You have stumbled upon part six of my free thriller – One Good Deed. If you did this in error and are wondering what the hell’s going on, you can refer back here for all the details. If not, then read on.
This is a third or fourth draft of the book, but it’s never been professionally edited. As such, you’ll find a few inconsistencies and some typos. Sorry about that. You’ll also find it refers to SOCA, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, which no longer exists but did in 2010. The perils of writing contemporary fiction!
There will be nine parts in total, so keep an eye out for the rest. And if you’re enjoying the story, do let me know. There’s a contact form here.
As results go, it could have been better. I was lying in a shallow puddle at the far end of a large truck park, just off a motorway if the noise of rushing cars coming from beyond a line of scrubby bushes and trees was anything to go by. I was soaked through and barefoot, I didn’t have a clue where I was. But then again, I wasn’t dead and I wasn’t being forced to dig my own grave.
My phone lay on the ground a few yards away, right between two heavy tyre tracks where the truck had somehow managed to miss it. I crawled over and picked it up, wiped the mud from it as best I could, tried switching it on. It came briefly to life, then chirped once and died. It didn’t really matter; who the hell was I going to phone for help?
Across the far side of the park, a series of grey, metal-clad warehouse sheds rose above the lines of stationary trucks. Getting to them was agony, each step a new blossoming of pain in my bruised feet. On closer inspection, the sheds turned out to be an agricultural merchants, with a greasy spoon café attached. I looked through the café window at the people enjoying their breakfast inside. It was warm and inviting, and my stomach growled a reminder that I’d not eaten anything in God alone knew how long. But too many of the assembled diners looked like my tattooed friend the truck driver, and I was acutely aware that my appearance was at best wild. Chances are I’d be taken for a tramp and thrown out as soon as I entered.
The agricultural merchants was a bit easier. The main area was piled high with sacks of feed, rolls of fencing wire and other equally mysterious things. Beyond that, a part of the warehouse had been converted into what is euphemistically called a ‘Country Store’, and as I had come in through the warehouse at the back, I managed to get into the shop without being noticed by the young woman at the counter.
There wasn’t that much choice of footwear; basically steel-capped boots or black rubber Wellingtons. Socks were in even shorter supply, but I managed to find something that would probably have been good on a Mount Everest expedition. My feet were numb with cold now, which at least dulled the pain a little, and I figured that the thicker the sock the more cushioning it would give me. All I had to do was pay for the things without getting myself thrown out, or worse, held until the police arrived.
In the end the girl at the counter was a star. She looked at me, eyes widening as I put the boots and socks down in front of her, then gave me a sympathetic smile and said: ‘Stag night? Friends can be heartless bastards at times, can’t they.’
It took me a moment to get it, but then it clicked. I gave her my best sheepish grin. ‘Yeah. But at least they left me with my wallet. And it’ll be their turn soon.’
‘I’m guessing you don’t want these in a bag.’
‘No, like that’s fine. How much do I owe you?’
Boots and socks came to just over forty quid, which isn’t bad I guess. But it was thirty quid more cash than I had. I looked at the cards still in my wallet and wondered whether the police would be watching to see if I used them. They did that on the telly, but I seemed to remember something from one of those interminable Police Liaison Committee meetings that it wasn’t as simple as just picking up the phone to the bank. It wasn’t as if I had any choice in the matter anyway. I needed to get to somewhere safe, even if only for long enough to catch my breath and work out what to do next. And I couldn’t do that with bruised and bare feet. So I plucked out my credit card, handed it over, tapped in my pin number and waited with bated breath for it to authorise.
‘There you go sir, your receipts.’ The girl smiled at me again. ‘And there’s a customer toilet over there. You know, if you want to clean up a bit.’
‘Do I look that bad?’
‘Umm… Yes?’ A little shrug of the shoulders. ‘A bit.’
‘OK. Thanks.’ I picked up my purchases, took them to the customer toilets and got the shock of my life when I finally looked in a mirror. A couple of days of stubble I could cope with; it’s not as if I’ll ever manage a full beard anyway. At least it hid the worst of the bruising and the red welt where Mr Crisp had cut my cheek, but there was no disguising the heavy rings around my eyes, the bloodshot eyeballs and off-square squint to my nose. I’d obviously managed to wipe most of the blood off my face earlier, although I couldn’t remember when, but it still spattered my shirt collar and made dark stains on my jacket. My trousers were mud-splattered, or at least splattered with something. I had a sudden image of throwing up all over Jonno’s shoes. Maybe I should have bought a new pair of trousers as well. Then decided I needed to get away from this place as soon as possible. Just in case alarm bells were ringing in some police station to say I’d just used my credit card.
