question that he also wanted answered,
‘Officer Delacroix, it appears that you’ve had time to study the English journeys before coming here today?’
‘We have, and have made copies of the relevant entries for Inspector Glass.’
‘They will be invaluable,’ added Glass with faraway eyes.
‘You see, we have this family – the Landers – who we know the gang visited, and who are our best guess of being the gang’s local contact. Yet they claim the Bebe Bobi van called on them on a whim, and when we searched their house we didn’t find any obviously stolen items. Somehow they must have already moved it all on.’
She continued, ‘We are still searching for a provable link. So, does the ledger list specific items of furniture that we might be able to search for through auctions houses or antiques shops?’
‘Individual items, no. Only the total values were recorded.’
Glass’s face sank. He couldn’t hide his disappointment, asking,
‘So we have nothing here to search for?’
Here both visitors smiled, and the older man, Bernhard, leaned forward, with a hand on his colleague’s shoulder to gently signify that he was answering this one,
‘You worry that you have nothing to search for?’ He turned to Cori, ‘Then, I’m sorry to tell your Inspector Glass that he has his work cut out. You ask whether there were goods being brought through your town? Enough for a clearing house! Four vans alone had visited in the last month of operations, and the symbol for their contact in this town was always their last stop.’
The old detective’s experienced eyes displayed expectation, and Cori fulfilled it, asking,
‘They were emptying the vans here?’
‘Yes, as you say, “lock, stock and barrel!”’
Chapter 29 – The End of Bebe Bobi, and the Start of…
‘The auction houses must be heaving with this stolen stuff,’ enthused Inspector Glass. ‘Enough to take down anywhere we seize it from. I’ll have every one raided, have every item UV scanned.’
In Superintendent Jauncey’s office, the initial enthusiasm Glass had shown towards the documents the French police had brought him had been rewarded, and he was poring over them keenly.
Meanwhile, others were talking of the Bebe Bobi gang. The younger Frenchman, Delacroix confirmed his colleague’s earlier statement,
‘Yes, the route they followed ended here.’
‘But what would be the requirements?’ pondered Grey. ‘Why not a larger city, or somewhere near a port?’
‘But this is indeed perfect,’ offered Bernhard, perhaps the more philosophical of their guests. ‘Your town is near major roads, but apart enough from the big cities to elude the anti-smuggling units of the larger police forces. And then you look at what the gang were dealing in: the furniture of large houses, of which type of home your town is surrounded – we saw this coming here this morning.’
‘That does make sense,’ admitted Glass, who would soon have the task of putting all this international intelligence to use.
Bernhard turned to Glass, and said slowly,
‘It was so fortunate that you had your tip off of stolen goods coming into your area.’
‘But the raid failed,’ said Glass, his mood momentarily dejected.
The older Frenchman just smiled,
‘No, my friend. We would have caught up with them eventually, had they not ended by themselves. And we still have a mass of papers to go through.’ Then the man’s mood went solemn, ‘Though it does bring us back to the second thing we wanted to relay to you.’
Bernhard looked towards his colleague, who took the baton. The conversation moved into the details, and the younger Frenchman was in his element,
‘Yes,’ began Delacroix, ‘we spoke about good and bad news. Well, the good is that the gang is broken up. And also that, though none of us would have wished his death, its leader, Blumont will be troubling us no more.’
‘And how is any of that “bad news”?’ asked Grey.
The visitor answered,
‘Well, now we know for certain who was behind the gang, then we have his history. Blumont was involved in another business in the Nineties, semi-legitimate and involving computer parts that should have gone to help aid agencies in Africa, but instead were being sold in France.
‘In that business he followed the same pattern: tight central control, long arms of network between himself and those committing the illegitimate acts. And, most crucially, after a few years of huge success, he closed that operation down just as neatly. So neatly, in fact, that he escaped all prosecution, even after the details of what he had been doing were exposed.’
‘Wait,’ said Grey, as he scanned the language used. ‘“Closed down just as neatly”? But how neatly were Bebe Bobi closed down if their leader got murdered?’
Here Delacroix surprised them again,
‘The Bebe Bobi gang had disbanded, even before its leader was killed.’
‘Please say that again?’ asked Cori, who knew she would be in charge of managing the Criminal Intelligence side of things in the continuing absence of Inspector Rase.
‘We told you there was good and bad news,’ he offered with a half-smile. ‘The ledgers we found in Blumont’s apartment were closed and balanced off, there was nothing open-ended about them. There seemed to be an obvious break in their activities – the van that you were tracking might have been the last to come to you regardless.’
Glass exclaimed on behalf of his colleague,
‘Well, that’s a relief for us, Grey. It means your bungled chase didn’t scare them off – they were done with us anyway.’
‘Cheers,’ responded Grey, who was relieved despite his sarcasm.
‘They “were done with” every town,’ added Bernhard without rising from the semi-slump encouraged by the design of Jauncey’s guest chairs. The older officer seemed to Grey to be a very calm and balanced soul. ‘Blumont’s natural caution had seen him get away with worse than smuggled furniture.’
Though here another thought occurred to Grey, and he voiced it, though he knew Jauncey wouldn’t like it,
‘Or, maybe something happened to make him cautious: a near miss, someone run over. Not by one of his own trucks, I accept, but on a road they used, on a night they were there, by someone somehow involved?’
Jauncey heard all this like the pitch of a bad detective novel, and put his hand to his face.
‘We know there wasn’t a delivery that night,’ said Cori trying to bring her colleague back to earth.
Though Jauncey needn’t have worried, as Delacroix swiftly disabused Grey of his latest hope,
‘Blumont was found by sanitation services, after a complaint of a bad smell in the apartment block. His body had been there a month.’
‘Given the nature of Blumont’s network, then the gangs could have been following his last instructions without knowing he was dead.’
Grey took this in, and scrabbled for a theory,
‘Well, at least we know that somewhere in the Bebe Bobi gang was someone capable of murder.’
Jauncey looked away at this, all but shouting at Grey to put a lid on it. But again, that serious smile from Delacroix confirmed that Grey was wrong. He explained,
‘Blumont was also involved in a property partnership in Lyon. It might have been that he had hoped to disappear on both deals. We only know that his partner in the property has since fled the country, to a tropical island with no extradition treaty.’
‘So, his death was nothing to do with Bebe Bobi?’ asked Cori. The shook heads of the Frenchmen confirmed it wasn’t.
‘And the bad news doesn’t end there.’ The younger officer, leaned forward, speaking technically and clearly, ‘For if their ledgers are this neat, then we should prepare for any loose ends elsewhere in their organisation to have been similarly tied up.’
‘That won’t stop us looking though!’ shouted Grey, to Jauncey’s obvious distain. In fact, he seemed to Grey to be hating the entire meeting. But the French were here to talk, Delacroix confirming,
‘Of course not.’
Grey pressed on,
‘And, the fact of the gang having wrapped things up might suggest that they had things to tidy up.’
But the younger Frenchman’s genial smile offered nothing more.
Jauncey suddenly spun in his chair, and jumped up,
‘Well, that seems to be all bases covered. Thank you, Gentlemen.’ He turned to Grey and Glass, ‘Now, I promised for Inspector Smith and I to show our visitors a little of our town before…’
‘Hold on.’ Another question had occurred to Cori. She turned to Delacroix, ‘Excuse me, but this will be my final chance to ask you.’
‘Of course, Inspector.’ (Cori had settled into it and now glowed at the use of her new title.) ‘Though, of course, you could call or video-conference at any time.’
‘Thank you, though as you’re here… You’ve said that the symbol in the ledger for the gang’s contact in Southney was the final stop?’
‘So, was there only one symbol in the book for anyone who the gang dealt with in Southney?’
The visitors looked at each other, then looked back to Cori and nodded. Quickly she turned to Glass,
‘And the warehouse was definitely the location?’
He nodded again, ‘A couple of known low-lifes…’ (The Frenchmen chuckled at the phrase.) ‘…turned up after, but scarpered as soon as they saw us. They knew there’d be cash in hand to be there that day for heavy lifting.’
‘So,’ she reasoned, ‘the warehouse was clearly the single location in Southney marked by the single symbol?’
‘Yes, yes,’ answered Delacroix.
‘What are you getting at?’ asked Bernhard.
She answered, ‘So, if we’re not buying the theory that this organised gang took tip-offs in pubs and changed their plans on the hoof, then why go to the Landers’ house first and unload there?’
Chapter 30 – After, with Glass
‘Well,’ said Jauncey to the French officers, ‘we really must go. We have a table reserved, and I wanted you to see the park and a couple of our old buildings…’
The visiting detectives bid farewell, as Jauncey led his party from the office. This left Glass and Grey sat back down in their lounge chairs by their boss’s vacant desk. And it was Grey who spoke first, repeating Cori’s question?
‘So, why did they call on the Landers first?’
Glass’s thoughts were on the meeting, as Grey rumbled on,
‘And we could have done with local names,’ he lamented.
Glass jumped up, ‘But that’s a detail, Grey. We know who they’re likely to be.’
And each of them did.
Glass turned his attention back to their departed continental counterparts, ‘And it is truly great news. The gang disbanded, the leader dead, and us congratulated for our input. All our efforts rewarded.
‘And you missed what we discussed before you came in.’
‘They started without me?’ asked Grey.
‘No, just general chatter. But it’s interesting…’
‘Wait,’ said Grey. ‘I’m here as a guest, I’m not on active duty. Don’t get bringing Jauncey’s wrath down on yourself.’
But Glass shook his head, ‘Oh, don’t worry about him. I won’t let him rock my boat. So… they were saying that it was nothing to do with the vans’ owners themselves. The Gendarmerie had been hiding their investigations from Bebe Bobi Co, because they wanted the Blumont’s gang to keep using the firm. But since then it’s broken in the French media, and caused the firm a bit of bad press. If I’m honest, they should have smelt a rat anyway.’
‘How didn’t they?’
‘Apparently the gang were block-hiring the trucks, fronting as a haulage company. Having such a familiar family-friendly logo got them past a lot of customs checks. The Gendarmerie think the gang were paying well over the odds. And they could afford to – Interpol estimated that every one of those trips made them forty-thousand. Split that between a couple of drivers, and a fat slice for Blumont. It was more like a well-paying job than a one-off diamond raid, I’d say.’
Forty-thousand. Glass didn’t give the currency, though whether in Pounds or Euros, it hardly seemed to matter. Instead, Grey asked,
‘And what was with these huge pictures of the baby on the van? Wasn’t it a bit conspicuous?’
Glass answered, ‘Or maybe it’s exactly what a French family would use? The firm are huge on the Continent. It might be like travelling through London in a stolen black cab.’
Grey conceded the point, and then added,
‘I should be going now.’
Glass asked ironically,
‘Then, why aren’t you?’
‘Because I’ve got a case to solve that I’m not allowed anywhere near to.’
‘Oh yes, your druggie death?’
‘“Druggie”? The lad was clean as a whistle.’
‘That’s not what Jauncey says.’
‘Which is why I have to do this – they’re blocking my return, I might not get another chance.’
‘And you’re not beyond a bit of off-the-books investigating?’
‘The long arm of the law doesn’t stop at the Station door.’
Glass and Grey were not entirely friends, though not entirely enemies either, simply professionals on different tracks. Glass lamented,
‘It’s been hard on you, hasn’t it, being kept from all this?’ Glass gestured with his arms to the Station around them, the town. ‘As one policeman to another, I’d be driven batty in a week.’
‘It would take a whole week?’
Glass looked down, and said, ‘I broke my leg when I was twenty-five. I had to sit out my passing-out from training college, I watched my whole class graduate without me. Have you got a notebook?’
Of course he had. What Glass gave him might have been gold, might have been useless, though so glad was Grey to be back in the loop that he savoured each morsel. The facts were, as recited:
‘Not a single Bebe Bobi truck has entered the United Kingdom since the blown raid. The one that had been here has vanished. It’s either being kept somewhere under tarpaulin, or most likely broken up for parts. Of course, if it hadn’t had left-hand steering, then it might have had its logos painted out and be sold under false plates.
‘In my view, whatever our Gallic friends might publicly say, I think they know that the whole company are a bloody fraud,’ he muttered. ‘How else would there be not one single other legitimate Bebe Bobi trip across the channel? Not a booze cruise, or a family emigrating?
‘Oh, and the Landers are selling up – though not on property websites like the rest of us. It’s through a firm of solicitors in town, so no pictures online, alas. You know what that means, Grey? That our warrants are invalid on a new house in relation to anything we think they did on their old one. We’ll need a whole new application, and convince the magistrate all over again.’
‘That’s if they even stay in town. We need to stop them, Glass, before they start their own empire, here or anywhere else.’
‘Don’t worry, I’m right with you on that one. I don’t want them “fading into the mist”, as the French crew have. Where did they go, Grey, after you crashed? And, to repeat, that they and their van have never been seen again… anywhere…’
Grey asked cautiously, ‘And you found nothing else suspicious?’
‘If you mean anything that links the Bebe Bobi farrago to an inexplicable death outside the Landers’ house, then no. And believe me, we looked! Even though we didn’t know what we were looking for. Don’t worry though, we have the Landers’ bank accounts at last. Who knows what they’ll throw up.’
Glass left it at that. Grey looked sad at that being the sum total.
Though Glass implored him, ‘Bernhard and Delacroix will follow the trail all over Europe, Grey. Don’t worry.’
Glass went to leave, then paused, and said,
‘You know, the one thing that could dig us out of this hole is something linking the Landers to what was in that van. Something they unloaded must have been invisible-tagged, Grey. Find it here in town, and we’ve got the Landers, and the French who hired the van, for handling stolen goods. Till then, we’ve got nothing either end.’
And with that, they parted: Glass to return to his duties, and Grey to get back home to his familiar sofa, and review his notes.
Chapter 31 – Grey Turns Back
The next morning, something had changed. Not in his physical health – the aching in his knee might never fade. But now Grey seemed to understand for certain that talk of him not being “fit for duty” was merely Jauncey’s efforts at getting him side-lined.
No, the change was in his mood.
It was a Saturday morning, and he decided to make the most of it. He barrelled into The Young Prince Hal with a determination not seen for weeks.
‘Morning Grey,’ greeted Billy. ‘It’s a bit early, even for you.’
‘I’m not here to drink, Bill,’ answered the newly-focussed detective.
‘No, I thought not.’ Billy reached below the bar and passed over the manila envelope.
‘Sadly not delivered by your loyal Sergeant, The Delectable Cornelia.’
‘She’s not a Sergeant anymore, I told you. They gave her my job, or something like it.’
‘Well, it wasn’t her, whatever she’s calling herself these days. He was that big bloke, the one who’s always on the news telling women to watch their handbags.’
‘Glass. A last favour I asked of him before leaving the Station yesterday.’
The photographs were blown-up snaps of the key players in the case. Each man looked at the photos, knowing that there was only one reason why Grey would want them.
‘All this off-the-books stuff will get you into trouble,’ said Billy. ‘You’ll void your pension.’
‘Don’t worry, I have my back up plan.’
‘Oh, this would be your idea for a kids’ TV programme about a super-spy rodent called Anonymouse?’
‘Oh, you just laugh. Mousy will see me right.’
‘Well, you seem a bit perkier at least.’
‘Someone’s got to be. Big night last night?’
‘Something like that.’
But Grey was all enthusiasm for his new package. Billy left him to it, remarking,
‘Well, don’t be too keen around the place, you’ll put the rest of us to shame. Your knee’s at ninety-five percent, you said? With this hangover, I wish there was a single part of me at fifty.’
