This is the second part in a serialisation of One Good Deed, a thriller I wrote in 2010, and which I am making available for subscribers to my newsletter.
Please be aware that while this is a finished draft, it has not been professionally edited, or been through a copy and proof edit process. If you like what you read (or even if you don’t!) you can let me know via the contact form on this site. You’ll find links to my published works here too.
‘Empty your pockets please, Mr Barnes.’
I stood in the small room behind the reception area of Bishops Stortford police station and wondered what the hell was going on. Two burly officers flanked me, standing far closer than I’d have liked. In front of me, a counter obscured the lower half of another, older man. He had a clipboard, which is never a good sign.
‘Empty your pockets please.’ Clipboard pointed at the counter.
‘Are you sure this is necessary. I’ve not done anything.’
One of the officers behind me let out a short barking laugh, silenced by a scowl from Clipboard. Something wasn’t right here. I’d phoned the police, waited for them to arrive, answered their questions and been more than happy to go with them to the station. I thought I was being helpful, not arrested. And yet this seemed very much like I was being processed like a common criminal. Or a cop killer.
‘Just empty your pockets, OK, Mr Barnes.’
There wasn’t much I could do but comply. I was outnumbered, and on their home turf, after all. I dug in my jacket pockets and pulled out my phone, wallet, a few crumpled receipts and an un-posted envelope that was looking a bit battered around the edges. My trousers gave up a small amount of loose change, a red spotted handkerchief and some lint. Clipboard lined it all up on the counter, noting the details down on his sheet of paper before placing all the objects in a ziplock bag. Finally he swivelled round the clipboard and handed me the pen to sign, peering over the counter at my feet as he did so.
‘Slip-ons? Good. Don’t need to worry about laces then.’ Clipboard took the pen away and pressed a button concealed beneath the counter. A door to my left buzzed and clicked open a fraction. ‘Cell three lads.’
‘Hang on, what do you mean cell three? I’ve not been arrested. I’ve not done anything.’ I might as well have argued with a stone wall. The two officers pushed me through the door and I was too astonished to resist. Before I knew what was happening, I was in a cell, the door clacking shut behind me.
‘Detective Inspector Simons is on his way up from Welwyn Garden, Mr Barnes. You just sit tight there until he gets here, OK.’
‘Who the hell’s Detective Inspector Simons?’
‘Just the father-in-law of that young man we found in your bath, Mr Barnes. No one important.’ Clipboard’s voice echoed in the corridor outside, and then his footsteps clacked away into the distance. I was left alone and bewildered, wondering just what the hell nightmare I’d wandered into.
‘How’s that new superintendent of yours shaping up? It’s got to be strange, hasn’t it. Working for a woman who’s young enough to be your daughter.’
‘She’s not that young, Bob. And I’m not that old.’ Detective Chief Inspector George Jonas scowled at the man sitting on the other side of the cheap café table. Ex-Detective Chief Inspector Robert Haley, former Flying Squad and SPG, had a nerve calling him old. It was twenty years since Bob Haley had left the force, and his once thick head of curly brown hair was now reduced to a thin frizz of white. He’d shrunk, too, from the bear of man Jonas remembered. But that aura of power still hung around him like a musk.
‘Remember when we used to come here every day?’
Jonas looked up at the greasy walls, the dozen or so tables with their mismatched chairs, the counter complete with elderly cash register and glass cabinet for keeping the pastries in. Even the old whiteboard with its promise of sausage, eggs, chips and beans was the same. Only the prices had changed, and the absence of a thick fog of cigarette smoke.
‘Best breakfast in the East End, you used to say. That was a load of old bollocks, wasn’t it. Still, it never actually killed anyone. Not if you don’t count Tubby Boardman.’
‘I don’t think you could pin that on here. You’d have to include every other greasy spoon on the Mile End Road. Christ yes, Tubby. I hadn’t thought about him for a while. Any idea what happened to his Mrs?’
‘I think she moved up to Scotland after the funeral. Family or something. You know me, Bob. I’m not the best at keeping in touch.’
They fell silent for a while, for all the world two old coppers reminiscing over time past. You might call them good old times, except that mostly they’d been filled with violence and horror.
‘You had time to think about my offer yet, George?’
‘You know damned well which one. The job.’ Haley picked up his mug of builder’s tea, looked into the watery depths and put it back down again.
‘I don’t know, Bob. It’s a big step.’
‘That’s bollocks, George, and you know it. We’ve known each other, what? Nearly forty years now. I trained you. I know how you operate. I know how you think.’
Jonas drank his own tea, then wished he hadn’t. ‘Right now I’m finding it hard to think about much except my current operation.’
‘You retire in a month, George. Let some other poor sap take the responsibility. Let that new girl of yours show some of that talent you’ve been telling me all about.’
Jonas stared out the grimy window at the street beyond. A thin drizzle had painted everything grey and miserable, much like his mood.
‘They killed Tim,’ he said after a while. ‘Oh, I know the official line’ll be tragic accident. Hit by a bus and all that. But he’d been knifed in the guts. His cover was blown. How the hell did that happen, eh Bob?’
Haley leant forward, his arms resting on the table. ‘It’s a shit line of work we’re in, George. You know that as well as I do. Better even. I got out early, but you stayed the course. You’re like a terrier, you know. Never stop worrying at the rats until they’re all dead. But the problem is you’re just one terrier, and there’s a fuck of a lot of rats.’
‘That doesn’t make it right…’
‘Like fuck. There’s no right and wrong here. There’s just the job. You’re good at it and now they’re going to put you out to pasture. Well fuck ‘em, I say. You’ve got skills I can use, so let me use them. You’ll get paid much more than a shitty little pension. What else you going to do? Pull on a security guard’s uniform and walk around building sites all night? Come on.’
Jonas looked at his muted phone. Three messages had come through whilst he’d been sharing a cup of tea and a chat with his old boss. One was from his superintendent, the other two from the new girl, DS Campbell. Hopefully she’d have some news about Barnes. He shouldn’t be here. Should be out there trying to find the bastards who’d killed Tim. Christ he felt old.