It’s amazing what you can do with a bit of warm water, foamy soap from a hand dispenser and paper towels. I knew I was still a sight, but when I left the toilets I felt a lot less conspicuous. The girl at the counter smiled at me again, making me wonder whether she was perhaps a sandwich or two short of the full picnic. If she was, I wasn’t complaining.
‘You couldn’t tell me where the nearest station is?’ I asked her, then added: ‘Actually, where the hell am I anyway?’
She laughed an airy giggle that only reinforced my earlier thought. ‘You’re in Kettering, silly. Where did you think you were?’
‘Kettering?’ I dredged it from my memory. A14 from Cambridge to the M1, then north to Birmingham. ‘Of course. So, Kettering’s got a station, right?’
‘It’s a shame really. I liked that car.’
‘You’re fucking joking mate. Overpriced German rubbish. My arse is still numb from sitting in those seats. Like fucking rocks they were.’
Jonno watched the mechanical arm drop down from high overhead onto the unsuspecting black BMW. There was something very satisfying about the way the glass smashed and expensive metal buckled as four heavy steel pincers pierced the body shell. It put him in mind of summer holidays as a boy, playing the penny arcades on Southend Pier. The little crane with its grab arm on a string, where you had only a few seconds to manoeuvre it over the prize you wanted. And even then nine times out of ten it’d let go before it could drop it into the collecting scoop. Or worse, pick up something horrible and girly like a fluffy doll on a keyring.
‘That’s precision German engineering, I’ll think you’ll find.’ Mr Crisp shoved his hands in his pockets, turned away from the wreck of his car and walked over to the scabby Portacabin that served as a site office. Jonno stayed to watch as the car was lifted into the air and dumped into the crusher. Hydraulics roared and metal screamed as what had been a luxury executive saloon was turned into an expensive block of scrap metal. Off to be melted down and turned into baked bean tins. Well that’s all it fucking deserved, useless piece of shit that it was. He could just about forgive it being as uncomfortable as fuck, but that crap with the boot, well that was just a joke.
Mr Crisp had tried to blame it on him, of course. ‘You slammed it shut too hard.’ Yeah, well, if they’d made the thing properly in the first place that wouldn’t have been a problem, would it? And anyway, it was probably Barnes rolling around in the back that’d done it. Either that or the thing was just badly made in the first place.
It was the Old Man who’d insisted on getting rid of it, of course. Sure, Mr Crisp would have offloaded it as soon as this nonsense with Barnes was done with, but that was just the way you worked. No point leaving any more evidence around than you needed. This though, bringing the car to an unknown yard and getting it crushed, well, it felt wrong. There was too much out of their control, and Jonno didn’t like that feeling.
The crusher hissed, its huge plates expanding as it finished the job and ejected a surprisingly small metal square. A young lad driving a fork lift rushed in, scooped it up and carried it off to a pile of similar blocks, waiting to be loaded up and taken to a smelter to be melted down. The crane with its great grabbing forks had already reached for the next shell from the pile. Soon the black BMW would be just another lump in amongst hundreds. Gone and good riddance.
Jonno kicked at a stone as he walked over to the Portacabin, watching it skitter across the oily ground and disappear under a pile of dead cars that looked like it might topple at any moment. A warm fog of cigarette smoke greeted him as he pushed open the door and stepped inside. Mr Crisp stood on one side of a desk, the breaker’s yard owner sitting at the other. There was a tension in the air that even Jonno could feel.
‘That the best you can do?’ Mr Crisp said. ‘The boss said we’d be given something similar to what you’ve just crushed out there.’
‘He might have told you that.’ The yard owner reached forward for the keyring that lay on the desk between them, picked it up and jiggled it in the air. ‘But this is what you’re getting. Short notice, you see. Give me enough time, I’ll get you anything. Want something straight away, this is what you get.’
‘Problem?’ Jonno asked, stepping forward to stand alongside his colleague, using his height and bulk to intimidate the yard owner. It didn’t seem to work; the man just flicked the keyring towards them and leant back in his chair.