Chapter 32 – Back on The Ashfords
‘I think I may have seen this photo before,’ remembered Mrs Snow in an aside. ‘Someone may have flashed it before my eyes a few weeks back.’
‘Our staff were very busy at the time,’ answered Grey.
‘And now you’re asking properly, a month along the line?’ The woman caught herself, suddenly ashamed at her criticism.
‘You’re right though,’ answered Grey. ‘We should have asked more questions. Though what did you tell them?’
‘That I knew him from the church; that I made him meals.’
‘When did he first come in?’
‘Well, the day after I invited him.’
‘And where was this?’
‘When I saw him, sleeping in a neighbour’s garden. Mrs Roper’s, it was. He was always there whenever she was away – I guess he was watching the houses. And they have such a lush garden, you see. I only spotted him because she’d asked me to water the pots.’
‘So, you’d seen him on this street before you ever saw him at the church?’
‘What I mean is, the Reverend wondered if you’d recommended Mrs Roper’s garden to the lad when she was away, as a safe place to kip in warm weather?’
She laughed, ‘Really, he thinks I’m so devious? No, that boy was already sleeping there before I spoke to him. He found me, I didn’t find him.’
Grey turned and looked along the street, asking over his shoulder,
‘It’s a long way from town though, isn’t it. Have you any idea how he ended up here?’
‘For that, you only have to look to the neighbours.’ She looked directly at a house across the road.
‘Who else brings any trouble to this neighbourhood?’
‘Was he a friend? Or did he work for them?’
‘Well, it’s hard to tell, isn’t it. They stand around outside chatting. Or at least, they used to.’
‘Mrs Snow, I wish you hadn’t been on holiday the day I came here.’
She laughed again, ‘Well, that’s what you need, a gossip. You’ll get nothing out of the brothers on their own.’
‘That’s rather been our experience.’
There was more laughter, ‘The Landers, talk to the police?’ she asked. ‘Don’t make me laugh. Crooks, the pair of them. Though that older one’s the worst. The younger one follows everything he does. And as for poor old Jerry, well he’s got such a bee in his bonnet about them.’
‘Well, from what I hear, the Landers are selling up.’
‘Yes, I saw them talking to someone professional-looking – it made a change. I won’t be sorry to see them go, and neither will Jerry. We’ll probably have a street party the night they’re gone.’
She went on, ‘And don’t believe that he’s half to blame, for being up his own backside, or whatever they shout after him down the street. He’s been as good as gold to the rest of us, the perfect neighbour.’
‘Yes,’ agreed Grey, ‘I know him socially.’
‘Then you know he’s a good man. The brothers don’t like him because he put a camera on them, to show to the police what they’re like. Not that you did a great deal about them, I have to confess.’
‘Hmm,’ remarked Grey. ‘We’re not covered in glory on this street, are we.’
Though the woman didn’t rub it in, instead accepting the humility,
‘Well, you’re clearly here to help right now, so I’ll do my best for you.’
He held up the photo again,
‘It’s not worth me asking if you knew any more about him?’
‘The boy? No, not even a name. Is that odd to you, Inspector, to meet someone almost daily for six months, and not know even that much? He’d have shared it, if he’d wanted. I could have asked, but what would I have got? “Joe”? “Tom”? I’d rather leave these men their secrets, and not have them feel pressurised to answer.’
‘What had happened to him though, to have him sleeping rough?’
‘What happens to any of them, Inspector? You could refer to your own case files for the answers.’
‘You’re very pragmatic about him.’
‘You mean “uncaring”?’ The woman looked reflective suddenly, explaining, ‘You don’t work for a church for twenty years with rose-tinted glasses. They come, they go, they die. This lad just had a less-expected ending. You don’t think it was an accident?’
‘No, nor do I.’ She looked across the road again. ‘But it wasn’t them.’
‘Well, on their own doorstep? And anyway, the body-language is all wrong. The whole time they’ve lived here, they’ve been out in the street night and day, laughing, drinking, throwing cans into Jerry’s hedges.
‘Then, since the day of him being run down – can I use that phrase?’
‘With me, you can.’
‘Then, since that day I’ve hardly seen them outside of their own front door – it’s like they’re scared of their own shadows. And as for noise, the only time I hear them is when they’re arguing coming back home from the pub.’
‘The arguments? It’s hard to tell, though the younger one is worried, and the older one is scared of something.’
‘Well, thank you, Mrs Snow.’
She asked, ‘Where do you go now? The Landers’?’
‘Oh no, there’s all kinds of good reasons why I wouldn’t do that. No, I have another overdue call to make.’
Chapter 33 – Pride
‘Hi Jerry,’ greeted Grey, as his old club acquaintance opened his front door.
‘Inspector,’ he answered formally.
‘Grey, please. Though I am here on business. Do you have half-an-hour?’
‘Of course; come in.’
Grey felt uncomfortable, as though in a starchy suit. He also felt guilty, even though neither interviewee that morning had given him a hard time, so far.
‘I haven’t seen you at the club,’ mentioned Jerry in passing. Though Grey now remembered making tentative arrangements to meet him there weeks ago. He let the thought go without remark. Instead Jerry asked,
‘Is there news?’
‘Actually, Jerry, I was hoping to ask for your help.’
‘Of course, sit down. Drink?’
Grey accepted a hot drink, and got down to business,
‘Jerry, first of all I should explain that I’ve been out of active service these few weeks, otherwise I would have been here sooner.’
‘Yes, they told me at the Station. I called in for an update.’
‘What did they tell you?’
‘You don’t know?’
‘Being signed off, it’s a little like being excommunicated.’
‘Well, your absence was about the only fact they gave me. I must confess, I got the feeling that the whole file on the Landers had been parked in the basement.’
‘Yes, that’s been my impression too.’
‘And you were a part of that too, Grey. I spoke to you about the Landers months ago, and you did nothing. You wrote it off as sour grapes, as bad neighbours; as, I don’t know, a suburban busybody moaning that the people on his street weren’t all like him.’
‘I didn’t help. I’m sorry.’
‘And now a lad’s been killed out there.’
‘And no one’s seen sight or sound of you at the dining club.’
‘Well, I haven’t been as mobile,’ he exaggerated.
‘And are you back on duty now?’
Jerry fixed Grey with such a look. Grey tried to explain,
‘But as a citizen, and as your friend, I still want this case closed.’
Grey waited for a response, but needn’t have worried. After only a few seconds, Jerry answered,
‘Then what do we do?’
‘The camera’s out here,’ pointed Jerry through the front upstairs window of the master bedroom. Even though Jerry and his wife hadn’t been expecting visitors, every room in the house was immaculate – Grey had always had a fascination with luxury. He focussed on the camera, observing,
‘Ah yes, it points right across to the end of both of your drives. And the brothers didn’t try and have you remove it?’
‘Not by conventional methods. Of course, I got a lot of name calling for it: “Perv!” “Peeping Tom!” Once even, one of their nocturnal companions, ahem, lifted her top for the camera, declaring that she “Hoped I was getting a good show.”’
‘But no letters from solicitors?’
‘How could they, without admitting that there was something that they didn’t want me to see?’
‘And did you see anything?’
‘Oh, I saw lots of things! Though not very much that I imagine could help us with our case.’
He led them back downstairs, and to the lounge, where he offered Grey a huge leather easy-chair and began to work several TV and entertainment centre remote-controls.
Grey suddenly noticed they were alone, ‘Is Marjorie not around?’
‘She’s gone out to the village, flower arranging.’
Jerry beamed as he said this, and Grey soon clicked,
‘Because the Landers aren’t outside as much?’
‘Isn’t it wonderful? It’s amazing how quickly a pruned plant can re-flower. Ah, here we go.’
On the big flat screen, BBC1 had been replaced by a grid of video stills listed by date order.
‘How much did you record?’ asked Grey.
‘Oh, it ran all day. It’s a digital system, so no tapes to worry about. These are just some of the key scenes I saved for your colleagues. Here’s a peach.’
Grey watched as Jerry cued up a scene. It began in daylight with the Family Lander leaving for what would presumably be rather a few drinks.
‘Who are the girls?’ asked Grey.
‘Oh, they come and go,’ answered Jerry without malice. ‘It gets dark here, let me close the curtains,’ he added, getting up to kill the sun outside.
On screen were the older couple returning only at dusk – it had evidently not gone well and Jared’s companion was shouting at him, slightly inaudibly, even hitting his arm at one point.
Soon the pair left again. Later though, things got interesting, as the timestamp cut to after twelve. Wherever the older Lander and his friend had been in the intervening hours, the whole party now returned together. And when the Landers returned they really returned.
Grey didn’t need to hear their voices clearly to catch the conversation. The elder brother led them in verbosity, first singing a foul-mouthed sea shanty, before bellowing something unintelligible to his sibling. Matty then ran ahead of his older brother, and lay out, star-shaped, in the middle of the road.
Grey felt a chill, and looked to Jerry, who seemed to feel it too, saying to Grey,
‘An unfortunate pose, given how our young lad ended up not far from that spot.’
From somewhere, Grey then remembered the sensation of warm tarmac on his back: the heat it could retain after a sunny day; the thrill of lying in the road at night where cars would normally speed by all day – he must have done the same thing himself, once, many years ago.
‘Maybe that’s what happened to our boy?’ asked Grey. But no. He instantly recalled that the injuries were to the lad’s chest, not head or feet, which would have happened if run over while playing a daft drunken game.
On screen, the older brother then began performing something like a dentist’s chair routine, cracking open a can of beer over his sibling’s prone form, and then pouring the contents from height into the waiting wide-open mouth.
Grey looked away. This was a suburban street in the middle of the night. From the camera’s viewing point, Grey couldn’t see the other houses, couldn’t see if other neighbours were at other windows. But he assumed that this was a common enough sight. So why had no one else made a complaint? Why hadn’t a No Alcohol Zone sign been put up at each end of the road? The Council were throwing those things up so fast that it was hard to walk home from the shops with a bottle of wine in your bag and not be technically breaking the law.
But no one had done it here.
‘Could it really be that everyone was scared of them?’
‘What?’ murmured Jerry; though Grey didn’t repeat it. Instead his host narrated and explained,
‘I was watching all of this live. This is where I couldn’t stand it anymore. I took the handle of the window and banged it closed.’
On film, at the sound of the bang, the larking brothers stopped still, searching for the source of the sound that had reverberated along the road.
Then they started giggling again. However, some spell had been broken, and they were soon back on their feet and trudging slowly home with their tired-looking girlfriends. The only trace of their high jinks was the black-on-black stain of beer on tarmac, as the bubbles soaked away into the porous surface.
Grey hadn’t known what he’d wanted from the viewing, though he was pretty sure he hadn’t found it. The chance of a Bebe Bobi lorry coming down the road at the very moment Jerry was replaying was minimal; and if the Lander brothers were involved in anything criminal later that night, then he didn’t know how they’d be in a fit state for it after those exertions.
‘It’s a shame you can’t hear everything they’re saying,’ observed Grey.
‘Yes, the audio was never as clear as promised. That was one of the reasons why I cancelled the contract.’
‘With the company who own the camera. They install it for you, and then store all the footage on their server – it gets sent along the Internet.’
‘And it’s filming all day?’
‘And when did you cancel?’
‘About three months ago, when it was clear that no one at the Police Station was going to do anything about the Landers. I’m still waiting for the company to come and remove their camera.’
‘Jerry, do you have the firm’s name?’
Chapter 34 – Boy on Film
Cori’s mobile phone rang at her desk. Seeing the caller’s name, she quietly left the Mess Room to answer it.
‘Cori, can you meet me at the far end of The Ashfords, as quickly as you can.’
‘Because I want to raid a company’s records, and we need at least one serving officer present.’
‘And where were you all afternoon?’ thundered Jauncey when Cori returned to the office at around the time the dayshift were heading home. He had a capacity for snapping, in the way the consciously-calm could get when pushed that inch too far, and when their inner-frustrations burst out in justified anger. ‘And what’s he doing here?’
‘Sit down and watch this,’ instructed Glass, who was also present in the media room.
Forgetting his pique a moment, the Superintendent did as his Inspector asked. He sat on one of the plastic ‘school’ chairs, beside Cornelia, Grey and Glass. The latter of whom added simply,
‘Prepare yourself, it’s grim.’
Glass hit play, and Jauncey saw the other three brace as if for impact. The young man entered the unmoving frame, shambling across an empty street at night. An engine note appeared, making Jauncey realise the video had audio. Though no sooner had the sound emerged, than it reached a crescendo, before as quickly fading back to silence. In the meantime, the boy was no longer standing in the road.
Glass worked the video controls to reverse the footage, then play it back much more slowly. Now Jauncey saw that happened in detail, as a slow-motion car appeared – like a blur – to simply sweep the boy off his feet.
Glass pressed stop once the frame was empty again. Grey said,
‘I’ve watched this three times through now, and I can’t quite believe it.’
‘Only the police,’ lamented Glass. ‘Only we see that kind of footage – they’d censor that on the news.’
‘I don’t…’ began Cori, unable to finish her sentence, who had a look on her face that Grey, looking over to her, couldn’t place right away; perhaps simple sadness, but also something personal.
‘That’s The Ashfords?’ asked Jauncey. ‘The nameless boy? The hit-and-run?’ Though he didn’t need an answer, he was only asking to clarify for himself. ‘And where did you find this?’
‘One of the neighbours had a security camera,’ answered Grey. ‘I think he might have even mentioned it on the day. Though, if he did, then it didn’t click in my mind, and we didn’t spot it under the eaves. It’s entirely down to me.’
‘And me,’ added Glass. ‘The resident had previously submitted filmed evidence to the Neighbourhood Team, they’re under my remit. We should have made the connection.’
‘And me,’ added Cori, at last revealing the feelings that Grey hadn’t been able to read. ‘When Grey went off sick, it became my case. But I let myself be bamboozled with Crime Statistics and Regional Crime Squad policy meetings.’ She cast a savage eye at Jauncey. ‘This was my first case, and I dropped it.’
After the group confession, all eyes turned to Jauncey, waiting for him to acknowledge his contribution to the growing malaise. Though he was not to do so – the politician in him wouldn’t let him apologise for anything without undeniable evidence, and a route to spin himself out of it. Yet he acknowledged what was happening, the power shift in the room, and offered in an approximation of diplomatic apology,
‘But Grey, I have no way to bring you back until the Fit For Duty committee have sat. There’s just no mechanism.’
‘Then I’ll fly under the radar. Though I have Cori with me, and we have her badge.’
‘Meanwhile,’ added Glass, ‘I’ll get this off to Forensics – they can do amazing things with video – they’ll likely get the car’s make and model, maybe even the paint code.’
‘And note the details, for the record,’ said Grey. ‘Appalling speed, and a consistent engine note. And we’ve watched minutes ahead, and no one drives back to the scene – this was judged and cold-blooded.’
‘And so the boy was left just where he fell,’ said Cori. And no one had a word to add.
Chapter 35 – Redemption
‘You didn’t have to fall on your sword like that,’ said Cori afterwards. ‘I was at the scene, so were half the force. None of us saw the camera tucked up in the eaves. And your friend would have given a written statement to one of us, and he didn’t mention having a camera to them, or they didn’t record the fact.’
Grey shook his head, ‘Jerry didn’t think it was still working – it was only luck that the company hadn’t switched it off yet and were still recording its footage.’
‘So, what do we do?’
‘I don’t know – but it feels good to admit our faults, don’t you think? At least we’re back in the game.’