‘I’ll think about it, Bob. That OK with you?’
Haley shrugged, opened his arms out in a gesture of defeat. ‘The offer’s there, George. Just don’t leave it too long. OK?’
Jonas stood up, shoved his phone in his coat pocket. ‘Don’t worry. Chances are I’ll be out of a job by the end of the week anyway.’
‘Leaving so soon? I thought we could have another mug of this delicious tea.’ Hayley picked up his mug again, still didn’t drink.
‘Love to,’ Jonas said. ‘But you know what it’s like with these women superintendents. Never off your back.’ He opened the door, hunched his shoulders against the chill and set off into the rapidly thickening drizzle. Behind him the old man simply sat and stared.
‘You’re in a great deal of trouble Mr Barnes. I suggest you co-operate fully otherwise things will only get worse.’
The interview room was exactly how they look on the telly. Bare walls painted in shiny beige, a single window high up and made of glass bricks just in case a really tall prisoner might catch a glimpse of the street outside. A clunky looking tape recorder sat on a shelf fixed to the wall by someone very bad at DIY, and a pair of video cameras peered down from opposite corners of the ceiling, taking in both sides of the metal and formica table that separated me from two detectives.
I knew one of them. Detective Sergeant Tommy Flass. Well, Tommy Flass anyway; I’d no idea he was a detective sergeant. He played five-a-side football for the local police team. For a short while, a year or so earlier, I’d been in the council team. We must have played a couple of games together. The other policeman was Detective Inspector Robert Simons, and I’d never met him before.
‘Where were you at four o’clock this afternoon?’
‘In Cambridge, visiting my mother. She has senile dementia. Lives in a care home.’
‘You work for the council, Mr Barnes.’ Detective Inspector Robert Simons shuffled through a thin sheaf of papers he’d brought in with him. ‘Tell me, do council employees make a habit of taking the afternoon off like that?’
I tried my best to explain about the meeting in London, about coming home early and missing the stop, but I could see Detective Inspector Robert Simons’ eyes glaze over almost as soon as I spoke. It’s a reaction I’m all too used to, one my colleagues at work wear on a daily basis. I know I’m not the most charismatic of people, but it hurts, all the same.
‘Why did you decide to kill him?’ The question cut me off mid-flow.
‘What set you off? I mean, it’s not every day someone decides to cut a policeman’s throat. Not in Bishops Stortford anyway.’
‘I… You don’t think I…’
‘Did you even know who he was?’
‘I’ve no idea who…’
‘His name was Steve Pointer. His wife’s due to give birth to their first child any day now. When I’ve finished talking to you, I’ve got to go and tell her the baby’s going to have to grow up without a father.’ Detective Inspector Robert Simons’ face had started off red, but the more he talked, the redder it became. I could see the capillaries crazing his bulbous nose, the veins bulging at his temples. His thinning grey hair couldn’t hide the beads of sweat growing all over his scalp as his rage slowly built.
‘Look, I don’t know if they told you, but I called the police when I found…’ I stopped speaking, knowing that I’d done the wrong thing just by the look in DI Simons’ eyes.
‘Oh, sure. That’s very convincing. They’ll never suspect me if I trash my house and call the police. A big boy did it and ran away, eh?’ DI Simons was leaning forward across the table now, his face only a foot or so away from mine, little arcs of spittle covering the distance with nauseating frequency. I tried to shrink back, but the chair was bolted to the floor. And the more I moved away, the more he came towards me, until I was sure he would topple over the table into my lap.
‘You’ve got Steve… Constable Pointer’s blood on your hands. Your bloody fingerprints are all over the crime scene. The knife that cut his throat came from your kitchen. We don’t really need you to say anything, but I for one would very much like to know what kind of a sick fuck you are.’
‘I didn’t kill him. For god’s sake, why won’t you listen to me? I wasn’t home. Surely you can do time of death or something? I was in Cambridge.’
Even I’ll admit that I sounded a bit pathetic, but I was getting scared now, the shock of what had happened starting to sink in. Before that afternoon I’d never seen a dead body; now I’d seen one man actually being killed, and found another one already dead where only hours earlier I’d been lying and playing with my rubber duck.
‘This is pointless. Interview ends at nine fifteen pm.’ Simons slumped back in his chair as Tommy Flass did the honours with the tape recorders. ‘Take Mr Barnes down to the cells. We’ll have another crack at him in the morning.’
‘Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck.’
Detective Sergeant Tommy Flass winced as his superior officer kicked a plastic chair across the staff room. Detective Inspector Robert Simons wasn’t the most pleasant of bosses to work for at the best of time, and these were most definitely not they. The local uniforms were keeping out of the way of the two detectives, partly in self preservation, partly because of the reason Simons were there. Bishops Stortford wasn’t his usual station; the Major Crime Unit lived at HQ in Welwyn Garden City.
‘That little shit knows something. I can tell. God help me, I’ll tear it out of him if I have to.’ Simons pulled out another chair and for a moment Flass thought it, too, was going to be hurled across the room, but instead the DI just shoved it against the wall and then slumped into it, lifting a foot up onto the table. Flass retrieved the other chair, and sat himself down. This was going to be difficult.
‘Umm, are you sure about that, sir?’ Flass didn’t leave the DI enough time to reply. ‘I mean, I know him, Barnes. Not well, you understand, but he used to play five-a-side for the Civil Service team.’
‘Oh, well that’s OK then. He’s a footballer. Can’t possibly be a murderer with it.’
‘But it doesn’t make sense. There’s no motive. What was Steve even doing there?’
‘It’s his fucking beat, sergeant. And if you bothered to read the report, you’d know that control sent him round there to wait for Mr Barnes to come home. A request that came from those bloody FBI goons at SOCA. Serious Organised Crime bollocks. If they knew Barnes was dangerous why didn’t they send a fucking ARU?’
