‘Damn Sally, why did she have to go so distant to him now?’ Andy Bowson thought to himself as he sat waiting outside the meeting room in West Midlands Constabulary headquarters later that day. ‘She didn’t play this hard to get when we were going out, if only she hadn’t rediscovered God.’ As soon as he thought it, he chided himself, but he had sent eight text messages over the last few days and had only a single monosyllabic response to the first.
He was broken from his reverie by the meeting room door opening. George Edward rose beside him and ran his fingers through his ill-kempt hair. Both men looked a mess after twenty-four hours without a break, but Bowson knew that this was the least of their problems right now. The Chief Constable’s assistant beckoned towards them somewhat sympathetically, “You can both go in now gentlemen.”
Bowson led the way in and Edward followed closing the door softy behind them.
“Please take a seat, gentlemen. Would you like tea or coffee? You’ve had quite a night and day of it I understand.”
It was the first time that Bowson had met the local Chief Constable and the man surprised him by showing some welcome old world courtesy, something he was not used to from his own superior, Chief Superintendent Martin Dager, who sat next to the Chief Constable. The Chief Constable continued, “May I introduce you to our local elected Police and Crime Commissioner, my Deputy Chief Constable and a colleague from the security services who says we can call him Henry.”
Politicians and spooks already here for what was surely only an operational policing matter, albeit one with particularly sensitive connections. Oh well, it was above his pay grade.
After the assistant had provided refreshments and left the room the Chief Constable, who clearly wanted to dominate a meeting on his own turf, invited Andy to recount the events of the last twenty-four hours.
“…. so the media seem to be concluding it was a drug related killing, a gang turf war, at least so far.” Bowson concluded a few minutes later.
“So, who was it?” broke in the Commissioner.
“A little bit early to speculate don’t you think Alina?” interjected the Chief soothingly to the plump, PCC with the dyed red hair.
There was a tension there that even the worn Bowson could sense, but fortunately, before the PCC could respond, the spook intruded. “More to the point, whoever it was used something special. You think the shot was taken from well over half a mile away and was from a large calibre rifle, probably 0.50 inch, so much so it blew his head off and took the front door with it? Nothing like that’s been used here since the 1970’s when the IRA got a few US military sniper rifles and caused consternation among the security services. Fortunately, they didn’t have anyone good enough to use them to their full potential and they were recovered fairly quickly. Whoever was behind this is serious.”
Bowson was impressed, perhaps the guy was ex-military, he had the look. He had certainly got to a conclusion that Bowson was only just reaching. This meeting was a minefield, potentially a career limiting one, lots of agendas and prejudices. He spoke slowly, almost as if reading from a written report, treading gingerly.
“Well clearly the heroin and other narcotics we found in the property indicate there is a serious drugs connection and the young girl we found there suggests it was another case of grooming and exploitation by a local ethnic criminal gang. However, the nature of the killing almost confirms our, and your, interest in the victim.”
He inclined his head to the MI5? man who still hadn’t fully introduced himself.
“Ballistics will take a few hours to confirm the details, but we don’t expect it to help much, they were far too professional. All we have is one report from a witness over half a mile away of an unknown grey van driving away, quite unhurriedly, just after the second shot. No cartridge cases, no strange lodgers, nothing. House to house enquiries are continuing, but the locals aren’t particularly volunteering anything and quite a lot purport not to understand English, so we’re having to use interpreters which slows us down. Nevertheless, I suspect you’re right – the weapon was clearly large calibre, the shooter highly expert and unlikely to be working alone – but it’s just speculation at present.”
The spook ignored the other would-be questioners. Was he the one with real authority here?
“I assume you are calling in any nearby close circuit camera tapes for examination? Yes? Not that they will tell us much. Unless we are miraculously lucky, perhaps the best we can hope for is to find the getaway vehicle burnt out somewhere. I’d be surprised if the bullet fragments tell you anything, it’s just too professional.”
The PCC would not be denied any longer. “This is intolerable, this… gentleman,” Bowson noted that her tone suggested otherwise, “Informs us that a highly expert hit-man has murdered a local resident in a heavily populated street of my city in broad daylight. A resident that the Counter-Terrorism Command have been watching for a week without anyone informing me, and a colleague from the security services says we shouldn’t expect to find out who committed this heinous act. Why are they involved in this anyway?”
The Chief Constable sighed and tried to take back control of what was turning into a ‘scene’. “Let’s not forget Alina that the victim was clearly involved in drugs racketeering and apparently child exploitation, he had an illegal firearm in the house, and he is suspected of involvement in other very serious activities, hence these gentlemen’s presence in our city. Besides these are highly sensitive operational matters and it is only my regard for you Alina” he paused briefly and smiled winningly at her “and the political sensitivity of these events that led me to invite you to this briefing. Has anyone else anything to add?”
Only Bowson’s boss, Martin Dager, ignored the Chief Constable’s attempt to defuse the brewing row by curtailing the meeting. “I’d like to thank Officers Bowson and Edward for this clear briefing and their work to date on this investigation, but due to their direct public involvement other colleagues will follow up on the ground in support of the local constabulary. Given the press’ speculation that this is just an unpleasant criminal matter, the Counter-Terrorism Command’s involvement will ostensibly fade into the background. My colleagues will return to London for further debriefing and to consider our next steps with higher authority.”