She frowned (most unlike her, Grey thought) and said,
‘But for how long?’
Yet Grey was defiant,
‘Look at what else we can say now. That the boy was on the street before the church volunteers found him.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘By asking questions I should have asked weeks ago. And there’s only one way he could have found his way there, and that’s through working for the Landers.’
‘Yes, loading and unloading. We suspected as much.’
‘But I think more than that. I’ve been looking at these files of local burglaries that Glass found for me – no one was caught, or even suspected…’
‘Another great reflection on our performance,’ she offered sarcastically.
‘Perhaps,’ he responded in warmer tones, ‘though there’s also the fact that they occurred over several neighbouring counties – maybe Jauncey’s Regional Crimes team might have made the connection sooner?’
He continued, ‘But anyway, the reports of the investigating teams all say that the burglars were a sophisticated crew. The different forces had to go through hours of security footage of the days before each robbery to find, say, an odd caller at the door, or a hooded figure strolling past the gates.
‘And we know what these gangs can be like: they have vehicles, hired muscle, someone in the housebreaking-party who knows what they are looking for, look-outs outside, and teenagers to push through tiny windows to get inside and unlock the doors. Some of these gangs even have a dog in there with them, to set on a homeowner or security guard who interrupts them.’
‘So,’ concluded Grey, ‘what if the Landers weren’t only handling stolen goods, but also supplying them? And what if our lad was hanging around in the gardens of these burgled houses too?’
Grey didn’t stop there, he felt on fire. He told her,
‘And you hit a nail on the head the other day.’
‘Yes, with your question to the French detectives – if there was one symbol for our town in Blumont’s ledger, then why did the van stop at Ashfords before the warehouse?’
‘Oh yes,’ she recalled. ‘We didn’t really find an answer for that one.’
‘But this makes sense of it, don’t you see? If the Landers were both receiving and supplying stolen goods, then perhaps they have another entry in a separate collections ledger? Bernhard and Delacroix did say that they still had lots to go through from Blumont’s apartment.
Cori clicked, ‘And that could even explain why Glass found nothing at the Landers’ house when he raided it – because the Landers hadn’t just received a batch of stolen furniture, but had just loaded their own haul onto the van.’
Though her look of revelation soon clouded over. She said,
‘But that doesn’t fit, boss. It means that they were loading up the new stock before unloading the old – wouldn’t the van already be full?’
He smiled in a way that she found ever so slightly infuriating, but which she still enjoyed because it was good to see him so happy again. He said,
‘I have a theory about that. I think the way that the gang avoided detection for so long was, not only by moving the stolen goods into other countries, but by also leaving only small numbers of items from each raid at each drop-off point. And at the same time picking up small amounts along the way. That way the van would always be full, and still look like a family relocating. Yet the original cargo would be forever being filtered out and replaced, breaking up the booty from each housebreak.’
‘And if you think about it, then the two locations are perfect for each other. The Landers’ pick-up point…’
‘“Suspected” pick up point.’
‘…“Suspected” pick-up point, would need to be somewhere where they could have large items of furniture kept inconspicuously, for however long it was until the next van arrived to collect it.’
She was quickly up to speed, presuming,
‘Somewhere like a large house in the country.’
‘Too right,’ he concurred. ‘And don’t forget, one of the brothers or their associates were hanging outside the house all day. So, perhaps they didn’t even know when each van was next coming?’
‘That sounds like Blumont’s way of working,’ she considered. ‘Keeping everyone at arm’s length.’ She thought quickly, ‘And if the brothers wouldn’t know when a van was coming, then they wouldn’t have had time to fetch things from offsite or out of some hidden storage locker.’
‘No,’ agreed Grey. ‘They’d keep them littered around the house – among pieces they legitimately own.’
‘Meanwhile,’ she supposed, ‘the drop-off point for new goods would be a lot less pressurised.’
‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘They’d only need space and quiet. Everything that the French gang unloaded at the warehouse would be ferried off in other vans within the half-hour.’
‘They’d have no need to store that stock indefinitely and inconspicuously,’ she reasoned; and he smiled, asking her,
‘Isn’t it good to be back?’
Chapter 36 – Gathering the Ball
In the room with Grey, Cori was agog. ‘In half an hour we’ve moved the case on further than we have in weeks. I didn’t even think there was a case to progress.’
‘You did,’ corrected Grey. ‘Jauncey didn’t.’
Cori considered all they’d learnt, remarking, almost with awe,
‘The van we saw was loaded up then, not unloading.’
‘I wonder what Glass will think when he learns the Landers were laughing at him during his search of house?’
‘Oh, not much laughter,’ he considered. ‘One item left behind with a UV tag and we’d have had them there and then. Instead, it’s taken pure fluke to get us to this point.
‘“Pure fluke”’s a bit rich, boss. The Landers were shady in anyone’s eyes. All those late-night meetings at the roadside? The capacity was there for them to have been up to anything.’
‘Still, we’re only lucky that they’re still in town. We’ve lost a month on this.’
‘So, let’s get back to the tape,’ she suggested.
‘What does it tell us?’
‘It tells us the lad was run down quite coldly, dare we even say deliberately, that he was callously left there, and obviously not by the Landers.’
Grey jumped in his chair,
‘Oh, and about “those awful Landers”? A month ago they were terrorising their street, if only by default. But since the murder, they’ve hardly come out of the house. And when the brothers are seen, they’re at each other’s throats.’
‘Something else you learnt today?’
‘Mrs Snow is a goldmine.’
Cori’s face was contorted as she tried to work it out, tried to face the horror of it,
‘So, someone did this who obviously wasn’t them. So did it… as a challenge? As a threat? Killed one of their gang?’
‘And right outside their house,’ he added.
‘And all this as the French gang were winding down?’
‘Perhaps whoever did this knew that, and was moving in?’
‘Oh, great. So it’s a gang war?’
And Grey shared her horror as she said it. But then brightened, or at least allowed himself a moment of lateral thought, saying,
‘Though, not much of one, eh. I mean, how much activity have we seen?’
She pondered, and then realised,
‘Hardly any. Bebe Bobi have gone, the Landers are keeping their heads down, and there’s certainly been nothing else to equal the murder.’
‘It’s like they’re all on best behaviour, which means they’re scared.’ He punched his leg and cursed. ‘Though it can’t last, we’re lucky we’ve had this long.’
Cori was still gathering her thought, asking,
‘But, all that about the delivery points, and the Landers being a robbery gang themselves – when have you been working this stuff out?’
‘I didn’t know I was,’ he answered honestly. ‘But I’ve had weeks to think, and now it’s all coming together. Policework isn’t abstract, Cori. It may start with a pattern, but in the end it always comes down to facts: what someone somewhere is doing. These are theories in need of proof.’
‘We really lost the ball.’
‘Though maybe the defence was too good? Right now we need to stay focussed, undistracted. That was our fatal flaw.’ He concluded, ‘I need to stay active; and you,’ he stared right at her, ‘don’t go near those Crime Statistics. The moment you’re back at them, he’ll keep you there.’
‘But, Jauncey was on our side after watching the film? Yeah, for ten minutes, in shock. Don’t expect him to stay there.’
‘Okay,’ she thought out loud. ‘So, where to find that proof?’
He slapped his leg again, and rose, declaring,
‘Glass is on the tape.’
‘And I’ll phone the French,’ she said, ‘ask them to look again at Blumont’s notebooks. And what about you?’ she enquired.
‘I fear I have to lean on someone.’
Chapter 37 – On Point
Grey looked along the High Street at mid-afternoon. It was full of shoppers and hawkers and gawkers and those with nowhere else to be. As the afternoon faded, so one day’s random association of souls would disperse, never to be quite recreated. Each heading back to homes over shops or on side-streets or out into the lanes. Later they would be replaced by a new crowd, dressed for the occasion and intent on making memories that night.
He had never been very good at nightlife – perhaps he lacked a sense of drama? And just what was he meant to do after that first hour, when everyone had caught up and before the music got too loud to talk over? It seemed a badge of honour in society to survive the wildest nights, but Grey simply became bored. Unless there was a band on, or food, or a woman. And even then he wasn’t much good after eleven. Different strokes for different folks, he thought. Either way, it was a failing that some others couldn’t comprehend.
A man from among the shopping throng recognised and approached him. He wore a black leather jacket over black jeans and zip-up jumper, completely out of keeping with the warm afternoon.
‘Busy day, Inspector?’
‘Sorry, miles away.’
‘Are we keeping you awake?’ he joked.
‘Nah,’ joked a friend who quickly joined them. He was wearing brand new sports wear with the logos emblazoned. ‘He’s keeping watch over us, like a shepherd over his flock. Isn’t that right, boss?’
‘Well, you let me know if there’s anything I need to watch out for.’
‘Not me, boss. You know me, I keep my nose clean.’
‘Well, you’ve had to since we’ve had two constables patrolling the High Street of a Saturday afternoon.’
‘Ouch. That hurt.’
‘I’ve had them sent home early today, in the hope I’d catch up with one of you guys.’
‘Well, here we are.’ The first man looked slight older than the second, and was taking the lead. They had fallen into some kind of rank, now that the conversation had turned serious.
Grey looked around himself at where he was standing,
‘This used to be your perch, didn’t it, tucked in here at the turn in the road. A view all down the street to watch your boys, the alleyway behind to make an exit. They tell me bag-snatching is down sixty percent.’
The men were glowering now. The older one summoned all of his control to offer,
‘A man could get into trouble making accusations like that. Especially one who isn’t on the force anymore.’
‘Don’t go believing everything you hear,’ shot back Grey.
‘How can we help you, Mr Rase?’ the younger one offered in a seething approximation of a dutiful citizen.
‘I’m looking for Tenniel.’
‘Oh, and what do you need him for?’ the first man asked.
‘He’s not helping me with anything,’ answered Grey. ‘And he’s not a grass, before you start getting any ideas – do you think I’d drop someone in it like that?’ (And the two men clearly conceded that he wouldn’t.) ‘I’m worried for him, I think he might be in trouble.’
The older man considered, then asked, ‘You been down the loading yard?’
‘I took a spin around there first,’ answered Grey, ‘but the place was deserted.’
‘Yeah, I’d heard they’d moved out.’
He chuckled, ‘Yeah, Golf Sale.’
‘It looked more like furniture to me.’
‘You questioning me now?’ Though the man soon calmed again, offering simply, ‘Well, I don’t know about that.’
Grey said, ‘I just need to pass a message to him.’
‘We’ll pass it on for you,’ offered the younger man too quickly, earning a glare from his elder. Who nonetheless could only repeat the offer, now that his junior had given the game away that they knew exactly where Tenniel was.
Grey only smiled, ‘He knows where to find me.’
‘Sure thing, boss.’
And the two men, in their leather coat and sportswear, left in a daze of forced, strange laughter.
Perhaps they might have hoped that Grey would move on for the last of the afternoon; but he didn’t, instead retaining his excellent vantage point until Cornelia pitched up beside him, and fell into the same gaze along the busy street.
‘The patrol told me you’d sent them back to the Station?’
‘I needed the weeds to grow back,’ was his answer.
‘What are you thinking,’ asked Cori, who knew when Grey was in a ponderous mood.
‘All these people, blithe, unhurried, their concerns so small and daily repeated. Is that all life is?’
‘What, are you on Mount Olympus then?’ she snapped back.
‘Oh no, I’m only one of them. Though one of us is dead. Someone came to town, on a day just like this one, and from the meadow picked a flower. A scarlet flower, and without a care dashed it to the ground. And yet we carry on, we bobbing dandelions and black-eyed susans, not seeing the hand hovering, ready to pluck…’
‘Lord help us, Grey. Snap out of it!’
‘You’re in shock,’ she answered.
‘I’d be worried if I wasn’t.’
‘Yes,’ she said slowly as people walked by them, ‘a lot has happened. The crash, which we’ve never really spoken about, have we. And there’s the killing, left on your mind.’
He listened and nodded at certain points. She went on,
‘But it’s been weeks now, and the feelings are lingering for you.’
‘Well, I’ve been on leave. There’s been nothing to replace them with.’
‘You should see the counsellor.’
‘What, a session with Doctor Lithium?’
‘There are subtler drugs these days.’
‘You really think I need them?’
‘I think you’ve needed them for years. Melancholic Depression, Grey. Which if I’m clever enough to have read up on, then you’ve surely done for yourself.’
‘I’ve considered it.’
‘And done nothing.’
‘Why are you biting at me?’
‘I’m sorry, I don’t mean to. But you see how we need to get you out of this situation and find you something positive to do?’
‘I have this case.’
‘Which you’re not even authorised to be on.’
‘You’re not insured or protected. You’re not “in the line of duty.”’
‘Well, it’s in train now.’
She let the subject go, asking,
‘So, the weeds grew back?’
‘What next, then?’
‘We go home and wait.’
‘Come on then,’ said Cori, and they left for her car.
Chapter 38 – Tenniel
The pair stopped off at the Southney Sole, which was always busy of a Saturday evening, then rushed their chips back to Grey’s.
Now they were finishing them off, along with the bottle of wine he’d held back for a special occasion.
‘How have things been with Jauncey?’ asked Grey.
‘I don’t know,’ answered Cori. ‘He stays in his room and reads his files.’
‘You never see him?’
‘He does his rounds, once a morning and once an afternoon, like a doctor on the wards. A smile for every patient, and not a notion of what he’s thinking.’
‘I don’t like him.’
‘That’s an emotional assessment.’
‘And one that just brought a look of such sadness to your face.’
She couldn’t deny it. She explained,
‘I mean, I’m meant to be the practical one around there. But he just makes me feel so…’
‘Apprehensive – I don’t know what he’s cooking up.’
As if by design, the awkward silence in the room was broken by a tap at the window.
‘What, are we in a treehouse?’ asked Cori, as Grey leaned over to open it… and let in Tenniel in his eternal Golf Sale polo shirt.
‘You look spooked,’ noted the visitor, clambering through the frame. The soles of his plastic trainers squeaked on the metal sill. ‘What have I interrupted?’
‘Nothing at all, T,’ answered Grey, as he drew the window closed and pulled the curtains to.
‘More to the point…’ asked Cori, gesturing with both arms to the window frame, and then to the perfectly good front door that she could see through the hall.
‘I didn’t want to be seen knocking at the front,’ said their sudden guest.
‘There is a kitchen door,’ added Grey as an aside.
‘I didn’t want to be seen clambering over a policeman’s back fence either!’
‘Don’t tell me you’ve never managed a garden fence before?’ said Grey, as he fetched another glass to be able to offer the dregs of the bottle to Tenniel. Though he didn’t pursue the joke. Instead remarking,
‘Well, I’m glad to see you anyway. You’re all right?’
‘Not really, boss.’
‘I’m in trouble. My card is marked.’
‘Who’s marked it?’
‘You! What were you talking to those guys for? They’re bloody head-hunters?’
But Grey was unrepentant, and said loftily,
‘Your problems were already worse that that pair, my friend. If you didn’t know it already.’
And Tenniel obviously did know it already, as he sat there, quietly, sipping from his glass. Eventually he said,
‘I want to get out of town, tonight.’
Grey looked to Cori, saying, ‘We’ve been drinking. We can drive you to the motorway services tomorrow, get you a taxi to one of the cities.’
‘I can drive.’
‘Cori laughed, ‘You’re not driving my car!’
Tenniel looked to Grey, who conceded,
‘Mine’s been off the road since the smash. I don’t have a new one yet.’
‘The morning? You promise?’