Flass ran a hand through his thinning hair. He had read the report, sparse though it was, but that wasn’t what all this was about.
‘You shouldn’t really be conducting this investigation sir. You know that, I know that, and as soon as the Chief Superintendent hears about it he’s going to go apeshit.’
DI Simons went very still, His normally red face darkened even further, his eyes like thunder as the fuse burnt down ever closer to the bomb deep inside him. Flass tensed himself for the onslaught, but it never came.
‘That’s precisely why I’ve got to get some answers out of the little fuck before it’s too late, Tommy. I reckon we’ve got about six hours before I get kicked off, even less before those pricks from SOCA turn up and get in the way. We’ve got our man in the cells, and I’m damned if I’m going to let him get away.’
‘But he didn’t do it, sir. Sam Barnes isn’t a murderer. He’s a loser, I’ll give you that. But he’s got no reason to kill anyone, let alone a policeman.’
DI Simons dropped his foot to the floor, rubbed at his face with his hands. When he removed them, Flass could see all the anger leached away, replaced with a terrible sadness that made the inspector look far older than his fifty-seven years.
‘Fuck it, Tommy. I’ve got to try. What else can I do? Go home and tell my daughter her boyfriend’s dead? That my grandchild’s going to grow up without a father? I have to do this or I’ll never be able to look her in the eye again.’
‘At least let me take the lead, sir. If only in name. In forty-eight hours it’ll be out of all of our hands anyway. Whoever did this killed a police officer; the Chief Super’s going to want everyone working the case. The top brass’ll be all over us.’
‘Umm, Detective Inspector Simons?’ A young female PC had appeared at the common room door, looking nervous. Flass smiled at her, but the DI merely grunted.
‘There’s a couple of SOCA detectives just arrived.’
Simons let out a long, defeated sigh, then levered himself up from the chair. ‘Come on then Tommy,’ he said in a tired voice, barely able to muster an expletive. ‘Let’s go and see what the fucking feds want.’
Fear can do strange things to you, particularly when you’re locked up and have no control over your situation. It felt like I had only just lain down on the narrow bench-cum-bed bolted to the wall of my cell when the lock clacked and the door swung open. Of course, it might have only been minutes, they’d taken my watch and phone away, after all.
‘On your feet sunshine.’ A middle-aged uniformed officer beckoned me from the doorway. I got up, glancing at my wrist out of habit before remembering that all my personal belongings, were in a plastic zip-lock bag somewhere.
‘Turn around. Hands behind your back.’
I was handcuffed, then lead through the station to another interview room. This one was a little bigger than the last, and slightly better decorated. One wall had a large dark mirror on it, which no doubt concealed an observation room on the other side. I barely paid it much heed as I was pushed into my seat, my hands released. I was too busy trying not to stare at the person sitting opposite me; perhaps the most strikingly beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
‘Mr Barnes. You’re a hard man to find.’
I looked up into the darkened corner of the room and saw a man I didn’t recognise loom out of the shadows. No doubt he’d been lurking there all along, watching me like they do in the cop shows on telly. As he stepped into the light, pulled out the chair beside the beautiful woman and sat down, I could see that he was more of the DI Simons school of policeman, greying hair, slight potbelly that no amount of good tailoring could really hide. He was thinner than the DI though, and didn’t look as angry.
‘Your boss said you’d be home by half past three.’ He settled into the chair. ‘That’s why we asked the local plod to send a man along, to let you know we wanted to talk.’
‘I’m sorry. Who are you?’ The words popped out of my mouth before I realised what I was saying. I could feel the back of my neck reddening, prayed the blush wouldn’t spread to the rest of my face. I was still in the police station, so these were obviously police officers. And more important police officers than those I’d spoken to before, I was sure.
‘Of course. I should have introduced myself. Detective Chief Inspector George Jonas. And this is my colleague Detective Sergeant Campbell.’
A faint smile flickered across Detective Sergeant Campbell’s face at the mention of her name. She was small-framed, almost delicate-looking, with perfect pale skin and shocking red hair that exploded from her head in ill-controlled curls. As she caught my eye, the smile turned into an angry scowl.
‘So where were you, Mr Barnes? What took you so long to get home from Victoria Embankment Gardens?’
‘Where?’ My brain slowly started to replay the earlier part of the conversation. ‘My boss?’
Detective Chief Inspector Jonas picked up a thin brown folder that had been lying on the table in front of me. He opened it up to reveal a stack of photographs. I couldn’t really see what they showed, upside down as he shuffled quickly through them, but then he found the one he was looking for, flipped it around and pushed it towards me.
‘Victoria Embankment Gardens. One fourteen and fifty-five seconds precisely.’
I looked at the photograph of me sitting on a bench, too close to the bins. It was a bit blurred, but I could see the other man leaning towards me as he spoke his nonsense words.
‘So that’s what it’s called.’ I looked at the photograph again; it had obviously been clipped from a larger image and blown up, and the angle made it quite hard to make out my features. I knew it was me, but then I see myself in the mirror every morning.
‘Umm? How’d you know this was me?’
‘I already told you, Sam. Your boss. Glenda Thomas. You know, the one you were supposed to meet at four?’
My puzzled expression must have had some effect. Jonas leaned forwards and took the photograph back, replacing it with another one.
‘Her meeting finished early, so my boss decided to give her a tour of the facility. Imagine her surprise when your face appeared on our big screen as she walked in the room.’
The second photograph showed me walking away from the bench as everyone else hurried in the opposite direction. I was only half looking at it, trying to work out what Jonas was talking about. Then the penny dropped.
‘You’re Serious Organised Crime Agency. SOCA.’
Jonas gave me a good boy smile. I think he might have patted me on the head if he’d been able to reach. ‘Yes, we are. And that man who sat next to you was an undercover agent. So tell me, Mr Barnes, why did you walk away? Everyone else was running to help. Or at least get it on film for their blogs.’
