A shell-shocked Andy Bowson and his two colleagues were recovered by the emergency services twenty-five minutes after their captors had left them. Stunned by falling debris, lightly burned by the fireball that passed over them, they were ambulanced away to the nearest major casualty department before they could collect their concussed wits and explain what had happened. A police car followed them back to the hospital, as a consequence of their bindings it was clear to those on the ground that foul play had been involved.
By then, the fire and explosion had done their work. The roof and floors had collapsed, bringing parts of the adjoining property with them. The smell of gas had been noticed by the neighbours, the report of which delayed the fire-fighters’ attempts to get in at the heart of the fire due to the fear of subsequent detonations. The smell of gas had even masked the sickly-sweet stench of burning flesh as the secondary petrol-driven inferno fought furiously to consume its victims before the firemen could douse the flames.
It was concluded later that night, when Bowson and his colleagues were recovered sufficiently to sketch out what had happened, so far as they could recall, that the chances of decisively helpful evidence being recovered were very low but not hopeless, given the advances in forensic science. However, the details could take days, if not longer, to establish. The men who found the appallingly burnt bodies under the rubble, hardened as they were, were of the view that it would take far longer for them to forget what they had found.
She had thought her evening with him was coming to its conclusion by the way his words ran out until she was speaking twenty for every one of his, as if she were trying to delay his departure as long as she could. He was drifting away into thought again it seemed, tuning out almost without perceiving it. This was not the usual him, normally she had the whole of him when they were together: it had always been a comfort.
“They had to go back, to another job. They may still be there, hopefully they aren’t; with any luck they’ll have done it and left it well behind them. It was a fearful risk.”
So that was why he was elsewhere. Had he only come around to distract himself? He had noticed, seemed to read her thoughts again. “I wanted to see you anyway, I’ve missed you. I fear I have asked too much, but must continue to ask more.”
From anyone else, she would have written that off as BS, but not from him. “Why? What’s so important?”
“Loose ends to be cut off, things to be recovered, I may need your help with that.”
She didn’t need to answer; he could see it in her face already. “Let me know what and when? Please? And let me know when they are safe?”
He nodded. A broadening smile creased his face for the first time since he had arrived. “Oh, by the way, I hear the Salvation Army may be thinking of asking you to become an adviser, trustee or some such. You’ve been a huge help to them, not just the money.”
He got up to leave. As he put on his coat he did something he rarely did, he kissed her cheek in goodbye. “When I know more… perhaps dinner on me tomorrow, if you can spare…?”
And then he was gone. She closed the door behind him and leant heavily back on it as if fearing he would return and try to get in. She wouldn’t want him to see her crying.
He hurried out into the night and caught a cab two streets away, alighting two corners from the office, walking the rest. She really was a remarkable woman, but not in the way she thought of herself. If things had been different, well who knows? But then again, if they had been, she might not have been interested anyway. He had thought she was past all that for some time now, but tonight he had wondered. He didn’t want her wasting herself on him, but if she wouldn’t or couldn’t complete her life with someone else, he would have to help her fill it with other things of value.
Martin Dager was still in the office when the call came in, as if the breakthrough would come because the hidden connection would reveal itself through sheer ennui, worn down by his unyielding persistence. The office had largely cleared, just the night shift was in, along with a few stragglers determined to win their boss’ good favour by their displays of stamina and dedication. He slumped forward on the news of Bowson and Edward’s near escape. Fortunately, their injuries were not serious, but by now he was wondering if this case was jinxed, whether they were out of their depth.
He would have to go up to see them tomorrow morning, it would be expected. The last thing he needed, he told himself. His political overlords, especially the Home Sec, rarely understood obligations of duty and shared service. The distraction could cost him time, extract him from the games being played near the centre and lose him what little influence he might have for critical hours. He sighed. His future prospects were fading before his eyes. They would have the ideal excuse to red circle him, shunt him aside in some back-water until his pension came up. All he had worked and striven for, all the years, ending in empty failure. The bitterness, the frustration, was burning him as it coursed through his veins. He emailed his superiors, briefed the Duty Inspector and left for a short and disturbed night’s sleep.
She lay awake, unable to sleep. Helena dreaded the weekend that was upon her; she no longer had an appetite for the things arranged, the people to see, work to review. Still, hadn’t he asked her to dinner? She wasn’t quite sure now. What she did know was that she couldn’t keep going on like this, she had her pride. Anyway, what had he meant about the Salvation Army? Sure, at his prompting she had started to donate, large sums, then larger, over half a million last tax year. It went back to the checks she had once run on him; it was one of the many things that had intrigued her. He was giving over twenty per cent of his income to them, eye watering given his salary. And that wasn’t the only good cause either.