‘Good. You can’t get me into trouble for this,’ said Tenniel.
‘For what?’ asked Grey, dead straight. ‘Breaking and entering? Moving stolen goods?’
Tenniel nodded nervously. Grey had to show his hand,
‘T, if we had anything on the break-ins we’d already be arresting the Landers. Now, I’ve half a fear that, hearing that, you might realise you’re not in half as much trouble as you think you may be from us, and hop it back out of the window. But I don’t think it’s us you’re scared of, is it? And I think we both care about the kid.’
Tenniel sipped his drink. Together in the room they heard his story,
‘I… was working for the Landers. It started out just shifting goods, boxes, odd-shaped stuff under tarpaulin or wrapped in plastic. I didn’t know what it was, but I could tell some were lamps, chairs. I guessed it wasn’t golf supplies, but it wasn’t till they had to tell me that I knew. “Don’t drop that, it’s valuable,” you know? They had to give that much away just so we knew to be careful with it. And we’d see little glints – silver handles, gold keys.
‘Anyway, soon I was around their place twenty-four/seven. Not the old loading depot, I was there too, but their actual house! It was a big place, out of town. I guess you…’
‘The house where the boy was killed outside of?’ asked Grey.
Tenniel nodded, ‘Yeah, there. But it was mad. We weren’t like guests. We were working, doing the same job as at the loading depot. It was like a mansion with all these rooms full of stuff, but it wasn’t a home! There’d be like four wardrobes in one room, and Jared…’
‘The older brother,’ added Grey for clarity.
‘…would shout, “Get them out of there, get a bed in, one in each room!” It was crazy, like a gameshow.
‘And it was all coming in in vans and cars all day. And so someone had to wait outside. We’d get put on this weird duty where we’d just be hanging outside on this posh road!’
‘And did the other houses care?’
‘Well, there was this one guy who didn’t like them, but they just told him to clear off.’ Tenniel laughed, and didn’t notice Grey looking away for a moment. He soon resumed, ‘Anyway, the neighbours couldn’t see us half the time, we were hidden by trees – we could have been loading circus animals and they wouldn’t have known.’
‘Sometimes the brothers would be out there too, or we’d go and grab them from inside if someone pulled up. And if we were waiting outside they’d bring us drink and food, and laugh and joke, like we were mates. I never got a handle on it.’
‘But you kept working there?’
‘Well, the money was good. I just had to wear this shirt, and not tell anyone what I was really doing.’
‘They laughed about it, how they had some hokey accountant who classed a couple of bulk-buys of clubs and balls a year as a dozen smaller buys, all on different invoices with different dates. They’d sell two truckloads of golf gear, and he’d make it look like they were selling the stuff all year round.’
‘I knew it,’ muttered Grey, as if the whole world hadn’t known it also. It was up to Cori to make the sensible contribution,
‘So, it must have seemed like easy money. When did it go bad?’
Tenniel looked at her, ‘I want to make a bargain.’ His eyes flickered to Grey, who added,
‘She’s the one you need to talk to.’
Thanks, thought Cori. But she recognised that this was the sharp end – and that she had signed up for such moments as much as she had for the desk-bound duties that Jauncey had been offering. Tenniel continued,
‘Once I’m out of town, nothing can come back on me.’
Cori considered, and knew her answer was important,
‘Well, that depends on what you have to tell me. I could become a hostage to fortune making such a promise. For instance, if you tell me that you were driving very quickly along The Ashfords one particular night…’
‘No, no! I know nothing about that.’
‘Well, that was what you were invited here to talk about.’
‘No, wait! I mean… It wasn’t me, right. But… I think I know…’
Cori looked to Grey, who nodded. She didn’t need his approval, but she took it anyway. She offered,
‘All right. Go on with your story. And we won’t see you again after tomorrow morning.’
Chapter 39 – The Story, as it Occurred
Tenniel was talking in Grey’s living room, long into the evening. He would soon fall into a familiar pattern: of candid, almost humorous remembrances, interspersed with pleas for reassurance. In general though, he kept to the point,
‘I started at the loading depot, most of us did. There’s always men around there looking for work, and not too fussed about cash in hand.’
‘You said. The kid?’ asked Grey.
‘Yeah, he was there to start with. That was easy work. Hard, but easy. On certain days, we’d know to be there early, and then trucks would come in – with these blinking big babies’ heads on the side – don’t ask me why. And we’d just be unloading. As I say, I guessed it was furniture, but one of the brothers was always there, and we knew to keep our mouths shut. Within the hour it would be off in a bunch of smaller vans.
‘After that, those they trusted would be brought up to the house – it’s like we were invited into their club, that we’d passed the test. Here we’d get the food and drink, be on watch outside, or be shifting furniture around, again, loading and unloading. There was so much of it! And we’d see the French trucks too, but this time they were picking up, emptying the house.’
‘Maybe one every couple of days. Jared would have a system of remembering what every item was, what needed to go on each truck. He’s clever, you know. Matty, he kind of trails after him. But they’re loyal, and they love each other. The way they laugh, they’re just like little kids.’
‘Yes, I’ve seen them playing,’ remembered Grey of the night-time video of them lying in the road and pouring drinks over each other.
‘Soon I was doing a bit of everything. I was hardly home. I slept on my feet, kept awake by the food and beer the brothers kept giving us – I reckon I was paid in beer half the time.’ He gulped, ‘But then I learnt where all the stuff was coming from.’
‘Well, it wasn’t Argos, was it,’ snapped Grey. Cori gave him a look, but Grey continued,
‘Well, this mock-naivety of criminals: “I didn’t know it was stolen.” If you’re going to do it, do it. You’ll have us on your back, but at least be honest about it.’
‘Look, do you want to hear this or not?’ asked their guest, piqued, and wondering whether he had a sympathetic audience.
‘Yes, yes we do,’ offered Cori kindly. And, thus mollified, Tenniel resumed,
‘After I’d been at the house awhile, Jared asked me if I wanted to earn a bit extra. “Be here tonight,” he said, and that was that.’
‘He didn’t tell you you’d be helping in a robbery?’
‘No! Perhaps he thought I’d panic, and go tell someone what they were planning. Anyway, I didn’t know what was happening until it was too late. I’d never done that before. I mean, it was a sweet, sweet place. But it was someone’s home.’
‘How did it work?’
‘Well, we met that evening, and all got in a black car. There was Jared, Matty, and this big bloke who helped with the lorry loading. It was long after dark, and we drove out, way, way out of town. I couldn’t tell you where, sorry. There were country lanes, no signs.’
‘That’s okay,’ said Cori, aware that the speaker could have been covering himself.
‘But just before we got there, we saw the kid, coming out of some hedges!’
‘You never knew his name?’ asked Cori.
‘He was always “the kid”. He’d come and go, doing his own thing. I guessed he’d been on the streets before though, it didn’t faze him. I reckon he was younger than me.
‘Anyway, I hadn’t seen him around lately, but then he turned up that night. He got in the back beside me, and he absolutely stank – I think the brothers let him use their shower afterwards. He smelt like he’d been living in a compost heap. But when we got there, he knew all the windows of the house, when the neighbours were coming home, where the alarm box was, even in the dark.
‘We were really out in the sticks. It was so quiet out there, and the night was black on black. It was mad, I couldn’t believe what was happening. The kid led us along the edge of the back lawn so we didn’t trigger the lights. Then we got the locks on the back door, and… well, I’m not going to tell you how they got in, or you’ll have me inside for twenty years. I had no part of it,’ he pleaded, ‘and I couldn’t do it again if I tried… but somehow they had the patio doors open… and we were in, just wandering about!
‘Jared walked on ahead, pointing, “Tag that, not that.” The others acted like it was their own place, drinking Cokes out the fridge, no nerves at all. I said, “I don’t want to trash the place!” and J said, “We’re not going to, there’ll just be a few spaces left on the wall. And these people can afford to fill them.”’
‘So anyway, the big bloke started shifting the heavy stuff that Jared had pointed out, with Matty helping him. He’d direct me to what I could carry alone.’
‘Like ornaments, lamps. And he’d scold me if I caught them on a wall or doorframe.’
‘Any art, paintings?’
‘No. Though I’d heard someone say before that they can be the most valuable things in a posh house, and can have their own alarm in the frame.’
‘So, you were carrying your lamps and such?’
‘Yeah, taking them out.’
‘Out the back? To the garden? But wouldn’t you trigger the lights?’
Tenniel smiled and shook his head,
‘No, boss, another door. They pointed me down a different hallway, and I came out in the garage. The kid was standing there, and a van had pulled up outside.’
‘He really had it all planned out.’
Tenniel nodded, ‘They couldn’t have done it without him.’
There was a momentary regret in Tenniel’s voice, which led Grey to think that there was more to come on that point. Though Tenniel only summed up,
‘And so we had the stuff away, and were off.’
‘How long was it?’
‘Ten minutes, tops – the longest ten minutes I’ve ever spent!’
‘How did Jared know he hadn’t missed anything?’
‘Oh, he’d been through every room within a minute.’
Grey mused aloud, ‘I guess with furniture it’s all on display, not like with safes or hidden stashes.’
‘Jared was waiting by the door at the end, nervous. Some glass smashed somewhere inside, and his head spun. I could tell he was tense. I didn’t go back in myself, I just wanted to run; and when they came out with the last of the heavy stuff, we were gone like a shot.
‘Once we were on the move, J relaxed again. I was sat up front with him…’
‘In the car or van?’
‘Car. The van shot off with Matty and the driver – I never saw who he was. We all went back across the garden and over the back fence to the car. J chilled out then, shaking his head, saying, “Never again, never again.” Though of course he would. He called it his “Ten minutes of uncertainty.” I mean, here were five, six blokes, two vehicles, all on a quiet lane! A neighbour could have strolled past, their dog could have run up to us.’
‘What would he have done if someone had?’
Tenniel grimaced, ‘I didn’t want to think about it. Though Jared never lost his nerve.’
‘He sounds a cool customer.’
‘Not then, not for those ten minutes.’
Chapter 40 – The Days of Jared Lander
Sat in the lounge with Tenniel, Grey looked across to Cornelia. She recognised the look, the one he gave when something important was happening, and knowing that she knew it too. She judged that, at that point, what he required was her saying something like,
‘Tenniel. Thank you. What you’re giving us is so helpful, and we’re grateful. But you’re aware that what you’re doing is confessing to a major crime?’
‘But you’re helping me out with that, right?’
‘Oh yes, of course we are.’ She shuddered as she had to concede the point. ‘I just need you to tell me that you understand how important this is.’
Grey launched in,
‘There’s only one serving officer in the room, which isn’t enough to make a police confession. That’s why we bring people to the Station, to have it all on tape, witnessed.’
‘So there won’t be a van coming for you,’ agreed Cori. ‘But we have to ask, why are you telling us all this now?’
‘Because it’s gotten heavy, heavier than you know, heavier that the brothers ever thought it would. And I want out of it. And I’ve got your man here,’ gesturing to Grey, ‘pitching up on the High Street shouting my name from the rooftops. And I thought, I’ve got one chance here.’
‘So tell me, how is it getting heavier?’
‘Well, the kid’s dead.’
‘And who killed him, Tenniel.’
Tenniel was silent. Cori encouraged,
‘As long as it wasn’t you, we take you out of town tomorrow morning. Right?’
‘Right. Okay, I know who it wasn’t. Okay?’
She nodded, and he continued,
‘We never used to get a message about when the French were coming. But a couple of visits before the end, the driver of the van spoke to Jared, and I could see it shook him. That night I was out front with Matty – we didn’t need to be, as we knew another Bebe Bobi truck wasn’t likely to come the same day. But we were just chilling, and he told me, “J’s spooked, T. The driver told him they’ve had no new instructions come through, for after this run. There won’t be any French trucks for a while.”
‘“Why’s that so bad?” I asked, I didn’t know any better, and Matty looked back to the house, to check we were alone, and answered, “Because they keep a lid on things, keep us all in line. If they go, J reckons there’ll be war.”’
‘Bebe Bobi were protecting Jared?’ asked Cori.
‘Maybe. Maybe all the different gangs in different towns knew to leave off from each other? Anyhow, after that I started taking notice, watching J’s moods, hearing how he spoke on the phone, whatever. I began to figure that everyone was making money off the French, so no one wanted to rock the boat. But if they ever went away…’
‘Someone else would want to take over distribution?’
‘I remember Jared muttering to Matty once, “The French were right, it’s no good moving stuff around the country, the cops are too good at it now. We need to get it abroad. But he’s not careful, he’ll cut corners.”’
‘Who was “he”?’ asked Cori.
‘I didn’t know back then. But Matty answered, “Then screw him, let’s do it ourselves.” And Jared muttered, “We’re not as big as them, they’ve got their area sewn up.” Not only that,’ added Tenniel. ‘I remembered from before, J annoyed with someone once after a phone call, saying, “He’s messing it up for all of us.”’
‘And when did you learn who “he” was?’
‘I figured it must be someone else along the delivery chain, causing enough trouble for the French to quit from sending any more trucks in our direction for a while.’
‘They weren’t coming back,’ interjected the listening Grey. ‘They were rolling things up.’
‘Then maybe Jared guessed as much? I don’t know.’ Tenniel supposed, ‘And there were the Northern gangs – Bebe Bobi didn’t come up further than us, but others had known to stay away – it was like the French had an aura, “Don’t mess.” But maybe it was one of these others muscling in, seeing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of stolen goods going over the Channel? I never spoke to the French drivers, I didn’t know what spooked them. But I knew that Jared was under pressure.’
‘Talk to me about the kid, Tenniel.’
It became obvious then to Cori that this was the nub of things for their star witness, and that he had been happy to tell them almost anything as long as it delayed him having to get onto that topic. Finally, with no room left to move, he did so,
‘I started to see him around the big house more, but he was in a mood. He never said much, but I was listening out for stuff by then, and he’d grumble about, “Not getting my due. He’s not using my houses.” This was to Matty. But Matty caught me listening, and took him into another room. Things were getting tense by then.’
‘Then it’s fairly obvious, isn’t it,’ said Grey. ‘“The kid,” as you refer to him, was scouting houses for the Landers. And doing an excellent job, by the sounds of it. Jared only had to pitch up at the place and time the kid suggested, and his ground-work was done for him. And, presumably, for this the kid got his cut. But then suddenly Jared had no buyer, and saw rival gangs hovering on the horizon; and, like many an under-rated general, must have thought that the best move was to do absolutely nothing.’
Tenniel nodded, continuing,
‘The kid stormed out, but Jared couldn’t do anything against him. Of course, J still scared the living daylight out of us lot, there was no loss of discipline. But he had to let the kid go. He had to keep a low profile, he couldn’t go causing a scene.’
The officers continued to listen. Tenniel jumped in his chair as he spoke,
‘And then, the kid turned up, watching us from the other side of the road!’
‘Mrs Roper’s garden,’ recalled Cori.
‘I don’t know if he was threatening Jared, or just showing how annoyed he was, or what. But he’d come out from behind the bushes at random times just to give us the eye. Sometimes at night he’d just stand there in the road.’
Chapter 41 – The Great Winding-Up
Both detectives gave a gasp at that same moment.
‘Yeah,’ said Tenniel. ‘He’d just stand there across from us… That’s what I reckon happened, why he was there to get hit.’
‘Do you think he was threatening Jared?’ asked Cori to her colleague. ‘Saying that he’d go to the police?’
‘Could be,’ considered Grey, ‘or to sell his secrets to a rival.’