A rumbling cough from behind him surprised Jonno. He’d not bothered to check the rest of the Portacabin. It was too small for one thing, and Mr Crisp would already have assessed the threat level. Looking around, he watched a small mountain unfold itself from a battered armchair stuck in the corner. The mountain resolved into a man who had to stoop to avoid banging his head on the Portacabin ceiling. He looked like he might have spent most of his life hitting his head on things, not much going on behind the eyes. But his hands weren’t much smaller than the great metal pincers out in the yard. He could probably crush cars just by flexing his biceps. Maybe they called him out when the machine wasn’t working.
Still, in here he’d be about as much good as a one-legged man at an arse kicking competition. That bulk, there was no fucking way he’d be able to move quickly. Mr Crisp would have his throat open before he’d taken a step forward, leaving the man behind the desk for Jonno. That’d be fun. Wipe the grin off the smug bastard’s face.
Mr Crisp hadn’t even turned when the big man had coughed. Jonno looked back, to see him reach out and gently pick up the keyring. One fat plastic block dangled from a black leather fob with an enamel badge on it.
‘I’m very disappointed,’ he said. ‘You came highly recommended.’
‘Yeah, well. Like I said, short notice. Anyway. That’s not so bad.’ The yard owner nodded at the key, now in Mr Crisp’s black-gloved grasp. ‘You’ll get better mileage out of it than that BMW of yours.’
Mr Crisp shrugged his shoulders, closed his fist around the key. ‘Come on Jonno,’ he said.
Jonno looked at the smug grin on the yard owner’s face, back at the man-mountain still blocking the light from the end window. He liked the odds for a fight, but it seemed Mr Crisp had other ideas. Made sense, he supposed. No point kicking up a fuss here, it just complicated things. Didn’t help that he really wanted to hit something though.
Behind the Portacabin, away from the tottering piles of half dismantled cars, heaps of rusting engines and metal bins full of other unidentifiable parts, a dozen or so reasonably new motors were parked in a neat line. There was some nice stuff there, too. Even a Range Rover Sport. Jonno liked Range Rovers. Lots of room, and they were made in England, too. He’d had a Range Rover a while back; it’d be nice to have another one.
Mr Crisp held out the key fob, pressed the button. It wasn’t the Range Rover that flashed its lights, but some small, red estate car. Jonno peered at the badge on the back of it, let out a groan.
‘No fucking way. Alfa Romeo? That’s fucking Italian, isn’t it?’
‘If you hadn’t broken the BMW, we’d still be able to use that.’
‘That wasn’t me. And anyway, you said Barnes would be sleeping like a fucking lamb for hours.’
‘Just shut up and get in, Jonno.’ Mr Crisp opened the drivers door and folded himself into the seat like a man who was trying get past something without any of it touching his body. Jonno climbed into the passenger side, sinking into soft black leather. The car smelled new, looked clean enough inside.
‘Hey, you know this isn’t too fucking bad,’ he said, finding the switches that controlled the seat and reclining it back. ‘Could almost be a Ferrari, right?’
Mr Crisp said nothing, looking for somewhere to put the key. Eventually he found a slot on the dashboard, underneath a big red button with ‘start’ written on it. He pushed the fob into the slot and the dials all lit up. Pressed the button and something sounding like a London Taxi clattered into life.
‘Another diesel. Fucking marvellous.’
DS Campbell stepped out of the cool, dark entrance lobby into the sun-baked car park, squinting as the brightness stung her eyes. She stopped for a moment, fished around in her bag for a pair of shades and her car keys, then carried on towards the spot where she’d left her car the night before.
You could tell a lot about a station by what was parked out the back. The state of the squad cars gave a good indication as to how tight that year’s budget was, and ranks of armour-plated riot vans, or their conspicuous absence, spoke volumes about the quality of the neighbourhood. Then there were the officers’ personal cars, if the yard was large enough to accommodate them. Top brass would always own Jaguars or Range Rovers, Campbell was sure there was a clause in the contract when you reached superintendent that said you had to go and buy one or the other. Lower down the food chain, the detectives tended to choose something bland, a Ford or Vauxhall that would go unnoticed and was cheap to run. At least they did once they’d been in plain clothes a while. The police service still seemed to attract more than its fair share of testosterone-heavy young men who thought a flashy car was an indication of how large their penis was even though all it really showed was that they didn’t know how to use either properly. If this nick was anything to go by, the shires were every bit as bad as she’d expected. Too many flash Subarus and Evos. Made her glad she was a woman with nothing to prove. Her old Peugeot did her fine, started first time every morning and owed her nothing.