Jonas threw another photograph my way. At first I couldn’t work out what it was; just a jumble of colours and shiny stuff. Then I recognised a bloodied hand and quickly pushed it away.
‘That’s what was left of the man who’s getting cosy with you in the other photograph. His name’s Tim Prowett, and I’m his boss.’
Jonas leant forwards, staring at me across the table. ‘Exactly, Mr Barnes. Fuck. Tim was deep undercover. He’d infiltrated a particularly nasty gang. People who don’t think twice about murdering innocent bystanders. Or policemen. Someone stabbed him, in broad daylight in a busy park in central London.’
‘Stabbed? But I thought he… The bus.’
‘Someone stuck a knife in his guts, Mr Barnes. Then he staggered over to you. God only knows why, maybe he thought you had an honest face. He sat very close to you for ten seconds, and then he staggered away. Our pathologist reckons he’d lost too much blood by then to really know what he was doing. But what I want to know is what he said to you. Did he give you something? A message to be passed on?’
Jonas was almost on his feet now, leaning across the table expectantly. I snuck a peek at DS Campbell, who hadn’t said a word throughout the interview. She stared back at me with an expression I couldn’t read.
‘Look, I’m sorry I ran away,’ I said. ‘I know I should’ve gone to help, but…’ I wanted to tell them about my bad luck, about how I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, always getting blamed for things that weren’t my fault. But all that seemed a bit pathetic in the light of two dead men.
‘He tried to tell me something, but it was noisy, and he wasn’t really speaking clearly. I thought he was a drunkard. Christ, if I’d known he was hurt I’d have tried to help.’
Jonas stared at me for a long time, as if his eyes could burrow through my skull and read the truth from my brain. I think I know how a rabbit feels when it looks up from the tarmac and sees two bright lights bearing down on it. But whatever strange detective chief inspector powers he was using, they obviously didn’t give him the answer he wanted.
‘Did he give you anything? A disc or a memory stick perhaps?’
‘Shit.’ Jonas slumped back into his chair and fell silent.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said without thinking.
‘Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault.’ This was the first time the woman had spoken and her voice surprised me. What was a soft Scottish brogue doing down here? Compared to the Essex twang of most of the policemen I’d seen today, it was a welcome relief and a pleasant surprise, setting me at ease. OK, so I’m a sucker for a pretty face, but it takes more than that to make me bold enough to ask questions.
‘Look, what’s this all about?’
‘What’s what about?’
‘This.’ I pointed to the picture of the dead man crushed by the bus. ‘The policeman in my bath. Was it the same person killed them both?’
‘We’re not sure, Mr Barnes. We think so. And not one person. One person couldn’t have done what they did to Constable Pointer. I’m thinking two, working closely together.’ Jonas was South Essex. I knew that accent well enough from childhood holidays to the coast. He sounded like a Pikey trying to flog you stolen watches.
‘So what you’re telling me’s that after they’d killed your undercover cop, they came looking for me, because why? He sat next to me on a park bench?’
‘We think they were tracking him after they’d knifed him. I’ve got a team going through every inch of CCTV we can get our hands on right now.’
‘So you know what they look like?’
‘Not exactly, no.’
I fell silent for a moment, trying to come to terms with what I was being told, and what they weren’t saying. I might be a bit useless, but I’m not stupid. There’s a difference.
‘How did they know where I lived? No, forget that. How did they even know who I am?’
Campbell looked down into her lap, finding her fingers obviously fascinating all of a sudden. Jonas held my gaze for a silent count to ten before he answered.
‘The same way we did, I expect.’
‘What? My boss told them? Sure, she doesn’t like me much, but that’s taking it a bit far, don’t you think?’
‘Detective Sergeant Prowett was ex-SAS, Sam.’ Jonas switched to using my first name with all the slickness of a professional hawker. ‘He was one of our best undercover operatives. I don’t believe he blew his own cover by making some stupid mistake, and if he’d known he’d been made, there’s no way even two professional hit men could have got the drop on him.’
That took a moment to sink in. ‘So what you’re telling me is that there’s a leak in SOCA? Someone on your team is passing on information to this gang?’ They didn’t need to answer. I could see it in their faces.
‘Christ. And now they’re after me because what? Someone sat next to me on a park bench? Fuck.’ Wrong time, wrong place, remember. Gets me every time.
‘We can give you protection…’ DS Campbell started to say, but Jonas cut through her.
‘Actually, sergeant, I was thinking that Mr Barnes might be more help to us out in the open.’
‘What?’ We both of us said it at the same time, but Jonas ignored his colleague, focussed all his attention on me.
‘These are very dangerous men, Sam. Part of a gang that’s caused untold misery. You know. You’ve seen what they did to Tim, and to Constable Pointer. But they want you badly enough to kill a policeman for, and that makes you very powerful bait.’
‘Sir, you can’t be serious about this,’ Campbell said. ‘It’s against all the rules. You’ll never get it sanctioned even if he agrees.’
‘We’re outside the rules here.’ Jonas pointed at the tape recorders sitting on their little table by the wall, and I realised that they hadn’t been started. ‘This meeting never happened. No-one at HQ knows about it. Someone’s passing on info to these bastards and I want to find out who. The only way to do that is if we keep as many people out of the loop as possible. And with the help of Mr Barnes here.’
Two pairs of eyes fixed me with expectant stares. I could feel the world starting to spin out of control. I should have shouted for Detective Inspector Robert Simons to come and lock me up in the nice warm cell again, even with the toilet still full of somebody else’s jobbies. But two men had been murdered today, one in my own bath. Surely I owed it to their families to try and help find those responsible.
‘Umm… What exactly do you want me to do?’
‘Can I have a word, sir?’ Detective Sergeant Campbell stopped Jonas before he could follow Barnes out of the interview room. She didn’t grab him, that would have been too needy, but her voice was pitched just loud enough to get his attention.
‘What is it, sergeant?’ Jonas shifted on his feet like he’d got his boxers twisted into his arse crack. He poked his head out the door, looked up and down the corridor as if expecting a horde of eavesdroppers to appear at any moment.