‘Then Jared’s looking a better and better suspect every second,’ she concluded.
‘It wasn’t him,’ said Tenniel. ‘I swear that to you. Because I heard from him the day after the accident, and he was shocked. Jared phoned me himself, which he never ever did. “Don’t come to the house, don’t speak to anyone.” He phoned all of us. That was the day the kid was found; the day you guys came looking around.’
Grey exhaled, ‘So you knew better than to tell us anything.’
Tenniel looked downward, in Cori’s eyes even ashamed, though he carried on,
‘I’ve only seen the brothers once after that, weeks later when we were clearing out the old loading depot by the aerodrome. Matty told me that they nearly missed the last Bebe Bobi truck, “‘Cos no one had been waiting outside. They had to bib their horn. They didn’t like doing that.”’
Grey leaned forward in his chair,
‘What happened that night, T?’
And T told him,
‘As I say, the last couple of times I was over there, the place was wired. Nothing was being done. We were kept in the house at first, and then sent away all together. And whenever we were outside, we’d see the kid in his garden across the way, watching us.
‘And there was a car that we started hearing go flying past, a black saloon. It accelerated right outside the house, really overpowered. Jay pretended not to hear it, but I knew that he knew who was driving. As otherwise he’d have been out there trying to find the driver, tell him to stop drawing attention to the house, annoying the neighbours before they brought the police there to complain.’
Grey asked, ‘Even though he caused enough trouble for the neighbours himself already?’
‘But J’s was a complex guy,’ answered Tenniel. ‘Throwing beer bottles over his neighbour’s hedge was one thing, in his mind. Anything more serious, and he’d clamp it down. Maybe he thought the beer and singing was a good cover, paint the family just as yobs?’ Tenniel let out a laugh than neither detective really enjoyed, and continued,
‘And then, as I say, we got his call, “Don’t come to the house.” And then I saw about the hit-and-run on the news in the pub. I guessed it was the kid and that car.’
Tenniel was really shaking now, ‘You know, I’ve wondered after, whether this other gang knocked him down deliberately – to catch a member of Jared’s gang outside his own house, as a warning they were fearless, and that they were in charge now, and that Jared ought to fear them.’
‘And risk leaving the body?’ asked Cori, incredulous. Though Tenniel was matter-of-fact in his explanation,
‘But they wouldn’t be. Everyone knew that Jared had someone stationed outside the house the whole time. The brothers would have seen the hit, dragged the kid in before anyone else saw him, and never dared tell the police. And then this other gang would really have owned them.
‘Only, they didn’t know that those last couple of days Jared was keeping a lid on things, was keeping us inside. Perhaps the driver of that car hadn’t clocked onto that yet?’
‘And so they left the body where it fell?’ asked Cori.
‘Yes,’ answered Grey, who had been listening to every word, ‘and by dumb luck it wasn’t found until Lee Crowther strolled past to buy his paper. Though, hold up,’ said Grey, who was clearly working on another point. ‘Whatever the intention, it doesn’t explain the events after. The Landers have done nothing since; this other gang – if there is another gang – have done nothing either.’
‘Because they’re all bloody cowards,’ yelled Tenniel. ‘They’re scared of the police more than each other.’
‘Of course,’ said Grey.
‘They’re like little kids caught fighting by their mum,’ laughed Tenniel nervously. ‘As long as mum’s still watching they won’t go near each other.’
‘And yet a Bebe Bobi truck pulled up a week later?’ asked Cori.
‘Because the French wouldn’t have known about the Southney situation either,’ deduced Grey. ‘There was no other line of communication, except for when the drivers turned up and spoke to the local reps. Can you imagine the conversation that last time?’ He joked, ‘“Don’t come back, there’s been a murder in the street.” “Don’t worry, we were winding up the business anyway.” “Yeah, that’s why this other gang are trying to muscle in on your old turf!”’
‘So,’ supposed Cori, bringing things back to reality, ‘for one last gasp, Jared had to handle the old business and hope that no one was watching.’
Grey said, ‘Only, we were watching – by accident!’
‘And even then we couldn’t pin anything on them,’ lamented Cori.
Tenniel gave a look of admiration,
‘Oh, he might have had a bit of nervous energy that day, the old Jared back for an hour. But, make no mistake, he’s a wise old cat, as my Gran would say. He’ll know he’s used up all of his nine lives. He wants out.’
Cori asked, bewildered,
‘So why on earth are the Landers still there?’
Here the witness helped her out,
‘Because they have a house full of hooky furniture they can’t shift. I’ve heard they’re moving it at night, to anyone who give them a pittance for it, as crooked as they come. But as soon as it’s gone, so are they.’
‘So, the Landers could be gone at any minute?’
‘That’s what I’m telling you,’ pleaded Tenniel.
‘This under the nose of another gang, who can’t move as long as the Landers are under our watch, but who either want the Landers stealing for them, or to take over their patch completely?’
‘And then we have a total gang war,’ added Cori sadly.
Tenniel stood up and opened the curtains a fraction, and looked to the dark sky through the window he’d climbed in by. He spoke for all three of them when he offered a prayer to a tormenting deity,
‘Oh God, my head hurts. Make it be over, Inspector. Make it be over.’
Chapter 42 – Summation of All Things
After emptying Grey’s fridge with items to take up with him, Tenniel was shown up to the guest bedroom.
‘And you’re getting me out of here tomorrow?’ he checked. To which Grey nodded. A promise was a promise.
Back downstairs, Cori was reclined in an armchair, shoes off. ‘We’re really letting him go?’ she asked as Grey returned.
‘But he’s a witness to a string of robberies; to moving stolen goods.’
‘He’d never give us any of that on tape.’
Which she conceded. ‘He wouldn’t have been any use in an operation anyway,’ she whispered, ‘He’s as nervous as hell.’
‘As are the Landers; as are this “other gang”.’
‘The only ones with any sense are the French,’ added Cori.
‘And even this Blumont got popped in a property deal.’ He sighed, ‘How did this come to our town?’ he asked rhetorically.
‘A perfect storm,’ she answered for her own sanity. ‘Lots of big houses, a smart criminal, and gangs vying for his services.’
‘Is this going to explode?’ he asked without needing the answer.
‘I hope not,’ she answered anyway.
‘So, what are our options, Inspector?’ he asked her. And she answered,
‘Tomorrow morning, we get to the Station, get everyone in on a Sunday, and have everyone and everything we know are involved under constant watch. Which would at least stop things “exploding.”’
‘But none of which will solve the murder or the long-term problem.’
She considered, ‘Then, we go for the nub of it. We trust that the Landers will be here at least, say, another forty-eight hours?’
‘So, we use that time to find a way to focus in on them. I mean, Grey, the haul here is immense – we wouldn’t be letting Tenniel go if we didn’t recognise this. A murder, a robbery gang, and God knows who else.’
‘But how to smoke them out?’ he asked.
‘They’ve proven canny enough so far; and, but for sleeping beauty up there, we have nothing on them. We even have to admit that we know they’re in the clear for the murder.’
‘So we really need to find this rival gang, the ones in the car.’
His expression sank, ‘Then I have a dreadful feeling that we have to wait till Monday, when somebody’s on duty at Head Office to clear up that camera footage for Glass.’
‘And once we have a registration number, we can follow its movements,’ she agreed, ‘find who drove it, and then raid.’
‘You might not have till Monday.’ Tenniel was standing on the stairs with his smartphone, in only boxer shorts and Golf Sale polo shirt. ‘I’ve just had the call from Raph. They’re wanting guys for shifting, tonight.’
‘Who’s Raph?’ asked Cori?
‘One of the street kids your mate here harassed this afternoon to get me here,’ answered Tenniel, whose sleepiness was quickly receding.
‘Raphael, his mother named him,’ answered Grey, who had jumped up and was pacing around. ‘Perhaps to inspire her young son with the achievements of his famous namesake; though he found his artistry in the rather more nefarious fields of pickpocketing and street dealing.’
‘Stop rabbiting on,’ snapped Tenniel. ‘We’ve got to think.’
‘I am thinking. Talking helps. Get your clothes on, get there. Now.’
‘If you don’t turn up, they’ll come looking for you, asking where you were last seen.’
Tenniel snapped back, ‘And then if “you” turn up, they’ll know I led you there.’
‘If we turn up we’ll arrest you with the rest of them; you just won’t end up being charged with anything.’
Cori turned to him, ‘Grey, you can’t make promises like that.’
Grey gave his colleague a look, that at any other time or place she might not have appreciated. But right there and then, it was perhaps the only look he could have given her.
‘I’ll call Glass,’ she said.
‘No,’ he commanded. ‘This still doesn’t raise the other gang, we need the other gang.’
Cori had a moment of clarity,
‘What does the message actually say, Tenniel?’
She moved toward him, but he shielded the phone, before reading tentatively,
‘“T, up for a bit of heavy lifting? Matty asking.”’
She considered, ‘And would they normally ask at such short notice?’
‘Ask him when and where.’
He clicked away at his screen; and the phone buzzed back in seconds. Tenniel read,
‘“Sunday, nine, the big house.”’
‘So, it’s tomorrow night,’ commented Grey, relieved.
‘That’s not much better,’ answered Cori.
‘But it gives us time, and at least we know now.’
Cori turned to Tenniel,
‘You have to tell them “Yes.”’
‘But, I’m not going.’
‘No, but they still need to think you will be.’
‘They’ll know I ratted them out.’
‘That point would always come,’ said Grey, staring at his houseguest. ‘You’re still a criminal, Tenniel. You’re making tough choices.’
He looked at his phone and tapped the message. Then said,
‘That’s it. I can’t do this anymore. I want out now.’
Grey looked to Cori, ‘You haven’t had a drink while he’s been talking, that’s an hour. You’ll be fine.’
‘But we might need him,’ said Cori. Tenniel was already dashing back upstairs to put his clothes on.
Grey gave no reply, which gave Cori her answer. And within the quarter-hour the pair were gone.
Chapter 43 – The Chase to the Finish
‘I need to get that black car back,’ said Grey to himself. It didn’t matter now if he sounded mad, not now that the house was empty.
It felt helpless. He grabbed a pen and notebook and wrote:
– Does it matter if the Landers leave? Yes!
Grey realised what he was writing, and added, only half-jokingly:
– Maybe what we need is a gang war?
Cori found the note on the table when she came back. The Rase house was empty, but she had long held a key. She found his words, and one more line that Grey had written at the bottom of the page: two words that she knew were meant especially for her:
– Come quietly.
He didn’t have a car, so walked to The Ashfords. This proved a longer walk than he had imagined, which didn’t bother his leg so much, but frustrated him simply in the half-an-hour he was wasting.
On his way, he phoned the Station to ask for the Ropers’ number from their witness statement, they of the lush front garden where the lad had spent some of his final nights. Grey still wasn’t on the staff roster, but the Duty Sergeant knew him, and Jauncey wasn’t there of a weekend to get in the way.
Grey called the house and was glad when Mrs R. answered. He explained over his mobile, pausing at the far end of her road,
‘I had the feeling from our talk a while back that you would help me.’
‘It goes without saying. Oh, and don’t worry: Ella Snow told me you’re not on duty at the present time. I won’t ask you for your badge.’ She chuckled conspiratorially, and carried on untroubled, ‘I’m only glad that someone’s doing something. The brothers have been stirring again the past few days.’
‘They’re leaving tomorrow night,’ he told her.
‘This might be your last chance then.’
While he was still a few houses away, he whispered down the line, ‘Just don’t worry if you see a prowler. I’ll approach from your back garden. And if it gets messy, call the police.’
The house next to the Ropers’ had a garden as voluminous and overgrown as theirs, and Grey was glad to see the house lights were off. He walked as far as possible along the dark street, but didn’t want to risk being seen from the Landers’ property. He skipped behind the Ropers’ neighbour’s trees, and wasn’t seen again until he poked his head up from laurel bushes, metres from the spot where he had seen the brothers play their drinking game on Jerry’s video recording.
And just on the opposite kerb was the start of the brothers’ driveway, where in another piece of footage he had seen the blurred, instant fact of the hit-and-run. Grey had not been back there since seeing those images – he wondered what it must have felt like for the Landers to have to pass that spot knowing what had happened there? Or did they not let it bother them at all?
Grey crouched or leant under the bushes, but he couldn’t get comfortable. However, he was there on a hunch; and one hour and twenty minutes later, dewy-damp and uncomfortable, he was proven right. He almost let out a growl of delight when a long car, its paint dark-grey or dark-blue, rumbled up to the point of interest. Its engine was barely audible as it slowed almost to a crawl… then, just as quietly, rumbled off again.
Grey had been inches from the passenger door. ‘You’re keeping your speed down now, aren’t you,’ he muttered, along with choice epithets he wouldn’t have spoken in front of his mother. Once the car was gone, he fumbled in the dark for his mobile, and called the Desk Sergeant back,
‘Hi, I need a number tracing.’
But the man was getting cautious,
‘Look, finding a contact number from the files in one thing. But this is accessing the registration database.’
‘Ah, come on,’ whispered Grey, impatiently – the elbows of his jacket were already damp through from the soft earth. ‘I’ll only call Cori and have her request it.’
‘What’s it about?’ asked the Sergeant, thus persuaded.
‘Can I tell you once I’ve found out?’ Grey gave the car’s details and rang off.
‘Did I hear my name mentioned?’ asked a woman’s voice nearby.
‘Is that a rustling in the bushes?’ he whispered as she crawled alongside to join him in the laurels.
‘You didn’t hear me coming?’ she asked. ‘You’d have been no good in Vietnam.’
‘But you knew where I’d be.’
‘The Desk Sergeant told me you rang for the Roper’s number earlier,’ she reasoned. ‘Though I could have guessed you’d be here.’
Grey’s phone buzzed then, and he held the earpiece between them for both to hear as the officer related the information,
‘The number’s false. And a BMW Five Series saloon in Imperial Blue was stolen from outside a shop in Leamington three days ago. Flags are going off, Grey. I’m going to have to ask…’
‘This is Inspector Smith,’ she whispered, ‘It’s my operation.’
‘Ma’am,’ the man acknowledged.
‘What’s the car, Grey?’ she asked quietly.
‘It’s just come past, stopped, and gone off again, quiet as a ghost. They’re still keeping a watch on the Landers. I knew they must be. How else could they keep tabs on what the brothers were up to?’
‘How should we proceed, Ma’am?’ asked the Desk Sergeant, who was also now whispering down the line.
She answered in her most professional-sounding whisper, ‘The car’s involved in an ongoing operation.’
He hesitated, ‘…and is this operation anything I need to tell the Superintendent about?’
‘It was instigated after receiving recent information.’
‘And do you want me to contact him?’
‘I’m going to override you phoning it in.’
‘Very good, ma’am. Though I’ll need to log something before I clock off at six.’
She looked at her watch, it was just after one am.
‘That’s fine. And phone Leamington’s night watch, would you? See if they have a lead on the car theft?’
‘Very good.’ The man hung up.
‘It’s got to be a thankless task though, hasn’t it,’ muttered Grey. ‘I mean, how many circuits a day do you think they make? How many different cars?’
She shushed him, as something came past. Though it was a brightly-painted off-roader, and going too quickly to be trying to be unseen.
‘Must be a local,’ she offered.
‘And what do the Landers think?’ he concluded.
‘It’s probably the reason why they’re staying in. What’s your play, Grey?’
‘I think we need to confront the drivers, here, in their stolen car.’
‘Then we’ll get a patrol placed at the far end of the road…’ she suggested.