And now some wag had painted a cock and balls across the bonnet.
Campbell walked slowly around the car, seeing more paint on every panel. Rude words mostly, sometimes just crude splodges of white, but whoever had done the deed had been thorough. It would cost a good deal more than the car was worth to get it resprayed, even if she begged a favour from the garage that looked after the SOCA pool cars when they got bent. She looked up and around the car park, seeing several security cameras covering the whole area. Ten quid said that they’d all have mysteriously malfunctioned for half an hour that morning.
‘Ah shit. That’s well out of order.’ DS Flass had followed her across the car park and was now staring at the artwork, mouth slightly open.
‘It’s to be expected. I’m not exactly flavour of the month around here. Seems Steve Pointer was a popular bloke.’
Flass stared at his feet, shuffled a bit. ‘Everyone always says that, when someone dies,’ he said. ‘You know, how they were a pillar of the community, a great pal, life and soul of the party. You never hear someone on the news saying “actually he was a bit of a shit and deserved everything he got” do you.’
‘Well Steve Pointer was a total shit.’ Flass looked up suddenly, as if the words had slapped him around the face. ‘Not that he deserved what he got, mind. No one deserves that. But no-one in the station much liked him before he died, if you know what I mean.’
‘What about Simons? I mean, Pointer was his son-in-law.’
‘Not strictly speaking “in law”. Steve and Gillian weren’t actually married. And anyway, the DI left his wife when his daughter was about five. Least ways that’s how I heard the story. He’s been a hands-off father most of her life.’
‘Doesn’t mean he doesn’t love her.’
‘Yeah, well.’ Flass nodded at the car. ‘I’m sorry about this.’
‘Don’t sweat it. I’ve seen worse. Going to make driving through North London interesting.’ Campbell fished out her keys and dangled them on one finger. ‘I was going to drive over to Barnes’ house, but now I think I might walk.’
‘You might want to look at this first.’ Flass held up a sheet of paper. ‘It just came in.’
Campbell took the proffered sheet of A4, fresh out of the fax machine by the look of it, and scanned the information it contained. A communication from the credit card surveillance unit. Sam Barnes, or someone using his Mastercard, had spent almost forty pounds on something earlier that morning.
‘This place.’ She tapped the page to indicate the name of the shop. ‘You know it?’
‘Not really. But I know where it is. A14 up past Cambridge. Maybe an hour and a half from here. Hour if you push it.’
Campbell unlocked the car. ‘Get in,’ she said.
‘What?’ Flass stared at the enormous cock on the bonnet. ‘You’re not going in that?’
‘You want to waste time booking out a pool car?’ Campbell had the engine running and was ready to go without him, if only she knew where she was going. Flass clambered in, rocking back into the seat and scrabbling for his seatbelt as Campbell exited the car park in a squeal of tyres.
‘Left or right?’ she asked as they reached the first junction.
‘What? Oh, right. You need to get to the motorway. Look, do we need to go so fast?’
Campbell pulled out in front of a slow-moving taxi, ignoring the toot of horn and suggestive hand signal.
‘Sure we do. You don’t want anyone recognising you in a car looking like this do you?’
‘It’s not often we get officers of the law visiting, Inspector. I do hope you’ll not distress our guests.’
Mr Crisp tensed at the nurse’s words, his normal grimace hardening. With a visible effort he calmed himself. ‘I can assure you ma’am, we’re the very soul of discretion. I need only a few minutes with Mrs Barnes. It’s about her son, Samuel.’
‘Oh, he’s not in any trouble is he? Only he was here just yesterday.’ The nurse clasped her hands to her ample bosom, the worst of all imagined outcomes written clearly across her face. And not far from the truth of it, Jonno reckoned. They’d arrived at this backwater on the edge of the city in good time, presented their immaculately faked warrant cards to a middle-aged woman who would probably have been fooled by a piece of white card with the word ‘Detective’ scrawled on it in pink crayon, and now they were being led into what could only be described as the bowels of the place. It certainly smelled like something you’d flush away, perhaps after wondering what was in that curry you’d had the night before. And everywhere you looked there were old people: sitting on chairs slack-mouthed in front of the telly; loitering with intent in the corridors like octogenarian adolescents; moving with glacial slowness across the entrance hallway, aided by Zimmer frames; there was even one old boy outside in his dressing gown and slippers sneaking a crafty fag.
