‘Henry’ switched off the news feed on his laptop. That press release put out by the PM’s office! Whatever had possessed them? He must try to find out. It was crudely transparent, wildly unnecessary, surely? It reeked of fear, of powerlessness. He knew it was all rotten of course, he saw the signs most days, but even he hadn’t realised it was quite this far advanced; well they said the fish rots from the head. The self-delusion, the faux cleverness of ‘youthful energy’ substituting for the wisdom of experience, the shallow pursuit of position and the means to self-gratify, ‘self-actualisation’ Mintzberg had termed it, as if it were admirable rather than self-indulgence on an epic scale. And now, when the little boy threatened to show that the emperor had no clothes, they panicked, lied to themselves and then went on self-deceiving as to the rot around them. It would be funny, in fact, it was funny, if the consequences weren’t so serious.
She would be pleased, he knew. Perhaps they could spare him for a couple of hours this evening. He could buy her supper. She wasn’t with anyone at the moment as far as he could tell. She would like that.
Andy Bowson got back to the office just in time to avoid a tirade from his boss. What a waste of time! Not from the perspective of seeing her parents, he owed them that, but the locals seemed to have made no headway at all. The car forensics turned up nothing, from the foot prints she seemed to have walked a few hundred yards west along the road, with a small child, stopped, and then simply vanished into thin air. No witnesses, local farmers had seen or heard nothing, no evidence of anything from the helicopter’s thermal imaging camera. One of the local bobbies, not realising who he was, had told him with an unearthly lack of tact how several people every year, more than they liked to admit and certainly more than the papers ever realised, disappeared without trace on the moor. It was all he could do not to deck him there and then.
The senior officer on the case was solicitude itself, but little more. They had thrown plenty of resources at it and even the locals were combing the ground for someone they regarded as a local girl. But that was all. He knew the form, the longer it went on, the less the chance of success, a prospect he couldn’t bear to recognise. Resources were now being deployed from Bristol and as far away as Hampshire, she was after all one of their own, but they didn’t seem to be optimistic. Well he could do no more on the spot. In a black bitter humour on the return drive he wondered if his new self-appointed friend ‘Henry’ could see if the Yanks had a satellite trained on Exmoor at the time. Speaking of Yanks, they seemed to be taking a long time on those enquiries about the weapon that killed Amallifely; mind you, the US was so awash with firearms of all descriptions it could be a task beyond even the FBI.
Shortly after he got back to his desk and started to go through the reports he realised he had done the FBI a disservice. Their ballistics experts had identified the weapon as almost certainly some sort of Barrett 0.5 inch sniper rifle with an effective range of about two miles. The problem was the bullets were home-made, by experts with machine tools it seemed, but not being commercial or military they were effectively untraceable. Their view was that this was to be expected, professional marksmen often made their own rounds. Furthermore, there were thousands of possible weapons circulating in the US, let alone those sold abroad. Many would have simply dropped out of sight and could be anywhere if someone knew how to move them overseas. Worse still, eighteen months previously a batch of thirty-two military variants, with sound moderators and the latest thermal sights, on route to a US infantry regiment based in Alaska, had simply vanished along with unspecified other equipment. Logistics error they had assumed, they should turn up eventually, but now the bells were ringing. My God, if someone with evil intent had got hold of them they would be in a position to start their own guerrilla war.
He had had a brief interview with Dager, who had asked in a perfunctory manner about his errand to the west, almost as if on autopilot. He looked dreadful; the political storm was raging just above his head, his chief had angered some of the other agencies who were now not proving unhelpful, his annual evaluation was fast approaching and he was having to work not just day and night but through yet another weekend. All of this because some nutcases were fighting their own private war on the streets of Britain’s second city.
They were getting nowhere fast; the bikes had disappeared, the AKs and rounds were useless as trace aids, the camera footage told them nothing they didn’t know anyway, no useful witnesses had come forward, and the dead they had managed to identify, while of interest, were not revealing anything very useful. The only flimsy lead they had was that some of the terrorists seemed to have been connected with a shadowy male resident of Birmingham, a certain Badr, who had apparently disappeared without trace. Great! “Much more progress like this and they would all be catching speeding motorists somewhere on the A1” he exclaimed, sarcastically. Bowson couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Getting back to his desk, he smiled ruefully at George next to him, who raised a query with the arching of an eyebrow. Bowson gave a little shake of the head and turned back to his papers. ‘Poor sod,’ thought his assistant.