‘What the hell are we doing?’ Campbell asked, then added ‘Sir?’ just for good measure.
‘We’re trying to catch the bastards who killed your boyfriend, aren’t we?’
‘Tim was a friend, sir. A colleague. He wasn’t my boyfriend.’
‘That’s not what I heard. Didn’t you used to take leave together. Walking in the wild Welsh hills?’
Campbell ignored him. ‘We’re way off procedure here, sir. Using a civilian like this? Without any kind of backup? Christ, we could get him killed.’
‘I don’t know if you were listening in there sergeant, but Mr Barnes volunteered to help us with our investigations. I’ve no intention of letting him out of our sight for a minute.’
‘But we can’t…’
‘We can’t what? I’ll tell you what we can’t do. We can’t hold him against his will is what. We can’t charge him; you and I both know he’s not guilty of anything except being the biggest loser in history. We could take him to a safe house, but how good would that be? We’ve got a leak somewhere, Elinor. In our own division. Someone’s talking to these bastards, giving them details of everything we’re doing. Barnes isn’t any safer if I go by the book, and if I do it this way we might just force their hand.’
‘I don’t like it.’ It sounded pathetic and Campbell knew it.
‘I don’t like it either, but I don’t know who I can trust. I took a bet on you because, well, I thought you and Tim had a thing. Now you tell me it was separate beds and purely platonic I’m not so sure.’
‘What about the DCS? Is she happy with you running this investigation on your own?’
‘You let me deal with her. Worry about keeping an eye on Barnes.’
Campbell was about to protest, but a knock at the door shut them both up. Detective Inspector Simons stood in the doorway, his face a picture of unhappiness.
‘You wanted to see me?’
‘Yeah. Your man Flass, he any good?’ Jonas leant back against the table, giving Campbell a better view of his arse than she would have liked.
‘That depends on what you want him to do,’ Simons said. ‘If it’s organising the intra-mural five-a-side football team, then Tommy’s your man. If you’re trying to track down a couple of ruthless cop killers, then I’d say he lacks experience.’
‘Can he run a surveillance team?’
Simons stepped properly into the room, closed the door behind him and leant against it. ‘I guess so. Why?’
Campbell put her head down and started playing with her phone, even though she could barely get a signal in the interview room. She could already smell the testosterone, and quite frankly wanted nothing to do with it.
‘Barnes has agreed to help us. We’re getting him a panic alert linked to the airwave network, and we’re going to set him loose. I need someone to follow him at all times, close enough to get to him before it’s too late, but not so close that they’re spotted.’
‘Jesus fuck. You don’t ask much do you. Any idea what an operation like that’s going to cost? You do know we don’t have a tenth of SOCA’s operating budget.’
‘Get over yourself, Simons. I’m offering you a chance to be part of this operation. You want me to call in HQ? Fine.’ Jonas snatched his phone from the tabletop, started pressing buttons. ‘We’ll both be out of a job by the end of the day, and we’ll lose the only chance we’ve got of catching these bastards.’
‘You might be out of a job, Jonas. But this is your fuck-up, not mine. I don’t want anywhere near it.’
‘That’s a bit late, isn’t it? You’ve been running the investigation all day. You interviewed Barnes when you know damn well you shouldn’t have been anywhere near him. You think I’ve fucked up. Jesus. You ripped up the rule book when you heard your son-in-law was the victim. That’s a suspension and a disciplinary hearing at the very least. Way I hear it you’re on your last warning already.’
Campbell looked up to see Simons’ shoulders sag, the fight gone out of him. She was quietly impressed with Jonas for digging the dirt so quickly, but it was tempered with the realisation that the time might have been better spent trying to catch the bad guys.
‘Look, Simons. Robert.’ Jonas stepped closer to the detective inspector. ‘We’re both skating on thin ice here. You know it, I know it. Frankly I don’t give a shit if they fire me; I’m due to retire in a month anyway. But I’d quite like to keep my pension. Maybe my freedom too. So what say we both take a step back. Hand this thing over to Campbell here, and Flass. They’ll keep us in the loop, we can advise them, but officially we’re nowhere near it.’
Simons furrowed his brow, staring at Jonas with a look that was probably very effective on constables, but less so on battle-hardened DCIs. Jonas smiled, and shrugged as if to say what he was proposing was the most natural and sensible course of action, and not a complete break from any semblance of protocol.
‘I’ll have a word with Flass,’ Simons said eventually. ‘About time he started pulling his own weight around here.’
‘Good man.’ Jonas slapped him on the arm, and for an instant Campbell thought he’d gone just too far. ‘We’ll get the bastards, Robert. Don’t worry about that.’
‘We bloody well better.’ Simons flung open the door and stalked out. Jonas waited for a count of ten seconds and then rounded on Campbell. The smile was gone.
‘Get on it, Sergeant. I want round the clock teams briefed and ready to go in the hour. We’ll need a panic alarm too.’ He pocketed his phone and headed for the door. ‘I’ve got to report to the DCC. Keep me up to speed.’
‘Sir.’ Campbell nodded her head at his retreating back. No point trying to say she was already up to her neck. And there was always the chance DS Flass wouldn’t be totally useless.
‘This device operates on the police band. Same as our airwave sets. It’s a simple enough thing. Just the one button. Press it and every officer in two miles will come running.’
Detective Sergeant Campbell handed over the slim black plastic box as if it were something illicit, backhanded with a nod and wink in a darkened corridor of a dodgy club. I took it with nervous fingers, worried that I would set it off by mistake, but the button was slightly recessed. The whole thing was about the size of a fag packet and weighed next to nothing. A green led light glowed at the top to indicate that it was switched on and had power. I couldn’t see any way of switching it off, which was slightly reassuring.
‘DS Flass here’s organising the surveillance teams.’ Campbell nodded at the other detective, standing in the corner of the room. ‘We thought it best that local CID did that, what with, well, you know.’