‘Sam’s helping us with our enquiries,’ he said. ‘He witnessed an unpleasant, umm… event yesterday morning.’
The nurse looked rather puzzled at this, as if she couldn’t quite make the connection between that and the need to talk to the man’s mother.
‘He’s not going to be able to come and see her for a while, if you get my meaning. He just asked that we explain everything to her.’
If anything, the nurse’s puzzled frown deepened, but she shook it off with a professional shrug.
‘Well, I’m sure he knows best. But I’d better warn you. Mrs Barnes isn’t the easiest of people to get through to. She’s been fine this morning, but her moods do tend to swing a bit. Here.’
They had reached a door, which the nurse knocked upon before opening. Inside, the room smelled slightly worse than the hall. A white-haired woman sat in a sagging armchair, staring at a television screen showing a children’s cartoon. She was wearing a pink towelling robe and mismatched heavy woollen socks.
‘Mrs Barnes? Hetty? There’s two men from the police to see you.’
At the word ‘police’ Mrs Barnes’ eyes flickered away from the screen, taking in the small group of people standing at the door, then back to the cartoons. She gave no other indication of having seen them at all.
‘Could we have a moment alone?’ Jonno blocked the nurse as Mr Crisp stepped into the room. ‘It’s a rather sensitive matter. Witness protection. You understand?’
For a moment it looked like the nurse was going to make a fuss, but then, as if on cue, a loud crash echoed down the hall, followed by a cackle of manic laughter.
‘Oh Mrs Goodwin, not again,’ she said, distracted. Then to Jonno: ‘Just be careful not to upset her. And if you need anything, pull the cord.’ She nodded to a thin pull cord hanging from a ceiling rose just beside the door. Then she was off.
Jonno closed the door. Mr Crisp was already hunkering down by the old lady, trying to get her attention.
‘Mrs Barnes, I wonder if we could have a word? It’s about your son, Sam.’
‘Shhhh.’ Mrs Barnes put one finger to her lips, not moving her eyes from the screen. Jonno surveyed the room, looking for anything that might be useful. There were two doors in addition to the one they’d entered. One led to a small bathroom, the other to a bedroom with a frighteningly institutional bed in it, sheets folded neatly back and pillows propped up against the headboard.
‘Only it’s very important we find out where he’s gone, Mrs Barnes. Has he called you today?’
‘Shhhh.’ Mrs Barnes shook her head violently, still keeping the finger pressed to her lips, her eyes glued to the screen.
A small chest of drawers held a mismatch of clothing, mostly clean and neatly pressed, all old. Under the window, a narrow flat-pack desk served as a dressing table, with a small mirror blocking the best of the light from the courtyard outside. The drawers held nothing more interesting than an old Mills and Boon novel. Not one he’d read, so Jonno slipped it into his pocket. A single photo showed a younger Mrs Barnes with two children.
‘Where would he go, Mrs Barnes? If he felt threatened? It’s very important we find him.’ Mr Crisp’s voice had taken on the tone it had when he was using his knives. Calm, almost reassuring. Jonno popped his head round the door just to make sure his colleague hadn’t got carried away.
‘Shhhh. Mustn’t talk.’ This time Mrs Barnes clapped her hand over her mouth as if to hold the words in. She was still fixated on the television, but her eyes glazed over momentarily, like a child suddenly having a very big thought. Mr Crisp rocked back on his heels.
‘Jesus fucking Christ.’
The smell hit Jonno like a wall of sewage moments later. He gagged, then ran to the window, pulling it open and sticking his head out for fresh air. That was when he realised what he’d seen before. The photograph. Taking a deep breath, he pulled himself back into the room, picked up the photo and looked at it a bit more closely. Two children, one a good bit older than the other, stood side by side in front of their mother. The youngest was obviously Sam; the other a girl of perhaps fifteen or sixteen. Quite good looking, really, if you were into that sort of thing.
‘You have two lovely children, Mrs Barnes,’ Jonno said as he took the photograph back into the main room. The smell was rank, but he did his best to bear it. Mr Crisp had his hand over his nose and looked like he was trying to breathe without letting any actual air into his lungs. Mrs Barnes had a look of smug satisfaction on her face, and squirmed in her seat like a delighted puppy. Then she saw the picture that Jonno was holding.