At first, she had done it for him and consoled herself with the tax advantages. And then he had invited her to spend an evening with him, on the streets and at a hostel for the homeless. She had seen and heard about it of course, stepped over the bodies, hurried away when approached, but never confronted it, them, as human beings, not so different from her in most ways, utterly apart in others. She hadn’t been shocked or even surprised, but perhaps for the first time she had seen clearly down from the ivory tower that had grown beneath her feet almost without her noticing, had seen how easy it was to fall between the cracks in this huge wealthy city and to be ground down with the dirt and dust. And there they were, working for peanuts between the cracks, pulling them up, setting them on their feet, not judging, not indulging them either, for a faith she didn’t possess.
So, she had started helping in small ways, donating money, advising on their funds, getting drawn in, and all the while he had been there, encouraging her. Together they had found a further way to help, to change lives even more fundamentally. Now she wondered, what was he up to, trying to manage her life for her? She should resent it she knew, be outraged by his presumption, but she never could sustain anger towards him for any length of time. In truth, it was touching that with all his concerns and responsibilities he was investing that much energy in her… well-being. She stretched out and relaxed. Her sense of humour returned, she really needed to get a grip.
Dager arrived at the hospital just before nine the following morning. Sleep was becoming a rare and fractured commodity for him and in the end he had given in, got up early and driven himself on the theory that the sooner he got there, the sooner he got back in the office, and the less the potential damage.
He looked terrible thought Bowson, almost as bad as me and it took an explosion to get me in this state. That unfamiliar feeling of sympathy for his boss seeped back. He might be doing it out of duty rather than genuine empathy, but at least he had made the effort, arriving early on a Saturday. “We really appreciate you coming Sir, especially with all that’s going on.”
Dager nodded at his two men, and then the third, the local man. He wasn’t good at this sort of thing he knew. “Are you all well; that was quite a fright you gave us? At least they have put you somewhere decent: do you have everything you need?”
The three of them were in a small private ward on their own, with the curtain drawn, the door locked and an armed guard on the door, with two local armed coppers patrolling the grounds outside. No one was taking any chances. The local constable, of Indian Parsee descent, was clearly a little overawed by the company, especially when Bowson introduced him to Dager. “A good man Sir,” he had said deliberately audibly so the other would hear.
“We’ll be out of here tomorrow I hope and straight back to work if that’s alright with you Sir? It’s personal now. That’s twice they’ve got away from me.” God, he was laying it on thick, but his superior seemed to need it, and anyway, what was waiting for him at home? Edward was glaring at him; he clearly felt he had earned some R&R.
“Very commendable, you’d be welcome, but it depends on the doctors. What’s the prognosis?”
“Some light burns Sir, bumps and bruises too, some concussion and temporary hearing loss from the explosion. We were lucky.”
Dager grunted. “Are you up to telling me in your own words what happened, what they looked like? They got away again, they know what they are doing it seems. Not like the rag heads… Oh, sorry.” Dager blushed and nodded his apologies to the constable lying in the next bed.
“No offence taken Sir,” came the response, “I couldn’t agree more myself; they looked like highly trained, experts to me, if that’s worth anything. I’ve an even lower opinion of the rag heads than you.”
The junior was clearly blossoming in the shared complicity of the aftermath. Of course, realised Bowson, the Parsees, the Zoroastrians, had been butchered, persecuted and driven from their homeland in Iran for the last fourteen hundred years by Islamists; there can’t be any love lost there.
So, he went through the scenes, the what-ifs, the might-have-beens of the previous evening with Dager. “To be truthful Sir, I feel a bit of a fool to be taken in with a trick like that, the one with the burqa, but he did have a middle-eastern complexion about the eyes and wasn’t tall. They didn’t want to kill us at least; they could have done so easily. I wish we could tell you more, but they were good. Perhaps forensics might help, maybe the other prisoners? We didn’t see them bring the man and woman out with us, but we had our faces in the dirt, they must have taken the girl with them.”
“What seems to be a man’s and a woman’s bodies were removed from the remains of the house a few hours ago, not much left I’m afraid. No trace of the third… A girl you say? We think the woman is Badr’s wife, the man not sure, maybe Badr, maybe someone else. No record of a girl living there although one of the neighbours said she thought there was a foreign looking girl there who never seemed to go out of the house or speak any English. Why take her and kill the others?”
“Can’t help on that Sir. I’m sorry, it’s a bit of a mess.”
Dager looked lost again. “Well I’d better get back, hope to see you better and back soon.”
With that he was gone, handing over some grapes and chocolates clearly bought somewhere on the M40, almost as an afterthought. Bowson felt another pang of that unfamiliar sympathy for Dager; he was going to nail the bastards who had done this to him.
© 1642again 2018