Bowson saw both the Chief Constable and PCC bridle at his boss’ citing of superior authorities in London as he followed him out of the room. He glanced at George; his face betrayed dismay at their apparent dismissal from the case, an emotion Bowson felt only too acutely himself. It looked like Dager was distancing himself from the failure of the operation. Just typical of the man, thought Andy.
He stepped into the gents to wash the perspiration off his face and hands, and on emerging was surprised to be faced with the loitering spook. No one was sufficiently close to hear his hushed tones, “Well done, especially after what you went through only a few hours before. Get home, get some rest. Don’t worry about the internal politics, leave that to others. You won’t be off the case.”
He turned and took a step as if he were finished, then, inclining his head back to Bowson, he smiled and whispered so quietly that Bowson almost missed the words, “Of course they’ve all been terrified for years of a serious nativist backlash, not the ranters on the streets and web, but something more… considered, it bears consideration. See you around.”
And with those words, ‘Henry’ turned and sauntered off, leaving Bowson to pause and then make his way to join his superior and assistant at the front of the building. What was the meaning of the spook’s words, a nativist reaction? Why mutter it to me rather than say it in the meeting? What’s going on here? Who was he anyway? Then, unbidden another thought came as if intuition and instinct rebelled against years of inculcated practice, perhaps best not to say anything to Dager or George yet. Why not? Because he had been invited to share a confidence? Why had ‘Henry’ spoken to him like that? He wasn’t sure, but he told himself, go carefully.
Andy came out of his reverie to see Dager looking at him unsympathetically, which wasn’t unusual.
“Got all your belongings? Good. Stow them in the back of my car: you can both come back to base with me and go through things again. Hopefully we may get some preliminary forensics on the bullets by the time we are back.”
Bowson’s spirits sank a little lower: no space to myself, even for a few hours.
Alina Mackintosh left the office early that night. That patronising Chief Constable, he clearly thought he knew how to manage her… and that creep from MI5 or where ever, with his tame coppers. When the Islamic hotheads started up, with their “community leaders” not far behind, she would be the one in the firing line, and she faced re-election only next year. She picked up her personal mobile and dialled the council leader, to whom she had once been deputy. A voice answered. “Paul, there’s more to this killing than meets the eye. You need to know, I can’t tell you everything and they’re not letting me know the half of it, but it’s for the good of the party… and the city. Can I come over?”
The evening was advancing towards night as the car carrying Chief Superintendent Dager and his subordinates passed the M25 ring-road and entered outer London. Dager and Bowson were just winding up a full review of the case so far, getting every item straight in their minds in preparation for a full debriefing to higher authority the following morning, exactly how much higher was not yet clear.
Used as he was to working on highly politicised and sensitive matters, this felt slightly different to Bowson and it appeared to have unnerved his boss as well. He had been shocked, if not entirely surprised, by the presence of a senior Security Service official at the meeting with the Chief Constable, their normal MI5 liaisons not even making it into the room. Henry, the spook had called himself, and he hadn’t disclosed his rank or department, which implied that he was sufficiently senior or ‘discreet’ not to need to, odd and worrying in equal measure.
It would have to happen now when they seemed to be making real progress on the investigation. GCHQ had informed them about web chatter which had led them to what seemed to be at first a lone wolf. Careful observation had identified Mohammed Amallifely and now they were in the process of trying to identify his associates, of whom there were potentially dozens. It was like looking for needle in a haystack, but Amallifely was interesting because he was clearly experienced if not totally a professional. Unexplained absences, no clear means of support, apparent involvement in criminal activity, sedulous attendance at a local mosque with a radical reputation, were all usually good indicators, but not proof. He was clearly plugged into some sort of network, but probably not central, and could have acted as a gateway to others for the investigators.
Now their best lead was gone, publicly assassinated while under police surveillance; Andy and his team were going to be a laughing stock. The local Chief Constable seemed tractable, but that PCC! And the security services would demand more powers over the CT Command on this sort of investigation. Inter-service politics were bad enough without spooks and politicos pursuing their own agendas.
As for Dager, well, Bowson’s relationship with him was professional at best and now the man was fuming. This couldn’t have happened at a worse time with his annual evaluation coming up in the next week. Andy was ambitious, looking for his next promotion; it was hard enough in today’s service being white, middle class, hetero and male, the last sort of officer the HR types and his superiors wanted to promote. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t paid the price in full already, potentially broken marriage, a distant child, few real friends and a life consumed by his profession… Bowson knew there were plenty of others in similar positions, scrabbling for every ounce of professional fulfilment, maybe even a vicarious validation of their choices… Damn it. He knew it wasn’t fair to blame Dager either, who after all was not that dissimilar to himself, save for a fading Derbyshire accent, but he was inevitably going to catch some of his boss’ frustration. If only they had got some sort of lead on the assassin…
Bowson felt like the world was bearing down on his shoulders. Even Dager, worn by his own concerns, noticed. “What’s up Andy? You look like this case is the least of your problems?”
“Been trying to get hold of the wife without any joy sir.”
He couldn’t, didn’t, want to elaborate and Dager, his attempt at fellow feeling exhausted, lapsed into introspection which invited no further comment for the rest of the journey.
© 1642again 2017