‘Here, that’s mine.’
‘Yes, of course.’ Jonno handed her the photo. ‘That’s Sam there, and who’s the other one?’
Mrs Barnes frowned, hugging the picture to her chest. ‘Alice of course. Lovely Alice. She’s such a good girl.’
‘Alice? Yes. Sam did mention her. Tell me, Mrs Barnes. Where is Alice now?’ He gave her his best sweet smile, even though the smell in the room was making his stomach heave.
‘Alice? Alice? Don’t know no Alice? Who are you? What are you doing in my room? And me in my nightie and all.’
Jonno took a step back. Behind the chair, Mr Crisp was rifling through the bookcase, one hand over his mouth and nose. ‘I told you before, Mrs Barnes. We’re policemen, remember? We’re looking for Sam, but we’d like to talk to…’ he nodded at the picture, still clasped to Mrs Barnes’ breast. ‘Alice, is it?’
‘Don’t know no Mrs Barnes. Don’t know no Sam. Don’t know no Alice. Don’t know no policemen. Go away.’ Mrs Barnes leant to one side, trying to see the television screen past Jonno. He stepped aside and she slumped back into her chair. Something squelched around her nether regions and another waft of foul smell rose into the room.
‘Jesus, I think she’s shat herself.’
‘It happens. Old biddies like that. Get Alzheimers or something. Be doing the world a favour just putting them down. Ah, here’s something.’ Mr Crisp had retrieved a slim black book from a small table in the corner and was flicking through it. ‘Typical. It’s under A for Alice, not B for Barnes. Address in Birmingham, and a couple of phone numbers.’
‘Birmingham? I fucking hate it up north.’
‘You hate it everywhere.’ Mr Crisp slipped the book into his crumpled jacket pocket and took out his thin leather driving gloves. ‘Check the door, OK?’
Jonno nodded, crossing to the door. There was no key or bolt on this side, so he put his foot against it to stop anyone coming in unexpectedly. Mr Crisp meanwhile had pulled on his gloves and was standing directly behind the chair. Mrs Barnes seemed to have forgotten all about them, gazing intently at her cartoons. Even when Mr Crisp clasped one hand firmly over her mouth and nose, she struggled only enough to be able to see. She sat there and slowly suffocated to death without so much as a squeak. It was pathetic really. Like Mr Crisp said; doing the world a favour.
According to the helpful assistant at the country store, Kettering Station was about three miles walk, and easy to do as the road followed the railway all the way there. It felt more like a hundred, and each step was a little bit of hell concentrated on the soles of my feet. At least the walk gave me time to think, even if most of the time the same frightened rabbit thoughts kept circling round and round. It didn’t help that every time a car went past I had to fight the urge to throw myself into the hedge and hide.
I couldn’t call the police; I knew that much. Every time I’d turned to them, the two hitmen, Jonno and Mr Crisp had been close behind. I couldn’t turn to my best friend, since he was already dead because of me, and any of my work colleagues would almost certainly try and persuade me to go to the police, so calling on them wasn’t going to work. I could have gone to my mum, except that she hardly even knew who she was, let alone me these days. All of which meant there was really only one person I could ask for help. My sister, Alice.
It’s not that we don’t get on, Alice and me. More that we just don’t communicate much. She’s a good few years older than me anyway, and I suspect she’s always thought me a bit odd ever since the breast-weighing incident. Or maybe that’s just my rationalisation. Either way, she’d left home before I’d even finished school. Qualified as a lawyer and went to work for some big firm in Birmingham. She came home for a couple of Christmases, but stopped when mum’s dementia began to show. I’ve stayed with her in Birmingham on the odd occasion I’ve had reason to be up there, but that’s pretty much it.
We talked the most when I decided mum needed to go into a home. She came up with the extra cash that meant we could afford to put her in the Abbey. That was four years ago, and I’ve seen her face to face exactly twice since. But she’s my sister, and she’s a lawyer. If she couldn’t get me into some kind of protective custody or something, then no-one could.
The only problem was, I couldn’t remember her phone number. It was in the memory on my mobile, but that was dead, its screen cracked and useless. I guess I could have phoned directory enquiries and asked them for it, but I had a sneaking suspicion she was ex-directory. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t think of it. Well, I guess I had a lot on my mind.