‘What with your own team being compromised?’
‘Yeah. That.’ Campbell glowered, which only made her face prettier. I don’t think it was me she was angry with, which helped.
‘So what am I supposed to do?’ It had been worrying me ever since I’d agreed to Jonas’ mad suggestion. I still wasn’t sure why I’d done that, except that every time I closed my eyes I could see that poor dead policeman in my bath, his arse sticking up in the air and his blood sprayed all over the tiles. Someone had so little respect for life or the rule of law that they didn’t think twice about doing something like that. If I could help in any way to bring them to justice, then I could hardly refuse. I guess I felt a little guilty too, however mad that was. He’d been killed in my house, after all, and he’d been sent there because of me.
‘You’ve got somewhere to stay, right?’
‘Yeah, I’ll crash with my mate Izzy. He won’t mind, as long as it’s not for more than a few days.’
‘Then you need to go to his house and act like you normally would.’ Campbell shuffled the sheaf of papers she’d been playing with throughout our interview. ‘I think we can be fairly certain the men looking for you know that you’re here. They’ll be watching to see where you go, and how much police support you’ve got.
‘That’ll be me,’ Flass said. ‘At least that’s all they’ll see.’
‘There will be others though? Standing by? Close by?’
No one answered, at least not straight away. The only noise in the room was my heart beating in my throat. I’ve fallen for a few scams by gifted conmen down the line; even paid two hundred and fifty quid deposit on a timeshare before thinking to Google the salesman. Never got my money back, but I didn’t lose the thousands that others did. In all my life I don’t think I’ve ever come across as slick a salesman as Detective Chief Inspector George Jonas. As I looked from Campbell to Flass, finally processing the idea of two or more professional hitmen being after me, it occurred to me that the man who’d sold me down this particular road was nowhere to be seen. Conveniently departed before the finish so he didn’t have to justify himself. One good deed, he’d said, and it had sounded heroic. Now I wasn’t quite so sure.
‘You can pull out at any time, Sam.’ Campbell looked me straight in the eye and I could see the conflicting emotions play across her face. She wanted to catch these guys, I knew that. But she wasn’t at all happy about the only option left. I was sorely tempted anyway, everything was getting way out of control. Finding the deepest, darkest hole and hiding my head in it until everything went away was a very attractive proposition. But the stubborn part of me that always gets me into trouble was quick to remind me why I’d agreed to this idiot plan in the first place. Someone, OK, more than one person, had come looking for me, and when they’d found a policeman instead, they’d killed him. That was how bad they wanted me and until I could be sure they’d been caught I was never going to be able to rest.
‘Can I really?’ I asked. ‘And then what? Sit in a safe house until you find these guys? And who’s going to know where that safe house is?’
‘I’m sorry, Sam, I really am.’ Campbell was almost in tears, and I might have fallen for it if I hadn’t remembered exactly who was at fault here.
‘Yeah, right. Come on then. Let’s get it over with.’
‘Still switching off the phone, I see.’
Bob Hayley nodded at the offending article as Jonas killed the screen and shoved the handset into his coat pocket.
‘You know me, Bob. Learnt it from you, after all. Technology’s moved on a bit, of course, but it’s the same, really. Can’t think straight with that thing interrupting the whole time. If it’s important they’ll leave a message or come and find me. I’m not going to be out of touch more than a half hour, and I can pick up after that.’
‘A half hour? Is that all you can spare your old boss these days?’
‘Count yourself lucky.’ Jonas waved at the waitress, made a T shape with his fingers before she could reach them. She scuttled off to get the order in. Hayley already had his mug in front of him, although Jonas knew the old man wouldn’t drink it. Nothing so coarse for ex-DCI Robert Hayley as builder’s tea from a mug with a brown line where the teabag string had sat over the rim for too long. Buying it was a nod to the old days, but he’d moved on to prosperous gentleman and civilian security consultant now. Cigars and brandy were more his thing these days.
‘So how goes the case?’ Hayley asked. ‘I take it you’re just running the one at the moment.’
‘Too fucking right. Me, Campbell and some idiot hick from the shires up against an organised mob who managed to infiltrate our organisation and take out an ex-SAS man.’ Jonas ran a hand through his straggly, thinning hair. ‘I’d be going grey if I had any left.’
Hayley smiled, briefly. ‘Campbell? She the transfer from Lothian and Borders? Red-head girl. You brought her in here a couple of months back?’
‘That’s the one.’ Jonas sipped his tea, then wished he hadn’t. The best part of forty years he’d been coming to this café with Bob Hayley, and the one thing that had never changed was just how bloody awful the tea was.
‘How’s she shaping up?’
‘She’ll be fine. Once she gets over her fear of authority figures. Or anyone older than her for that matter. Don’t tell her I said so, mind.’
Hayley raised an eyebrow. ‘Sounds like a detective constable I once knew.’
Jonas grimaced. ‘That was a long time ago, Bob. Besides, it’s hard to be in awe of your seniors when there’s no one left in the department older than you.’
‘Tell me about it.’ Hayley laughed mirthlessly. ‘You getting anywhere with the pair who killed Tim?’
‘Pair?’ Jonas looked up sharply. ‘I never said anything about there being a pair of them.’
‘It’d take more than one to get the jump on your man. I knew him, remember.’
‘Yeah, of course. Still, there could’ve been more.’
‘Nah. You’ll be looking for two of them. Three’s too big for that kind of teamwork.’
‘What, you’re going to profile them for me now?’ Jonas swirled the scummy liquid around in his mug.
‘I can help, George. I’ve got contacts, and I know what I’m doing. Sure, I could run you up a profile. Just give me what you’ve got on these guys and I’m on it.’
‘I might just take you up on that.’ Jonas looked his old friend in the eye. ‘Strictly off the record, mind.’
Hayley coughed out a mirthless little laugh. Tapped himself on the chest with a long, thin finger. ‘Ex-DCI, remember? I know you can’t involve a civvy in this officially.’