He shook his head, ‘No, they’ll spot that trap quicker than Admiral Ackbar. They must know this street like the back of their hand by now.’
‘I’m going to need your badge.’
Chapter 44 – Danger on the Edge of Town
‘No,’ she said, far too loudly. Not that there was anyone along the deserted road to hear them. ‘You want to lurch out of the bushes and go right up to them? I’m in charge here, I’m not letting you do it.’
‘Well, I’m not letting “you” do it.’
‘I don’t want either of us to do it!’ She shook her head and held her fingers to his lips. She continued in a furious whisper, ‘It’s dead easy. Now we know the fake number-plate, then the Traffic Control centre will be following the car around town. They’ll know every camera it’s been past in the three days since it’s been stolen. They’ll know its route, so Highway Patrol can swoop in beside and pick them up. We’ve got them, Grey. Congratulations.’
‘Yes, on car theft. But not on anything else.’
‘But Forensics will get the number of the first car too, from your friend’s security film or from other cameras in town. And then we’ll have all the footage of that car’s journeys too. And if they match the routes, and we get clear pictures of the drivers from the cameras, then we’ll make a case for it being the same guy, the same gang. And then we can pick them up on the hit-and-run, and who knows what other dodgy activities these cars will have been used in.’
‘No,’ Grey shook his head. He couldn’t be convinced. ‘We need to force some kind of scene. We need to show them as criminals. It will all be caught on Jerry’s camera.’ Grey pointed at his friend’s house next to the Landers’ place across the road.
And then, the lowest of low rumblings was heard mere feet from where the pair were whisper-arguing in darkness.
She held his arm, and he half-rose and half-resisted, as the car again slowed almost to a halt outside the Landers’ house. There it lingered, with Grey all set to jump up and start God-knows-what; and with Cori holding him in reassurance as much as in restraint. His sinews stretched, his every impulse was to get up there and face them off. His wish was for instant impact, to leave nothing to chance, to not let them get away. Criminals, thieves, likely armed, he knew, and handy in an early-hours street-fight.
All the frustrations of the past weeks, of being ignored, of being powerless, now came up in a surge that threatened to overwhelm him.
He rose, she held, he resisted.
And when the car drove off again, he sunk back into position, and she let go.
‘You’ve done your bit,’ she said, ‘let others do theirs.’
Chapter 45 – 8am, Sunday Morning
The team assembled promptly on the hour as if for a weekday shift, each presentable and hopefully sober.
‘I hope I haven’t interrupted anyone’s Sunday observances,’ asked the Superintendent.
‘Well, I was taking the children to see Thomas the Tank Engine,’ said Cori, which wasn’t quite what Jauncey had had in mind.
She looked across at Grey. Despite being up at all hours, he had been home and was showered, changed and shaved. He looked the best he had for weeks.
‘I’ve put you back on duty,’ said Jauncey for the other Inspectors to hear.
‘It’s good to have you back,’ laughed Glass, who had never really considered him gone.
‘Though that’s only so you can be in the interviews,’ explained their boss. ‘Cornelia, I’m leaving you as Inspector for now, and you’re in charge.’
Though everyone knew it was Grey’s case.
‘Anyway, I’ve got calls to answer,’ said Jauncey. ‘There are three forces already who want these guys after we’ve done with them. On a Sunday morning – honestly, don’t the police rest?’
The others joined the joke, but then went serious.
‘And I’ve somewhere else to be,’ said Glass, resplendent in bark-blue riot gear.
‘I wish I was there,’ said Grey.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about it afterwards.’ And Glass patted Grey on the shoulder as he left, and smiled encouragingly at Cori.
‘Come on then, boss’ said Grey. ‘Let’s do this.’
Entering the Station from the carpark at the rear, every corridor was lined with smiling faces. The building was as full as on any other day. Those in uniform would soon be joining Glass, while the rest didn’t want to miss this, if only for the celebratory drinks they would hopefully be having that afternoon. The senior officers were greeted like returning heroes, though they couldn’t let their game-faces slip.
Outside the main interview room, a professional-looking woman rose to meet them,
‘Hello,’ greeted Cori, ‘Inspectors Rase and Smith. You’ve had time with your clients?’
The woman nodded.
‘Then, shall we?’
With a Constable at the door, the three entered the room to sit at a square table with a man already seated. The room was lit through frosted glass and had a mirrored one-way window on one wall. After the introductions for the tape, Cori led the talking. For the time being, Grey was there to glare.
‘You are a Mr Thomas Hamnett, of Stockport on Tees, recently resident at 15, The Crescent, Leamington, yes?’
He nodded. He was a stocky man, of average height, well dressed and heavily coated. He didn’t look mean, as such, noted Cori as she stared at him, but had a certain intensity in his gaze.
‘Please answer for the tape.’
‘Yes,’ the man said plainly.
‘Your representative, Ms Ngabo, will have told you that you are being held on suspicion of various charges relating to car theft. However, we have applied for an extension of your custody as other charges come to light.
‘Mr Hamnett, last night at one forty-five am a Highway Patrol car stopped you and another man, Mr Jason Kurtz, on the junction of Ashford Lane and Potters Lane, Southney, in a blue BMW. Upon inspection, it was found to be a vehicle stolen from the Leamington area three days earlier. What do you have to say to that?’
‘I didn’t know it was stolen.’
‘At some point in the three days it was missing, the vehicle had been fitted with false number-plates. As I am sure you’re aware…’
The man glared at her presumption.
‘…it is a crime to change a car’s plates to ones which are known to be false, and also to manufacture a set of plates knowing they are going to be used for this purpose. What do you have to say to that?’
‘If I didn’t know it was stolen, then how would I know it had new plates?’
‘So, what did you believe to be the history of the car?’
‘How would I know its history?’
‘Then let me rephrase. How did you find yourself to be driving in it last night?’
‘I wasn’t driving it, was I?’
‘No,’ she noted, ‘this would be Mr Kurtz. So, would Mr Kurtz know about the car? Should we ask him of its provenance? Are you confident of the answers he would give us?’
‘Look, I’d bought the car the day before. I hadn’t sent the paperwork off yet.’
‘Bought from whom?’
‘A guy in a pub.’
‘And do you have the man’s name or number?’
Hamnett shook his head.
‘Please answer for the tape.’
‘More background, please, Mr Hamnett.’
‘Gah! Look, it was an on-the-spot transaction. I liked the car, I liked the price, I bought it. Okay?’
‘So, you’d be happy for us to visit the pub and see if anyone remembers you there, see if the place has cameras?’
‘Look, I don’t remember which pub. It was a long day, we stopped off for a drink, I don’t remember where.’
‘And you bought a car there?’
‘Do you often buy cars in pubs?’
‘Hmm. Officers from Leamington Station have this morning entered your business properties…’
The man jumped up at that news. Cori continued,
‘…and identified three other vehicles found there. Did you buy them in pubs?’
‘Are you confident that these three will be found to have their papers in order?’
Hamnett didn’t answer.
Cori continued, ’So, how did you get it home?’
‘The car from the pub.’
‘I don’t know, one of us drove it back.’
‘So, how many of you were there? Do you have their names? Was Mr Kurtz one of them?’
He didn’t answer, and Cori didn’t press him. Instead, she sensed her partner was itching to join the fray. She imperceptibly leant back, as Grey came forward to declare,
‘I notice you don’t like us asking about Mr Kurtz, Mr Hamnett. This morning I’ve been looking at our records for the pair of you. Mr Kurtz has fines for drugs, affray – minor offences. You, though, have past convictions for threatening behaviour, handling stolen goods…’
The man said nothing. Grey looked down at his papers,
‘You’ve even been imprisoned for Evasion of Customs Duty – that’s another term for dodgy booze cruises to Calais and back, isn’t it? Though in your case, on a somewhat grander scale?’
‘That was years ago…’ started the suspect, but he was paused by a hand on the arm from his solicitor. Grey continued,
‘There’s also a note on your file that you are barred from having businesses registered under your name, after the bankruptcy of somewhere called the Star Club Casino, Stockport. A business, it states here, whose premises were razed to the ground in an arson attack while under new ownership some six months later. I wonder whether that’s worth taking another look at?’
The man looked straight back at Grey. The officer went on,
‘But, back to today. So, Mr Hamnett – what is your working relationship with Mr Kurtz?’ Grey considered, ‘You’re older and better dressed – I suppose an employer doesn’t have to drive themselves. And your criminal record, though unhelpful in situations like these,’ Grey gestured to the interview room around them, ‘must give you kudos in other circles. I wonder if it makes you someone street kids want to work for? Kids like Mr Kurtz, twenty-one years old and about to suffer his first major conviction?’
Grey took a moment out to ponder, then continued with,
‘And yet, a situation like this can tip the balance, can give him all the power. He could clear his name by giving us a story on you…’
‘Inspector, this is supposition,’ interrupted the man’s representative.
‘Ms Ngabo, my apologies. Mr Hamnett, I retract my statement, intending merely to record your previous convictions, and to relate them to the events of last night as reported by Inspector Smith.
‘In light of those prior convictions, it is my opinion that the Crown Prosecution Service will consider any case we make against you on various vehicle offences to have a good chance of successful prosecution. At the very least, of finding their way to court, and so making the transaction of your other business interests all the more difficult for you.’
‘Inspector!’ interjected the lawyer, whose intervention was fended off with a raised hand and a change of tone. Grey continued,
‘Now, were this merely the matter of a stolen car, I would suggest you tell us all you know right now, and so go into the hearing with your remorse on record for the judge to consider.
The man’s eyes opened in shock at a change to the procedure he had clearly been through many times before.
‘…it is not merely “the matter of a stolen car”, is it?’
‘Do you have anything to say, Mr Hamnett?’ asked Cornelia in her most officious voice.
Though the man said nothing.
Grey continued, ‘We will track the movements of your current stolen car for these three days, find every camera you passed under, every carpark you used. Then we will look for another stolen car following the same routes on a certain night one month ago. And some of these cameras are sharp enough to get an image of the occupants. And so we will know who was driving and where they were going and what they did in that car.’
‘I don’t know anything about that,’ snapped the man.
‘We haven’t said what it is about yet,’ said Cori fatter-of-factly.
The man had shown himself up, but was on the defensive, snapping,
‘If there was any evidence you’d have found it.’
‘Ah, hid the car well, did you?’ asked Grey, sarcastically. ‘Absolutely sure you didn’t go under any cameras, are you?’
‘And if we had, you’d have found them,’ he growled, leaning forward over the table.
His counsel whispered, ‘Don’t incriminate yourself.’
The man stayed silent then. Though the steam had gone out of the dispute. Grey only added,
‘You’re right, of course. Only we didn’t know what we were looking for before – the car, the route. And damage might not show up at night – whether or not we find an image of that hangs in the balance. But we wouldn’t need it, not with everything else.’
Grey sat back, and turned inward again, becoming philosophical, and musing,
‘You know, Mr Hamnett, usually I test the foot-soldiers first, get them to rat on the general.’
Ms Ngabo gave him a stern look for his unprofessionalism. Though Grey went on in the same vein,
‘Though in this case, I don’t want to. Because I think we both know that the traffic cameras will show that it was young Mr Kurtz who was driving that night.’
The man gave no sign, as Grey went on,
‘I don’t know if it even greatly matters if the cameras show that you were in the car with him – after all, the boss doesn’t need to be there every time just to harass a rival. Perhaps we got lucky last night.’
‘Where does this lead, Inspector?’ asked Ms Ngabo, who Grey did respect, and who asked this respectfully. Grey answered similarly, after a pause to reflect,
‘Perhaps nowhere. Perhaps only to offer us a chance to see how the land lies before the infinitely harder task of telling a young man that the first half of his life is over. Perhaps to give your client here,’ Grey stared at Hamnett for a moment, ‘time to absorb the reality that his associate will have nothing to lose, and so really has no reason not to tell us all he knows.
‘So, anything to say, Mr Hamnett?’
Cori wrapped up, ‘For the record, Mr Hamnett chooses not to give a statement.’
And the officers left the room.
Chapter 46 – Corrupted Youth
The second interview, with the boy Kurtz, was awful. Fake-machismo curdled into self-pity as his front collapsed and he began to accept what he’d done,
‘He was standing in the road! He wasn’t meant to be there. What was he doing there?’
Sometimes the police were duty bound to say the dumbly obvious, and so it fell to Cornelia to remind Kurtz for the tape,
‘It is a duty to report a traffic accident.’
To which the young man just stared at her. Then answered back, as if accusing her,
‘I was in a stolen car, working for him!’ He pointed at an imagined Hamnett in an imagined interview room the other side of the wall. ‘Who was going to report that?’
Ms Ngabo was doing her best to stop Kurtz incriminating himself, as she had with Hamnett, but the steam had gone out of her also. The three professionals were united in a common understanding, sat at the table with the shaking boy: the evidence would come in for him, the interview was only a formality.
‘Pity, pity,’ muttered Grey. ‘Everywhere pity.’
‘Sorry, Inspector?’ asked the lawyer.
‘Sorry, nothing.’ He could bear no more, as Cori spoke for the tape.
‘Inspector Rase is leaving the room, Constable Thornton replacing him.’
These were the last words he heard as he left.
Grey went outside, he needed air. He found the river, where the men like to fish. He nodded greetings to one angler, and sat there feeling absurd in his ironed suit. On the public bench, he took a moment to think, then cursed out loud to the empty river.
It was half-an-hour later when Cornelia joined him.
‘This was left in Hamnett’s interview room,’ she said, as she handed him a piece of paper. He read the note, which said only:
– I’m sorry for the boy.
‘Though which one?’ asked Grey. He slapped the paper down on his knee and threw his head back, ‘It hardly seems worth it, does it. One kid banged up for the death of another.’
‘At least we know who did it. At least we put it to bed.’
And he knew she was right.
Cori looked around herself and said, half-smiling,
‘Sat around here with the fishermen, you’d almost think it was a Sunday morning.’ She patted him on the knee, ‘Anyway, come on, work to do.’
‘Is Jauncey off the phone yet?’ he asked.
‘Oh yes, and he can’t wait to talk to you.’
Grey groaned as he got up, and it wasn’t from his leg.
Chapter 47 – Confessions
‘So, spell it out for me, Inspector,’ were the first words Grey encountered as he re-entered the building.
He could hardly bring himself to answer with the same enthusiasm; but once he got into the rhythm then he found the details that had absorbed him all those weeks flowed out like a new-learnt language,
‘Well, we’re presuming that the Landers and Hamnett’s crew were both stealing and distributing for Bebe Bobi.’
‘Yes, yes,’ urged Jauncey, ‘I’m up to speed that far.’
‘Yet, when Blumont sensed a good thing coming to its end, he took away their support and their security.’
‘Around the time he met a sticky end of his own?’
‘Indeed. This led to rivalry amongst the gangs over who would take over. To give him his due, Jared Lander seemed only to want to get out with what he’d earned for himself. And his own network was collapsing anyway, without the outlet of the French vans and with his chief scout turning on him.’
‘This would be the kid?’
‘God, we really ought to stop calling him that.’
‘Well, we still don’t have a name, sir.’ The detail struck Grey as he said it.
‘And his death was an accident?’ asked Jauncey.
‘Yes, I must concede that. He had a tendency to amble in the bushes, and just at the time that Hamnett’s boy was starting to buzz the street in fast cars each night.’
‘These baby-faced kids!’ shouted Jauncey, showing that it was his turn to throw his hands up at the universe. ‘I saw that Kurtz in the corridor, he looked no older than my son.’