I did think of a cunning way to throw everybody off my scent though. Quite chuffed with myself for coming up with it, really.
The ticket office at Kettering was manned by a portly woman with wispy tufts of hair sprouting from her upper lip and chin, so I didn’t feel too bad about staring at her back when she gave me a look she most likely reserved for things she wished she hadn’t trodden in.
‘I need a one-way ticket to Cambridge, please,’ I said. ‘And can you tell me when the next train leaves?’
She took my card and processed the transaction without a word, then finally spoke as she handed over the ticket and receipt.
‘Platform 3. Should be due in about ten minutes. You’ll need to change at Leicester and then at Peterborough.’
‘What’s the best way to get to Birmingham from here?’ I tried to make the question seem innocent enough, checked over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t holding up anyone else who wanted to be served. I wasn’t, but still got a scowl from the woman behind the glass screen.
‘Leicester. Change there. Straight to Birmingham New Street. You want a ticket?’
‘No, that’s all right. I was just curious. I’m going to Cambridge. Off to see my mum.’ I added, wondering whether I’d overdone it. I had thought there’d be a direct train to Cambridge, with the Birmingham train going in the opposite direction, but then Geography had never been my best subject. My cunning plan had been to get on the wrong train and buy a new ticket once it was moving, throw everyone off my scent, as it were. Looked like I was going to have to go to Leicester first either way.
The train arrived on schedule and I found a seat with a table. I couldn’t stop myself from looking nervously at the other passengers, and out onto the platform where I was sure Jonno and Mr Crisp were going to arrive at any moment. Then with a banging of doors and a blast of whistle we were off. I was on the move, away from my captors and all the shit that had happened. Soon I’d be at Alice’s. I could relax there. It would be safe. She’d know what to do.
Fine, yellow, oily crumbs tumbled from greasy fingers onto the lapels of Mr Crisp’s crumpled black suit as he worked his way slowly and methodically through the packet. Jonno watched from the corner of his eye, listening to the crunch, crunch, crunch of his colleague’s jaw as it turned deep fried potato into starchy goo. Each swallow was a bobbing of that prominent Adam’s Apple, threatening to burst through the paper-thin skin of his neck.
Surveillance was the worst. Waiting in a car or a van, parked up across a deserted street, not knowing if your intel was good enough, if the target was ever going to show. Scanning the neighbouring windows for lace-curtain twitches; you never knew when some nosey old bint was going to phone the police and complain about the car that hadn’t moved all day. Even if none of the other cars had moved all day either.
Packet finished, the ritual began. Mr Crisp brushed the crumbs from his lapels and into his lap. Then he took the empty bag and began to fold. His long, thin fingers took on a life of their own, so dextrous it made Jonno feel ashamed of his stubby Rugby-player hands. In a seamless flow of movements, what was once a packet of crisps became something else entirely. A neatly tied bow, a small boat, a passable impression of a swan. This time it looked like a hawk, preparing to stoop on its prey. Mr Crisp reached forward and placed it delicately on top of the dashboard. Five other foil-packet origami shapes already sat there; it had been a long wait.
Mr Crisp wasn’t his real name, of course. That was, well, that was lost in the mists of time. It was the old man who’d first called him crisp as a joke. Then someone had got the wrong end of the stick, thought it was his real name and called him Mister Crisp. Somehow the name had stuck. It was ironic, really. When you looked at the clothes he wore, the way he could turn a neatly pressed, brand new jacket into something that looked like it had been stolen off a dead tramp, just by putting it on. But then that was probably what the old man had meant when he’d called him crisp. Nothing to do with the man’s eating habits at all, or his strange passion for origami. Irony. The old man did that a lot.
Jonno shifted in his uncomfortable seat. This Italian thing was better than the German barge Mr Crisp loved so much, but it wasn’t designed for someone with his build. The old Range Rover was much better for a long surveillance job, but they’d had to get rid of that last month. Shipped off to Africa with a load of stolen Mercs and a couple of Tonkas. A shame that dealer had bled all over the back seat like that. Still, forensics would have a hard time finding it in Addis Ababa or Timbuktu or wherever the fuck it had ended up. Perhaps when this job was over he’d get himself another one though. He liked the Range Rover, even if it was as conspicuous as fuck.