‘Except for Barnes, of course.’
‘Barnes? I’d have thought you’d have him squirreled away in a safe house by now. Out of the country even.’
‘Not a chance. He’s our only lead. And anyway, he didn’t trust us to keep him safe. Can’t say I blame him really. So he’s out on the street as I speak.’ Jonas looked at his watch.
‘Is that wise?’
‘He’s got a panic button, and he’s under twenty-four hour surveillance. Local plod, so they’re not mixed up with our lot.’
‘You’re using him as bait? Sneaky, George.’
‘Risky is what I call it. For us and him. But it’s my only real option right now. I need to catch these bastards and quick.’
Hayley slumped back in his chair, put his hands in his pockets. ‘Well, I’ll do anything I can to help. I liked Tim, he was a good cop.’
‘He was, and he deserves a better epitaph than being run over by a bus.’ Jonas considered his un-drunk tea for a moment before adding. ‘I’ll send you what we’ve got so far. Not that it amounts to shite.’
‘Don’t worry about it, George. I’m not without resources of my own, you know. I’ll see if I can find out anything about your hitmen. Just keep checking the messages on your phone, OK?’
Jonas stood, fished a pound coin out of his pocket and dropped it beside the full mug. ‘Thanks, Bob. It’s nice to know someone’s got my back.’
The processing room felt slightly less hostile going through it the other way. It probably helped to have Tommy Flass with me. He might have been the same rank as the duty sergeant with the clipboard, but he was a detective, which seemed to give him the edge in the seniority stakes. He stood to one side as my belongings were fished out of a large plastic bin behind the counter; it would appear they’d not made it as far as the secure storage yet.
‘You want to check it?’ Clipboard dumped the bag on the counter in front of me.
‘You’ve not stolen anything, have you?’ I inspected the clear plastic bag; I could see my phone, wallet and handkerchief in there, some receipts and an envelope I’d probably have to replace before I posted whatever was inside it. Maybe even retype the letter. There was even some loose change weighing down the bottom of the bag. I didn’t really want the hassle of checking everything off. I just wanted out and away from this nightmare.
I signed the sheet alongside my earlier signature, hefted the bag.
‘You really letting them use you as bait?’ Clipboard asked. The directness of the question startled me more than the realisation that there were no secrets in a police station.
‘I guess I’d rather that than sit in a safe house.’ Although as I said it, the alternative did have a certain appeal.
‘Well, you’re a braver man than me.’ Clipboard extended a hand to be shook. Surprised, I did so.
‘Come on then Sam.’ Tommy Flass opened the door for me. ‘You got your panic button?’
I pulled the slim plastic box out of my pocket. It was about the size of a fag packet, with a single button in the perfect position to be thumbed if you held it in your palm, recessed to avoid setting it off accidentally. The flush led light still glowed a reassuring green – batteries fully charged.
‘Right then. Let’s get going.’
‘Hang on a minute. Sam, your phone.’ DS Campbell came into the room at a trot. The temperature dropped and I could see Clipboard stiffen. No love there.
‘Phone?’ For a moment I couldn’t think what she meant.
‘You know, mobile device, used for communication?’
‘Oh, right.’ I blushed, opened up the plastic bag and took the phone. Not quite knowing why, I handed it over.
‘I’m putting my mobile number in here.’ Campbell tapped expertly at the screen. I felt a sudden, boyish surge of stupid optimism; a mad fantasy that here was a pretty woman giving me her number. Then she ruined it all by handing the phone to Flass. ‘Tommy, you put yours in as well. And the station switchboard. The priority number, not the one you give out to the public.’
Flass took a little longer manipulating screens, then handed my sullied phone back to me. I looked at it briefly, then slipped it into my pocket.
‘Check in at midnight.’ Campbell glanced at her watch. I went to look at mine, then realised it was still in the plastic bag. ‘Again before you go to bed. If there’s no sign of our men, I’ll call you at eight, OK?’
I nodded, unsure what to say. Flass opened the door and we stepped out of the police station, into the threatening darkness. For all that I’d been arrested on suspicion of murdering a police officer, I didn’t realise quite how safe I’d felt inside until I looked up and saw the wide open expanse of the night sky. No hiding now.
‘You’re really in the shit, Sam. Y’know that?’
Izzy Connell is a twat. He’s also probably the closest thing I’ve got to a friend these days. We were at school together, from age five up. Only Izzy dropped out at sixteen; I did A levels and went to university. He probably earns five times what I do in a year, which just goes to show. Mind you, most of that money comes from dealing in dodgy phones and knock-off ipods, so his long-term financial stability doesn’t look good. And you can’t beat a civil service pension. Well, not at the moment.
‘I mean, a dead man in your bath’s pretty bad. But a dead policeman? Jesus.’
Izzy took a long swig of his beer. I nursed my pint and fiddled with a soggy cardboard coaster. We were sitting in his front room, drinking his beer and talking shite. Or at least trying to talk shite. The day’s events kept coming back like a bad curry on Sunday morning.
Detective Sergeant Flass had given me a lift from the police station to Izzy’s house after Jonas and Campbell had finished with me. He’d said a great many things about surveillance, and co-operation with SOCA, but his obvious excitement was in such sharp contrast to my own mood that I barely heard a word. When he dropped me off at the bottom of Thornton Road it had been a relief to get out of his car and away from his incessant prattling. That was until I realised that I was standing alone in a dark street, and there were two men out there looking for me. Two men who’d thought nothing of murdering a policeman in my house.
‘Geez, Sam. You need to lighten up a bit.’ Izzy punched my shoulder with a fist. ‘Drink up. I need a piss and I’ll be coming back past the fridge.’
I looked at my beer, unconvinced. The plan had been to get comfortably numb, as Pink Floyd would recommend. But nothing tasted right after the smell of blood, and I wondered if it ever would. Still, at least Izzy buys half decent beer, so I knocked back what was left in my glass and handed it over for refilling.