A couple of hours later he had reached the end of what little his colleagues had managed to establish. There were surprisingly few loose ends to follow up, other than the identified and still unknown terrorists, while the injured survivor was still several days away from being able to ‘help them with their enquiries’, according to the doctors. Tracing and checking out all their associates, family and other contacts would take weeks, even with the level of resources now deployed. The local force had literally just come up with an address for the ‘Badr’ who was supposed to have dropped out of sight. They didn’t seem to put weight on it, preferring to focus first on investigating the families of those killed and wounded, working on the principle that this type of terrorism was like a virus, spreading most readily between those closest to one another.
He needed an excuse to get away from the office. Dager was raging at some poor young subordinate in his glass cubicle, for something minor probably. Bowson got up and headed over and stood outside the closed door. Dager saw him, drew breath and motioned him to enter. The poor lass within looked at him like a drowning sailor would look a lifeboat and fled. “Well, what do you want? Got something?”
“I’d like to head back to Birmingham boss; the locals are stretched pretty thin and not following up this lead about the possibly missing associate. Just instinct I suppose, but I would like to take a look at it for myself if it’s ok with you?”
The man was really irritated he could see.
“It’s almost certainly a wild goose chase, but if you must. I can’t spare anyone from here, just take Edward and see what the locals can give you. I want you back here first thing tomorrow. Understand?”
“Right boss.” He left before the man could change his mind, motioning to Edward to grab his things and follow him out, muttering “Friday night in Birmingham, lucky me.”
They had had a call from base to turn around and go back; too much activity around the final staging point. The base team had had time to finish sifting through their late unlamented prisoner’s long, rambling confession: there was at least one more, their IT man, may be others. They had a name and an address. They were already watching him from a distance, but needed support, more resource. Alan could tell his boys weren’t happy; the foxes needed to burrow down deep in their earths when the hunt was roaming about, not go looking for more prey.
“Just this one more, then home, I promise,” he had told them. Pushing their luck. They had reluctantly assented, all but Georgy: his eyes were shining.
Helena sometimes wondered whether he had a bug in her mind. He had texted her, inviting her out for dinner. She couldn’t really be herself with him in public, let alone ask the question. You could buy in great food for home-delivery in London these days, so she had insisted he come around to hers. Of course he would. She knew what he liked. She went to see her PA to set it up.
It was a little branded coffee house near the British Museum. Bustling with mainly foreign tourists jabbering away, killing time before and after their visit to the great treasure house, flirting with one another, completely disinterested in the more soberly dressed occupants of the quiet table in the dimly lit back. Museum curators or perhaps academics they would have thought, if anyone had even noticed them. A dowdy woman in her early fifties and a blandly dressed bespectacled balding man, a little older, were whispering away quietly, as if testing out a new illicit affair.
“I assumed they were much more competent than that. We were assured they knew what they were doing. No, it’s certainly not the authorities, not unless someone in the sec… has declared UDI. Quite spectacular I understand. Pity it was on the way in, not the way out, that would have been much better, for us anyway. Two birds with one stone. My so-called ‘masters’ are in a spin and that’s a concern. They can behave unpredictably at such times.”
“They will use it to vote themselves new powers, spend more money surely? That helps us indirectly I would have thought?”
“All in good time, it seems it’s now a four-hand game, our ‘masters’ thought it was two, themselves and our useful ’friends’, but now they see it’s three. We know it’s four, not three as we had counted previously. That’s both troubling and threatening, especially as they are a blank, whoever they are.”
“But our hand in the game is still unseen?” She was tiring of his analogy as it became ever more forced, but he seemed to like such word-play. He thought himself very clever; that was clear.
“Yes, but our ‘friends’ know we are there in the background and they are not predictable, nor even as capable as we had thought. They think themselves to have the winning hand as long as they don’t call the game too soon. They over-estimate themselves with their unearned wealth and seventh century attitudes. They will be, are already being, left behind by history, dragged back by their ridiculous certainties, but they’re a useful catalyst, a distraction. We must be doubly cautious. Now, tell me about your superior’s scandalous divorce. I hear it’s quite salacious. It might even be useful.”
© 1642again 2018