‘He probably wasn’t,’ agreed Grey.
‘How do they get into this world?’
‘I know that same feeling, sir. We think that criminals are meant to be tough, underworld masterminds, able to outwit us. If anything, these young ones are underdeveloped, emotionally so at least. They’ve never had a job, buckled down, worn a uniform, supported another person, accepted any responsibility. They’re overgrown boys! I mean, the lad Tenniel who helped us. How old can be? Twenty-three? And yet I know he still goes home to get a square meal.’
‘Though not tonight,’ remarked Cori, while being careful not to mention that it had been her who had helped him skip town.
Grey thought of Tenniel, alone on a coach going a long way away. Would he bear to stay away from town forever, though; lose his family? That rather depended on the fate of his former employers. Jauncey must have had the same thought, as he asked,
‘And what of the Landers?’
‘They were too good, or too lucky,’ considered Grey. ‘The rumour is they’re off tonight.’
‘And with Hamnett out of action, who’s to stop them?’
‘Very true,’ said Grey, who was impressed with his boss’s reading of the scene.
‘Well,’ considered Jauncey, with a real policeman’s glint in his eye, ‘we might have one last poke around. Just to say goodbye.’
There, at the centre of operations, the old animosity appeared to be forgotten. Grey thought to himself: Was this really the man who tried to end his career? Who stormed into his living room to admonish him? Who attempted to bury the case of a young man found dead on the road?
Yet, in its absurdity, this was the case. And Grey could only keep the mood going, by asking,
‘And at your end, sir?’
To which Jauncey answered enthusiastically,
‘Oh, I’ve been on the phone to half a dozen different forces. It looks like Hamnett’s been threatening local villains up and down the old Bebe Bobi route from the South East to the North Midlands.’
‘That’s great, sir. The more places we can find their cars on camera, the stronger our case against them.’
‘And yes, about that. Forensics didn’t like being got out of bed this early on a Sunday, but they’ve found the first car on the night in question, on one of the same cameras that we caught last-night’s car – just outside Leam – you’re right, they were following the same routes.’
‘They have its details?’
‘Oh yes, make and model, licence plate and all – also false. And those two false plates have been popping up all over the country.’
Jauncey seemed to freeze a while, before daring to ask,
‘Oh, I suppose I should know. But it doesn’t matter now what you think of me. Why the stolen cars though? Why take that extra risk?’
Grey gave an infuriatingly knowing look as he explained,
‘These drive-pasts – they were a calculated threat made to the Landers. They were too afraid to use their own cars. This was fearful and criminal, hiding behind stolen plates, not knowing that every drive-past wouldn’t start a gang war.
‘Imagine if it had ended in trouble? They’d hope to drive away and not be traced, which they couldn’t do in a legitimate vehicle.’
‘So why not just change the plates?’
‘Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. They’re already driving illegally – and with Hamnett’s record, that’s him already going back inside, full stop. And anyway, would you want to risk doing any of this in a saloon you’d just spent sixty-thousand pounds on? Stealing cars is meat and drink to Hamnett’s people. It’s the air they breathe.’
‘And once the Landers had gone?’
‘Then they’d be legitimate, established businesspeople. There’d be no risk of criminal confrontation, and so no need to risk lurking around in stolen cars – they’d have been as outwardly legit as the Landers were in their massive house.’
‘Sir, Inspector Glass is on the radio,’ called a constable from the Mess Room.
‘The Lander house again?’ asked Grey, as the pair turned to join their colleagues.
‘Ah yes, he must be nearly ready,’ said Jauncey. Then, as an aside to Grey,
‘If I’m honest, I called the raid today just to show the neighbours that we care. And to hound the Landers out of town every step of the way. Though, who knows, we might find the one stick of furniture in there with a French ultraviolet tag on it…’
‘Who knows…’ offered Grey, more ruefully than hopefully.
‘And we have Hamnett,’ added Jauncey, ‘and he seems worse.’
As they entered the busy room, Grey and Cori spoke to colleagues working there. Meanwhile the Superintendent looked so laid back that, to Grey, he hardly seemed to care anymore. Though, as a parting thought, Jauncey gathered enough curiosity in himself to remark,
‘I’m amazed it was Hamnett in the car, though. That was pure luck. Why would the boss himself go along? It’s almost like he knew that the Landers were going to flee this weekend.’
‘Bloody Tenniel!’ exclaimed Cori, the truth dawning. ‘He needed us to get him out of town because he was already selling out the Landers. He feared they’d skin him alive!’
She caught herself, and found the Superintendent looking at her in a Headteacherly manner. He responded,
‘Well, you decide how much of that you want to put in the official report, Inspector.’
Grey just laughed, and Cori could have punched him. Though his openness revealed that he hadn’t clocked on to Tenniel either – he was just as bamboozled by the latest revelation.
Through Jauncey remained lightened,
‘Well, I’m just glad we got out of this and got a result.’
Though then it was Grey’s turn to be serious, asking,
‘Are you sure, sir?’
With everyone around them busy, there was no one listening.
Jauncey then surprised them by confessing,
‘The hit-and-run, the Landers… I suppose I should have expected someone like you, Grey, to figure it all out, even at one step removed. You too, Cori, if you hadn’t been so busy with the Crime Statistics I’d landed on you. You’d have got there eventually.’
‘Got where?’ she asked, not liking to be outside the loop.
‘The fact is, my plan for the Regional Crime Squad depended on proving that there wasn’t enough crime at each local Station to warrant them retaining their own Criminal Intelligence Departments. I just needed a good run, a few months with nothing major happening. And then your Inspector here,’ Jauncey pointed to Grey for Cori’s benefit, ‘found a bone he wouldn’t let go of – an accident with a homeless dropout that he kept calling murder.’
He threw his hands up in the air, ‘Well, I ask you. And then it got embroiled with Glass trailing Bebe Bobi…’ He shook his head. ‘In my cause, you see, an unsolved minor crime was better than a foiled European crime ring!’
It clicked for Grey then, and he explained it for himself, as much as for the others,
‘You know, I wondered at first if you resented me for solving it outside the force, showing you up. But now I see you’re upset that I brought it to light at all.’
Jauncey shook his head in resignation,
‘Well, the Regional Crime plan is dead now. Head Office have already confirmed it. And I’m sorry, Grey. I didn’t want you back. But I would have gotten you the very best job in my new team.’
This was news to Grey, and it took a moment to take in.
‘Hey, what’s done is done. And I’ll be off to do my damage elsewhere soon.’ This last line didn’t bring quite as much laughter as he had desired. ‘But I hope we’re all all right within these four walls?’
And as the three looked at each other, they decided that they were.
Chapter 48 – The Pattern of a Life
A knock on the door came, and an eager constable poked her head around, to call the senior detectives back to matters at hand and to draw them from their conversation,
‘Ma’am, sirs. Sorry to interrupt. There’s a call for you from Head Office… There’s a match on the computer…’
Grey let Cori take the call, Jauncey was busy with other things, and Grey found himself alone in the busy Mess Room, unneeded for the moment. When he went out, there was another note waiting for him at the front desk, directing him to the interview suites.
By the time he got there Hamnett was gone. Ms Ngabo was there though, waiting by the room’s open door. She got straight to business, saying quietly but sternly,
‘He requested to be returned to his cell.’ Then she nodded her head in the direction of the table they’d been sitting at. Grey saw the piece of paper there, a copy of the page that Cori had shown him, bearing only those few words, ‘I’m sorry for the boy.’
‘That isn’t evidence,’ she explained. ‘It isn’t signed and isn’t on tape. And he won’t tell you any more, on any topic.’
Grey knew the client’s attitude was no reflection on his lawyer. They exchanged thank-yous and the solicitor departed. Grey entered the interview room and sat down where Hamnett had sat, where he had glared at Grey across the table. Grey looked across in that same direction, imagining himself there, picturing how he had looked to a man whose liberty was ending.
Grey would be off home soon. He wasn’t needed for Glass’s raid, and whatever else was happening was in Cori’s name. He lingered there though, in the soundproofed room, imagining himself the villain. Was this a kind of police pornography, a vicarious playing with one’s guilt in a way that could never end in incarceration? He, the policeman, was free at any time to leave.
Again he was disturbed by Cornelia, who said with relief,
‘Here you are. You keep wandering off this morning.’
‘There’s a look in your eye,’ he noted. ‘Something’s happened.’
Getting back to the Mess Room, his mood was fully lifted. It was still full of Sunday-serving officers and half-clad riot squad. Though now it bore a renewed sense of action.
‘At last we’ve somewhere for Glass to go,’ said someone.
On the table was a large Ordnance Survey map, and on the computer screens were other plans of property and ownership. Before they engaged with the others though, Cori saw paper in Grey’s hand and asked him,
He had kept the copy of the note.
‘I have a maudlin inclination to retain such keepsakes.’
‘For your personal archive?’ (It was no secret at the Station that he kept his own files.) ‘Or because of the boy?’
‘That was what I wanted to ask him about.’
‘But you asked about his gang instead, because you knew more rested on it. But look at this!’
Grey did look, agog. How long had he been outside the room? Half an hour? How quickly had things developed?
‘What happened?’ he asked her.
‘Well, Traffic called, with a list of further camera sightings of Hamnett’s two stolen cars. They haven’t been careful, Grey – by the time we’re finished we’ll be linking him to half-a-dozen criminal sites. You thought he’d be away for fifteen years? Make it twenty-five!’
Though both knew that that would be wishful thinking.
He looked at other markings on the map though and asked, ‘But what’s are these?’
She answered, smiling, almost blushing,
‘Well, I had an idea,’ she begun. ‘I was so annoyed with Tenniel. So when I was speaking with Traffic at Head Office just now, I asked if Telecoms were in work today, and could they put me through.’
‘And they were?’ he asked.
‘What,’ she answered, ‘you don’t think that Telecoms would have someone answer the phone?’
‘That sounds like one of my jokes. Go on.’
‘Well, I remembered that Tenniel had a very smart phone.’
‘A very smart smartphone.’
‘Hmm. Well, it wasn’t a throwaway pay-as-you-go at any rate. And I remembered from the London riots that a stolen smartphone can be traced to within a few metres. So, I wondered: was Tenniel stupid enough to use his own phone for all his business dealings?
She went on, ‘He received a text message at your house at around ten pm, and another later as we drove to the motorway services. I gave this info to Telecoms, and they were glad to say that these two texts were received far enough apart to be transmitted through different phone masts. This was important, you see. As there were only three phones that were in both vicinities at both times, and only one that had received two messages that fitted the timescale.’
‘You have his messages?’ asked Grey excitedly.
She shook her head, ‘That requires a warrant; which has been requested. But we had the tracking data. And just like with the fake number-plates, once we knew what to look for, then the records could be searched back in time.’
‘And they found all that so quickly?’
‘That’s the thing with these modern forensics. Some can take months, while others are at the push of a button.’
‘So,’ recapped Grey, ‘you could plot Tenniel on a map?’
‘Yes, that’s what these markings are.’
He remembered something, ‘Did you ever see that French study of the life of a man for one year? He was basically a triangle: between his home, his work and his favourite restaurant.’
‘Well, that’s exactly like Tenniel,’ said Cori, ‘at least as we’ve been working him out. We started from a month ago, when we knew the gang were still busy. And the obvious places popped up – home, The Ashfords, the old loading depot they used. But also another site, not far from the depot – he was there every day. Now look at this.’
Cori turned eagerly to a computer screen manned by a beaming female constable proud of her discovery. On it was a close-scale property grid.
‘This,’ she pointed, ‘is a storehouse in the name of Matthew Lander.’
‘Matty had a warehouse. How did we miss it?’ asked Grey. Before answering his own question, ‘Because we thought that everything was in the name of Jared.’
‘He must have trusted his brother on this one,’ confirmed Cori. ‘Or thought it was another way to confuse official records.’
Jauncey came in then. For once all turned to him in expectation and even admiration. He announced,
‘The magistrate has faxed over the warrant.’
‘Someone else woken up on their Sunday morning?’ offered Grey.
‘Everyone mobile, with me,’ instructed the Superintendent. Before proclaiming, in such a way that none could tell if it was heartfelt or playful, ‘In this town police work never sleeps.’
Chapter 49 – The Day They Had Been Waiting for
‘Good luck at your end,’ said Glass, resplendent in dark-blue riot gear.
‘I wish I could be there,’ said Grey.
‘Don’t worry, you’ll have enough to handle. Now, I’ve somewhere else to be.’ He jogged across the yard behind the Police Station to join his own group.
They lived for moments like this. Within minutes they were travelling in the two separate vehicles whose drivers had opposite instructions.
‘So, how does this go down?’
It was a young constable asking. Half an hour ago he’d been heard grumbling at losing his Sunday morning lie in. Now he was in his black boots and stab-proof vest and full of anticipation.
Grey, who was with this second party, answered for the van.
‘There are two targets, and there has to be a senior officer at each. You lucky lot get me.’
‘But they go in first?’ he asked.
‘We don’t know what Glass will find at Matty Lander’s storehouse,’ answered Grey. ‘Anything obviously stolen, and we can launch right in on The Ashfords and arrest the brothers.’
‘And if he doesn’t?’
‘Then we make a judgement call. I know that’s not a great answer, but we know that the brothers are planning to skip town; and after arresting the Hamnett gang, they might think their way is clear.’
The van was heavy on its suspension, and had little light coming in through the darkened and reinforced rear windows.
‘I feel sick,’ said someone.
‘It’s from the speed bumps,’ offered another. Though all knew it was something more than that.
Someone distracted themselves by asking,
‘But haven’t we raided the Landers’ house before, sir? The day of your crash?’
Grey grimaced at the memory, though answered calmly,
‘Yes, and we left with a few sticks of furniture that we had to send back to them a week later. They waved us off.’
‘So what’s going to be different this time?’
‘Stop chatting, you lot, and keep an ear out for the radio.’
This was Acting Inspector Smith. She was nominally in charge of the second party; but as this was Grey’s great triumphant raid, in reality she was there for numbers. She would hold a watching brief, and most importantly, conduct the arrests, in the fondly-imagined scenario where there were some to make.
In Glass’s transport were a harder breed of officer: the Station’s Tactical Group, who had all had training in violent situations and conducting such raids. And chief among them was Inspector Glass, who had the most experience of all. This one was complex, and it needed him.
There was no small-talk in the Glass van. A minute before they reached the target, the radio control crackled, to run through a checklist of call signs, and to confirm that Glass had the documents he would serve upon whoever they found present.
Matty’s storehouse was at the other side of the old aerodrome complex, and quite unconnected to any site involved in the operation so far.
‘They kept this quiet,’ said Glass, who would begin to grit his teeth around this point before a raid.
‘It’s right around this corner, Guv,’ called the driver as he pulled the van in to a lurching halt.
‘Visors,’ instructed the Inspector. And, thus protected, the back doors flung open and the troop descended.
With his own visor still up, and officers at either side, Glass walked to the front door of the property. It was overhung by a long bank of earth – the edge of the airfield? – which cast them into shadow even on that bright morning.
‘It’s like a bloody coal chamber,’ said one.
Around them were other buildings looking just as dilapidated, all made of unyielding concrete – there would be nowhere to run.
‘Men on each exit,’ called Glass without looking to the men he knew were behind him. And without needing a please or thank you they covered each escape. Though they had hardly made half the short distance to the windowless storehouse when the front door – a flat panel without exterior handle – flew open, and two large men appeared. One was holding a baseball bat.