‘Shouldn’t be long now.’ Mr Crisp tapped the glowing clock on the dashboard and turned towards him. Jonno caught that unmistakeable whiff, saw the brown and black stained teeth for a moment. That was the downside of a starch-based diet. Far worse than eating sweets all the time. He’d read that somewhere. Sugars got dissolved in your saliva and swallowed away, but the starchy stuff stuck to your teeth, in the cracks and gaps between them. Perfect breeding conditions for the bad breath bugs and the stuff that dissolved your enamel away.
‘If he shows at all,’ Jonno said.
‘Oh, he’ll show.’ Mr Crisp reached around behind his seat, fished another packet of crisps from the bag. He pulled it open with a swift, practiced move, dipped two fingers in and drew out a single, pale disc of fried potato, paused a moment before putting it in his mouth.
‘And if he doesn’t, then his sister will be home soon.’
‘You like working for SOCA then?’
Campbell glanced across at Tommy Flass sitting in the passenger seat alongside her. He was tense, probably because of her driving, maybe because he preferred being in control. Or of course there could be the fact that the car was covered in obscene graffiti and he didn’t need that kind of attention.
‘Why? You thinking of applying for a transfer? We’re getting disbanded soon, so I’d hurry if you are.’
‘God no. It’s bad enough here, without having to cope with international drug rings and professional hit men.’
‘Oh aye? Bishop’s Stortford, a hotbed of villainy. I can see that.’
They shot up the M11, pushing the little Peugeot way past the speed limit, the noise of the engine and the rough concrete road surface making conversation difficult.
‘What about Jonas? He a good DI?’
‘To be honest, I’ve not worked with him long. He seems OK, I guess. A little judgemental, but then he’s been in the game a long time. He’s something of a legend in the Met. Has a reputation for taking down the big gangs. This’ll be his last case before he retires. If we’re not both fired first.’
‘How’d you get into it, then. SOCA that is?’
‘It seemed like a more glamorous job than walking the beat in Edinburgh, I guess. Oh crap.’
‘We’ve got ourselves an unwanted escort.’ Campbell nodded towards the rear view mirror, where the concealed flashing blue lights of an unmarked squad car were fast approaching from behind.
‘I thought control were meant to be letting traffic know we were coming.’
‘Aye, well that’ll be the same control as painted a great cock on my bonnet. Shit, this is wasting time.’ She indicated and pulled over to the hard shoulder. The squad car crept up behind, stopping several yards back, and a lone figure climbed out. He took his time getting to them, no doubt admiring the full vulgarity of the images and words daubed all over the paintwork. At least it gave Campbell the opportunity to dig out her warrant card. She held it up to the window as the electric motor wound down, taking a very small measure of satisfaction at the look on the traffic officer’s face as he saw the logo.
‘I… Ah… That is to say. You were going a fair lick there, sergeant…’ he squinted at the card. ‘Campbell.’
‘Detective sergeant. And your control centre were supposed to have informed all patrol cars I was coming.’
‘Well nobody told me anything about a car covered in, well, colourful pictures. I mean, people might take offence.’
‘Aye, people like me. It’s my bloody car, after all. Now can I go, please? I’m trying to stop someone from being murdered here.’
‘Murdered?’ The policeman’s forehead crinkled in a deep frown. ‘Well we’d better give you an escort then. Where’re you headed?’
The rest of the journey passed swiftly as the unmarked patrol car cleared a path for them through the traffic. Someone must have called in to control, because after ten minutes they were joined by another squad car, this one marked, and the three of them burned up the M11, then onto the A14. In what seemed like hardly any time at all, they were pulling into the car park of the country store where Barnes’ credit card had been used.
Inside, the sales assistant looked rather nervous at the arrival of several uniformed police officers and two plain clothes detectives, but she studied the mug-shot of Sam for a while, as if it were some kind of test her whole future depended upon.
‘He looked a lot paler than this. Black eyes too, and his nose was squint. But I’m pretty sure that’s the guy was in here this morning. Said he’d been left that way by his mates after his stag night. Mates like that, who needs enemies, eh?’
‘What did he buy?’ Campbell asked.
‘Boots and socks. They’d taken his own. He probably ought to have got a new shirt and some trousers whilst he was at it. They were in a shocking state. Nice jacket though.’
‘Did you see which way he left?’
‘Oh yes.’ The shop assistant beamed. ‘He headed off to the station. Here, he’s not in any trouble is he?’