Left to muse whilst Izzy was emptying his bladder, I fished out the plastic bag that the police had given me and pulled out the contents. They’d given me back my phone and wallet, which was nice. My house keys were perhaps less useful, since the first thing I’d have to do once I finally got the place back was change the locks. Well, maybe the second thing after I’d got some professional cleaners in to scrub the place beyond clean. The usual rubbish that I seem to accumulate during an average day made up the rest of the bag. Till receipts, a bit of loose change, a slightly crumpled envelope that would have to be posted sometime soon. I was staring blindly at that last one, trying to remember where it had come from, when Izzy returned bearing beer. Had he bothered to wash his hands before pouring it? Probably not.
‘There you go, Sam. Drown your sorrows in that.’
I shoved the rest of the rubbish into my pockets. That was another thing I was going to have to sort out; clothes. I guess I could ask the police to bring some stuff from the house, but somehow the idea of Tommy Flass going through my underwear drawer just made me queasy. A trip to M&S in the morning then.
I picked up the slim black plastic panic box from the tabletop, given to me by the lovely Detective Sergeant Campbell. It was smooth and reassuring.
‘That it then?’ Izzy nodded at the box. I pushed it over to him and then took a long swig of beer. This time is slipped down a bit better.
‘I’ve to press it if anything happens. They’ll be there within a minute.’
‘You sure the battery’s working?’ Izzy picked up the little machine and made as if to press it. I grabbed it off him.
‘It’s not funny, Izzy. They want to kill me.’
‘True.’ Izzy put the black box down and picked up his pint in its place. ‘Shit Sam, you really do have a knack, y’know.’
There’s a strange thing, but if you’re drinking with your mates, as soon as one person goes to the toilets, everyone has to. It wasn’t long before I felt the pressing need and excused myself from Izzy’s questionable company. Pretty soon he’d get the whisky out, and then there’d be no turning back. I glanced at my phone on the way up the stairs; almost half past eleven. I’d have to phone the lovely DS Campbell soon, let her know no-one had tried to kill me recently. If you didn’t count Izzy with his farting.
Blessed relief came none too soon, and I stared at my face in the mirror as I washed my hands, the way you do when your brain’s working at booze speed. For a moment I completely forgot the day’s events; I was just round Izzy’s after a drinking session. We’d sit down with a bottle of scotch and talk rubbish until one of us passed out, then phone in sick for work in the morning.
Then I saw the white enamel of the bath reflected in the mirror behind me, and an image splashed across my mind. Constable Steve Pointer, arse in the air. His blood sprayed all over the tiles.
Beer’s never as nice the second time around. I found myself kneeling in prayer in front of the great white porcelain god, heaving the contents of my stomach into the bowl. Then the lining of my stomach, and finally just dry retches. It took a long time for my body to calm down enough to stop, and even then I was shaking like an alcoholic who’s not had a drink in a week. My legs trembled as I hauled myself back upright, bent to the basin and washed my face, rinsed out my bile-bitter mouth. I sat on the edge of the bath for a while, trying to get my head back together. Perhaps a whisky session with Izzy wasn’t such a good idea. Better phone DS Campbell now and tell her I couldn’t do this. I needed protection, a new identity, I don’t know what.
‘You’re OK, Sam,’ I told myself after a few minutes had passed. I don’t know who I was trying to fool, but my voice at least gave me the impetus to stand up, walk to the bathroom door, unlatch the bolt and pull it back.
A man stood in the hallway outside, and for a stupid moment I thought he was waiting to use the bathroom.
‘Jesus mate. I thought you was never going to come out’ve there.’
My hand went to my pocket of its own accord. There’s no way that I’d have been smart enough or brave enough to think of the panic button at that point; it was pure instinct. Didn’t do me any good, of course.
‘You looking for this?’ The man in the hallway held up a hand the size of a small country, the tiny black box held between two great sausage-fingers like a child’s toy. ‘Course you are.’
Then he hit me. Out of nowhere, his other hand a fist with the force of a train. My head slammed back, my knees forgot what it was they were supposed to be for, and I crumpled to the floor to a sound of roaring jet engines.
A tinny electronic buzzing sound woke her from exhausted sleep. DS Campbell felt like shit, and hauling herself out of a very uncomfortable staff room chair she reckoned she probably looked like shit too. A glance at her watch told her it was three in the morning. The room was empty, a buzzing noise from a refrigerated drinks dispenser the only sound.
An overlarge airwave set lay on the chair next to her. She was more used to her mobile, but the surveillance cars were all on the network. A pity they’d kept the modern gear for themselves, but at least this one worked. She put a call through to car one.
‘Nothing going on, ma’am,’ came the reply. ‘Subject came home from the pub around half eleven. We watched him all the way to the house. Lights went off about one.’
Sleeping the sleep of the just. Campbell rubbed at her arse, numb from the seat she’d slept all of two hours on. Rolled her shoulders to try and ease the kinks out of her spine. If only she’d been so lucky.
‘He phoned in at midnight OK?’
A chill in the pit of her stomach. ‘Midnight call-in. Remember the briefing?’
‘Right you are.’ A brief conversation between the two policemen in the surveillance car. Campbell couldn’t hear the words as someone’s hand was smothering the microphone, but she could tell from the tone that it wasn’t good. Hefting the handset, she set off in search of a living body somewhere in the depths of the station. She needed a lift and fast.
‘Umm, not exactly, no.’ Car one sounded distinctly embarrassed. ‘We thought he was to phone you.’
Campbell wanted to say that she was catching the first three hours of sleep she’d had in two days, but realised that would sound petulant. ‘Have you spoken to DCI Jonas?’
A short pause, then: ‘Umm, no. Should I have?’
‘What about DS Flass?’
‘Err… Tommy’s with you, isn’t he?’
Running now, Campbell headed for the duty desk, pulling out her mobile and hitting the speed dial number for Jonas as she went. ‘Just sit tight and watch the house. I’ll be with you as soon as I can.’