In Grey’s van, a message crackled over the radio, the voice of one of Glass’s men talking to control at the Station,
‘Engaging with suspects. Violence encountered. No access to building yet.’
Cori was horrified, but she noticed Grey was beaming.
He answered the question her eyes were asking,
‘This means we’ve got them! They’re protecting something.’
Back at the storehouse, Glass was striding through the melee. Either side, his men were engaging with the defenders of that unassuming citadel.
‘What the hell have they got in there?’ he muttered to himself. To his right, one of his best men took a blow to the ribs from a nightstick – they’d confiscate that when all was said and done. Though before Glass could respond, a fellow officer had launched in and had the miscreant pinned down, himself receiving repeated blows across his protected back.
To Glass’s left, his attention was drawn to the burst of colour of a skinny kid in a bright baggy T-shirt running from the building’s door and making for a narrow, uncovered escape route. Though, like a game of British Bulldog, an equally lithe policeman skipped after him and snagged him in a rugby tackle.
At last it seemed to be calming. As those they had captured were rounded up back at the van, Glass approached the door of the building and called out for all to hear,
‘I am Inspector Glass of the Southney Police. I have a warrant to search these premises and to seize such goods as I believe to have been illegally obtained or which otherwise contravene British law.’
As sometimes happened, his declaration drew no response – his own men were too busy rounding up troublemakers or regrouping to follow their Inspector inside. And there was no answer from inside the building. Glass entered the dark door, and turned through the tight L-shaped hallway – there was clearly a larger loading door somewhere. He emerged into a vast empty room.
Though not quite empty… at his feet were two long round leather bags full of oddly-shaped metal poles. He burst out laughing,
‘Grey’ll be happy – at last some golf clubs!’
‘It looks like they’ve cleared out, Guv,’ noted one of his men, slightly needlessly, as he arrived to join him.
And the Inspector heard him, as the last sounds of the scuffle were going on outside. Though his attention was already falling onto just about the only other items left in the storage space – a row of low wooden tables along a far wall.
‘There, those,’ he pointed out and started the walk over to inspect them.
‘Those old benches?’ asked his officer. ‘It looks like all the good stuff’s gone.’
But the officer noticed the gleam in his superior’s eye, and so obeyed his boss when he called out,
‘Get the ultraviolet lamp, will you? From the van.’
Glass’s eyes were gleaming even brighter when the man came back with the tiny LED lamp.
‘Look at that carving,’ declared Glass, brushing away compacted dust and cobwebs. ‘I think whoever Jared Lander charged with clearing out his warehouse was no expert. He thought these were bench tables that came with the place. And they’re filthy enough – kill the light.’
And they did so, and turned on the little lamp. And it brought almost no illumination to the suddenly-sinister windowless space – it felt like a silent echo surrounding them. Yet, through the darkness, like co-ordinated glow-worms, small shapes on the tables’ legs caught the lamp’s unseen rays, little letters hand-written, that Glass would have to memorise as he had no pen or paper:
Mme Anette MENIVIER
45 rue des Arbres
46534 59800 LILLE
Chapter 50 – At Last, the Landers
‘We have them! We have them!’ called Glass’s voice over the radio. ‘French tables, tagged in Lille.’
‘How many?’ asked Cori.
‘Only three – they’d cleared out the storehouse. But they’re tagged, I’ve seen them.’
Cori cautioned, ‘But we still need confirmation from France that these are stolen goods. Otherwise the Landers could claim that they were bought in good faith years after the original owner tagged them.’
‘What are we faffing about that for?’ shouted Grey. ‘He’s telling us they’ve cleared out the storehouse – that means the brothers could be gone any minute.’
‘We have them, Grey,’ crackled Glass over the radio. ‘Even if it’s only on suspicion. We can have them in a cell.’
Cori looked at Grey, and knew there was no persuading him otherwise.
‘We’re moving in,’ said Grey over the radio. ‘Have your men join us when they can.’
The second van had been parked half a mile from the Landers’ house. Now it fired up, lurched around the corner and along the rural road. Unlike with Glass’s party, there had been felt no need for protective clothing, though the officers who would move in and make the arrests were wearing protective vests.
There was a feeling of a coach trip disembarking as they pulled up on the quiet road.
‘Aren’t you sick of this place yet?’ asked Grey to Cori as they held their badges in their hands and moved along the Landers’ drive. As had become the recent norm, the beer-drinking watchers on the drive were no more, and the officers encountered no response until they rapped the brass lion’s-head knocker on the timber door.
‘Who is it?’ asked someone groggily from within the house.
‘They have no idea,’ breathed Grey. Then declared, ‘Police. Open up.’
Although his words were calm, he knew the response might not be. There was a cursing and a scrabbling around in the hall as someone panicked and dashed toward the back of the house. Upstairs, someone opened a window to see the commotion, then quickly closed it again.
‘We have a warrant to search the property,’ urged Grey. ‘Please open up.’ Though no one did, and so he nodded to the man with the steel enforcer,
‘Use the big key.’
The man did so, swinging gently the heavy steel tube at the door, in a manner that saw the lock pop from its socket and the door swing inwards with a boom – if there had been anyone inside who hadn’t been aware of what was happening, then they were now.
Grey’s first sight as he entered the hall was of Matty Lander, in boxer shorts and T-shirt, standing, turning, then fleeing up the stairs. Grey’s first instinct was to follow, but he resisted, knowing the younger brother had never been the brains of the outfit. No, he wanted Jared.
‘With me,’ he instructed the officer standing next to him – for Grey knew that the older brother had almost got away with it, had nearly made his escape, and would be furious.
‘He had an office at the back,’ Grey remembered aloud from Glass’s reports. ‘And he’ll be angry.’
The man beside him could have guessed that for himself. They found the office door and found it locked. The man with the enforcer was nowhere to be seen, so Grey nodded for his colleague to take on the task of kicking it in. ‘My bad knee,’ he explained.
The door came out in its frame, though Jared wasn’t there.
Throughout the house were scuffs of boots and minor scuffles and officers shouting, ‘Hallway, clear,’ ‘Bedroom, clear.’
‘Anyone else upstairs?’ he shouted.
‘No, boss,’ came the bellowed response.
Grey asked much more quietly, ‘Then where the hell is Jared?’
Suddenly an engine sounded below them.
‘The garage!’ shouted Grey. ‘Who’s watching the garage?’
All around him were blank faces – he had to confess to himself that he hadn’t seen a garage there previously, or factored one into his plans for the raid. Grey broke into a run toward the kitchen, which seemed in the direction of the noise.
‘No,’ called Cori, who had come into the hall at the sound of him shouting. ‘The drive.’
The obvious point was heeded by all who were free, as a Keystone Cops melee burst out through the front door… and stopped, for Grey had not been lax, there was no garage door to see.
A mechanical clanking then began around the side of the house. Grey ran at it, as Cori shouted, ‘No!’
Ever faithful, she held Grey back as they reached the corner of the building. They stopped at an angle just acute enough to see a sunken garage door opening and the nose of a sports car shooting out at a dangerous speed.
Between them, and the overhanging bushes lining the drive, there was just room for the car to spurt out and aim itself toward the road. Cori shouted ‘Halt!’ out of duty, but expected no reaction from the driver, and so was not disappointed when there was none.
Grey, now kneeling on the sculpted concrete drive, took no offence at the nearness of the miss.
‘He nearly caught you,’ said Cori, shocked on his behalf.
‘He had nowhere else to go. Was he going to bib his horn at me?’
Elsewhere, a constable recited numberplate and model information through the radio attached to their collar. Cori sat beside her friend,
‘God, I’ve seen enough of you getting injured lately. Do you still think you’re made out of titanium?’
He didn’t answer. Instead he looked around without getting up, and suggested,
‘It does feel like a victory though, doesn’t it?’ And the mood seemed to be shared among the officers who led out Matty and the other two men captured at the house. By any stretch, it had been a good day’s work. But Cori understood what he meant, and answered,
‘Both gangs are gone from town, that feels like victory to me.’ And she patted him on the arm as they got up.
Their return to the Station was triumphant, like a football team with the cup. They had radioed ahead, and Jauncey was waiting. He walked through the doors to the yard to give the two returning parties a grand reception, seeing them in and up the stairs, shaking hands like a host greeting party guests. And something else was transmitted back to all of those he shook hands with, something in the confidence of their Superintendent, something in the reason why they joined the force in the first place.
Chapter 51 – A Public Health Funeral #2
‘You didn’t have to come,’ she told him, as he bounded over the grass.
‘Didn’t I say that to you last time?’ he replied.
They were there again, standing outside the churchyard dressed in black.
‘Oh yes,’ she remembered. ‘That time it was me who was nearly late. How did it go with Police Trust?’
‘Well, it reassures the Board Members to have me show my face. Even if I’m not officially anything at the moment.’
‘A morning well spent then,’ she remarked.
There was a moment’s silence between them – since the Landers case had been settled, he’d mostly been on leave. Eventually he asked,
‘You got the body released then?’
‘Yes,’ she answered, too quickly, too keenly, revealing her relief at the silence being broken. ‘With the accident admitted to, there was no need to hold him.’
‘I wonder if he’d ever been held?’ offered Grey, lapsing into sentiment.
‘Oh, I didn’t mean…’ she responded quickly, not quite sure what she was saying.
But he smiled, ‘I’m sorry, these moments can get to me. I’ll be fine in a minute.’ He went on to explain,
‘But that’s why we do it, Cori. It’s why we come to these funerals for the lost and the loveless, the people who don’t have anybody. Because someone has to love them, someone has to pity for them. Someone has to miss them being around. I can’t bear a death without pity.’
He smiled weakly and she smiled back. The moment was topped-off, and anyway, they had somewhere they needed to be.
‘Lead on then, Inspector,’ he offered jauntily, as they turned toward the churchyard.
‘Not a twinge?’ she asked as she watched him walk unimpeded.
‘Not a twinge,’ he confirmed.
She said, ‘You know, it cheers me up to see you like this.’ As they walked together, she asked in the manner of talking, ‘I thought I might have seen you at the Station yesterday afternoon, to share your news.’
‘You wondered how my Fit For Duty Assessment went? It’s okay,’ he reassured her. ‘I know all this affects you too. I passed, by the way. And I wanted to tell you, but I wasn’t back in town till eight. They kept me at Head Office for a career meeting.’
And any moment now he would tell her the result of that meeting. She braced herself, for so little that was good for one of their careers could be good for the other. They’d clearly loved him at Head Office – he was bouncing over the potter’s field like a spring lamb. She knew what he would say: he had passed the medical, he had got his post back, and she would be returned to Sergeant.
She wondered if she would have to go back to calling him boss?
Cori fixed a smile, and awaited. And waited. And then it dawned on her that he was playing her up. At last he smiled, and said,
‘I’m sorry, but I couldn’t resist it. You’ve got the look on your face of someone expecting a pair of socks for Christmas, when actually it’s a diamond brooch. I’m back in play, Cori; and even better, I’m being promoted to Chief – who knew they even had Chief Inspectors anymore?’
‘But what? How? There’s never been a Chief at Southney.’
‘No, it’s not at Southney.’
‘You’ll be leaving?’ Her fear that had turned to relief now turned to shock.
He explained, ‘I will and I won’t. I’ll be here, there and everywhere.’ He gesticulated with his arms to make the point.
‘Grey, you’re not making sense.’
‘I’m sorry, but there’s no other way to explain. It’s Regional Crimes, Jauncey’s mad plan, or at least a part of it. That was what he was working on, and they’ve bought it, it’s going to happen.’
‘So, he’ll be your boss?’
Here another person might have burst out laughing, though the man Cori knew only gave a wry smile, remarking,
‘And do you think I’d have taken that job? No, you’re stuck with him, I’m afraid, at least until they find him something new.’
Cori gasped, ‘What, even after his behaviour?’
Grey smiled warmly, ‘Once you reach a certain rank, then you never get fired. He’ll be moved sideways, free to cause chaos somewhere else.’
But her feelings for her own future returned, and she had to know,
‘So, what will be at Southney? Will they keep the local stations? Will your old role still exist?’
He continued, ‘Oh yes, you’ll still be there, and I’ll still have a desk for when I need it, but I won’t be on your staff.’
‘Well, maybe that’s a little premature. Though they asked me for my recommendations for my old post when it’s offered permanently.’ He smiled, ‘Of course, I’m probably not supposed to tell you that.’
And at last she could completely smile too. She looked at him again,
‘Chief Inspector,’ she beamed at him.
‘I know,’ he answered. ‘Rewarded for success – who knew?’
‘But, what did they say? Tell me everything.’
‘Well, there was a lot of talk of regional strategies and zero tolerance and crime prevention. But, reading between the lines, it seems that in a world of Jaunceys then it’s becoming hard for the top brass to find anyone who can actually investigate anything anymore. Perhaps policing has become a niche industry in the force?’
‘So, when something big happens…’
‘…wherever in the region…’
‘…they’ll call on you?’
‘Well, one of us – I’m part of a team. There’ll be others, though I guess we’ll rarely meet. It seems there aren’t enough Inspectors for every town now, so we will be sent wherever we’re needed.’
‘And I get to apply for your old job?’
‘You get to apply for my old job.’
Cori looked down at her feet a moment, uttering,
‘Grey, forgive me for only thinking of myself back there.’
‘No need,’ he answered. ‘I felt just the same when you stepped into my shoes. I wouldn’t have come back, just so you know. I’d have gone private, worked for a firm – I’ve had enough offers over the years. I wouldn’t have put you back to Sergeant.’
She wanted to kiss him right then. At that moment, the Reverend approached them to interrupt the love-in. As was only polite, he addressed the lady first,
‘Reverend,’ greeted Cori.
‘And… Mr Rase.’
And there it struck him – Mr – the first time in years of civic life that Grey could remember being addressed as such. Everything came into focus: how close he’d been to jumping for the fear of being pushed; all that he had been prepared to give up.
The Reverend spotted his discomfort,
‘I’m sorry. I was led to believe that you were leaving us.’
‘I can’t imagine who started that rumour.’
‘So, it’s not true?’
‘The ball was left in my court.’
‘So, you’re staying?’
‘Well, I’ve jumped this hurdle,’ he answered, to confuse his sporting metaphors. Before adding, ‘Though, over forty-five, then there’s not much permanent in this job.’
‘Still, that is a relief, Inspector.’ The Reverend turned to Cori, ‘I wonder though if this might not spoil your own advancement rather, dear?’ He asked in a way that didn’t seem impertinent.
Cori only smiled and shook her head, confirming that it wouldn’t.
Grey blurted out, ‘And anyway, I think Inspectors ought to be thought of like Presidents of the United States, don’t you, Reverend? Once a President, always a President?’
‘Of course, yes, Inspector. Then, Inspectors, shall we join the solemn gathering?’
Still in his giddy mood, Grey offered,
‘How like life, eh Reverend, being led to the grave.’
Here the man in black burst out laughing in a way that perhaps only a Man of God could get away with at a funeral.
And with smiles undue for such an occasion, the Reverend led his two chief mourners to join the funeral party.
A body is discovered at the side of a rural road, a victim of a hit-and-run at violent speed, a young man without a name or identification. No car can be found and no driver. The case is destined to be closed without result; though Inspector Graham Rase cannot accept this. He, with only the cautious support of his Sergeant, is determined to resolve the case and name the boy. This despite considerable difficulties in his own life, and the emergence of other criminals in town distracting the police’s attention – a smuggling gang, a series of house-breakings. Though might these other criminals be involved in his case? And might they even be the route to solving it?